Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

25 November 2016

Trump’s Team

[This post is updated to December 13. To jump to the updated table of team members, click here. For comment on Trump’s family as advisors, click here.]

Comment as of Black Friday (November 25, 2016)
Comment as of end of November
Comment as of December 2, regarding the proposal of James Mattis for Defense
Comment on December 9, covering Ross at Commerce, Carson at HUD, and Pruitt at EPA
Comment on December 13, covering Tillerson at State, Perry at Energy, and Puzder at Labor
General Overview

Today many forget that Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential campaign was a four-way race. The Republican Party that he represented was a then-recent creation, a strange combination of Abolitionists and federalists. When the votes were counted, he had won a bare plurality of 40%, far from a popular majority, but a majority of electoral votes. The Southern states seceded, provoking our Civil War, even before his inauguration.

Lincoln, of course, could foresee the agony that lay ahead. So what did he do? He picked for his team his chief rivals—including some whom he had just barely bested in the election. When questioned on his choices, he said they were the most experienced and “able” men available. In the runup to our bloodiest war ever—the one against ourselves—he wanted raw talent—party, ideology and label be damned.

Is Donald Trump doing anything similar? He’s talking to a lot of people, including Mitt Romney, who excoriated and refused to support him in the election just past. He’s even talking to a few Democrats, although he hasn’t appointed any yet. But is he picking his most talented rivals for his top spots, as Lincoln did?

It doesn’t seem so. If he wanted to follow Lincoln, Trump would be talking to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, and maybe even John Kasich and Ted Cruz. So far as we know, none of them has even visited Trump Tower, although Trump has allowed that he might not throw Hillary into the slammer after all.

To evaluate Trump’s nascent administration, we must begin with Trump himself. His two most visible and unusual characteristics are: (a) zero political or governmental experience and (b) extreme views. During the campaign, he expressed extreme views on, among other things: (1) undocumented Mexican immigrants (deport them), (2) Muslims (exclude them), (3) global warming (a Chinese hoax), (4) international trade (break all the rules of postwar economics by imposing big tariffs on good from China and Mexico), (5) NATO (let it pay for itself), (6) Vladimir Putin (an admirable man and friend), and (7) women (pigs, fat, sex objects, assault targets, etc.).

In the normal course of events, one would expect a rational leader with these deficiencies to compensate for them by picking team members who don’t share them. That means that Trump should pick people with lots of experience and less extreme, if not moderate, views.

Is he doing that? The following table, to be updated periodically, shows the experience and extreme views (if any) of the people he has appointed to or (if the Senate must confirm) nominated for his team. Notes following the table explain the entries in more detail, if needed. [Note: this table reports only Cabinet and Cabinet-level West Wing positions, i.e., major policy-making positions. While lesser positions can be important situationally, or even in general, there are too many of them to report coherently and in nearly real time. The order of positions in the table is rough chronological order of their announcement by the Trump transition team, not speculation.]

Here is the talley so far:

Experience and Extreme Views (if any) of Trump Team Members

in Government
Extreme Views
Strategic AdvisorSteve BannonNoneWhite grievance,
white supremacy
US Attorney
Jeff SessionsAss’t US Att’y, Ala. 2 years
US Att’y, Ala. 12 years
Ala. AG 2 years
US Senator, Ala. 19 years
Race, civil rights,
voting rights
Michael FlynnMilitary intelligence,
33 years
Muslims and Islam
CIA DirectorMike PompeoUS House, Kan.
5 years
UN AmbassadorNikki HaleyNC State Rep. 6 years
NC Governor 5 years
Secretary of EducationBetsy DeVosNoneUnaccountable charter schools,
School vouchers that
undermine public schools
Secretary of TreasurySteven MnuchinNoneNone
Secretary of TransportationElaine L. ChaoWhite House Fellow,
2 years
Federal Maritime Administration,
3 years
Deputy Secretary of Transportation, 2 years
Peace Corp Director, one year
Secretary of Labor,
8 years
Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS)Tom PriceGeorgia Senate,
7 years
US House, 11 years
Adamant opposition
to Obamacare
Secretary of CommerceWilbur RossNoneNone
Secretary of DefenseJames MattisUS Marines, 41 years“Political Islam” and Iran
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)Ben CarsonNoneOpposes safety-net
and fair housing programs
EPA AdministratorScott PruitOK State Senate, 8 years,
OK AG 6 years
Global warming denier,
Opposes federal env’l reg’n
Secretary of LaborAndrew PuzderNoneNone, but
opposes worker protections
Secretary of EnergyRick PerryTexas Rep., 6 years,
Texas Ag. Comm’r, 8 years,
Lt. Gov., 2 years,
Texas Gov., 14 years
Global warming denier
Secretary of StateRex TillersonNoneNone

