Trump may be crass, bigoted and incompetent, but from his bully pulpit on the world stage he is actually something far worse: a catalyst for change.
Sometimes when a politician says something outrageous when campaigning they actually mean it. Those eternal optimists who thought that a victorious Trump administration would put away the mean words and settle into the boring humdrum of politics as usual never seemed to grasp the bomb-throwing nature of his campaign, the radical break with the politics of the past it represented. Despite Donnie Trump’s own tortured arguments to the contrary, words actually do matter. And words remain his weapon of choice, whether they appear in the form of executive orders or blasts of hot air screamed over a phone.
Every time Trump opens his mouth or tweets one of his witty bon mots, what remains of the liberal democratic order in the Americas and elsewhere shudders, and the reactionary and fascist creeps on the edges of civil society advance closer to the mainstream. Like toxic gas emanating from an unregulated Koch Industries factory, a dangerous cloud of words has engulfed the country in the first two weeks of the Orange Man’s reign.
The dark promises of Trump the candidate are starting to solidify into the dark policies of the presidency, and we are now treading down the same bleak, inward looking and paranoid road that much of the rest of the world is on. If the first two incendiary and (thankfully?) incompetent weeks of the administration are anything to go on, there may be no return to “business as usual.” Not here, not anywhere. In preparation of this new reality, let’s take a look at what the White House has managed to do, or not do, thus far.
Breakin’ from Reality 2: Electoral Boogaloo
Before Trump had even started to govern, or whatever you want to call his belching, fart noise approach to leading the country, he was already calling Hillary Clinton’s popular vote tally into question, seizing on electoral fraud claims by an Internet wingnut to contend that three million votes were cast illegally, mostly by undocumented immigrants. He suggested ominously that there would be investigations into states that had gone to Clinton, signaling his willingness to politicize and manipulate future election results for personal gain. Trump also threw a big hissy fit over the modest inauguration turnout, inflating any statistic he could find to stroke his massive, mostly gaseous ego. Even the Soviet Union seemed to have a better grasp of numbers.
This was the beginning of the administration’s psychotic break with our reality, when Sean “Wormtongue” Spicer and Kellyanne “Reptoid Queen” Conway started bandying around alternative facts* to describe the parallel universe the White House was now living in. Any poll or report that didn’t cup Trump’s testicles suddenly became “fake news” in the fastest corruption of a term in the history of the English language. Trump’s messaging philosophy seems to be: if you’re gonna lie, lie big, and whatever you do don’t admit you were wrong (Goebbels 101). Objective facts are the nebulous, airy things that fairies and dreams are made of, not the crude matter you and I see before us. It took Blond Bomber Conway less than half a month to take this flexible way of thinking to its atrocious nadir, alluding to a nonexistent Iraqi-led massacre on MSNBC to defend Trump’s deplorable ban on refugees from predominately Muslim countries.
It’s a dark fantasy setting the administration is living in. Just take a look at Trump’s dismal “winter is coming” rant of an inauguration speech. Is this the President of the United States, or an HBO Original Series? But then I suppose if you don’t have a real existential crises, like the Great Depression, Axis Powers bombing your Pacific fleet, or Soviet ICBMs staring you down, you might as well invent some. Or, in Trump’s case, become the crisis you want to see.
*Lately, the right has been arguing that the left is actually to blame for “alternative facts” because a handful of dead French postmodern intellectuals sometimes questioned the possibility of objective knowledge. And well obviously every leftist and liberal in the country spends their off-time, between all the lattes and Portlandia episodes, reading and debating the latest translations of Derrida and Foucault and conspiring to dismantle the underpinnings of Western civilization. This, by the way, is what the continental philosophers refer to as “sarcasm.”
For those of you still hoping for some kind of conservative rebellion against Trumpism, I have some disappointing news. There is no last stand of moderate Republicans in the cards, no principled opposition in the wings, and the Republican Congress, barring some bizarre revelation (like videos of Trump molesting sedated endangered animals or hanging out in a middle school parking lot with R. Kelly), is not going to suddenly develop a conscience and impeach the president.
The reality is Republicans are getting a pretty sweet deal with Trump’s dream team of small government ideologues and promises of massive deregulation. They’re not going to let a “good thing” go to waste even it’s embodied by a narcissistic nutcase with a Mussolini complex and his Salacious B. Crumb-grade sidekicks. Witness how easily Trump’s mostly unqualified and noxious cabinet picks sailed through their Senate confirmations. Even Betsy DeVos, arguably the most inane and least qualified of the bunch, got the comfy chair treatment from all but two Republicans. You thought your shit-for-brain high school buddy getting a cushy job in that downtown marketing firm was a charity case? If you have the cash to burn, consider sending them to Washington.
The House is especially immune to appeals to sanity because their homogeneous districts are full of self-selecting conservative diehards who love Trump. Some districts are so effectively gerrymandered that challenges from the left or center are almost cosmically unlikely to succeed, so there is no incentive to rebel against the administration. Paul Ryan and his peers are having their cake and eating it too, wagging fingers over Trump’s style (not consulting them before doing whatever he wants) while furiously nodding their heads in agreement with the nightmarish substance of his proposals. They’re as comfortably neutered as a box full of conservative kittens.
In the Senate, Mitch McConnell praises Trump’s conservative bona fides, never mind the budget-busting wall and billion-dollar infrastructure promise still floating in the ether. Ryan and Mitch McConnell have both made it very clear that the center of power is where they want to be, damn the consequences, and are more than willing to advance a brutally statist right-wing agenda under the hypocritical guise of small government conservatism. Meanwhile, straight-talking Senator John McCain, war hero and perennial Trump punching bag, contentedly plays damage control, smoothing over any stupid shit Trump tells America’s once-and-future allies. McCain might have been a contender for leading Republican dissent, but the fight’s gone out of his eyes.
The libertarians and fiscal hawks within the party might raise a stink about states’ rights and budget issues from time to time, but since many of their favorite government agencies to revile (mostly the ones that help people) are likely to be placed on the chopping block under Trump I suspect their protests will, like the saddest of trombones, be muted. Until the mid-term elections, which may or may not be a political blood bath depending on how effective Democrats are in take advantage of Trump’s inevitable failures (don’t hold your breath), I’m afraid we’re stuck with Trump and the sycophants who love him for a while.
Note: Since this article was originally written, Michael Flynn resigned due to his close Russian ties and new revelations surfaced that Trump aides had ongoing contact with Russian spooks during the election. Sane Republicans, especially Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, now have a second chance to challenge the president.
The Bannon Ultimatum
The chaos unleashed by the Trump administration in its first two weeks, especially the absurd and completely avoidable travel ban blowup, strongly suggests that we’re dealing with rank amateurs and dilettantes who have no idea how to actually govern or even how the U.S. government is supposed to work. Did anyone in the White House spend even two minutes looking at existing laws before tossing out their stupidly contestable executive orders, including a political shot in the dark that basically dared federal judges to come after them? Given that the overall reading comprehension of Trump and his inner circle hovers around the third grade level, probably not very closely.
But there is a certain degree of intentionality in the executive orders, an animating idea that reflects the extremist ideology of their principle architect, Steve “Year Zero” Bannon, and his stoolie Stephen Miller. If your goal is to tear down the government to build a new Judeo-Christian utopia, something Bannon actually believes in, breaking public institutions and challenging the judicial branch that checks your activities is a very obvious first step. Not only do you throw your enemies into disarray by forcing them to put out a lot of separate fires, you also chip away at the public’s trust in institutions until they start fearfully seeing things your way. This is classic textbook power politics, and a very obvious maneuver coming from a predictable crackpot like Bannon.
In the Ban Man’s twisted Sith-Catholic world view, chaos is just another messaging strategy, one intended to send a signal to supporters and enemies alike that the administration is serious about carrying out its wacky agenda and are willing to grind the country to a destructive halt to do it. This seems like political suicide until you consider that many of the twentieth century’s most effective totalitarian regimes were run by pseudo-intellectual outsiders with weird hobbies and little experience with democratic institutions. In that sense, Bannon hails from a proud if not particularly bright tradition.
Bannon has made no secret that he sees Trump as a useful tool. He even described candidate Trump as a “blunt instrument” to be used to advance his own political ends. And now that his blunt instrument is in office, Bannon’s moving very quickly to hammer us with his extreme brand of Christian nationalism. It took him no time at all to weasel his way into the National Security Council, a role usually reserved for generals and, you know, actual defense experts, which tells us he’s effectively insulating himself like a malignant parasite (tape worm?) within the executive branch. During the travel ban chaos, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly reportedly had to remind Bannon that he wasn’t the president after Bannon ordered him to not issue waivers for green card holders.
Bannon may not be the president, but it’s pretty clear he’s acting as Trump’s brain and probably thinks of himself as the de facto head of state anyway. He certainly assumed the posture when he told New York Times journalist Michael M. Grynbaum that he considers the press the opposition party and exhorted them to shut up and listen. The bold-faced imperiousness of Bannon in this moment would have made President Lyndon B. Johnson blush
Burning the Library of Alexandria: Historical Tragedy or Smashing Success?
Trump’s team are huge fans of science as long as it’s shiny, fun or profitable. But science that cuts into their corporate cronies’ bottom line or their own delusions of energy autarky, is very bad indeed. Pressing and inconvenient problems like air and water pollution, drought and desertification, preventable disease, climate change, etc. are boring egghead shit, or worse, Chinese conspiracies. And why should industry leaders be forced to bow to the common good anyway? It’s not like they’re the ones who have to deal with cancerous tumors, dry wells and dead crops, measles and small pox, or flooded shorelines.
As if to reinforce the new regime’s contempt for inconvenient natural sciences, the White House dropped any mention of climate change on their website, replacing it with their America First “get it while it’s hot” energy policy. Almost as soon as Trump assumed office there were reports that the administration was shutting down inconvenient web content and social media coming out of Environmental Protect Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture and freezing future EPA grants. Much of this proved to be departmental misunderstandings resulting from temporary review periods, but the fact that Trump had already asked for lists of employee names within the EPA clearly spooked rank-and-file scientists.
The understandable perception that the administration was ready to clamp down kicked off minor social media rebellion starting with a former National Park Service employee that spread into other agencies, a brief uprising that amounted to simply acknowledging that climate science is a real thing. Government scientists have been so unnerved by the anti-intellectual Trump team they’ve begun to back up their data on private servers to protect it from prying hands and errant delete keys. In fact, the administration actually did plan to delete all the EPA’s webpages on climate change, but walked it back when the predictable uproar ensued.
