Nomi Prins: Trump’s Bait and Switch — How to Swamp Washington and Double-Cross Your Supporters Big Time

By Nomi Prins, a former Wall Street executive and the author of six books, a speaker, and a distinguished senior fellow at the non-partisan public policy institute, Demos. Her most recent book,All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (Nation Books). has just been released in paperback and this piece is adapted and updated from it. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece. Originally published at TomDispatch

Given his cabinet picks so far, it’s reasonable to assume that The Donald finds hanging out with anyone who isn’t a billionaire (or at least a multimillionaire) a drag. What would there be to talk about if you left the Machiavellian class and its exploits for the company of the sort of normal folk you can rouse at a rally?  It’s been a month since the election and here’s what’s clear: crony capitalism, the kind that festers and grows when offered public support in its search for private profits, is the order of the day among Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. Forget his own “conflicts of interest.” Whatever financial, tax, and other policies his administration puts in place, most of his appointees are going to profit like mad from them and, in the end, Trump might not even wind up being the richest member of the crew.

Only a month has passed since November 8th, but it’s already clear (not that it wasn’t before) that Trump’s anti-establishment campaign rhetoric was the biggest scam of his career, one he pulled off perfectly. As president-elect and the country’s next CEO-in-chief, he’s now doing what many presidents have done: doling out power to like-minded friends and associates, loyalists, and — think John F. Kennedy, for instance — possibly family. 

Here, however, is a major historical difference: the magnitude of Trump’s cronyism is off the charts, even for Washington. Of course, he’s never been a man known for doing small and humble. So his cabinet, as yet incomplete, is already the richest one ever. Estimates of how loaded it will be are almost meaningless at this point, given that we don’t even know Trump’s true wealth (and will likely never see his tax returns). Still, with more billionaires at the doorstep, estimates of the wealth of his new cabinet members and of the president-elect range from my own guesstimate of about $12 billion up to $35 billion. Though the process is as yet incomplete, this already reflects at least a quadrupling of the wealth represented by Barack Obama’s cabinet.

Trump’s version of a political and financial establishment, just forming, will be bound together by certain behavioral patterns born of relationships among those of similar status, background, social position, legacy connections, and an assumed allegiance to a dogma of self-aggrandizement that overshadows everything else. In the realm of politico-financial power and in Trump’s experience and ideology, the one with the most toys always wins. So it’s hardly a surprise that his money- and power-centric cabinet won’t be focused on public service or patriotism or civic duty, but on the consolidation of corporate and private gain at the expense of the citizenry.

It’s already obvious that, to Trump, “draining the swamp” means filling it with new layers of golden sludge, similar in color to the decorations that adorn buildings with his name, including the new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House where foreign diplomats are already flocking to curry favor and even the toilet paper holders in the lobby bathrooms are faux-gold-plated.

The rarified world of his cabinet choices is certainly a universe away from the struggling working class folks he bamboozled with promises of bringing back American “greatness.” And yet the soaring value of his cabinet should be seen as merely a departure point for our four-year (or more) leap into what is guaranteed to be an abyss of inequality and instability. Forget their wealth. What their business conflicts, relationships, and ideological stances indicate about what they’ll do to America is far more worrisome. And though Trump promised (and tweeted) that he’d be “completely out of business operations,” the possibility of such a full exit for him (or any of his crew) is about as likely as a full reveal of those tax returns.

Trumping History

There is, in fact, some historical precedent for a president surrounding himself with such a group of self-interested power-grabbers, but you’d have to return to Warren G. Harding’s administration in the early 1920s to find it. The “Roaring Twenties” that ended explosively in a stock market collapse in 1929 began, ominously enough, with a presidency filled with similar figures, as well as policies remarkably similar to those now being promised under Trump, including major tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and the deregulation of Wall Street.

A notably weak figure, Harding liberally delegated policymaking to the group of senior Republicans he chose to oversee his administration who were dubbed “the Ohio gang” (though they were not all from Ohio). Scandal soon followed, above all the notorious Teapot Dome incident in which Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leased petroleum reserves owned by the Navy in Wyoming and California to two private oil companies without competitive bidding, receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks in return. That scandal and the attention it received darkened Harding’s administration. Until the Enron scandal of 2001-2002, it would serve as the poster child for money (and oil) in politics gone bad. Given Donald Trump’s predisposition for green-lighting pipelines and promoting fossil fuel development, a modern reenactment of Teapot Dome is hardly beyond imagining.

Harding’s other main contributions to American history involved two choices he made. He offered businessman Herbert Hoover the job of secretary of commerce and so put him in play to become president in the years just preceding the Great Depression.  And in a fashion that now looks Trumpian, he also appointed one of the richest men on Earth, billionaire Andrew Mellon, as his treasury secretary.  Mellon, a Pittsburgh industrialist-financier, was head of the Mellon National Bank; he founded both the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), for which he’d be accused of unethical behavior while treasury secretary (as he still owned stock in the company and his brother was a close associate), and the Gulf Oil Company; and with Henry Clay Frick, he co-founded the Union Steel Company.

He promptly set to work — and this will sound familiar today — cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. At the same time, he essentially left Wall Street free to concoct the shadowy “trusts” that would use borrowed money to purchase collections of shares in companies and real estate, igniting the 1929 stock market crash. After Mellon, who had served three presidents, left Herbert Hoover’s administration, he fell under investigation for unpaid federal taxes and tax-related conflicts of interest.

Modernizing Warren G.

Within the political-financial establishment, the more things change, the more, it seems, they stay the same. As Trump moves ahead with his cabinet picks, several of them already stand out in a Mellon-esque fashion for their staggering wealth, their legal entanglements, and the policies they seem ready to support that sound like eerie throwbacks to the age of Harding.  Of course, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, so here are the top four of the moment (with more on the way).

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (net worth $2.9 billion)

Shades of Andrew Mellon, Ross, a registered Democrat until Trump scooped him up, made his fortune as a corporate vulture (sporting the nickname “the king of bankruptcy”).  He was notorious for devouring the carcasses of dying companies, spitting them out, and pocketing the profits.  He bought bankrupt steel companies, while moving $6.4 billion of their employee pension benefits to the rescue fund of the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation so he could make company financials look better. In the early 2000s, his steel industry deals bagged him an impressive $267 million. Stripped of health-care benefits, retired steelworkers at his companies didn’t fare as well.   

Trump, of course, has promised the world to the sinking coal industry and out-of-work coal miners. His new commerce secretary, however, owned a coal mine in West Virginia, notoriously cited for hundreds of violations, where 12 miners subsequently died in an explosion.  

Ross also made money running Rothschild Inc.’s bankruptcy-restructuring group for nearly two-and-a-half decades. A member (and once leader) of a secret Wall Street fraternity, Kappa Beta Phi, in 2014 he remarked that “the one percent is being picked on for political reasons.” He has an art collection valued conservatively at $150 million, or 3,000 times the average American’s income of $51,000. In addition, he happens to own a Florida estate only miles down the road from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club.

While Trump has lambasted China for stealing American jobs, Ross (like Trump) has made money from China. In 2010, one of that country’s state-owned enterprises, China Investment Corporation, put $500 million in Ross’s private equity fund, WL Ross & Company. Ross has not disclosed whether these investments remain in his fund, though he told the New York Post that if Trump believes there are conflicts of interest among any of his investments, he would divest himself of them. In August 2016, his company had to pay a $2.3 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges for not properly disclosing $10.4 million in management fees charged to his investors in the decade leading up to 2011.

In October, Ross assured Bloomberg that China will continue to be an investment opportunity.  As secretary of commerce, the world will become his personal business venture and boardroom, while U.S. taxpayers will be his funders. He is an ardent crusader for corporate tax cuts (wanting to slash them from 35% to 15%). As head of the commerce department, the man the Economist dubbed “Mr. Protectionism” in 2004 will be in charge of any protectionist policies the administration implements.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (family wealth $5.1 billion)

DeVos, the daughter of a billionaire and daughter-in-law of the cofounder of the multilevel marketing empire Amway, has had no actual experience with public schools. Unlike most of the rest of America (myself included), she never attended a public school, nor have any of her children. (Neither did Trump.) But she and her family have excelled at the arithmetic of campaign contributions. They are estimated to have contributed at least $200 million to shaping the conservative movement and various right-wing causes over the last half-century.  As she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call in 1997, “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee.” That trend only continued in the years that followed. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1989 she and her relatives have given at least $20.2 million to Republican candidates, party committees, PACs, and super PACs. 