Erratum: An earlier version of this table listed Tom Price as picked for Secretary of “Housing and Human Services,” rather than of Health and Human Services, where he will be in a position to administer the gutting of Obamacare. I regret the error.

Comment as of Black Friday (November 25, 2016):

As of today, this overview of Trump’s Team is not particularly auspicious. Like Trump himself, one-third of his team has no experience in government at all. Two-thirds have six or fewer years of experience, and two-thirds have expressed extreme views that match Trump’s campaign rhetoric. If Trump is trying to use his appointment power to fill gaps in his own resume, he’s not doing a very good job.

The two possible bright spots in the picture so far are the youngest, Gov. Haley and Rep. Pompeo. Haley turned a lemon into a bit of lemonade when she used the horror of Dylan Roof’s in-church massacre of innocent, praying black people to remove the Stars and Bars from the North Carolina capital. Pompeo trained as a mechanical engineer, was first in his class at West Point, and went to Harvard Law School, where he served on the Harvard Law Review. Sometimes smart people who make the transition from science or engineering to law can bring fresh perspectives to old problems. So he may be a good choice, if he can drink from a fire hose and learn quickly to deal with our vast intelligence bureaucracy. But as compared with a grizzled spook, Pompeo, too, is unavoidably a gamble.

Thus so far, there’s nothing in Trump’s picks to calm voters who want continuity and seasoned leadership. Of course that’s part of the point: many of the people who put him in the White House just wanted to shake things up. Yet even a revolution needs steady hands so as not to become a catastrophe. The French and Russian Revolutions come to mind.

Trump and I are about the same age. It’s an age at which, once in a while, a surgeon has to cut into your body to set things right. The first thing you ask, on interviewing prospective surgeons for a particular operation, is “How many have you done?” Experience matters.

Similar questions seem proper when thinking of war or peace. For a leader of generals, “How many wars have you fought or helped win, and how?” For a leading diplomat, “How many wars have you avoided, and how?"

It would be hard, if not impossible, for either Giuliani or Romney to answer these questions satisfactorily. Until Trump finds someone who can, he ought to keep looking.

If Trump can’t settle on someone with more heft, he could do a lot worse than ask Kerry to stay on until he can find a Republican with similar knowledge of the world, experience, energy and work ethic. The world would heave a huge sigh of relief and take the international pressure off Trump, for a while, letting him focus on the domestic changes that will make or break his presidency.

Comment as of End of November:

Giuliani remains unqualified for State by both experience and temperament. While qualified by temperament and good looks, Romney is unqualified for his minuscule experience in government: four years as governor of Massachusetts. That’s two years less than Dubya’s experience before he became president, and we all know what a terrible job he did.

So it’s a good sign that Trump is looking at, and apparently liking, David Petraeus. In contrast to his civilian rivals, Petraeus has eleven years of relevant international experience. Ten were as a general officer in the Army, including two in command of the US surge in Iraq, two as Chief of Central Command, and one as chief of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He also spent over a year as CIA Director, before his indiscretion with classified information provoked his removal.

Some may quail at a military man at State. But one of our best ever, George Marshall (of the Marshall Plan) was a former general. John Foster Dulles, a lawyer, civilian and intransigent cold warrior, was one of our worst. In the era when low-level wars seem interminable and intractable, it’s entirely appropriate to hire a diplomat charged with preventing them who actually knows what it feels like to fight them. That’s one qualification Petraeus shares with John Kerry.

In addition to his military experience, which was generally more successful than his predecessors’, Petraeus has an extraordinary academic record, including a Princeton Ph.D. in International Relations. He’s a first-rate strategic thinker, who literally wrote the book on insurgencies (in Vietnam) and then handled the two in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we didn’t live in media-dominated nation, and if Trump himself were not a reality “star,” he would understand the neither Giuliani nor Romney is remotely in the same class as Petraeus. One hopes that common sense prevails and Petraeus, notwithstanding his indiscretion, ends up at State.

