by Sandra O’Hare
The current administration is…newsworthy. New information about collusion with Russia during the campaign seems to come forward daily, and everyone is (understandably so) up in arms about the proposed health care bill, the travel ban and the “threat” from North Korea.
These are certainly important issues well-deserving of our attention, but they have usurped public attention so wholly it seems there is nothing else to discuss. The Russia investigation, in particular, is having this effect. While the allegations are certainly serious, they might not represent the most important covert collaboration in which the Trump administration is engaging in.
Trump ran on the platform “Make America Great Again.” In terms of campaigning, this was genius, as it appealed to the ordinary citizen left out by globalization and conjured up images of a glorious past, but it also works as a double entendre. When America was emerging as a world power, it did so based on the unchecked expansion of private wealth. Industrialists (or robber-barons), such as Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Morgan, etc. used the context of a limited Federal government to amass unfathomable fortunes.
After the Great Depression and WWII, too many people were damaged by this approach, so FDR, and most presidents since, set out to regulate this expansion of wealth, decommodify labor and shift the role of government, at least in some part, to that of a provider of well-being for the common citizen. Corporations and the extremely wealthy loath this because it prevents further accumulation of wealth and power.
So when Trump said, “Make America Great Again” he was simultaneously advocating for a return to a time when the middle class flourished and when corporations could run free from government regulation. But if we look at the few policies he has been able to pass, or those most likely to become law in a deeply divided Congress, we can see how the nostalgic version of “Make America Great Again” was simply a way to win votes. Once in power, the real goal of this administration has been to assist corporate America in returning to the “glory days” of unchecked capitalism.
Two issues—banking deregulation and internet privacy—represent this more than anything, but the Russia investigation is keeping our eyes away from what might be the most damaging consequences of an administration beholden to corporate power.
Financial CHOICE Act
In case you missed it, the House passed what is known as the Financial CHOICE Act back in early June. This bill is an attempt to reform the Dodd-Frank Bill, which was put in place after the 2008 financial crisis to try and reign in risky lending from banks and prevent the type of fraud and malpractice that brought on such monetary destruction.
The bill in and of itself is modest, and it still needs to make it through the Senate. Proponents argue its main focus is to reduce red tape around lending so that small, community banks can grow their business faster and provide credit to those interested in opening a new business, buying a home or making any other investment. While this is probably a necessary step—there are over 20,000 pages of regulations in Dodd-Frank—the bill includes a few things that raise questions about the motivations behind this legislation.
For example, the bill proposes massive changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Under this new regulatory bill, the CFPB’s leadership structure would be diversified by replacing the commissioner with a five-person bipartisan board. Since the word “bipartisan” is nothing more than a symbol in today’s political climate, this is a convoluted way of debilitating the efficacy of the agency.
Additionally, the bill wants to reduce the CFPB’s ability to label financial products as “abusive,” which is a useful way for consumers to be alerted to potentially fraudulent bank practices. It also aims to reduce the information sharing facilitated the CFPB among consumers who wish to report malpractice or research the banks with which they are engaging. Since one of the most effective ways to resist unchecked power is collective action, this harsh restriction on the ability of people to band together against malevolent bank practices is concerning.
Reducing regulations for small banks so that they can prosper makes sense, but attacking the CFPB does not. The only parties that benefit from this are banks, as this will allow them to retain some of the secrecy they used to be able to amass such incredible power within the American system. Just seven years after one of the worst financial crises in history, the banks have won a major victory in the fight to deregulate, and this needs to be concerning.
Net Neutrality and Internet Privacy
The idea of cybercrime and cyberterrorism is still pretty new to both citizens and governments, but despite this, it is pretty clear both represent a major threat deserving of more attention. But the approach being taken is somewhat concerning. Instead of equipping people with the skills and knowledge about internet security, the plan seems to be to try and clamp down on online freedoms. The well-known fact Russia hacked the DNC and other government servers, as well as the belief the UK’s NHS attack originated from North Korea is fueling this fire.
So within this context, the administration has moved forward with some legislation that leaves an informed citizen scratching their head as to how the average citizen benefits. For example, internet service providers can now sell your browsing history to third-parties without your consent. Since most of what we view on the internet is a product of what we’ve already viewed (fancy algorithms are used to calculate what would be most useful to us), this transfer of data will seriously alter the content you can view online.
Additionally, the idea of net neutrality—the concept that no one can pay for preferential treatment online and that each website is treated equally—is under heavy attack. And, as Snowden proved to us all, the government can and will engage in surveillance of innocent citizens, all under the guise of security.
It’s hard to tell what is the benefit of all these moves to the average citizen, or how any of these policies “Make America Great Again” in the nostalgic sense and not in the unchecked corporate power sense. There are steps you can take to limit this interference in your life, but the fact these are even necessary should be enough reason for concern.
It is easy to get caught up in the flurry of the Russia investigation, the health care bill (also another clear example of how corporations have priority in Trump’s administration) and all the chaos in Washington, but it is important not to let these distractions pull us from the important issues. If America truly returns to a place of unchecked, unregulated capitalism fully dominated by wealthy elites, the consequences, both nationally and internationally, are sure to be dire.
What do you think? Are bank regulation and internet privacy a concern to you? Do you think the current administration will be able to do these things, or will the current scandal prevent anything from really happening? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
About the Author: Sandra is a freelance political blogger who focuses on raising awareness about corporate power. She has, in her lifetime, seen corporations become immensely influential, and she is worried about what that means for America’s future. As a frequent contributor to The Right Side of Truth, she is working to get the word out there so that people can make truly informed decisions moving forward.