The Corruption of a President Who Picks Corporate Winners and Losers

During the Trump transition and the first few weeks of his presidency, an embarrassing number of corporations met with the president, pretending to add millions of jobs because of his election. It was all a sham, with Carrier becoming the symbol for how it was nothing more than brown-nosing nonsense. Something similar happened after the Republicans passed their corporate tax cuts, with corporations bragging to the president about bonuses and pay increases when the real money was going towards stock buy-backs, mergers and acquisitions.

Over the course of all that, it has been troubling to watch Trump heap praise on individual corporations in return for their loyalty to him. We’re now starting to hear some reaction to the fact that the door this president opened swings both ways. Just as Trump lauded corporations that payed homage to him, he has also attacked those that he perceives to be a threat. On that topic, Adam Davidson wrote an enlightening tweet storm in reaction to Trump’s rage against Amazon.

Trump is making clear that companies that publicly praise him can get billion dollar deals from govt agencies. Companies that don’t will face billion dollar charges and costly regulation. This is an open negotiation and a clear message. Trump will transfer wealth to those who praise him and take it from those who don’t. He will do this in macroeconomically significant amounts. This is not some theoretical possibility. This is happening. Right now… Trump is offering deals. And businesses are going to take them…The U.S. and all nations have always, of course, had some degree of corruption. But not like this…Think of a world in which companies can profit and thrive by being sycophants and great companies are crushed by being honest.

Following Davidson’s lead, Josh Marshall weighed in today.

…a President who routinely threatens prosecutorial or regulatory vengeance against private companies because they are not sufficiently politically subservient to the President personally is entirely outside of our system of governance. At present, Donald Trump is an autocrat without an autocracy.

As both of these reporters have pointed out, it is possible to recognize the danger of this kind of thing, even while being aware of the predatory business practices of a company like Amazon. As Marshall writes:

Preserving a rule of law political system from sliding into one that is corrupt and autocratic is much more important than the specifics of whether any one company is monopolistic or nefarious…

For those who think that none of this will touch main street, here is Davidson’s warning about where this all leads:

I have spent a lot of time in rentier states–Iraq, Haiti, Azerbaijan, Syria, Kuwait. The corruption flows all the way down. When mediocre sycophantic companies thrive, mediocre sycophants are in charge everywhere and smart, capable people are crushed. When businesspeople spend more time thinking about flattering the leader and less about serving their customers, there are fewer and worse jobs available, less wealth, less stability.

We are starting to see that everything this president touches becomes more chaotic and less stable. I suspect that we are still in the early stages of learning how that is going to play out in the economy.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.