Much has been made of the emerging Trump Administration’s wealth, and if either Mitt Romney or Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson is selected as Secretary of State, the incoming cabinet’s standing as the richest ever will be more than assured. A great deal, too, has been made of the number of Goldman Sachs alums in the new administration—despite the president elect’s demonization of the powerful investment bank during the campaign. Much, too, understandably is being made of the Trump team’s extreme right-wing views.
Equally notable, it seems to me, is the prevalence of plain old crooks and kooks in the group that’s about to govern us for the next four years.
Start with the character at the top. Unlike any other presidential candidate in recent history, he still refuses to release his income tax returns—apparently because this standard disclosure would reveal that he hasn’t really paid anything for years. As president-elect, he’s held a series of conversations with foreign businessmen and governmental leaders designed to further his real estate interests.
Even his breathtakingly ill-considered jab in China’s eye, a phone call with the Taiwanese president, was a crooked deal, arranged by former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole, now a highly paid lobbyist for Taipei. There’s more to come, since Trump—whatever he may say—has no real intention of abandoning his various commercial enterprises. It’s an unprecedented conflict, which he airily dismisses by saying that people knew he was in business when they voted for him, though perhaps they didn’t realize he was going to stay in business.
As fervent Trump backer and uber-opportunist Newt Gingrich put it, “This is a great test case between the pre-Trump and post-Trump worlds. In a pre-Trump world dominated by left-wing ideas, anyone successful is inherently dangerous and should be punished for trying to serve the country.”
The categorical confusion between “success” and wealth is endemic in the Trump camp—as is the notion that, simply because the law permits a thing, it’s OK to do it. Entirely lost in that view is the fact that, when it comes to decent and moral conduct, the law is the lowest common denominator.
Gingrich aside, by now, we’re all too familiar with the weirdest and most repellant of his supporters. There is, for example, Trump enthusiast and CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes who recently told one interviewer, “One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people who say ‘facts are facts,’— they’re not really facts. . .There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”
Then there’s a leading figure in the Trump-backing alt-right, Nazi white supremacist Richard Spencer, who Wednesday told an audience at Texas A&M that, “We won. And we got to define what America means. America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men.”
Take that, you misguided souls who thought Spencer’s ilk were sent fleeing under their rocks by the moral heroism on the Edmund Pettus Bridge or the political courage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Apparently the post-Trump world is going to look a lot like our unlovely past.
Back among the flat-out crooks, as Katrina vanden Heuvel recently pointed out in the Washington Post, “Trump named Wall Street veteran and Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin as his choice for treasury secretary. Mnuchin spent nearly two decades at Goldman Sachs. . .During the housing crisis, Mnuchin also chaired a bank, OneWest, with a reputation for being a ‘foreclosure machine.’ In one case, the bank foreclosed on a 90-year-old woman over a 27-cent payment error. Trump’s pick to run the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, has a similar track record of profiteering on the backs of working people. . .known for laying off workers and outsourcing jobs.”
Putting the sinister Steve Bannon to one side, when it comes to kooks, it’s hard to beat Trump’s selection to run the Department of Health and Human Services, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, a doctor who belongs to a lunatic fringe group called The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. It doesn’t just oppose Medicare, it urges its members not to treat older patients with that insurance since it’s “evil” and “immoral.”
At various times, its publications also have promoted the notion that childhood vaccines cause autism, that abortions cause breast cancer and that HIV and AIDS are not connected. The group also opposed vaccination programs in schools and at one point alleged that, “President Obama’s oratory could in fact be a form of hypnosis,” and that he won the presidency “by hypnotizing impressionable voters like young people and Jews.”
Trump’s selection as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, does not believe in government housing aid, since it “encourages dependency” or in promoting the integration of public housing projects. Like vice president-elect Pence, he does not believe in evolution or human influence over climate change, though both accept the notion of “restorative therapy” to “cure” gays and lesbians. Carson also believes that the Egyptian pyramids were not tombs, but granaries constructed at the direction of the Biblical figure Joseph.
The woman Trump proposes as Secretary of Education, wealthy Republican donor Betsy DeVos—a devout fundamentalist Christian—believes public education should be discouraged because it has made schools the center of communities rather than churches. She favors vouchers for both secular private and parochial schools, and believes her efforts in this regard will lead to “greater Kingdom gain.”
One shudders to think exactly what that means.
There’s peril enough in the new administration’s astronomical nutter quotient, but the greater danger is that the goofballs’ antics will distract attention from the crook side of the Trump equation. Even now, it’s clear that the president-elect’s neo-Peronism is all part of a calculated bait-and-switch con. As the caudillo and his surrogates, like Corey Lewandowsky, like to point out, Trump never meant much of what he said and promised during the campaign to be taken “literally.” Many of his statements were—to quote his own malapropism—“euphemisms.” Some, he now claims, he no longer remembers.
As the generally conservative Fiscal Times web site reported, “After announcing with great fanfare that Carrier Corporation had been persuaded to keep some 700 jobs in Indiana rather than sending them to Mexico (along with the more than 1,000 jobs it is still sending south of the border) Trump admitted that he had never actually meant it when he promised voters in Indiana that Carrier would never leave. In fact, he said, it wasn’t until he watched a video of his own speech that he even remembered saying it in the first place.”
OK—and what does it matter, if there are nothing as inconvenient as facts?
The faux-populism of Trump on the stump was meant to distract the suckers from what awaits under the executive shell of the Oval Office: Further enrichment for himself and his children, a massive giveaway to his fellow one-percenters, and a stripping away of the hard won healthcare and old age pensions that help make life at least tolerable for the vast majority of Americans.
It couldn’t come at a worse time. New findings by the French economist Thomas Piketty and UC Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman reveal that Americans on the lower 50% of the income scale have been “completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970’s. . .Even after taxes and transfers, there has been close to zero growth for working-age adults in the bottom 50%.”
Since 1980, this group’s stagnant wages have reduced their share of the country’s annual income from 20% to just 12.5% in 2014, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available. During that same period, the top 1% increase their share of the national income to 20%. In 1980, the top 1% made 27 times what an American on the bottom half of the income ladder made. Today, while the average income of the lower half remains about $16,000 a year, that of the top 1% has climbed, on average, to $1,304,800—or 81 times what half the country’s working women and men make.
Everything Trump and the newly empowered Koch-style congressional conservatives, like Speaker Paul Ryan, are proposing will make this inequality almost immeasurably worse. Corporate and personal taxes for the wealthy will fall dramatically, while the assistance on which so many depend—sometimes for life itself—will fall suddenly away. Consider what the proposed privatization of Medicare and Social Security—both of which candidate Trump promised to protect—will mean for the elderly.
Think about the 23 million Americans who have obtained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which Trump and the Congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal, or about the millions of children and working poor now getting help from the Medicaid program they plan to gut. Consider, too, the millions of hard-working immigrants and their striving children soon to be forced back into the dangerous shadows of insecurity by Trump and his sinister Attorney Gen.-designate, the racist Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Government by goofballs will be hurtful and humiliating; government by connivers and crooks will be degrading for many and deadly for more than we yet can calculate.
That’s the price many of us are about to pay for an election in which “facts didn’t matter.”