Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is the breeding place for many birds. Photo credit: Lisa Hupp / USFWS

Look at Trump’s words under a microscope. What do you see?

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The very first thing Donald Trump plans to do in a second Trump administration, he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity, is issue an order: 

“Drill, drill, drill!”  

With all of the things Trump could seize upon, why that particular one? Although pushing for more oil extraction is a common enough refrain from Republican candidates over the years, as a top priority for Trump, it seemed to come out of nowhere. Especially since even some Republicans have begun to acknowledge the fact that renewable energy solutions are essential, and that it’s time to pivot from fossil fuels — not to mention that, under the Biden administration, the US is already extracting fossil fuels at the highest rate in its history. 

I thought I might see the corporate media sink its teeth into that one, but, in the month since, Trump’s statement has mostly been greeted with silence. That may be partially explained by the fact that oil and gas extraction interests remain one of the most lucrative sources of advertising revenue for big media. At least seven major news outlets create “advertorials” that look like objective news editorials. (Go here for one such example.)  

So here I am wondering: What did he mean exactly? And why did he say it? 

Was it just one of his unfathomable, periodic brain burps? Was it calculated for some effect? Was it a credible statement to be taken seriously?   

On one level, to be sure, it was pure retail politics.

He went on to say that, by reversing President Joe Biden’s decision to cancel oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he would use the money earned to safeguard Social Security benefits. Trump was offering a no-brainer, red-meat bribe of sorts to the core Fox audience. It’s not hard to imagine that his base — and plenty of fence-sitters — consider Alaska nothing more than some far-off spot they’ll never visit, and whose natural bounties they’ll never miss. 

So, when he claims, ridiculously, that federal revenue from such drilling would even put a dent in Social Security’s massive problems, he’s scoring with a sympathetic audience who will never bother to check the math. (“The Congressional Budget Office has projected that expanding drilling leases would bring in about $1.8 billion over a decade. That’s in contrast with the $1.4 trillion in Social Security benefits, its estimated pay out this year alone,” according to Bloomberg.)

I suspect that Trump was killing two birds with one stone. He was offering an easy formula for those wanting a reason to choose him — and he was signaling to another, less visible constituency whose help he also needs. 

I’m talking about the fossil fuel industry. 

Greasing the Way

Fossil fuel needs allies in the White House and throughout the land. But it can’t exactly endorse  candidates and expect that to resonate with voters.

No, the only way they can help oil-friendly figures keep or take power is to offer financial resources and behind-the-scenes coaching on issues that will generate a winning formula. 

Typically, outside of a smallish group hoping for resource extraction jobs, the industry hasn’t had a lot of luck getting voters excited about boosting oil and gas extraction, and their already massive profits.  

This is an especially difficult challenge in a time when nondestructive alternative energy sources become more viable by the day. 

Instead, the fossil fuel honchos have had to quietly back candidates who (a) will promote the industry agenda, and (b) offer the public the policy cotton candy it craves, like banning drag queen brunches or combating a supposed attempt to convert their kids to homosexuality, or turning back the hordes of criminals supposedly flooding the country from the southern border. These are what resonate. 

Historically, special interests have played a long game to take over government and the judiciary, what WhoWhatWhy contributor Anne Nelson calls the “Shadow Network” and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls “The Scheme.” (Indeed, for their deceptive practices, Whitehouse would like to see fossil fuel people prosecuted under RICO law.)  

The driving force behind these assaults on our democracy is to figure out what will make the public vote for candidates beholden to special interests and then find politicians who will promise the public what it wants — while delivering the goods to their paymasters. 

This gambit, which was first articulated back in the ’70s, has been so effective that today the fossil fuel industry and other special interests own large swathes of the government, including the Supreme Court. 

Profit Over Planet

In a rapidly warming world, survival — the survival of our species, and the survival of democracy itself — is largely in the hands of the fossil fuel industry. That is the critical story of our time. 

What the fossil fuel industry is doing to perpetuate itself and its obscene profits is something we need to pay more attention to. 

The Trump drill outburst was of course a signal to the industry but especially to his enemies — the Koch apparatus and Exxon — that he’s going to be with them, even though, for the moment, they support Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley. (Both supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for the GOP nomination in 2016.)

Trump is especially close to Harold Hamm, who made billions in the fracking industry and turned down Trump’s offer to run the Environmental Protection Agency; Mike Wirth, Chevron CEO and chairman of the American Petroleum Institute (API); and Kelcy Warren, executive chairman of the board of directors of Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. Warren is also a major player in API, and close to Wirth/Chevron. 

So, much of the industry is with Trump. But, in terms of what it does for him, most of it involves covert operations from the shadows, like injecting doubts about the renewables industry, or sponsoring “grassroots” groups that fight renewables initiatives with disinformation — for example,  the notion that offshore wind farms are killing whales. 

Issues around fossil fuels lurk — mostly unknown and unexamined — behind many of the headlines of today, including conflicts that wrack the earth. That includes the agenda of the Middle East petrostates and Israel. (Some argue that the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is less a struggle over land than it is over the search for oil.) 

Global fossil fuel interests can determine the outcome of American elections simply by setting the price of gas at the pump for the ordinary American. 

And that is why, when Trump says, “Drill, Drill, Drill,” he isn’t talking to you and me. But you can be sure that he (and his message-mongers) know exactly who is listening. 


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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