Today, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. A substantial list of prominent Democrats have already found reasons to avoid attending the inauguration. It is not difficult for one to understand why this is the case. So far the incoming administration does not look promising. Lamentably, the Trump cabinet has turned out to include a motley cast of dubious and under-qualified candidates.
For some liberals, election night in November was the gateway to a cartoonish and horrific fantasy realm where the United States had all of a sudden begun to prepare itself for an unbelievable Donald Trump presidency. For others, it was a grim prediction come true.
The 2016 election was unique in several respects. One of the most significant of these was the apathy and dissatisfaction of the electorate. Apathy was evident in the number of faithless electors this time around. It represents the highest such quantity for any U.S. presidential election in the last century.
On Tuesday, protesters accumulated outside the headquarters of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in an effort to draw attention to high-level appointments, by Donald Trump, of former Goldman executives to positions within his up-coming administration.
Some have criticized the festivities leading up to the inauguration as a corporatized carnival of decadence put on with millions in corporate aid dollars from various sectors, including the gaming industry.
According to some polls, Donald Trump will have the lowest approval rating of any president assuming office in the past forty years. One recent Gallup poll indicates a lower than average approval rating for his handling of the transition into office.
Donald Trump has promised to “drain the swamp in Washington DC” with his administrative changes. Since he has, predictably, decided fill his cabinet with corporate executives, financiers, and ideologically backward politicians, that statement is incredibly difficult to believe.
I. Secretary of State
Possibly the most significant cabinet appointment, metaphorically speaking, is Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. He was CEO of Exxon Mobil from 2010-2016. He has numerous ties to Russia and is intimately associated with Vladimir Putin.
In fact, according to John Hamre, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “[Tillerson] has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger.”
At a hearing on January 11, Tillerson attempted to distance himself from Putin and to make assurances that he would endeavor to resist further Russian attempts at aggression and expansion. He stated that his procedure during the Russian annexation of Crimea would have been more aggressive than that of the Obama administration and would have involved significantly more support for the Ukrainian government.
Tillerson has come under fire from human rights organizations for having often been either unwilling or too slow to condemn abuses of human rights abroad. On Thursday, director of Amnesty International U.S., Margaret Huang said, “Tillerson’s commitment to human rights in the U.S. and abroad is in serious question […] His rhetoric suggests that under his leadership the State Department would not pressure human rights violators even in the face of overwhelming evidence.”
There are also claims that Tillerson, as an Exxon executive, was supportive of climate change denial. This claim is difficult to prove as he has been shaky at best on the issue having delivered a speech in 2009 in support of carbon taxes. Tillerson has most often dodged questions about climate change or has given vague and noncommittal answers.
II. Secretary of the Treasury
Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury, was a partner at Goldman Sachs from 1994-2002, and was the Vice Chairman of ESL Investments. He co-founded SFM Capital Management with George Soros in 2003 and was the CEO and Chairman of OneWest Bank (formerly IndyMac). He is also a director of the Cayman Island incorporated Dune Capital International.
At a hearing on Thursday, Mnuchin was asked to address approximately $111 million in assets that he failed to disclose. According to a memo from the Senate Finance Committee, the vast majority of these assets are real estate holdings in the United States and Mexico. Mnuchin claims that the failure was the result of a misunderstanding.
Sen. Chuck Schumer commented, “Never before has the Senate considered such an ethically challenged slate of nominees for key cabinet positions. Mr. Mnuchin’s failure to disclose his Cayman Islands holdings just reeks of the swamp that the president-elect promised to drain on the campaign trail.”
III. Secretary of Commerce
Wilbur Ross is a billionaire with a mile-long resume. It would be difficult for one to find a corporation that he could not manage or rebuild. He has earned the nickname the “King of Bankruptcy,” having spent a large portion of his career purchasing and reorganizing inefficient and dying companies.
He probably stands as one of the most experienced of Trump’s choices with respect to sheer amount of activity over the course of a career. Ross has mixed support among Democrats, and was, at one point, a Democrat himself.
Ross has a history of advocating for tariffs designed to protect American industries from the potentially harmful influence of inexpensive foreign goods and labor. He has called the North American Free Trade Agreement the, “poster child for unbalanced trade and investment.”
