Friday, December 09, 2016

Mr. Trump goes to Washington (and picks a strange Cabinet)

Over the last week or so, Donald Trump has been gradually introducing his "dream team" of cabinet members, and, predictably enough, it's not pretty. He has surrounded himself with a bunch of rich ageing white guys (with three women in minor roles), most of them with no experience at all in national politics, many of them ex-military, most of them climate change deniers or tied in some way to Big Oil or Coal, and almost all of them major contributors to his election campaign. In many cases, the choices appear deliberately skewed to those who don't really quite believe in the file they are to handle.
So, where to start? Trump himself and Vice-President Elect (and anti-abortion warrior) Mike Pence, of course, we already know (way too well). In White House advisory roles (not strictly part of the Cabinet, but nevertheless very influential positions) are:
  • Reince Priebus (Chief of Staff) - the man with the weird name was Chairman of the Republican National Committee and was instrumental in getting Mr. Trump elected, but he has no real policy experience. He is presumably there as Trump's "establishment guy", to help smooth things over with the Republican party.
  • Michael Flynn (National Security Advisor) - ex-Army general with some very outspoken views on Islam (he was forced out of the top US military spy agency because of his views of radical Muslims) and some conveniently Trump-esque views of cozying up with Russia and Vlad the Impaler. Both Flynn and his son seem to have a penchant for conspiracy theories and false news, and Flynn Sr. has taken flak for some threatening anti-Semitic tweets and other inflammatory comments over the years.
  • Steve Bannon ("Chief Strategist") - ex-banker and movie mogul, Bannon has most recently served as boss of the ultra-right wing Breitbart News outlet, the mouthpiece of the alt-right that played a significant role in helping Trump to his election win, largely through its rabid fake news stories and misinformation campaigns. Bannon's xenophobic and misogynist views have been unrepentantly trumpeted to the world for years now.
Rounding out the "advisors" are a whole host of Trump family members, including wife Melania, daughters Ivanka and Tiffany, sons Donald and Eric, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as a few other hangers-on who managed to survive various staff shake-ups during the Trump election campaign, including ex-beauty queen Hope Hicks ("Senior Advisor"), garish blonde Kellyanne Conway (Press Secretary), ex-golf caddy Dan Scavino (Social Media Director - what?), Stephen Miller (National Policy Advisor), and - no relation - Jason Miller (Communications Director).
The actual Cabinet member nominees are not much better than this cast of scoundrels (and in some cases, worse):
  • Steven Mnuchin (Treasury Secretary) - described as the "consummate Wall Street insider", a breed that Trump claims to despise, Mnuchin (that's Mnuchin, not Munchkin) amassed a fortune at Goldman Sachs and in movie production (are you noticing a common theme here?), and so of course has no political experience whatsoever.
  • General James Mattis (Secretary of Defense) - a 44-year Marine Corps veteran, Mattis glories in the nicknames 'Mad Dog' and 'Warrior Monk', which may be all you need to know about him. He is known for his blunt comments, like "it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them" (referring to Afghan men), and "have a plan to kill everyone you meet" (his advice to Marines in Iraq), and "there are some assholes in the world who just need to be shot". Nice guy.
  • Jeff Sessions (Attorney General) - one of the few in the Cabinet with some real political experience (most recently as Senator for Alabama), Sessions has been dogged by allegations of racism thoughout his career (he is prone to making jokes about the Ku Klux Klan, for example, as well as other racial slurs), so it will be no surprise to learn that his is rabidly anti-immigration. He is a keen supporter of Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the USA, and of the "great wall" along the Mexican border. He opposes LGBTQ right and same-sex marriages, and he is generally speaking a nasty peiece of work. Climate change denier (of course).
  • John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland Security) - another retired general (and who, like the other generals, will need to get special clearance from the Senate to serve in the Cabinet), Kelly has already made some ominous noises about Mexican immigrants and border security. He opposed President Obama's plans to close down the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba and to allow women into combat roles, but he is nevertheless considered less hardline than some of the alternatives.
  • Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce) - Billionaire industrialist, restructuring specialist and "vulture investor", with close financial ties to Donald Trump, Ross has shown that he is not one to let fuzzy ideas of morality or tastefulness come between himself and profits. Climate change denier.
  • Andrew Puzder (Secretary of Labor) - a multi-millionaire fast-food empire executive, who has famously defended his company's tasteless ads of scantily-clad women eating burgers, and is still fielding allegations of wife abuse from some years ago, Puzder is best known for his strong opposition to increasing the minimum wage (which is still $7.25 in the USA) and to Obamacare.
  • Tom Price (Secretary of Health and Human Services) - an ex-surgeon and anti-abortionist who see his mission in life as (go figure!) to shut down and repeal Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act reforms and replace it with ... something. Climate change denier.
  • Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) - retired neurosurgeon and failed presidential candidate, with absolutely no political experience and who never lived in public housing (despite suggestions that he did), Carson's is the only black face in the crowd (hence the "urban" connection, presumably). He is a Seventh Day Adventist who believes, among other things, that the Big bang is a "fairy tale", that gayness is a choice people make, that there is a war on "what's inside of women"(?), that climate change is not man-made, that Planned Parenthood is just a plot to kill black babies, that there is absolutely no racism in Ferguson, Missouri, and (the clincher) that the Egyptian pyramids were built by Biblical Joseph to store grain. Enough said.