Trump’s late November announcements—Mnuchin, Chao and Price—say much about his new respect for experience. The also reveal his intentions vis-a-vis his campaign promises.

Like most chiefs at Treasury for the past decade at least, Mnuchin is a Goldman Sachs alum. But after making partner there, he went out on his own and made a fortune financing movies. In so doing, he showed some imagination: he arranged financing for two of the most original science-fiction productions of recent years, “X-Men” and “Avatar.”

Nominating a Goldman-Sachs alum suggests that Trump is not serious about his campaign promise to bring big rogue bankers to heel. But it also suggests that Trump recognizes banking and monetary policy as economic specialties, which they are.

We the people will just have to wait and see whether Mnuchin’s Wall Street past dominates his creative thinking or vice versa. Breaking up the big banks, with which Trump flirted on the campaign trail, would be one of the best and most creative ways to keep them from drowning us in unbearable systematic speculative risk and to push them back into honest capital formation.

Chao is the most interesting late-November appointment. She has a decade and a half of civilian government experience. She has worked on both sides of the aisle. She is widely respected as a “no-nonsense” doer with plentiful contacts on the Hill.

While Secretary of Labor under Dubya, she was not sympathetic to workers. But now her chief task at Commerce will be shaping and pushing through Trump’s ambitions infrastructure (re)building plan, which could bring good jobs to millions of skilled workers.

In this regard, Chao’s most important qualification may be her marriage to Darth McConnell, who seems to like delaying and blocking things just to show he can. Maybe with his wife whispering in his ear, he and our dysfunctional Senate will pass the best bipartisan idea for good jobs in years. Maybe it will even do so quickly. Don’t hold your breath.

Like that of arch-racist Jeff Sessions, Tom Price’s nomination is a thumb in the eye of Obama’s supporters and our lower middle class. Price is an ex-orthopedist turned pol. He apparently drafted the only extant alternative to Obamacare that ever actually ended up in writing. It drastically cuts government subsidies, makes payments to doctors more generous, and basically throws people who now rely on Obamacare onto the tender mercies of unregulated (or less-regulated) private-insurance markets.

On the off-chance that Trump and his team have actually thought this through, it's an über-cynical political ploy. Trump will fight Ryan to maintain Medicare in roughly its present form. In so doing, he will retain the support of most seniors, who vote. By casting the rest of the middle class onto private markets, he will rely on private employers to pick up the slack for them, as employers have ever done in America’s broken health-insurance system.

The ones left out on the street, so to speak, will be the lower middle class—those with no, marginal, part-time, or no-benefits employment—and the poor. These workers now rely on Obamacare, to the tune of 20 million of them. But they don’t usually vote, and even the Dems often ignore them.

So if Price gets his way as HHS Secretary, a big fraction—maybe most—of the 20 million now on Obamacare will become “self-insured” again. Doctors and private insurers will make more than they do now, and so will continue to donate to the GOP. The unfortunate workers thrown out on the street won’t make much difference to Trump’s and the GOP’s political support because they don’t vote much anyway.

The only risk to the people in Trump Tower will come in the event of a pandemic. The newly self-insured won’t have doctors to go to. So they will bring the pandemic right into the homes of the 1% and 0.1%, as nannies, cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, and “personal assistants.” But never fear. Trump and his 0.1% are not cowards; they are risk-takers.

Comment as of December 2, regarding the proposal of James Mattis for Defense:

On December 1, at a rally in Cincinnati, President-Elect Trump announced his pick of former Marine-Corps General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. While Mattis enjoys great respect from his fellow soldiers and some civilian military strategists, there are a least half a dozen reasons why his appointment would be problematic at best.

Two important reasons relate to the possible nomination of former Army General David Petraeus for State. Having former generals heading both State and Defense is a bad idea on general principles, including civilian control of the military and military-related diplomacy. It’s especially bad for two generals who collaborated on revising the Army’s counter-insurgency manual, as these two did, and who therefore would be unlikely to give the president contradictory or even differing views.

The biggest problem is that Trump has revealed no credible choice for State but Petraeus. So if Mattis comes in at Defense, and general principles exclude Petraeus at State, Trump’s choice for State goes back to square one. Or at least it should: Giuliani is unfit in both temperament and experience, and Romney in experience.

