Capitalists don’t come any cronier than America’s new president. The latest example, however, is particularly egregious, destructive, and obvious. Reversing some of the most hard-fought gains of environmental activists in the last several years, Donald Trump issued an executive order to push the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines forward.
Kelcy Warren, the president of the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, saw it coming. Prior to the election, Warren told CBS News that under a Trump presidency, “100 percent” his company “will get this easement and we will complete our project.” Rumors of Trump’s personal investment in Energy Transfer Partners are bad enough. But Warren’s generous contributions to the GOP, including $100,000 he gave Trump, makes this nothing more than legalized, open bribery.
Trump’s decision reverses President Obama’s order to halt construction of the pipeline after months of tense, even violent confrontations. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux, along with solidarity protesters around the nation, fought in bitter cold against an aggressive, militaristic police presence to defend their water supply. Police behavior, including the use of water hoses, attack dogs, rubber bullets, psychological warfare, and arrests, was so over-the-top that it was condemned by the United Nations.
Fighting Big Oil can feel like a hopeless effort for ordinary Americans. Legislative victories at the ballot box end up being overturned by Republican-dominated state legislatures, as in the case of Denton, Texas. Concerned about the poisonous effects of chemicals and the proximity of wells to residential areas and schools, citizens of Denton in 2014 voted to ban fracking. In response, big government Republicans at the state level told residents they had no say in who extracted what out from under their own feet, or how they did it.
It must be asked how this government intervention jibes with so-called conservative principles. The answer is that the only principle in the GOP is “money first.” Big Oil donates so much to the Republican Party that some politicians actually see themselves as employees of the industry. Rick Perry, for instance, who gave away billions of dollars to energy concerns during his time as governor of Texas, originally thought his new job as Secretary of Energy was to act as an advocate for oil and gas.
Millions of Americans – not just Republican politicians – depend on the oil industry for their living, either directly or indirectly. But what’s at play is not a magnanimous GOP looking out for the working class. For one thing, the pipelines actually won’t create very many jobs. Once finished, the Dakota Access Pipeline will only require around 40 permanent positions to maintain. What’s really at play are the billions of dollars in profit oil companies want to stash away.
Government favoritism isn’t necessarily the greatest evil. But for Republicans who claim it is, Donald Trump’s presidency should be giving them fits. New industries, particularly those which offer enormous potential to the general public, should be given the support they need. The public has emphatically spoken out against pipelines, fracking, and Big Oil. It is they who our elected representatives are obliged to listen to, not the thud of huge sacks of cash landing at their feet.