Ross also has little experience in public administration or international diplomacy. This fact does not bode well for the validity of his appointment to the office of Secretary of Commerce, despite his vast experience. His choosing only deepens the hole that Trump has been digging for himself, at the very least, with respect to his liberal critics. Just watch the protesters interrupting one of Ross’s confirmation hearings.
IV. Attorney General
Sen. Jeff Sessions is a painful choice of Attorney General for many Democrats. He has advocated for the infamous border fence, has managed to earn a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, and has, in the past, said of Roe v. Wade that it is one of the, “worst closely erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time.”
At a confirmation hearing, Sessions was questioned on a number of topics. The hearing was interrupted multiple times by protesters who, at one point, began chanting, “No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist USA.”
During the hearing, Sessions recused himself from involvement in further investigations of Hillary Clinton. He also acknowledged that he would not support waterboarding as U.S. Attorney General, a practice which Donald Trump wholeheartedly supports. Furthermore he stated that he would uphold the law as it applies to Roe v. Wade and to legal same-sex marriage.
On the subject of Islam, which has been one of Donald Trump’s most aggressive areas, Sessions stated, “I have no belief, and do not support, the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States.” He did qualify this by saying that there are systems of religious belief that are possibly dangerous to U.S. national security.
He further stated, “I would not favor a registry of Muslims in the United States […] And I think we should avoid surveillance of religious institutions unless there’s a basis to believe that dangerous or threatening illegal activity could be carried on there.”
V. Secretary of Health and Human Services
Tom Price has a voting history that makes most Democrats cringe. A relevant example would be his support of the Protect Life Act of 2011. One of Price’s most important tasks under the Trump administration will be to oversee the replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
There are allegations that Price engaged in illegal trading activities allowing him to benefit financially from his office by introducing legislation that would aid an Australian biotech firm that he had purchased stock in.
It still remains to be determined whether there was any wrongdoing, as Price contends that he was not responsible for carrying out the transactions. There are further allegations that Price has been engaging in such activities for years. Sen. Patty Murray has joined with other Democratic senators in calling for an investigation into Price’s trading activities.
On the topic of the Affordable Care Act, Murray said to Price, “Just last week, you voted to begin the process of ripping apart our health care system without any plan to replace it despite independent studies showing that nearly 30 million people would lose health care coverage.”
Price responded, saying, “Nobody’s interested in pulling a rug out from under anybody. We believe that it’s absolutely imperative that individuals that have health coverage be able to keep health coverage.”
Price’s statements and assurances of a replacement plan are not convincing to Democrats who feel that Republican efforts at replacement are hasty, poorly planned, and that they will ultimately result in severe economic damage.
VI. Secretary of Energy
When I first read that clueless Rick Perry was up for an appointment to be Secretary of Energy, I couldn’t believe it. Immediately, my mind shot to his forgetting that he had decided to eliminate the Department of Energy, as part of his platform, back in 2011. My first impression was that the statement was intended as a joke. It most definitely was not.
At a hearing on Thursday, Perry corrected himself, saying, “my past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking.”
In the past, Perry has made a project of questioning climate change. In 2011, he commented that, “there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” continuing to say that global warming is, “a scientific theory that has not been proven, and from my perspective is more and more being put into question.”
Furthermore, Rick Perry has been chosen to replace the current Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist, whose knowledge played an essential role in the negotiation of the Iranian Nuclear Accords.
A major responsibility of the Department of Energy is the management of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, which will now be under Perry’s watch. Another major responsibility of the agency is monitoring, containing, and disposing of nuclear waste, something that Perry will also now be in charge of.
Is he capable of performing at the established standard for this position? Possibly. Do I feel reassured that he will be U.S. Secretary of Energy? Not particularly.
VII. Secretary of Education
Wealthy, conservative Christian Betsy DeVos has become a controversial figure recently as a candidate for Secretary of Education. She has no experience working in education, and promises to implement reforms that have no proven track record of success.
Interestingly, Democrat Joe Lieberman stated of DeVos that, “She doesn’t come from within the education establishment. But honestly, I believe that today that’s one of the most important qualifications you could have for this job […] We need a change agent.”
