By Ed Diokno
If that old adage is true: “You can judge the character of a man by the friends that he chooses,” then our country is in for a rough ride not only for the next four years, but for decades to come.
Two months after his upset electoral (not popular) victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, President-elect Donald Trump shows no signs of mellowing, facing reality or moving to the political center. It appears the Trump we saw on the campaign trail is the same Trump we’ll see in the White House.
His post-election speech vowing to be president for all Americans is ringing hollow. The people he has chosen to surround himself with have serious questions about their positions and past actions.
Starting with Sen. Jeff Sessions, who will undergo a quick hearing startingTuesday (Jan. 10) for Attorney General. The nominees to be key advisers to the President-elect will begin the Senate’s Judiciary Committee hearing next week. The GOP-dominated committee is limiting the Democrats only four witnesses and a quick two-days for their hearings. A plethora of civil rights groups have expressed their dismay at the Republican rules to counter any protests. Democratic Senators seem powerless to overrule the GOP.
His Asian American choices are stirring up criticism from the AAPI community, starting with Elaine Chao, picked to become the Secretary of Transportation. According to the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Chao’s pending appointment shows poor leadership and accountability to the working families and the American people.
Chao served as the Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush and is the first Asian American woman to serve in a Cabinet level position. Under her leadership in the Department of Labor, she cut safety enforcement budgets, failed to pass any new significant safety rules during her tenure, and inadequately investigated complaints of wage theft.
APALA National President Johanna Puno Hester commented: “If Chao’s time as Labor Secretary is any indication of what she’ll bring to the table as Transportation Secretary, then we can expect a term that parlays with corporate interest rather than the safety of the people and the environment.”
Chao is the third Asian American woman appointee in the Trump Administration, following Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Seema Verma, the founder of health policy consulting firm, as the head for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Hester continued: “We refuse to let the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community be a racial wedge group. These women have built their careers on creating policies that serve only the most privileged. They do not accurately represent our diverse AAPI community – a community of immigrants, the poor, the underserved.”
“This is a different political climate. This is not business as usual. As people build their strategies for the first hundred days or the next four years, we must not conflate access or a seat at the table with actual power to influence policy or decision makers,” added APALA Executive Director Gregory A. Cendana on the so-called “diversity picks” in a predominately White administration. “These newest appointees – alongside Price, Devos, Sessions, and Bannon – continue to shape a Trump administration that undermines the values so central to our communities and the fabric of our country.”
Sessions is only the first of many hearings that will challenge the Democrats and communities of color who have become more integrated into the American fabric in the last 70 years.
Trump’s pick for Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, who had to give up his lucrative job as CEO of Exxon Mobile, the largest oil company in the world. Don’t feel any sympathy for him. His disclosed personal wealth is as much as $400 million. We aren’t worried about Tillerson just because he is rich. As one of the millionaire/billionaire picks by Trump, Tillerson has had no experience in international diplomacy except for those negotiated with oil-producing countries. Even many of those negotiations had to be brokered by the Dept. of State, including Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright. He’ll fit perfectly with Trump’s team because he is so beloved in Russia they gave him an award. As a former Exxon CEO and with holdings (in trust) in the oil giant, he’ll have to recuse himself from a lot of the Middle East negotiations – not to mention Russia – that might benefit his former company. What bothers me is his record has not a second of public service. He’s spent his entire career working a for-profit businesses. I question his motivation to work for the common man and woman.
Stephen Bannon as the chief White House strategist is on equal footing as the Chief of Staff. As the CEO of Breitbart News, he has promoted alt-right philosophies and made white nationalism acceptable to the moderate White mainstream. “The appointment by President-elect Trump of a racist individual like Mr. Bannon to a position of authority is totally unacceptable,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders. “In a democratic society we can disagree all we want over issues, but racism and bigotry cannot be part of any public policy. The appointment of Mr. Bannon by Mr. Trump must be rescinded.”
