Corporate America is frantically distancing itself from Donald Trump in the dying days of his presidency after spending four years financing him, enjoying his tax giveaways, his attacks on workers and gutting of regulations to fatten corporate profits. Elizabeth Minter reports on the rank hypocrisy, even extending to Scott Morrison’s top adviser on Covid-19 economic recovery.
Andrew Liveris, known in Australia as the head of Scott Morrison’s National Covid-19 Commission manufacturing taskforce, called the scenes at the US Capitol tragic. The former CEO of Dow Chemical said they brought back “memories of my lived experiences in emerging economies with coups, brawls in parliament and street violence”.
In 2017, before Liveris retired from Dow Chemical, he donated $100,000 to the dark money organisation America First Policies, created by Trump allies and former campaign officials to promote Trump’s agenda. Southern Company donated $1 million and CVS Health donated $500,000. America First Policies has been criticised for racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments expressed by its staff. The three companies said they would no longer donate to AFP after the racist comments were reported by media outlets.
The Covid-19 commission has come under fire over conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency. Liveris is on the board of Saudi Aramco and leaked documents showed that the Covid-19 commission wanted the government to underwrite a massive expansion of gas.
Meanwhile in the US following the violence on January 6,2021, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) urged Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump and “preserve democracy”.
NAM is a lobbying group that represents about 14,000 manufacturers. Representatives of ExxonMobil and Pfizer Inc. serve on its executive committee, while board members include representatives of General Electric, Raytheon Technologies, General Motors and Boeing.
Less than a year ago, in February 2020, NAM gave its inaugural Alexander Hamilton Award to Ivanka Trump. The award recognises leaders who “inspire Americans to promote, perpetuate and preserve manufacturing in America”. Said NEM:
“Ivanka Trump embodies the collaborative spirit and relentless drive needed to solve manufacturers’ most pressing challenge—the workforce crisis. Like no one in government has ever done, she has provided singular leadership and shown an unwavering commitment to modern manufacturing in America.”
As reported by Jacobin, Donald Trump himself spoke at NAM’s 2017 convention, and during his term NAM hired several former administration officials as lobbyists and had reportedly enjoyed “unfettered access to the White House under Trump”.
NAM also reportedly played a central role in crafting the administration’s tax bill, an analysis of which showed “the poor and working classes sinking slightly, the middle-class treading water, the upper-middle class growing and the richest luxuriating in rising rivers of greenbacks”.
On January 7, the day after the violence, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman made a statement:
“The insurrection that followed the President’s remarks today is appalling and an affront to the democratic values we hold dear as Americans. I am shocked and horrified by this mob’s attempt to undermine our constitution. As I said in November, the outcome of the election is very clear and there must be a peaceful transition of power.”’
Blackstone is a US private equity alternative investment management firm with assets worth USD$584 billion under management. Schwarzman, with a net worth of $20.9 billion, and a “long-time ally to Trump”, was reportedly one of Wall Street’s leading donors to Trump and the Republican machine.
“As Trump’s lawlessness and attacks on democratic institutions intensified, Schwarzman became the leading finance industry cheerleader for Trump’s re-election, pumping more than $40 million into Republican Party groups and a Trump super PAC during the 2020 election cycle.”
Even after the presidential election, Schwarzman “defended Donald Trump’s response to this year’s US poll results during an emergency meeting of senior business leaders alarmed by the president’s claims that the election is being stolen”, according to a Financial Times report. The newspaper also reported that Schwarzman argued that Trump “was within his rights to challenge election results”.
During the Georgia runoff Senate races, Schwarzman reportedly pumped $15 million into a super PAC boosting the Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both said during their campaigns they would support challenging the certification of the Electoral College. In the event, both were beaten by Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff respectively.
US Chamber of Commerce backtrack?
Then there was the US Chamber of Commerce, headed up by Thomas Donohue, who said on Wednesday that the “attacks against our nation’s Capitol Building and our democracy must end now”. Donohue had also earlier condemned “efforts by some members of Congress to disregard certified election results.”
Yet the Chamber, America’s top business lobby, spent nearly $5 million backing Senate Republicans in this election cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets. This included a $400,000 ad campaign to elect Kansas senator Roger Marshall, one of eight senators who voted to overturn the results of the Electoral College. The Chamber also spent $1.4 million in support of Loeffler and Perdue’s Senate campaigns, noted Jacobin.
More generally corporate America has benefited enormously from Trump’s anti-worker agenda, his efforts to dismantle regulations, and his appalling environmental policies. His administration has systematically promoted the interests of corporate executives and shareholders over those of working people. Why would corporate America bite the hand that has fattened its profits for so long?
Trump’s attacks on workers’ rights and wages
According to the Economic Policy Institute, Trump has attacked workers’ safety, wages, and rights since Day One. His administration rolled back worker protections, proposed budgets that slash funding for agencies that safeguard workers’ rights, wages and safety, and consistently attacked workers’ ability to organize and collectively bargain.
For example, the White House blocked a rule requiring employers to report details of workplace injuries. The rule was to help inspectors identify dangerous work conditions, and thereby pressure businesses to comply with workplace safety laws.
In 2017 the Trump administration dismantled two key regulations that protected the pay of low- to middle-income workers: a 2016 rule strengthening overtime protections for these workers, and it took steps to gut regulations that protect workers’ tips (in restaurants etc) from being taken by their employers. Such moves cost these workers an estimated $7 billion per year.
Rolling back regulation
Corporate America also benefited from Trump’s retrograde environmental policies, especially rolling back efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. So while oil and gas giant Chevron in a statement last week called for “the peaceful transition of the US government”, it is in context of Chevron having donated $5.4 million this year to party-aligned super PACs working to elect Republican politicians.
When Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, took charge of the Environmental Protection Agency he flagged rolling back pollution standards, saying he was carrying out the president’s “regulatory reform agenda”.
And according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Wheeler has been extraordinarily effective in rolling back and eliminating EPA safeguards, to the benefit of corporate America.
He rescinded the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have required coal-fired power plants to dramatically cut their carbon emissions.
He recommended unsafe levels of drinking water contaminants, saying the EPA’s voluntary 70-part-per-trillion health-advisory level for particular chemicals is “a safe level for drinking water” despite this level being more than six times higher than what the Disease Registry considers safe.
He ignored the advice of EPA scientists to ban asbestos, which the US still imports for use in a range of commercial and consumer products. And the list goes on.