If Trump as president is going to be an international dealmaker, as he claims, he’s going to need Cabinet members who know all the foreign leaders that he’ll be dealing with personally and well. That means people like Petraeus, who met and grew to know foreign leaders in his many high-level military roles, or people like John Kerry, who met them at State. People utterly lacking this vital experience, like Giliani or Romney, would be a disaster in either position. So if Mattis at Defense excludes Petraeus at State, that leaves keeping Kerry on at State, or finding someone entirely new.

Beyond this, Mattis himself is problematic at Defense for three reasons. First, he has extreme views on “political Islam” much the same as Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor. Having both men in the Cabinet would create an echo chamber to amplify Trump’s own extreme views on Islam and Muslims expressed in his campaign.

If Trump wants to avoid creating a “clash of civilizations” all by himself, he needs people on his team who understand that Islam is a religion practiced by 1.6 billion people, not all of whom are terrorists, and that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful. If he creates an echo chamber crying for war on Islam, he will ipso facto destroy any credibility for his campaign promises to introduce a less bellicose foreign policy and treat every nation fairly.

Second, Mattis is known for making light of the rigors and misery of combat. In a conference in San Diego in 2005, he said, “it’s fun to shoot some people” and “I like brawling.” While that sort or remark may jibe with Trump’s desire for his adversaries to consider him crazy, it will not inspire confidence in a people and a military already weary of two wars (in Afghanistan and Iraq) vying to be the longest in our history.

Finally, Mattis’ appointment would require a waiver from Congress of the statutory rule that precludes military personnel from serving as Defense Secretary within seven years (formerly ten) of active duty. The purpose of this rule is to preserve civilian control of the military. The last time Congress waived this rule was for General George Marshall of the Marshall Plan, and that waiver expressed the “sense of Congress” that no further such waivers be granted. Absent evidence that Mattis has the strategic vision to avoid war and the diplomatic skill of Marshall, Congress ought to refuse the waiver, and Trump ought to keep looking.

Comment on December 9, covering Ross at Commerce, Carson at HUD, and Pruitt at EPA

A week has elapsed since President-Elect Trump nominated Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce and Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Before commenting on their nominations, I waited to see if they marked a trend. With yesterday’s announcement of Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator, they do just that.

The first two men have no experience in government whatsoever. None. Zip. Wilbur Ross, a billionaire, has been an investment banker and a successful turnaround specialist. Ben Carson gained fame as a highly successful and innovative orthopedic surgeon and medical administrator, who made a highly unsuccessful run for president. He has never held any public office at all.

Scott Pruitt does have government experience, as a state senator and the attorney general of Oklahoma. In those roles he gained fame for fighting the federal government tooth and nail and for leading nationwide opposition to environmental and climate regulation, all for the sake of the fossil-fuel industries that drive his state’s economy. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, he reportedly acted jointly with fossil-fuel industries in challenging federal regulations. Sometimes he rubber-stamped material prepared by the fossil-fuel industry and its lobbyists, submitting it on Oklahoma’s letterhead.

As befits an accomplished lawyer, Pruitt tries to avoid appearing extreme. Instead of directly playing the part of a climate-change denier, he tries to play the agnostic. He has said that dissent on climate change is not a crime, thereby indirectly lending credibility to the tiny minority of people who call themselves “scientists” but still dispute global warming or its human origins. His main goal seems not to discredit science, but simply to protect his state’s important fossil-fuel industries regardless of consequences to its citizens, not to mention those of other states and nations. Pruitt reportedly shares Trump’s goal of eliminating the EPA entirely, or stripping it of most of its power and authority.

More than any other picks by Trump so far, these three portend a radical attempt to realize the dreams of extreme business “conservatives”: to erode or eliminate regulations and our safety net and let big business—especially the fossil-fuel industries—rip. They will do their best to dismantle the regulatory and welfare state as completely as they can. And (except for Pruitt) having no governmental or legal experience, they will try to do so in unorthodox, radical and probably often illegal ways.

The general approach is nothing terribly new. Almost a century ago, in January 1925, President Calvin Coolidge opined that “[t]he chief business of the American people is business.” That sort of arrogance helped create the atmosphere of excess on Wall Street and elsewhere that caused the Great Depression and, 79 years later, the Crash of 2008.

