Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Is there a concept behind Trump's cabinet choices?

Is there any uniting concept of government revealed in President-Elect Trump's choices for his cabinet?   Or, as Charles Pierce puts it:   "What is the secret sauce?"   Here are some characteristics that show up frequently:

1.   Retired military generals -- especially those whose hawkish aggression clashed with the Obama administration.   (National Security Adviser, Sec. of Defense, Sec. of Homeland Security).   Many people, me included, think we should put civilians in control of the military.    With these three appointments, Trump is doing the opposite:   putting military hawks in charge of the military.

2.  Huge wealth, so far including three billionaires and six multi-millionaires, some with strong ties to Goldman Sachs and Wall Street.   (Sec. of Treasury, Sec. of Commerce, Sec. of Education).

3.  Loyalty to Trump (Sen. Sessions as Attorney General).   But there are also some notable exceptions that make it seem to be more of a negative factor:   Giuliani, Christie, and Gingrich did not get appointments.

4.  Retribution.   For all the "courting" that Trump seemed to be doing with Mitt Romney to get him to come on board as Sec. of State, despite his denunciation of Trump during the campaign, in the end maybe writer Charles Pierce was right.   Pierce predicted that Trump was just setting Mitt up, by courting him, to make the humiliation of NOT picking him even more cruel.   Roger Stone claims it was deliberate, Trump's way of humiliating Romney as payback.   It also defanged Romney from attacking in the future.   How many times can you reverse yourself?  

5.  Ties to Russia.   During the campaign, Trump let it be known his great admiration for Vladimir Putin.   His second campaign manager had to resign because of his ties to Russian and Ukraine strong men;  and a second campaign adviser also severed ties with the campaign because of his extensive ties to Putin and his extensive business dealings with Russians.    Now Trump has named a Sec. of State who is the CEO of Exxon-Mobile with huge oil contracts in Russia, as well as a personal relationship with Putin.    Russia's official media is extolling the praises of CEO Rex Tillerson.   In addition to his business connections, he has lobbied against the sanctions on Russia;  he has received a Russian Order of Friendship medal.    Although Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio are all "concerned" about this appointment and plan to question him on his Russian positions during his confirmation hearings, Tillerson's appointment was supported by former George Bush administration officials James Baker and Condalessa Rice.    As to his qualifications, not having previously worked in government, Tillerson is said to have a vast understanding of geopolitics.   But from a business, not a diplomatic, standpoint.

6.   Hate the agency they're in charge of.   Beyond the above identified important factors in appointments, many of the others seem to have the common, not-so-secret sauce of wanting to eliminate the thing itself.   I suppose you could translate that to the concept: shrink the size of government, so Trump has nominated:

     a.  Sec. of Education who hates public schools;  wants to convert to vouchers.
     b.  Sec. of Labor who hates labor unions and minimum wage.
     c.  EPA head who is a climate skeptic.
     d.  Sec. of Health and Human Services who wants to eliminate ACA and move toward privatizing and black grants to states.
     e.  Sec. of HUD who once said he would not be qualified for a cabinet position.  Many tend to agree with him (Ben Carson).
     f.   Sec. of Energy who couldn't remember its name in a 2012 debate when he wanted to list it as one of three cabinet departments he would eliminate.   Well, Rick Perry hasn't been officially named yet, but it was leaked yesterday.
     g.  Attorney General Sessions is said to be a tough prosecutor and was a state AG.   But, at a very sensitive time in race relations, the AG has a racist past and will be in charge of enforcing racial justice and criminal justice reform for the nation.
So, is there a unifying concept?     Probably not.  There are some identifiable reasons but they seem fragmented, disparate.    Just like Trump himself.

It's not all bad.   There are some good appointments, in terms of competence, leaving aside political policy differences.  Sec. of Defense Mattis is highly thought of, as is Sec. of Homeland Security Kelly, but they are offset by the very bad choice of  Gen. Michael Flynn as NSA -- as well as the fact that all three nominees are retired generals instead of civilians. 

Nikki Haley at the United Nations is an unknown on the international scene, but she is a rising star in the GOP.   Elaine Chao as Sec. of Transportation at least has experience in George Bush's cabinet as Sec. of Labor.  [However, DailyKos has raised a question as to whether this appointment was a payoff by Trump to Mitch McConnell (Ms. Chao's husband) for McConnell's keeping quiet about the Trump/Russia connections.   I don't have any other source to confirm that -- although I do think there is a lot more to the Russia connection that we know yet.]

And it's a diverse cabinet (except for the exceptional number of very the wealthy).  So far, nearly one-third are women.    So far, Trump's list of appointees to cabinet and other top positions (like head of Medicare/Medicaid) includes one African-American, one Asian-American, and two Indian-Americans.


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