The center further noted that, “Betsy herself, along with her husband, Dick DeVos, Jr., has contributed more than $7.7 million to federal candidates, committees, and parties since 1990, including almost $4.8 million to super PACs.”  Her brother, ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince, founded the controversial private security contractor Blackwater (now known as Academi). He also made two considerable donations to Make America Number 1, a super PAC that first backed Senator Ted Cruz and then Trump.

So whatever you do, don’t expect Betsy De Vos’s help in allocating additional federal funds to elevate the education of citizens who actually do attend public schools, or rather what Donald Trump now likes to call “failing government schools.” Instead, she’s undoubtedly going to promote privatizing school voucher programs and charter schools across the country and let those failing government schools go down the tubes as part of a Republican war on public education.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (net worth $25 million)

As the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate, a former labor secretary for George W. Bush, and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao’s establishment connections are overwhelming. They include board positions at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and at Wells Fargo Bank.  While Chao was on its board, Wells Fargo scammed its customers to the tune of $2.4 million, and incurred billions of dollars of fines for other crimes. She was silent when its former CEO John Stumpf resigned in a blaze of contriteness.   

In 2008, Chao ranked 8th in Bush’s executive branch in terms of net worth at  $16.9 million. In 2009, Politico reported that, in memory of her mother who passed away in 2007, she and her husband received a “personal gift” from the Chao family worth between $5 million and $25 million. In 2014, the Center for Responsive Politics ranked McConnell, with an estimated net worth somewhere around $22 million, as the 11th richest senator. As with all things wealth related, the truth is a moving target but the one thing Chao’s not (which may make her a rarity in this cabinet) is a billionaire.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (net worth between $46 million and $1 billion)

Hedge fund mogul and Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin is the third installment on Goldman Sachs’s claim to own the position of Treasury secretary. In fact, when it comes to the stewardship of the country’s economy, Goldman continues to reign supreme.  Bill Clinton appointed the company’s former co-chairman Robert Rubin to Treasury in gratitude for his ability to bestow on him Wall Street cred and the contributions that went with it. George W. Bush appointed former Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Hank Paulson as his final Treasury secretary, just in time for the “too big to fail” economic meltdown of 2007-2008.

Now, Trump, who swore he’d drain “the swamp” in Washington, is carrying on the tradition. The difference? While Rubin and Paulson pushed for the deregulation of the financial industry that led to the Great Recession and then used federal funds to bail out their friends, Mnuchin, who spent 17 years with Goldman Sachs, eventually made an even bigger fortune by being on the predatory receiving end of federal support while scarfing up a failed bank.

In 2008, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), formed in 1934 to insure the deposits of citizens at commercial banks, closed 25 banks, including the Pasadena-based IndyMac Bank. In early January 2009, the FDIC agreed to sell failed lender IndyMac to IMB HoldCo LLC, a company owned by a pack of private equity investors led by former Goldman Sachs partner Mnuchin of Dune Capital Management LP for about $13.9 billion. (They only had to put up $1.3 billion in cash for it, however.)

When the deal closed on March 19, 2009, IMB formed a new federally chartered savings bank, OneWest Bank (also run by Mnuchin), to complete the purchase. The FDIC took a $10.7 billion loss in the process. OneWest then set about foreclosing on IndyMac’s properties, the cost of which was fronted by the FDIC, as was most of the loss that was incurred from hemorrhaging mortgages. In other words, the government backed Mnuchin’s private deal big time and so helped give him his nickname, the “foreclosure king,” as he became an even wealthier man.

By October 2011, protesters were marching outside Mnuchin’s Los Angeles mansion with “Stop taking our homes” signs. OneWest soon became mired in lawsuits and on multiple occasions settled for millions of dollars. Nonetheless, Mnuchin sold the bank for a cool $3.4 billion in August 2015. Shades of the president-elect, he also left another beleaguered company, Relativity Media, where he had been co-chairman, two months before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015.

Mnuchin’s policy priorities include an overhaul of the federal tax code (aimed mainly at helping his elite buddies), financial deregulation (including making the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 significantly more lenient for hedge funds), and a review of existing trade agreements. He has indicated no support for reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which separated commercial banks that held citizens’ deposits and loans from the speculative practices of investment banks until it was repealed in 1999 under the Clinton administration.

Gilded Government

Hillary Clinton certainly cashed in big time on her Wall Street connections during her career and her presidential campaign. And yet her approach already seems modest compared to Trump’s new open-door policy to any billionaire willing to come on board his ship. His new incarnation of the old establishment largely consists of billionaires and multimillionaires with less than appetizing nicknames from their previous predatory careers. They favor government support for their private gain as well as deregulation, several of them having already specialized in making money off the collateral damage from such policies.

Trump offered Americans this promise: “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people.” In his world, best means rich, and serious means seriously shielded from the way much of the rest of the country lives. Once upon a time, I, too, worked for Goldman Sachs. I left in 2002, the same year that Steven Mnuchin did.  I did not go on to construct deals that hurt citizens. He did. Public spirit is a choice.

Aspiring to run government as a business (something President Calvin Coolidge tried out in the 1920s with dismal results for America), Trump is now surrounding himself with a crew of crony capitalists who understand boardroom speak, but have nothing in common with most Americans.  So give him credit: his administration is already one of the great political bait-and-switch productions in our history and it hasn’t even begun.  Count on one thing: in his presidency he’ll only double down on that “promise.”


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  1. Sound of the Suburbs

    Trump was change and change from the neoliberal status quo is good.

    The neoliberal status quo does need to be broken and a few wrong turnings on the way may be necessary.

    Sometime ago I heard Trump was assembling all the usual Wall Street suspects but ……

    Thinking about trickledown.

    Do companies employ people to make its employees rich?
    No they employ people to make a profit, the productive output of all employees is split to take a profit for the company, cover costs and pay wages.

    The employee loses a slice of their productive output to the company for the company to take as profit.

    The employee takes out less than he puts in.

    Someone with a trust fund receives an income from their trust fund without the fund going down.

    They take out more than they put in.

    The system trickles up and assuming it trickledown to lower taxes on the wealthy has polarized personal wealth and is hitting global aggregate demand.

    Where did the idea of trickledown come from?
    US billionaires after a long liquid lunch.

    Someone has got to test the trickledown idea to destruction and who better than a US billionaire

    Donald test the trickledown idea to destruction.

    Adam Smith looked out on a world of small state, raw capitalism and observed:

    “The Labour and time of the poor is in civilised countries sacrificed to the maintaining of the rich in ease and luxury. The Landlord is maintained in idleness and luxury by the labour of his tenants. The moneyed man is supported by his extractions from the industrious merchant and the needy who are obliged to support him in ease by a return for the use of his money. But every savage has the full fruits of his own labours; there are no landlords, no usurers and no tax gatherers.”

    He sees the lazy people at the top living off “unearned” income from their land and capital.

    He sees the trickle up of Capitalism:
    1) Those with excess capital collect rent and interest.
    2) Those with insufficient capital pay rent and interest.

    Looking at 5,000 years of human civilisation the Classical Economists of the 18th Century believed the poor would never rise out of a bare subsistence existence. This was the way it always had been and always would be.

    Every social system since the dawn of civilization has been set up to support a Leisure Class at the top who are maintained in luxury and leisure through the economically productive, hard work of the middle and lower classes.

    The lower class does the manual work; the middle class does the administrative and managerial work and the upper class lives a life of luxury and leisure.

    The UK Aristocracy were there during the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism and barely noticed the difference as their life of luxury and leisure continued as before.

    As if those at the top were ever going put a system in place that trickled down, the very idea is ridiculous.
    Those that start companies do it to make themselves wealthy not their employees.

    The employees are just the mechanism that capitalism uses to create profit and this is extracted from a portion of the employees productive output. The employee gets paid a wage and the employer extracts the surplus after wages and overheads.

    Trump, test trickle down to destruction.

    I live in the UK and this being tested in the US does seem to be preferable.
    It was a US idea after all (that’s my excuse).

  2. Foppe

    Stating the obvious: Sounds like a., contemporary government lacks sufficiently robust institutions, and b., to the extent they are (or were) any good, they can still be brushed aside far too easily by those who want to (though it certainly helps that everyone is raised a — Lockean, think preamble — liberal, and thus believes in the right to keep what you “earned” — without ever examining how people understand that word — as this guarantees that clawbacks are never really on the agenda of later governments, as they are far too busy sowing). How to fix that?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      It has to be said that America is very much an outlier in terms of the power a President has to appoint so many people to governmental and administrative posts. Its more a characteristic of ‘weak’ democracies in countries like Greece or in South America or parts of Asia where you can get this type of wholesale parachuting in of political favourites. I may be wrong, but I think the US is unique in the world in having ambassadors as political appointees as opposed to professional diplomats.