Will Trump be as bad a president as “Silent Cal,” generally recognized as one of our worst? Will his business-can-do-anything regime usher in a second Great Depression?

Four factors suggest not. First, we are just coming out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression (the Crash of 2008), caused by the avarice and stupidity of Wall Street. In that atmosphere, it will be hard to convince people and pols that big business can do no wrong. Second, Trump himself has recognized that Wall Street was largely to blame for the Crash of 2008 and that no one there got penalized for causing it. (Whether he plans to do anything real about this view is still unknown.) Third, since the Great Depression, we have built a gigantic edifice of federal regulation, including the Fed. Even Trump doesn’t appear to want to dump all of it, just environmental and fair housing rules.

Finally, we have innumerably more statutes, rules and regulations already in place that we did when the Crash of 1929 triggered the Great Depression. We have innumerably more lawyers and are vastly more sensitive to proper legal procedure, much of which has been constitutionalized. No mere Cabinet member—not even the president—can erase or even bend all those rules simply by fiat.

So it looks as if the reign of Trump’s radical business-friendly Cabinet will usher in an epoch of litigation not yet seen in our nation’s history. Much of what is important will be disputed. Lawyers will file suits, and our courts will decide. And since Trump will not have had time to change the composition of our courts for several years, judges imbued with all the rules and restrictions of our existing regulatory/welfare state will decide those cases.

So the pace and extent of dismantling regulations (and welfare) will likely disappoint Trump, his Cabinet, and his most rabidly “conservative” supporters. (How can people who want to destroy useful and proven structures of government, that have kept our workers safe and our air and water clean for the better part of a century, call themselves “conservative”? A more accurate description would be zealous advocates of big business and its profits regardless of consequences. How is that “conservative”?)

As this litigation Armageddon rolls on, a durable issue will be the role of the states. Pruitt and the numerous “conservative” organizations that he heads, represents or advises are already trying to kill Obama’s environmental and climate rules, including the Paris Accord and the EPA rules designed to phase out coal, which is the dirtiest fuel known to our species and, so far, has proven impossible to clean up. Among their legal challenges to federal rules are the perennial cry of the South and Red States for “state’s rights.” Pruitt and his ilk argue that unnecessary regulation is killing business in their states, raising the prices of energy, putting people out of work, and harming their states’ economies.

There are enormous factual issues in these claims: whether they are actually true. There is plenty of evidence that renewable energy is cheaper than its fossil-fueled counterparts, even without subsidies (1, 2, 3, and 4). There is also plenty of evidence that renewable energy is the next phase of the perennial “gale of creative destruction,” which will change the face of energy production worldwide and create millions of good, skilled and above-ground jobs. Finally, there is the basic truth that rules to reduce pollution and the acceleration of global warming won’t work unless everyone participates. (Economists know this truth as “the tragedy of the commons”: common areas can’t be clean unless everyone agrees to stop dumping manure on them.) These practical points will make litigation over environmental rules exceedingly lengthy and complex.

Other disputes will arise out of federalism and will require a fateful choice. For years, much federal environmental legislation has allowed more crowded, advanced states like California to adopt stricter rules than the federal ones for the nation as a whole. As and if Trump and his Cabinet dismantle the federal regulatory framework for fossil fuels, carbon, other pollution and global warming, will they dismantle this principle and kill state-by-state experimentation, too?

In another recent essay, I explore the risk of these United States (or the EU) breaking up under the pressure of white-hot current issues like immigration, deportation, energy transformation, and global warming. My conclusion is that the best way to keep divergent states together as one nation is to bend, but not break, the bonds of federalism by giving rabid locals a bit more leeway to make their own rules. In practice, that might mean allowing Pruitt’s Oklahoma and similarly-minded smaller states to keep their fossil fuels a bit longer and phase them out more slowly than the rest of the nation.

From a political standpoint, such an approach might make everyone happy. States like Oklahoma could pollute with abandon in the relatively empty lower Midwest. They would contribute only modestly to global warming because they have relatively small populations and are not heavily industrial themselves. Meanwhile, big industrial states like California, Illinois and New York could restrict their own use of fossil fuels, reduce both pollution and the acceleration of global warming and benefit from the new jobs of the coming clean-energy era.

