Well, how do you all feel now? Are you happy you gave your country and your children’s future the finger? Are you happy that you sucker punched your country and stuck your thumb in its eye? Are you happy now that your president, your country and its electorate are the laughingstock of the world….until fear, uncertainty and danger set in?
I still can’t bring myself to put those two words together “President” and “Trump”. Yes, you elected him fair and square, with the Electoral College being what it is. But his opponent won the popular vote by the largest margin of any candidate who won that vote but lost the election and 54 percent of votes cast were against Trump. But all that being what it is, just take a look at your leader: Ignorant, vacuous, amoral, dishonest, narcissistic, egotistical, reckless and arrogant.
And if that wasn’t enough, take a look at his Cabinet, described in a recent Washington Post headline as “the worst Cabinet in American history”. Yes, every president has been guilty of nominating a cabinet member or two with very shaky qualifications: Eisenhower’s choice of GM CEO (“What’s good for General Motors is good for the country”) Charles Wilson as Secretary of Defense, President Kennedy’s own brother as Attorney General, Nixon’s choice of John Mitchell as Attorney General, Reagan’s Secretary of Interior James Watt, George W. Bush’s Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez all come readily to mind.
But the Senate hasn’t formally rejected a Cabinet pick since it voted down President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of John Tower for defense secretary in 1989. And no new president has gotten all of his nominees confirmed in the last 30 years – those that have been very controversial or had something questionable in their backgrounds revealed usually have withdrawn before a vote. However, never in our history have we been asked to accept a crew as universally controversial or as incompetent or as idealogical or as downright destructive as Trump’s menagerie of nominees. Cabinet members nominated by other presidents have usually had some experience and expertise in the functions of the office for which they are being considered. These have apparently been nominated simply because of early support or loyalty to Trump.
Barely acceptable because in comparison to others they seem somewhat sane and sensible are Trump’s Secretary of Defense, General James (Mad Dog) Mattis, perhaps chosen by Trump because of his nickname, and Nikki Hayley, former Governor of South Carolina, as Ambassador to the United Nations, Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife), retired General John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security, Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo as CIA Director, and Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture. Whoa, here “sane and sensible” may not hold up – as governor of Georgia in 2007, Mr. Perdue made national headlines for holding a public vigil to pray for rain in the middle of a crippling drought. But these are the best of a bad lot. The rest are described below.
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State. This former CEO of Exxon Mobile perceives the world through the myopic vision of an exploiter of the environment. What little experience he has in dealing with foreign governments has been limited to striking deals to extract petroleum. This man’s education has been that of a petroleum engineer, not a diplomat. His suspect ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin obviously did not slow his Senate approval. Good luck to us and the world – an oil executive is now our Secretary of State. And if this choice was not worrisome enough, Tillerson and Trump have just chosen Elliot Abrams for the powerful position of Deputy Secretary of State. Abrams has been labeled a “war criminal” by more than one columnist and in fact was convicted of willfully withholding information from Congress. For those who thought the the neocons would be exiled from the Trump administration are simply wrong. This unilateral interventionist and Israel cheerleader who wants to spread “American values” around the world is back. God help us. Oh wait a minute, Trump just turned down Abrams, evidently for negative comments about him during the campaign. But the recklessness of this consideration is still cause for grave concern.
Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury. The “foreclosure king” never served in government and has never set economic policy of any kind, but he is from Goldman Sachs and has great experience in throwing people out of their homes. Because he ran against Wall Street and the “rigged system” Trump’s choice of this man is the ultimate betrayal. Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for her Goldman Sachs speeches – how can he choose this Wall Street insider who got rich there? But of course Trump hailed Mnuchin for his business savvy in making a boatload off IndyMac at the depth of the Great Recession, so that’s all that really matters.
Senator Jeff Sessions, Attorney General. In his 1986 hearing before the Senate, witnesses testified that Sessions referred to a black attorney as “boy,” described the Voting Rights Act as ‘intrusive,’ attacked the NAACP and ACLU as “un-American” for “forcing civil rights down the throats of people”, joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was ok until he found out they smoked marijuana, and referred to a white attorney who took on voting-rights cases as a “traitor to his race.” This “southern gentleman” is a shocking choice for Attorney General, an office expected to enforce the laws of the country. Perhaps the best way to describe Sessions is to quote from the Coretta Scott King letter read by several Senators at the debate of his Senate approval, ”Mr. Sessions’ conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge…” And that’s when he was candidate for a mere Federal judgeship not Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.
Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services. One of several of Trump’s picks that perfectly illustrates the “fox guarding the henhouse” – an avowed enemy of Medicare and Medicaid, not to mention Obamacare. He supports Paul Ryan’s longstanding desire to convert Medicare into a voucher program and replacing Medicaid with state block grants. He also has become very adept at sponsoring and supporting healthcare legislation, especially that which deals with companies in which he has invested. As of this writing, this dreadful nominee has indeed been approved by the Senate.
Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education. Arguably the worst pick of all, billionaire DeVos has spent much of he life trying to destroy public education in America and decimating the public school system of her home state of Michigan. The approval of DeVos will likely spell the end of public schools in America, which have been on life support during 16 years of neglect and assault by our last two presidents. And during her hearings, despite her self-declared interest in education, she demonstrated shocking ignorance of basic issues in educational policy. If DeVos is approved and has her way, all American schools will end up as private corporate, for-profit schools.
Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor. Another example of the fox-henhouse, this shameful nominee has gone on record opposing the minimum wage and increased overtime pay. If Trump had searched everywhere for the most anti-labor Secretary of Labor, he could not have found anyone more apposed to the rights and fair treatment of workers than Mr. Puzder. If you have any doubts about my assertions, read this article from CNN. As of this writing, Puzder, facing lagging support among Republicans, has withdrawn his candidacy, but his original selection again demonstrates the serious lack of judgement of Trump and his close associates.
Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt has a track record of putting the business interests of the energy sector before the environmental and health interests of the public. He has spent his career fighting the rules and regulations of the agency he is now being nominated to lead and his expected confirmation threatens to make America great for polluters again. Mr. Pruitt could be the worst nomination of all in this disgraceful array of destructive incompetents.
Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Another incredibly stupid pick – Carson’s only claim to expertise for this position is that he lives in a house that’s maybe in an urban area. His own spokesman explained after the election that, “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency”. Well, he has and his performance will certainly help.
Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy. Despite once saying that, if president, he would scrap this department, Rick was elated to learn of his nomination to this office because he thought he would just continue to bounce around the world extolling the virtues of oil and gas. But he was brought up short to find that a major function of the Secretary of Energy is to manage our atomic arsenal and its vast security apparatus. We should also be brought up short to have this simple and shallow good old boy Texas politician placed in such a demanding position. Remember, he was preceded by Obama appointees nuclear physicist, Nobel laureate and MIT professor Ernest Moniz and by Stanford physicist and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu. Good luck filling their shoes, Rick!
Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of the Management and Budget. Yes, this guy just admitted to have employed a nanny without paying over $15,000 in payroll taxes for her. But this is minor compared to his other shortcomings. A founding member of the ultra conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, a deficit hawk and a supporter of a balanced budget amendment, Mr. Mulvaney almost singlehandedly brought down the Hurricane Sandy relief effort and has opposed federal spending on infrastructure. In addition Mulvaney still calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme”, wants to “end Medicare as we know it”, called the 2013 government shutdown “good politics and good policy.” and questioned the need for federally funded disease research. And this guy might be our new Budget Director?
Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce. One of the several billionaires among Trump’s cabinet picks, Mr. Ross also broke the law, hiring an undocumented worker as one of his dozens of household staff. More importantly, Ross’s nickname, the “king of bankruptcy” was a nod to his legendary knack for buying troubled companies on the cheap and selling them for billions of dollars in profit, just like a certain presidential candidate from four years ago. He also matches up nicely with future colleague Steven Mnuchin as a fellow profiteer of the 2008 meltdown, profiting from the real estate and foreclosure crisis.
Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior. While his conservation bona fides are still largely a mystery, Mr. Zinke’s honesty is not. While still a Navy Seal, he was caught repeatedly billing the government for trips home which he falsely claimed were for the purpose of scouting new training sites.
