As the United States presidential elections draw closer, indicators that the incumbent will not accept the election results rise. American democracy relies upon free and fair elections, but for corporate elite president Donald Trump, there may be too much to lose.
Donald Trump thrives on the narrative that he is the last bulwark against the destruction of American values, ideals, existence, by the “radical left.” For Trump’s supporters, calls for living wages, worker protections, environmental protection, racial justice, in any form of protest or civil engagement, are anti-American, a threat to the nation.
Mr. Trump does not believe, I suspect, his own rhetoric about “the radical left” so much as he knows, as many right-wing politicians and their friends in the polluter and prison industrial complexes do, how much is at stake for them (the elites), should the indeed, truly radical changes necessary be won.
For big oil companies and other corporate polluters, the existence of environmental or labor regulations restricts their ability to maximize profits via the overexploitation of people and planet, as well as by externalizing costs and hazards onto marginalized populations. These corporations have always sought the path of least political resistance, and they have found a champion in our current president.
On his very first day in office, Trump, (the quintessential pro-business, anti-environment candidate whose presidential cabinet has included many of the corporate figures it ought to be regulating), promised to “[cut] regulation massively” and leave big corporations unbridled in wreaking havoc on human health and local and global ecosystems, in the name of the rich getting richer.
Under the guise of Coronavirus emergency measures, and with the country’s focus shifted towards the pandemic itself, Trump has seized opportunities to fast track the changes he has long promised his corporate buddies.
One such buddy is Ronald Cameron, owner of multi-billion dollar poultry company Mountaire, and known for racial discrimination and a particularly egregious work environment. Cameron, who contributed 3 million dollars to Trump’s 2016 campaign, was appointed to an advisory board about the economic impact of the virus this year. Shortly thereafter, Trump signed an executive order and accompanying statement from the Labor Department naming meat-processing facilities essential, and assuring companies that they would not be held accountable if their employees contracted COVID-19. This deregulatory measure has allowed Cameron and others like him to continue to extract profit from the underpaid labor of his employees, while forcing them to choose between their health and safety, and their jobs.
This is one of a number of deregulatory measures Trump has taken for the benefit of his cronies while working class Americans have struggled for their lives in the past months. Others include numerous environmental rollbacks, largely driven by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an agency created to impose necessary regulations to prevent corporations from causing undue environmental harm.
The EPA has changed hands several times during Trump’s presidency, from Scott Pruit, who, as the attorney general of Oklahoma, had sued the EPA twelve times, to now acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, who has an extensive history in fossil fuel lobbying, having worked for Bob Murray, an infamous oil tycoon and Trump supporter. Trump’s goal is clearly to place the agency in the hands of someone who will effectively dismantle it from the inside out.
Over the past three years, the EPA has rolled back 100 regulations. In the midst of the pandemic, Wheeler and his team have only plowed ahead, labelling their rollbacks as necessary victories for the good of the nation, when the only victors are those at the top of polluting corporations, and the president whose power is derived from all that their money can buy him.
Many Americans, and most Republicans, fear “big government.” Certainly, government infringement on personal rights and freedoms merits caution. However, when corporations gain such political power that their extractivist, exploitative goals become almost synonymous with a political platform, it becomes clear that the government is shrinking not to give Americans freedom to live their lives, but to give big corporations the freedom to harm the American people.
Political theorist Robert Dahl warns us that when the power is the most imbalanced, when political elites have the most to lose should the regime shift towards democracy, they are all the more willing to protect the status quo at any cost.
It may be important to bear this in mind, as we march towards the presidential election in the United States to the tune of Donald Trump not only launching an attack on mail-in-ballots, but suggesting that one way or another, the only election outcome he will accept is one which affirms his reelection. At a rally in September, he said that after winning the 2020 election, he would negotiate for four more years after that, even going so far as to say, “When we leave, in 16, 20 years…” a striking statement given the democratic norm of presidential terms limits, and the resemblance of this comment to statements like that of Bolivian dictator Evo Morales, assuring his party that he intended to remain in power for a long time. As recently as October 13th, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett refused to state that a president must commit to a peaceful transition of power, an unheard of position from a federal judge.
What will the president and his corporate elites do to maintain the power that they hold? Will they go so far as to disregard the people’s vote come November? At what point can the distinction be made: Donald Trump wants to rule an autocracy for the corporate elites?