      1. Katharine

        The confirmation process can and occasionally does rule out egregiously unsuitable candidates, but that depends on having senators who take their responsibilities seriously.

    2. Benedict@Large

      Two items:

      1) These are the people Trump knows. Friends. Friends of friends. Business associates. So it’s hardly surprising he’s looking there. But, …

      2) We have an approval process, and while it’s overwhelmed by party, the squawking that we should be hearing from Dems simply isn’t there, and it’s not there because most of the are in the entry ranks of this same group. Like it or not, our Democratic Senators are largely COMFORTABLE with these people. And why stick your head out with this from the party’s perennial Clinton echo, Joe Biden: “Give Trump a Chance.”

      1. Vatch

        Like it or not, our Democratic Senators are largely COMFORTABLE with these people.

        Perhaps there aren’t enough constituent complaints yet. I have specifically protested 3 of Trump’s choices in letters to my Senators, and I expect to make follow up phone calls in January. I hope many of you will do the same.

      2. Matt

        Trump never promised to drain the swamp by appointing people to his cabinet that have no business, banking, or wall street experience. In fact, appointing people with no experience in those ares might not be the most wise decision. He told the US how he would drain the swamp in his Contract for America. He said he would do it by:
        1. Propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.
        2. Institute a five year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service.
        3. Create a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.
        4. Institute a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.
        5. Work with Congress on a Clean up Corruption in Washington Act.Enacts new ethics reforms to Drain the Swamp and reduce the corrupting influence of special interests on our politics.
        He cannot keep his promise until he is sworn into office. Then we will see if he conned the US or not.
        His proposals for how he wants to stimulate the economy are similar to what created the roaring 20s followed by the stock market crash. So that does concern me. What concerns me even more than his policies though is the article I found on the World Economic Forum.

        If this is the plan that the global elites have for us, I am not in on it. It is scary actually. No right to private property, privacy, or any of the freedoms we currently enjoy. It actually sounds like the future they have planned for us is by treating us like slaves in a communist like “utopia”

  3. The Trumpening

    This plutocratic line may be an effective narrative for the Democrats to attack Trump but if we want to go beyond narratives and get to reality it is not a useful way to understand what is really going on.

    America is an oligarchy. Working class people understand this very well. They actually do not think the way you change things is for Trump to name Joe the Plumber, Mike the Mechanic, or Scott the Sheetrocker to his cabinet. If we use the types presented in Jeffrey Winters “Oligarchy”, we currently have a ruling oligarchy that is almost entirely united behind a neo-liberal globalist ideology – which calls for the weakening the of nation state to allow Capital free access to glut of the cheapest global labor while maintaining access to the wealthiest customers in the richest countries.

    What the working class want Trump to do is to at the very least create a warring oligarch typology where nationalist oligarchs compete against the globalists. This means Trump must change the current calculations when Capital decides where it will locate. In addition Trump must create barriers against both immigration of cheap labor and stop the importation of the products of global cheap labor in the form of tariffs.

    So no, this does not mean the end of rich people – far from it. Right now the bourgeoisie in the urban areas have globalist oligarchs to look up to. The working classes want to look up to nationalist oligarchs who employ Americans in large numbers. The working class is expecting Trump to reshape the economic terrain to both benefit nationalist oligarchs while hurting as much as possible the globalists. At the same time Trump wants to convert globalist oligarchs to either nationalism or a halfway point between the two.

    Trump is clearly not a real Republican (although it is smart tactics for the Democrats to portray him as one) and so he has to some extent appease the establishment GOP (GOPe) while he slowly takes over the party. And so for example Education and Transportation appointments are appeasement moves by Trump towards the GOPe.

    From the Democrats point of view they have a choice to make. The basic theory is this:

    The neo-liberal globalist reaps what the neo-conservative imperialist sows: The destruction of poor nation-states by neoconservatives leads to migrations of cheap labor which when combined with the neo-liberal’s open borders and free trade leads to an accelerated destruction of wealthy welfare-state nations which in turn fuels a vicious cycle of increasing poverty and despair in the world.

    Conversely, the social democrat reaps what the economic nationalist sows: Controlled borders and managed trade are preconditions for the near-full employment and social cohesion required for a beneficial welfare state which in turn provides the nation’s economy with a plentiful supply of healthy and competent workers which fuels a virtuous cycle of health and prosperity in the nation.

    The Hillary IdPol faction of the Democratic Party are a very thin veil for the globalist oligarchs that until the election of Trump ran the nation with almost total power. An IdPol narrative is a useful goodthink diversion away from having to admit you are serving globalist oligarchic interests. This faction will remain 100% opposed to Trump and are currently trying to regain a monopoly on ideological means of persuasion with their global Fake News jihad.

    The Bernie Sanders faction of the Democratic Party on the other hand is social democratic and is in fact the flip side of the economic nationalist Trump coin. Assuming Trump is successful in changing US economic coarse and bringing something close to full employment back to the US; it will then be the social democrats turn to jump on the wealth creating machine that is the US economy and to redistribute the wealth in order to make Americans workers even more efficient through education, health care, and environmental reforms.

    And so these are the lines upon which I judge Trump’s actions. Just like when Constantine turned the Roman Empire Christian while the elite remained mostly Pagan, Trump cannot possibly be pure to his nationalist ideology in a GOP dominated by globalists. He must co-opt, convert, and subvert the GOP and place nationalist-oriented oligarchs in power to check the power of the globalist oligarchs. Once the warring oligarchy is in place; the American people can then play divide and rule amongst their oligarchs to strip power away from them over time.

    1. EoinW

      Well written! My only question: is there a Sanders faction in the Democratic Party? I had the impression the entire party was a Clinton faction, with Sanders supporters being average voters with no say in running the party.

      I think you have the Roman Empire analogy backwards. Christianity was always a top down operation. In nearly every society it took over it did so by converting the elites, with common people eventually coerced into converting. Had the 4th century elites of the Roman Empire remained pagan then none of us would be Christian today.

      1. The Trumpening

        Thanks! On the Roman comparison it pained me to connect Trump to Christianity — he’s certainly much more of a pagan and I wanted the GOPe to be the Christians. I’ve been trying to figure out for days how to make Trump the pagan but I haven’t gotten there yet!

        Bernie Sanders has shown the path and someone with a taste for power will have to rise up and scoop up all that political capital that Bernie left lying there in the street. I’m liking Tulsi Gabbard, for multiple reasons, and if Trump doesn’t manage to get her into his Administration, she could be the one to take up Sanders’ social democratic mantle in the future.

      2. philnc

        Actually, Trumpening has that right. The Roman elites contnued as patrons of the pagan cults that justified the social order, as did most of the Roman military where a real “top down” dynamic kept even the lower ranks loyal to their superiors’ pagan religion. Constantine, while he continued to support the state’s cults, favored Christianity, which until then had been a faith of the urban poor, most probably because it gave him a more direct connection to the masses whose support he needed to overturn the still powerful oligarchs in Rome (in his own best interests). Moving his capitol Eastward to the other end of the Mediterranean, away from the old centers of power, was yet another step towards that goal.

      3. Ed

        “Christianity was always a top down operation. In nearly every society it took over it did so by converting the elites, with common people eventually coerced into converting”

        That is true of all of them. Only paganism had any real popular appeal, without the elites pushing it.

      4. Jim

        “We currently have a ruling oligarchy that is almost entirely behind a liberal globalist ideology–which calls for the weakening of the nation-state to allow capital free access…”

        But what if the major player behind neo-liberal globalist ideology is an increasingly powerful U.S. State, and providing additional support as well, a deeply ingrained domestic neo-liberal social-political-cultural movement–which nicely survived the 2008/2009 financial crisis and has since become even stronger (think Shark Tank etc.)

        Does Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders have what it takes to neutralize neo-liberal market/cultural structures that have been erected by such a strong state?

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      Well, that certainly is a most optimistic take on Trump.

      1. Can you point to any evidence is there that there are really globalist and nationalist factions of the oligarchy? Or that Trump has any particular affinity for the nationalist faction? I don’t see it.

