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America's plutocrats are winning

Oct 27,2018 - Last updated at Oct 27,2018

US President Donald Trump’s ravings against social programmes and environmental regulations are partly a product of his ignorance and narcissism. But they also represent something else: the corruption of the US political system.

American politics has become a game of, by and for powerful corporate interests, with tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for polluters and war and global warming for the rest of us. Trump is but a symptom, albeit a shocking and dangerous one, of a much deeper political malaise. 

Trump’s policies embody priorities that are widely backed by Republicans in the US Congress: Slash taxes for the wealthy at the expense of programmes for the poor and working class; increase military spending at the expense of diplomacy; and allow for the destruction of the environment in the name of “deregulation”.

But these are not the priorities shared by most Americans, not even close. A majority wants to tax the rich, broaden health coverage, stop America’s wars and fight global warming. Trump and his accomplices are bucking public opinion, not representing it.

They are doing this for one reason: money. Trump’s policies serve the corporate interests that fund electoral campaigns and effectively run the US government. Today, mega-polluting companies no longer need to lobby; Trump has handed them the keys to the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department. Industry insiders also hold senior congressional staff positions.

Much of the corporate money can be traced; the rest flows anonymously, as “dark money” that avoids public scrutiny. The largest source of dark money is the Koch brothers, David and Charles, who, with a combined net worth of some $100 billion, have spent freely for decades essentially to buy the US political system. Their efforts are succeeding.

When it comes to tax policy and climate change, the Republican Party is almost completely in the hands of the Koch brothers and their oil-industry cronies. Their immoral aim is simple: to cut corporate taxes and deregulate oil and gas, regardless of the consequences for the planet. Their evil is chilling, but it is real. And Trump is their factotum.

It is now the job of the rest of the world to say no to America’s reckless corporate greed, and of Americans themselves to reclaim their democratic institutions by eliminating dark money and the corporate malevolence it underwrites. Americans, and the world, deserve better.


Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor of sustainable development and professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, is director of Columbia’s Centre for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.

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