Sub editor of Naked Politics
Trump’s surprise win over Hillary Clinton has been seen as a vote for change and for the voice of the ignored majority to finally be heard. He promises to stand up for the average American, but does this ring true? Leaving aside the sexism, racism, jibes against disabled people, inciting violence, and all the rest, and looking at him purely based on who he has chosen to help him lead over the next four years, does it look as though his Presidency will benefit the average American?
Trump’s Cabinet nominees number amongst them five rich businesspeople, only two women and only two people of colour. This doesn’t at first glance look to be a Cabinet designed to benefit a modern America, or reflect its make-up in the 21st century – but politicians don’t necessarily have to look like the voters that they represent in order to be able to speak for them at the highest level.
The Vice-President – Mike Pence
The Vice-President Elect has stood fast on various moral issues, stating his opposition to equal marriage and the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, and signing into law the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed companies to refuse service to those of an LGBTQ orientation on the grounds of religious belief.
On multiple occasions he has introduced legislation which would debar Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health organisation that provides contraception, health screenings and – yes – abortions, to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it, from receiving federal funding.
So, it seems he wouldn’t benefit women, poorer people or the LGBTQ community – so who exactly does he stand for?
Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson is an oil man. Being rich does not mean that he would not be able to sympathise with and represent the welfare of those who are not. It is, however, slightly paradoxical for Trump to claim that he’s planning to clear out the rich elite who prey on the ordinary American people, and then nominate the former CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the biggest oil corporations on the planet. In addition to this, during his time at ExxonMobil, the company made use of offshore regimes, which does not correlate with Trump’s promise to put America first.
In fairness to Tillerson, he did take a much sharper tone with Russia than Trump has, calling Russian annexation of the Crimea ‘illegal’ and backing NATO. He also, surprisingly for an oil man, admitted that climate change does exist – in contrast to Trump – and also criticised Trump’s comments on Mexicans as racist.
However, he did refuse to rule out a Muslim registry, something which is as unconstitutional as it is immoral and doubts still linger over also his close ties to Russia. He received a Russian Order of Friendship from President Putin in 2013 and is close to ex-KGB member and second most powerful man in the Kremlin Igor Sechin. Although he has been tougher on Russia in his confirmation hearing, there are still many question marks over his independence.
Russia’s actions in Syria, the Crimea and Georgia, interfering in elections in the US and in Sweden, its murder of a Secret Service Agent on the streets of Great Britain and much more, show that it is a danger to the West.
Russia has a long and storied track record of human rights abuses, which stands at odds to the supposed American ideal of championing freedom and liberty for all. A compliant America partnered to a Russia in the ascendancy is something that every American should be worried about.
Environmental Protection Agency Head – Scott Pruitt
Trump has advanced Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. This is a man who, in contrast to reality, said that “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
Pruitt is a puppet of the oil industry. In 2014 he colluded with Devon Energy (one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies) in an attempt to dismantle air pollution standards. He also sued to try to block the EPA’s Mercury and Toxic Air Standards regulation, which limits how much mercury that oil and coal power plants can exhume, potentially saving thousands of lives and preventing an estimated 11,000 premature births a year.
In addition to this, after taking thousands of dollars of donations from the poultry industry, he held up a legal fight to clean up tons of chicken manure befouling Oklahoma’s waterways and did not press for the companies involved to pay the tens of millions of dollars in damages.
Pruitt does not therefore appear like someone who is looking out for the man on the street. In contrast, this looks like a man looking to line his own pockets at the expense of the environment and of the health of Americans.
Secretary of Health and Human Services – Tom Price
Tom Price is an avid critic of Obamacare and supports plans to repeal it. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act does not tally at all with the Trump administration’s claim to be supportive of the man on the street. The ACA is not perfect, but it has saved the lives of Americans who could not afford health insurance or who were previously denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. It also outlawed sexist insurance plans which charged women more than men. The number of Americans who are uninsured has dropped by 5% since ACA came into effect.
The Republicans has frequently said that they will replace Obamacare with something ‘better’. What does that mean? Shouldn’t any flaws in the act be fixed, rather than getting rid of it altogether? Obama has signed 13 bills that have amended it, and undoubtedly would do more to improve it if he hadn’t been blocked at every turn by Republicans in Congress. So much for standing up for the average American then, and it does not look as though Price will be the man to do so either.
Attorney-General – Jeff Sessions
Attorney-General pick Jeff Sessions has shown himself to be hostile to women. He voted against extending the Violence Against Women Act and called it a ‘stretch’ to characterise grabbing women by their vaginas as ‘sexual assault’.
He also has a chequered past when it comes to race. On one hand, in 1983 he worked hard to prosecute two KKK members for killing a black youth. He has also been commended for his ‘fierce determination’ to solve two civil rights murders: the 1989 killings of an Alabaman judge and a NACCP official, and he co-sponsored legislation to bestow civil rights activist Rosa Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal.
On the other hand, he attempted to prosecute Martin Luther King’s aide Albert Turner, his wife Evelyn Turner, and another campaigner Spencer Hogue for voter fraud. The Marion Three were acquitted on all charges, and a Senate hearing the year after featured allegations of racial insensitivity. He opposed efforts to remove the Confederate flag from state property, supported Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, and although he voted to renew the Voting Rights Act in 2006, he said in 2013 that it was “…good news…for the South” when the Supreme Court annulled the part of the law which enabled the government to protect people from racial discrimination in voting.
As a result, the Republicans have begun engaging in voter suppression in some Southern States (again): purging black voters from voter rolls, making it more difficult for poorer people of colour to register to vote and impeding their ability to actually cast their ballot.
It does not look like Sessions will move to attempt to deal with this issue, coming as he does from a Republican party that already engages in voter suppression and sitting under a President who has already shown himself to be a racist. Will he attempt to crack down on police brutality too? It seems unlikely.
The signs do not look promising if you’re hoping that Trump and his Cabinet will improve the lot of Americans unless you are a straight, well-off, white man. The average American protesting against the ‘metropolitan elite’ by voting for Donald Trump makes about as much sense as a turkey protesting Christmas by voting for Thanksgiving. As a British citizen, I can only look on agog as the American people prepare to install in their highest office a complete buffoon who hails from the elite set of people that he claims to stand against.