      2. We currently have a ruling oligarchy that is almost entirely united behind a neo-liberal globalist ideology – which calls for the weakening the of nation state to allow Capital free access to glut of the cheapest global labor while maintaining access to the wealthiest customers in the richest countries. This is not right. One look at our defense budget calls into question the idea of “the weakening of the nation state.” And, as I say over and over, spend any time at the Capitol in DC or any state capitol and all you will see are the minions of oligarchs doing the political work of oligarchy. They don’t want weak government; they want government responsive to their interests. Which, it seems to me, they are likely to get from Trump.

      1. jerry

        This was my reaction as well. What exactly is a nationalist oligarch in this day in age? I cannot think of any well-known figure in the US who fits such a mold. In order to have amassed any kind of fortune in this economy (any fortune 500 company really) you would most certainly have to embraced globalism, and to no small degree.

        Also, the idea that even if there were such a class of people, that they would stand any sort of chance against a totally bought and paid for US government run by globalist elite seems ludicrous at best.

        1. Kurt Sperry

          Me three. Such bright eyed sanguinity about Trump pitting one faction of the ruling class vs. another seems, sadly, naive. They all appear to be globalists, none really give a fig about the US except as something to loot and strip of assets like tweakers on a construction site in the middle of the night. The “good tweakers” aren’t going to rescue us from the bad ones. Like “nationalist oligarchs”, they don’t exist.

          My money’s on Trump being as bad as he appears to be–which is about as bad as is possible. He won’t follow through on any of his populist rhetoric any more than outgoing empty suit Obama did on his progressive populism if it isn’t the path of least resistance. The Trump presidency will make the Reagan years seem like an idyllic dream.

        2. David Utzschneider

          Some globalist actors and institutions: George Soros, Apple, Facebook, Bill Gates, Google, United Nations, IMF.

      2. european

        The weakening of the nation state can be seen very well in Europe, where (among many other things) nonelected bureaucrats are telling elected governments how to run their country.

        1. Left in Wisconsin

          This is why concepts such as “the weakening of the nation-state” are misleading at best. They imply a consistent unit – across space and time – of the nation-state. And they imply that the inability of the nation-state to challenge big capital is ever and always “weakening,” as opposed to capture.

      3. The Trumpening

        It’s my speculation that Trump is attempting to build a nationalist / industrialist oligarchy. Remember the 54 jet oligarchic anti-Trump meeting on Sea Island in May of 2016. He needs his own squad of oligarchs to counter that. Trump on the campaign trail has repeatedly contrasted “Americanism” against Globalism. Wilbur Ross would be an example of a potentially nationalist / industrial oligarch. Trump will need to create an identity as such. For example I would watch for Trump’s infrastructure spending to be tied to creation of oligarchs who then tied down to the US and have a stake in America’s economic health, as opposed to globalist oligarchs who can bleed the US white and jump off and leave any time they want.

        Certainly oligarchs loved feeding off the public trough, and nationalist ones would be no different. Trump’s recent comments about Boeing can be interpreted as threatening to cut Boeing’s access to easy government contracts if they shift their production to China. When I talk about weakening the nation state I mean the state’s ability to resist globalization — not in cutting budgets. Oligarchs use the state for as agents of wealth defense and obviously for wealth enhancement through easy contracts with the state.

        1. Jim

          Trumpening: Isn’t the neoliberal state much more powerful than you are giving it credit for

          For example, in the midst of our recent financial collapse governmental entities (The Federal Reserve and Treasury) assumed the authority to farm out massive government subsidies and waivers to other third-party private firms.

          In essence, neoliberal leaders took upon themselves the governmental power to provide a price floor to selected investors for all manner of financial assets no matter how questionable.

          Isn’t this using the power of the national state to ultimately protect the market?

          Didn’t a powerful state push through disguised asset purchases on a grand scale based on the assumption that the solution to market failure is more markets?

    3. pearl

      @ Trumpening.

      First, I want to compliment you on your talent for writing. And your reasoning skills are also enviable. (No snark–I wish my brain could work so thoroughly and methodically. Unfortunately, I’m from the “prone to panicking” grouping of brains.)


      Your comment made me feel better for a few minutes, but then the panic part of my brain kept on raising my hand to note that :

      1)The Donald is a modern-day television show celebrity with no apparent expertise, experience, nor even appetite for modern geopolitics. That sorta freaks me out right there. Ya know–the “Donald Trump is no Constantine” meme that keeps ricocheting inside of my skull.

      2) Constantine and his friends didn’t have the internet tubes at the precipice of the Early Roman Empire. (Otherwise, who-knows-what sorta meme could have caught on during that two-to-three hundred year time frame. (Pastafarianism, perhaps?))

      3) Feel free to jump in here at any time to calm me back down again. Thanks! :-)

      1. The Trumpening

        Thanks Pearl. And I am probably making Trump more coherent than he really is.

        But Trump is an expert at tactical negotiation and he develops major building projects which takes a lot of different skills. And clearly some of that translates to politics as he won the election. Now the question is can he create and implement policy?

        In terms of geopolitics his implied strategic goal is to pullback the American Empire. This is completely coherent with his economic nationalism. Globalism can only exist if the trade routes are patrolled and protected by a hegemonic power. Without that Pax Americana suddenly companies might think twice about shipping their products across an uncontrolled Pacific Ocean. Trump has clearly signaled he wants to pull American power back and therefore gains leverage in any subsequent negotiations, assuming the rest of the world wants American military might to continue to protect globalized trade routes. Now he can pull back slowly or quickly, it’s probably better to do it gradually, but that will depend on the attitude of other nations particularly China and how many concessions on trade they make!

        The Taiwan move was brilliant. This may sound terribly callous but the best thing that could ever happen for US manufacturing is a long and drawn out conventional war between China and Taiwan where thousands of high-tech plants get Aleppo’d. We could ship arms to both sides just like the Iran-Iraq War in the ’80’s. By Trump taking the call he signaled to China that the US was no longer going to play the disinterested grown-up between China and Taiwan. Instead if they want to start blowing up their factories he wasn’t going to stop them.

        One might get worried that Trump has so many generals in his cabinet but to me that is a hopeful sign since the US military is probably the only foreign policy institution in the US not fully infested with NeoCons and their global empire fantasies.

        I may be projecting but I often see Trump using very clever indirect strategies. One example was the recent tweet about stripping citizenship for flag burning. On the surface it was stupid and uninformed — but look a little further and its actual aim was brilliant. Trump was trying to provoke the on-going protests into burning American flags as part of their demonstrations. That would have made some pretty interesting television as the talking heads would have been forced to defend the protesters. As it happened the protests fizzled out just after that tweet. Were the two things connected, did Democratic leaders realize the PR problems they would have and called off the protests? Or was the timing just a coincidence?

        I don’t know — it’s a huge job to turn the US around like this. Only time will tell!

        1. wtf

          Fascinating analysis, but with all due respect, I just don’t buy that Trump has a grand vision for making American great again or that he cares one whit about anyone other than himself and his offspring. He wants attention, money and power. He has a demonstrated history of committing fraud and he just ran his biggest scam against the GOP voters, a group of people he knew were easy marks. Now Bannon appears to have a vision, but the cabinet picks so far don’t appear to be favoring Bannon. (For the record, I think Bannon is evil, but I do agree with some of his economic ideas.)

          1. Kokuanani

            Is anyone placing bets on how long it will take those “GOP voters” to realize they were scammed?

            And what form will that “realization” take?

            1. myers

              I’ll take that bet, because the ones that will suffer will never admit they were duped, even if they figure it out, not to anyone and especially themselves.
              The rest of the GOP won’t suffer but as benefactor’s, will simply count the money they take, from the so called salt of the earth people, in fly over country and muse over how the same old formula continues to work its magic.
              It is the very essence of authoritarian cults to ignore cause and effect because,to look for an authority figure for answers, is to abdicate personal responsibility in exchange for granting agency.

              Lets go back to 2006
              First law of Digby: George W. Bush will not achieve a place in the Republican pantheon. Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)

              Atrios “The interesting paradox is, as I’ve written before, that they’ll dump Bush and transfer the cult onto the next Daddy figure that comes along.”
              conservatism and the “conservative movement” are in fact two entirely different things.
              Once again Digby: “it isn’t precisely a cult of George W. Bush. It’s a cult of Republican power. We know this because when a Democratic president last sat in the oval office, there was non-stop hysteria about presidential power and overreach. Every possible tool to emasculate the executive branch was brought to bear, including the nuclear option, impeachment. Now we are told that the “Presidency” is virtually infallible. The only difference between now and then is that a Republican is the executive instead of a Democrat.”

