Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The State of the Swamp

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In less than three weeks, Donald Trump will assume the office of the presidency in the United States.  Trump’s campaign revolved partially around threatening to strip rights from many categories of Americans, but also focused on the idea that the federal government, Washington, D.C., and American politics more broadly were mired in corruption.  “Drain the swamp!” became a rallying cry at Trump’s angry rallies, and a typical sign-off on the fascist’s twitter tirades.
By now, Trump has named nearly all of the individuals who he hopes will serve at the core of his cabinet.  The people he has selected offer a window into the attributes he values in his entourage.  But they also give us some insight into how genuine Trump was when he inveighed against corruption in D.C., represented in his telling by the stupidity and incompetence of elites, and the deeply problematic overlap between corrosive elite private interest and access to the levers of power in public institutions.
So how do Trump’s appointees measure up to his claim that he would drain the D.C. swamp?
His nominee for Secretary of State is the representative of an industry and a company with a history of corrupting public policy debates, poisoning our environment, and engaging in massive human rights abuses.  You could not find a more vivid example of the toxic intermingling between public and private interest than Tillerson’s ties with Russia, its nihilistic president, and its leech-like oligarchs.  
Trump has nominated an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the Voting Rights Act, a national security advisor who was fired for incompetence, and a Homeland Security leader who oversaw the prison at Guantanamo Bay that has been a core recruiting tool for international terrorists.  These appointments signal an embrace of undemocratic politics, serial lying and incompetence, and a stultifying and self-destructive national security conventional wisdom.
But it doesn’t stop there.  Trump has nominated a CIA director who supports the illegal and unaccountable surveillance of Americans, the murder of whistleblowers, and the use of state power to pursue vendettas against political opponents.  His would-be Treasury Secretary emerged from the belly of the beast (Goldman Sachs) that Trump tried to tie to Hillary Clinton.  His Labor nominee opposes a minimum wage for workers, and his Health and Human Services Secretary expresses enthusiasm at the prospect of stripping healthcare access away from Americans who will be set adrift when they are thrown back on the cruel inadequacy of the “free” market, mostly associated with the freedom of insurance and drug companies to drive up prices.
Trump’s nominees to head the Energy department and the EPA don’t believe that public institutions and the public interest should protect the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.  Repudiating more than half a century of dizzying and world-renowned commercial, medical, economic, academic, and scientific success, Trump’s pick for Budget Director suggests that there is no place for government funded research.  His Housing and Urban Development Secretary is equally allergic to empirical and historical evidence, and believes that charity rather than planned public policy is the antidote to poverty in our cities and rural regions.
Trump’s pick for Commerce has made his fortune by preying on American businesses and industries, and his appointment to the Education department wants to redirect public funds to private institutions, effectively transferring wealth to subsidize the education of elites and special interest groups rather than the broad public which contributes those funds.
His chief of staff comes from the very party institution that Trump successfully derided in his bid for the Republican nomination, and his chief strategist has made a living providing a bullhorn to anti-Semitic and white supremacist organizations.
In other words, Donald Trump has committed to staffing his administration with the nastiest, dirtiest, and most compromised denizens of the swamp.  Whether members of a corrupt corporate class, a discredited financial elite, party insiders, incompetent ideologues, or professional racists and provocateurs, Trump’s cabinet consists of all the people and interests he claimed were the problem in D.C.
How Trump’s supporters--who tolerated and encouraged his racism, sexism, and bigotry--respond to their candidate’s shameless, almost taunting hypocrisy will let us know whether they were motivated by so much as an iota of a desire to reform D.C. or whether, as seems likely at this point, they voted by way of lashing out aimlessly to destroy the work of two centuries in making our country a fairer, more equal, more open place where more of its citizens feel at home and have enjoyed an expanding array of civil, social, and economic rights.
In the meantime, we have to prepare to confront an administration that is intent on diving into bed with a Russian oligarchy, lurching into conflict with an East Asian superpower, going to war with the international institutions and accords that have changed the world for the better since 1945, and leading a renewed charge against the idea of the public good and the public responsibility that goes along with it.  
Trump’s actions and words suggest he will pursue this assault on the American public sphere and its democracy using a carrot and a stick.  He will offer to protect social security in the short term, peeling away older working class voters from the coalition that will seek to oppose his upward redistribution of wealth.  He will offer a “feel good” factor to racists and Islamophobes by targeting migrants and Muslims.  But he will also pursue the press, lie shamelessly and often, and use any state power he can lay hands on to abuse and intimidate his opponents.

We can only hope that his transparent embrace of corruption, avarice, private interest, and undemocratic politics will begin to put pressure on some of his erstwhile supporters and make them think twice about supporting the fascist and his radical party.  

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