The Universal Notebook: Trump-eting the U.S. economy

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Very few things in the new Manichean America are as clear and easy to understand as the fact the Republican Party is the party of Corporate America.

If working-class Americans accidently benefit from their pro-business, deregulation agenda, so be it. But the important thing is to beef up the bottom line whether it hurts consumers, employees and the environment or not.

It’s almost as if, for GOP Inc., any concern for unity, justice, tranquility, welfare and the natural world is a sign of weakness. The mean streak that defines the modern Republican Party runs right through the Trump administration, Congress and the Supreme Court.

While Trump and Republicans in Congress are busy dismantling the federal government, gutting the State Department, eviscerating the Environmental Protection Agency; dumbing down education; granting huge tax breaks to the corporate wealthy (even though a majority of Americans opposed their tax bill), and turning health care, prisons and public education over to for-profit interests, an activist Supreme Court is maniacally unleashing the corporate hounds of hell on the American people.

The high court’s decision in Citizen United, allowing corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to election campaigns, and in Hobby Lobby, allowing corporations to site religious convictions to justify discrimination, are two of the worst Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history. The mistaken idea that corporations have the same rights as individuals underlies conservative thinking and undermines American democracy.

Now we have the Trump administration feverishly deregulating American business, boasting on the White House website that is has already withdrawn or delayed nearly 1,600 regulations, actions that are all pro-business and anti-people.

Here in Maine we have the dubious distinction of having the only Atlantic state governor who is not opposed to offshore drilling, an oily prospect floated by Trump’s Interior Department. Gov. Paul LePage, of course, will be out of office and comfortably retired in Florida by the time the oil slick comes ashore in the Gulf of Maine. Trump, who spends as much time golfing as he does governing, has excluded Florida offshore waters out of enlightened self-interest.

Another bone the Trump administration has thrown to big business is the repeal of net neutrality protections for the internet. Though 83 percent of Americans favored keeping rules that guaranteed equal access to all web content and prohibiting internet service providers from prioritizing and charging for access to some sites, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to scrap net neutrality and allow the free market to have at the internet.

That has made FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, an Obama appointee, the most hated man on the internet. Pai argued that net neutrality amounted to government control, failing to see that there is a difference between control and protecting the public interest.

As she seeks to replace free public education with for-profit public schooling, Trump’s billionaire education commissioner, Betsy DeVos, has managed to expand tax-exempt education savings plans that once only applied to college costs to public, private and religious elementary and secondary schools.

Trump has also seen to it that the government won’t prevent debt collectors from charging 16 percent fees for collecting on student loans. And, surprise, surprise, Boss DeVos was an investor in one of the two companies recently selected to collect overdue loans. Self-dealing is highly profitable, as Donald J. can readily attest.

Now, Trump and his coterie of minions and meanies are trumpeting the good economy as proof that the King of Chaos has delivered an economic miracle that justifies all the deregulation and tax breaks. But he and they seem to ignore the fact that the U.S. economy was booming before the bankrupt billionaire took up residence in the White House. In fact, in many ways, the economy was doing better under Obama.

Job growth under Trump, for instance, has lagged behind that under Obama for five of the last seven years. The soaring stock market is part of a long-term bull-market trend, but stocks rose more sharply during Obama’s first year than during Trump’s. The Dow rose 30 percent in Obama’s first 11 months in office compared with 24 percent under Trump. And while Trump complained that low unemployment numbers and the improving stock market were fake news when Obama was president, now they are evidence of Trump’s business acumen.

In fact, the healthy U.S. economy has little or nothing to do with Trump’s machinations. Even the rebound of coal, a favorite Trump charity, is not his doing. A world-wide energy boom saw the price of coal double back in 2016 when Donald J. Trump was still just a bad joke.

Nope, if you think Trump has been good for business, you’ve been snowed. But then it was a snow job that got him elected in the first place.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.