              Dave Neiwert:

              “Conservatism, like liberalism, is not a dogmatic philosophy, but rather a style of thought, an approach to politics or life in general. It stresses the status quo and traditional values, and is typified by a resistance to change. Likewise, liberalism is not relegated to a discrete “movement” but rather describes a general politics that comprises many disparate concerns.

              The “conservative movement,” however, is a decidedly dogmatic political movement that demands obeisance to its main tenets (and exiles those who dissent) and a distinctly defined agenda. Movement followers proudly announce their membership. (In contrast, there is no “liberal movement” worth speaking of — just a hodgepodge of loosely associated interests.) Importantly enough, their raison d’etre has transformed from the extenuation of their “conservative” impulses into the Machiavellian acquisition of power, usually through any means necessary.”
              All of the above quotes ,written ten years ago, are describing a process/ paradigm that has not changed one iota, in the intervening years . The only difference being, we are further down the road to perdition.

    4. Vergniaud

      You may be right that the best we can hope for from Trump is a schism among the oligarchs, but I think you’re wrong to think that there’s any chance a Trump administration will be “successful in changing US economic course and bringing something close to full employment back to the US.” Mainly because there’s one sense in which Trump is very much a “real Republican”: he believes above all in cheap labor. Therefore, his recipe for creating jobs is more of the same trickle-down to make the “job creators” fatter and happier. Consequently, I don’t think the plan should be for the social democrats in the Democratic Party to hold their breath and wait for Trump to bring us full employment and start the “wealth creating machine that is the US economy” so they can “jump” on it “to redistribute the wealth in order to make Americans workers even more efficient through education, health care, and environmental reforms.”

      1. The Trumpening

        Frankly I would prefer a social democratic party existed right now but sadly the Sanders movement did no succeed in grabbing the nomination. To me that model of an economic nationalist getting the walls and tariffs in place and the factories back home and THEN having the social democrat come in is not such a bad model.

        Even Trump supporters get angry at him for never discussing the wage-killing impact of immigration and he often stumbled in this during the debates.

        In theory what he is talking about is lowering the supply of labor through deportations and immigration restrictions. On the other hand he is talking about increasing the demand for labor by bringing the factories back to the US and huge infrastructure projects. Reducing the supply of labor while simultaneously increasing the demand for labor means higher salaries no matter which political party you belong to.

        On the other hand Trump is trying to get oligarchs to relocate back to the US. Although wages aren’t that large a part of the calculation they do matter to some extent. So Trump really doesn’t want to go around broadcasting how he’s going to increase wages that much. On the other hand if wages do start going up to high I suspect he will open the immigration spigot to cool things off wage-wise.

  4. SteveB

    I voted for Trump. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. With Hillary there was no doubt.
    I am disappointed with his picks and will remain wary.
    If in fact Prins forecast is correct, in four years Trump will find himself a one term President and the Republicans in congress as despondent as the Democrats are now…

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think what both disappoints and surprises is just how conventional his picks are. With the exception of his military appointments, you could see this bunch as no different from what Bush or Cruz would have chosen. I’d hoped that at least he would try to shake things up a bit by appointing genuine outsiders. Unless he is playing a very complex multiple bait and switch game then this looks like Bush Jnr all over again, just with an added edge of brutishness.

      The good news for this of course is that it leaves the door open for genuine left wing populists for the next round of elections. If only the Dems….*sigh*

      1. David

        I second that last sentiment. I voted for neither, as I couldn’t quite bring myself to pull the lever (or rather, fill in the bubble) for Trump, though I found myself not disagreeing with some of his statements re NATO and trade. I am reserving judgement for the time being, but will admit that the cabinet doesn’t look promising. That said, the man has surprised everyone before, so the door remains open for the time being. He might yet accomplish things that no one else seems able or willing to do. (Except perhaps Sanders. Foolish, short-sighted Democrats!)

      2. sleepy

        The open door for any genuine leftwing populist will be quickly slammed shut by the dems. Trump may well turn out to be a gift for lesser-of-two-evilism dems such as fake working-class hero Joe Biden who seems to be the media’s darling of the moment.

        Trump gives the Debbie Wasserman’s of the world new reason for hope. Just sprinkle a few working class crumbs on that giant fudge sundae next go around.

        Poor Hillary, she was just 4 years ahead of her time. “See, she wasn’t that bad!” will be the new bumper sticker.

        1. craazyboy

          That’s the risk. The Overton Window shifts right again. I still think that would occur because the DNC makes it happen, not because the majority of voters want it to happen. But what’s that matter?

          Anyhow, Trump’s appointments so far haven’t been confidence inspiring. I still pin a ray of hope we get a yuuge and beeuuutiful Nixon goes to China moment and they all do the opposite of what they’ve done all their lives so far.

          1. curlydan

            I think the only ray of hope is that they start doing what we expect given their history, then Trump fires them.

            They’re going to feather their nests. It’s what they do.

      3. Science Officer Smirnoff

        Unless he is playing a very complex multiple bait and switch game then this looks like Bush Jnr all over again, just with an added edge of brutishness.

        Nice capsule.

        The starting point for the expectations of any Republican presidential candidate in the primary season was the Bush-Cheney years. But that would mean accountability, policy discussions—particularly party lines. None of which is possible w/o memory.

        Far better the limitless play of personality.

    2. RenoDino

      Not surprised by his appointments. Birds of a feather flock to together. What we have here is a real empire and we finally have a real Emperor to run it. From this point forward, everything will flow from personal dispensation. Everybody else will be serving in an advisory capacity.

      So many questions arise. What will become of the tens of thousands of bureaucrats who have labored mightily to create and enforce the regulations that will be swept away any day now? What department will simply shut down or be reduced to meaningless entities? If citizens sue for redress against corporate or government malfeasance, who will enforce those rulings should they prevail?

      The grand bargain that Trump promised is that he would turn his diabolical powers for making money to good on behalf the American people. He also promised to hire people like himself who knew how the system worked (or in most cases, didn’t work) so that it could be stripped of all unnecessary regulations. This is what “drain the swamp” meant to him.

      I have been waiting for years for the grand era of patronage to arrive when one’s future is tied to one’s loyalty to the families and great houses of the empire. While it has been the case for years, it’s now official policy and will soon be the “law.”

      In order to hold our head high on the world stage, Trump needs to become the richest person in the world. He has a lot of work to do to catch Putin and Xi, but I’m sure he’s up to it. Welcome to the Imperial Era!

      To those who think this too shall pass and there will be a reaction from various factions, like the totally inept and discredited Democrats, I’m here to tell you not in our lifetime.. The changes that are coming will be so large and fundamental one can forget any notion of an old republic revival. It was already on death’s door before Trump even arrived.

      What we have now is full transparency.

      1. Vatch

        so that it could be stripped of all unnecessary regulations

        And “unnecessary regulations” can be defined as inconveniences for the rich. Trump’s choice of Pruitt for EPA Administrator is evidence for that. We can expect them to oppose plenty of useful regulations as well as the genuine red tape regulations.

        1. Pearl

          @RenoDino and Vatch,

          I just can’t help it.

          My gut is with you two guys.

          I appreciate all of the IQ points on N.C. And I respect (99%?) of the opinions, even though I don’t agree with 99% of them. But my instinctive panic level is reflecting your opinions here. I fear you’re both correct.

          No. I “panic” that you are correct.

          Any countries out there that sell Xanax over-the-counter?

          Hold me!

          1. RMO

            “Any countries out there that sell Xanax over-the-counter?” If there are it won’t be worth taking the time and money to buy it. Believe me, I’ve had the stuff when I was suffering from severe depression. It did nothing at all. I suggest something natural, herbal based to deal with the horror – maybe opium…

            If a Trump presidency turns the Democrats into an actual left wing party that fights back maybe it will be worth the trouble. If not… Well the DNC might as well change its name to “Democrats for a Permanent Republican Majority”

            1. Pearl


              I apologize for my remark about Xanax; it was over-the-line, and I’m glad that you called me out.

              Xanax is a benzo and, by definition, a highly addictive substance.

              Shame on me, seriously.

