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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The generals, the gentry, and the goon: what a Trump administration might look like

You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep, and while it’s often a useless and vain exercise to try and make political predictions, you can tell a lot about a president’s plans for his (and I use the masculine pronoun here, because I’m convinced that Americans, for all their protestations to the contrary, are not yet ready for a woman head of state) administration from his cabinet nominations, and his choices for advisors and senior staff.
So, a month away from the inauguration of America’s 45th president and commander-in-chief, I’m going out on a limb and making some prognostications about the administration of Donald J. Trump, and I’m going to do it based upon his announced nominations and advisor choices.
I’d like to clarify one thing before getting into the rogue’s gallery; this list of names is as accurate as I can make it, given the Trump transition’s team bandying about of names like a ping pong tournament (remember the ongoing saga of who would be nominated secretary of state?). But, even considering an individual sends a message, so take it for what it’s worth.
Some general comments: the cabinet and staff of a Trump administration is going to be heavy with brass. A number of retired generals have already been named for top positions, including secretary of defense and national security advisor. This is also likely to be the richest cabinet in history, even adjusting for inflation. The number of mega-rich people being nominated or considered is mind-boggling. And, finally, there are the people whose views of the world are far, far from the mainstream (I fervently hope), either in terms of their knowledge of science (or, pretty much anything), their views on sex, race, and humanity, or their propensity (preference?) for violence over diplomacy. Scary? If you don’t think so, you scare me.
The Generals
Retired General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis for secretary of defense. Congressional action would be required to confirm him because he hasn’t been retired long enough to legally fill this position. His nickname, ‘Mad Dog,’ says a bit about the type person he is.
Retired General John H. Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Long military record, and experience in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism, but can he supervise a diverse civilian organization with confusing chains of command and sometimes overlapping jurisdictions? What does he know, and how does he feel about immigration?
Retired General Michael T. Flynn for national security advisor. This one doesn’t require senate confirmation, and is in many ways the scariest. Flynn subscribes to a number of social media sites that expound racism and conspiracy theories, and along with his son, has spread a number of fake news stories, including the story of a child slavery ring in a DC pizza parlor that caused a North Carolina man to go there ‘loaded for bear.’
These are just the ones whose names have appeared publicly. Who knows how many more are lurking in the wings, being groomed for jobs not requiring senate confirmation. I would imagine that this worries even Republican lawmakers.
The Gentry
Many of Trump’s other nominations are uber-rich or have worrying reputations.
Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil for secretary of state. His company is under investigation for possible fraud, and is reported to have funded efforts to debunk climate change for decades (despite its own engineers finding that burning fossil fuels impacts the climate). Tillerson has close ties to Russia, and was awarded a Russian medal.
Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who is a strong supporter of charter schools and not very supportive of public schools, to be secretary of education.
Former Texas governor, Rick Perry, who vowed in the 2011 election campaign to shut down the department of energy, but couldn’t remember its name when questioned by a reporter, to be, you guessed it, secretary of energy.
Ben Carson for secretary of housing and urban development. He’s a surgeon of some renown who came up from poverty and once lived in public housing, which he compares to Communism. Would he not have been a better pick for health and human services?
Steve Mnuchin, a Wall Street trader known as the foreclosure king for the number of people he has made homeless, for secretary of the treasury.
Jeff Sessions, congressman from Arkansas, who has publicly made statements so racist that even a GOP congress is wary of him, for attorney general.
Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, and a strong opponent of raising the minimum wage, for secretary of labor.
Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, who has been an opponent of clean water and clean air legislation, to head the environmental protection agency.
The Goon
Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, a home for conspiracy, supremacist, and racist news, who has himself been accused of making some rather inflammatory statements, is Trump’s strategic advisor. Bannon is a supporter of the white supremacist alt-right.
The Trumpkins
Other than the fact that Trump is leaving his business empire in the hands of his children (or, so he says), and that they played key roles in his campaign, we’re left to guess what role the Trump kids will play in his administration. Of course, we can guess. Even before the inauguration, they’ve been running around the globe meeting with senior officials on a number of foreign policy issues. All I can say on this is, stay tuned.
What does it all mean?
I wish the hell I knew what all of this means. I know, at the outset I said we would know him by the company he keeps. But the signals are decidedly mixed. There will be strong military influence in the administration, which could mean even more reliance on force over diplomacy going forward. The civilian positions definitely favor the 1%, so that leaves the middle class, working class Trump supporters out in the cold. I can’t see any policies coming out of this crowd that favors the working stiff. The environment’s in for a hard time. Here you have a cabal of deniers and despoilers who make the 19th century robber barons look like saints (almost).
Already there have been ominous signs. The transition team asked the energy department for a list of the names of employees who worked on climate policy during the Obama administration. Now, why in hell would they need that? Thankfully, DOE refused to divulge names, but I don’t think we’ve heard the last of it.
We are where we are because millions of American voters wanted change. Well, all I can say is, you have to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
Caveat Emptor.