Tuesday, December 13, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth

Exxon boss Rex Tillerson, whose
 company runs its own international games,
 may start out in this government
  as Secretary of State.
The Nation, a formidable and lively magazine of the left, has flatly suggested that all Trump cabinet nominations should be fought ferociously. I respect the sentiment but don’t agree (though it seems Trump is going out of his way to dissolve every  gain if not the federal  agency itself). But his opponents must keep their heads as he is losing his.

Picking the fights – and there will be many fights on many fronts –  remains both important and selective. It will also require a  focus that has often eluded the Democrats. “I’m not a member of an organized political party – I’m a Democrat,” Will Rogers famously joked nearly a hundred years ago, and it still feels  true.  Democrats’ strength and weakness? They love to talk themselves around, into and out of things before settling on a course of action. 

Trump foes will need more aggressiveness today dealing with an unsavory and unpredictable celebrity apprentice who seems to have little concern about some essential directions set in the last 30 years.

Despite impending lawsuits for violating campaign finance laws, Trump intends to wrap the mantle of the America electorate around him at every opportunity, even inflating the size of his victory – he won, get over it – even  denying the Russian cyber  invasion and defying the courts to make him give up his global  business interests. It’s foolish to expect him to crash quickly or his voters to quickly admit to his errors – or to theirs. The country will likely crash before he does.

Citizens will need abnormal energy to oppose Trump’s cabinet of fossil fuel fanatics.  People right now are succumbing to the holiday spirit – goodwill toward men, Holly Jolly Christmas  – rather than girding up for the many combats ahead.  Even his foes can’t always tell what is in imminent danger from a whimful  president elect.

Some of his cabinet selections may act as a brake.  I’m pretty sure Trump  picked a retired Marine general for Secretary of Defense because he liked his nickname – Mad Dog. But if you examine the career and quotability of James Mattis, he might actually serve as a mollifying influence.  Another retired Marine general, hawkish Jack Kelly, has been tapped for Homeland Affairs but actually has experience in several of the crucial areas of a too immense department.

The horror began with two appointments that Congress has nothing to say about – no Senate advise and consent.  They include yet another retired general – didn’t Trump once proclaim he knew more than the generals? – as national security adviser, Mike Flynn, whose closeness to Russia and crazy tweets have led fellow military experts to label him near  demented.

Then there is senior advisor Steve Bannon, in a struggle with more centrist Republicans for Trump’s alt-right soul. Bannon seems the power behind Trump’s virulent backhand, a guy willing to take on Kellogg because of a trade remark and the  pulling of ads from his beloved Breitbart.  Bannon is much like Trump -- only they are allowed to Snap, Crackle and Pop.

It’s not just that anti-Obamas infest his cabinet, it’s the way Trump does it. A day after he meets with Al Gore and is quoted as being open to discuss environmental issues seriously, he turns around and appoints an outrageous thorn in the Environmental Protection  Agency’s side to be its new head.

Scott Pruitt is not only a climate change denier, he has sued the EPA to roll back orders affecting his cherished Oklahoma oil companies, whose executives  actually wrote some of his complaining letters. 

Another feint involved the Secretary of State position where respectable names such as Mitt Romney and  foreign affairs specialist Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) were trotted out and pumped up over self-promoting Rudy Giuliani (Hangers-on ego is a definite no-no in the Trump world; only he and Bannon are glorifiers in chief; Rudy should have kept his nose out of these reindeer games). 

After toying with Romney,  Trump hosed him. He chose for State the head of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, another oil giant with close business ties to Russia. In fact, many fear the Senate will let slide a CEO whose company’s policies have frequently been at war with America’s interests.

Tillerson is a rarity in this cabinet. He thinks climate change is real.  But he embodies a jaded GOP theory: Businessmen --   who  expend their talents exploiting animal and mineral resources and  making deals for corporation profits --  will turn on a dime and put  all that life experience aside for  public service.  A George Schultz who can leave business and succeed in government is a rarity, yet amazing how people still believe that myth.

Tillerson might become  the cutting edge of fights during the confirmation hearings. Fury is building among cold war veterans in the Senate  who fear this Rex is too cozy with the machinations of that  Machiavellian czar (Putin). Tillerson has negotiated massive Exxon deals in Russia and nearly 50 other countries, many to the advantage of Exxon but not US commitments. He’s yet another notch in seeing Trump as the fossil fuel president.

Another big fight probably won’t happen.  Thirty years ago, Jeff  Session couldn’t muster enough Senate votes to be appointed  judge and he has dodged claims of racism all his life. But this forceful denier of climate change --  and even of bills to enhance legal immigration -- has now made chums in the Senate as well as Alabama. Fighting his elevation to Attorney General would be all uphill – and take place even before Trump is inaugurated. The new minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, has other challenges to test his boxing skills. 

