There’s an old-ish bit of political apocrypha about Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior: that he was a born-again Christian and explicitly believed that conservation of any type was unnecessary because the Second Coming was imminent. And that Reagan appointed him specifically for that fact. Secretary of the Interior is responsible for all federal lands – some 20% of US land – and especially conservation thereof.
Now, I never saw it proved, which is why I refer to it as apocrypha, but it’s always used as a warning about presidential appointments. And it’s always been mocked whenever it’s come up, in some ways rightfully. But suddenly we have an administration that is literally going beyond that, outdoing a mad, old evangelical and making appointments that aren’t just opposed to their agencies but utterly antithetical.
Let’s examine that for a moment. His cabinet now includes: three Goldman Sachs alums despite a keystone of his candidacy being criticism of Goldman Sachs; two generals known for outlandish conspiracy theories; a Secretary of Labor who is staunchly anti-labor; a Secretary of the Interior who intends to sell off federal land; a Secretary of Education that decimated the Michigan educational system even further; an EPA director who is suing the EPA; a Small Business Administration director who was an entertainment executive and couldn’t even get elected in her own state; an Attorney General hostile to just about every vulnerable segment of our society; and the best one, a Secretary of State who has possibly the best relationship with Vladimir Putin of any American, and whose company is eager to allow through a $300 million deal with Rosneft which was halted under Obama’s sanctions after Russia INVADED ANOTHER COUNTRY. That’s not to mention the complete lack of response from Trump’s side about what looks to be significant Russian interference in our election, Trump bashing the CIA and actively protecting Putin, and one of his top advisors having illegally served as a top Russian lobbyist for years.
A cabinet worth over $11 billion – more than 4x the net worth of Obama’s and THIRTY TIMES the net worth of Bush II’s latter cabinet. A real cabinet of the people. Congratulations on it.
There’s a term of art in finance called IBGYBG – “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” – that signifies a deal that’s profitable in the short term (especially for the negotiators) which all involved parties know will sour in some way but by the time it does the people negotiating it will have retired or moved on. It’s quite literally a financial mechanism of short-sightedness and it defined many of the mortgage and securitization deals that led directly to the 2008 financial crisis. “By the time these mortgagees default to the point that the investment is toast we’ll be gone.” Trump’s cabinet both codifies and transcends IBGYBG thinking. In a decade we went from “I’ll Be Gone/You’ll Be Gone” shortsightedness to “Eh, We can afford good bunkers, let’s run it into the dirt.”
I keep hearing “at least Trump’s trying!” Let’s see what Trump has been “trying” this week: has he even taken any intelligence briefings? No. He spent his time on twitter attacking a small labor union representative. He went to the Army-Navy game (and sat with Ollie North, of course). He revealed a scheme to charge $35 for a “Trump Inaugural Membership Card.” He reaffirmed his stake in a reality TV show. And held another self-congratulation rally.
The transition of Turkey’s political landscape over the last several years and in particular this year shocked analysts and commentators with its speed and severity. Erdogan went from Washington DC darling to troublesome pariah to tolerated dictator relatively fast as these things go – especially that last step. I fear the change in America’s political landscape will be no less severe and possibly just as fast, if not exactly commensurate. If you want to know why I’m feeling more extreme lately and speaking in more extreme ways realize I’m reacting to a two-party system in which one party has decided that rules no longer matter and winning is the most important thing, a cabinet full of paranoid generals and people looking to strip resources off the country for profit, a precarious technological landscape which empowers the state more than it empowers individuals and the trajectory of a disrupted country ruled by a strongman who favors mass purges.
That all leads to a single conclusion for me above all others: it is no longer in anyone’s interests to continue playing by the rules.