              Maybe I’ll binge-watch something on the Netflix account that my daughter got for me. Distraction probably better than medication. ;-) Noam Chomsky’s Requiem for the American Dream is being featured there–wait. That would just get me more depressed. Perhaps I will try Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 98!!! :-)

              I’m in the hospital right now having a blood transfusion–as I type. Is that a “first” for a Naked Capitalism commenter? :-) lol

    3. Dirk77

      I’m not sure anymore. If these appointees are any indication, the takeaway of the Republicans from the Obama years is that as long as you say something with sincerity in your voice, you are free to do the exact opposite. And Obama got eight.

  5. integer

    My position towards Trump during the election was ambivalence, yet compared to Clinton the choice was clear imo. I am going to wait until he takes office and see what actions he chooses to take before subjecting Trump to any serious analysis, though I am keeping an eye on how the dynamics of his administration are unfolding.

    1. financial matters

      Embarrassing. Things seem to settling down in Syria due to Russia stepping in and actually fighting terrorism, aided by Trump being seen as the next president.

      This Dec8 memorandum by Obama seems to be a bad faith last ditch doubling down on our failed policy of regime change.

  6. Richard

    This is a horror story. I can – I MUST – reserve judgement for a few months after his inauguration. I will not allow myself to believe that we, Trump’s supporters, have been tricked in this way. Hopefully, it’s not true.

    I will hold off on commentary until I see where all this is leading. The man isn’t even President yet. Let’s give him a chance. Believe me, my eyes are WIDE OPEN.

    1. cnchal

      . . . I will not allow myself to believe that we, Trump’s supporters, have been tricked in this way. . .

      My belly laugh for the day!

    2. EoinW

      I don’t think the issue is whether his supporters have been double crossed. We all supported Trump because he was the ONLY option for change. However there was no guarantee that change would occur. Still, we saw him as a chance that had to be taken. I suspect there will be some changes and some disappointments. Yet even one reform is slight progress over the Bush-Obama-Clinton tyranny.

      What I find most encouraging is that Trump supporters will hold him accountable. If he doesn’t deliver enough change then he will lose that support. Contrast that to the typical Democratic voter who turned from Obama supporter to Obama apologist. Thus the dynamic has changed. If Trump turns into a faux reformer there is still a good chance a real reformer will come along in four years time. Just don’t forget that such is possible because Trump won. The election victory itself has value, even if no tangible reforms come from a Trump presidency.

      1. Anon

        Yes, of course! Silver linings abound! (NOT.)

        Trump’s campaign was simply another rendition of the “Hope and Change” meme. The proletariat will again be dismayed at their economic plight four years hence. (There were no viable choices on the election ballot—and the Empire continues the decline.)

        Look. Climate Change, unpayable US student debt, global financial debt (in general) are real. None of this is likely to be resolved/addressed in any meaningful way by Trump and his new Secretaries. The arc of the diver is clearly downward.

    3. Pirmann

      Relax. It’s not a horror story, nor a bait and switch. Your point that he’s not even President is the one that should rule the day. If nothing else, he’s already killed TPP and saved a few jobs, so there’s that.

      Keep in mind that Trump is a business man, and in business, wealth is a measure of success. So, you see Trump appointing wealthy people, while he sees himself appointing successful people. Also, these high net worth individuals might function better in government due to being less beholden to lobbyist money. Or at least, it would take a much larger sum of money to get their attention.

      I think Trump is thinking that success will breed success, which will be a win for our country. He deserves a chance at trying to make it work. The old way wasn’t working anyhow, so what do we have to lose?

      1. craazyboy

        I’d believe in that more if it weren’t for the Trump tax plan that rains a few trillion down on the rich and large corporations. They all may be committed to working 4 years for one dollah, but making it rain trillions is certainly a great investment return.

      2. Vatch

        Nobody becomes a billionaire by providing useful products or services alone. Luck, underpaying one’s employees, overcharging or otherwise cheating customers, and outright crime are needed to become ultra rich. Sure, they’re “successful”, but so what?

      3. curlydan

        I totally jumped off the Obama/Dem train the day he announced his appointment of Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Obama wasn’t yet president, but these appointments do mean something now.

        1. stockbrokher

          Ditto here.

          Not a scientific sample, but if the comments on the financial blogs are an indication, I see more SteveB than PlutoniumKun (and even PK’s reach for a rationale – “complex bait and switch” – is acknowledged by him to be unlikely ), the Trumpsters seem to be more capable of quickly coming to terms with difficult truth than the D/Hilbots.

          Heck, some of the Obots are still at it.

          It is amusing /depressing to see references to “three dimensional chess” again, this time by the betrayed on the R side. I wonder if any of them realize
          that this was a common meme in 2008-2009 among the Obot faithful?

          In my experience this ( tentative) conclusion re the relative adaptability differential between the two groups is bolstered by the “reality- refusiks” in the D camp who are still blaming this recent massive loss on everything but their fatally flawed candidate and her so- inept- it -could- be-seen – from – space campaign. I never had realised before what a bubble the Establishment D’s choose to live in. Bernie was a huge clue, but primaries are, after all, party affairs.

          After an enormous General Election loss like this an honest reapppaisal is obviously required. Even the Republicans commissioned an honest “autopsy” after a less egregious loss. But even D friends won’t hear a word other than “Russia, Comey, fake news”. It is stupefying.

    4. oh

      Unless we all work together to add more political parties, we’ll have the same kind of Hobson’s choice and we’ll be “tricked” every time.

  7. weinerdog43

    As much as I loathed Ms. Clinton, I was never stupid enough to actually vote for Trump. Just because we knew how bad the new and improved version of the neo liberal Democratic Party had become did not excuse voting for the out and out oligarch party and their nominal leader.

    No, I am NOT going to “give him a chance”. Personnel is policy, and these picks are worse than deplorable. He is a dangerous and unfit person. His picks so far indicate the worst types possible. There is zero mandate for the sort nominees he is selecting. Wish for change does not equal gullibility.

    1. Foppe

      “Giving them a chance” is bad policy either way; actions should be judged on their merits, not depending on the actor. Problem is, because almost everyone “accepts the bad with the ‘good'”, most of people’s energy is invested in looking away / explaining away bad behavior; which then creates precedents for others to exploit. So by all means criticize; but also be honest to yourself about whether you and those around you would’ve criticized those/similar actions if taken by a different person. Because that’s all part of the problem.

  8. washunate

    And yet her approach already seems modest compared to Trump’s…

    Did anybody else notice that this article seems to boil down to the same tired meme that national Democrats are better than the Republicans, rather than the leadership of both parties being part of the same system of promoting concentration of wealth and power?


    Of course the GOP is a party of connected insiders wanting government to do what they want it to do. What is noteworthy about that? Trump selected Mike Pence as his running mate. The only point in discussing the magnitude of how bad Trump is would be to deflect blame from the real culprits of bad public policy over the past few decades: Democrats.

    If you do not provide a meaningful alternative to the viewpoint you label as terrible, you are worse than the people who are terrible. The problem lies on our side of the fence, not with Trump. He is only possible because Democratic power brokers have spent the Reagan-Obama years systematically embracing concentration of wealth and power while demonizing dissent and evidence-based analysis.

    Politicians lie and sell out their rank and file constituents while doing things that happen to benefit the wealthy? Shocking. What is Clinton’s alternative specifically, or the Democratic leadership more generally? Trump didn’t spend tens of trillions of dollars on war and spying. Trump didn’t do media consolidation. Trump didn’t do financial consolidation. Trump didn’t do tax cuts on the wealthy. Trump didn’t reincarnate Jim Crow laws via the drug war. On issue after issue, Democrats were the proximate cause enabling these things. Yet Prins wants us to view Democrats as the lesser evil? More modest than those uber-wackoes over there?

    1. Steve C

      Republicans are horrible because Democrats let them get away with it. Democrats always calculate how awful they can be and get away with it. They’re only as good as they think they need to be to just barely win. This year they miscalculated by about 40,000 votes and reap the whirlwind.

      1. jrs

        The Dems in the House are better based on how they vote. But there is something to be said for the fact that the Dems ARE the party of Hillary and Obama (and not Sanders).

        1. Vatch

          Yes, you are correct. As I said, most leaders of Republican and Democratic parties are quite odious.

  9. EoinW

    My first instinct is to defend Hoover. Given his work at the Belgian Relief Fund, the man was a quality appointment. Yes he managed to get himself elected president at the wrong time. Yet consider 1929 to 2009. Hoover allowed the crash to happen, thus those responsible for the crash paid the price. 80 years later Bush bailed the culprits out and Obama continued to enrich them. Thus corrupting the entire free market system.

