Trump’s Cabinet Picks: Business as Usual


December 1, 2016 (San Diego) Politicians know this. Make promises during the campaign, and once elected you can break them at your heart’s content. Donald J Trump might not be a career politician, but he already learned that lesson. Draining the swamp from Washington Insiders was one of his campaign promises. It turns out that both Washington Insiders and Wall Street big names, one from Goldman Sachs, will have a place at the table.

First in the list is the next Attorney General of the United States. Mind you, his views were once considered radical enough that the Senate refused to confirm him as a judge during the Ronald Reagan years. This is Senator Jeff Sessions. He is from Alabama, and he is an influential member of the United States Senate. He would fit the exact definition of an insider. He also once made remarks that were sympathetic to the Ku Klux Khan, and while he said he was joking, later on, this is one reason Democrats are threatening (we shall see) to put up a fight.

Representative Tom Price is not must a member of the Tea Party, but a six-term member of the House. He is a surgeon, and he wants to not just reform healthcare, but get rid of things like Medicare and replace them with vouchers. While Democrats might put up a fight, it should be remembered that both parties have been after what they term entitlement reform for decades. So we do not expect more than just a symbolic fight. That is unless that third rail proves as powerful as it was when President George W Bush vowed to phase out Social Security in 2006 and came across a populist uprising.

That said, Price is coming from the belly of the beat.

You cannot get more in touch with your swamp than Elaine Chao, who once served as Secretary of Labor under the second Bush administration. Of course, she is also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Nothing, and I mean nothing, says more insider than being married to an ultimate Washington insider.

Now, what about those who have never served in government? Well, Betsy DeVos has been committed to the destruction of the public school system for decades. She is also one of the wealthiest Americans. I suppose if being a member of the top economic elite makes you an outsider, she is qualified.

Steve Mnuchin has been nominated for Secretary of the Treasury. He is opposed to banking regulations, like any good bond manager and he once profited from the foreclosure crisis. So he has promised to get rid of large swaths of Dodd-Frank, if not all of it. Yes, we expected a compliant Congress to do it.

Did we mention he came indirectly from Morgan Sachs where he once was a partner and his father was among the top executives? One of his goals is to re-privatize Fanny Mae, which was taken out of the private sector after the 2008 crisis. He used to hang out with people behind that crisis. Since he has gone to Hollywood where he was behind some of the top grossing movies of the Obama era, and one that was quite dogmatic (American Sniper.)

I quite not know how you could claim to be draining the swamp there. Trump is bringing in a man who profited from the 2008 crisis, who wants to bring banking back to the wild west after the end of Glass-Steagall, setting the groundwork for another major financial crisis. Symbolically he also comes from one of the most hated banks in the United States.

Finally, there is Wilbur Ross for Commerce. He made his money by restructuring companies in trouble. He is also adamantly opposed to free trade agreements. He has been in Trump’s orbit since the 1990s. That choice makes a lot of sense in fact.

Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin might see herself as an outsider, but ever since she made it to the national stage, she is part of the upper orbit of Republican elites. She is being considered for the Veterans Administration, where we suspect she will try some of her charms, and will look for vouchers. Yes, there are problems in the VA, but Palin is not quite draining the swamp either.

Choosing Marine General James Mattis will requerí a waiver since the General has not been retired the required 7 years. He has been considering other generals for top-level posts, including David Petraeus for State.

Now, to say that any of this surprises me, or will lead to real changes inside the beltway would be lying, These appointments are exactly what one expects when a new president-elect starts to put together a government. Real change is for chumps. We expect the neoliberal state to continue, and even accelerate apace. There will be some changes insofar as free trade agreements, but that is because the pressures to reform them are not limited to the United States. They are unpopular in the United Kingdom, (see Brexit), in Mexico, less known I know. As well as large swaths of Continental Europe. Advanced economies are going to give the boot to these treaties.

Vouchers are now universally seen as a solution to accelerate the privatization of whatever remains of government services. This is part and parcel of a neoliberal agenda that has been pursued by both parties over the last 30 years. Democrats will pretend to be horrified and put some token resistance. At least they can pretend that it was the Republicans. And run later on how they are going to save services they intend to change forever, if not outright privatize.

Now do we expect Trump supporters to question  this? Or demand any accounting? No, we do not. Just as none in the Obama club protested the appointment of Robert Rubin, or for that matter Arne Duncan, who’s philosophy is very similarly to that of DeVoss. They both agree in “fixing” underperforming schools and in growing the charter school system. They might go about it slightly differently, but they fundamentally agree.


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