There are at least half a dozen different explanations why millions of Americans still hail Trump -- and hence just as many recommendations for what President Hillary Clinton will need to do to cure the toxicity infused in American politics and society. Globalization, unemployment, poor wages, misogyny, and a loss of traditional values are on the list. You do not need to choose among them; they all may be true, though different Trumpists are clearly driven by various combinations of several of these motives. As I see it, one should not overlook yet another motive: that the government increasingly does not serve the people but is captured by special interests. Democrats like to think about the government as a provider of Social Security and Medicare, the guardian of national parks, and the place you get your passport. However, many see daily examples of a government serving special interests at the cost of the public. There follows a recent example.
An opioid epidemic had begun in 2004; the supply of prescription painkillers was growing and overdose deaths were up by 15 percent from the previous year. In response, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began filing civil cases against wholesale companies whose drugs were ending up illegally on the streets through pill mills, places where powerful drugs are given or prescribed inappropriately. This marked a shift in the DEA's approach, which had previously been focusing on pharmacies and doctors rather than distributors. In response, drug companies hired former officials from the DEA, who pressed for much less stringent enforcement measures.
According to a report in The Washington Post, Frank Younker, a former DEA supervisor in Cincinnati, said the distributors could have taken measures to ensure these addictive pills did not end up on the black market had they wanted to. "They were doing the bare minimum. Why would you want to cut off a customer that's paying you $2 million a year? They have sales reps and sales quotas and bonus structures and employees of the month. Everyone was making a lot of money."
In 2012 the deputy attorney general of the US Department of Justice held a meeting with Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who headed the DEA's Office of Diversion Control, about a case involving two major drug companies. According to Rannazzisi, "That meeting was to chastise me for going after industry, and that's all that meeting was about" reported The Washington Post. Rannazzisi was not dissuaded from continuing to hold companies accountable. However, the number of cases filed dropped significantly after officials at DEA headquarters began to block enforcement measures. In 2013, lawyers at the DEA raised the standard of proof necessary for a case to proceed. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of suspension orders issued by the DEA dropped from 65 to nine, according to the same Washington Post report. In 2014 Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney II wrote that "There can be little doubt that the level of administrative Diversion enforcement remains stunningly low for a national program."
Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses had reached a record high in 2014: from over 47,000 cases, opioid painkillers were one of the main causes of death. Rannazzisi was replaced in 2015. A new relationship has been forged between the Justice Department and the pharmaceutical industry in an effort to "strengthen partnerships."
Anyone who follows the news will find such a report at least once a week. One week it is about a bank that opened millions of bank accounts for people who did not need them, want them, or knew about them. The bank was fined -- a fraction of the profits it makes. The other week it is about a corporation that purchased the right to market a medication, already fully developed and thus not requiring expenditures for research, and then raised the cost from $13.50 to $750 per pill, an increase of over 5,000%. Another week, it is about arms manufacturers that made campaign contributions to members of Congress, who then authorized the purchase of arms neither the Pentagon nor the White House believes the U.S. needs. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have raised this issue, but it is much more pervasive than even they suggest.
President Hillary Clinton will face the daunting task of seeking to tackle many of the issues that trouble scores of millions of Americans, including but not limited to Trump supporters. Curbing the influence of special interests in Washington belongs high on that list, and no better place to start is working to repeal the Court ruling that legalized bribery, Citizens United.
Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University. His newest book, Foreign Policy: Thinking Outside the Box, was recently published by Routledge. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.