    As for Trump, he was voted in to bring about change. How does he change anything if he gets assassinated? Therefore it’s important for him to make compromise appointments with the establishment in order to stay alive. Ultimately he will be judged on what he does as President – and he has the power to overrule every one of his appointments. The other thing to judge him on right now is rhetoric. On foreign policy, trade, creating jobs etc… he is still saying the things his supporters voted for. Let’s be honest: the success of a Trump Presidency will come down to two things 1) ending the interventionist, endless war cycle 2) making the economic changes to give American workers a chance.

  10. Vatch

    One step below the cabinet level is Trump’s choice to be the Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Todd Ricketts, son of Joe Ricketts, whose net worth is $1 billion.

  11. DJG

    The Trump administration has a strong whiff of the Reagan administration. Let’s not go back to Harding, who is out of historic memory. As several commenters mentioned the other day, Where have people been the last forty years?

    Reagan came into office and broke the air-traffic controllers’ strike. Trump attempted something with Carrier. The Cabinet choices indicate that he won’t have a jobs policy or economic-growth policy, much as Reagan did not. The economy will be “managed” through tax cuts and crony capitalism. (By the way, this isn’t fascism: It is the U.S. spoils system, as PlutoniumKun points out above.)

    The antidote? Politics. First demand from us? Single-payer health-care system. That’ll separate the “liberals” from those in favor of true change. That’ll separate the rightwing of the Republican party from the populace. And it may even isolate Trump.

  12. Oil Dusk

    So, anyone with money is incapable of thinking clearly or unable to perform the jobs they’ve been appointed to with integrity or balance? Having money should disqualify someone from serving in office? Should we call this movie the Revenge of the Socialists?

    1. Katharine

      It’s not just having money, it’s how they got it and what they’ve done with it or with the opportunities it gave them. Please note the author did not merely provide a list with net worth and income.

    2. Vatch

      There are fewer than 600 billionaires in the U.S. We can expand that to a few thousand, if we also include nuclear family members and direct in-laws (such as Betsy DeVos and Todd Ricketts). There are 320 million people in the U.S., so this means that Trump has chosen several of his cabinet members from the richest 0.001% (3,200 people). Several others are from the top 0.01%.

      Are there really so few qualified people in other wealth and income categories? Let’s face it, billionaires and hecto-millionaires often become rich by dumb luck (inheritance or family connections, such as Bill Gates’s mother’s acquaintance with the CEO of IBM), underpaying their employees, cheating their customers, bribing the government, or playing tricky games with the tax laws. The rich rarely deserve their fortunes, and they aren’t any more skilled than the rest of us at anything, except possibly selfishness.

      1. Outis Philalithopoulos

        Vatch, it is definitely true that at least two of your comments were eaten by Skynet for no reason that I can discern. I have resurrected the two I found, but have there been more lately?

        1. Vatch

          There might have been one other, but I can’t remember when it happened, so don’t worry about it. Thanks for retrieving this.

      2. jrs

        Also in the cases where they don’t inherit, they have made money the sole focus of their lives to get there. You don’t get that kind of money otherwise (except in a few cases through sports or entertainment). This indicates a complete lack of character, judgement and values to be so money driven.

        If anything some of the wealthy heir types are probably decent (if completely out-of-touch) people. Those who “earn” their money at that level are almost certainly not.

    3. Herkie1

      They may be able to think clearly, and even be generous by their own definition of that word, but only after they have made sure their own wealth and elite positions are secured.

      America is about to find out what it means to live in a fascist nation, because these people will to the very last one bow to the far right fascists who will now be controlling congress.

      I sincerely believe that what is to come in the next four years will make the problems that triggered this populist uprising of ignorant deplorables so much worse that the USA simply will not survive in it’s current for through the Trump administration. The right mistaken believes that the MAJORITY left will calmly wait 4 to 8 years for their shot to rectify all the dismantling Trump plans to do to our social fabric, our environment, our economy, yes, he will make America Great Again, great for the top 1% and even pretty darned good for the top 10%, but long before 2020 the majority will have had enough of this BS clown and his electoral victory based upon opportunists and idiots.

      It is because I so sincerely believe this country will fail ala the Soviet Model of breakup that I am leaving for Australia in mid January on a one way ticket, with no plans to return. There will be nothing worth returning to.

    4. jrs

      “So, anyone with money is incapable of thinking clearly or unable to perform the jobs they’ve been appointed to with integrity or balance? Having money should disqualify someone from serving in office? ”


    5. JustAnObserver

      Nomi Prins is really just testing the dictum “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime” by applying it to Trump’s current cabinet picks. Seems to be holding up pretty well so far.

  13. Ranger Rick

    I think it is useful to take a step back and assess just why we object to certain people filling certain posts. Are we really going to write off an entire group of people because they’re wealthy or may have worked in the industry they will be regulating?

    (Case study: Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, businessman and former cable lobbyist — made good despite all the doomsayers predicting wholesale corruption.)

  14. Tertium Squid

    Can we accept as axiomatic that Trump will not appoint anyone with a higher net worth than him? So even if he won’t tell us his wealth, we can set a floor at least.

    1. Mark P.

      Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education pick, has a higher net worth than him (with her husband). So no, you shouldn’t accept it as axiomatic that Trump will appoint nobody with a higher net worth.

  15. alex morfesis

    By drain the swamp he meant so he could subdivide and sell it…which he has done well…the selling part…

    his tinkle down economics will fade to yellow like the bezos weekly shopper sitting on the curb looks when you return from a four day weekend…

    The choice presented by the clowns that be was continued slow poisoning with a faked smile from the third wife or a mugging attempt in a dark alley by the bookie…

    We chose the mugging…

    No one…not a single pick, has any history of helping anyone except a buyer at southbees and chrispeez make their bonus…york avenue double parking…

    Reading the federal register on a daily basis is going to be very important these next 18 months

  16. John Wright

    Prins compares Trump’s cabinet picks to Warren G. Harding’s and infers that Harding’s administration was bad for the USA.

    If one looks at what did NOT happen during the brief Harding administration (March 4, 1921 to August 2, 1923), no new wars, less foreign involvement and an economy that recovered from a post WWI downturn, the Harding administration was not bad for America.

    Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia entry:

    “Intervention in Latin America had been a minor campaign issue; Harding spoke against Wilson’s decision to send U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and attacked the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Franklin Roosevelt, for his role in the Haitian intervention. Once Harding was sworn in, Hughes worked to improve relations with Latin American countries who were wary of the American use of the Monroe Doctrine to justify intervention; at the time of Harding’s inauguration, the U.S. also had troops in Cuba and Nicaragua. The troops stationed in Cuba to protect American interests were withdrawn in 1921;”

    And as I mentioned before, Harding pardoned Eugene Debs, who was imprisoned by Woodrow Wilson for giving an anti-war speech.

    When Harding died, he was widely mourned, as evidenced one searches the old news coverage in the NY Times.

    A do-little president with corrupt friends, such as Harding, might be not such a bad thing, compared with someone such as LBJ/Nixon/GW Bush/Clinton who were far more actively involved in very harmful military actions and political corruption than Harding.

    Harding’s associates were small time grifters compared to Clintons and their Global Initiative, and Harding was never implicated in the financial scandals that surfaced after his death.

    Harding’s main interests seemed to be poker, booze and broads, which may have help save the country from the legacy building issues of other presidents who are treated far more kindly by historians.

    If Trump’s administration functions similarly to Harding’s, the USA could do just fine.

    1. Vatch

      The Teapot Dome scandal occurred during the administration of Warren G. Harding. He just happened to die before it became public knowledge. Also, Coolidge initially retained all of Harding’s cabinet when he became President upon Harding’s death. Some cabinet officers, such as Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, remained throughout Coolidge’s administration. Mellon was even Hoover’s Treasury Secretary! The Harding/Coolidge/Hoover administrations deserve much of the blame for the severe inequality of the 1920s, the associated bubble, and the Great Depression.

    2. Vatch

      I almost forgot about the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, another feature of Harding’s administration. Private mercenaries dropped gas and explosive bombs on striking miners, and the U.S. Army provided aerial reconnaissance. Harding threatened to send Army bombers, and 50 to 130 deaths were reported, with many more injuries.

  17. Ed

    I was going to comment that “the Trumpening” provided some thoughtful analysis, but though it is well thought out, it is overly complex and overly hopeful.

    I just remember we went through the same thing eight years ago with Obama. He got elected on a change program, and then appointed all these globalist/ oligarch types. And there was commentary about how this was part of some three dimensional chess game to deliver real reform, but as it turned out the Obama administration was a pretty oligarch/ globalist administration.

