Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016, 1:28 pm
Creatures from the Corporate Lagoon: Trump Fills Swamp with Billionaires, Bankers and Oilmen
Only a cosmically conflicted Gemini could pull off Donald Trump’s working class billionaire routine. In hindsight, Hillary Clinton, a Scorpio worth only tens of millions, didn’t stand a chance. Now two things are clear. One, it would be fun to watch Donald Trump swing an actual hammer. Two, Wall Street is going to be just fine...until it’s not.
True, the President-elect is facing criticism from those who fail to see how assembling a crack team of plutocrats will help the working class. But this dissent, we’re told by the administration-in-waiting, is mostly emanating from a bitter mainstream media—the same bunch of easily offended losers who spent the last year getting things so damn wrong. #Sad. At any rate, anti-establishment vengeance has been achieved. Or has it?
Trump’s picks for secretary of state, treasury secretary, transportation secretary, commerce secretary and education secretary—all current or former oil, gas and Wall Street executives and inheritors of family fortunes who enjoy a combined net worth of $7,812,000,000—will help make this the wealthiest cabinet in the history of the United States.
His plan to make America great again by exsanguinating the current federal government and transfusing it with better, bluer blood from red states doesn’t stop there. Outside of the private sector, Trump’s decision to nominate career partisans who have articulated existential opposition to the departments they will lead—notably Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for the EPA and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the Department of Energy— also make this (very unsurprisingly) one of the most controversial cabinets in recent history.
The more nihilistic of Trump’s supporters might find those last picks in particular worthy of a post-victory chuckle and, giving credit where credit is due, Trump appears to be making good on his promise to dismantle Barack Obama’s Washington. But doesn’t the massive incoming wave of corporate power also abruptly end this populist honeymoon?
All told, the combined net worth of these humble public servants surpasses $13 billion. This bears mentioning not because being rich is bad, but because income inequality and the need to establish a federal government that represents first and foremost the interests of working people, not corporations or politicians, is among the most pressing issues of our time. At least, for a minute back there, I thought Bernie Sanders (and sometimes even Donald Trump) made one hell of a case.
Didn’t we spend the last 12 months kind of agreeing that there’s too much corporate influence in our politics?
On the campaign trail, Trump used “wealth” and “greatness” interchangeably. Now, it seems, a human’s ability to accumulate capital is this President-elect’s yardstick for assessing one’s public service potential. At a recent “thank you rally” in Des Moines, Iowa, Trump outright confirmed he’s looking to recruit “people who made a fortune” and then sought to allay any naysayers’ concerns by explaining “now they’re negotiating with you, ok?”
In other words, yes, like Trump, many of these people got rich by using our corrupt system to their advantage, but now everything will be okay because come 2017 they’re finished with working against us. Now they’re on our team.
Trump hasn’t taken office yet, but the stock markets have been going gangbusters since the election, consistently setting record highs. Yesterday, for the first time ever, the Dow Jones Industrial Average came within striking distance of 20,000. This is good news if you have a 401k, but millions of Americans, many who voted for Trump, do not. Forty five percent of baby boomers, for example, have zero retirement savings. Nearly 60 percent are relying heavily on social security and the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) estimates the U.S. retirement savings deficit is now somewhere between $6.8 and $14 trillion. Personal debt, across the age spectrum, is a whole other can of worms.
Implying the economy is good because Wall Street is posting gains can backfire. Trump ought to remember this because it’s part of the reason he got elected. Many Americans have spent much of the last eight years hearing about stock market gains while struggling to make ends meet. Trump blamed the opposition dujour—Obama and Clinton, with their sell-out ties to big money—for our economic ills. Now part of his answer is to make the CEO of Exxon Mobil responsible for facilitating our foreign policy.
Blame for our current economic woes transcends party lines. Both parties have made a habit of selling out to corporate interests. Clearly the change promised in 2008 didn’t manifest to everybody’s satisfaction, but it’s not like President Obama took the gloves off and went after corporate greed or curbed Goldman Sachs’ unofficial federal government feeder program. In fact, if Obamacare is repealed, one could argue, much of his legacy will be saving these big banks and hedge funds from a demise of their own creation—allowing them to regroup and fight another day.
