If folks asked a year ago— “what cabinet would any anti-Obama, anti-union, anti-poor people, anti-minority, anti-government, pro-Russian, macho, self-centered billionaire pick?” — we might be less stunned at Trump’s nominations. Despite empty blather about unpredictability, Trump’s post-election first team and boringly erratic behavior could not be more predictable.
Sure, he’s shed much of the redemptive “populist” hustle, but not his core folly the White House exists as springboard for Trump’s self-serving fame, glory and treasure. Even the nominees who disagree on side issues (tariffs, trade, Russia or Chinese saber-rattling) now own his deranged worldview, flattering themselves that they can reason with the Donald.
Who’s shocked Goldman Sachs serves as boot camp for Trump’s Wall Street-friendly, corporate elitism? Or that reactionary CEOs, vetted by having “made a fortune,” should be anointed to run America, Inc.? No non-profit, that. Or that gung-ho military types now displace what should demonstrably remain civilian oversight, as at Defense? Or that an extremist senator, a dinosaur on justice and rights, could run the Justice Dept.? Or that key agencies (EPA, Housing, Education) get handed over to forces hostile to core missions?
And if Karl Rove wasn’t sufficiently ruthless, enter political strategist Steve Bannon, the ominous Brietbart ideologue. Nearly every Trump appointment answers not just to his overwrought campaign rhetoric but tunnel vision, scorn against dissenters (even ignorant denial of U.S. intelligence on Russia), and defiance against conflicts of interest. With laughably inept choices, like Ben Carson, the Trump gang qualifies as rightwing dream team teeming with anti-worker, anti-abortion true believers, convinced that expansive, topdown global corporatism knows best — about everything — that unfettered capitalism provides the only god-given engine to achieve paradise on earth.
Despite pep rally guarantees about great jobs and lifestyles, this cabinet exposes the heart-less-ness of Trumpery — just give the most potent, establishment octopi their head and let ‘em rip. Put billionaire CEOs and/or staunchly-obedient military chiefdoms in charge — that’s how America gets great again. Forget about crony corruption, exploitation, massive resource externalities with costly public clean-up— these are, like climate change, little more than propaganda rife with hoaxes.
Attack the D.C. swamp, but not capitalism run amok, increasingly capable of consuming itself. We now know that Trump will govern as he campaigned, true to the rightwingery he sniffed out as his only venue to power. There’s an unfunny joke going around: Trump ran as a Republican because he’d never sucker enough Democrats to win.
So now let’s count the ways President-elect Trump is Mr. Predictable:
- Trump’s cabinet is less about helping jobless, white, small-town workers than further empowering those who’ve “made a fortune,” favoring deregulated super-capitalism with an alt-right tilt. This is the least intellectually diverse, most regressive cabinet since Coolidge. Where are the great job creators who understand the misery of workers?
- On foreign affairs, Trump’s post-election Ugly Americanism lurches on, distilling his knee-jerk, anti-Muslim belligerence, still promoting disruptive stereotypes that crush nuance and baffle key allies.
- Scratch all delusions Trump knows how to be presidential, as his erratic, deceptive, thin-skinned twitter wars continue, bullying individuals and badgering corporations for one-day headlines.
- Expect greater secrecy on global Trump assets and deals, without glimmers about how many millions he owes and to whom. His huge wall stands against transparency, begun by hiding tax returns, furthered by stonewalled against even semi-blind trusts.
- Is more crass nepotism not looming, Trump already having dragged family fat cats into high-level government decisions, on personnel and policy, as if voters elected the entire Trump mafia as lordly overseers.
- Disregard the specious, casual backtracking on what he considers trivial — waterboarding, jailing Hillary, climate change. His strictly conservative “board of directors” will efficiently take care of top agendas closer to his heart.
- Predictably, the rhetoric of outrage returns at rallies, plus total assurances Trump already commands enough power bases he will dictate immigration policies, tariffs and trade agreements, lower drug prices, even suspend global job outsourcing. As if Congress, if not reality vanished.
- Most predictable of all: Trump’s disgraceful default to rightwing billionaire/libertarian/trickle-down economics (tax relief for the rich, scandalous deregulation, more crony capitalism), without programs for worker retraining, education or support for struggling families and youth.
- More Trump identification with autocratic strongmen (from Russia and Syria to Indonesia), along with Constitutional ignorance about already protected civil and human rights (citizenship never at stake with flag burning).
His post-election demagoguery matches campaign flummery, doubling down on the crudest success measures, that “winning” is wholly measured in the number of “deals done,” however superficial or symbolic. Anyone heard about cutting corporate welfare subsidies, say on oil drilling, amidst the whining about overpriced jet planes contracted years ago? Trump won’t believe Russian hacking any more than he does earth-shaking environmental damage from a myriad of sources. What we see is what we get, and neither systemic change, nor unpredictability looms.
Wielding the Arc of History
Trump ran on force of personality, loyal to an outdated Great Man Theory of history. He still believes that empowering that once-a-generation dominant figure will bend the arc of history towards greatness. Poppycock. Need we not puzzle how plutocratic “winners,” expert in amassing private wealth, have a clue how to perform public service, gaining the best results for the most people? Further, just because Trump’s singular virtue is not having been tainted by Washington, does that make this illogic true for the bulk of his terrible picks? We’re talking about walking a wilderness without a map —and that makes getting lost a high probability.
Ultimately, what’s most predictable and most troubling is that Trump’s smug confidence — inflated after his shocking victory — will only increase his nerviness. Winning confirms the worst message: if he can sell the vacuous “make America great again,” he can sell any malarkey. That’s why critics fret Trump campaign demagoguery can turn into something worse, akin to fascism, the close partnership of government and big business where domination shreds the sovereignty of the democratically-governed.
Since many of his picks bring no more government experience than does Trump, this final consistency emerges: underlings will not displace or outshine the boss. Not one of them has the charisma or chutzpah, the celebrity or intuitive genius to “manage” the public — thus none are likely to obscure his glory. In Trump’s self-absorbed world of spectacle, misdirection and magic, the hero must at all times sustain his shining image. For image is Trump’s ultimate currency, and his less charismatic cabinet will “get deals done” that make him look good — or they will be summarily fired. Just like on TV, he knows how to do without blinking when the staff you hire falls short. That prediction is 100%.