Soon after the EPA and USDA meddling became known, the public learned that key State Department personnel had been removed from their posts. This is not a completely unprecedented thing as the executive is perfectly entitled to reshape State to fit their own foreign policy priorities. But what came next is definitely a first. When over a thousand State Department diplomats signed a perfectly kosher dissent urging Trump to drop his travel ban over national security concerns (pissing off Muslim allies and further aggravating enemies maybe not such a hot idea), Spicer publicly told the dissenters they could get lost. Dissents at State are not loyalty tests and nor do the impede operations; they’re official recommendations and criticisms intended to improve a bad policy or recommend new ones. But for the Trump Boys, they’re totally loyalty tests.
Even the intelligence services, the type of people tough-talking jingoists generally exalt, got a bit of the administration enema. President-Elect Trump lashed out at the CIA over their Russian hacking report and the controversial Russian Watersports Dossier, suggesting their WMD findings in Iraq (something Trump himself believed incidentally) are proof of their incompetence, and accusing them of employing Nazi smear tactics. When given the opportunity to address their concerns as President, he used his time to brag about his campaign victory and steam on about the media conspiracy against him in front of the CIA memorial wall commemorating fallen officers.
The CIA and NSA have so little confidence in Trump’s ability to keep his mouth shut on twitter or the White House to keep vital information out of Russian hands (see also: Mike Flynn, world’s most oblivious mole), they’ve begun to push back. According to Observer’s John Schindler, the CIA denied a security clearance to Mike Flynn’s boy Rob Townley, a Marine intelligence officer, to take on the National Security Council Africa desk, a move regarded by the administration as a finger in Flynn’s eye. And the NSA has purportedly begun to withhold sensitive intelligence from the White House, and has stopped providing special reports to the President altogether.
Given that Trump doesn’t even bother to show up for his intelligence briefings, his feuding with the infinitely more knowledgeable spook community is probably ill-advised for both Trump and the American people, especially since the CIA pretty much specializes in overthrowing governments.
John Grisham’s “Executive Orders” (now available where quality paperbacks are sold)
In its first week, the White House unleashed a hot, wet torrent of Bannon-authored executive orders that threw down the short-fingered Trump gauntlet. Drafted with almost zero attention paid to existing laws or regulations, a lot of these missives amounted to big talk with little follow through, but a few managed to have the intended explosive effect. One particularly troublesome order catapulted Bannon to the rank of reichsfuhrer, er principal, in the National Security Council. With this little number Bannon essentially wrote his own ticket to power. But it’s not like Trump is actually reading these things, and I’m sure it provided the president an opportunity to angrily yell “Bannooooon!” at the ceiling like the sitcom boss he is.
Domestic Security:The administration issued a one-two punch of orders to build Trump’s big, beautiful wall on our southern border, greatly increase the size and scope of Department of Homeland Security’s deportation operations and punish self-designated sanctuary cities, setting up a legal battle between major U.S. cities that depend on immigrant and foreign labor and a stampeding brontosaurus of a presidency . These two executive orders led to some of the administration’s more humorous embarrassments, including their brilliant proposal to charge a 20 percent import tax on Mexican goods to pay for the wall, a charge that would have impacted U.S. consumers as much as Mexican exporters. Mexico, a long-standing American ally, was already pretty pissed off by Trump’s irrational and racist proposals during the campaign. Now they’re infuriated. To paraphrase former President Vicente Fox, they’re not going to pay for that fucking wall. But, seriously, they’re not. Sorry Trumpistas. One way or another you’re paying for this wall. But be proud of your accomplishment. It’s high time the U.S. had its first half-completed, late-Roman-Empire-style boondoggle.
Pipelines: On the domestic asshole move front, the administration issued an executive order to move forward with the highly contentious Keystone XL and Dakota Pipelineprojects that Obama had road-blocked and postponed. Naive liberal heartthrob and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded the rebirth of Keystone, illustrating that when it comes to oil money talks and bullshit walks every time. Meanwhile the Standing Rock Sioux are gearing up for the fight of their lives against Marathon Petroleum, the U.S. Army and, of course, the US consumer to keep a potential environmental disaster away from their water supply. Obama at least payed lip service to concerns of the Sioux, forcing the Corps of Engineers to reconsider the pipeline’s route. I doubt Trump has the scruples or humanity to give a shit one way or another (the spice must flow), so expect an epic final act, hopefully one with minimal bloodshed.
Health Care(From the Where Are They Now file): Trump signed a general attack on the Affordable Care Act , ordering states to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” any part of the ACA that burdens states, individuals or healthcare providers. Trump trumpeted the imminent death of the ACA and presumably thousands of people relying on it for life-or-death coverage, demanding that Congressional Republicans not only repeal it but immediately replace it with a better plan, one that covered all Americans. But since Republicans don’t have a single compelling idea for a better health care insurance system (the ACA was the best idea they had) and will certainly not support single payer, the din of activity fell to silence, and the Republicans quietly walked the whole thing back with a “let the states figure it out for now” approach. We can now expect their brilliant replacement plan sometime next year.
Budgets and Abortions: Of course, Trump wouldn’t be a Republican president without attacking the size of government (just ignore the giant wall and DHS expansion) and issued an immediate, 90-day federal hiring freeze, excepting of course for the military, as if such a thing ever reduced the federal budget. And what right-wing administration would be complete without a cruel and unnecessary attack on poor women? Through executive order, Trump brought back the so-called Mexico City policy, cutting federal dollars for foreign NGOs that offer abortion referrals or counseling regardless of the overall scope of services. This is a very easy and direct way to point a moralizing finger at anyone seeking to improve their lives or health outcomes.
The Travel Ban
The most immediately consequential executive order was the travel ban. It was also the most viscerally repugnant of the orders, an ugly, deliberately chaotic attack on immigrants and refugees. The order suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days; placed an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees; suspended visas for anyone arriving from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days; and imposed an annual cap of 50,000 refugees. The sudden enforcement of this order threw airports across the country into chaos, trapping hundreds of travelers who had already been approved to enter the country, and treating the world to the spectacle of heavy-handed DHS enforcement.
Despite the administration’s claims to the contrary, it is self-evident to anyone with a non-lobotomized prefrontal cortex that the real intention of the ban was not to beef up national security but rather to serve as a symbolic blow against Muslim immigrants, refugees and travelers (a quick and dirty way of saying “fuck you” to hundreds of millions of people), and a transparent appeal to the cowards and bigots that constitute this country’s anti-Muslim crusade. The Trump administration isn’t exactly the Best and the Brightest, but even they must of known that when the smoke cleared the order would not appear coherent, fair, or legitimately focused on national security.
Just look at the countries targeted: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. When was the last time a national from any of the banned countries committed a fatal terror attack on U.S. soil? I’ll give you a hint: zero since the Not Ready for Prime Time cast debuted on Saturday Night Live. Stripped of their xenophobic context, these exclusions make little sense. In fact, the countries the administration singled out for the bans were lazily identified using Obama’s Countries of Concern list for vetting, probably because they thought the continuity would give them political cover.
But if they put any thought into it, they might of considered the fact that Iraq is a nominal ally of the United States, making their inclusion both an obvious holdover from the earlier Axis of Evil era and a slap in the face of Iraqis, the same people who have opened up a major front in the war on ISIL. Refusing refugees from Syria is a pure chickenshit move, compounding the misery of that war by labeling people trying to escape it as a threat, primarily to placate wimpy Americans who believe helping people in their time of need is tantamount to establishing a caliphate. Most of the other countries on the list have also been subject to recent civil conflicts that have sent people fleeing.
One country conspicuously absent from the list is Saudi Arabia, a major sponsor or global terrorism, including the September 11 World Trade Center attack. Also missing is the United Arab Emirates where Trump has business deals, including a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai. Other majority Muslim countries where Trump has business dealings, including Turkey and Egypt, have avoided scrutiny as well. That’s not an argument for banning people from any of these countries (if you’re really serious about links to terrorism you better be prepared to restrict travel form virtually every country on Earth), but it does give the lie to Trump’s national security concerns.
The travel ban is also an attack on the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with its explicit singling out of Islam, lack of any evidence that refugees from these country pose a security risk, and Trump’s own off-the-cuff remarks about prioritizing Christian refugees–a blatant admission of bias. Thankfully, the judicial branch was quick to do its job. After a predictable lawsuit was filed, U.S. District Court Judge James Robert temporarily halted Trump’s travel ban. When the administration tried to reinstatetheban, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused, and the court’sthree-judge panel unanimously ruled against reinstating it. Congress may be asleep at the wheel, but it’s clear the courts are not.
The challenges presented by the judiciary have clearly rattled Trump’s already frail ego, leading to his unprecedented tweet attacks against the courts he apparently thinks can be put on mute because of questionable national security considerations. I suspect this is going to be an ongoing theme in this administration, one that seems hellbent on steamrolling over the human rights of foreign nationals and the individual rights of U.S. residents for political gain. Of everything the administration has done so far, the travel ban is the most repulsive and blatantly rotten, an all-out attack on basic human decency in the name of irrational fear, a Molotov cocktail hurled through the window of civil society, and the truest representation of Trump and Bannon’s authoritarian vision.
I Guess We’ll Call it Foreign Policy
The Great Wall of Cholla and travel ban weren’t the only poorly aimed salvos fired in Trump’s War on the World. In just a matter of days, he managed to alienate a whole host of old friends, enemies and frenemies. It seems like U.S. foreign relations are now based on whatever mood the president happens to be in. Trump was cordial and supportive of Philippines Mass Murderer in Chief Rodrigo Duterte because of his aggressive approach to drug treatment, but managed to alienate relatively mild-mannered Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull because he dared suggest the U.S. honor its Obama-era promise to accept hundreds of Muslim refugees.
It’s not exactly news that the pro-torture, anti-refugee Trump has no intention to make human rights, or even the pretense of human rights, central to his foreign policy. What is extraordinary is Trump’s willingness to anger close allies for no reason at all. Indeed, Trump seems to have a reflexive need to rub any open sore he can find until it’s infected.
Trump’s Russian and European fiascoes are well documented, so we can skip over all that for now. But here a few others to sink your teeth into:
Chinese Arithmetic:Before the dust had even settled on the inauguration debacle, Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Rex “Oil for Blood” Tillerson were already threatening to blockade China from accessing their man-made islands in the South China Sea, pushing the US and China closer to open conflict, an outcome that the administration sees as inevitable and apparently even desirable. This saber rattling came hot on the heels of Trump’s de facto recognition of Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-we in defiance of the One China policy, a move tailor-made to antagonize Chinese officials.
