Let’s zoom out and recognize what is happening in Washington right now. The people who already possess an absolutely obscene share of the planet’s wealth, and whose share grows greater year after year—at last count, eight men own as much as half the world—are determined to grab still more. The key figures populating Trump’s cabinet are not only ultra-rich—they are individuals who made their money knowingly causing harm to the most vulnerable people on this planet, and to the planet itself. It appears to be some sort of job requirement.
There’s junk-banker Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, whose lawless “foreclosure machine” kicked tens of thousands of people out of their homes.
And from junk mortgages to junk food, there’s Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder. As CEO of his fast-food empire, it wasn’t enough to pay workers an abusive, non-livable wage. Several lawsuits also accuse his company of stealing workers’ wages by failing to pay for their labor and overtime.
And moving from junk food to junk science, there is Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. As an executive and then CEO of Exxon, his company bankrolled and amplified garbage science and lobbied fiercely against meaningful international climate action behind the scenes. In no small part because of these efforts, the world lost decades when we should have been kicking our fossil-fuel habit, and instead vastly accelerated the climate crisis. Because of these choices, countless people on this planet are already losing their homes to storms and rising seas, already losing their lives in heat waves and droughts, and millions will ultimately see their homelands disappear beneath the waves. As usual, the people impacted worst and first are the poorest, overwhelmingly black and brown.
Stolen homes. Stolen wages. Stolen cultures and countries. All immoral. All extremely profitable.
But the popular backlash was mounting. Which is precisely why this gang of CEOs—and the sectors they come from—were rightly worried that the party coming to end. They were scared. Bankers like Mnuchin remember the 2008 financial collapse and the open talk of bank nationalization. They witnessed the rise of Occupy and then the resonance of Bernie Sanders’s anti-bank message on the campaign trail.
Service sector bosses like Andrew Puzder are terrified of the rising power of the Fight for $15, which has been winning victories in cities and states across the country. And had Bernie won what was a surprisingly close primary, the campaign could well have had a champion in the White House. Imagine how frightening this is to a sector that relies on workplace exploitation so centrally to keep prices down and profits up.
And no one has more reason to fear ascendant social movements than Tillerson. Because of the rising power of the global climate movement, Exxon is under fire on every front. Pipelines carrying its oil are being blocked not just in the United States but around the world. Divestment campaigns are spreading like wildfire, causing market uncertainty. And over the past year, Exxon’s various deceptions came under investigation by the SEC and multiple state attorneys general. Make no mistake: The threat to Exxon posed by climate action is existential. The temperature targets in the Paris climate deal are wholly incompatible with burning the carbon companies like Exxon have in their reserves, the source of their market valuation. That’s why Exxon’s own shareholders were asking increasingly tough questions about whether they were on the verge of being stuck with a whole bunch of useless assets.