That might be a practical way of accommodating the radical zeal of people like Pruitt, most of whom come from small states like Oklahoma, whose big neighbor, Texas, is a global leader in wind energy. But if Pruitt and his ilk insist on abandoning the rules and careful plans for the whole nation, including states much bigger, wealthier and more advanced than his, the coming fight in Congress and the courts will be a battle royal unlike anything since the Civil War or Vietnam. Trump never promised us a rose garden or a placid administration, did he?

Comment on December 13, covering Tillerson at State, Perry at Energy, and Puzder at Labor

Well, it took him long enough. But Trump finally made a nomination that will help him “shake things up” in a good, not destructive, way.

Rex Tillerson is a superb choice for Secretary of State. When you think he could have been Romney or even Giuliani, he’s celestial. Here are eleven reasons why:

1. Tillerson was trained as an engineer. That makes him a problem solver and pragmatist who knows numbers, is a realist and can make rational tradeoffs that compute. Unlike most of Trump’s picks, he’s not driven by abstract verbal ideologies, which are necessarily simplistic and inaccurate.

2. Tillerson is not a lawyer. He can do more than argue, posture and make lists: he knows how to design and build systems that run and to run things that work.

3. Tillerson respects science. On becoming CEO of Exxon Mobil, he weaned it from his predecessor’s tobacco-company-like denial of science. He recognizes global warming and takes it into account in planning Exxon Mobil’s future. He has spoken in favor of a carbon tax.

4. Tillerson thinks long term. He recognizes a fact about fossil fuels even more important than their heating our planet: they are running out. When he bought the natural-gas-fracking company TXO in 2009, he was honest about the reason: oil was getting harder and more expensive to find and extract, and fracked natural gas was much cheaper on an energy-equivalent basis. As leader of our planet’s leading private producer of fossil fuels, he knows better than anyone how quickly they will run out, leaving our species with enormous stranded assets.

5. War is untenable as a solution to international problems. If we didn’t know that before Iraq and Syria, we do now. Today’s moral equivalent of war is economic sanctions, and most of them involve oil or other fossil fuels. Tillerson will know when they will work and for how long, and when they won’t.

6. In his capacity as fossil-fuel czar, Tillerson has traveled widely and met leaders from all corners of the globe. He’s a skilled negotiator who already has met and knows the major players. He knows what they want and how they think.

7. In additional to being a skilled negotiator, by all accounts Tillerson is a good listener. That quality will serve him well with Trump, who likes to talk, often without thinking first.

8. Tillerson worked at Exxon Mobil and its predecessors for forty years, rising from the bottom to CEO. He’s not a quitter or a dilettante.

9. Those forty years give Tillerson massive experience, at all levels, in running a large organization. With 75,300 employees, Exxon Mobil has more employees than the State Department, even considering local foreign service employees. He will know how and when to delegate and when to jump in.

10. Besides territory, most international conflicts and wars since the discovery of oil have involved energy. Who better to help resolve them than Tillerson?

11. Tillerson will be a good influence on his fellow Texan, Rick Perry at Energy. If Perry is smart, he will pick Tillerson’s brains as much as time allows.

It’s fun to be enthusiastic about a Trump pick for a change. Tillerson will be a new kind of Secretary of State, whose long experience has focused him like a laser on the thing that matters most to our species today, and that most often drives conflict: energy. The Senate should question him on his approach to promoting human rights and democracy, just to make sure he’s not a closet troglodyte. But barring that, it should confirm him quickly and unanimously.

Rick Perry at energy. Readers of this blog know my assessment of Rick Perry’s intelligence and problem-solving ability. Perhaps the best idea he’s ever had is to let Texas secede.

But there are some signs that Perry might do a good job as Energy Secretary. First, he had an education in science; he has a bachelor’s degrees in “animal science.” At least he’s not just another lawyer/ideologue. If he remembers what he learned in college, he might just understand that energy is all about science. Second, Perry has ample political experience to serve in the Cabinet: over thirty years. Third, he has governed our state with the greatest experience in producing energy, including wind and solar energy. So if he can stop playing the ideologue and pandering to Tea-Party types (something the Trump Administration will not require), and if he calls up Tillerson whenever in doubt about facts and figures, he might do a creditable job as Energy Secretary.

