Janine Jackson: “There’s a New Culture Divide Between Trump and Corporate America,” says CNN. “Many Businesses Oppose Trump’s Deregulatory Agenda,” says Vox. “Corporate America vs. Trump: Environment Edition” is a Bloomberg feature. Corporate CEOs, we’re to believe, are just barely tolerating the president who’s shoveling them tax breaks and policy wish lists.
In the midst of this disorienting spate of stories, I was struck by a note to reporters from Public Citizen: “Headlines Claiming Trump’s Energy and Environmental Rollbacks Defy Corporate Demands Are Misleading.” Here to help us see how so is Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen. He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Amit Narang.
Amit Narang: Oh, it’s great to be back with you.
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AP puts a finer point on it: “Politics of Climate Change Put Corporations in Tough Spot,” was their headline. And readers were told:
The polarizing politics of climate change have forced companies to choose between supporting the Trump administration’s deregulation policies that could boost profits, or opposing them to win over environmentally conscious consumers.
Some corporations, AP says, have
acted against conventional thinking by showing a willingness to forgo short-term profits in favor of long-term planning and combating global warming. But it comes at the risk of hurting their bottom line, while incurring the wrath of Trump on Twitter.
Do you see evidence of either a crisis of conscience on the part of corporate America around regulations, or a war between corporations and Trump on those grounds?
I do think that the media narrative that has come out most recently, that corporations are now broadly opposed, kind of in blanket fashion, to all of the rollbacks of public health, safety and environmental protections, is far overstated and misses a lot of the nuances, and, frankly, just the truth that under the Trump administration, it’s been very clear that the deregulatory agenda, the agenda to roll back a lot of the protections that the Obama administration put out from their regulatory agencies, has been driven by corporations and for the benefit of corporations.
So let me back up, though, because the last time I was on, we were talking about what we were expecting, back in 2017, from the Trump administration’s environmental health and safety rollback agenda, deregulatory agenda. And I basically said that this was going to be one of the most intense deregulatory periods in our country and our government’s history.
And so now, I think, looking back, that, in fact, even though that was pretty strong language, I think I might have actually understated it. I think that all of the rollbacks that we’ve seen across the government in so many different areas, and across so many different agencies, have been even more radical and extreme that even I expected.
And those rollbacks really have touched on so many different areas where the government is supposed to be protecting the public, not protecting corporate profits. I mean, you’re talking about the environment. We’re talking about civil rights, LGBTQ rights. We’re talking about consumer protections. And we’re talking about all of the deregulation that’s happening on Wall Street, from the financial agencies, that’s rolling back everything that was put in place to avoid a financial crash like we saw in 2008. And we’re talking about attacks on women’s health and access to women’s health services, including abortion.
The rollbacks have been touching virtually every important public protection that our regulatory agencies put out under the Obama administration, and even before. And I think the common theme has been, in virtually every case, there have been corporations that were pushing to gut these regulations, because they didn’t want to comply with them. They were opposing them under the Obama administration, and they saw the opportunity to kill them under the Trump administration. And that’s what the Trump administration has done.
But again, he’s gone so far, President Trump, in his deconstruction of our system of public protections, that even some corporations now are starting to push back, and say that in certain specific instances, not only did they not support the deregulation or the rollback at issue, but they’re also claiming that deregulation is, far from helping create economic growth or help those businesses, it’s going to hurt them.
At the same time, it’s important to still keep in mind that even those rollbacks where some corporations are pushing back, that they are being done to benefit other corporations that are still pushing for those deregulatory measures, even if there are other big corporations that are not looking to have these deregulatory actions taken by the Trump administration. So I can get into those specifics.
Yeah, it’s an argument for some rigor, for some distinction. And I wouldn’t say, of course, that there’s zero daylight between various corporations, or even between corporations and the White House.
Some of the coverage has been almost borderline surreal, like William Cohan in the New Yorker, who has unnamed corporate executives saying:
The American workforce is more than ever a mosaic of creeds, ethnicities and religions, and executives have no choice but to distance themselves from a president who insists on using the bully pulpit to drive a wedge between groups rather than unite them.
And I just think, say what now? I feel like we’re being asked to distinguish between Trump’s messy, déclassé discrimination, and corporations’ clean and scientific wage theft and labor suppression. It feels, like you say, like it’s being oversold, from a lack of an ability to actually distinguish among corporations, and to actually separate their motives from their PR, essentially.
That’s right. I think that, all things considered, it is good to have some corporations pushing back against the deregulation in certain specific instances, obviously better than if it’s not happening. But they’re doing that, again, on the basis of their bottom line; it’s not really because they actually have a sincere, genuine interest in protecting the health, safety of the public or the environment. There are certain business reasons that these corporations are saying: “Hey, Trump administration, don’t go this far. Don’t take this action.”
But at the same time, you have other, competing corporations that are saying, basically, to the Trump administration: “You need to continue with some of these specific instances of deregulation, because it’ll benefit us. There is a business reason for us to support some of these rollbacks.”