Sen. Tom Price as the Secretary of Health & Human Services is a one-man wrecking crew vs. the United States’ health care system for people with limited incomes, seniors and low-income families. The hallmark of Price’s congressional career has been his steadfast opposition of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and has repeatedly attempted to repeal or gut the ACA. Among Price’s most dangerous proposals are limiting tax credits for the poor, privatizing Medicare, barring federal funding to Planned Parenthood, and converting Medicaid to block grants which would pretty much negate its role as a safety net program.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as Trump’s National Security Advisor: Nothing subtle about the retired general, an extreme anti-Islam crusader who once claimed that the Democrats wanted to institute Sharia law in Florida, a complete fabrication that he repeated over and over again in speeches across the country. Before millions of television viewers, Flynn led the chants of a raucous crowd during his speech endorsing Donald Trump. “Lock her up! Lock her up! Damn right! Exactly right!” Flynn encouraged the chanting crowd. “There is nothing wrong with that!” He was prematurely retired at age 56 because of his disruptive management style and his repeated digs at the Obama White House from his position at the Defense Intelligence Agency, his last posting. Recently, several news agencies revealed that he met several weeks ago with Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party, which was founded after World War II by former Nazis. Ugh!
You would think that Dr. Ben Carson would be a suitable nominee for the Surgeon General. That would make sense, right? But, Trump fooled us all by picking Dr. Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He may have been a brilliant surgeon but Carson doesn’t know squat about HUD and its many programs to provide housing for the poor. Alright, he was once poor and his single mother accepted financial assistance from the federal government. You would think that would give him some empathy for the poor. But, no. He’s a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of guy. If he could do it, so can anybody else. As HUD chief, he could put more people out in the streets than any other appointee.
Steven Mnuchin, formerly with Goldman Sachs, has been picked to be the next Treasury Secretary. He co-founded a bank, OneWest, in 2008 and lead the company until 2015, Fortune reported. Now, OneWest is being sued for allegedly discriminating against Black and Latino customers, according to a complaint filed this month by two fair housing advocacy groups. The complaint alleges the bank “kept bank branches out of nonwhite neighborhoods” and gave nonwhite customers disproportionately fewer mortgages, Fortune wrote. Between 2012 and 2013, the California bank gave zero loans to Black customers in Los Angeles. He made billions over the past decades buying up companies and slashing payrolls.
Trump picked another billionaire, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., for Commerce Secretary. He made his billions using bankruptcy to protect wealthy owners while leaving workers and communities holding the bag. (Example in point: the collapse of Trump’s casino empire.) I don’t see how this expertise translates into negotiating treaties. In fact, this strategy loses jobs, not creating new jobs. Foreign countries are not inefficient corporations. Threats will irk countries like China and could lead to trade wars which is not good for business. Trump needs to learn that treaties are not negotiated with winners and losers in mind. Treaties try to have a win-win outcome. Sometimes treaties have broader goals in mind, like keeping China’s power and influence in check and helping countries with smaller economies from yielding to China’s military intimidation.
The Department of Labor should be renamed the Department of Bad Bosses if Andrew Puzder survives nomination. He opposes the minimum wage increase and basic worker protections that unmarried women and others rely upon to make ends meet. Another one of the billionaires Trump has chosen, Puzder has criticized paid sick leave policies and praised automation because machines “never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, sex or race discrimination case.” And he prides himself on the demeaning ads he runs for his restaurant, Carl’s Jr., featuring scantily clad women. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is concerned about Puzder. “I’m not saying he’s anti-worker because he’s conservative. I’m saying he’s anti-worker because he’s anti-worker.”
The selection of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education may be the most insidious choice of all. The super wealthy DeVos family have been strong advocates of charter schools and schools vouchers. In their home state of Michigan, they are notably anti-union, especially teacher unions. Outside of those issues, Betsy DeVos has no experience as an educator or as a public servant. Her views on affirmative action in admissions, for-profit schools, or Common Core curriculum are unknown and her children have never attended a public school. The charter schools that her family has helped establish in Michigan have not improved the overall education of students. Student score below the average in national administered tests and they operate without any government oversight on content and quality. Ultimately, the anti-science, anti-intellectual attitudes of the Trump administration will produce a generation of poorly educated students, who become poorly informed voters. They would become perfect followers for the lies fostered by the alt-right, the Tea Party and the Kremlin … and politicians who have a flare for tapping the fears of people.
One thing the billionaires and politicians on this list have in common. They would probably prefer to dismantle the agencies they are being entrusted with. Putting such examples of anti-government people in charge of government could be disastrous. They could very well undo Franklin Roosevelt’s safeguards for the poor and most vulnerable, shrink the middle class and threaten the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
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