By my count, Ben Carson, nominated by Donald Trump to be his HUD secretary, makes the fourth designee who seems to oppose the very mission of the department he’s about to take over. There’s Jeff Sessions at Justice, who isn’t likely to be enforcing many civil rights cases or pursuing many antitrust violations. Tom Price at Health and Human Services, who wants to dismantle the same Obamacare that it’s HHS’s job to implement and who more broadly will bring a ferociously anti-statist world view to an agency that embodies the state’s concern for its citizens’ health and well being—especially its female citizens, who have extra reasons to worry about Dr. Price. And finally there’s billionaire Betsy De Vos for Education, who’s basically against, y’know, public education.
Critics of the Carson choice complain that he’s totally unqualified because he has no background whatsoever in housing. Well, if you wanna get technical about it, that’s true. But as the Beast’s Gideon Resnick wrote the other day, Carson has actually shown interest in public-housing issues for some time. The problem is that his interest is pretty much of the “public housing is social engineering” variety, even to the point where he (inevitably) compared the things the government does to house its poorest people to socialism and communism.
Where will this end? Well, I suppose it ends with Elaine Chao at Transportation. While I doubt she’ll push her president to lay thousands of miles of maglev train tracks, I don’t believe she’s hankering to wreck the American transportation system. We’re gonna have to take what we can get in the age of Trump, folks.
The Carson appointment ought to serve to remind us: There are a lot of appointments out there still waiting to be made, none of them as glitzy as State and Treasury, to be sure, but all of them important. And the above quadrumvirate ought to make us wonder what Trump has in store for other cabinet-level and lower positions.
Let’s start with an obvious one. What kind of person would Trump put in charge of the EPA? The kind who hates the fact that the EPA even exists. The top two candidates are from Texas and Oklahoma and have records of opposition to carbon emission regulation and other concerns. What about Interior? A Republican DOI chief is typically supposed to side with the ranchers and the loggers and the snowmobilers and so on, and it’s never a first-order controversy because the secretary is usually soft-spoken and not personally controversial. But Trump might go full Cliven Bundy here (not in the sense of choosing Bundy himself, free man though he is, but in the sense of naming someone with Oath-Keeperish affiliations.
Such concerns are why 10 Democratic senators sent a letter to Trump urging him to remove some of the numerous fossil-fuel industry-connected people from his transition team. Guess what? They haven’t heard back!
Now, we’re still in the category of positions you’ve heard of and that occasionally make the news. But that isn’t even beginning to scratch the surface.
Quiz interlude: How many presidential appointments do you think there are that require Senate confirmation?
a. About 300
b. About 900
c. About 1,200.
Yes, it’s c. And if you sit down and really think about Donald Trump appointing these 1,200 people—most of whom he won’t give a crap about and will take whoever Steve Bannon or, if we’re lucky, Reince Priebus says to take—well, you’ll have nightmares.
Nearly 100 U.S. attorneys. Eleven assistant attorneys general. A director of something called the Office of Violence Against Women. Who’s gonna take that job, for a president who is an avowed adherent of said violence?
A new Federal Reserve Bank chairman, in 2018 when Janet Yellen’s term ends, and seven governors of the Fed. Ambassadors, most of whom aren’t important but a few of whom are vitally so. Who will be Donald Trump’s representative to Putin’s Russia? Who will he send to Israel? Chances seem pretty good it could be someone who has at least dangled a foot in the “the Palestinians are an invented people” camp and who’ll be gung-ho about moving the embassy to Jerusalem. And who’ll Trump put on the National Labors Relations Board? The Federal Elections Commission, whose mission was nearly destroyed by Dubya’s disastrous appointments?
And here’s a question that ought to make you wriggle uncomfortably in your seat for a few seconds anyway: Who’s going to head Donald Trump’s immigration service?
I could go on like this for a while, but just one more example. Every executive agency also has a general counsel, and often several sub-counsels of various divisions or commissions, and an inspector general. These too are all presidential appointees. Counsels do a lot in terms of implementation (or not) of regulations and enforcement of statutes. IGs are supposed to be independent enough to investigate allegations of corruption in the agencies. What, precisely, in the background of a man like Trump makes us think he’s going to appoint zealous and independent watchdogs?
You may think none of this affects you. Some of it won’t, directly, but a lot of it will. And if you’re black or brown or Muslim or a foreign-born person or a woman who isn’t upper middle class or better, all of it is far more likely to affect you. And if you are not any of those just-listed things, then like me you’re probably a white male, and if none of this affects you directly you ought to reflect on your privilege and imagine facing this in someone else’s shoes.
And I (kind of) hate to hop back up this old dray horse, but yes, goddammit, if you didn’t vote for Hillary because she’s a “warmonger” or some jejune nonsense you picked up from WBAI, then you helped make the Housing secretary a guy who thinks public housing is communism, and you helped make an HHS secretary out of a man who doesn’t believe the government should be doing most of the things the HHS does.
And if you’re white and privileged and you did so, you are all the worse. And no, the dialectic is no excuse. The revolution isn’t coming. The counter-revolution, however, is here.