Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in just four days, and like a writer desperately searching for a political analogy to kickstart his column, Trump still doesn’t seem to have a clue.
Since very little he’s said or done suggests he’s done his policy homework since being elected president two months ago, the burden of the executive branch’s “execution” portion will likely fall to his immediate subordinates: the Cabinet.
Yes, while the future bloviator-in-chief is busy doing god-knows-what on Twitter, the country’s most senior appointed officials stand to wield an enormous amount of power to shape and carry out a sweeping conservative agenda.
That’s great if you’re an archconservative. But if you don’t happen to think revoking millions of people’s healthcare, shredding environmental and labor regulations or padding the corporate elite’s bank accounts would be good things for this country – and we know the UCLA community doesn’t – it’s best not to underestimate the Trump administration.
Contrary to their bumbling, ham-fisted boss, many of Trump’s picks have the skills and know-how to change the country in major ways. And this goes far beyond the usual Facebook rants about culturally “normalizing” Trump and his bluster. Given the Cabinet’s ideologies and records, they stand to administer a powerful, undiluted dose of neoliberalism to the American people, without regard for the Rust Belt voters who thought they’d get their manufacturing jobs back and certainly without regard for the college students and other liberal voters who have been skeptical of the Trump machine since day one.
Some of the nominees carry right-wing views that threaten the rights and liberties of all Americans. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick to become U.S. attorney general, intends to carry his rock-ribbed conservatism and “law and order” legal philosophy into the Department of Justice. As a four-term U.S. senator and Alabama’s former attorney general, Sessions is well-qualified for the job, but stands to use those qualifications to apply his rigid views to issues such as civil rights, immigration and community policing. His record on these issues would cause all but the most staunch Republicans at least some discomfort. And of special interest to Californians, he looks to escalate the federal government’s war on drugs and illegal immigration by prosecuting offenses on both with a renewed vigor.
But Sessions is far from the only candidate willing and able to impose a hyper-conservative agenda on the American people. Betsy DeVos, nominee to head the Department of Education, could be in a position to wreak havoc on the nation’s public schools. As a decades-long proponent of the school voucher system, she seeks to focus the government’s investment on non-traditional charter schools while leaving failing public schools – and their students – in the dust.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is nominated to run the Environmental Protection Agency – a department he actively worked to undermine, often with the help of the state’s biggest energy conglomerates. Given his and the president-elect’s positions on the EPA’s role in commerce, it’s easy to imagine Pruitt hog-tying, if not completely dismantling the agency – with some help from his energy-industry friends, of course.
Similar conflicts of interests abound in Trump’s proposed cabinet. Rex Tillerson, potential secretary of state, has been harshly criticized for his conciliatory business ties with and position towards Russia. Likewise, Andrew Puzder, who manages the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s conglomerate, stands to become the next labor secretary, regardless of Trump’s repeated bashing of “corporate elites” putting down American workers. Puzder has embraced the failed ideas of trickle-down, small-government conservative economics, which doesn’t bode well for workers who depend on the Department of Labor to handle violations of minimum wage laws and workplace regulations, but it’s great news for executives who can watch their profit margins inflate.
I could go on, but you get the point. While some of Trump’s other picks are a step above actively undermining the department they’re nominated to lead, picking these people to lead major government agencies is like hiring an army of cats to guard your canaries. Regardless of the “drain the swamp” rhetoric that now seems to have gone down the drain itself, the threat goes beyond a return to simple business as usual. The fallout over these Cabinet picks transcend party lines and are far more serious than just partisan bickering. Conservatives and liberals alike will suffer when major government programs and protections are hampered.
The Trump administration stands to transform the federal government into the most aggressively conservative apparatus in decades. Sure, they’ll trot the president out at rallies and keep his thumbs busy tweeting in order to keep up appearances, but the actual dirty work will be done by people who know what they’re doing. Government as we know it is at stake – so don’t get too distracted by the latest Twitter controversy.
Read more Daily Bruin coverage of the presidential inauguration, along with analysis of California and federal policy under the Trump Administration: