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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Trump’s Team of Saboteurs

As Donald Trump’s proposed Cabinet takes shape, we are all a bit taken aback by the number of people he is choosing who have no experience or whose experience is a total mismatch with the job in question. But there is a more alarming feature of Team Trump, which I discussed earlier this week at New York:

[T]he most disturbing feature of the Trump cabinet so far is the number of appointees who do not believe in the core missions of the agencies they are being asked to run. Indeed, they seem designed to sabotage any effort to fulfill those missions.

We will have a pretty dramatic example in former Texas governor Rick Perry, whom Trump has tapped as his secretary of Energy. Perry famously proposed to eliminate that department (and two others) during his first run for president in 2012, and even more famously could not remember its name in a candidate debate that probably doomed his White House aspirations. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t repeat that same pledge in his subsequent presidential run, though his underlying hostility to any energy policy deeper than “Drill, baby, drill” did not seem to change.

Other Trump cabinet picks are equally conspicuous in their near-hatred for the historic roles of the entities they may soon supervise.

Perhaps by the time of his confirmation hearings, EPA Administrator–designee Scott Pruitt may be able to think of a single EPA regulation he favors. But it will take some hard work and ingenuity to find it. His official biography as Oklahoma’s attorney general boasts that this fossil-fuel enthusiast is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” The venerable Sierra Club described his appointment as “like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”

Labor Secretary–designee Andrew Puzder, CEO of the company that owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardees fast-food chains, will if confirmed have the rare distinction of rapidly moving from being a prime target of a federal agency’s regulatory efforts to becoming its chief. He has opposed higher minimum wages, the expanded overtime pay rules promulgated by the Obama administration, and (of course) making companies that operate through franchises accountable for the labor practices of franchisees. The department he has been tapped to lead found that more than half of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations had wage violations, according to a Bloomberg BNA analysis this year.

Trump’s choice for Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is part of a husband-wife billionaire team that has devoted its time for decades to the cause of making public funds available to private schools via vouchers or to minimally regulated charter schools. It says a lot that some education advocates are reassuring themselves that the damage she could do to public schools will be contained by the relatively limited role of the federal government in K-12 education.

It would not be accurate to say putative attorney general Jeff Sessions would just as soon shut down the U.S. Department of Justice. But it is true that in many respects he will execute a 180-degree turn in the policies and priorities of his department, much like Puzder can be expected to do. Sessions is almost certain, for example, to stop prosecuting recently proliferating incidents of state and local government voting-rights violations and instead ramp up prosecution of the phantom menace of “voter fraud.”

The appointment that is perhaps hardest to explain (other than as perpetuation of the job involved as a “diversity hire”) is Dr. Ben Carson at HUD. He has zero experience in this field. But he has manifested a strong hostility to federal anti-poverty efforts, which makes him another potential warrior against his own employees.

It is easy to say Trump has decided to make these sort of “screw you” appointments because he and/or his voters hate Washington generally, or hate do-gooder “liberal” agencies especially. But he could have used appointments to “enemy agencies” to build bridges to potentially hostile constituencies — or even to supply patronage.

Why is he waging war on big elements of the Executive branch of government that is now his own turf? That will only become clear when his administration’s full agenda is rolled out. Quite likely he plans big cuts in federal programs and/or changes of direction in the energy, environmental, labor, housing, and legal-affairs areas, and wants people in his cabinet who will cheer the evisceration of their jurisdictions instead of lobbying him to reverse it. An alternative theory is that he doesn’t much care about some of these agencies and is giving them over to people with powerfully bad intentions as a reward or inducement for loyalty. And as is the case with many new presidents, Trump could grow tired of his initial team and remake it before long.

As it stands, he’s going to need to make sure his cabinet members have funding for their own food tasters. Instead of a creative “team of rivals,” Trump seems to have decided on a destructive team of saboteurs.

One comment on “Trump’s Team of Saboteurs

  1. Nancy DiTomaso on

    I am amazed that even on the left Donald Trump is being discussed as if he were a normal candidate, with a policy agenda that he intends to pursue, but that he has just not revealed sufficiently yet. On the contrary, it seems clear that his motivations are not ideological but personal. Becoming president is a way to enrich himself and his family, evidently both while in office, and especially beyond. To do so, he is an instrument of two factions that can pursue their respective agenda by playing one off against the other. The choice of Mike Pence as a Vice President effectively joined these two factions, the right-wing (alt-right) internationalists with close ties and presumably financial ties to Russia, Turkey, and wherever the oil industry is a player, and the right-wing Republicans with a domestic agenda to destroy what is left of the social safety net, give yet more budget-busting tax breaks to the rich, and to undermine any remaining belief that government is an instrument of good. The Republican leadership will support the international agenda as long as they get what they want in a domestic agenda, and the internationalists will support the domestic agenda as long as they can pursue policies that further their plans, no matter what chaos is created internationally. Trump seems closer to those with the international agenda because that is the avenue to his goals for enhancing his wealth, and he can threaten to attack Republican leaders who might try to stand in the way of his administration pursuing these policies. At the sames time, the Republican leaders can hold impeachment over his head for the myriad conflicts of interest if he reneges on any of their domestic agenda. All around a very dangerous situation for democracy in the U.S. and around the world. Don’t forget that the emergence of the New Right under the Reagan administration used the same tactic of appointing cabinet members who were foes of the agencies they were supposed to lead, and also used secondary tactics of not appointing cabinet secretaries for a long time for those agencies that they wanted not to be able to function or delayed picking cabinet under secretaries so that the agencies could not function. Under Reagan, especially in the first term, it was a strategy of doing administratively what couldn’t get done legislatively. Under Trump, with both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, they can act both administratively and legislatively to ill effect.

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