Donald Trump and the broader Republican Party are moving forward on an agenda of business deregulation with a lack of concern for public opinion that, depending on how you look at it, could be seen as reckless, courageous, or horrifying.
The latest and clearest example is the bill rolling back Obama-era efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to prevent cable and telecom companies from secretly selling users’ data. This was, obviously, not a major Trump campaign pledge or a headline feature of any GOP House or Senate candidate’s campaign. And a March 31 YouGov poll shows the public overwhelmingly wanted Trump to veto the bill — 80 percent of Democrats favored a veto, but so did 69 percent of independents and 75 percent of Republicans.
There is, interestingly, a tried-and-true way to advance an agenda that’s favorable to unpopular cable and telecom companies. The president appoints a blandly pro-business majority to the FCC, the Senate confirms them, and then they quietly set about regulating the industry in a manner that’s favorable to unpopular broadband monopolists such as Verizon and Comcast (whose NBC Universal subsidiary is one of several investors in Vox’s parent company). That way you keep your hands clean. That’s how George W. Bush did things. As an example, the Trump FCC quietly gave Charter Cable permission to back out of a previous commitment to invest in providing service to 2 million new households.
Something like the broadband privacy rule, which required an affirmative congressional vote, is something that politicians would normally be much more worried about doing, especially when they are led by a president whose approval rating is below 40 percent.
It’s a relatively low-profile issue, but the vote is completely emblematic of Congress’s overall approach to governing. Their previous health care bill was polling at around a 17 percent approval rating before it died, but some lawmakers are trying to revive it by removing popular regulatory provisions, including the bar on price discrimination against insurance purchasers with preexisting conditions. That’s a regulation that congressional Republicans previously loudly promised to maintain.
You also see this on environmental issues. Fifty-nine percent of the public tells Gallup that environmental protection should be prioritized over energy production, and concern about the safety of drinking water has spiked to a level not seen since 2001. But Congress is acting to make it easier to dump mining waste in streams and kill hibernating bears in federal wildlife refuges.
I suspect this is in part a consequence of the fact that not only did the GOP win in November, but they won when, everybody — including Republicans themselves — settled in to watch election results convinced they were going to lose. Surviving when you’re sure you’re going to die can inspire a sense of invincibility that may or may not be warranted by the underlying facts.