Break Trump’s ties to crony cor­po­ra­tions

Business Day - - OPIN­ION - Bond is pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal econ­omy at the Wits School of gov­er­nance in Jo­han­nes­burg. Patrick Bond

Don­ald Trump wel­comed an es­ti­mated 250,000 fans to hear a prim­i­tive, jin­go­is­tic open­ing speech as US pres­i­dent at his for­mal in­au­gu­ra­tion on Fri­day. The next day, at least dou­ble that many protested in the same place at the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton, while in nearly 700 cities glob­ally — in­clud­ing Cape Town and Dur­ban — an­other 2-mil­lion to 4-mil­lion peo­ple hit the streets in sol­i­dar­ity against Trump.

This un­prece­dented turnout may slow the rise of a neo-fas­cist move­ment in the US. Re­sis­tance from be­low will con­tinue ris­ing as pro­gres­sive ac­tivists move out of their sin­gle-is­sue si­los and unite. The ground is fer­tile, for Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing has fallen to 32%; in 2009, Barack Obama had an 84% ap­proval rat­ing as he en­tered the White House. Crit­ics will soon en­com­pass most of the world once Trump’s cli­mate change threats are car­ried out.

Could this re­sis­tance draw lessons from the vic­tory against apartheid SA? In ad­di­tion to on­go­ing protest, a global sanc­tions strat­egy may soon be needed against Trump, his cronies and vul­ner­a­ble US cor­po­ra­tions. Boy­cott, di­vest­ment, sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paigns now un­der way in­clude a Pales­tinian call to op­pose the Is­raeli state due to its le­gal and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. An­other is the “di­vest-in­vest” cam­paign against the fos­sil-fuel in­dus­try.

The 1960s-80s sanc­tions cam­paign against SA re­mains the ex­em­plar. Ac­cord­ing to Ron­nie Kas­rils, a leader of the anti-apartheid un­der­ground move­ment, the cam­paign “made apartheid’s ben­e­fi­cia­ries feel the pinch in their pocket, and their pole­cat sta­tus”. In 1985, the cam­paign drove a strate­gic wedge be­tween white cap­i­tal­ists and the racist Pre­to­ria regime. Just as in­ter­nal protests surged in the mid-1980s, a for­eign debt cri­sis was caused, in part, by the ris­ing tide of sanc­tions. This broke the cap­i­tal-state al­liance and com­pelled the tran­si­tion to democ­racy.

Break­ing Trump’s ties to crony cor­po­ra­tions would be a com­pa­ra­ble project. At least in the short term, the im­pe­tus for such a cam­paign will come mainly from Trump’s cli­mate pol­i­tics. Cli­mate change de­nial­ism was the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “de­fault po­si­tion”, his chief of staff has con­firmed. Ac­cord­ing to Trump’s 100-day plan, he will build fos­sil-fuel pipe­lines, air­ports, roads and bridges. He will can­cel in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions in­clud­ing UN treaties and pay­ments due to the Green Cli­mate Fund. He will re­tract shale gas re­stric­tions and the ban on the Key­stone oil pipe­line.

His plan also dis­em­pow­ers the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) and at­tempts to “save the coal in­dus­try”. Af­ter that, ex­pect pri­vati­sa­tion of pub­lic land in­clud­ing Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tions, in search of more oil. In ad­di­tion, Trump has cho­sen car­bon-filthy in­di­vid­u­als to fill the main cli­mate-re­lated Cabi­net posts: Rex Tiller­son as sec­re­tary of state, Scott Pruitt as EPA di­rec­tor and Rick Perry as en­ergy sec­re­tary.

A decade ago, economist Joseph Stiglitz ar­gued that “un­less pro­duc­ers in Amer­ica face the full cost of their emis­sions, Europe, Ja­pan and all the coun­tries of the world should im­pose trade sanc­tions against the US”. In Novem­ber, cli­mate jus­tice ad­vo­cate Naomi Klein re­acted to Trump’s elec­tion: “We need to start de­mand­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions in the face of this treaty-shed­ding law­less­ness.” The fol­low­ing week, for­mer French pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy an­nounced: “I will de­mand that Europe put in place a car­bon tax at its bor­der, a tax of 1%-3%, for all prod­ucts com­ing from the US if the US doesn’t ap­ply en­vi­ron­men­tal rules that we are im­pos­ing on our com­pa­nies.”

Mi­cro­sanc­tions are al­ready sting­ing Trump. He re­cently de­fended cloth­ing re­tailer LL Bean against the #graby­our­wal­let boy­cott of 75 Trump-re­lated firms. Most A-list en­ter­tain­ers re­jected in­vi­ta­tions to per­form on in­au­gu­ra­tion day, while a third of the Demo­cratic Party’s mem­bers of Congress stayed away. Set­ting aside other per­sonal pin­pricks that have drawn blood, at­tacks on Trump’s busi­ness con­tinue to mount. Decades’ worth of ex­treme cor­rup­tion in prop­erty gam­bles, debt de­faults and fully fledged bank­rupt­cies, non­pay­ment of sup­pli­ers and tax chis­elling have re­port­edly at­tracted more than 4,000 law­suits. And the new pres­i­dent re­fuses to di­vest any of his busi­ness hold­ings, as­sur­ing con­flict-of-in­ter­est probes that may be­come for­mal im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings within weeks.

Po­lit­i­cal at­tacks on Trump-as­so­ci­ated com­pa­nies are even more im­por­tant. In Fe­bru­ary 2016, for ex­am­ple, the ac­tivist net­work Colour of Change pe­ti­tioned a ma­jor spon­sor of the Repub­li­can Party con­ven­tion: “How can Coca-Cola, a com­pany that heav­ily mar­kets to and prof­its from black peo­ple, fund a plat­form for a pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee that is be­ing bol­stered into of­fice by for­mer Grand Wiz­ard David Duke, the KKK, and other white su­prem­a­cists?” Af­ter 100,000 sig­na­tures within three weeks, Coca-Cola agreed to with­hold $600,000 it had ear­lier ear­marked to help pay for the con­ven­tion.

An­other is the Twit­ter net­work of sev­eral thou­sand click­tivists. Since Novem­ber, they have dis­cov­ered more than 1,000 busi­nesses and non­profit in­sti­tu­tions ad­ver­tis­ing (most with­out be­ing aware) on the Bre­it­bart white na­tion­al­ist web­site. They con­fronted these firms by send­ing them a screen­shot and re­quested that they with­draw their ad­ver­tis­ing. Soon 400 firms did so.

Mega cor­po­ra­tions are more dif­fi­cult tar­gets. The Dow Jones stock mar­ket in­dex has soared since Trump’s vic­tory on Novem­ber 8, led by bank­ing, oil and mil­i­tary firms. Trump’s Cabi­net and top of­fi­cials come from Gold­man Sachs, Exxon­Mo­bil, Koch In­dus­tries, Lock­heed Martin, Pfizer, Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics, Wells Fargo, Amway, Hardees and Bre­it­bart. Some will be­come ob­vi­ous tar­gets for a peo­ple’s sanc­tions strat­egy.

Af­ter Satur­day’s protests, ac­tivists fight­ing hardest from within — and any­one else in­ter­na­tion­ally con­cerned about cli­mate change — must now con­sider how to am­plify the pres­sure. As SA showed, break­ing big cap­i­tal away from a fas­cist regime re­quired a strat­egy that might now be­come known as “BDS USA”.


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