One might wonder why Tillerson was so eager to get involved in Trump’s Sinophobic shenanigans. As it turns out, ExxonMobil (his other employer) has been eyeing contentious waters in the South China Sea for oil exploration for some time. The oil and gas company has dealings with both Indonesia and Vietnam, and now has a contract with a state-owned oil concern in Vietnam to drill in contested waters. Naturally, China presents a major barrier to ExxonMobile’s efforts to expand operations in the South China Sea, which probably has something to do with Tillerson’s aggressive posture.
President Obama, of course, had his own low-intensity beef with China over the expansion of naval bases in the South China Sea. He was working to hem in the Chinese with his “pivot to Asia” strategy, a nice idea that never really got anywhere what with the endlessly exploding Mid-East to contend with. Obama’s trade policy puppy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), notably excluded China in order to contain the nation’s growing economic and military aspirations. And yet the first thing Trump did in office was ax the TPP, mostly over domestic “America First” pandering. The TPP did have a lot of stink on it, but unilaterally abandoning the treaty has only served to open a big giant door for China to pursue its own trade deals in Asia.
If the US is going to erect tariffs and other trade barriers against our own allies in Asia, these countries will be forced to cut a deal with China or Russia. Without the leverage of trade, the U.S. is rapidly running out of options in the region, and Trump the Destructor seems to favor the stick of trade wars and military options over the carrot of cooperation. If Trump continues to thunder, a trade war is virtually inevitable. How long then before a hot war follows? There are plenty of hawks in China all to happy to present Trump with his dreamed-of scenario of perpetual conflict.
If Trump wants to renegotiate the U.S. trade relationship with China, fine, but adopting a needlessly combative stance serves no purpose; China is not going to beg the U.S. for a better deal, especially not with a chump like Trump issuing threats. Trump’s recent phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping, recognizing the One China policy, seems to indicate that he realizes, at least for the moment, that belligerence isn’t going to work. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Prince of Persia: With notable Iran hawk General James Mattis serving as Trump’s Secretary of Defense, it was inevitable that the Iran nuke deal would very quickly find itself in the U.S.’s cross-hairs. In two shakes of a lamb kebab, Trump zeroed in on a January 29 ballistic missile test to impose new sanctions on the country, firing off the usual volley of angry tweets. According to Trump, Iran was “playing with fire” with the test, but in fact Iran has conducted several missile tests since the 2015 UN resolution because the agreement doesn’t explicitly bar ballistic missile testing.
Slowly but surely, U.S.-Iran relations were improving with the easing of the sanctions and closer economic ties (not to mention the significant increase in international cooperation required to enforce the deal), but now in just a matter of days, Iran and the U.S. are at loggerheads again. To Iran it must seem like Trump is playing from a script they already know, and far from intimidating the Islamic Republic his bluster will simply reinforce the state’s historic view of the U.S. as an bullying enemy bent on their destruction–a view, incidentally, that is incredibly helpful for consolidating popular support around the ruling theocracy. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sarcastically expressed his gratitude to Trump for showing “the true face of the US.” Nationalism needs an external threat to thrive, and Trump is perfect in that role.
The fact is, Trump’s tough posture isn’t going to end Iran’s ballistic missile tests, and the more aggressive he gets the more inclined Iran will be to simply resume the nuclear weapons program. As with China, once the economic and diplomatic routes are closed, the only way to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be crushing sanctions, which have never worked before, or war. And an open-ended war with another Russian-supported state is the last thing the region needs.
May-September Romance:Perhaps Trump’s proudest foreign relations moment was British Prime Minister Theresa May’s state visit. May had a few sharp words regarding the U.S.’s security obligations in Europe, but was mostly there to make sure Trump remembered who his BFFs are. With the Brexit, the United Kingdom has become the biggest little country in the world, with apologies to Reno, Nevada, and now they need a sweet trade relationship with the U.S. to soften the economic fallout of jettisoning the European Union.
This meeting must have been pretty awkward for May after Trump’s impotent demand in December that Brexit rabble rouser Nigel Farage be appointed Ambassador to the U.S., apparently believing that British foreign policy falls under his purview. Even worse, May had to return to a U.K. that was in no mood to coddle the blustery would-be strong man we elected to office—the opposition Labor Party was particularly incensed, making a big haranguing show out of it. But it’s hard to feel too bad for the British establishment. As in the U.S. the gunshot wound there was largely self-inflicted.
Syria: Move along, nothing to see here.
Other Moments in Trumpism (In No Particular Order):
Trump had a weird phone call with Pakistan, threatened Chicago with marital law, announced his intention to further erode the separation of church and state by repealing the Johnson Amendment, eliminated Obama’s mortgage cost reduction that would have benefited first-time and low-income home buyers, spewed out enough lies and hateful venom to fill half the Library of Babel, promised to kill Dodd-Frank, gave Netanyahu a free hand to do just about anything the Israeli right wants to do to the Palestinians, issued a bizarre executive order stating that every new proposed regulation must come gift-wrapped in two soon-to-be-repealed regulations, tapped conservative Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice (a seat the Republicans kept vacant in defiance of constitutional norms), beefed with Nordstrom over a product line, hosted a pleasant state visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, blabbed about serious national security issues in front of guests at Mar-a-Lago, took a beating and continues to take a beating over Michael Flynn’s Russian contacts, and much much more!
Welcome to Part Three of the Age of Drumpf’s soul-deadening but nevertheless amusing overview of Donnie J. Trump’s cabinet picks, a basket of deplorables we’ve dubbed the Legion of Doom (the first and second parts can be found here and here).
Today I am joined by the newest member of the Age of Drumpf family, Baron Johannes Backpfeifengesicht, a shady man of unknown foreign origin who seems to have knack for this political commentary thing. The Baron will be offering his take on rising star Nikki Haley and veteran henchmen Rience Priebus, Elaine Chao and Rick Perry.
Miserable 2016 is no more, and the race is already on to make 2017 worse. Inauguration day draws closer by the hour and we still have much to get through. So without further ado I give you our grand guignol, er finale.
Rex Tillerson – Secretary of Exxon/State
Favorite mega-corporation featured in a Ridley Scott film: Tossup between Weyland-Yutani and the Tyrell Corporation
Runs On: Petroleum with gold flakes
At war with: dispassionate science
If there is one man who perfectly embodies the kleptocratic essence of Trump’s White House it’s ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a man whose entire professional life has been devoted to transnational resource extraction, environmental destruction, partnering with corrupt governments and the promotion of junk science. His appointment gives the lie to Trump’s blustery economic nationalism and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it committment to the little guy. It is now obvious that the Trump administration will be primarily committed to generating profits for business elites. The actual social and environmental costs of doing business, both listed and hidden, will simply be transferred to the taxpayers.
Rex’s nominal economic views stand in sharp contrast with Trump’s campaign platform–he supports unfettered global trade, vocally defends the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and rejects any and all sanctions. On the surface, Rex seems like one of those cosmopolitan elites the far right is always braying about, another latte-sipping suit with far-flung financial interests. But let’s cut the bullshit. When it comes to sidestepping regulations and working with anyone, and I mean anyone, to make money, Trump and Rex are a bromance for the ages.
Far from being the proponent of energy independence you’d expect from a Trump appointee, Rex has contentedly led ExxonMobil’s international operations in Arab states like Yemen and Iraq (breaking Iraqi law to strike a deal with the Kurds in 2011), and in Russia, where Rex became Vladimir Putin’s BFF with a sweet $300 billion dollar deal to drill baby drill in the Arctic. Rex even managed to temporarily sidestep the first wave of U.S. sanctions in the wake of Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea to discover an oil field with 750 barrels of black gold for Russia. Rex, you see, is not exactly a proponent of stated U.S. interests.
Rex is something of a realist when it comes to fossil fuels, exhorting us to remember that we need them whether we like it or not, but not much of a realist when it comes to matters like climate change and the very real impact it will have on the global economy, not to mention the lives of millions of people. Rex readily admits that human-driven climate change is real, tentatively endorses a weak sauce carbon tax and has praised the Paris Climate Accord, but it’s hard to take much of this rhetoric seriously when his company will not lobby for any of it.
In fact, Exxon Mobil has a long history of funding professional climate skeptics and other assorted anti-science cranks to undermine climate science and regulations, even getting into a very public spat with the Rockefeller Foundation over it in what it is probably the closest thing to a real life Illuminati-Knights Templar feud we’re ever going to see. The bottom line is that ExxonMobil has tirelessly worked to delay action on the one real existential crisis we face. Hint: it’s not terrorism.
ExxonMobil is in some ways an archetypal mega-corporation ripped from the pages of a dystopian science fiction novel. Their subsidiaries operate in every continent on the planet but Antarctica, and have stakes in virtually every oil or coal producing country you can think of. In the early nineties, the company allegedly worked with the Indonesian military and private security forces to suppress (i.e., torture, intimidate and murder) locals who got in the way in their Aceh oil fields. The company has worked with brutal dictatorshipsin Central Africa for fun and profit, with little of said profit finding its way back to the people who actually live there. ExxonMobil has also been involved in some of the worst environmental disasters in recent history, including the 11 million gallons of crude oil the Exxon Valdez barfed into Prince William Sound in 1989. This is not your friendly neighborhood business creating American jobs in small town U.S.A.; this is the company that will send your great-grandchildren into space to mine radioactive asteroids.
As Secretary of State, Rex will no doubt guide U.S. foreign policy towards creating pliant client nations for resource extraction, working with other petrol states to lower barriers (trade, labor and environmental laws) that impede exploitation. Exxon Mobil is no friend of liberal democracy, and we can expect that under Rex the State Department will no longer promote it. Diplomacy, international law and intelligence gathering will all play second fiddle to the job ensuring that the spice continues to flow. Given Trump’s imperialist inclinations when it comes to other people’s stuff, we can probably expect the State Department to play an even more direct role in the international oil business. With climate skepticism now infecting all branches of government, the last remaining scruples of the oil and gas giants will likely dissipate in a fine mist in Year of Our Lord 2017.
The question is: can a world of vast social inequality perched on the precipice of environmental ruin withstand a U.S. foreign policy designed and managed by a robber baron? I guess we’ll find out.
— J. Slone
Ryan Zinke – Secretary of the Interior
Vision for public lands: see Mad Max: Fury Road
Belief in the Antichrist: verified. And yes, it’s Hillary Clinton.
Number of daily squats: 550
Despite a hard right turn towards the outright kookiness that seems to be a requirement for all Republican politicians these days, U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke (R – Montana) maintains a relatively moderate reputation. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, proudly places himself in a line of Republican conservationists going back to Teddy Roosevelt, and seems to genuinely value the outdoors, at least for hunting and fishing. Zinke even once believed that human-driven climate change was a real and pressing threat.
