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Naomi Klein on Trump Election: "This is a Corporate Coup d’État"

StoryJanuary 20, 2017
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Journalists Naomi Klein, author of "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate" and Lee Fang of The Intercept talk about the role of corporations inside the Trump administration and the inauguration.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. It’s "War, Peace and the Presidency." We’re broadcasting on this Inauguration Day special live from WHUT on the campus of Howard University here in the nation’s capital. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re less than four hours away from the inauguration of Donald Trump. Protests have already begun here in the streets of Washington. To talk more about the inauguration of Trump, we’re joined now by two guests.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein is the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. And Lee Fang is with us, the investigative journalist at The Intercept covering the intersection of money and politics. His latest piece, "Who’s Paying for Inauguration Parties? Companies and Lobbyists with a Lot at Stake."

Naomi, let’s start with you. You’ve come here to Washington, D.C. You’ve been following the election and what’s taken place. Your thoughts?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, it’s—I mean, I think there’s a few things we need to remember this morning, which is certainly a destabilizing day for a lot of your viewers and listeners and for all of us, really. You know, as we’ve already heard—right?—he did not win the popular vote. And I think, in addition to that, and I know this is maybe not the most popular thing to say when everyone is calling for unity among progressives, you know, I think even within this rigged system that suppresses so many votes, he didn’t win it. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment lost it. It was low enthusiasm, low voter turnout on their side that gave the election to Trump. And I think that’s important to understand even amidst these calls for unity, because if that truth gets buried, then the mistakes will be repeated.

The other thing that I think is really important, and it’s—I think it’s fantastic that people are on the streets last night, today all day—it is so important to push back in these early days, when they’re going to be throwing a whole lot at us. We’re seeing talk of a shock-and-awe budget. By the way, let’s not call it a "skinny budget." This is another rebranding campaign, like "alt-right." This is a savage budget that would cut $10 trillion, they’re talking about, that would attack programs targeted towards violence against women, renewable energy, environmental justice. I mean, they’re going after everything. But the point is, is that Trump—I mean, we know the transition is in disarray. And it seems as if they’re outsourcing the whole thing to the Heritage Foundation, which is what they’re there for, right? They have this infrastructure. They’ve got all of these policies and budgets ready to go. But this is going to be incredibly unpopular. And so, if people push back really hard, and it sees Trump’s approval rating drop even more—one thing we know about Donald Trump: He likes firing people. This we know. And I think that the people who he has outsourced to right now could get blamed very early on and pushed out, and I think that would be very important, because I think when it comes to economics, there’s a fair amount of evidence that he’s not an ideologue. But this is—but I think we’re headed for a very, very ideological push.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night at the Peace Ball, you called this a corporate coup d’état. What do you mean?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think one of the things that’s remarkable about his appointees is just how many—you know, how many CEOs are going into these positions, and just this process of kind of cutting out the middleman, right? Exxon running the State Department.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask: Where were you when you heard that Rex Tillerson, at the time the current CEO of ExxonMobil—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —the largest private oil company in the world, was nominated?