After Trump railed about Wall Street greed  during his campaign, his Treasury Secretary nominee is  Steve Mnuchin,  a former Goldman Sachs banker and hedge fund operator  whose California bank foreclosed on 38,000 homeowner victims of  the housing crash.

He heads a Trump staff  noted for billionaires who hardly ever shared their wealth with people lower on the scale. The billionaire nominee for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, owned the  Sago Mine in West Virginia when 12 workers were killed in a 2006 explosion (three years later he closed the mine), raising memories of Trump’s promise to keep coal alive.

Coal maybe; its miners not so much. 

If Trump wanted to nominate a nightmare for the working man,
 he found one in Andrew Puzder.
The Labor Department has a strong record of accusing Hardees and Carl Jr. of violating minimum wage and overtime rules, but now that CEO, Andrew Puzder, is nominee for Labor Secretary. He’s also a leading opponent of the $15 minimum wage and has openly longed for the day when robots can make his burgers, replacing humans who fight back on age, wage and sex discrimination. Compared to Trump he is squishy on immigrants because he loves the chance at ever cheaper labor.

The outrage of this  choice may well galvanize organized labor in new ways. Unions don’t fear robotics as much as heartless bosses. Unions can now argue that working men and women should not look at joining because of what the union can do for them now – which has diminished in many states as well as Wisconsin --  but on why solidarity and modernized tactics will be the mobilization force of the future.  So far the only successful putdown of Trump tweets has come from a union leader at Carrier who bluntly corrected his facts.

Orthopedic doctor and House member, Tom Price
 clearly wants to break the bones of
 Obamacare at HHS.
Some observers think it will be nigh impossible to gut the essentials of Obamacare even if it is now called Trump care. The Donald has indicated several things he likes that require some kind of continuing federal mandate. But look at who he is nominating for HHS Secretary – Rep. Tom Price who has led that House charge against the Affordable Care Act and wants to privatize that law and Medicare. A new group of doctors has formed to protest how backwards is this choice.  

A likely unchallengeable choice is imminent for Secretary of the Interior, an agency that handles the  National Parks Service, the Bureau of Land Management,  the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Geological Survey, all of which can’t function well without investigating climate. His nominee is  Montana’s lone congressman, Rep. Ryan Zinke, a westerner in a state where the federal government has enormous holdings.  A former Navy SEAL,  Zinke has put clean air and water as his top priorities.  

Even if Zinke were someone to fear,  like Price,  it would be a case of getting Congress to oppose one of its own, which doesn’t often happen.  

After admitting he was unprepared,
Ben Carson is picked for HUD
There’s no way to justify the choice of Ben Carson to head Housing and Urban Development unless you also think the pyramids were built to store grain.  Carson originally made points for sanity  by admitting he had no expertise to be part of Trump’s cabinet.  But now he wants in, putting fair housing and block grant issues under his thumb, a notoriously uneasy thumb outside an operating room. 

The whole administration is looking like the Peter Principle in action.

Ignorance is no barrier to joining this cabinet. Former Texas governor Rick Perry became a laughing stock in 2012 debates when he couldn’t remember the name of the Department of Energy.  Now Trump seems to have tapped him to lead it, probably to shift the efforts back to the fossil fuels of Texas from the renewables the agency has been helping develop.

Is Betsy DeVos the hatchet to chop up public education?
Betsy DeVos – and here’s a big fight, the biggest on my list of lamentables – is an Amway billionaire, along with her husband. Public school teachers are already mounting a response.

Through American Federation for Children and other groups DeVos  has plunged big money into the battle for voucher and charter schools against public education. Many of their attack ads have nothing to do with education, just slime. So of course she’s being offered as Secretary of Education. This looms as a devastating setback to true education initiatives.

Linda McMahon, best known for participating in mock domestic battles in the ring on her way to serving as  CEO (for her husband) of World Wide Wrestling, expects to head the Small Business Administration. That is strange way to put entrepreneurship on steroids. 

The Transportation Secretary choice is not only Sen. Mitch McConnell’s wife but a former Labor Secretary under George Bush, Elaine Chao.  In the past she has denied connection with her family’s enormous shipping business, but she certainly qualifies as the ultimate D.C. insider.

Most of the choices are the exact opposite of Trump’s rally posture. They are a defiant slap in the face of his own voters as he chooses not a democracy but a plutocracy.  Rather than “draining the swamp” as he promised, he invited the Creatures From the Black Lagoon for a swim. 

The only good news this December is that all these Trump picks are on paper – no one eligible has been confirmed. Optimists keep hoping they won’t act as bad as they look.  But if they prove as ideologically extreme as their records, not only is the US in big trouble, Trump’s own voters are going to be taken for the carnival ride of their lives. 

Where will  the unhappy majority fight back?  How will they find the energy? And what specific looming issues demand a battle?  The Mission Impossible clock is ticking.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com. 

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