Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Arizona. Photo: Flickr/ Gage Skidmore Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Arizona. Photo: Flickr/ Gage Skidmore

As President-elect becomes President, Sean Ledwith takes a look at the Trump administration

On 20th January, the world will watch the barely believable spectacle of Donald Trump being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. The full ceremonial apparatus of the American establishment will provide the backdrop to the inauguration of a self-confessed sexual and financial predator as Head of State. The organic crisis of the US political system represented by Trump’s election will be fully exposed to a global audience. A narcissistic braggart with zero experience of elected office will take over a position previously held by the likes of Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

The absurdity of such an appalling figure attaining the highest political office in the foremost superpower, despite being the most unpopular Presidential candidate in modern history and actually losing the general election by almost three million votes, will be front and centre in the minds of millions around the world.

Richest cabinet ever

As the Trump Presidency degenerates into an almost inevitable sequence of crises and scandals over the coming months and years, the entire US political system will face a crisis of legitimacy that could shake it to the core. Trump himself will obviously be the focus of much of the controversy and corruption which surfaces over the course of his administration. However, the cabinet team he has been assembling since winning in November is equally likely to fuel the delegitimation of the status quo. 

Trump has put together the richest top team in modern political history, with a combined wealth of at least $11 billion.Only the most deluded optimist will be expecting Team Trump to address economic inequality in the US.  The incoming cabinet is also unlikely to re-assure those concerned about climate change and militarism as twin threats to humanity in the 21st century.

New Gilded Age

The last years of the nineteenth century in the US became known as The Gilded Age due to the transparently corrupt links between crony capitalists and the political establishment. Under President Trump, the country might be about to experience a reheated version.

Potentially the most powerful member of Trump’s cabinet will be Vice-President Mike Pence, the role that is famously a heartbeat away from the Presidency. Those who feel the best thing that could happen in the near future is Trump shuffling off his mortal coil should check out Pence’s political profile. The former Governor of Indiana is an unreconstructed neocon, born-again- Christian and neoliberal crusader.

In his former role, Pence initiated legislation permitting businesses to discriminate against gay and transgender customers, defunded abortion clinics and implemented extensive cuts in corporate taxation. As a member of Congress in 2005, Pence unbelievably spoke out against federal funding for the victims of Hurricane Katrina on the grounds that such assistance would undermine the concept of the free market! Pence has strong ties with the Koch brothers who are the most powerful set of big donors to the Republican Party. He is also an unashamed defender of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and would be happy to see Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran ripped up. In some ways, Pence is even more dangerous than the President-elect, as Trump is clearly little more than a cynical egomaniac devoid of principles, whereas Pence is actually committed to a serious right-wing agenda to roll back the already threadbare welfare provision of the US system. 

Worse than Caligula

Possibly the most egregious appointment is Tillerson, Trump’s pick as Secretary of State -the US equivalent of Foreign Secretary. Tillerson’s experience of global diplomacy is precisely nil but his experience of securing multi-billion dollar corporate contracts is vast thanks to his time as CEO of Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s most powerful oil companies.

Tillerson is unlikely to have much sympathy for the protestors at Standing Rock trying to block the pipeline running through Native American territory in North Dakota. He is likely to support expanded exploitation of oil reserves in the Arctic Circle and to shift US foreign policy even closer to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Environmental campaigners will also have their heads in their hands at the prospect of Rick Perry taking over the Energy Department. Former Governor of Texas, Perry will find himself running a department he was once committed to abolishing (although on one occasion during a debate in 2011 he hilariously failed to recall which departments he was planning to cull). One energy commentator in the US has dubbed this the worst political appointment since Caligula made his favourite horse a consul in Ancient Rome, although on further reflection added: Unfortunately, Perry can do far more damage to America than Caligula’s horse could do to Rome.

Climate change deniers

As a Governor in the heartland of oil production in the US, Perry has proven himself to be a friend of big business and an opponent of regulation and the promotion of renewable energy. In 2010he described the Deep Horizon disaster on a BP platform as an act ofGod. Another arsonist put in charge of the fire brigade is Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency. Incredibly, in his former role as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt authorised thirteen lawsuits against the very same institution in the name of resisting clean air measures!  Most alarmingly, the man in charge of the biggest polluting state’s policy on climate change does not believe the evidence of virtually every reputable scientist on the planet. Last year he told a conference: That debate is far from settled….Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.

Mad Dog

Trump’s choice as Defense Secretary is equally alarming for those who would like to see the human race last longer than the duration of the incoming administration. In most societies, a man nicknamed Mad Dog would be regarded as conspicuously unsuitable to fill this post but predictably Trump sees this as an asset in the profile of General James Mattis. The incoming Defense Secretary earned his inauspicious moniker for his part in leading the ferocious US assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. Human rights groups denounced the attack for its notorious disregard of civilian casualties and the deployment of uranium-tipped weapons which subsequently caused a spike in births of deformed babies. Mattis was tasked by President Obama with drawing up plans for the US bombing of Syria in 2013 that was only cancelled thanks to the mobilisation of the global anti-war movement. The General resigned from his role in the Obama administration two years later after a disagreement with the President over the nuclear deal with Iran. 

With both Mattis and Mike Pence in the cabinet, it is likely Trump will adopt a more belligerent attitude to Tehran and escalate tension in the Middle East. Some constitutional experts even argue Mattis is ineligible for his new position as the role technically cannot be filled by a general who has served in the military within seven years. Unsurprisingly, Trump does not feel constrained by such conventions. Mattis’ militaristic mind-set was encapsulated in his comments on operations in Afghanistan ‘You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them’

Gung Ho

Mattis’ gung-ho tendencies are unlikely to be restrained by another senior member of Trump’s top team, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The latter’s most notable contribution to the Republican Convention last year was to lead from the stage the moronic mass chanting of Lock Her Up, aimed at Hillary Clinton. Tension in the Middle East will not be alleviated by a figure like Flynn who last year stated: We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism and fascism, and imperialism and communism, This is Islamism, it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.” Like the new Defense Secretary, Flynn fell out with the Obama administration over its rapprochement with Iran, accusing the outgoing President of being insufficiently aware that the US was involved in a global battle with Islam.

Flirting with racism

Apart from environmental degradation and militarism, the other high-profile threat to the fabric of US society is racism. Again, the early indications are that the incoming administration will only serve to exacerbate the problem. Many eyebrows have been raised by Trump’s choice of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.  The Alabama Senator has a political record of downplaying the importance of the fight against racism, and even flirting with the worst elements of the racist right in the US.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions-to give his full name-was named after two prominent members of the pro-slavery Confederacy that tried to break away from the US in the Civil War era. As a lawyer in the 1960s, he prosecuted civil rights activists who tried to assist elderly black votes to the polls. In 1986, he was refused a federal judgeship for his dubious record on tackling racism. Sessions has also spoken out against the 1965 Voting Rights Act that sought to clamp down on racist gerrymandering in the South. Sessions’ only response to the spate of police shootings of black males in this decade has been to defend the officers. He told Congress at his recent confirmation hearing: law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the actions of a few bad actors and for allegations about police that were not true.

Taking on Trump

Needless to say, a President-elect who conducted a vile campaign based on prejudice and race-baiting will not be making an effort to hold back Sessions’ reactionary agenda. However, there are hopeful signs that Trump’s Horsemen will not ride roughshod over US society without opposition. Congressman and veteran civil rights activist, John Lewis, has drawn praise from many for his refusal to attend the inauguration on the grounds of the new President’s illegitimacy. Thousands of protestors will also attend the event in an attempt to launch the resistance to what hopefully may turn out to be a short-lived Age of Trump. 

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters