President-elect Donald Trump has picked a Cabinet dominated by business tycoons with no government experience or patience for history lessons. In other words, he will be surrounded by people like himself.
There is nothing wrong with appointing successful corporate barons, rather than government bureaucrats, to top Cabinet posts: It’s an old American tradition.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed GM’s chief executive officer Charles Wilson as secretary of defense in 1953, he famously said – or was misquoted as saying – “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”
But history has proved that what’s good for big corporations is not always good for America. The top priority for corporations – justifiably so – is to make a profit at the end of the year, whereas governments must think long-term, and enforce civil rights and environmental practices to prevent potential disasters decades down the road.
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For Secretary of State, he has picked as his nominee Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, 64, who has spent his entire adult life at the company. His main claim to fame is his close relation with Russia’s autocrat Vladimir Putin, who in 2013 awarded him with the Kremlin’s Order of Friendship.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups are horrified by Tillerson’s appointment. In addition to his close ties with Russia – which invaded Crimea two years ago and, according to U.S. intelligence officials, hacked this year’s U.S. elections – Tillerson has befriended the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Equatorial Guinea and other countries that are among the world’s worst human rights offenders.
And environmental groups are just as furious. While Tillerson finally acknowledged in a 2012 speech that CO2 emissions have an impact on global warming, Greenpeace USA says that under his helm, “Exxon oversaw one of the largest and most expensive climate denial campaigns the world has ever seen.”
Trump’s choice for secretary of commerce is Wilbur Ross, 79, a billionaire who is a vocal critic of NAFTA and other free trade deals. Trump’s pick for secretary of labor is CKE Restaurants’ CEO Andrew Puzder, 66, a strong critic of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and of making more workers eligible for overtime pay.
For energy secretary, Trump nominated former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 66, who once proposed to eliminate the agency he will now lead if he is confirmed by the Senate. For the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump’s choice is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, 48, a climate change skeptic who has repeatedly filed lawsuits against the office he has been tapped to head.
For secretary of education, Trump picked super wealthy businesswoman and Republican donor Betsy DeVos, 58, a strong supporter of student vouchers for charter schools.
For the Small Business Administration, Trump’s choice is former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, 68, the wife of billionaire WWE promoter Vincent McMahon. She has supported plans to merge the SBA into another government agency.
My opinion: Far from a government of anti-establishment outsiders who will “clean the swamp,” this looks like a plutocracy – a government run by the wealthy – with little knowledge or experience in government affairs, and a huge potential for conflicts of interests.
It will be the most affluent and least diverse Cabinet in recent memory. So far, of Trump’s 17 Cabinet-level picks, only five are not white males. MSNBC’s anchor Rachel Maddow said that the line of succession for the presidency may now consist of 12 white men.
Trump will be the first president in U.S. history to take office without any government or military service experience. Taking that into account, he would have benefited from putting together a more balanced Cabinet, with more people – aside from a few generals – who have served in public office.
He should have surrounded himself with at least some people who know how to pass laws in Congress, and who have knowledge of the agencies they will be heading. Instead, he appointed people just like him, with his same shortcomings.
I hope I’m wrong, but his decision to pick a nearly all-corporate Cabinet will come back to haunt him.
Andres Oppenheimer can be reached at email@example.com.