It has been six long months since Donald Trump's inauguration, and unsurprisingly, the president has not parlayed his populist campaign promises into policy. In fact, he has often done the exact opposite—earning himself the lowest approval rating of any president in the past 70 years.
"Giant corporations are now designing and carrying out policy to an extent unequaled in American history."
—Alan Zibel, Public Citizen
In a new report from the nonprofit group Public Citizen, researchers describe how President Trump has spent his first six months defying the pledges that carried him into office, instead favoring the corporate interests groups he condemed during his campaign.
Specifically, the report—aptly titled Trump's Corporate Con Job: Six Months Into Term, Trump Has Fully Abandoned Populism In Favor of Giveaways to Industry—details how Trump's policies benefit agribusiness; automakers; bankers; chemical producers; defense firms; predatory private colleges and student lenders; for-profit prison companies; the telecom, fossil fuel, and pharmaceutical industries; and wealthy people.
As Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen's Corporate Presidency Project, put it: "Giant corporations are now designing and carrying out policy to an extent unequaled in American history."
Despite Trump's campaign rallying cry to "drain the swamp" and "put the people back in charge of our government"—in which he directly targeted lobbyists and special interest groups—more than 100 former federal lobbyists now work within his administration. As ProPublica reported in March: "During the campaign, Trump said he would have 'no problem' banning lobbyists from his administration. But they have nonetheless ended up in senior roles, aided by Trump's weakening of Obama-era ethics rules that modestly limited lobbyists' role in government."
The White House has granted ethics waivers to enable former lobbyists to influence policies that will impact the contentious industries—from fossil fuels to financial firms—for which they previously lobbied. As Common Dreams previously reported, "it took just months for Trump to issue as many ethics waivers as former President Barack Obama did over his entire two terms in office."
"While Candidate Trump promised to fix a rigged economic and political system, President Trump swiftly turned control of government over to the very corporate elites he denounced during the campaign," said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. "Donald Trump's presidency is nothing more than a giant bait and switch scheme."
As a candidate, Trump suggested the government could save billions on Medicare by negotiating lower drug costs with Big Pharma, and even released a health plan that read: "Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service. Allowing consumers access to imported, safe, and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers."
However, as the report notes, Trump reversed course following the election:
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Soon after taking office, Trump met with executives representing some of the largest drug companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Amgen and the head of the industry's lobby group, PhRMA. Instead of standing up to the industry, he pledged to eliminate 75 to 80 percent of Food and Drug Administration regulations.
Before he took office, Trump cast Lockheed Martin’s F-35 contract as an example of wasteful government spending. However, a month after taking office, Trump proposed a $54 billion increase in military spending. Further, despite Trump's claims that, as president, he would negotiate with weapons manufacturers to lower costs, the F-35 fighter jet budget—already the nation's most expensive weapons program—is now predicted to jump by $27 billion, as Commons Dreams reported last week.
The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
On the campaign trail, candidate Trump railed on Republican challenger Ted Cruz, as well as Democrat Hillary Clinton, for their ties to Goldman Sachs, claiming: "I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over [Cruz]. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton."
Less than a month after being elected, Trump tapped Goldman Sachs alumnus Steve Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department. Mnuchin isn't the only industry executive in Trump's cabinet; the president's pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was formerly CEO of the world's largest Big Oil company, ExxonMobil.
As the Public Citizen report concludes:
Since Donald Trump's presidential campaign ended, consumer-friendly proposals such as negotiating prescription drug prices or restoring a firewall between commercial and investment banks, have receded from view. Into their place has sprung a wish list of favors long-sought by industries to boost profits, often at the expense of the environment or the vast majority of Trump voters.
Given the scandal-plagued Trump administration's failure to advance its priorities in Congress, it is tempting to conclude that Trump is not accomplishing anything of significance. However, it's clear that Trump and his administration are working to unravel important public protections, often at the behest of industry. The public is losing out.