Trump’s no pop­ulist — he’s the Swamp Thing

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY - Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Wash­ing­ton Post whose work ap­pears Mon­days and Fri­days. Email him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

WASH­ING­TON — Last year, Mark Meck­ler, one of the founders of the tea party move­ment, had con­cerns about Don­ald Trump but gave the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee the ben­e­fit of the doubt, be­cause Trump “at least says he’s go­ing to at­tack” the crony-cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem.

Now the con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist has re­vised his opin­ion. Trump “said he was go­ing to D.C. to drain the swamp,” Meck­ler said in a re­cent Fox Busi­ness in­ter­view, but “now it looks like we’ve got the Crea­ture from the Black La­goon in the White House.”

For ev­ery­body else who be­lieved Trump’s pop­ulist talk about tack­ling a rigged sys­tem, it’s time to rec­og­nize you’ve been had. The pres­i­dent of the United States is a swamp mon­ster.

The bil­lion­aire has em­braced a level of cor­po­rate con­trol of the gov­ern­ment that makes pre­vi­ous con­tro­ver­sies in­volv­ing cor­po­rate in­flu­ence — Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney’s at­tempt in 2001 to keep se­cret the names of in­dus­try of­fi­cials who par­tic­i­pated in his en­ergy task force, for ex­am­ple — seem quaint by com­par­i­son.

In the quiet of Good Fri­day, Pres­i­dent Trump’s White House an­nounced that it would end the prac­tice of re­leas­ing White House vis­i­tor logs, giv­ing the pub­lic no way to know which cor­po­rate suit­ors have the ear of Trump and his staff. Trump was al­ready in­su­lated from such dis­clo­sure dur­ing the dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of his pres­i­dency he spends at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump prop­er­ties.

Trump seems to think peo­ple won’t care about this any more than they do about his re­fusal to re­lease his tax re­turns and other dis­clo­sures that would re­veal his con­flicts of in­ter­est. It’s true that “transparency” is the sort of sub­ject that usu­ally excites only good-gov­ern­ment types. But in this case the opac­ity is ob­scur­ing the rise of a new Amer­i­can plu­toc­racy.

Steven After­good, who runs the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists’ Project on Gov­ern­ment Se­crecy, said Trump’s ac­tions are test­ing “the char­ac­ter of the U.S. gov­ern­ment” and raise the pos­si­bil­ity of the gov­ern­ment “de­volv­ing into some kind of cor­po­rate mu­ta­tion where the wealthy and well-con­nected rule.”

Trump has made a se­ries of pol­icy re­ver­sals in re­cent days from his pop­ulist cam­paign po­si­tions — on Chi­nese cur­rency, trade, the Ex­port-Im­port Bank and more — as the na­tion­al­ist in­flu­ence of Steve Ban­non fades. This isn’t solely be­cause Trump has stocked his ad­min­is­tra­tion at the high­est lev­els with fel­low bil­lion­aires, cor­po­rate types such as sonin-law Jared Kush­ner and veterans of Goldman Sachs.

ProPublica and The New York Times re­ported last week­end that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is be­ing pop­u­lated with former lob­by­ists, lawyers and con­sul­tants who are making pol­icy for the in­dus­tries that had been pay­ing them. The ar­range­ment has vi­o­lated Trump’s (al­ready weak­ened) ethics rules, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion is se­cretly is­su­ing waivers ex­empt­ing the former lob­by­ists from rules block­ing them from work­ing on is­sues that would ben­e­fit their former clients. Trump White House of­fi­cials had more than 300 re­cent cor­po­rate clients and em­ploy­ers, the Times re­ported, and more than 40 former lob­by­ists

ProPublica and The New York Times re­ported last week­end that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is be­ing pop­u­lated with former lob­by­ists, lawyers and con­sul­tants who are making pol­icy for the in­dus­tries that had been pay­ing them.

are now in the White House and fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The di­rec­tor of the U.S. Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics says even he has “no idea how many waivers have been is­sued.”

And th­ese cor­po­ra­tions are set to get what they paid for.

My Wash­ing­ton Post col­league Juliet Eilperin re­ported Sun­day on some of the 168 re­quests cor­po­rate in­ter­ests have made, and are likely to be given, for reg­u­la­tory re­lief, many of them seek­ing re­duced en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and worker rights. BP wants to make it eas­ier to drill in the Gulf of Mex­ico. The pave­ment in­dus­try wants a halt to re­search on the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of coal tar. And my fa­vorite: The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce’s re­quest that em­ploy­ers no longer be re­quired to re­port their in­jury and ill­ness records elec­tron­i­cally to the La­bor Depart­ment.

This should give the lie to Trump’s claims that dereg­u­la­tion is about cre­at­ing jobs. The Cham­ber is up­set that the gov­ern­ment “in­tends to post the in­jury and ill­ness records on the in­ter­net for any­one to see” be­cause this “will pro­vide unions and trial at­tor­neys with in­for­ma­tion that can be taken out of con­text.”

As The Post’s James Hohmann noted, Trump al­ready signed leg­is­la­tion re­mov­ing a rule re­quir­ing busi­nesses seek­ing large fed­eral con­tracts to dis­close se­ri­ous safety and la­bor-law vi­o­la­tions.

Can Trump marginal­ize those who ques­tion his plu­toc­racy? Eric Liu, an ex­pert on mo­bi­liza­tion and au­thor of the new book “You’re More Pow­er­ful Than You Think,” sees Trump’s aban­don­ment of the lit­tle guy as an open­ing for a “nascent pro­gres­sive pop­ulism.”

But be care­ful: You don’t have to have seen “Crea­ture from the Black La­goon” to know that, in the swamp-mon­ster genre, the beast sel­dom goes qui­etly.

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