And I think the ones that have caught the attention of the media have been mostly in the environmental context, three specifically: One is the rollback of the clean car standards, the fuel efficiency standards that EPA and Department of Transportation put out under Obama. Another one is basically the decision by EPA that they are simply not going to regulate methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and has impacts, in terms of climate change, that are 50 to 80 times greater than carbon emissions.
Then in the last case — and this one is really mind-boggling — again, the EPA has decided that it doesn’t believe it can regulate a very well-known toxin called mercury. I think many of your listeners are probably familiar with mercury being a neurotoxin, essentially. The EPA, under the Obama administration, put out a rule to force power plants to clean up their emissions so that they weren’t spewing out mercury, which gets into the water and then gets into the fish that we eat. And this EPA has just gotten so radical and extreme that they embarked on trying to roll back that protection and stop power plants from controlling their emissions to reduce mercury.
I think that was one of the more surprising rollbacks that I’ve seen, because it’s just such a no-brainer that we should be protecting the public, but especially children, from mercury exposure. And if this EPA can’t regulate mercury, really, what can they regulate? So I think that one really sticks out.
But in each of these cases, even though we have some companies and corporations that are saying, “Trump administration, don’t go that far,” again, there are winners as well, corporations that would benefit from these rollbacks.
And I think if journalists and the media dug a little bit deeper, they might actually find that not only are there companies that are benefiting from these rollbacks, even though others aren’t, but those companies might be currying favor with the Trump administration. I think it’s a very good chance that they’re currying favor with the Trump administration in different ways–money in politics, donating to the campaign, but also, potentially, staying at Trump hotel properties–in ways that are potentially leading to those agencies being responsive, and wanting to do what these companies are saying, even if it’s opposed by other companies.
In terms of reporters keeping their eyes on the prize, I was struck by almost the kicker on this New Yorker piece, in which a Wall Street executive and longtime Republican donor, who has known Trump for years — he’s not named in the piece “because he asked not to be named” — but he says that
businessmen were once “hoping” that Trump would deliver them less regulation, lower taxes and the chance to repatriate corporate profits in an advantageous way. “I think they’re still hoping that his tendencies are toward that,” the executive explained.
I mean, is there a feeling that he has not been for less regulation and lower taxes, is this really something to “hope for” for the “future” from Trump? It seems to me something that reporters can track; it’s not something that you need to allow anonymous sources to speculate about.
And with that, I just wanted to draw you to the report, “Your Wish Is My Command,” which does do a data-driven look at some of these relationships. So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that, and about the general idea that less regulation, lower taxes and the chance to repatriate profits in an advantageous way is something that maybe business people could hope for in the future from the Trump White House?
That’s shocking to hear an executive say that. I don’t know what is left to deregulate, frankly. And so I’m not exactly sure what they have in mind. And honestly, I have to say, I think it is a good example to point to when it comes to, if corporations are saying Trump has gone too far, it’s their own fault, because they were opposed to virtually everything that President Obama put out in terms of regulation. And they were repeating this nonsense rhetoric about job-killing regulation and regulations hurting economic growth.
And so when President Trump came in, radically opposed to regulations that protect the public and looking to gut all of them, the corporations did not protest then; in fact, they pushed President Trump to do just that.
And that’s what we wanted to look at, with respect to the report you cite, our deregulatory wishlist report, which you can find on our website, www.citizen.org. We wanted to look and see how responsive the Trump administration has been, across agencies, to the wishes of corporations. And what we found, not surprisingly, is that the Trump administration has been very responsive to what corporations were asking them to kill when it came to regulation.
The way that we analyzed it is we took one big, what we called “wish list.” This was a list of regulations that a big business lobbying trade association called the National Association of Manufacturers, representing manufacturers across the country, had sent in at the beginning of the Trump administration. They pointed to about 130 regulations that they wanted the Trump administration to either kill outright or change in some way that would make them weaker and more corporate-friendly. And we wanted to see how responsive the agencies have been to those. Had agencies taken action, started the process of doing what that big business trade association had asked them to do? And how far along were they, and what was that responsiveness rate?
And we found that already so far, the Trump agencies have overwhelmingly acted on the requests, the wish list, that the big business trade association sent in, and exactly in the ways that the corporations in that trade association wanted the Trump agencies to kill or change the regulations. We found that almost 90 percent of the wish list that had been sent in had been acted upon by the Trump administration.
So we think that’s a really good proxy for what we can see, I think, and what all your listeners can see very clearly, which is the Trump administration gutting health, safety, environmental regulations across the board, and doing so entirely in service to the corporations that are pushing the Trump administration to do just that.
And for us, we think that that is about as corrupt as it gets, and not only corrupt, but obviously hurting the public at the same time.
And that report, again, can be found on Public Citizen’s website, citizen.org. We’ve been speaking with Amit Narang; he’s regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen. Amit Narang, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.
Oh, thank you so much for having me.