NAOMI KLEIN: And not just any oil company. You know, this is a company that is the main target of the climate movement, that is under investigation by multiple states’ attorneys general and the SEC for its various deceptions, financial and climate deceptions, the target of a huge campaign, because this is a company that was doing really some of the most important research into the reality of climate change back in the 1970s and then bankrolled the deceptions that lost us decades of climate action in the 1990s, and really up into the present day. So, I don’t know—I don’t remember exactly where I was. But in some ways, you know, to echo something Bill McKibben has said, my colleague at 350, you know, it takes the mask off, right? Because these companies, as Lee well knows, I mean, they already had a huge amount of influence, but now it’s almost like they’re tired of playing the game, they’re tired of the cajoling and the bankrolling and the legalized bribery, and they’re just going to do the job themselves—you know, cut out the middleman. And so we see that with Tillerson. We see that with labor, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Whether Puzder makes his way to actually being labor secretary is very interesting.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, yeah. But, I mean, one thing I would say about both these cases is—and I think this is, once again, important to remember on a day like today, when a lot of people feel so demoralized—these guys are panicked because of the power of rising social movements. Right? I mean, why is Puzder so panicked? Because of the Fight for 15. Because of the wave of victories for a living wage. Because of the—because of the very real possibility that Bernie Sanders could have won, and he would have taken that movement demand and brought it to the federal level, to federal policy. That was his campaign promise. And Tillerson, I mean, the biggest threat he faces is the goals that are enshrined in the Paris Accord, these hard-won goals to keep temperatures below 1.5 to 2 degrees. That would be the end of his business model, right? So this, you know, what I called a corporate coup, is really—it’s really about panic as much as anything else, and holding back these tides of progress on multiple fronts. You know, Steve Mnuchin and his friends are also worried about their business model and about the—about Occupy, about the Sanders campaign, about the regulation that they would face. So, you know, I think we should see this in some ways as sort of a panicked last gasp. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to confront it with everything we have.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to what’s going on today in Washington, D.C., the inauguration. Lee, your piece, most recent piece, out yesterday, is called "Who’s Paying for Inauguration Parties? Companies and Lobbyists with a Lot at Stake." So tell us: Who is paying?

LEE FANG: Well, we don’t know the full list of sponsors of the different inauguration festivities, but there are private events and, of course, the official inauguration events associated with the Trump transition. And these are all festivities that are privately financed. And according to some reports, we know that the official Trump inauguration events are sponsored by companies like AT&T, Boeing. And they’re offered these special packages where if they provide a certain amount to finance these parties that are going on all over Washington, they get private meet and greets with the incoming a administration and the nominees for Cabinet. They get to party with the leadership of the congressional GOP. And, you know, these companies have tens of billions of dollars, if not more, at stake over the next four years. Boeing, for example, has lots of military contracts. They rely on government subsidies through the Export-Import Bank. AT&T would like a repeal of net neutrality, the rules won by the Obama administration over the last four years. And, of course, we might see another era of mergers and acquisitions, which, of course, need regulatory approval. So, the swamp, as it were, is welcoming the Trump administration, and they’re hoping to get in early to win access.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, is it unusual, though? Who typically pays for inauguration parties? Like, what happened in previous elections?

LEE FANG: No, and I think that’s an important point to make. From, you know, Bill Clinton to Reagan to Obama, a lot of candidates campaigned to throw the bums out and challenge the establishment. But too often, you know, this city, Washington, D.C., is run by lobbyists. They control the most powerful institutions. They set the parameters of the debate. And when candidates, like Donald Trump, who promised to take on the establishment, to challenge these elites, as he’s getting to Washington, he’s being quickly coopted.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I mean, that’s one of the striking things about his appointments, the fact that there’s so many people from Goldman Sachs, when he spent so much of his time campaigning criticizing Clinton for her ties to Goldman Sachs.

LEE FANG: Yeah, no, and I think that’s important to realize. You know, if you look at this Cabinet, it’s filled with CEOs and other elites. And I think in the next hundred days, we will actually see a kind of a class war. Trump promised to take on these globalists, these—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

LEE FANG: —economic elites. But we will see, the next hundred days, a ruthless agenda on behalf of these same elites against worker protections, climate regulations. It’s very likely that some of the very first executive orders that come out of the Trump administration are attempts to repeal much of the Obama legacy. You know, Obama only had control or a friendly Congress for two years of his administration. Most of his legacy were administrative rules, agency action. And those reforms are very fragile. It’s very easy to repeal those type of rule makings. So we’ll see an attempt to chip away at everything, from the Clean Power Plan to protections for retirement security, protections for workers trying to organize at fast-food restaurants—there’s a recent joint employer rule from the Labor Department—everything from those rules to more obscure rules that govern food safety.

AMY GOODMAN: I was watching Fox News yesterday, and one of the hosts said that Donald Trump has three balls, and Obama had many more balls, which was a very interesting comment he made. But he actually was talking about these events that are taking place. The number of people who’ve come out, far, far fewer, to say the least. I think at the big concert last night, there were something like 10,000 people, compared to 400,000 people for Obama. But, Lee, you write about the Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball, a party by—for Texas lawmakers. Explain who is funding it.