But since taking office in 2015, Zinke has adopted a more skeptical view on climate change, trotting out the old “science isn’t settled” canard. Zinke has pushed for state control of energy development on public lands (Oasis Petroleum was one of his largest campaign contributors), and has even gone as far as to oppose President Obama’s temporary moratorium on coal leasing, a destructive practice that creates few jobs and primarily benefits the moribund coal industry. Zinke has also helped block efforts to designate new national parks, and has actively worked to strip endangered wolves, lynx and sage grouse of federal protections.
Much has been made of Zinke’s refusal to support the transfer of public lands to private ownership. Whereas most Republicans want to sell our public lands (roughly half a billion acres) to the highest corporate bidders and presumably convert our National Parks into Disneyland attractions, Zinke is likely perfectly happy to keep public lands public as long as they’re exploited for maximum profitability. This makes sense because it’s a lot easier to let tax payers flip the bill for management while granting private resource companies leases to suck out the profits. If you’re a private company, why buy when you can strip a piece of land and move on?
Land transfer to the private sector is a very sexy idea to private property loving Republicans, but it’s also completely redundant when public lands are already freely accessible to timber, ranching, energy and mining interests. Instead of wasting time on some Bundy Ranch land transfer fantasy, Zinke is likely to chip away at existing public land regulations with the aim of increasing recreational access to the public while also making it a hell of a lot easier for large resource companies to get at valuable public lands inaccessible due to National Park, Conservation Land or Wilderness designations. This land is your land, but only up to a point.
— J. Slone
Mick Mulvaney – Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Favorite Scots: Flintheart Glomgold and William “Financial Freedom!” Wallace
Death or taxes? Definitely death.
Favorite safe word: Sequestration
Representative Mick Mulvaney (R – South Carolina) is what beltway journalists like to call “anti-establishment”, an interesting adjective for a middle-aged proponent of big business and balanced budgets with a background in law and real estate. Not exactly a Black Panther, but we live in strange times. I personally prefer “budget zealot”, a term that more accurately captures Mulvaney’s pathologically narrow obsession with balanced budgets and national debt. Like the rest of the Tea Party cohort that swept into office in 2010, Mulvaney made a name for himself wagging a fiscally moralizing finger at President Obama, Democrats and even heretical Republicans over successive waves of proposed budgets.
From the bully pulpit of the House Freedom Caucus, Mulvaney scuttled his own party’s efforts at passing compromise budgets in 2012 and 2014, helped engineer the insufficiently pious John Boehner’s tragicomic downfall, and has had no qualms with using government shutdowns to get his way. Somewhat to Mulvaney’s credit, he is one of the few Republicans skeptical enough, or fanatical enough, to question defense spending. In the seventeenth century he might have mustered a private army to fight King Obama’s tax collectors and end his foreign adventures, a kind of Oliver Cromwell of budget cuts. But alas, the age of heroics has passed.
It will be interesting to see how Mulvaney squares his convictions with the radical corporate tax cuts (35% reduced to 15%), massive increase in defense spending and trillion-dollar infrastructure investment Trump has proposed. Trump will expect Mulvaney to deliver the impossible: a balanced budget with decreased revenue and increased spending–all the stimulus, job creation and short-term growth in the world is unlikely to cover that. According to the Tax Policy Center, Trump’s proposals will likely add $7.2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
To work with Trump, fiscal conservatives like Mulvaney will have to reconcile themselves with government largess and fewer ways to pay for it. But then, fiscal conservatism has long been an ideological cover to cut government programs you don’t like. And I think we can assume that Mulvaney will be up to the task on that account. Off with their heads.
— J. Slone
Nikki Haley – Ambassador to the United Nations
Notable foreign affairs qualifications: Saw a documentary about Eleanor Roosevelt once.
Definitely not as bad as: Goebbels
Born Nimrata Randhawa to a family of Sikh immigrants, Nikki Haley entered politics early, serving in the South Carolina State House of Representatives starting in 2005 and as governor of the state since 2011. Governor Haley isn’t the most lurid character in Trump’s gang of crooks and even manages to occasionally display an even-tempered disposition on controversial issues. Because of her apparent moderation, Haley was tapped as a “future” face of the Republican party back in a kinder, gentler era when the G.O.P. underwent a serious postmortem following Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid. All signs at the time pointed to inevitable waning of Republican power due to the party’s lack of appeal among ethnic minorities and women. Of course we all know how this turned out.
Haley delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2016, including discussion of her own background as an immigrant and woman of color as well as a few snipes at “illegal immigration,” making small concessions like suggesting that immigrants and brown people may not all be terrorists, rapists and murderers. Shortly after Dylann Roof went on a racially and, yes, politically-motivated shooting spree in a black church, his toxic ideology was blasted over the airwaves into the living rooms across the country. Gov. Haley wasted little time remembering that the State House had been officially flying the Confederate Battle Flag for decades. With her prompting, the flag was removed faster than reruns of the Cosby Show in 2015. You know, it’s the little things.
Sadly, despite these flashes of basic humanity, Gov. Haley’s policies have been regressive in their brutality towards the poor, the working class, teachers and minorities, exactly what you’d expect from a certified Tea Party darling. She signed an Arizona-esque bill into law requiring immigrants to carry documentation at all times until it was shut down by a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit. She carries a 0% NARAL rating as a fervent pro-lifer, and has sponsored multiple pieces of pro-life legislation. She proposed a law that would base a teacher’s salary on “performance ratings” determined through evaluations by principals, students and parents, and has been an enthusiastic participant in the charter school shell game. If this all seems kind of like a bland summary, it’s because you could assemble her entire platform from discarded napkins at a Heritage Foundation luncheon.
So what does all this have to do with Haley’s appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the UN? Not a lot. The only politically remarkable thing about Haley is her identity as the child of non-Christian immigrants, the sort of people her party showed nothing but contempt for during the 2016 election. Ultimately, Haley has about as much to do with international relations as Ben Carson does with public housing, and was probably brought on board for the same cynical reasons: to silence Trump’s critics and extend a middle finger to the institution in question. That’s right, Haley is that most feared of right-wing bugaboos, a diversity hire, a woman of color to toss at the UN in a largely ceremonial role and yell “Hey, I’m not racist and sexist! Look who my friends are!”
— Baron Johannes Backpfeifengesicht
Reinhold Richard “Reince” Priebus – White House Chief of Staff
Full Name and Title: Reinhold Richard Friedrich Werner Hermann Konrad Sigismund Johannes Gustav Wilhelm Klaus Heinrich Wolfgang Priebus, Knight-Commander of the Lords Koch, Viscount of The Wisconsin Marches, Keeper of the Chalice, Servant of The Nine Rings, Defender of the Market
Favorite film character: Any Imperial officer who avoided getting choked to death by Darth Vader
The regrettably-named Reince Priebus is one of the most miserable successful guys to ever saunter into the public eye. He didn’t start out this way, though. After failing his initial Wisconsin State Senate bid, he rose to chairmanship of the Wisconsin Republican Party in 2007 and used this as a springboard to national RNC Chairman in 2011. Hailing from the same gang of rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, etc. that emerged from the dark halls of the Wisconsin Republican party during the Obama years (see also: Scott Walker, Paul Ryan), Priebus was saddled with several unenviable tasks.
Priebus played RNC attack dog, taking any advantage he could to publicly shift blame for the US government’s failure to perform under Obama away from the Republican party (which held and continues to hold majorities in both chambers of Congress); raised a ton of cash to staunch the financial bleeding that the party endured in the wake of its defeat in the 2012 Presidential election; and authored a postmortem on what was seen to be the party’s failures at outreach to women, minorities and young voters. In the end he opted to not give a shit about this once it became abundantly clear that Donald Trump was going to steamroll his way through to the Republican nomination process, and decided to just hold on for dear life.
While Priebus had his clashes with Trump during the campaign, most of the public-facing work he did was political damage control, trying to steer the the living cartoon that is Trump into more “presidential” behavior when possible while continuing to build bridges between the campaign and the Republican party at large (which, incidentally, seems to have adopted Priebus’ approach of agreeing to basically anything the Trump/Pence team does to keep their jobs) even when it looked like the clown prince was a lost cause.
When Trump’s poll numbers were at their post-convention lowest, the emergence of his old “Grab ‘em” tape caused enough of a public outcry that even Speaker Paul Ryan weighed in, publicly disavowing Trump for all of five minutes. But his good friend Priebus interceded and assured the public that all was fine, looking haggard, stressed out and tired the whole time. Little did he know that when the dust settled, his man Trump would be left standing. So now, in addition to being one of the chief handlers of a famously temperamental president, Priebus’ role will likely focus on keeping Trump-Republican infighting to a minimum Malcolm Tucker style. If I were him, I wouldn’t quit drinking.
— Baron Johannes Backpfeifengesicht
Elaine Chao – Transportation Secretary
Favorite Wu-Tang track: C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)
Nostalgic for: Child Labor
Well, it’s nice to see a familiar face. Much ado has been made in the conspiracy theory wings of the right and the left about Chao’s marriage to Senate Majority Leader and swamp creature Mitch McConnell. But leaving McConnell aside, our incoming Transportation Secretary has a long and storied record all her own that can be mined for terror and laughs. Chao received her MBA from, wait for it, Harvard Business School. From there it was a natural jump to our age’s most esteemed money-generating industry: finance. Citicorp, Bank of America, you know, the usual suspects. From here, Chao made the increasingly predictable leap to government
In any other administration this wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but Chao stands out from most of Trump’s recent cabinet picks by actually having relevant experience for her position. She got her start under the Reagan administration as Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration in the Department of Transportation, eventually landing Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W Bush. People like Chao never really go away, and when the Bushes came back so did she. As George W. Bush’s long-serving Secretary of Labor she left a mark, by which we mean a bruise. Buckle up, we’ve got a few highlights for the reel!
Between 2005-2007 the Government Accountability Office analyzed over 70,000 cases closed by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and found an excessively high number of complaints from low and minimum-wage workers reporting wage theft that were improperly investigated.
In an effort to improve mine inspection safety metrics, the DoL’s Mine Safety and Health Administration under Chao began a push to “accomplish 100% of its annual mine safety inspections.” Of course, the easiest way to do this is cut the number of inspections planned. This was a resounding success, of course, except for incidents like the Sago Mine Disaster on January 2, 2006 which could be directly correlated to a rash of un-inspected safety violations.
Secretary Chao’s fetish for outsourcing DoL jobs ended up costing the Department far more money than it saved. But hey, someone got paid!
