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More from US Historian Dan Carter .. Reflections on Trump’s Cabinet and The Chaos to Come

January 2nd, 2017

Many of you enjoyed my friend Dan Carter‘s wonderful post here a few weeks ago about sailing into the uncharted waters of a Donald Trump-led America. A distinguished historian of US politics and a wonderful writer, Dan has just posted a detailed look at Trump’s cabinet-to-come. It ain’t pretty. To wit:

“If anyone thinks this collection of billionaires, bigots, Ayn Rand fanatics and con artists … who share the belief that money corrupts the poor but elevates the moral character of the rich ….  will protect average Americans or “Make America Great,” my sister has 42 acres of prime swamp land on my family’s South Carolina farm.  It fronts Lynches River; in fact it is only inches above the river. Don’t be a loser.  You can build huge, terrific, classy condos that will make you a winner.  Bigly.”

Here are two versions of Dan’s latest essay .. a short version on CommonDreams … and Dan has shared the longer version below with me. Go for the longer read … well worth it, albeit very troubling.

What Do  President-Elect Trump’s Cabinet Choices Tell Us About His Future Policies? By Dan Carter

Those who supported Donald Trump have expressed indignation over criticism of  the President-elect even though he hasn’t even taken office.  It’s true he won’t be sworn in until January 20, 2017 (although you wouldn’t know it from his tweets.)    And, barring unforeseen circumstances, in four years we will be able to judge his record more clearly.  But we already have a glimpse of the future in his choice of staff and cabinet members.

It’s not very encouraging.

Steve Bannon will be chief adviser.   While Bannon has been careful to avoid explicitly racist statements in public, a film-maker who worked closely with him recalled his comments that only property owners should vote.  And he often mused about the “genetic superiority” of “some” people, she recalled.  He certainly had no hesitancy in openly expressing his contempt for feminists and the LGBT community. (In one radio interview he dismissed liberal women as “a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools.”)  But it was as the publisher of Breitbart News that he gained his reputation for promoting the worst elements of American society.  Bannon has boasted that he made Breitbart.com the main outlet for the Alt-Right Movement, an open sewer of anti-Semites, racists, homophobes, xenophobes and women-haters.  He famously advised Trump followers to “turn on the hate.”  It worked; he should fit right in the Trump White House.

Here are some of the rest:

Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Adviser.  Outstanding combat officer in Iraq and Afghanistan (although he was reprimanded for passing secret information to Afghan officials without authorization.) Named head of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) under Obama, but fired for reasons ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell summarized in a leaked email:  “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management.” At that point, said Powell, he went “right-wing nutty.”  Secretly took money from Russian and Turkish interests. Promoted a video insisting that it was sound policy to fear Islam as a whole, since Muslims want “80 percent of humanity enslaved or exterminated. . . .”  Spread rumors Hillary Clinton was a money launderer and child molester.  Not the kind of organized, thoughtful individual you want giving advice to a President with ADD  and a very long finger inches from the nuclear button.  (“My fingers are long and beautiful as, has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.” Donald Trump)

Mike Pompeo has been picked to head the CIA.  The Kansas Republican rejected the findings of five non-partisan congressional investigations on Benghazi that dismissed the multiple accusations against Hillary Clinton.  In an interview with right-wing radio announcer Frank Gaffney, Pompeo accused President Obama of adopting policies and statements that supported the cause of Muslim terrorists. Opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.  Insists that the US personnel who used waterboarding, electric shocks, dogs, nudity, hypothermia and mock executions” were “true patriots”.  Brilliant (first in his class at West Point), but often seems unhinged by his hyper-partisanship.  It is difficult to imagine Pompeo will weigh intelligence issues on a non-partisan basis.

Mick Mulvaney—Office of Management and Budget, a critical agency shaping the federal budget.  Supports the repeal of Obamacare and its replacement by block grants.  (See below).  Dismisses claims of climate change.   While a South Carolina legislator he introduced bill to require women to watch an ultrasound of the fetus before they could obtain an abortion. A brilliant student in finance (Georgetown) and law (UNC Chapel Hill)  Mulvaney is a passionate climate denier who seems convinced he knows more than the 97 per cent of climate scientists who accept the overwhelming evidence that humans are playing a major role in global warming.

