What Trump’s Been Doing In The Shadows

At a Rose Garden media briefing this week

The President makes himself out to be a builder, but what he’s most consistently focused on even now is demolition…

While Trump has proven inept in his anticipation and response to the Coronavirus pandemic, he does seem to temper his worst instincts at times, other times not, and maybe has even occasionally backed off on the absolute worst advice from his “best people”. (Depends on the day, and which way the wind is blowing in the Rose Garden.) Even after promising or threatening some really dangerous ideas, both to the spread of the virus, and Democracy, he’s seemed to sometimes pull back. But if you look at the bigger picture: not so.

Trump’s whole deal as President is to dismantle, decentralize and deregulate. As we’ve often pointed out he paints himself as a builder and a protector, but what he’s best at and most consistently focused on is demolition and meting out punishment to the Americans who 100% don’t agree with him and therefore “hate America.”


Nobody thought anything like this was going to happen.”

Regardless of whether the President was roundly warned back in January about COVID-19 or not, a pandemic or act of bio terrorism is always in the top 2 or 3 of the most likely existential threats to Americans in the current age. And even if Trump truly has no empathy and doesn’t care about people, it is also always one of the biggest active threats to the booming economy, for which he took all the credit.

So dismantling the health security and biodefense team in the White House wasn’t a mistake any President would’ve/could’ve made because the threat of an actual pandemic was so unforeseen. The reason that team existed in the first place is it was so foreseen.

But it was a snap to dismantle, so he did. Because that’s what he does. Because that’s what he’s still doing.

Also, in the absence of a pandemic, an anti-pandemic task force wouldn’t have made headlines; wouldn’t have made a splash. In fact, if they had been in there hard at work and done their jobs well, you probably wouldn’t have heard about them at all. Trump has characterized that as paying people a bunch of people to sit around and do nothing just in case. But that’s like saying the FBI only needs to be around after a successful terrorist attack to figure out who did it, and not acknowledging their tireless work in preventing and thwarting terrorist attacks that don’t happen, just because those don’t always make big headlines.

And Trump needs headlines, needs to take credit for things people can see to build his ratings. So from that perspective, “Space Force” becomes more important than “pandemic force”. And we don’t mean to come down on Space Force, which we don’t think is a horrible idea, just that another of the biggest threats to America these days is a massive cyberattack, so why wasn’t the U.S. Cyber Command also elevated to a branch of the armed forces instead of remaining what’s called a “unified combatant command”, as the U.S. Space Command was, before Trump lifted it up?

Even all that is super-innocuous compared to the damage Trump has been wreaking in the background these days, as his administration races to dismantle regulations on corporations, often using Coronavirus as an excuse. And it’s always easier and faster to tear things down than build them up. Just like it’s easier to allow industry to release more mercury into the country’s “crystal clear water” (a phrase Trump’s hung up on), than manufacture or acquire Coronavirus test kits.

As we often say, we do believe many industries in this country are over-regulated. But that doesn’t automatically mean all regulation is over-regulation. Which is something President Nixon well understood when he set up the Environmental Protection Agency. No tree hugger he. But rivers were catching on fire. Because when left to “self regulate”, industry behaved very, very badly. Now, under Trump, the EPA is run by a former coal industry lobbyist. Now energy companies don’t even have to pay EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler; American taxpayers do.

So here is a “highlight” list of some of the stuff the Trump Administration has done in just the past couple of weeks. (Sometimes with the excuse that COVID-19 is making it too difficult for industry to comply with current regulations, which would be a lot easier for us to believe if Trump wasn’t already trying to do these things anyway):

  • Slashed pollution standards for U.S. made cars, and invalidated a rule going back to when Ronald Reagan was governor of California that allowed California to set its own emissions standards, which a whole bunch of other states followed. As we’ve asserted before, this will almost certainly mean a bail-out for U.S. carmakers down the road, (plus they already may need one now or soon as the economy tanks), because it will hurt their ability to compete globally, since almost all other major counties will now have stricter car pollution standards than the U.S. The Trump Administration took this action on March 30th.
  • Diluted regulations on the release of toxic mercury from oil and coal-fired power plants. And Trump’s folks did this in a crafty way. Because just going and telling those plant operators: “go ahead, release more mercury, don’t worry about it”, might’ve required an act of Congress and a change in the Clean Air Act, which dates back to 1963, with car emissions added in 1965 and major revisions in 1970, and again most recently in 1990. So instead, it changed (or “corrected flaws” as the EPA colorfully puts it), in the rules for implementing “Mercury and Air Toxics Standards”. What that means is while restrictions on the release of mercury remains the same, the way the EPA measures the impact is different. So it will lower the value of positive health effects from not emitting mercury, and raise the value of the economic burden on plant operators, whenever it decides whether a plant is in compliance or not. The Trump Administration took this action on April 16th.
  • Allowed corporations not to comply with many air and water pollution and hazardous waste rules, and not face any penalties if noncompliance is due to strain caused by COVID-19. The only broad area where the EPA continues to require full compliance is in “the safety of our drinking water supplies.” Really. Otherwise it merely asks “all regulated entities” to “make every effort to comply with their environmental compliance obligations”. And if they can’t, to: “Act responsibly under the circumstances in order to minimize the effects and duration of any noncompliance”, and in addition to a few other things, document any instances of noncompliance. At the same time it tells corporations: “In general…the EPA does not plan to ask facilities to ‘catch-up’ with missed monitoring or reporting if the underlying requirement applies to intervals of less than three months.” So don’t have those documentations of non-compliance; still probably no problem. Maybe this one is not altogether unreasonable, except it’s part of a broader pattern and serves a broader goal of this administration that’s been going on for a long time. And why should corporations be allowed to let compliance slip on rules they’re already presumably in compliance with, when the general public is told to wear masks all the time outside, even when there are virtually no masks commercially available. Should be same for both: Figure it out. Make it work. The Trump Administration took this action on March 26th. Just to put it into context on a timeline, the EPA did this at around the same time Trump Tweeted this:

And just in case you think we might be making this all up, click through and you’ll see in each of the instances above, our links go straight to the administration’s own news releases, not to unsourced stories by reporters.

Wouldn’t the public good be better served by taking all the people and resources Trump’s putting into plowing down regulation after regulation and reallocating them to first address the current pandemic, maybe by helping companies stay in compliance and protect their employees?