Michael Flyn, National Security Advisor. This excitable and unstable Islamaphobe and purveyor of “Flyn facts” like “Iran killed more Americans than Al Qaeda”, “Islam is not a religion but a political ideology”, and “fear of Muslims is rational” was fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency by James Clapper “because Obama disagreed with my views on terrorism and wanted to hide the growth of Isis”. His assignment to an important and sensitive position like this is downright moronic. His new boss had earlier enlisted him in the fight against both the Republican and Democratic establishments and it was actually Flyn leading the Republican Convention in chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Flyn also has promoted and posted lunatic conspiracy theories and fake news like “Islam wants 80 percent of humanity enslaved or exterminated” and “NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w/Children, etc. . . MUST READ!” Seeing this guy with that wild look in his eyes recently informing us that Iran was “on notice” was a truly horrifying experience. At this writing, Flynn has resigned but his original selection underscores Trump’s serious lack of judgement. I wonder who he will come up with for the position now?
Even considering all the above, perhaps the most frightening aspect of the Trump presidency is the sinister presence and behind the scenes influence of Vice President Mike Pence. There he is again and again, ominously lurking behind Trump at the signing of every “executive order” (which seems to have become the standard governing procedure for this president), and then yet again, swearing in each of these reprehensible cabinet members approved by Congress. He even had the temerity to break with long standing vice presidential norms and tradition to appear personally at a recent “Right to Life” rally to push the retrograde agenda that he promoted as governor of Indiana, an incredibly blatant act. Let me tell you, for those Democrats who secretly hope that Trump’s dangerous and incompetent behavior will eventually get him impeached, please think again – that would make Mike Pence our president. And after him in the line of succession is, my God, Orrin Hatch and then, my God again, Paul Ryan!
Pence’s political career in Indiana was in a downward spiral because of his regressive stances on abortion and LGBT rights and passage of sponsored legislation which got him into hot water with Indiana’s education and sports power brokers who did not wish to see Indiana become another North Carolina. Mr. Pence’s reelection chances were virtually nonexistent when Trump picked him off the “political trash heap” to be his vice presidential and resuscitated his career. For more clarity on Mr. Pence, read this great article from Rolling Stone.
And let’s not forget his motley crew of close advisors. First, the frightening, sinister and malevolent presence of Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, with a seat on the National Security Council, called sometimes “President Bannon” because of his closeness and great influence on Trump. Recently the head of flame-throwing right wing website Breitbart News and with connections to alt-right, white nationalist elements, Bannon is now one of the most powerful people in Washington, serving as Trump’s intellectual guru and chief source of advice and information.
Bannon’s closest ally in Trump’s frightening inner circle is Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller. Mr. Miller got his start in Washington working for Representative Michele Bachman, one of the craziest conservatives ever to serve in the House. From there he worked for former Arizona congressman John Shadegg, another radical conservative. His latest DC position, before joining the Trump campaign in January of 2016 was serving as communications director for Senator Jeff Sessions, now our US Attorney General. In the Trump campaign he served as Trump’s speechwriter and as his “warmup act” during campaign rallies. Mr. Miller has been at the epicenter of some of the administration’s most provocative moves, from pushing hard for the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico to threatening decades-long trade deals at the heart of Republican economic orthodoxy, to rolling out Mr. Trump’s travel ban on seven largely Muslim nations, whose bungled introduction he oversaw. Miller’s appearances on several nationally televised political talk shows on the weekend of February 11 went viral because of vituperative attacks and totally incorrect claims about the power of the president.
And of course his son in law Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, he of the extensive background in politics, governance, statecraft, foreign affairs and economics, resplendent in his new suits and ties, meekly stumbling along after the comparatively unkempt Bannon and gaffy, Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway, she of the “alternative facts” who recently put her foot in her mouth (again) and violated ethics rules by illegally extolling the virtues of the Ivanka Trump line of merchandise. All of them are giddy with influence and drunk with power and must pinch themselves daily to realize the reality that they of such shallow resume and abnormal substance have achieved such lofty heights.