  • Ryan Zinke (Secretary of the Interior) - ex-Navy Seal (yes, another military veteran!) and Montana Senator Zinke is known for voting for legislation that would soften the environmental protection of public lands (lands, including national parks, that he will now be in charge of protecting), although he does at least seem to be against privatizing public lands or ceding control over them to individual states. He seems quite happy, though, to open up more public lands to mining, drilling and logging, and he believes that climate change "is not proven".
  • Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy) - failed presidential candidate and ex-Texas governor, who has repeatedly called for lighter regulation on the oil industry and described the science around climate change as "unsettled" and "unproven", Perry also sits on the board of an oil pipeline company. Other than his stint as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, Perry is perhaps best known for his live TV brain-freeze when he vowed to eliminate three cabinet-level departments: Commerce, Education and ... er ... oh, er ... oh yes, Energy, he later recalled.
  • Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency Administrator) - this is the man whose own bio describes him as "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda" (he has at least 7 ongoing lawsuits against the agency), who has repeatedly vowed to repeal President Obama's Clean Air Act, and has openly questioned the science on man-made global warming. Good choice, eh?
  • Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture) - Former Georgia governor Perdue is one more old white guy in a cabinet of old white guys, and is perhaps best known for praying for the end to a drought in Georgia in 2007 (it may have worked - two years later Georgia suffered its worst ever floods). He is a climate change denier and a former fertilizer salesman, who will be  responsible for, among other things, mitigating the agricultural sector's environmental impact and carbon footprint.
  • Mike Pompeo (Central Intelligence Agency) - although Mr. Trump seems to have little use for the CIA (or intelligence in general, for that matter), he has nevertheless decided to appoint Islamophobic national security hawk Pompeo, who has strongly opposed Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and his decision to close down the Guantánamo Bay prison, as his man.
  • Elaine Chao (Secretary of Transportation) - born in Taiwan (not China) and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao is 63 year old but mysteriously looks about 30. She is actually a very seasoned politician compared to most of the other cowboys here, and may even prove to be competent. She will get to play with Mr. Trump's plans for infrastructure investment, which I am guessing will probably favour roads. Climate change denier.
  • Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education) - once an outspoken critic of Trump, then a major contributor to his campaign, billionaire Ms. DeVos knows which side her bread is buttered, and will get to look after the kids, even if her educational ideas don't particularly mesh with Trump's (that can change too, of course). She has no particular knowledge of education or pedagogy, but she has worked tirelessly in recent years to spread charter schools at the expense of public schools in her native Michigan (despite their well-documented failure there), and to pass laws requiring the use of public funds to pay for private school tuition.
  • Linda McMahon (Small Business Administrator) - co-founder and former CEO of the World Wrestling Federation gives McMahon a rather tenuous qualification to look after America's small businesses, but she did donate about $7 million to Trump's campaign, so that's OK.
  • Nikki Haley (Ambassador to the UN) - another one-time Trump critic who decided to hold her nose and work with the Devil, Haley is considered a rising star in the Republican Party, so Mr. Trump probably just wants to keep her where he can see her. Her politics appear to be a dizzying mix of the sensible and the rabid.
Positions like the Secretaries of Energy, Interior, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs remain unfilled, as does the all-important position of Secretary of State. Trump is thought to be still chasing Mitt Romney for this last position, presumably as a means of bringing some legitimacy and gravitas to the overall Cabinet, but the two men are poles apart politically, and have crossed swords many times during the election campaign and primaries (two other military guys, James Stavridis and David Petraeus, are also still in the running). And apparently Sarah Palin (yes, THAT Sarah Palin) is being seriously considered for Veterans Affairs, so this thing could get even stranger.
Wow! The USA is about to become a truly scary place.

The missing positions are gradually being filled in, as Trump goes through his Apprentice-style interview process:
  • Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State) - preferred over Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney for the position, Tillerson is CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil, and a Trump-style deal-maker with no political experience, rather than the kind of seasoned diplomat normally required for this important job. He is known to be a big fan of Vladimir Putin, and was awarded an "Order of Friendship" by Putin, whatever that may actually mean. His company has many Russian deals lined up, just waiting for the lifting of sanctions.
  • Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy) - ex-Governor of the oil state of Texas, who is skeptical about climate change and favours lighter regulation on the oil industry (so we know where this one is going), Perry vowed to scrap the federal Department of Energy during his failed 2012 Republican nomination bid, and now finds himself in charge of it. Like most other the nasty 2016 nominations, Perry and Trump traded some pretty spiteful insults, but are apparently best buddies.

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