Andrew Puzder at Labor. It’s a lot harder to be impressed with, or even optimistic about, Andrew Puzder at Labor. He is no friend of workers. He has opposed minimum-wage increases and supports (and massively has exploited) exempting low-level supervisors from overtime pay on the ground they are “managers.”

But there’s more. Puzder is CEO of the holding company for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants. While these chains are evidently successful, they are hardly exemplars of imaginative or leading businesses. They seem to have missed the “locavore,” “organic” and “healthy” trends in the restaurant field entirely. Thus they make money simply by offering low prices, which means squeezing suppliers and employees. They may be the Wal Marts of the restaurant business.

Puzder justifies his squeezing with tendentious and hotly disputed think-tank research purporting to show that squeezing employees individually creates more jobs. Even if true, that approach is not what skilled workers elected Trump to do. They elected Trump because they were tired of moving down the job chain and having pols and employers tell them they were lucky to have a job at all.

The best we can hope is that, just as Rockefeller became a noted philanthropist after enriching himself as a Robber Baron, Puzder will take his new mandate seriously and use his considerable knowledge of how to squeeze workers to keep others from doing so and make workers’ lives better. Don’t hold your breath.

General Overview

All in all, as the table shows, Trump’s picks for his Cabinet and West Wing are light on experience, heavy on ideology, and salted with extremists. Apart from Tillerson, most have questionable credentials for the posts they may fill. (The Senate still must confirm most.) But at least it’s encouraging that Trump made a good pick for the most important Cabinet position, the one fourth in the line of succession: Secretary of State.

Besides Tillerson, only two of Trump’s picks seem “ready on day one,” to borrow a phrase from Hillary. They are Chao at Transportation and Mattis at Defense. Both have ample experience and have worked in or with the departments they will now lead. While having a general run the Pentagon may trouble some, it will, for reasons I have explained at length, serve us well now. At least it will inspire our voluntary troops asked to sacrifice in deployment after deployment while the rest of us shop at the mall.

A few of Trump’s picks can best be described as “experimental.” Their chief claims to fame are radical approaches that Trump seems to want to try. These include: (1) Mike Pompeo at CIA, who seems to have been picked for his education, brains and fresh ideas alone; (2) Nikki Haley at the UN, who has no diplomatic experience but represents “diversity;” (3) Betsy DeVos at Education, with her radical ideas about unsupervised private charter schools and vouchers; (4) Steve Mnuchin at Treasury, who has bounced around in finance but whose only relevant experience seems to have been at Goldman Sachs; (5) Ben Carson at HUD, who wants to solve our housing problems without worrying about whether access to housing is equitable or fair; (6) Tom Price at HHS, who yearns to dismantle Obamacare but will have to replace it with something; and (7) Scott Pruitt at EPA, who wants to disassemble the agency he will head in order to save Oklahoma’s fossil-fuel industries and jobs, but who will have to worry about turning our big cities into mini-Beijings filled with smog and about protecting massive investments in sustainability already made in other states.

If Trump wants to avoid disaster after disaster, he and his senior staff are going to have to keep these experiments under constant scrutiny, demand early results, and pull the plugs quickly if things go awry. Experiments are fine. But if and when they destroy a whole government department, undermine nationwide private and public initiatives, and/or fail to produce results, they need to be terminated. This is especially true for Scott Pruitt, a local boy who has adopted an extreme energy ideology in order to benefit the economy of a single state: his own. If he can’t accept a vision broader than that, he should go before he does a whole sector of our national economy great damage.

As for the rest, there’s not much to say. They will succeed or fail according to whether they get along with the others and get the job done. Getting along is especially important for National Security Advisor Flynn and strategic advisor Michael Bannon, who both have reputations as loose cannons.

There is only one nominee who requires Senate confirmation and self-evidently should not get it. Jeff Sessions is not an American. He’s a Southern/Confederate rebel still fighting a rear-guard action in our Civil War. He’s been doing that, at times covertly and at times openly, all his professional life.

Likely he still maintains views of racial supremacy and inferiority that his colleagues, most of his fellow Southerners, and the vast majority of Americans have long abandoned. He’s a throwback who would turn the clock back for civil and voting rights to Jim Crow and poll taxes. He would require all Americans to refight battles they long thought concluded. He should be rejected as decisively as he was when nominated for the federal bench in 1986, and for precisely the same reasons. The man has not changed, but the nation has: he is even further out of step today.



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