It's not hard to see how President-elect Donald Trump's appointment process veered sharply away from what makes sense for his political positioning. It was when he reacted to stories about his close ally and would-be secretary of state Rudy Giuliani's supposed conflicts of interest by floating Mitt Romney as his alternative choice.
That Romney was quickly groveling for the job, giving the lie to all his supposedly discerning rejection of Trump's candidacy during the campaign, was mordantly amusing and ultimately revealing about Romney. But it was also wildly out of synch with Trump's own positioning from the campaign just past.
If anything, it got worse as Trump proceeded to make a string of "Walter White" appointments, i.e., people who are antithetical to the purpose of the offices to which they have been nominated. ('Saturday Night Live,' all too often smug and not especially funny when it comes to Trump, scored big when it brought Bryan Cranston in to play his iconic 'Breaking Bad' character, the Southwestern meth king supposedly having been named by Trump as the new head of the Drug Enforcement Agency.)
In fact, some of Trump's picks are just that darkly comical.
They include dim bulb far right ex-Texas Governor Rick Perry as secretary of energy, the department he famously forgot -- during a presidential debate, no less! -- that he had pledged to abolish. Below you can see the lengthy sequence, which includes Perry's fellow candidates "helping" him by trying to prompt his his recollection of the three agencies he would abolish with their suggestions. The footage is funnier than most any scripted comedy skit could be.
Then there's Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, like Perry another climate change denier. This poor fellow, supposed to be the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is such a zealot anti-regulationist that he doesn't care that his state now suffers from swarms of earthquakes brought on by untrammeled fracking.
Like the pick of clueless Perry, who from time to time has tried to match wits with Governor Jerry Brown, heheh, the Pruitt pick is mordantly amusing.
Is this some sort of Trumpist satire, perhaps, the former Democrat's caricature of his recently adopted Republican Party's anti-ecology thinking as a sort of performance art?
If Trump, who did take a lengthy meeting with Al Gore at the estimable Ivanka Trump's urging, really is serious about the nitwit policies that such appointments seem to imply, he is quite delusional about the nature of his extremely slender election mandate.
'Saturday Night Live' scored with this skit featuring the appointment of 'Breaking Bad' icon Walter White as Trump's chief of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
He is president-elect only because, as I warned before the election, he ended up winning a few industrial/former industrial states in the great middle of the country -- states previously won by Barack Obama -- by the narrowest of margins against a candidate whose husband's trade policies eviscerated the region's working class. And who herself seeks every excuse under the sun to distract from her unresponsive and stunningly misconceived campaign. (The FBI did it, fake news did it, the Russians did it, etc.)
And yet Hillary Clinton, despite her campaign shortcomings and very problematic nature -- never forget that the revelations from Russian intelligence via Wikileaks are all true, speaking of inconvenient truths, though they were given relative short shrift by the campaign and most of the media at the time -- also won the national popular vote. She defeated Trump by nearly 3 million votes, just over two percentage points, the biggest popular vote margin in any of the five elections in which the popular vote loser managed to prevail in the electoral college.
Many are alarmed by all the generals in the emerging Trump government. There are four four and three-star generals so far in the Cabinet and senior White House staff. In an upcoming piece called "All the President's Generals," I"ll take an in-depth look at them and at how Obama related to his own potential assets with multiple stars.
On balance, I'm not bothered by all Trump's generals. They come from a military tradition I'm comfortable with and have demonstrated expertise in their fields. That includes controversial new National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. He's problematic in a way, but is clearly an outstanding intelligence officer. And, as the critical media profiles of Flynn invariably neglect to mention, Flynn was right very early on about Isis while the Obama National Security Council, as I wrote repeatedly while Isis rampaged unchecked, was oh so wrong.
No, the problem is not with Trump's generals, it's with Trump's civilians.
He promised a cleansing populism, decrying fat cats and cozy insiderism all across the vast country. Yet he is delivering rampant fat cat-ism.
The head of controversial Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs as head of the National Economic Council? What is this, the Bill Clinton White House? "Meet the new boss, same as ..."
He's put a couple billionaire vulture capitalists in top Cabinet posts on the economy. We're getting a new secretary for the public education system, another billionaire, who wants to privatize schools. A new health secretary who not only wants to roll back Obamacare but also wants to privatize Medicare. There's notoriously clueless presidential candidate Ben Carson, especially ignorant about housing, in charge of a department that provides much of the social safety net he ideologically opposes. A fast food mogul who flourished by exploiting low-wage workers in charge of a Labor Department overseeing the minimum wage.
You get the gist.
And now a proposed secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who is supposed represent the broad American interest who instead, never having served in the military or government, has spent his entire adult life pushing the fundamentally amoral transnational interests of the world's largest oil company.
There are good reasons why Trump won, as longtime readers know, reasons that go far beyond the mostly bogus excuses dreamed up by all the pols and media types who never understood the election.
But Americans simply did not vote for this sort of government.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, an incongruous pick as secretary of energy, famously forgets his pledge to abolish the department.
Frankly, this government is looking, so far, much like the historic pattern of a neo-fascist government, as I warned early this year.
The leader pushes a brand of anti-intellectual populism, all the while privately aligned with and promoting the interests of very rich hardline conservatives.
Ironically, given the controversy over the role of Russian intelligence in releasing damaging information on the Clintons and their national and international political networks through Wikileaks, Trump's new would-be secretary of state is closely and very publicly aligned with the Kremlin. In addition to palling around with one of President Vladimir Putin's closest longtime associates, he even accepted the Russian Order of Friendship from Putin. And to think I've turned down appearing on the RT (Russia Today) news channel to keep my opposition to the foolish new cold war promoted by Clinton in the proper context.
I explained the decades long enmity between the Clintons and the Kremlin in July. There's far more to say about the Russian connection to all this and I will get to it as we go forward.
Suffice to say for now that, while the Clintons grabbing at this as the latest excuse for her defeat -- she didn't cancel her long-planned election night fireworks show until election eve, you know -- is more than a little pathetic, so too is Trump's insistence that Russia was not involved. That spin certainly will not stand.
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