Two years ago, I discussed the appointment of various climate change deniers to posts as heads of Senate committees in charge of science-based institutions. Those institutions are tasked with addressing (among other things) climate change. That was a perfect example of “foxes guarding the henhouse.” But at least the Obama Administration was able to keep a check on the amount of damage those individuals could cause. Now that Donald Trump is running the executive branch, the foxes are no longer bothering with the pretense of guarding the hens. They’re just rushing in for lunch.
Trump has decided that he is going to surround himself with people who – like himself – have minimal knowledge of the organization they are tasked with running. Many of these people believe the organization itself should not exist, and will likely run it in such a way as to delegitimize it. I’m just trying to wrap my mind around the possible effects of many of Trump’s appointments. Not every single appointment has been entirely terrible. But many raise multiple red flags for those who would like to see a working government serving the interests of American citizens.
It’s already bad enough that the new president-elect was actively aided in his election efforts by a hostile foreign power (with which he has done quite a bit of business). But now he has nominated the following rogues gallery to serve as his primary officials and advisors:
Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. Tillerson is lukewarm at best on climate change, and has deep ties with the nation that intentionally broke international laws and compromised American sovereignty to help elect his new boss. He’s a businessman with no government experience.
Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Sessions is an actual, confirmed racist with a long history of suppressing minority voters and denying jobs to people based on the color of their skin. And he is going to be the head of the US Justice Department. Because that’s what we need more of in America; racist cops.
Steve Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury. What a shock, no government experience. Mnuchin has a background as a movie producer, and used to work for Goldman Sachs, providing additional irony to a Cabinet already dripping in it. Trump spent much of his campaign railing against the influence of Goldman Sachs on primary and general election opponents alike. Mnuchin was personally enriched by home foreclosures during the worst of the Bush-era housing crisis. He has declared his primary goal to cut taxes for the rich – people like himself.
Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy. Unlike many of the other choices, Perry has government experience. Like the others, however, he has expressed an interest in dismantling the organization he will be leading. In addition, he is painfully unqualified to do the job. His last two predecessors were renowned physicists. Perry is a global warming denier who managed to forget (in a debate) which government departments he wanted to eliminate. Perry may actually be less intellectually curious than his predecessor in the Texas governor’s mansion, which is kind of an impressive accomplishment. It’s frightening though, to have such a person in charge of the American nuclear weapons infrastructure. As a side note, Greg Abbott may be even dumber (not to mention meaner) than Perry. Hopefully Texas can turn this trend around one day.
Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Rich and inexperienced. The pattern continues. She has demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge of education policy, she wants more religion (Christian only, of course) in public schools, and is an advocate for private and charter schools – at the expense of public education. Oh yeah, and she supports guns in schools to keep bears away.
Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. Wealthy business owner with no government experience. Against pretty much all regulations on business, against minimum wage laws, and blames government oversight for the last economic crisis. A man who is as anti-labor as possible in charge of helping advance the cause of labor. This will go well.
Tom Price for Health and Human Services. Price has some government experience, but has been a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and seeks to dismantle it as soon as possible. 20 to 30 million Americans would stand to lose their health insurance if Price gets his way.
Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development. Okay, now this just looks like a joke. Trump’s appointment of Carson seems to stem from his correlation of “black people equals inner cities” as well as an attempt to demonstrate a lack of racism. Meanwhile, Carson refused to swear that money from HUD wouldn’t go to Trump businesses, he appeared to admit his goal was to help as few people as possible, and of course, he has no knowledge of public policy or even the basics of governance. He previously refused a cabinet position on the grounds of his own inexperience! The actual logic used at one point for this appointment was that Carson once lived in public housing as a child. That’s sort of like me saying I’m qualified to run a car company because I drive a car.
Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce. Sleazy plutocrat with no government experience. He made his fortune from buying and selling off failing businesses. Has profited from the deaths of others. He has no business running any more businesses, much less a governing body.
Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency. This fits the general theme of the incoming cabinet. The future head of the organization tasked with protecting and improving the environment believes the organization shouldn’t exist. He is an outright denier of the fact of man-made global warming, he is a supporter of the coal industry, and he wants to eliminate most regulation on polluters.
Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the United Nations. This appointment isn’t quite as obviously egregious as John Bolton’s appointment by George W. Bush. But it is a bit of a head-scratcher, as Haley has no foreign policy experience. It was almost as if Trump just threw a dart at a list of prominent Republicans.
Mike Pompeo as CIA Director. This one is pretty scary. Pompeo is wrong about pretty much everything. He lied about Muslim leaders and clerics, praised American intelligence officials who committed acts of torture, supports bulk data collection, opposed the recent nuclear deal with Iran, and has called for the execution of Edward Snowden. Basically, Pompeo believes that the show 24 is a good model for American intelligence services.
Linda McMahon as Secretary of Small Business Administration. She ran the WWE. And has no government experience. Sigh.
Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist. This appointment will require no Senate confirmation. Bannon is already in and ready to go. So far, he seems to be a good fit. Vaguely racist and anti-Semitic, experienced in media and business, but little knowledge of public policy. I recommend reading Breitbart articles from the last few years to get an idea of where Bannon is coming from. That may be the only time I suggest reading Breitbart, except possibly as a form of masochistic entertainment.
Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. Ultra-aggressive conspiracy theorist and anti-Islamic bigot. Anybody who was hoping for a less-hawkish foreign policy from Trump should be concerned by this appointment.
There are a few other nominations that don’t look quite as bad. Elaine Chao and James Mattis, for example, are downright reasonable selections. At least, by comparison. But they are exceptions to what is otherwise an unprecedented cabinet-to-be.
Ever since the Republican Party had decided (rhetorically) that the biggest problem with governing was government – they have worked diligently at enacting a governing philosophy which may now be reaching its apotheosis in Trumpism. Simply put, government (as opposed to business) is always the worst, most incompetent, most corrupt, and least efficient institution. Naturally, it seems like the idea is to prove that philosophy by governing as poorly, incompetently, corruptly, and inefficiently as possible. Despite this overarching theme of the post-Reagan GOP, there have always been adults in the party who were genuinely interesting in running a (mostly) democratic government. Trump is testing those grown-ups in a way never seen before. Not only is Trump uniquely ignorant of governing, public policy, and even basic civics – but he has chosen to surround himself with like-minded people.
Now that all branches and levels of the US government system are dominated by one party, we will get to see the full effect of an American federal government run by people who want to tear it down. We have wealthy business executives who despise regulation, taxes, and unions. We have foreign-policy advisors contemptuous of international cooperation. We have people soon to be in charge of massive organizations (with budgets in the hundreds of billions) who have no experience in running anything similar. And worst of all, at least six of the aforementioned nominees are hostile to the very mission of their intended assignments. They seek to tear down and/or neutralize departments that are designed to help millions of Americans.
The incoming administration represents a radical departure from the last century of American governance. If you detest the fight against climate change, loathe labor unions, hate racial and gender equality, scorn universal healthcare, dislike consumer protection, benefit from income and wealth inequality, enjoy immigrant scapegoating, and embrace Vladimir Putin – then the Trump Administration may just be for you. For everyone else – this is going to be a long four years.