“Live from New York! It’s Saturday Night!” belts actor Brian Cranston, reprising his character Walter White from the television show Breaking Bad. White, a school teacher turned drug dealer, has been nominated to lead Trump’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). It’s a big laugh, but also a shrewd take on the incoming president’s approach to his appointments. He’s putting a fox in every henhouse.
Of course, this is no laughing matter. Often painted by pundits as a crude buffoon who got lucky in the election and is bumbling through a transition to power, Trump is no idiot. He is a master manipulator with a master plan to make an all-out assault on the working class, the environment, civil rights and those in need. His cabinet nominees and closest advisors are a rogues gallery of billionaires, corporate titans, and right wing zealots, many with long histories of racist, sexist and anti-LGBTQ policies. Clearly, the portion of the capitalist class Trump represents is done being subtle, and is ready to take the attack to a new level.
The cabinet needs confirmation by the Senate, and Republicans have a narrow 52 to 48 majority. That means that if the Democrats were really champions of working people, they could obstruct Trump’s plans through use of the filibuster, as Republicans have. But based on their anti-labor and pro-Wall Street history, don’t hold your breath.
There are a few dozen who make up the Trump inner circle. We will examine six of them, and their agendas.
Rex Tillerson — Secretary of State. The press has made much of Tillerson — CEO of ExxonMobil — and his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, has signed lucrative oil exploration contracts with Russian oil companies. But the issue is bigger than that. Exxon is also the company whose own scientists raised the peril of global warming back in the 1970s, after which the company engaged in a long campaign of climate change denial. Tillerson was nominated to pave the way for the most unrestricted exploitation of resources, and the freest possible flow of capital globally.
Steve Mnuchin — Secretary of the Treasury. As with Trump, Mnuchin inherited daddy’s fortune and proceeded to become a bottom feeder of the capitalist class. One of four billionaires in the inner circle, he is a paper-shifting hedge fund vulture of the type that Trump railed against in his campaign. Mnuchin’s masterpiece is the orchestration of a group of investors (including “progressive” billionaire George Soros) to take over housing lender IndyMac in 2009. The FDIC (a U.S. government underwriter of banks) acquired a failing IndyMac after the financial meltdown, but Mnuchin and pals took it off the FDIC’s hands risk free, pocketing billions in dividends, and leaving U.S. tax payers holding the toxic remnants. Expect Mnuchin to unleash capitalism’s natural chaos on the working public once again.
Andrew Puzder — Secretary of Labor. Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains. Most people have never heard of him unless they are investors in CKE or workers who are party to the many wage, overtime, safety and discrimination lawsuits against the company. He’s a big opponent of a higher minimum wage. Interestingly, he differs with Trump’s supposed position on immigration, possibly because he knows that immigrant labor works in the fields and slaughter houses that produce the inputs for his restaurants. This guy is the most anti-labor labor secretary ever proposed for the office. Whether workers are unemployed, hold low-paid service jobs, in the public sector, or in higher paid technology, Andrew Puzder is an opponent.
Betsy DeVos — Secretary of Education. If there is a cabinet nominee whose choice screams right wing true believer, it is Betsy DeVos. Born into a billionaire family, she is married to Dick DeVos, heir of the Amway fortune. Her brother is Erik Prince, founder of the notorious war-profiteering Blackwater Corporation. And her family helped fund the startup of the Family Research Council, an influential anti-gay and anti-abortion lobbyist organization. But it is her fervent advocacy of “school choice” (read: replacement of public schools with unaccountable, privately operated but publicly funded charter schools) that made her Trump’s candidate for Secretary of Education. The new administration will try to gut the public school system on a national level, in the same way that DeVos did in Detroit and throughout the state of Michigan.
Ben Carson — Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. A retired neurosurgeon, Carson was a Trump competitor for the Republican nomination, and like most of his team has never worked in government. By his own admission, he has no experience in the area he is nominated to lead, other than that he “grew up in the inner city.” Perfect! He is likely to stack the agency, which oversees housing programs for low income people, with ideologues who will undermine it. He wrote an op-ed in 2015 calling HUD (among other agencies and government programs) a “failed socialist experiment.” Now he will be in charge of it. Just like Walter White running the DEA.
Jeff Sessions — Attorney General. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is a passionate racist, xenophobe and anti-Muslim rogue. An advisor to Trump throughout the campaign, he is allied with three vile anti-immigrant groups: the Federation for American Immigration Reform, named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center; the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant think tank; and NumbersUSA, a xenophobic organizing arm. The Alabama NAACP staged a sit-in at Sessions’ office in early January to highlight his long history of voter suppression and opposition to civil rights. Sessions’ ideology is in perfect alignment with Trump advisor Newt Gingrich’s brainstorm to reboot the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which targeted radicals, civil rights fighters and immigrant labor organizers in the 1950s.
There isn’t room here to cover all the rogues. But dishonorable mentions go to Iraq war criminal James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense, who along with Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor and John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security will form a perfect imperial “partnership” with Rex Tillerson to make the world truly safe for capital. Vice President Mike Pence will find similar company in Betsy DeVos, Jeff Sessions and Ben Carson in their long-standing battle against LGBTQ rights. Major other henhouse foxes are presidential chief strategist and white nationalist Steve Bannon and oil-loving Rick Perry as Energy Secretary.
Trump is assembling a truly draconian bunch. It will take broad, multi-issue organizing on a national level to keep these rogues in check.
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