As President Trump’s own chief of staff, John Kelly, calls his boss “uninformed,” we will look at how Trump is transforming the nation by slashing taxes on the rich, gutting the nation’s regulatory system and muzzling climate scientists. We speak to David Cay Johnston, author of It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re speaking to David Cay Johnston, author of the new book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. Let’s go back to February. This is President Trump speaking a month after he took office.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re cutting regulations big league. We are really cutting them by massive amounts. The auto industry just left a week ago. They were here in the same room. And they are very happy with what — what we’re doing. And everyone is. I think just about everyone. The financial industry — we’re having a lot of the different industries in. And we’re cutting regulations in just about every industry. In fact, I can’t think of any that we’re not.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s President Trump speaking in February. So, could you talk about what Trump has done to different agencies? In your book, you talk about several, but let’s start with the EPA.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, EPA is run by Scott Pruitt, who hopes to become a U.S. senator in Oklahoma, who has vowed to destroy the agency. So, staff members are not allowed to use certain words. They’re not being allowed to go to scientific conferences. So, once again, the investment the taxpayers have made in expertise and knowledge is being wasted.
In the regulatory environment, they are basically allowing polluters to get away with all sorts of stuff. There was a move by the Obama administration to stop taking the toxic residue, the coal ash, from power plants, turning it into a slurry, with water, and then you put it into a pond next to a river. And as we know, in South Carolina, I think it was, and several other places, some of these old dikes broke and ruined the drinking water, for weeks or months, and killed all the wildlife. The Trump administration basically is saying to polluters, “Go ahead and pollute.”
Well, what is pollution? Not only is it a threat to your health and safety, but it’s a way to jack up profits, by taking costs you should endure to clean up your mess and spewing them onto everybody else. So, of course, profits for companies like that will go up, because they’re being allowed to make you or your children get asthma or have other illnesses because of the pollution. How does that make us better off? That makes us worse off. The problem is, you’re not going to get asthma tomorrow. He’ll be out of office, even if he had two terms, before you get sick and die.
AMY GOODMAN: We had the headline today about the former photographer with the Department of Energy seeking whistleblower protection, saying he was fired for documenting collusion between the Trump administration and a coal company executive. Simon Edelman says he was fired after he leaked photographs of a March 29th meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and coal magnate Robert Murray, showing the two embracing at a meeting. Murray said he played no role in drafting a Department of Energy rule subsidizing coal and nuclear power plants. But a photo clearly shows a letter drafted by Murray and addressed to Energy Secretary Rick Perry touting an “action plan.” And then you have the whole story of FERC, the Trump-appointed panel, that actually ruled against Trump in his subsidizing of coal.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, they did, in this particular case. But there is a chapter in my book about how the electricity markets in America, which, by design, raise prices and don’t lower them, are going to continue to worsen. Now, this example that comes from the leaked photographs is very revealing of the fact that truth is a very fungible issue in this administration. And when it comes to electricity prices in this country, I mean, everybody pays for electricity. It’s the one — one of the common things we have, like the weather. This is an administration that is all out for the people who make profits. It isn’t interested in consumers. It isn’t interested in businesses whose profits are diminished if they have to pay excessive electricity prices.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, this goes to the question that you also point out in the book, that despite — I mean, we’ve just been through, you’ve pointed out, as you do in your book, this litany of policies that Trump has implemented in this first year of his administration, which have actively worked against the so-called forgotten man that he pledged to help. But despite that, you say in the book, he still has the support of a large number of the people who voted for him. So, why do you think that is? And do you think that’s likely to change?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, if you only got your news from Breitbart and Fox and similarly mendacious, pseudo news organizations, you would believe that Donald Trump is the great savior, he is a demigod — not a demagogue, a demigod — and that the journalists like me want Sharia law, and we hate America, and we should, in the words of Omarosa Manigault, “bend our knee,” and that that is the ultimate revenge Trump will have.
AMY GOODMAN: Who has also been thrown out.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yes, that’s true. But we — you know, we don’t bend our knee to the president of the United States. He’s our employee. He’s our subordinate, who we have temporarily imbued with power.
So, part of the problem is, there’s been a 40-year attack on honest journalism in this country, and there are people who bought into that. And unfortunately, what they’re relying on are outfits that just make stuff up, that — Trump, himself, you know, has relied on Soviet propaganda outlets. And so, that’s the reason I think people [inaudible].
Now, the second part of this, as I said, Trump, you know, ran for office on the economic platform I had laid out, in which I said anybody who runs on this, they can get elected. Well, it happened. And that is, the bottom 90 percent of Americans made less money in 2012 than they did in 1967, the year I graduated from high school. The bottom 90 percent of Americans have real grievances. They’re in debt. They’re in trouble. And it’s because of these little changes, bit by bit, that take money out of their pockets and put it in the pockets of rich people, that nobody knew about ’til I dug them all out of the law. Donald captured this legitimate anger. But the problem is, he’s not helping the forgotten man. He’s forgotten the forgotten man.
AMY GOODMAN: What about workers? What about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration? People don’t realize how many workers die a year —
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: — in this country, not to mention injured.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Forty-eight hundred people a year, roughly, die at their job. Many employers operate just as they should. The reason we have regulations is for the bad-conduct people. So, back on August 17th, that’s the last date the Trump administration posted on the internet the death of a worker. August 17th. They stopped, for a while, putting up press releases about people dying — the way to sort of shame companies who had workers who died, because the financial penalties are minimal. In fact, it’s often cheaper to have workers die. And we reported that at DCReport, and they put it back up. I don’t know if those are connected, but that was the order of events. They’ve cut the number of safety inspectors. They’re clearly corralling the safety inspectors and making it clear that, you know, you want to have a job, you’re going to limit your behavior. They’ve cut wage and hour inspectors. The number of pollution inspectors, by the way, that Congress mandated a minimum number for, they’re below it. They’re not hiring people.
They are — Donald Trump took an oath of office to faithfully execute the laws. Well, he’s not doing that. He is in violation of his oath of office. I’m not arguing that we need every regulation we have. There are plenty of regulations — I used to teach regulatory law to third-year law students — that we can change or get rid of and make better. But that’s not what they’re doing. They’re taking those things that will benefit their friends, especially in the fossil fuels industry, and eliminating or not enforcing the law for those regulations. And that means ordinary workers are going to be hurt.