The president-elect has appointed oilmen, bankers, generals and anti-government ideologues. It is a tainted team for a tainted president chosen in a tainted election
US president-elect Donald Trump. “Mr. Trump was and remains an abnormal politician because he threatens changes that, with almost no exception, are genuinely destructive to American values and interest.’ Photograph: Paco Anselmi/PA
The idea that Donald Trump might become a “normal” American president once he moved into the White House was always for the birds. The 2016 contest was an abnormal election won by an abnormal politician. It was an abnormal election because hackers linked to the Russian government worked to help Mr Trump’s cause; because the head of the FBI tossed a political hand grenade into the closing stages of the contest which helped Mr Trump’s cause; and because, since a US supreme court ruling in 2013, states that want to have exploited a power to impose voter ID rules that intentionally keep African Americans off the rolls. Oh, and 2.8 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Mr Trump. That’s hardly normal either.
Mr Trump was and remains an abnormal politician because he threatens changes that, with almost no exception, are genuinely destructive to American values and interests, not least to the interests of many of those white working-class voters who voted for him in the hope of change. He has now assembled a government team which, again almost without exception, testifies to this reality. These appointments confirm that he cannot be regarded as a president like any other. Perhaps, in five weeks’ time, when he actually succeeds Barack Obama in the Oval Office, he will start to do things that suggest otherwise. But that has not happened yet.
The first threat from the new appointments is that it is Team Corporate America. The new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is one of the biggest oil moguls on the planet, chief executive of ExxonMobil, friend of Vladimir Putin and the Middle Eastern petrolocracies. The new energy secretary, Rick Perry, is an oilman and a climate change sceptic. Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a body he would like to see closed down, holds those prejudices even more strongly. This will be a pro-carbon, pro-drilling and anti-climate change administration like no other.
It is also political Christmas for the Wall Street bankers. The new Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker whose stated priority is to cut corporate taxation by more than half. He will join former Goldman banker and Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon, Mr Trump’s ultra-rightwing chief strategist, and the Goldman president, Gary Cohn, who will become, in effect, the new president’s chief economic adviser. Mr Trump may have railed against bankers, and Goldman in particular, during the campaign, but he has put them at the heart of his economic thinking.
The third fox in the governmental hen house is the military. Mr Trump said during the campaign that he knew “more than the generals” about the threat from Islamic State. But the generals will occupy key roles in his administration to such a degree that the head of Human Rights Watch has said there will be a whiff of “military junta” about it. With James Mattis at defence, the temperamental Islamophobe Michael Flynn as national security adviser, John Kelly in charge of the enormous homeland security bureaucracy and Mike Pompeo as the new CIA director, military men have seized some key jobs. Whether this heralds the politicisation of the military or the militarisation of politics will be a key question.
Mr Trump’s appointments also point unerringly towards the dismantling of federal government programmes in other crucial areas. Making Andrew Puzderlabor secretary puts an opponent of raising the minimum wage in charge of it. Betsy DeVos at education will be a privatiser running public schools policy. Tom Price at health and human services is both an arch-critic of Mr Obama’s affordable care programme and a privatiser of the Medicare retirement care programme. Ben Carson at housing and urban development does not agree with government safety nets. Overall, the military will prosper at the expense of the poor. Guns not healthcare.
There is nothing normal about any of this; just as there is nothing normal about appointing Jeff Sessions, the Alabaman who has spent years in the Senate trying to roll back voting rights for African Americans, attorney general; and nothing normal about the expected appointment of an anti-choice justice to take the vacancy on the supreme court. In heavily tainted circumstances, America has elected a president who seems wholly unable to distinguish between private interest and public responsibility. As long as Mr Trump does so little to respect his own office, it is hard for others to respect him and it as they would normally.