Tom Price—Health and Human Services.  Another Tea Party favorite, Representative Price (R-Ga)  has sponsored legislation to abolish the Affordable Care Act and   replace Social Security and Medicare  with  block grants.  His legislation also would have repealed the 2013 expansion of Medicaid and sharply reduced the funding for existing Medicaid recipients as well as CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program.)  On the eve of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more than 43 million Americans—17 per cent of the population—were uninsured.  By November of 2016, the number had declined to less than 10 per cent or 28 million Americans.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the passage of the bill proposed by Representative Price (and endorsed by House Speaker Paul Ryan) would save approximately $50 billion a year (about 3.2 per cent of the federal budget), but it would also lead to a 100 per cent increase in the number of uninsured, most of whom will be low-income Americans.

Rex Tillerson—Secretary of State.  Exxon CEO.  Net Worth: $250 million.   The British newspaper, The Guardian, recently published documents showing that he was the secret director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the Bahamas.  In 201l he became Vladimir Putin’s good friend when Moscow dangled a $500 billion oil exploration partnership with Exxon.  The US joined western countries in imposing sanctions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and that put a hold on the deal, but most political observers believe that Trump—with Tillerson’s support—will end these sanctions.

Jefferson Beauregard (“Jeff”) Sessions—Attorney General.  Currently junior senator from Alabama.  Denied appointment as federal district judge because of a history of racist comments. Called the ACLU and the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”  As Alabama attorney general he relentlessly (and unsuccessfully) sought to convict civil rights activists for voter fraud.  Dismissed the 1965 Voting Rights act as “intrusive legislation” on the rights of the states.  He has opposed every immigration bill, including those put forth by fellow Republicans. Has said he will reject any judge with a “secular mindset.”

Steven Mnuchin – Treasury. Net Worth: $40 million plus.   Ex-Goldman Sachs investment banker; then hedge fund manager. Purchased a failing bank in California in 2009 that became profitable by aggressively foreclosing on home owners.  Strongly opposes regulation of financial industry.  Friends who know him well say he is not ideological, just ruthlessly ambitious.

Wilbur Ross—Commerce Department.  Net Worth: $2.9 Billion, Known as the “King of Bankruptcy.  Made his fortune buying distressed companies.  While he sometimes managed to salvage firms, his main path to profits has been to use the bankruptcy laws to terminate pension obligations and dump them onto the taxpayers by leaving the workers to depend upon much smaller pensions paid by the US  Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.  His other tactic has been to liquidate a firm’s valuable assets, leaving workers jobless and (again because of bankruptcy laws) with only a reduced government funded pension. One of his acquisitions was the Sago Mine in West Virginia.  A non-union operation, there were more than 200 safety violations in 2005 alone and, over the years, miners suffered three times as many injuries as the industry average.   Managers concluded it was cheaper to pay the Mine and Safety Administration’s fines than remediating the violations. In 2005, a methane explosion led to the death of 12 miners. While Ross denied he was part of the operating management, he admitted to investigators that he was aware of the practice of paying fines, rather than correcting safety problems.

Andrew Puzder—Labor Department  Net worth: $80 million.   CEO of Hardees/Carl’s Jr. Fast Foods.  Over the last four years, Department of Labor investigations have found labor law violations in 60 percent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, most for paying workers less than the minimum wage or for refusing to pay time and a half for overtime. Politically known for his attacks on minimum wage increases or protective legislation for workers. A passionate reader of Ayn Rand.  When criticized for his company’s use of nearly naked women in Hardee’s ads, he seemed bewildered.   “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis,” he told a reporter.  “I think it’s very American.” A perfect choice for Trump.

Elizabeth (“Betsy”) Devos—Department of Education.  Net worth (with husband): $5.1 billion. Wealth gained from Amway, America’s most profitable pyramid scam. Her long-range goal?  Replacing public education with Christian or corporate-run schools funded by tax-payer funded vouchers without any oversight.   Heavily influenced by the 19th century Dutch ultra-conservative theologian and politician Abraham Kupyer who  tried to prevent the establishment of non-religious schools, colleges and universities in the Netherlands.

