On February 3, Donald Trump signed an executive order to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act, deregulating financial institutions. But the Administration’s plans are more far-reaching than just letting big banks have their way. Now with the help of a GOP-led Congress, Trump wants to reverse protections for our land, water, and air.
This is an interesting form of populism that Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, described as “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” While their goal is to eliminate taxes, regulation, and trade pacts—common Republican enemies of economic growth—Trump is doling that money straight to the top at the expense of the poor and the environment.
These measures that supposedly benefit the middle-class come at the behest of trade associations and corporate lobbyists, who can see the door to greater profits has been cracked and want to blow it wide open.
Of course, the Trump family and their associates all stand to benefit, too. Lawsuits pending against Trump allege nearly two dozen conflicts of interest, including a refusal to place his Trump Organization in a blind trust and business ties around the world that may violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prevents government officials from accepting any gifts or compensation from a foreign state.
For example, our new ethically challenged leader of the free world recently signed an executive order to review a rule protecting small bodies of water from pollution caused by development. Trump owns golf courses that stand to gain if this rule is repealed.
This is typical Trump. He moved on to attempting to freeze the overtime pay of four million American workers by rolling back an Obama rule that doubles the income cap for overtime pay. A federal judge issued a temporary injunction preventing the Obama reforms from taking effect. The White House may decide to not defend the rule in court, possibly because it would force Trump to pay his hotel workers time-and-a-half.
However, nowhere are Trump’s ethical blind spots more evident than in his plans (using the term loosely) to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Not only will the “something terrific” that Trump promised on the stump leave 24 million people uninsured and roll back all the Obamacare taxes in an orgy of hand-outs to the rich, but Trump’s son-in-law’s brother, Joshua Kushner, happens to be starting up a business to sell health insurance to the private-sector, which will be in the market if Obamacare is repealed.
This isn’t necessarily an ethical problem. A president’s extended family and the families of his cabinet still usually have to work, and they may have business interests that will cross the president’s desk at some point. There are numerous ethical rules intended to prevent federal officials from abusing these connections. But will it matter to a president who has shown repeated contempt for ethical rules, including appointing Jared Kushner—Joshua’s brother and Ivanka’s husband—to a senior adviser position in the White House?
Oh, and the Republican healthcare bill would defund Planned Parenthood, kill the Medicaid expansion, and remove protection for those with pre-existing conditions. I would argue that avarice and cruelty are also ethical issues.
But the big story that Trump wants you to ignore is still Russia. He is dispatching every surrogate and throwing out every claim he can find to distract the public, even recently claiming that Obama bugged Trump Tower before the election. He apparently heard this on a right-wing talk radio and decided, what the hell? It’s bound to stir up controversy and create a narrative for the media to chew on while he goes about dividing the riches of his beleaguered nation.
Classic Trump subterfuge: If you are going to investigate me, I will scream for the investigation of someone else. But rather than ask the FBI for information, Trump is insisting that Congress investigate. FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to refute the allegation as baseless because it implies the FBI acted illegally. Presidents don’t have the authority to order surveillance on an American citizen.
Trump seems intent on dismantling Obama’s legacy, and one of the tools he’s using to do it is the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which gives Congress an expedited review process on legislation passed within the last 60 legislative days and prohibits an immediate reissuance of the same rule. This geeky little procedural rule has only been used once before, in 2001, when Bush reversed a Department of Labor definition of “ergonomics.” Trump has already used it three times, with eight more pending before Congress, and we are still in this administration’s first 100 days.
Unfortunately, all this maliciousness has caused actor Alec Baldwin to reconsider whether he can, in good conscience, continue his portrayal of the 45th POTUS on Saturday Night Live—for many of us, one of the few bright spots of the Trump presidency.
At least we’ll always have Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway, right?
Thomas Walchuk has been a lifelong political junkie since the summer of 1972, when he traveled to his rustic family cabin in Grandma’s VW camper bus, listening to the Watergate hearings on the van’s tinny AM/FM radio console. His grandmother, a forceful and deliberate woman who was one of the first female lawyers in Minnesota, was an incredible influence on the young Mr. Walchuk. As a result, he is an advocate for the oppressed, and appalled at our current government on both sides of the aisle. His focus here is on the president’s ethical and moral shortcomings.