LEE FANG: Yeah, I mean, this is an event—you know, many of these parties that go on outside the kind of official inauguration ball schedule—I mean, there are parties all over Washington. They’re attempting to influence the lower-level administrative staffers, to get congressional members kind of on board with the corporate agenda. And so, you know, the Texas delegation, that’s the Black Tie & Boots Ball, they’re throwing a big party in Prince George’s County near Washington, D.C., and it’s sponsored by a number of corporate interests that are going to be pushing very hard on the issues we just mentioned, many different oil companies, firms like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, that would like to see more fracking on federal lands, a repeal of many of the different EPA rules and the methane rule that came out very recently from the Obama administration. They’ve got very clear motives here. But for the time being, they’re going to be paying for the hors d’oeuvres and the festivities all weekend.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lee Fang, can you tell us a little bit—you talked about what Trump might do in his first hundred days. There are limits on certain things he can do, because he requires congressional approval. But some of the things you mentioned, he doesn’t require congressional approval for at all, so he may well succeed in doing that in the next just slightly over three months—

LEE FANG: Right.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —including cuts on, you know, climate payments and the federal regulations you spoke of.

LEE FANG: Yeah, I mean, he’s going to go after these rules in a number of ways. One way is through a fairly obscure law called the Congressional Review Act. That’s a special law that allows a resolution of disapproval, and that can affect regulations passed over just the last few months, not the last few—last six years. Still, many of those rules came out late in the Obama administration. And Democrats cannot filibuster a Congressional Review Act resolution. So, with Republican majorities in Congress, there’s nothing stopping them from passing a CRA resolution of disapproval to roll back many of those rules, potentially hundreds. And, of course, there are executive orders that he can take to revoke Obama’s executive orders. And once he fills these agencies with his staff, they can carve out exceptions to the rules and make them, even if not officially repealed, effectively useless.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up this hour—we’re actually broadcasting for seven hours through the inauguration, bringing it to people live, as well as going to the streets with our reporters on the scene where protests are happening. Thousands of activists are already out this morning. Naomi Klein, tomorrow, a massive march is planned right here in Washington, D.C., Women March on Washington, D.C. Hundreds of thousands are expected, if not more.

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, yeah. And I think, once again, these—you know, we know he understands numbers, and, as we heard from Michael Moore, we know he’s very thin-skinned and is thrown by a few hundred. So, you know, close to a million people or however many people are on the streets tomorrow, I think it’s going to be destabilizing. And this sort of show of force is tremendously important. It is significant that it seems that he’s going after programs for violence against women, as perhaps one of his first acts. And frankly, you know, misogyny is a thread that connects so many of his appointments, this drive to denigrate women. And I think just showing that we’re not afraid is going to be incredibly important. And I think it’s also important that the march is as diverse as it is, that it is going to be led in many ways by women of color, and I think that this is part of not repeating the mistakes of the campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on the number of congressmembers who are boycotting the inauguration?

NAOMI KLEIN: You know, I think it’s all good. I mean, all these acts of courage in standing up to a bully is incredibly important. But, you know, I think there’s every reason to believe that he’s going to employ a strategy of trying to overwhelm people. This has been a strategy just in terms of confusion and distraction, this sort of shock-and-awe approach. And so, staying unified, staying focused, having each other’s backs, this is all going to be tremendously important in the weeks to come, because, you know, I think that if we win a few key victories in the early days, it’s going to be very destabilizing, and it may lead to a reassessment because of the chaos in there. But if we lose those, you know, they’ll taste blood.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Naomi Klein, we hope you will stay with us. We’re broadcasting throughout the day today. For those who are leaving us now, if your station is leaving us, you can go to democracynow.org. Lee Fang, thanks so much for being with us.

LEE FANG: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re going out in the streets—of The Intercept. We’ll link to your piece. And we will be broadcasting for seven hours on this Inauguration Day. Saturday from 10:00 Eastern Standard Time in the morning to 3:00, we’ll be broadcasting from the main stage at the Women’s March on Washington. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. And thanks to the Howard University staff.

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