So, Trump voters, what do you think? Read more details about these individuals yourself. Google their names and read, read, read. You will find little to counter what I have written above. How could Trump have picked people like this when most represent a gross betrayal of what he promised during the campaign. Well a clue might be found in a short description of his first week in office from a recent New York Times editorial, “As his first week in office amply demonstrated, Mr. Trump has no grounding in national security decision making, no sophistication in governance and little apparent grasp of what it takes to lead a great diverse nation.”
One of my favorite writers, now-retired novelist Philip Roth, was quoted in a recent New Yorker by Judith Thurman. Roth, with his usual impeccable choice of words, offered this about Donald Trump: “It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type—the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist—that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States…..I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
And, Trump voters, another thanks for the smooth, dignified, rational and sensible first several weeks of our President’s tenure, during which he:
- Hung up on the Australian Prime Minister,
- Declared war on the free press, calling it an “opposition party”,
- Ordered restart on the construction of the Keystone SL and Dakota Access pipelines,
- Announced plans to reinstate “black sites” and torture abroad,
- Issued an executive order targeting immigrants from seven Muslim countries, conveniently leaving out the worst – Saudi Arabia,
- Ordered plans for a wall along our southern border,
- Issued an executive order to systematically begin the dismembering of the Affordable Care Act,
- Scrubbed climate change efforts from he White House and federal agencies websites,
- Demanded investigation into non-existent voter fraud for an election he already won,
- Threatened Iran through a belligerent and frightening rant by National Security Advisor Michael Flyn,
- Approved a ham-handed, disastrous and senseless raid in Yemen resulting in nothing more than the death of one of the perpetrators and the deaths of seven civilians including an eight year old girl,
- Announced threats of violence and military action at the annual National Prayer Breakfast,
- Announced a freeze on Federal regulations and federal hiring (and what’s this – some kind of new game – for every one new regulation, two must be cancelled?),
- Established a global “gag rule” on abortion,
- Signed an executive order withdrawing the US from the TPP,
- Violated our recent “net neutrality” decision by appointing Agit Pai, an opponent, as new chairman of the FCC,
- Declared a communications blackout for federal agencies,
- Reappointed James Comey (happily I am sure) to head the FBI,
- Continued his incessant flood of “tweets”, very unseemly for a president, continued to “short out” normal policy of thoroughly considered and carefully thought-out announcements,
- Unsuccessfully challenged the Court ruling on his immigration executive order,
- Insulted the judiciary when it dared challenge him,
- In most regards, behaved incredibly unpresidentially, leaving eyes rolling and mouths agape,
- Defamed out intelligence agents and used the CIA headquarters as political prop,
- With Kellyann Conway’s help, invented a fake terrorist attack (“the Bowling Green Massacre) to frighten Americans into supporting anti-Muslim efforts,
- Began an all-out assault on financial and corporate regulations, a systematic dismantling of Dodd-Frank,
- Complained about leaks revealing that he secretly contacted Russian authorities during the campaign while publicly praising Putin’s leadership,
- Engaged in potentially illegal post-election communications with Russia, causing the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn,
- and lots more.
Well, again, thank you Trump voters for bringing us so much excitement and anxiety. Trump’s presidency is not going well and it’s only the very beginning. And unfortunately corporate news just loves what’s happening. MSNBC, CNN and Fox are undoubtedly still swimming in high ratings because of the erratic and disgraceful performance of this new presidential administration.
But as I mentioned in my second Trump article, I am deathly afraid for the survival of our democracy. The stage is set, the dominoes are arranged and poised. All we need is another 9/11 or a Reichstag fire to spark a deathly succession of emergency power grabs by Trump and his lieutenants to extinguish American democracy. We are not the same as we used to be. A rash of important norms have been violated. Key institutions have been fatally weakened or perverted. Our elected representatives are spineless unless campaign money is at stake. The people have their noses buried in their iPhones, iPads and TV’s. We are at this time more vulnerable to autocracy than at any time in our history. I just read a very frightening article in the latest issue of The Atlantic by David Frum that validates my opinion. His introductory paragraphs sketch a portrait of an autocratic America in 2021 that is not at all unrealistic. We all need to be concerned, vigilant, do our reading, be active and hold our elected officials accountable.