Whatever the populist voters who propelled Donald Trump into office thought they were getting, their president-elect is giving them a cabinet consisting of—as Josh Marshall has aptly put it—plutocrats, generals and right-wing extremists.
It also will be an administration staffed with an unusual number of candidate Trump’s major donors. As the Washington Post has reported, federal campaign filings reveal that, “President-elect Trump has now tapped six big donors and fund-raisers to serve in his administration, lining up an unprecedented concentration of wealthy backers for top posts. Together with their families, Trump’s nominees gave $11.6 million to support his presidential bid, his allied super PACs and the Republican National Committee.”
No wonder Trump says he wants to surround himself with the “wealthy” and “successful.” Little point in enlisting people of moderate means—no matter how accomplished–in what looks more and more like a pay-to-play scam. As for the generals, their role is to flatter the vanity of a bullying blowhard who apparently has watched one too many reruns of “Patton” on late night cable.
If there’s an archetype among team Trump’s number, it must be Linda McMahon, who has been nominated to head the small business administration. As co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. McMahon has made a fortune selling a phony sport to ill-educated consumers who still have to know that her product is phony—and don’t care because it panders their basest inclinations. In other words, Trump voters. She was twice a spectacularly unsuccessful senatorial candidate from Connecticut and donated $7 million to super PACs backing the president-elect. She even was among the handful of donors to the phony Trump foundation, giving millions to the phony philanthropy, which the incoming chief executive used as a personal ATM, forcing New York State authorities to close it down. McMahon shares something else with her new chief, a penchant for declaring bankruptcy and stiffing her creditors. She went belly up in 1976, but failed to pay her debts until an embarrassing newspaper expose in 2012.
She shares another important characteristic with a stunning number of Trump’s cabinet nominees—she believes the department she’s been named to head should be abolished. So, too, do Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt, who’s been named to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Rep. Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services designate, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, nominated as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, former Texas governor Rick Perry, named to head the Energy Department, Andrew Pudzer, the fast food magnate nominated as Secretary of Labor and billionaire evangelical Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education designate. All, by the way, also are climate change deniers.
Exactly how a government as complex as ours is supposed to function, when the heads of crucial components performing vial services think their job isn’t worth doing is anybody’s guess. Imagine, too, for a second, how it will feel to be a life-long public servant employed in one of those departments, knowing that the new boss really thinks you ought to be of work. Not exactly a morale booster. Half of Washington, one imagines, already is polishing its resume and wondering what the job market is like back home.
Whatever the drunk-on-populism voters who elected Trump imagined they were going to get, what they’ve got is a government in which the two biggest winners are Goldman Sachs and the oil and gas industry. The giant Wall Street investment bank’s current president, Gary Cohn, has been tapped to head Trump’s council of economic advisors and Goldman alums have been named senior White House advisor, Steve Bannon, and Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. Look for the Goldman name to turn up on all sorts of under- and assistant-secretary resumes in the weeks ahead. If you want to know what the “smart money” makes of Trump’s reliance on Goldman and its alums, just take a look at what the stock market has done for the past few weeks.
The carbon cabal also is extraordinarily well represented by Secretary of State designate and current Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson, EPA nominee Pruitt—who is so deeply in the petroleum industry’s pocket that he used to copy its press releases verbatim and submit them as pleadings—and reported Secretary of the Interior nominee, Rep. Ryan Zinke, who favors drilling and mining on every piece of federal land except—so far—Arlington National Cemetery. As a former Texas governor Rick Perry, the Energy nominee has never met an oil or gas well he didn’t like. He’s a director of the company fighting to build an oil pipeline next to the Sioux’s Standing Rock reservation.
Trump on the stump may have promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but as it turns out, what he intends is to replenish it with the kind of bilge he most easily can squeeze.
None of this has gone entirely unnoticed, even among those who willfully deluded themselves into believing candidate Trump. The latest nonpartisan Pew national survey found that only 40% of respondents approve of the president-elect’s cabinet-level nominees, as opposed to 71% who approved Barack Obama’s selections in 2008 and 58% who thought George Bush had chosen well in 2001. The percentage of respondents who judge Trump “well qualified” for the presidency stands at just 37.
However much he may bluster, that’s not much of a mandate, particularly when you consider that Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. Her total, in fact, matched that by which both Obama and Bush won reelection.
The revelations of Russian cyber meddling in the electoral process cast further doubts on the solidity of the president-elect’s alleged “mandate”—however much he may ridicule or deny what the intelligence agencies all agree occurred. (The FBI’s disagreement with the CIA and DIA—concerning which the Trump camp makes so much—is whether the Russian hackers intended to help the GOP nominee, not whether their intrusions took place.)
The fragility of popular consent to Trump’s government of nasty goofballs, oligarchs and carbonacrats is something to hold clearly in mind in the months ahead, as the congressional right-wingers—empowered by Trump’s ephemeral victory—attempt a radical transformation of our national life. They intend to dramatically reduce taxes for the wealthy and corporations, to eliminate the health insurance that currently covers nearly 30 million Americans under the Affordable Care Act, to replace the universal Medicare protection with inadequate vouchers and slash Social Security pensions.
Our looming national tragedy is that this is real life not a Trump produced reality show and that real people are about to be really hurt in a way they never are in a choreographed World Wrestling match.