Scott Pruitt—Environmental Protection Agency.  A classic case of the fox being placed in charge of the hen house.  Oklahoma Attorney General and passionate climate change denier.  Heavily funded by the Koch Brothers and other fossil fuel and polluting industries.  Worked hand in hand with his patrons in lawsuits against EPA that would end regulation of their industries.  A leading environmental researcher summed it up:  “It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile E.P.A. administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history,”

Rick Perry—Energy Department. Yes, he’s the one who couldn’t remember the name of the Department he wanted to abolish in 2011.  Perry complained that the department has promoted alternative and non-polluting energy technologies while neglecting the fossil fuel industry which has financed his political career.  Perry was apparently unaware that the majority of the Energy Department’s budget is for the production, management and disposal of nuclear materials with much of the rest of its budget supporting basic scientific research.  As Donald Trump said of Perry:  “He put on glasses so people will think he’s smart. And it just doesn’t work. . . .”

Ryan Zinke – Interior Department.  Montana congressman.  The non-partisan League of Conservation voters found that he had voted against environmental protections 97% of the time, at the same advocating more coal, oil and gas development on public lands.  Rejects role of humans in global climate change.

Ben Carson—Housing and Urban Development.  Outstanding pediatric neurosurgeon. Will long be remembered for his claim that the Biblical Joseph built the pyramids for grain storage.  His only experience in housing comes from having lived in one.  Carson’s skin color had nothing to do with Trump’s desperate attempt to show “diversity” in his cabinet.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing. Positively nothing.  Still, choosing Carson to lead HUD is like asking a plumber to remove a tumor from your brain because, after all, both plumbers and neurosurgeons are skillful in using tools.

Nikki Haley—Ambassador to the United Nations.  Once toured the UN on a high school trip; otherwise zero experience with the UN.  Be grateful for small favors.  No-one has accused her of being stupid.  Not yet.

And then there is the lagniappe:

 David Friedman nominated to be ambassador to Israel.  Friedman supports moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, rejects a two-state solution, supports further settlement expansion and seizure of even more West Bank land from the Palestinians—all direct violations of UN resolutions and long-time US policy.  Called President Obama an anti-Semite; repeatedly made the false claim that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.  His attitude toward those Jews who favor a negotiated peace between the Palestinians and Israelis?   These liberal Jews, said Friedman, were “far worse than kapos” – the Jews who were forced to operate the gas chambers in the Nazi death camps.

So how can we sum up Trump’s choices?  Like every President before him, he has sought to placate various groups within the coalition that supported him and they do not always agree, except in the refusal of all but Defense Department nominee James Mattis to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that our planet is warming at a dangerous rate.

But there are other underlying attitudes and assumptions that characterize (again) most of the appointments of President-elect Trump.  They certainly do not represent a “draining of the swamp.”  Tillerson, Mneuchen, Puzder and DeVos are all extraordinarily wealthy individuals closely tied to the nation’s banking and corporate elite.  Most of the other appointments lack comparable wealth, but they all seem to share two interlocking passions.

The first is that money corrupts the poor but elevates the moral character of the rich. By making the lives of working Americans and the marginal middle class more precarious and insecure and giving them less money, they will respond by becoming more productive and resourceful workers, returning benefits to society as a whole.  At the same time allowing the wealthiest Americans to become even richer will lead them to be “job creators” that benefit society as a whole.

As Harper’s Magazine editor Lewis Lapham  observed some time ago, the second unifying principle has been the unbending conviction that the word “public” in “all its uses and declensions (public service, citizenship, public health, community, public park, commonwealth, public school, etc.,) connotes inefficiency and waste,” a condition that could only be improved by relying upon the unrestrained market, freed from the  unnecessary burdens imposed by government bureaucrats,  labor unions  and assorted liberal busy-bodies.

Let’s at least call it by its correct name: trickle-down economics, or—as I prefer to describe it— dog-eat-dog capitalism.  By and large their words and actions support the cynical viewpoint of the 17th century English proverb:  “Every man for himself and let the devil take the hindmost.”

Of course there are perfectly defensible appointments like General Mattis for Secretary of Defense.  But if anyone thinks this collection of billionaires, bigots, Ayn Rand fanatics and con artists will protect average Americans or “Make America Great,” my sister has 42 acres of prime swamp land on my family’s South Carolina farm.  It fronts Lynches river; in fact it is only inches above the river. Don’t be a loser.  You can build huge, terrific, classy condos that will make you a winner.  Bigly.

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