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Nostalgia for Crooks and Incompetents

So. I haven’t been blogging much about Our Only President-Elect, and I don’t know how much I will when he actually becomes Our Only President next month. I find that the internet already contains plenty of criticism and to spare, much of it better-informed than I am. I do find that every now and then I am half-inspired to write up my disagreement with some particular criticism of the man, but it doesn’t feel like a good use of my attention or yours to complain about people complaining the wrong complaints.

One of the things I haven’t seen, at least not really comprehensively, is the question of what real differences there are between Donald Trump’s actual appointees and the hypothetical appointees of whoever might have been the President-Elect had the Other Party not fucked themselves quite so badly. I’m thinking back to some stuff I said earlier about the importance of distinguishing between the more-or-less normal policies of the Other Party and the totally-not-at-all-normal nature of OOP-E. Distinguishing between the certainly normal notion that the Party that wins the election gets to staff the Executive and attempt to implement their policies and priorities, and the extent to which this particular P-E is choosing… well, the people he is choosing.

Compare Steven Mnuchin to Don Regan or John Snow. It seems to me he’s… a little worse. Not as experienced, not as capable of doing the actual job he’s being hired for, but not of a different kind altogether. In all likelihood, whoever the next president from the Other Party would have been, the next nominee for Treasury (from that Party) would have had an extensive background in the financial services sector, and I mean making money from it, not regulating it. The point is that there are appointments that I can totally imagine Jeb or Mario or Scott Walker making, and appointments that are just a little bit worse they would make, and appointments they would never make. So far, he hasn’t named anyone I thought was better than Jeb/Mario/Scott would have made, and some that are much, much worse. I think it’s both important and difficult to maintain a sense of how much the incoming Administration will be a Republican one. Important both because it’s easy to blame everything on one person (particularly when that person is so incredibly and obviously blameworthy to begin with) and because we of My Party will need to work with (as well as against) the Other Party in a future when Donald Trump is no longer a politician.

So. With that in mind, here’s a list of Cabinet (and some other Executive) appointments so far, not with my assessment of how the person may perform their duties, but with my assessment of whether I think some more mainstream President of the Other Party (essentially, Jeb Bush, Mario Rubio or Scott Walker) might have chosen them for the job. My categories are: Same, meaning I can totally imagine one of those guys picking this person, or someone enough like them to make no nevermind; Worse, meaning I think that this pick is along the same lines as I imagine the others of his Party would pick, but significantly worse in some measure (usually government experience, which OOP-E seems to think is actively bad); Nope, meaning this pick is not only awful, but awful from the Other Party’s point of view; and in theory Better, which I might have imagined might come up, given that OOP-E doesn't actually worry about aligning himself with Party policies.

Ready? Here we go.

  • Department of State: Rex Tillerson. Nope. Any normal Party candidate would pick someone with some diplomatic experience, and of course not someone who had business dealings with the Russians.
  • Department of the Treasury: Steven Mnuchin. Slightly worse. Probably. Just on experience, though, not on policy.
  • Department of Defense: James Mattis. Maybe slightly better? I don’t really know enough, but it seems like this isn’t a terrible choice, and that I might expect Rubio or Walker to pick someone out of AIPAC’s rolodex.
  • Department of Justice: Jeff Sessions. Worse. Worse personally, but pretty much the same on policy grounds.
  • Department of the Interior: Ryan Zinke. No, no, nope. This guy’s a scam artist and a nut, and not even reliable on Party Policy.
  • Department of Agriculture: No appointment yet
  • Department of Commerce: Wilbur Ross. Worse-to-nope. I would expect someone with legislative experience here to work on legislation, but on policy grounds this guy seems solidly in line.
  • Department of Labor: Andrew Puzder. Worse. And when I say someone is worse than I can imagine Scott Walker choosing on this point, I say it with some trepidation.
  • Department of Health and Human Services: Tom Price. Same. I mean, awful, but not, I think, worse than the other fellows would pick. And for whatever it’s worth, this guy knows his stuff, even if he’s on the wrong side of it.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development: Ben Carson. Nope.
  • Department of Transportation: Elaine Chao. Same.
  • Department of Energy: Rick Perry. Same or maybe just a trifle worse. Would have been a perfectly good choice for Ag or Interior. As Energy… would a different Republican choose someon with a strong science background? I don’t see any reason to assume so.
  • Department of Education: Betty Devos. Worse. I’d like to say nope, but I’m not convinced. Or am I too cynical here? I mean, how much worse than Bennett is she?
  • Department of Veterans Affairs: No appointment yet.
  • Department of Homeland Security: John Kelly. Um, probably about the same? Or, maybe, different but not worse? The other guys could have picked someone who was all about the surveillance, rather than the border? Dunno. The Gitmo stuff, though.
  • White House Chief of Staff: Reince Priebus. Worse.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt. Same, I think. Seriously, though—the mainstream view within the Party is that climate change is a liberal hoax, and that the balance has swung dangerously far toward environmentalism. This isn’t Trump.
  • Office of Management & Budget: Mick Mulvaney. Same.
  • United States Trade Representative: Peter Navarro. Worse. But not necessarily by a whole lot.
  • United States Mission to the United Nations: Nikki Haley. Better, maybe? A good choice for HUD, and maybe for Transportation. No diplomatic background, which is odd. But for a position which has been held by John Negroponte and John Bolton…
  • Council of Economic Advisers: Larry Kudlow? I think this is just a rumor. Oh, Lord, I hope it’s just a rumor. The nope is strong with this one.
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon. Noperooski.

There are some other appointments I should probably mention: the major nopes are Michael Flynn at the NSA and of course Steve Bannon as a “Chief Strategist”. Mike Pompeo at CIA is probably the same? White House Counsel Donald McGahn the same? I can imagine Jeb Bush having Carl Icahn heading some sort of advisory committee as well.

But the point is probably clear: There are two very serious problems. One is Donald Trump, and the other is the whole Republican Party. Anyone who could have won a primary in that Party would have nominated, I think, people like Tom Price or Mick Mulvaney or Scott Pruitt and people nearly as bad (and on policy every bit as bad) as Peter Navarro or Jeff Sessions or Steven Mnuchin. That’s amazingly awful. And then on top of that we have the actual President-Elect, whose actual appointments are largely in line with the Party but lack the experience to do the jobs they are being appointed for, and then on top of that we have the Party going along with those appointments, even if they weren’t the ones they might have preferred.

I don’t know what to do about that in the short-term. I don’t know what to do about it in the long-term, either, really—I think it’s important in the long term for our country to have a functional Conservative Party, but I haven’t the slightest clue how to get from here to there. I don’t know how to ameliorate the short-term disasters that will (an easy prediction) result from unqualified people running government agencies, and I don’t know how to prevent the long-term disasters that will result from our new norm of acquiescence to incompetence.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,



In the negative values, yes.


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