Culture Watch: Behind Il Duce’s Curtain

May 13, 2017
By Jo Tavener

Now we know why the Pruitts, the Sessions, and the Tillersons were appointed. Their task is one of demolition. The cancellations of Obama-era rules and regulations appear in the press in drips and drabs and, although some media outlets like the NYTimes and the New Yorker attempt to get a handle on what is going on behind the footlights, most TV and cable outlets spend their time on frontline issues like health care, immigration and the Russia investigation in the context of partisan politics.

What appears to be happening is more than what the New Yorker calls Trump’s ‘big business agenda’ (see 4/21/17, John Cassidy). The Trump Administration appears to be the vehicle for energizing and consolidating the power of the corporate class, its effect being the merger of the business and political elites into the corporate state — what some have called fascism.

From this perspective, it makes perfect sense that Trump refuses to show his tax returns or put his holdings in a blind trust. His understanding of power harks back to the Gilded Age “Robber Barons,” as they were called by Progressives. Wealth accrues to the family and sustains its power and legacy. The way Trump has woven his family into the Administration and sustained its connection with its economic branch only illustrates my point.

Of course, without Citizens United, none of this would be happening. We now have fiefdoms around wealthy men who wield enormous power over the political parties and election financing. The Koch Brothers and ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) were harbingers of Trump. Now he is here, attempting to enact the greatest transfer of wealth from the working classes to the One Percent by his health care and tax proposals. What else can this be but class consolidation and class warfare? It even makes sense that Trump canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump sees nations as oligarchical formations, glossed with a patriotic national identity. “America First” is its tweet-sized ideological construction that connects the masses to the ruling elites, accompanied by its rowdy sports-like cheer of USA!, USA!

He’s the Barnum & Bailey of the political show — not so good, however, at press conferences or with the ubiquitous presence of the White House press, where he can’t control the scene. Still, he’s found ways around the press corp while undermining its legitimacy, creating a perpetual dog and pony show distracting media attention from the imposition of a broad regulatory freeze and roll back of more than 90 Obama-era rules and regulations whose enforcement has been delayed, suspended or cancelled — to the benefit of the corporate class. The Business Roundtable has provided Trump with 16 rules it wants killed. Dow Chemical asked the administration to ignore scientific findings on its pesticides harmful to endangered species.  Exxon is once again requesting an exemption from the sanctions on Russia to begin drilling. The message is clear: “the rules of the game are changing.” (Cassidy, New Yorker)

The following is hardly an exhaustive list of regulatory roll-backs. Still, it is representative of what needs to be undone before the coming of the corporate state.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

  • dismantling Obama’s Clean Power Plan, worsening climate change
  • rolling back latest Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards
  • cutting department budget by a third
  • planning to eliminate a quarter of department workforce
  • planning to eliminate 56 of its programs, including clean up of Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound

Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.)

  • planning to undo net neutrality
  • eliminating price caps on broad-band & programs servicing the poor
  • eliminating ability of cable customers to buy set-top boxes
  • enabling higher prices for cable users & unrestrained monopolistic power for cable companies

Department of the Interior

  • a hold on fossil fuel valuation mined on public lands, requested by energy companies, worth $85 million annually

Department of Health & Human Services

  • tightening Affordable Care Act enrollment
  • collecting unpaid premiums to cut enrollment
  • relaxing oversight of individual mandate

Department of Education

  • revoking Every Student Succeeds Act enforcing school accountability
  • canceling school diversity grants, student loans and civil rights enforcement
  • funding cuts for after-school programs, summer programs, child nutrition, class size reduction, community schools

Department of Justice

  • reviving the war on drugs, according to John Ashcroft’s mandatory minimum sentencing
  • revoking Holder’s “Smart on Crime” policies
  • reviewing all consent decrees by which reforms are imposed on police departments

Department of Treasury

  • reviewing powers given to federal regulators overseeing banking and financial industries after the 2008 meltdown
  • freezing Dodd-Frank provision, “Orderly Liquidation Authority” giving broad discretion to regulators making loans to failing financial institutions
  • possibly shaking-up the Consumer Protection Bureau in response to Republican criticism that it is a “rogue” institution that needs oversight
  • changing the tax code & tax cuts benefiting the top 2 percent,

What stops the Democrats from doing to the Republicans what is now being done to them? The answer: Trump’s “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” led by VP Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known crusaders against “voter fraud.”

Jo Tavener is a member of the NewPeople Editorial Collective and retired assistant professor of critical media and cultural studies.

Categories: Politics, US

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