Thomas McGarity on Trump and the Fall of Law and Order for Corporations

Koch Industries spent $3.1 million in the first three months of the Trump administration, largely to ensure confirmation of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

By July 2018, more than sixteen federal inquiries were pending into Pruitt’s mismanagement and corruption. 

But Pruitt was just the first in a long line of industry-friendly, incompetent, and destructive agency heads put in place by the Trump administration in its effort to dismantle the federal government’s protective edifice.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke faced eighteen separate federal inquiries and was fired.

Now both Pruitt and Zinke, having been drummed out of public office, are making comebacks. 

Pruitt is running for U.S. Senate in Oklahoma. 

And just last week, Zinke won the Republican primary for Congress from Montana’s first congressional district.

“While many progressives are rightly concerned that red and purple states will send more Christian nationalists and Big Lie bigots to Congress this year, they should also be worried that those states will revive the fortunes of self-aggrandizing wrecking balls like Pruitt and Zinke,” University of Texas Law Professor Thomas McGarity wrote recently in a Nation magazine article titled Two of the Trump Era’s Biggest Grifters Are Angling for a Comeback. “Pruitt and Zinke were members of the demolition crew that President Donald Trump assembled in January 2017 to roll back public health and environmental protections from inside the executive branch. Pruitt was the Trump administration’s first Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Zinke was its first secretary of the interior.”

“Both men were responsible for protecting public health and the environment. Yet both shirked their statutory obligations in the Trump administration’s determined pursuit of ‘energy dominance.’ And both had a strong sense of entitlement to spend taxpayer dollars on creature comforts that quickly brought about their downfalls.”

McGarity is the author of the new book Demolition Agenda: How Trump Tried to Dismantle American Government, and What Biden Needs to Do to Save It (New Press, 2022).

What is your analysis of the state of corporate regulation today compared to the early days of OSHA and EPA and the major regulatory bodies?

“It’s much weaker,” McGarity told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “I published a book several years ago titled Freedom to Harm. In that book, I outlined four assaults on regulation.”

“The first one came during the Ronald Reagan years. It kind of failed because they had a number of scandals with Anne Gorsuch and James Watt. And Bill Ruckelshaus came in and tried to move things forward.” 

“But then we had the Clinton administration and the Gingrich Congress. That was a severe threat to the administrative state. They were going after the core environmental and OSHA and regulatory statutes. But they failed.” 

“There was a bill that was to be an omnibus bill to slow down the regulatory agencies, but it failed by one vote. Clinton triangulated and slowed down regulation dramatically.”

“The third assault came with the George W. Bush administration. We saw a total slowdown. No significant new regulations and a lot of rollbacks of existing regulations.”

“The fourth assault was pretty brief. It came with the 2010 elections and the Tea Party and the change in leadership in Congress. That slowed down the Obama administration. But when he was re-elected in 2012, Obama realized he could never get anything through Congress. But he got a lot accomplished on the administrative side.”

“Then we had the fifth assault, which I write about in The Demolition Agenda. That was launched by the Trump administration. And there we saw an attempted rollback of virtually everything that the Obama administration did. They sometimes failed in court.”

Trump was elected as an outsider who would drain the swamp, clean up the swamp. Regular people thought – well, it is a swamp. And you have documented the corporate influence over the regulatory process throughout administrations.

Most people know that corruption is rampant inside the beltway. And they wanted to elect someone who at least said – drain the swamp.

“People across the political spectrum agreed. And that populist revolution could have gone either way. People were really mad that these Wall Street banks were getting bailed out and ordinary folks were having trouble paying off their mortgages, they didn’t get any bailout. It could have gone either way.” 

“Unfortunately, Obama brought in folks like Larry Summers, the same folks who during the Clinton administration, deregulated the banking industry. And Obama brought them in to try and solve the problem. The right wing, through their think tanks and the ground troops, were able to refocus that populist anger away from the banks and various corporate entities who were making life miserable for regular people and redirected the anger toward the government.”

The Trump machine effectively did portray Hillary as a tool of Wall Street. And she was giving talks to Goldman Sachs for $650,000.

“Yes. And we are talking about the same folks. We are talking about Larry Summers as a Hillary adviser. And many of the same people who were advising Bill Clinton to repeal Glass Steagall. Instead of focusing on health care, Obama should have gone straight after Wall Street.”

But they were wedded to Wall Street. They weren’t going to do that.

“There is that problem.” 

Demolition Agenda features Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke, two Trump appointees who are making a comeback.

“Pruitt was assigned the job of demolishing the EPA. He got a good start on that job. Zinke was assigned the job of demolishing the Department of Interior. He also got a good start on that job before both of them became totally immersed in scandal.”

“Pruitt came from Oklahoma. He was the Attorney General of Oklahoma, where he prided himself on eliminating the environmental protection division of the Attorney General’s office and suing the EPA as often as he could to protect the energy industry. He was sending letters to members of Congress and others, letters that were actually written by energy companies.”

“Pruitt was an ideal choice if you wanted to take down the EPA. It turns out he had no use at all for the civil servants. The civil servants are heroes in my book. And the other heroes are the environmental and public interest groups who fought these efforts in court to demolish the federal protections. The civil servants tried to do their jobs and follow their statutory mandates.” 

“But Pruitt and Zinke were trying to bypass their civil servants. They weren’t interested in their expertise.”

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was at the time just recently created to protect consumers from payday lenders and banks that employed abusive tactics. But then Richard Cordray, the first head of the CFPB left and Trump appointed Mick Melvaney to head it. And ultimately the agency agreed with its challengers that the agency was structured in an unconstitutional manner. Mulvaney said – we should allow the President to fire the head of the CFPB. The Supreme Court agreed.” 

“That was ironic, because it allowed Biden to fire Kathleen Kraninger, who succeeded Mulvaney, and replace her with his own person.”

“But back to Pruitt and Zinke. They both left office under clouds of corruption. And now they are running for Congress. Zinke won his primary this week. And Pruitt’s primary is later this month.” 

“They are just like Trump. The scandals make them more attractive. They thumb their noses at propriety. That’s something that mystifies me.”

[For the complete Interview with Thomas McGarity, see page 36 Corporate Crime Reporter 26(11), June 27, 2022, print edition only.]

Copyright © Corporate Crime Reporter
In Print 48 Weeks A Year

Built on Notes Blog Core
Powered by WordPress