One of the many terrifying aspects of having Donald Trump as president is that he, like all children, is very easily persuaded. Single meetings and conversations can shape his entire, pliable worldview. The wolves of corporate America know what easy prey looks like.
An entirely typical thing for Donald Trump to do is: Have only the vaguest sense of what he “believes” in a policy sense, coupled with near-total ignorance of arcane policy details, and then come to a rash conclusion about an extremely important matter not by deep consultation with experts, but by asking himself how much he likes the most recent guy telling him something about it. This is how you get a President of the United States saying, in regards to Israel and Palestine, that “I’m looking at two states and one state, I like the one that both parties like,” for example. So while all presidents hold meetings with CEOs, lobbyists, and other powerful people, such meetings are particularly scary in the case of this president because he is apt to be talked into any fucking thing if it is presented in a way that strokes his own ego sufficiently and adheres to his endlessly manipulable notions of what might make America “great.”
Now, consider the very deepest structural problems that plague our nation. Among them is the outsized power of corporations—their ability to evade and overcome regulations that would benefit the common good by exercising influence in our broken political system. This is the structural problems that brought us hits like “The 2008 Financial Crisis,” and “All Toxic Pollution.” In normal times—even during a Republican administration—the constant tug-of-war between corporations and government regulations would play out in slow motion, susceptible to all of the intricacies of public pressure campaigns and Congressional lobbying and the arcane rules governing rulemaking processes at government agencies. In the past, in other words, even if you knew the Republicans were trying to help the rich and screw the poor, you could see it all coming.
Today, who knows? We are in unpredictable territory. And that is what is so unnerving about Trump’s meeting today with the Business Roundtable, the group that lobbies on behalf of major US corporations. Trump asked the group to tell him what regulations they dislike, and they compiled a letter, and now we must contemplate the possibility that this letter will be used as road map for the administration to pursue the business world’s wishes directly.
Here are just some of the highlights of the Business Roundtable’s list of “Top Federal Regulations of Concern” that they would like to see weakened or done away with entirely:
- EPA rules mandating new coal power plants have carbon capture technology;
- EPA clean water rules;
- Reporting requirements for large employers under the Affordable Care Act;
- The updated overtime rule that would make millions more working Americans eligible for overtime pay;
- Net neutrality;
- Basic corporate governance rules that allow shareholders “with insignificant stakes in public companies [to] make shareholder proposals that pursue social or political agendas unrelated to the interests of the shareholders as a whole”—which is to say, the ability of non-huge investors to participate in the governance of companies;
- Rules requiring major companies to disclose the ratio between the pay of their CEO and median worker pay (“The pay ratio rule, which requires chief executives to certify what is an arbitrary and often meaningless number, provides no material information to shareholders or investors,” asserts the corporate lobbying group, shockingly);
- Requirements that companies disclose their use of conflict minerals.
This is just a taste of the Corporate America Christmas List that has just been handed over to the Trump Administration. Anyone concerned about outsized corporate power may be concerned that the man leading the administration’s interaction with the corporate world is the immediate past president of Goldman Sachs—not exactly the profile of a public-minded regulator. Fortunately, our president is keeping a close eye on these CEOs to make sure that the public interest is first and foremost....
President Trump joked with manufacturing executives on Thursday during a business roundtable at the White House, goading the CEO of General Electric into telling a story about his success on the golf course... After inviting the group of corporate executives gathered in the State Dining Room to introduce themselves one by one, Trump interrupted Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, to recall a golf outing the two had shared years earlier.
”Jeff actually watched me make a hole in one, can you believe that?” Trump told the table of business leaders. “Should you tell that story?”
Immelt obliged, drawing laughter from the room.
Everything is fine.