    The simplest explanation for the Trump appointments is much the same as for the Obama one. Obama had some of the least government experience of anyone elected President (off the top of my head, only Lincoln and Taylor had less, and though it has been whitewashed many of Lincoln’s early appointments -his Secretary of War and pretty much all the key generals- were disastrous). He ran for President pretty much to build up name recognition, and got elected unexpectedly because the Democratic insiders keep trying to foist Hillary Clinton on the nation, and the Republican establishment alternatives (McCain, Bush, Rubio) weren’t much better. So far same as Trump. So you get alot of over-reliance on recommendations of friends and established names. Trump has added the twist of trying to appoint retired generals to national security related positions, this is exactly the sort of move about someone who doesn’t know much about national security issues, if he did he would realize there is a well-founded tradition not to do this.

    Second, the President of the United States really does not have many formal powers. People think otherwise because the mainstream media cover the incumbent like he is a 17th century monarch. Assemble a two thirds majority in both houses of Congress and you pretty much get control of the federal government regardless of what the President does, and of course you can just remove a President that is inconvenient. Partisanship has usually prevented something like this from happening, though something like it has occurred fairly frequently in the state governments. With Trump this is relevant because the Republican Party establishment is so suspicious of Trump, and with the Democratic establishment opposed as well if they just combined they could clip his wings or get rid of him. As things stand he might not even make it through the Electoral College balloting.

    The situation is actually very similar to what the two Workers Party Presidents faced in Brazil.

    Trump is in the same situation he got in with the GOP convention, when there was a rumored plot to just have the delegates ignore the results of the primaries, and Trump had to tack hard in a GOP establishment direction to just get through the convention. Alot of these choices are obviously being made to prevent defections by the electors, or impeachment down the road. If there is three dimensional chess going on at all, it is that with only 52 Republican Senators out of 100, it will only take three Republican defections in the Senate to block some of these appointments, and its almost certain that Rand Paul will defect on the national security appointments. Its also safe to assume that not all of these people are going to be properly vetted.

    So its a combination that he is in over his head, and some of these appointments are being forced on him.

    However, Obama is much more “low energy” than Trump and pretty much went with the flow for eight years. I don’t see Trump going with the flow, and at his age it would be smart for him to only want one term anyway. My prediction is that the marriage of convenience between Trump and the GOP establishment will fall apart, and he will wind up restructuring his administration if he is not forced from office. And this assumes the Electoral College shenanigans turn out to be noise.

  18. shinola

    The comparison of Trump to Harding had occurred to me – I’m glad that someone with more gravitas (and writing ability) brought it up.

    On another level, I had an econ. prof. back in the early-mid ’70’s who was an open proponent of plutocracy. His operating theory was that great wealth should be a requirement of any “serious” candidate for public office because if they are already wealthy then they would be more likely to attend to the public good rather than seeking to create personal enrichment through public office; and, of course, a wealthy person is less susceptible to outright bribery.

    Looks like we’ll get to see if there is anything to that theory…

    1. Vatch

      Instead of a government filled with bribe takers, the Trump administration will be dominated by the people who give the bribes. Two sides of the same coin.

    2. Pirmann

      Agreed; I posted similarly above. Adding: I think this is about legacy for Trump as opposed to money making. If he wanted to just make money, there are easier and less aggravating ways for him to have done so. Trump wants his name on buildings, not just generate revenue streams from them. And now that his name will be in history books, he will not want it to be associated with a sub-par presidency. I think he’ll do some listening, sure, but I think he’ll ultimately be a strong decision maker. And I think his legacy as president of the people will mean more to him than being liked by the elite, most of whom opposed him being elected anyway.

  19. Herkie1

    crony capitalism, the kind that festers and grows when offered public support in its search for private profits,

    This is actually a fair description of fascism, of the brand Mussolini practiced anyway, the marriage between business and government. And his new pick for Sec. of the Interior, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers may not be a billionaire on her own, but let us say she married well. They are a very comfortable nuclear family. But, she does have one thing going for her that will certainly make liberal heads explode, she is a deeply fundamentalist far right wing politician. Graduated from an unaccredited bible college in Pensacola, and has consistently fought against a woman’s right to choose as well as gay marriage, and of course there is the ubiquitous GOP battle on the middle class and poor in favor of the wealthy in their class war on America.

  20. jerry

    Nomi is exactly right. One of the more impressive cons of modern day politics (right after Obama). However, I still am glad that Trump got elected, for the simple reason that he cannot do business as usual under the guise of being a Democrat and blame congress for not being able to pass any legislation (which was apparently Obama’s only excuse for being so goddawful the last 8 years).

    From the perspective of a Sanders progressive, it is much more beneficial to have the ugliness and corruption right in the American peoples’ faces. The establishment “democrats” (hillary, obama) had the perfect cover and perfect excuse for not delivering for the American people, they could blame it on the right. Now no such cover exists for the elite.

    This is going to get VERY ugly, very fast IMO. But hopefully it is exactly what the people needed to be finally rid of all their illusions about being saved by a “change candidate” from the illusory two party system. We got conned by the Democrats (Obama), and now we will be conned by the Republicans.

    I see an ugly, perhaps bloody revolution in the short term which would not have precipitated under Hillary aka Obama 2.0. And we are LONG past due. How fitting that the same pattern of political change should repeat itself nearly one century later. Time for the pendulum to swing back once more, my friends. Let’s get dirty.

    1. JTMcPhee

      “del-YUUUGE.” Please!

      What we mopes who try to pay attention and keep up are left with: sniping and snarkbit…

      But yeah, even cynical moi was dammit feeling some of that miasma “left” over from old “hope’n’change…” I recall an NPR bit, just before the Obama apotheosis where some brave since-departed NPR interviewer took on one of the Obama spokesmodels, and pointed out that based on the campaign’s position papers and indications of likely appointments and policies from the “incoming!” administration, it looked like the people who voted for Obama were not going to get any substance for their fealty. The response was something like “Well, they are just going to have to be satisfied with hopenchange,” the phrase stated as a single word, and clearly meant as a meaningless meme…

  21. casino implosion

    I like Nomi Prins and from a purely rational standpoint, she’s right. That’s missing the main point though. We know Trump was always planning to enrich himself and his cronies in office. We don’t care. When you have the chance to drive the harpoon through just one set of elites–the Ezra Klein/Clinton/Huffpo/Wapo axis, this time—you take it. You don’t turn up your nose at the chance just because you can’t get them all in one shot. And frankly I’d rather be ruled by flat-out gold plated greedy hogs like Trump than by the sanctimonious Clintons and their insufferable air of “professional class virtue” (Tom Frank)

  22. East

    I read once here, on the NC, that the architect of the New Deal was a traitor of his own class.
    Let’s hope there is a chance that your new president would be one too.

  23. Cheryl Basso

    I have been reading the articles at your website for several months. I have realized that you have expanded my horizons when it comes to the sad fact that we really don’t have any representation in the halls of congress. I suspected it, but your articles have clarified my thoughts.
    But something I noticed that disturbed me over the months was the fact that, while you were very clear on the negative problems that would arise if Hillary Clinton was elected president, there never seemed to be any comments about the present and past business activities of the other candidate Donald Trump.
    And now that he has been elected, finally there is an article suggesting that there will be serious consequences should the people he has been naming to head the various departments in Washington are actually installed.
    But what was most disturbing to me was that most of the comments to that article suggested a collective “shrug of the shoulders” in response to the concerns listed. There was almost a bit of the ‘well, he’s not president yet, just give him a chance’ that I see in other venues voice by supporters of Trump. Talk about Hope and Change.
    And even more appalling, to me, was the flippant suggestion that what we really needed was a revolution. As if this was merely a conversation in an undergraduate philosophy class.
    I am checking out of reality. I just bought a book called Hamlet’s Mill: An essay investigation the origins of human knowledge and its transmission through myth. Will be working my way through it, possibly while dining on some Fancy Feast
    cat food, because quite frankly, this is where we are headed.

    1. Yves Smith

      Did you miss that the mainstream media was 24/7 on the topic of all the problems with Trump? We hardly needed to tell anyone about that.

      Our position was that both candidates were unqualified and would be terrible Presidents, just different flavors of terrible.

  24. NotSoSure

    And people here keep saying that voters are not stoopid.

    LOL. Murica must be the most delusional place on earth heck the most delusional place in history ever.

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