The Department of Justice concluded that Elaine Chao, among other Bush administration officials, used her position and influence illegally to support Republican partisan activity in violation of the Hatch act. Of course, nothing came of this, because none of this stuff matters in a world where Manchurian Kenyan presidents with fake college IDs and satanic pizza joints exist. Nothing matters. Nothing real, that is.
Chao is a Heritage Foundation lifer. Excuse me, the term is “Distinguished Fellow.” She also hired a former Heritage Foundation colleague who once published a paper titled, “How to abolish the Department of Labor.” This sort of ingrained hostility against the very organization one is trying to serve seems almost de rigueur in Donnie’s cabinet.
In short, don’t let that huge C.V. fool you. Elaine Chao is not only a professional bureaucrat, but one of the worst kinds: a bureaucrat with a hyper-partisan vision that has no room for things like the welfare of the nation she works for and anything resembling impartiality or ethics. Worse still, she keeps coming back for more, endlessly tearing at the fabric of good government. I’d think twice about getting on a plane in the next four to eight years if I were you.
— Baron Johannes Backpfeifengesicht
Rick Perry – Secretary of Energy
Thinks he resembles: Patrick Duffy in “Dallas”, Patrick Swayze in “Dirty Dancing”
Actually resembles: Larry Hagman in “Dallas,” Slim Pickens in “Dr. Strangelove”
Because we can’t keep Texas down, former USAF C-130 pilot, Texas Governor, and reality show dancing doofus Rick Perry has bounced back from a couple disappointing Presidential bids to be tapped as Secretary of Energy. Now, much ado has been made of his debate bungling where he was asked “which three government agencies he would eliminate” while competing in the deregulympics that Republicans just can’t seem to get enough of, and he could only name two at the time. Later on he clarified that the third would be the Department of Energy. We’ve all heard this story and it’s not like wanting to destroy the agency you’re responsible for is a new or novel thing in the cabinet of Donald J. Trump; it’s more of a rite of passage, so we’ll keep this brief and only pretend to be shocked when Trump named Perry as his nominee as the very head of the Department of Energy.
Look, let’s not beat around the bush. Perry comes across as a doofus because he is in fact a doofus. He’s just less overtly fascist and shouty than the new flavor of Republican which has taken the country by storm. He’s also had an alleged brush with a corruption scandal or two but don’t worry, he was acquitted. While the state of Texas wasn’t exactly a futuristic powerhouse when George W. Bush was done with it, Gov. Perry managed to take the state to new and exciting heights (and deep crevasses). While much noise has been made about Texas’ booming job growth, it’s pretty telling that the state led the nation in most minimum-wage workers, and highest rate of uninsured people which is not at an all an accident or incidental condition. Under Perry, Texas had the third highest poverty rate in the nation, and a budget deficit that ballooned under the influence of endless tax cuts. But don’t worry, while the state was circling the drain, the Texas Republican party, under Perry’s leadership, made sure that they focused on the big picture: Tax breaks for yachts. That’s right.
Anyway, this is all old news. In public statements, Perry’s likened himself to a “Prophet” implying that his leadership was divinely inspired. Somebody petition the almighty for a refund. This sort of uncritical zealotry, combined with the sort of venal corruption and willful mismanagement we’ve come to expect from a guy like this shouldn’t be troubling at all, right? Oh, hey, what does the Department of Energy actually do? Hint – it’s not really about oil, J.R. The DoE’s biggest responsibility is the development and management of the nation’s nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
But hey, he wanted to abolish it, right? Everything is fine here. Nothing is wrong.
— Baron Johannes Backpfeifengesicht
Last week at the Age of Drumpf, we briefly tackled eight of Trump’s top cabinet picks, what we’ve elegantly dubbed the Legion of Doom. This week we’re continuing the grueling process of naming names with a somewhat closer look at five of his picks, encompassing employment, housing, defense, domestic security and the environment.
Unlike last week’s slate, there are a few barely perceptible glimmers of light here among the assembled generals, businessmen and neurosurgeons, but not many. Ben Carson has a way of skewing any curve into the crazy part of the graph where no one dare tread, and Trump’s tough guy act means a lot more retired brass in what are supposed to be civilian roles. Trump’s Department of Labor and Environmental Protection Agency picks are certifiable nightmares who will, by design, wreak havoc in the agencies they’re supposed to lead. Trump’s master plan is obvious: disrupt regulatory agencies to hobble their ability to effectively monitor the business practices of big business in general and his own circle of crony capitalists in particular. Markets über alles!
We are grasping really hard for the silver lining in all this, and all we have is the relative sanity of Trump’s Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security picks. You know you’re in trouble when marines are the closest thing your administration has to voices of reason. Well, enjoy the show, and please tune in for next week’s grand finale.
Scott Pruitt — Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Featured on the Cover Of: Napalm Death’s “Scum”
Missed the Point of: The Lorax
Say what you will about Donald Trump’s aesthetic sensibilities, his administration has already set a new standard for rendering the names of federal agencies deeply, painfully ironic. The Environmental Protection Agency, an institution established under bleeding heart liberal Richard M. Nixon to protect the environment for the American people will now be led by Scott Pruitt, a man who has devoted much of his career trying to lay waste to it. It’s so conceptual you could install it at the Guggenheim.
Like a lot of dirty energy shills, Pruitt seems almost romantically invested in fossil fuels, regarding dead matter extracted from the earth as something worth defending in itself. As Attorney General of Oklahoma (a state that really should know better by now), Pruitt has repeatedly called into the question the scientific consensus that human-driven climate change is real, repeatedly and unsuccessfully suing the EPA on behalf of utility companies to block enforcement of the most modest of President Barack Obama’s emission rules. In 2011 Pruitt mailed impassioned letters to federal regulators decrying their inconvenient estimates on pollution caused by drilling in Oklahoma. What Pruitt failed to mention is that these letters were actually drafted by Devon Energy and other industry lobbyists. Devon Energy, Hamm, and PACs representing several other energy companies (including Koch Industries and Exxon Mobile) have dumped tens of thousands of dollars into the Pruitt piggy bank. Stripped to the cyborg core, Pruitt is essentially a lawsuit delivery system for corporate America. Just insert a coin.
Pruitt clearly doesn’t care about the environment, but I’m not entirely convinced he gives a shit about the human race either, because whether you believe in climate change or not, air and water pollution kill, and Pruitt has made a career out of defending the companies responsible for it. Predictably, Pruitt has also used his position to champion unconstitutional abortion restrictions and stave off marriage equality, and even managed to sue the State of California for requiring larger cages for chickens sold there because it might cost factory farms a little more money to squeeze the savory flavor out of their livestock. Scott Pruitt is a living satire of corporate greed who doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the levers of federal regulatory power. But to paraphrase Clint Eastwood, in the Age of Trump deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it.
Andrew “Doc Hopper” Puzder — Secretary of Labor Camps
Cinematic Heroes: Daniel Plainview, Porky Wallace, the Hamburglar
Solution to Workforce Housing: see Foxconn
If Donald Trump has an economic theory it seems to be this: to beat China we must becomeChina. To bring back jobs we must make labor as disorganized, miserable and underpaid an experience as possible. Only by destroying our quality of life can we all enjoy the privilege of working like dogs for pennies in unsafe environments. It’s a brutally honest and straightforward approach, which is why Trump never actually articulates it.
And so Andrew Puzder, a man who made a fortune shoveling greasy burgers into America’s mouth is set to be Trump’s Secretary of Labor, a title that manages to insult both labor and secretaries. As a lawyer, Puzder established himself by working diligently to erode constitutionally protected abortion rights in Missouri (and allegedly battered his wife) before seeking a new venture in corporate law in California. To this end, Puzder helped restructure Carl’s Jr. to profitability in the early nineties, and eventually became CEO of CKE Restaurants.
Given his shyster instincts, it’s only natural that Trump would name a pro-management cheapskate to head up the Labor Department, you know, instead of someone who might actually care about workers as anything other than sales-generation units. To be fair, Puzder sincerely believes in creating jobs (he even wrote a book on it!), just so long as decent wages, working conditions and health insurance aren’t involved in any way. Puzder still lives in a fantasy world where fast food is just a starter job for bored teenagers, but that’s not the reality anymore. People actually rely on these jobs to live. But at least they won’t go hungry with the 5,000 calories a day they will be able to consume working at Hardees, Carl’s Jr. or any other fine dining establishments under the CKE Foods flagship.
The business model of franchising has allowed CKE to avoid the pitfalls of setting pay and workplace standards for their employees, essentially outsourcing their responsibilities to “small businesses”. Puzder has bragged about CKE’s benefits package, but most of their restaurant workers are employed by the franchises, not CKE. So even when a location violates Fair Labor Standards, CKE doesn’t take the hit for it. The Department of Labor has been pushing to hold companies liable for franchise labor violations (nearly 60% of investigations of CKE locations revealed violations), and Puzder has fought it every step of the way, while also attacking minimum wage increases and perks like sick leave on general principle. But now he is the Dept. of Labor, so I guess he won?
Whole essays could and have been written about Puzder’s shameless “all-American” efforts to further sexualize disgusting food and the warm welcome he’s extended to the robot overlords (I can’t really fault his logic on this one), but I think the more important point to make about Puzder is that the U.S. labor force is large and diverse, and applying the brutal logic of fast food management to that force as a whole will send everyone on a race to the bottom. The Dept. of Labor is supposed to be in the worker’s corner, but having a guy who doesn’t believe in basic labor standards run it is sort of like leaving the staff complaint box on the boss’s desk. He doesn’t have your back.
James “Mad Dog”(not a joke) Mattis – Secretary of Defense
Favorite Fortified Wine: Mad Dog 20/20, of course
Favorite Antiwar Song on Classic Rock Radio: War Pigs
The two sanest appointments in the Trump administration are marines. Let that rattle around in your brain box for a while. While there are plenty of great reasons for not militarizing the head of the DOD, you could do much worse than retired General James Mattis, an exceptionally gifted military leader who served with distinction in Afghanistan, Iraq (I will spare you the gory details because war is hell, etc.), eventually overseeing much of the U.S.’s Middle East operations as head of Central Command.
There are a few details about Mattis that make him stand out in the Trump White House. He seems to believe Arabs and Muslims are actually human beings. He has promoted a two-state solution for the Forever War, I mean Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He’s gone on record saying that elected leaders should take responsibility for setting strategic goals for the military, always a good thing. He is a strong supporter of NATO, an institution Trump blithely dismisses at Eastern Europe’s expense. He cares about the rule of law. He actually reads books and even seems to have, with a few notable exceptions, complex thoughts that don’t involve his bank account.
But there’s a giant asterisk rotating menacingly at the end of that gushing paragraph. And that asterisk is Iran, the Persian Cobra to Mattis’ GI Joe. The U.S. Marine Corps has a longstanding grudge with Iran since the 1989 Beirut bombing that killed 220 marines (despite Chuck Norris’s best efforts). Mattis, like most Iran hawks, views the Islamic Republic’s political and military leadership as a cadre of evil geniuses secretly running the entire Mid-East shit show from behind the scenes (they actually are pretty clever). Mattis believes that even the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State are a secret ally of Shi’ite Iran, a scenario that is not only ridiculous on its face but completely unsupported by the evidence.
In spring 2013, Obama forced Mattis’ retirement so he wouldn’t complicate the nuke deal with Iran, an imperfect agreement that was probably the best one we were ever going to get and the first crucial step (or retrospective misstep if you’re reading this from the future) to normalizing relations with a country that has been trolling the United States, Israel and the Arab world since 1979. To Mattis’ credit, he supports enforcement of the deal because he’s smart enough to distinguish political from military problems. The fundamental danger with Mattis is that his new boss isn’t very good at such distinctions and has no problem tearing up treaties, which means Mattis’ safety will be off and military intervention in Iran more likely. And the last thing that region needs is another failed state.
Ben Carson – Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Theory of Everything: God made it.
Socioeconomic worldview: bootstraps, pull them up
Favorite progressive rock album: Brain Salad Surgery
Picking on Ben Carson is a little too easy. The man is a true genius in his field and tremendously talented when it comes to leveraging that genius into making lots of money and getting his face on television. Unfortunately, when it comes to virtually everything else, Carson’s completely out of his depth. The part of his brain that knows how to separate conjoined twins is lit up like a Christmas tree, but the part that does everything else may have been removed. Without the celebrity career in medicine, Carson is basically your amiable crackpot uncle who spends too much time watching late-night Discovery Channel shows about UFOs, or perhaps your kooky religious aunt who reads biblical prophecies on websites that haven’t been updated since 1998. This is a man who believes that the Pyramids of Giza are giant grain silos, and that the Earth was literally created in six days 7,000 years ago. Sadly, this also makes him a viable politician this country.
Carson’s political and economic views are a well-documented grab bag of conservative talking points, goofy Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and bizarre shots in the dark. He’s compared women who have abortions to slave owners, rejects climate sciencebecause “there’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on”, believes that taxation should be based on biblical tithing, places gays and lesbians in the same category as pedophiles, thinks radiocarbon dating is made up, compares Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs”, and has brandished a made-up V.I. Lenin quote to oppose the Affordable Care Act and socialized medicine generally. You could write 5,000 words just on dumb shit Carson has said or misattributed.
You’ve probably been asking yourself what any of this has to do with running HUD. The answer is: absolutely nada, which is roughly what Carson knows about federal housing policy. As a former grants writer for a social services non-profit, I’m probably more qualified to run the agency than Ben Carson, and I’m most definitely not qualified. Carson’s conservative bon mots suggest that he views housing is just another bootstrap for the individual to pull up all by themselves, discrimination, low earnings or cost of living be damned.
Trump, a condescending prick by nature, would have you believe that because Carson is black and grew up poor he has unique insights on housing, but when it comes to policy, subjective experience is no substitute for actually knowing your shit. Furthermore, Carson is an ideologue who believes his own success as God’s reward for hard work, and views efforts to adequately house our nation’s poor and minority communities, especially fair housing rules, as the first step towards Stalinist tyranny. Given that this viewpoint is entirely antithetical to HUD’s mission, Carson will likely spend most of his time trying to dismantle the very agency he’s supposed to lead. Which is precisely why Trump has selected him.
John Kelly – Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
Favorite Temple of the Dog song: Hunger Strike (did they have other songs?)
Border enforcement strategy: the icy, no-nonsense glance of a warrior, or maybe just a lot of racial profiling and drones.
John Kelly is the second retired marine general Trump has picked for his cabinet. And like the first, Kelly is experienced, competent and relatively sane. He has on-the-ground leadership experience as assistant division commander of the 1st Marine Division and commander of Task Force Tripoli in Iraq, and has wrangled with congressmen and bureaucrats in Washington as a Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives.
Starting in 2012, Kelly headed the U.S. Southern Command, the nerve center of the DOD’s operations in Central America, the Caribbean and South America, where he developed a somewhat nuanced view of immigration and drug smuggling, grasping the push-pull dynamic that drives the movement of people and the supply-demand dynamic that drives contraband across borders (even if his views on domestic drug policy are woefully inconsistent). Given Trump’s hard-line “Mexicans are basically evil” stance on immigration, one would be forgiven for expecting a much worse appointment than Kelly. Kelly doesn’t seem to feel any particular animus towards our neighbors to the south, which might add of tinge of moderation to Trump’s childlike fixation on a border wall.
Unfortunately, like Mad Dog, Kelly also comes with some serious caveats. The biggest is that he’s a Guantanamo Bay hardliner who refuses to entertain the idea that some prisoners might not belong there and has even defended the forced feeding of prisoners. He has expressed the belief that every US citizen is obligated to support any war objective where troops are involved regardless of legitimate political questions. This is facile, dumb and pretty much an open invitation to anti-democratic militarism in an administration already top heavy with military brass and deeply skeptical about human rights.
Trump likely picked Kelly because of his perception that a marine general with experience on the border will be mercilessly tough when it comes to enforcing Trump’s immigration policies. Kelly has shown an enthusiastic willingness to dehumanize people in his custody, whatever enlightened views he may have about Muslims and Latinos in general, and has an “ends justify the means” attitude towards national security. The critics are right. The DHS is a bloated, demoralized agency ripe for change and reform. But not this kind, not under this administration.
President-elect Donald Trump has had a pretty chaotic start in the weeks following his hallucinatory victory on already distant November 8, managing to alienate wide swaths of the Washington establishment by carrying on fruitless twitter feuds, making wildly unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud, rankling China, and having no transition plan. There’s been a misguided idea floating around in the punditocracy since the election that Trump intentionally flouts beltway rules, but to anyone actually paying attention it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have a firm grasp of the rules to begin with–we’re not even sure he’s capable of remembering what someone told him last week. Yes, that’s right, he’s actually making this shit up as he goes along. Just like in the campaign.
But despite these weeks of confusion and consternation, Trump’s transition team has wasted little time in releasing foreboding teaser trailers of what his administration might actually look like, with a steady stream of cabinet picks, near picks and dystopian what-if scenarios discharged from the Trump Tower sewer main into the hungry maw of the press. Trump kicked things off with a few openly xenophobic cranks to keep the slavering angry white guy contingent sated before introducing a series of barely tolerable bankers, billionaires and think tank Randroids on a mission to “drain the swamp”, or more accurately, dismantle government oversight and regulations, and unleash the invisible fist of the market. Preferably into the face of the people.
Surprise surprise. Trump’s populist message of fighting corruption, building imaginary walls and creating (low wage) jobs was really just a cheap appeal to win the election. Now that the false promises of courtship are out of the way, it’s pretty clear that the “outsider administration” is really hot to empower the usual band of “radical” think tank-approved Republicans, the same big business sycophants that have been clogging up Congress and defrauding state governments since before President Obama was elected. Many are fanatical kooks, most of them are unqualified, and all of them are greedy for wealth and power in an almost sexual way. Trust us, these folks might attend church on Sunday but they all have shines to Mammon in their attics.
So on some level, there’s actually quite a bit of continuity here with the standard Republican playbook: scream about the liberal media, Muslim terrorism and out-of-control political correctness while promoting a merciless corporate social order for your own enrichment but also because BIG GOVERNMENT BAD! What’s different this time around is the robust lineup of casual racists, militia sympathizers and law-and-order types rubbing elbows with the usual hack philosophers of the business class. Never has the state been so in the throes of the far right, socially, culturally and economically. Perhaps even more worrying is that a few of these people are simply incompetent and have made failure a large part of their careers. But then, the unwritten rule in Washington and on Wall Street is that failure at a large of enough scale is actually success.
What we seem to have here is a real classic American shit show of an administration in the works, a brutally dumb Nixon-Reagan hybrid pumped up on black market steroids and whacked out on ideological bath salts. We have helpfully assembled a list of the proposed nominees, what we’re calling Trump’s Legion of Doom. Let’s take a gander at the lineup so far.
Stephen Bannon (aliases: Reichsministerium, Race Bannon) – Senior Counselor
Unofficial Position: Merlin to the worst King Arthur ever
Alignment: Chaotic Evil or Chaotic Neutral (depending on ability to achieve erection)
Steve Bannon is the classic angry rich guy who seeks power primarily to settle scores, a kind of cheapo Iago lurking in the shadows. Like a lot of outsiders-cum-insiders these days, this former Navy officer made his name and wealth in the financial sector, which he parlayed into a lucrative career as Hollywood producer (and director of this sloppy two-hour blowjob/paean to Ronald Reagan). With the line between entertainment and journalism becoming fuzzier by the day, the logical next step was to lead right-wing vomit machine Breitbart News, now one of Trump’s primary propaganda organs. Named for its unhinged founder, Breitbart News is a website that specializes in getting uninformed bigots worked up by bashing Jews, Muslims, activists, women and black people, usually by lying or passing off delirious rants as editorial content.
But of course, Bannon’s friends tell us there’s not a racist bone in his body because he never uses racial epithets in private. Here’s a pro-tip: if you earn your money and influence by publishing racist content, you’re a racist whether you drop n-bombs or not. You’re also an opportunistic little worm, which might actually be worse. Bannon is a known shouter, alleged spouse abuser and Jew-basher, and incendiary rabble-rouser who has gone on record declaring it his mission to smash the state, one of the many ideas he’s co-opted from the far left and re-branded for conservative consumption. Bannon* is living proof that being an opinionated rich asshole is enough qualification to sit next to the highest office in the land. You just have to scream loud enough to be noticed. And little red-faced Bannon loves to scream.
*Warning: in all seriousness, this guy’s a lot smarter than people realize. Watch out.
Michael Flynn – National Security Adviser
Favored Enemies in Dungeons & Dragons Campaign: Muslims, Orcs, Muslim Orcs
US Army Rank: Lt. General; Galactic Imperial Navy Rank: Grand Admiral
Michael Flynn doesn’t play by your rules. He’s on a mission to save the world from Sharia Law, and won’t be held back by archaic military protocols, precious human rights or factual accuracy. Before his stint as a spokesperson/tinfoil hat for anti-Muslim fear-mongers ACT! for America, Flynn was most famous getting fired from his post at the Defense Intelligence Agency after alienating his colleagues with outrageous lies, leaky handling of classified documents, and screamy dressing down of subordinates. Yes folks, we have ourselves another shouter.
