Draining the Swamp

The Armchair Expert

In his future, the author is a columnist for the New York Times and Time magazine. At the moment, he’s from Melbourne, in second year and trying to pass an arts degree. His column, The Armchair Expert, tries to make sense of world politics in the age of Trump, Brexit and Turnbull.


Seventeen of Trump’s cabinet picks have as much money as the bottom 43 million U.S. households combined. That isn’t to say being wealthy in and of itself is a sin, but it does suggest that such powerful individuals may have ulterior motives. It suggests we need to be informed. So, pending Senate confirmation, here’s a thing or two you need to know about your 2017 championship cabinet.

Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson

This 64-year-old Texan is CEO of the world’s largest publically traded oil and gas company, Exxon Mobile. Along with refusing to release his tax returns – a common theme in the Trump administration – the Senate’s biggest concern over Rex is his relationship with Putin. Tillerson led Exxon’s Russian interests throughout the 90s and in 2013 was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship medal – whatever that is. Still, he is by all accounts an excellent manager and a firm negotiator, stay tuned to see when Russian oil sanctions are lifted.

Head of the Environmental Protection Agency – Scott Pruitt

A staunch Republican since the time of Christ, Pruitt has sued the agency he will now head 12 times. Not surprisingly, Pruitt’s appointment has been met with trepidation from those who value clean air and polar bears. The New York Times came out firing, labelling Pruitt a climate change denialist and a ‘close ally of the fossil fuel industry.’ Pruitt claims his priority for the agency is ‘regulatory rollback’ and believes that ‘the debate is far from settled’ over climate change. Take that as you will.

Secretary of the Treasury – Steve Mnuchin

Perhaps Max Abelson of Bloomberg News described the new Secretary of the Treasury best when he said, ‘If you were to write a novel about a privileged young man setting out on a privileged course of privilege, you would write about Steven Mnuchin.’ Mnuchin is the type of guy Tommy Hilfiger would love. He attended Yale in 1981, where he was a member of the secret Skull and Bones society and drove a Porsche. Later in life he financed American Sniper. Pretty cool. A lesser known fact is that Mnuchin bounced between Solomon Brothers and Goldman Sachs before he entered the subprime mortgage game in 2009, buying a lending firm for $1.6 billion with fellow investors, and selling it six years later for $3.4 billion. After acquiring the institution, his new bank was labelled a ‘foreclosure machine’, foreclosing on roughly 36,000 homeowners in 6 years. This preppy New-Englander is basically just one of the bad guys from The Big Short.

Attorney General – Jeff Sessions

In early February this year, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Republicans on the floor of the Senate for reading a letter written in 1986 by the wife of Dr Martin Luther King, in opposition to Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s appointment as a federal judge – a position that he ultimately did not get. Despite this, he is undeniably popular in his home state, running unopposed for a Senate seat in Alabama during 2014. He has been described as ‘amnesty’s worst enemy’, opposing nearly every immigration bill passing through the Senate that includes a path to citizenship. He is a debt hawk whose conservative fiscal and economic ideas may contrast with Trump’s proposed trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. To reassure us though, the allegations of racism that have tainted his career – again from none other than Mrs Coretta Scott King – have been adamantly denied.

Secretary of Defence – General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

Trump has called ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis ‘the closest thing to George Patton that we have.’ True to the ‘once a marine always a marine’ mantra, Mattis is more of a warrior than a manager used to balancing his budgets. His qualifications include being demoted by Obama for his aggressive stance on Iran, after calling the state ‘the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.’ Still, unlike the President-elect, Mattis is surprisingly opposed to torture techniques. His appointment, on top of Trump recently putting the entire country of Iran ‘on notice’, means we should probably keep an eye on how the Iranian nuclear deal flies under the new administration.

Secretary of Education – Betsy Devos

Last but certainly not the hardest to make fun of, Betsy ‘guns in schools’ Devos is perhaps the most controversial administration pick since Jefferson Davis became President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. In a way, you’ve got to feel for Betsy. Her Senate questioning didn’t exactly go her way. Highlights include her telling the Senator from Connecticut – the state home to the infamous Sandy Hook school shooting – that guns should be in schools to protect from ‘potential grizzlies’. As in the bear. Bernie Sanders then had a field day by asking Devos, ‘if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party, do you think you would be sitting here today?’ To which the answer was an awkward ‘yeah kinda’. Capping off her less than ideal confirmation process, the Senate voted 50-50 to confirm her, with two Republicans and two Independents joining the 46 Democratic Senators. This forced our Lord and Saviour Vice President Pence to step in and cast a deciding vote: 51-50.

Prior to his election, liberals often reassured themselves that Trump’s success would rest on those he chose to surround himself with, that the day to day running of America would be delegated away from Trump himself. This snapshot doesn’t do much to reassure these hopefuls. This strange mix of populism, oligarch and conservatism is given flavouring by additional inexperience and loyalty to Trump. Within this cabinet, ideologies will clash. Within it lies free trade advocates such as Tillerson and proposals for a 35 percent tariff on Chinese goods. Within it lies fiscal conservatives such as Jeff Sessions and a trillion-dollar infrastructure program.

Trump’s cabinet is a web of contradictions, and much like the President himself they’re old, white and rich.

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