Trump giving corporations federal power, instead of merely making them purchase it, isn’t the answer. Now is a good time to acknowledge that the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle in which so many are currently trapped, with no visible means of egress, no ladder up or out, has been decades in the making and that patented technology is only accelerating it.
Our ability to remain technologically relevant in coming decades, furthermore, is contingent upon developing clean energy. But at a 2011 presidential debate, Trump’s pick for the Department of Energy, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, couldn’t remember the words “department of energy” while attempting to rattle off the institutions he would cut if the American people elected him. Now that department’s future is in his hands.
On the farming front, Trump hasn’t formally announced his pick for Secretary of Agriculture, but rumor has it Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is the current front-runner. Selecting a moderate Democrat to head the Department of Agriculture (and wield its $155 billion 2017 budget) could either be construed as a reach across the aisle or a crafty play by Trump to augment his administration’s existing Senate majority—since Heitkamp’s nomination would require a special Senate election in a Republican stronghold. The man enjoys making fools out of those who speculate, so Rural America In These Times will wait and see. But until his pick is formally announced, probably on Twitter, we can’t rule out Trump Mitt-Romneying Heitkamp and tapping Monsanto President Brett Begemann to, I don’t know, transform plant life as we know it and feed America first.
From a rural perspective, Mary Hoeft from Rice Lake, Wis., summed up the current apprehension surrounding Trump’s cabinet selections in a letter to the editor of the Vilas County News-Review:
On Nov. 8, Rural America spoke, saying Donald Trump was the man they believed would make our lives better. In Wisconsin, poverty is at a 30 year all time high, and a better life is what Rural America needs and deserves.
Wisconsin ranks first among states with the most rapidly disappearing middle class. Donald Trump promised he would make life better for us. He promised more jobs and better pay. Rural America decided it had nothing to lose by voting for a man who promised he would focus his attention on us.
Trump asked us to ignore the fact that he was a billionaire who had profited off the suffering of millions of Americans who, during the Great Recession, lost their homes to bankruptcy. He told us he would close the gap between the rich and poor. Rural America decided to trust Donald Trump.
Only three weeks have passed since Trump’s election, but he already seems to have forgotten his promise to Rural America. He appointed a Goldman Sachs hedge fund billionaire to serve as Treasury Secretary, a man who, like Trump, profited during the Great Recession when more than 5 million Americans lost their homes to bankruptcy due to the unscrupulous greed of Big Banks.
Trump is eyeing two other Goldman Sachs Big Bank executives to serve in his cabinet. Instead of “draining the swamp” of Big Bank billionaires, Trump is filling his administration with them, amassing the richest cabinet our nation has ever seen.
For wealthy Americans, these last three weeks have brought unimaginable change. Bank stocks are soaring. Things look better than ever for the wealthy. And Rural America? We wait, hoping we weren’t victims of a billionaire’s scam.
Back to astrology, which makes as much sense as anything else these days. According to Stars Over Washington, a political astrology blog that keeps an eye on both the our nation’s capital and the heavens, the Jupiter-Pluto conjunct of Trump’s natal Mars in the mid 1950s “may have inspired within him a deep desire to achieve great things which, as it turned out, supports an uncommonly massive ego.” The point is, in a few weeks, regardless of who you voted for, reminding this uncommonly massive ego that corporate greed remains an immediate threat to our democracy will be the job of all Americans. Or who knows, maybe we’ll all get rich.
[If you like what you've read, help us spread the word. "Like" Rural America In These Times on Facebook. Click on the "Like Page" button below the bear on the upper right of your screen. Also, follow RAITT on Twitter @RuralAmericaITT]
Never has independent journalism mattered more. Help hold power to account: Subscribe to In These Times magazine, or make a tax-deductible donation to fund this reporting.
John Collins is the editor of Rural America In These Times. He lives between Seattle and La Pointe, Wisconsin, a village on Madeline Island in Lake Superior.
More by John Collins
- The Corporate States of America in Graphic Relief
- Farm Policy Watchdog Stands by Organic Farmers. Will Secretary of Agriculture Perdue?
- Trump Nominates a Secretary of Agriculture (and, No, It’s Not Wendell Berry)
- Creatures from the Corporate Lagoon: Trump Fills Swamp with Billionaires, Bankers and Oilmen
- Standing Rock Tribal Chairman: “Leave Camp When Weather Allows ... More Battles Ahead”