Aside from his lucrative career pretending that the next caliphate is going to start beheading yoopers in Michigan any day now, Flynn has also picked up some sweet consultant cash from a Turkish-owned front company in the Netherlands that promotes energy investments in Turkey. Interestingly, this relationship precipitated Flynn’s political U-turn on Turkey’s Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn went from supporting the failed military coup against Erdogan in July to demanding that bogie man/alleged coup mastermind Fethullah Gulen be extradited from the US back to Turkey in November.
Sounds like an uncharacteristic about-face for a guy who with a deadly halal food allergy. But money is money, and it’s all in keeping with Flynn and Trump’s shared desire to shift US alliances farther east to the beefier regional strongman (and Erdogan frenemy), Vladmir Putin. To be completely honest, we’re not entirely sure how much the “Muslim Question” is as genuine pathology with Flynn, and how much of it is sheer opportunism. Either way, this guy’s a free-floating vapor of bullshit.
Jeff “Roscoe P” Sessions – Attorney General
Favorite Southern Rock Song: “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Hangups: The Gays, The Mexicans, The A-rabs
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is a huge fan of the U.S. Constitution when it protects the rights of straight white Christian men. Sorry, the rest of you are out of luck. Sessions believes without evidence that unskilled immigrants from Latin America are useless welfare state moochers, opposes any and all immigration reform, supports the abuse and degradation of “enemy combatants” real or imagined, champions the widely discredited practice of civil forfeiture, views LGBTQ rights with contempt, opposes abortion and stem cell research, and considers state-led marijuana legalization a serious threat. The rest of his positions are basically boilerplate anti-big-government GOP talking points/intractable sources of endless partisan conflict.
In 1986, Sessions was denied a U.S. district court appointment when it was revealed that had uttered a few interesting opinions, like claiming that the NAACP and ACLU are “un-American” and “communist-inspired” organizations (because when I think of communism, I think of civil rights and free speech). But that didn’t stop him from finding his way to the Senate in the-mid nineties and becoming something of a prophet for the Tea Party movement, famously excoriating all of President Obama’s Supreme Court appointments during his stint on the Judiciary Committee.
With Sessions heading up Trump’s Justice Department, you can expect a reversal of any and all progress under Obama, however modest it may of been. Local police departments will have a freer hand to enforce the law as they see fit, legal marijuana will find itself in the DEA’s cross hairs, the commuting of sentences over minor drug charges will cease, sanctuary cities will fall under constant attack, and political movements like Black Lives Matter will be targeted or even crushed with tacit federal approval.
Betsy DeVos – Secretary of Education
Sibling to: Mercenary and Future Hague Defendant Erik Prince
Dishonored 2 Target Level: Level 5
Betsy DeVos, wealthy and privileged heiress of the Prince Corporation, has devoted much of her life to undermining institutions serving those of us who weren’t born into wealth and privilege. Many of DeVos’ business enterprises and philanthropic efforts are relativelybenign, but her true passion is serving as a vicious anti-union attack dog and advocate for charter schools and vouchers. The political class calls these prescriptions “school choice,” but really they’re just the opening volley in the war to privatize all public education. Like a lot of sheltered bigwigs without the experience and expertise in how education actually works, DeVos is supremely confident that she knows how to “fix” schools. So confident, in fact, that even after she managed to help break Detroit’s school system by foisting low-performing charter schools with little oversight on the city, she kept right on going.
DeVos appointment could spell the end of the public education as we know it, transforming a cornerstone of civic learning and citizenship (what the right calls “liberal brainwashing”) into an unaccountable, for-profit enterprise. Some charters do just fine, but by and large they don’t work any better, and often work much worse, than public schools, and frequently without public review. “School choice” siphons state money away from public schools that need it into the coffers of privately owned schools where performance ranges from excellent (often by excluding academically at-risk students) to poor, to basically nonexistent.
Fiscal conservatives in in the Republican and Democratic parties have made a long-term strategy of defunding public institutions to the breaking point and then offering them up as evidence that the public sector doesn’t work and needs to be privatized. This is a scam. Do not fall for it. The solution to educational disparities is simple: fund all public schools robustly and equally, utilize proven pedagogical methods, and pay good teachers what they’re worth.
Mike Pompeo – Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Preferred Paymasters: The Super Koch Bros.
Favorite Author: Definitely Tom Clancy
Officially, Benghazi (the word that has replaced “Yahtzee!” as conservative America’s favorite thing to yell) was a classic snafu caused by a lack of adequate planning and preparation. But according to U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, the sinister truth of what really went down in Benghazi was covered up by the U.S. State Department to protect then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He managed to cling to this story line long after the rest of the House Select Committee moved on because Pompeo is nothing if not committed to the made-up facts. That’s right. For the first time in its history, the CIA will actually be run by a conspiracy theorist. After a half-century obsession with the admittedly pretty dodgy intelligence-gathering agency, the wingnuts have finally arrived.
The NY Times has described Pompeo as a “sharp critic” of Clinton, but “fucking dolt” might be more accurate. He uncritically supports the NSA’s bulk data collection, defends the use of black-site prisons and torture of enemy combatants, causally tosses out racial epithets (“turban topper”), rejects abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and believes that the scientific consensus on climate change is “radical.” He also rejects clean energy sources, like wind power, for no particular reason. Oh wait, there is a reason. Everyone’s favorite Captain Planet villains, The Brothers Koch, have dumped nearly half a million dollars into his political campaigns. The fact that Pompeo once served as president for Sentry, a manufacturer of oilfield equipment, might also be a factor. You might wonder what climate change has to do with national security. A lot, as it turns out.
In light of all this one might ask: what exactly are Pompeo’s actual qualifications for running the world’s most prolific spy agency? I’d say being a hyper-partisan crank with an odious set of hawkish beliefs is probably qualification enough for Trump.
Tom Price – Department of Health and Human Services
Theory of Medicine: Dr. Mario
Theory of Government: The Handmaid’s Tale
As one works through Trump’s cabinet picks the despairing realization dawns that there may not be one sliver of decency to be found within their empathy-deficient political careers. Fatigue sets in when you realize that Representative Tom Price (R-Georgia, surprising no one) is no different, just another living compendium of heartless policy positions and retrograde values. Price used to be an orthopedic surgeon, but he seems more interested in promoting junk science and protecting the insurance industry than upholding the Hippocratic Oath. He’s a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, mostly known for their opposition to any government involvement in health care, but also because of the plethora of discredited pseudo-scientific theories they’ve advanced (abortion and breast cancer are related, AIDS isn’t caused by HIV, vaccinations contribute to autism). Like Price, this organization of quacks opposes Medicare, Medicaid and anything else that dents the bottom line for private physicians and insurance companies. Their mantra is “privatize it all.”
Price has a plan to repeal the replace the Affordable Care Act, already a weak, business-friendly shit show, with the right’s favorite policy panacea: tax credits! I’m sure patients with preexisting conditions paying tens of thousands out of pocket for cancer treatment will be grateful for their tax rebate. Price’s poetically named Empowering Patients First Act includes a predictable attack on birth control and abortion rights (no credits for you!) and provisions designed to protect doctors from malpractice suits. The proposal also includes health care exchanges (such a huge hit under the ACA) and state-run high-risk insurance pools that will somehow pay for themselves despite having no mandate to sign up or regulations in place to prevent insurers from denying coverage on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to wanting to privatize and, we’re guessing, eventually destroy all socialized medicine in the U.S., Price has the rest of the Republican bullet points (homophobia, misogyny, etc.) solidly hammered down. And like most A-Rated NRA supporters, he totally loves guns provided they are only used to shoot people who aren’t fetuses. You can expect whatever’s left of federal gun violence research to evaporate under his watch.
Steven Mnuchin – Secretary of the Treasury
Ethos: Get rich(er) or die tryin’
Favorite Monty Python sketch: definitely “The Money Programme”
It’s hard to take populists seriously when they rail against elites to win an election and then immediately appoint an investment banker from Goldman Sachs to run the U.S. Treasury Department. The same Goldman Sachs that made a fortune short-selling soon-to-be-worthless mortgage-backed securities on the eve of the subprime mortgage market’s collapse in 2007, essentially profiting from the worst economic crisis of the last half century. This is just one of a host of unsavory, if not precisely illegal, business practices Goldman Sachs is notorious for. You may also recall the massive bailout they received in 2008 at taxpayer expense to save their asses from imminent collapse, the hallmark of any “well-run” financial business in those days. In all fairness, Mnuchin had left the company by then, having already made a $40 million fortune. He was just following in the footsteps of his rich dad who had also made a killing at Goldman Sachs.
Naturally, Mnuchin is a real man of the people. In 2009, he partnered with George Soros (the subject of many a right-wing conspiracy theory, wink wink) to acquire bankrupt housing lender IndyMac, renaming it OneWest. Before being sold to the CIT Group in 2015, OneWest went hog wild with redlinining and foreclosures. Their subsidiary, the perversely named Financial Freedom, foreclosed on 16,220 reverse mortgages between spring 2009 and spring 2016, some 39 percent of all federally insured reverse mortgage foreclosures at the time. Of the predatory companies scouring the post-2007 housing wasteland, OneWest was among the worst. Starting in 2014, Mnuchin decided to take a short stroll through Hollywood, deftly avoiding a bankruptcy or two along the way, before curling up in Trump’s lap as a campaign fundraiser.
Like the rest of Trump’s economics team, Mnuchin’s appointment is just an extension of an ongoing business relationship with Trump rather than the result of any actual qualifications. Back in the early aughts, Mnuchin founded the hedge fund Dune Capital Management, which invested in a few Trump projects (Dune Capital was also sued by Trump in what probably counts as a rite of passage in the Trumpverse), and now Trump is repaying his loyalty and cash money with one of the most prestigious political appointments in Washington. Power to the people. Preferably in the form of massive tax cuts for big business and deregulation of powerful banks.
Wilbur Ross – Secretary of Commerce
Favorite Fictional Company: Omni-Consumer Products
Favorite Disney Characters: toss-up between the vulture executioners in “Robin Hood” and the spotted hyenas in “The Lion King.”
Like fellow Yalie Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross made his fortune on Wall Street and had early dealings with Trump. But whereas Mnuchin made his name in the hedge fund and housing game, Ross developed an expertise for acquiring bankrupt companies, restructuring them to profitability, and then reselling them. Ross is an interesting pick for the ostensibly nationalist Trump given his proclivity for selling U.S. businesses to multinational conglomerates. But then it was Ross who came to the rescue when Trump’s Atlantic City casino Taj Mahal nearly went belly up in 1990, and we know how much Trump loves to reward loyalty. Ross also shares Trump and Mnuchin’s burning desire to tear up international trade agreements and his all-encompassing faith in tax cuts, deregulation and trickle-down economics.