Early on in the 2016 campaign, DeVos also made comments critical of Donald Trump, saying that, “I don’t think he represents the Republican party. I think he is an interloper.” Despite this fact, Trump has decided to nominate her for some reason. Evidently, many Republicans see DeVos as a promising pick, who offers radical future changes that will benefit their agendas.
Furthermore, teachers unions have viciously criticized Trump’s choice of DeVos. She has been a consistent proponent of school choice, and she has also been a supporter of both public charter schools and school vouchers. Additionally she is the founder of the American Federation for Children and the director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Prominent Democrats are rabid over her appointment. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was highly critical of DeVos at a confirmation hearing. When asked by Sen. Patty Murray if she would commit to neither work toward privatizing public schools nor to cut funding from public education, DeVos responded:
“Senator, thanks for that question. I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students. And we acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them. And I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”
VIII. Head of the Environmental Protection Agency
Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, is Donald Trump’s absurd appointment for head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has actively resisted the EPA for years and seems almost fundamentally opposed to its core interests. He also has deep connections with the oil and gas industry.
He has sued the agency on multiple occasions in an effort to combat what he sees as “unnecessary EPA regulations.” In 2008, Pruitt signed the No Climate Tax Pledge, promising to, “oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in federal revenue.”
A letter issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and signed by almost 200 different environmental, health, and public interest groups, protests Pruitt’s appointment. It reads, in part:
“[Scott Pruitt] has sued the EPA to overturn standards to curb mercury and other toxic air pollutants that will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks per year. He has sued to void standards to reduce soot and smog pollution projected to prevent up to 15,000 non-fatal heart attacks, 34,000 premature deaths, and 400,000 asthma attacks every year. […] He sued unsuccessfully to overturn the EPA’s scientific endangerment determination that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping air pollutants are harmful. And he has sued to block the EPA from setting any limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the nation’s largest polluter.”
In an interview on November 10, Pruitt addressed the administration’s approach to the EPA, saying, “I believe that there’s going to be significant regulatory change on day one […] I think there’ll be executive orders that will be issued that will undo many of the—President Obama’s executive action in the energy space [….]”
At a hearing on Wednesday, the Oklahoma Attorney General was subject to a series of relatively aggressive questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders concluding with Sander’s statement that he would not support Pruitt for head of the EPA.
IX. Secretary of Labor
Andrew Puzder, like many of Trump’s other cabinet appointments, has no previous political experience apart from his having been an economic adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2011. He does, however, have experience in an enormous corporation that employs thousands of employees in minimum wage jobs as the CEO of CKE Restaurants.
Puzder has opposed raising the minimum wage, and supports dismantling the Affordable Care Act. He has been a severe critic of the Obama Administration arguing that government handouts do little more than breed poverty and dependence.
There is little that leads one to believe that he is qualified to be Secretary of Labor apart from his experience as a corporate executive. Puzder’s confirmation has been delayed until early February.
X. Chief White House Strategist
Steve Bannon, Trump’s choice for Chief White House Strategist, is another former Goldman Sachs employee. Bannon was also a founding member of the ultra right-wing Breitbart News. He was the Chief Executive of Trump’s presidential campaign and has absolutely no political experience beyond that.
In November, over 169 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter addressed directly to Donald Trump requesting that he rescind Bannon’s appointment in the interests of building a more diverse and unifying cabinet. The letter states that, “As the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, Mr. Bannon repeatedly and aggressively pushed stories that promote anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism.”
As Donald Trump’s virgin administration approaches it remains to be seen what he will be able to accomplish. It also remains to be seen precisely what effects his accomplishments will have on the American people. He has made several controversial and inexperienced picks for cabinet positions that may leave one deeply concerned for the future of the United States.
Together, they will pick apart many of the unprecedented reforms introduced by the Obama administration. They will also work to erode the rights women and the poor, and to allow corporate America a seemingly free reign over the environment in the interests of augmenting profitability.
His picks bring to mind the image of a nasty corporatocracy forming on the horizon. It is also evident that some of the agenda promises he made on the campaign trail are frightening to the average liberal for other social reasons. The only option those Democrats have is to speak out and to continue to speak out as time goes on.