President elect Trump has been such a shape-shifter over the course of his campaign that what he really stands for, if anything other than his oversized ego, will be revealed over the coming months. Yet as much as it seems quixotic to believe than such a rank novice to politics could walk into the biggest job in the world and do anything other than make an utter hash of it, Trump has managed to beat astonishing odds thus far. And perhaps as interesting, some savvy contacts have suggested, analogous to Trump’s narrow electoral college path to victory, there are similarly routes available to Trump by which he could implement the programs that appear to be core to his campaign, and would result in him holding on to his base and even extending his appeal.
In an important video we posted today, political scientist Tom Ferguson underscored a fact that the mainstream media would very much like the public to forget in its continuing demonization of Trump: both parties abandoned their bases. Trump found power in the street by appealing directly to a large swathe of those abandoned voters. If he is to make use of that power, he must control enough of the apparatus of government to implement policies that deliver tangible benefits to them.
Trump has zigged and zagged. Recall he sounded almost leftist when demolishing his primary opponents, and then moved to the right in order to get a minimal level of cooperation from the party and look more like a traditional Republican. We’ll see in due course what version of Trump is the one that the voters got. Antifa summarized Trump’s victory speech, which is the best approximation of what he deems his priorities to be now, and pointed out why he will have an uphill battle:
In Trump’s acceptance speech he said four encouraging things:
* America wants to live in peace with all other nations — no more wars, no more invasions.
* He mentioned that he has over 200 retired generals and admirals consulting with him, which raises the possibility that this was just maybe a Pentagon-led insurrection against Hillary’s plans for WWIII. The Pentagon has never won an honest war game against Iran, and most admirals admit that our sixteen aircraft carriers are just fat, slow targets for swarms of supersonic Russian and Chinese and Iranian missiles. The Pentagon doesn’t want a real war; they just want more money for new toys.
* He said we are going to rebuild our infrastructure here at home.
* He said we will create millions of jobs here rebuilding our infrastructure.
None of that is edible to a neoliberal.
Trump appears to be at a serious disadvantage by virtue of not having control of his party and lacking a deep bench of experts that he can turn to, much the less put into key positions. Thus based on a superficial analysis, it would seem easy for the Republican hackocracy to thwart Trump. He has literally thousands of positions in the executive branch to fill. It is Republican old hands, and not he, that has a rolodex of suitable players to fill those slots. But those candidates would be loyal to their long-standing corporate allies, not Trump.
However, in reality, what Trump needs to have is the loyalty of a surprisingly small number of key positions, such as economic policy makers (such as the Secretary of the Treasury, the members of the Council of Economic Advisers) and key players in the military-surveillance state. Contrary to my expectations, John Helmer, who saw first hand how the Democratic party rolled Jimmy Carter, another outsider who wound up being largely stymied when he came to Washington by not getting effective control of the bureaucracy, thinks Trump can roust the neocons, which is critical to one of his popular promises: winding down our wasteful conflicts. Via e-mail:
If Trump has the conviction and stamina, he can eliminate neocons from State and Pentagon, and purge CIA ops. The advisors available, already declared on his side (excepting Negroponte), know how to do this.
I remember the Carter Transition well – and my dismay grew as no matter what we recommended as staff, Carter kept making appointments that were certain to hamstring his policy choices – Brzezinski was the first and most damaging. I did better at restricting all appointees with Harvard backgrounds (excepting myself), but Carter, despite his capacity to cogitate, study, his gubernatorial experience, and the qualities of his wife Rosalynn, he suffered from an inferiority complex and the need to please. I blamed the ghost of Rickover at the time. Trump doesn’t have nerve endings in that part of his body.
However, Trump also has some advantages. By virtue of having run such a lean and unconventional campaign, and by relying heavily on small dollar donations, Trump has to give far fewer patronage positions away to major donors than his predecessors. Helmer independently made the same point: “Who are the top-5 people he thinks he owes for his election?”
I’m not sure I have a good list, and readers who have been watching the Trump show more closely are very much encouraged to correct and improve it. These are the names that I am most certain belong in the top 5:
Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner
Ivanka is the only good name on this list.
Trump has other long-standing business allies, such Carl Ichan, who he has named as his pick for Secretary of the Treasury (and before you reel, as I did when I first heard his name, he is in favor of both major infrastructure spending and running deficits. If he were to turn out to be a Republican that didn’t foist the usual horror of public-private partnerships on us, that would compensate for a lot of other warts). Wilbur Ross is also close to Trump and not as terrible as one might think (he bought distressed mortgages and doing deep principal mods, a successful model with the Obama Administration chose to ignore). But he also has some more horrorshows, like Steve Feinberg of Cerberus (but his razing of industrial America may force Trump to keep him at arm’s length).
Moreover, as the Associated Press points out, Trump’s transition team has a solid representation of Republican insiders, including Mike Pence, who Trump as repeatedly slapped in public for crossing him:
Trump’s senior team huddled privately to begin a more focused period of transition planning. The group included the transition chairman, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and daughter Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, among others.
Of all the names involved with Trump, the one who is the most troubling is Giuliani, who is slotted to be Trump’s attorney general. If it were not for 9/11 rescuing his reputation, Giuliani would have gone down as a not-well-regarded New York mayor. He took credit for bringing down crime in the city, when crime rates fell in big cities all over the US in the same time frame. The big culprit instead appears to be the delayed impact of getting lead out of gasoline. In his second term, Giuliani put most of his energy into pointless fights, like his war on ferrets, his nixing every petition to demonstrate in front of City Hall (which judges always overruled), and threatening to defund the Brooklyn Museum of Art unless it cancelled an art show that included a feces-coated rendering of the Virgin Mary.
Giuliani is a worrisome choice not only for his disregard for civil liberties and his pettiness, but also his affinity for unqualified and crooked toadies. Giuliani canned his first police chief, William Bratton, because he was upstaging the mayor as a crime buster, and replaced him with the notably underqualified Bernard Kerik, whose main reason for elevation appeared to be that he had been part of Giuliani’s protective detail. To keep a long story short, Kerik joined Guilaini at his investigation and security firm, Giuliani partners, and later sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud and making false statements to the White House during a background check. It has to be noted that Giuliani Partners has had some very unsavory clients, such as (per Wikipedia):
Hank Asher, an admitted drug smuggler and millionaire founder of companies that perform electronic information gathering (datamining) on individuals…
…Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, in a case against the Drug Enforcement Administration, Giuliani Partners negotiated a $2 million fine and no further penalty for what the DEA called “lax security” at plants that produced the drug, which the DEA said was being used as a recreational drug. The lead DEA investigator later said that Purdue Pharma escaped harsher penalties in the case because of Giuliani’s connections to government officials. Giuliani later represented Purdue Pharma in a recently settled case in which the DEA accused the company of marketing OxyContin by playing down its level of addictive properties. Giuliani met with government lawyers six times to help negotiate a settlement in the case.
Purdue Pharma is the company arguably most responsible for savaging the communities that turned to Trump as rescuer. As Anne Case and Angus Deaton pointed out in a seminal study, the lifespans of less educated whites aged 45 to 54 had actually fallen in a heretofore unrecognized AIDS-level health crisis. The biggest cause of the increase in deaths was addiction to opiates and alcohol. But will anyone in the right wing press point out that their supposed law and order hero has gotten huge amounts of blood money from their neighbors and possibly even family members?
So while there is some reason to think that Trump might remarkably be able to deliver on his plan to rein in the war mongerers, the odds for the rest of his populist promises don’t look so hot based on his list of advisors. Stay tuned.