After a campaign in which Donald Trump persistently hammered Hillary Clinton for her supposedly close ties with Wall Street, it is now clear that the key economic slots in the cabinet—and the State Department as well—will go either to Wall Street high rollers or to others like Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson (State). Tillerson’s nomination poses particular problems because of his cosy relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. This is at a time when the CIA has found that Russian intelligence agencies selectively tapped into Clinton and Democratic Party emails, which were published through Wikileaks in a manner that led the CIA to conclude that the Russians intended to help Donald Trump.
Now, it’s certainly not out of bounds for US leaders to seek common ground with Putin: Obama tried just that after he was elected. And I would be inclined to agree that the US missed an opportunity, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, to establish truly friendly relations with Russia. But by expanding NATO into Russia’s front yard we forfeited that opportunity. Now, Putin is not our friend. His goal is to weaken not only the US, but all Western democracies in order to open up space for a resurgence of Russia as at least a regional power. To have both a President and a Secretary of State who are cosy with Putin will weaken the US and strengthen Russia.
As to the major economic portfolios, for Treasury we have Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive and a Wall Street insider. For Secretary of Commerce we have venture capitalist Wilbur Ross. For Labor we have fast food CEO Andrew Puzder, who has vocally opposed raising the minimum wage. So much for Trump’s populist assaults on Wall Street during the campaign. Although we still don’t know who he will appoint to head the Council of Economic Advisers and the Trade Representative, it is clear that big business will control the administration’s economic policies.
Economic policy will be run by Wall Street and Big Business. National Security will be the bailiwick of dissident generals and Republican hawks. Domestic policy will aim at throwing out red meat to keep the base happy.
On national security, the pattern is retired generals who have been critical of Obama. For Defense (if he can get Congress to pass a waiver) it is retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who, paradoxically may turn out to be one of the saner choices. For Homeland Security, the nominee is retired General John Kelly, former commander of the Southern Command with jurisdiction over the Western Hemisphere. There is also Natonal Security Adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, who is into conspiracy theories with Obama and Clinton as the bad guys. So career military men who’ve publicly criticized Obama will have major roles in national security policy.
They will be backed up by highly partisan civilians. The nominee to head the CIA is Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS), who has been an attack dog on Benghazi and security leaks. The nominee for Secretary of Energy will be former Texas governor Rick Perry, who will surely tilt policy back toward fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Domestic policy will be the arena for ideological pit bulls whose role will be to keep throwing out red meat to distract Trump’s base from the fact that Wall Street is running the government.
Start with Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. He can be expected to systematically roll back civil rights protections and abortion rights. Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education will no doubt pursue her long-standing campaign to promote charter schools at the expense of regular public schools. Congressman Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services will not only push for rapid repeal of Obamacare, but also privatization of Medicare and Medicaid. He is also an unbending opponent of legal abortion.
One might have thought of Dr. Ben Carson as the likely head of Health and Human Services, but instead he’s been tapped for Housing and Urban Development, where he has no background but knows he doesn’t like public housing. We don’t yet know who the Secretary of Interior will be, but the head of the Environmental Protection Agency is to be Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who’s a skeptic on climate change and a party to several suits against the EPA.
Elaine Chao is one of several Washington insiders who’ve been tapped: the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush, and will be Secretary of Transportation.
In sum, economic policy will be run by Wall Street and Big Business. National Security will be the bailiwick of dissident generals and Republican hawks. Domestic policy will aim at throwing out red meat to keep the base happy. And the fifty-two plus percent of us who voted against Trump? You know where we can go, and what we can do when we get there.