Perhaps Ross’s most well-known magic trick was the reanimation of Horizon Natural Resource’s corpse as International Coal Group (ICG) in 2004. To complete the ritual of rebirth, six of the bankrupt company’s properties in West Virginia needed to be free of the stench of organized labor. Thankfully for Ross the bankruptcy court allowed Horizon to shed not only unions but pension benefits for workers as well. With labor neutralized, Ross could finalize the acquisition. In 2006, ICG’s mine in Sago, West Virginia collapsed following an explosion, killing 11 miners. According to the testimony of company executives, Ross was well aware that the mine was dangerous and prone to collapse (it had 208 citations for safety violations), but chose to keep the mine open anyway (see also: Elaine Chao, Trump’s Secretary of Transportation). In 2011, ICG was sold to everyone’s favorite destroyer of mountaintops, Arch Coal, a company that would be dead and buried if forced to survive on its own profits.
The moral of the story is that the short-term “health” of a resource company doesn’t necessarily mean healthy workers, a healthy environment or even a healthy industry. If Ross applies his restructuring philosophy to the economy as a whole, you can expect a whole lot more Sagos.
Well, that’s it for part one of this depressing slog through Trump’s cabinet appointments. Tune in next week for more insufferable elites and blustery ideologues, including Nikki Haley, Elaine Chao, Dagon, James Mattis, Reince Priebus, and other creeping horrors of the deep abyss that is 2016 America.
Watch those sanity meters. It’s about to get eldritch up in here.
A note to Democrats and progressives: Be smart, don’t waste your time with conspiracy theories. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (the homeopathic Fairy Godmother no one wished for), is challenging the election results with an ballot recount in Wisconsin, and is also pursuing legal options to force recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan as well. Her motive seems to be a mixture of anti-Trump panic and guilt over her perceived role in Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The shell-shocked Clinton team is now onboard too, throwing their weight behind what is likely to be a fruitless bid to contest the election.
Naturally, this futile digging in the mud has attracted the grand master of undermining faith in democracy, Donald Trump. Incensed, Trump has seized on Stein and Clinton’s useless crusade to claim, without evidence, that the only reason Clinton won the popular vote is because millions of people voted illegally. Like a third world strongman, Trump believes in democracy only to the extent that it pumps up his ego. The Electoral College works because it elected him; the popular vote is broken because it didn’t.
Look, I know it hurts to lose an election to an inflatable dummy like Trump, but the worst thing anyone in the center or on the left can do right now is give in to the dim conspiracy theories that have so long fueled the far right. It might feel like you’re doing right by democracy questioning close tallies, but without real evidence you’re simply reiterating Trump’s argument that the process is broken. Without proof, claims that Wisconsin’s voting machines were hacked is just a baseless insinuation.
“Voting irregularities” is a favorite catchphrase of voter-fraud-obsessed conservatives, and now seems to have seeped into the rest of the mainstream political class. And instead of helping the Democrats, it’s simply reinforcing Trump’s own absurd claims. We cannot live in a system where every single election is contested–that way lies failed states. How we run elections needs to be reformed and voting rights under threat from gerrymandering and voter suppression must be upheld. But not by pointing fingers at shadowy cabals, “hackers” and Russians.
So please, do us all a favor and stop feeding the trolls with dead-end theories. Accept your defeat, figure out why you were defeated, and run a winning campaign based on the lessons you’ve learned. Spend your time developing a strategy to make substantial gains in the mid-term elections and keep Trump in check until then. Don’t tell the anti-democratic right that their suspicions were right all a long, and don’t waste your supporters’ time on a fruitless quest that will only compound their feeling of defeat.
On behalf of the Age of Drumpf blog, I would like to extend a warm welcome to any poor souls who find their way here. In a time like ours, sensible liberals, leftists and even conservatives will need to commiserate and find solidarity with like-minded islands of reasonableness in a country that seems, rather suddenly, to be fast-tracked to Banana Republic status. Like it or not, the Trump Supremacy is upon us, and we must all do our parts to monitor every nook and cranny of the body politic for the infectious cancer of Trumpism and the uniquely toxic brand of American rightism it represents. Our writers are all generally on the left, and we are all critical of the Democratic Party. But we are also united by a shared sense of grief and anger at how quickly the United States succumbed to the zombie ideology of a empty-headed carnival barker named Donald Trump.
While we are aiming to provide reasonably intelligent, fact-based news and analysis about the Trump Supremacy (something we expect to see less and less of as the hard right’s reign of terror against the free press heats up), the main aim of the site is to capture that unique feeling of queasy unease, nauseating alienation and outright hysteria sane Americans are are now feeling and are likely to continue feeling for the next four years (we’re really hoping it’s only four). The liminal state we exist in from now until to the inauguration is like the constipation before the deluge, the dreadful rumbling before the horrible, unavoidable bowel movement. It’s as if the entire nation has been subjected to a botched colonoscopy. We can finally see the infection on the view screen, but to our horror we discover that the colonoscope is now lodged inside. In less scatological terms, the problem is now fully visible, but removing the tube (the rise of Trumpism) will require a radical, invasive solution, and it’s going to hurt. Really bad.
We now see the country as it is. That vast coast-to-coast expanse of broken-down dreams, hucksters and snake oil salesmen, religious charlatans, sub-Turner Diary (which is pretty “sub”) conspiracy theorists and militia cranks, angry middle managers with Manichean worldviews, neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis, racists and men’s rights activists of every stripe, fake revolutionaries LARPing with their guns in the woods, stupefying reality television and Black Friday sales, climate denialists, real estate and private equity scammers, law-and-order apologists for police brutality, identikins (on the left and right) incapable of seeing beyond the horizon of their accidental birth, corporate parasites of all kinds ready to swoop down to dine on the carcass of the Republic for fun and profit, and a vast landscape of fake media bullshit and disinformation that threatens truth itself. An angry white middle-class who had for years rejected the social safety net and welfare state because they worried if might help someone other than themselves now reside in a world of fear and uncertainty, a future they helped build when they voted politicians into office who promised to take away the very government teat and unions they had relied on for decades. It’s amazing what a little socioeconomic uncertainty and xenophobia will do to your entitlements.
Many people on the left and in the center have been complicit in this process, clinging to myths of progress in their insulated thought bubbles, the future arcologies rising over the desiccated wasteland of Middle America, or at least their deluded, fantasy notions of Middle America. Progress is never inevitable, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., and it’s precisely when you start to believe that it is that the great stone of history rolls back down the hill, crushing everything in its path. The left got too cozy with the status quo, stopped thinking that communication with the “other half” was necessary or even desirable, and the far right filled this vacuum with waves of disinformation, finger-pointing, fear-mongering and racist dog whistles (the dog whistles have now been replaced with megaphones). And unfortunately for the rest of us their angry, fearful audience was all to eager to lap it up. It wasn’t the conservative political class (the fake anarcho-capitalists and greedy religious fanatics) who sold them out in their minds; it was cosmopolitan liberals and their fifth column of immigrants and refugees, gays and lesbians, Muslims, feminists and other minorities who conspired to rob them of their hard-earned wages and tax dollars.
So now we have Donald Trump, the perennial scammer of tacky real estate and reality shows. A wannabe Gordon Gekko and showman who wore out his welcome in 1989 yet somehow managed to get his bloated, orange face in front of cameras in the decades that followed. His entire career–whether in real estate, branding, or playing himself on television–has been based on inflating value, taking the relatively worthless or merely gaudy and exploding it into something beyond imagination. This seller of dreams has one unique talent: tricking people into thinking there’s a man behind the curtain, a real idea in his brain. His followers see a lot more when there’s actually a lot less. For those of us with healthy, functioning bullshit detectors, it’s clearly all showbiz, all Vegas-style razzle-dazzle. The few ideas he seems to have are all bad, varying degrees of toxic, worthless or contradictory. This absence of content has allowed his followers to project onto him their own fears and anxieties as well as their dreams of wealth, security and autonomy. Trump is not a man, he’s a production, and for some people production values are enough.
Trumpism is a symptom of our age, the logical outgrowth of a nation that has been hurtling toward permanent decline one deadlocked congress at a time, a country steeped in dark conspiracy theories, permanently bogged down in racist traditions and a history of class denial it can’t seem to shake, now more worried than pleased with its status in the world. The American Century is over, and for a lot of people, especially embittered whites and angry heterosexual men longing for a golden age that never existed (when people of color knew their place and women served hot dinner every night, and perhaps most importantly, when they had job security), it’s better to burn it all down than concede defeat. Concession would mean accepting change (real change, not the ersatz bullshit Trump is pushing), seeing the world as it is and fighting for self-respect and progress. Trump supporters are genuinely angry, but their anger has been misdirected by decades of brainwashing courtesy a right-wing media machine designed to distract them from the fact that their elected officials, employers and “gospel of wealth” preachers have been robbing them blind, working diligently to destroy their labor, their wealth and their political power while pointing the finger at Blacks, Mexicans, unmarried women, homosexuals and sinners.
The Obama era was a little too reassuring. It erected a barrier between the “basket of deplorables” and the rest of us. It allowed coastal elites to believe that some vague progress was happening on the social front and that people who opposed it were now securely relegated to the dustbin of history. It allowed centrist liberals to ignore the lack of real structural reform in the economy, the stagnating wages, the horrible state of policing, the endless drone wars overseas, the corrosion of civil liberties in the face of mass surveillance and secret courts. It also helped blind them to how pissed off the vast conservative population was, how irrationally hellbent so many people were on throwing bombs in the off chance they’d hit the “right” target, how fearful and paranoid millions of people have become, how empty the promise of America is to so many.
Trumpism is the howling shriek of a declining population perched on the the threshold of extinction, flinging their shit on a world they no longer understand. They reject the “sheeple” (those who don’t subscribe to their increasingly conspiratorial worldview) but they are the sheep. And like all lambs led to the slaughter they view their executioner as their savior. They’re following a charlatan down a road that leads nowhere. They will now be more vulnerable to market forces than they have ever been with fewer rights than they’ve ever enjoyed, and they’ve done this to themselves. A last ditch effort to erect an apartheid state, a final fatal grab at autarky, will not save them from the uncertainty and chaos to come. But they’ll shriek, and the rest of us won’t be able to close our ears.
Welcome to the Terrordrome. Welcome to Trumps’ America.