The antithetical cabinet
One could have expected that the most unorthodox candidate in United States history to be elected to the presidency would probably choose the most inordinate cabinet. That expectation is being fulfilled in this presidential transition period. Donald J. Trump has chosen candidates for several cabinet positions that one could argue hold values that are the antithesis of the mission statements of the agencies or departments that they will lead.
Furthermore, if we examine the professional histories and stated sentiments of the future secretaries and directors, one can see the makings of an oligarchy rather than a sustaining of our democratic republic.
Perhaps the most coveted position in a president’s cabinet is Secretary of State. After witnessing the odd campaigning for the position by former New York Mayor Rudy Guliani, the contrite apologetic supplication of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and the outside speculation about the former Ambassador to China John Huntsman, the Donald chose Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Wayne Tillerson. With a net worth of a quarter of a billion dollars, Tillerson rose from engineer to the Chief Executive Officer of Exxon/Mobil in four decades. Tillerson has orchestrated oil deals throughout the Middle East including agreements in Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan. Most alarmingly, Tillerson is a close friend and business ally of former KGB director Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. Tillerson has received from Putin Russia’s highest civilian honor the Medal of Friendship.
Secretaries of State usually come from either the legislative branch, where the future secretary would have served on foreign affairs committees. Or, people with vast foreign policy experience in either an ambassadorship role or as a foreign envoy or a former deputy secretary are chosen. Or, those from the world of academia where the candidate had researched and written many scholarly works about geopolitical politics are picked.
Tillerson has none of those bona fides. He will undoubtedly, with the endorsement of Trump, form a foreign policy that serves corporate needs.
Further, Tillerson is vehement free trader and has been critical of military actions that in any way impede the trade and flow of oil. “The global market for energy provides the most effective means of achieving US energy and security.” He also questioned using political economic sanctions that in anyway interrupt the trade of energy products. “We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively and that’s a very hard thing to do.” Translation: as secretary we are not going to impose sanctions that hurt the oil industry!
Similarly, Trump’s choice for Secretary of the Interior is cross-grained with the mission of the department. Established in 1849 on the last day of President James Polk’s administration, the mission statement of the formation of the department was dedicated to “the management and conservation of federal land and resources.”
However, the Donald’s nominee is Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke. Zinke has served on the House Committee on Natural Resources. So one might think his appointment might be a good fit, but Zinke believes that federal lands should not be excluded from commercial and economic development. His so-called “Multiple-Use” approach is seen as an oncoming boondoggle for energy exploration. National Parks might be made available for strip mining and fracking.
Equally counterintuitive is the president-elect’s choice for Secretary of Labor. Andrew Puzder is an entrepreneurial giant of the fast food industry. He is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which includes Hardees and Carl’s Jr.
A multimillionaire, Puzder has been a strong advocate of lessening or eliminating the national minimum wage and replacing wage earners with automation. Considering that the purpose of the labor department is to protect the rights of workers and to make sure the voice of union concerns are heard in government, this choice for the labor secretary position is puzzling.
Also, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Energy is baffling since his nominee has in the past has been dedicated to the elimination of the department itself. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has stated in presidential primary campaigns he was devoted to the elimination of the Energy Department. Formed in 1977, besides coordinating all things domestically nuclear, the primary mission of the Department of Energy is to strive for energy independence and development of green renewable energy sources. As governor of Texas, Perry sought to deregulate and indulge any and all pursuits of Texas oil company’s interests. Green energy development has rarely been on his radar.
Additionally, another conundrum is the Donald’s choice for Secretary of Education. Trump chose multimillionaire Betsy De Vos. De Vos is an anti-public education activist who has spoken extensively on alternatives to the public education system. She advocates tax credits, school vouchers, a parent’s ability to opt out of the public school system, and home schooling. She also believes in tax credits to fund attendance in private schools, which she soundly thinks are more effective. And most odd, De Vos if confirmed will be the first secretary without a degree in education and without any kind of graduate degree whatsoever. Usually, candidates for this position have been superintendents of school districts or school principals.
Since the Department of Education’s mission is to further the effectiveness and organization of the public school system in our country, De Vos is a strange choice indeed.
Also befuddling is the president-elect’s choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). His nomination for secretary is former pediatric neurosurgeon and ultraconservative presidential candidate Ben Carson. Carson has railed against urban youth who are not self-reliant. As Carson was a self-made success who came from the projects of Detroit, Michigan, he has written in his autobiography and spoken in his speeches about “boot strap” self-determination.
Since the mission statement of HUD is “to create strong sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all,” which is, of course, subsidized by the federal taxpayer, Carson’s indictment of impoverished and lackadaisical urban residents do not seem to dovetail with the stated policy.
For Secretary of Commerce, Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, known as the “King of Bankruptcy” is another strange choice. A corporate raider who either sells off the parts of failed steel and coal companies or reorganizes and resells them, his history is the opposite of nurturing and developing business in America. The mission of the commerce department is to aid companies and not to dissemble businesses for a quick profit.
Also in the mix of nominees, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, who has a spotty record in regard to minority rights, Goldman-Sachs (which we taxpayers bailed out during the Great Recession) partner Steven Mnuchin for Secretary of the Treasury, who is also a motion picture financier. And World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, whose spent millions of her own money to become a Connecticut Senator, to no avail, and now will supposedly be an advocate for small businesses as SBA director.
Two conclusions are inescapable with Mr. Trump’s cabinet choices. First, secretaries were chosen to propel and accommodate the interests of corporate America. Second, the secretaries and advisors chosen are severe and antithetical to the present stated missions for which their entities and departments stand for. Thus, one can conclude that the potential for the rising of an oligarchy in which an exclusive upper class benefits from government policy is possible if not probable in the upcoming Trump administration. Will more jobs trickle down from this new construct and therefore help the displaced worker as Trump promised during the campaign? Time will tell.
One thing for sure, the status quo will exist no more.