Newsflash: A spokesperson for Donald Trump announced today that Dr. Hannibal Lecter, former psychiatrist and avid foodie, will officially join the upcoming administration as White House chef. The choice of Dr. Lecter seems an odd one, given his highly publicized brushes with law enforcement and his taste for lightly seasoned string players, but the president-elect assured everyone that it will be great, really great. In response to a request for comment, Dr. Lecter said, “Ready when you are, Mr. Trump. Love your suit.”
Seriously, though, would it surprise you at this point? Not me. I left shock behind weeks ago, and now greet these appalling cabinet nominations with what could be called a feeble grunt. Andrew Puzder hates workers? Labor Secretary! Scott Pruitt hates the EPA? EPA Secretary! Tom Price hates contraception? Health Secretary! Betsy DeVos hates public schools? Education Secretary! It’s like “Opposite Day” around here. Anyone at the inauguration party who sees fava beans and a nice Chianti on the menu should run for their lives.
Sometimes you have to laugh because the truth, as it stands, is terrifying.
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State: As of this writing, Tillerson’s nomination has not yet been officially set in stone, but that appears to be only a matter of time. Referred to by Donald Trump as a “world-class player,” Tillerson is also a world-class climate misleader — during his time as CEO, ExxonMobil did more than any 10 companies to undermine the science behind the climate crisis — as well as being one of the largest peddlers of petroleum on the planet. He is a boon companion of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and his assumed nomination comes as accusations of Russian meddling in the recent presidential election have been front-page news. However that relationship may stand, Tillerson at State means oil will play a substantial role in foreign policy decisions. “Donald Trump appears intent to undo a century of environmental and social progress,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, told Reuters, “and return America to the age of robber barons and corporate trusts. Who better to turn to than Exxon, the granddaddy of them all?”
Jeff Sessions, Attorney General: Trump’s nominee owns a history of racial animosity spanning some 30 years, dating back to when his nomination to the US District Court was denied by a GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. “Sessions has been one of the Senate’s most obstructionist and harmful voices on issues affecting immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, women and the LGBTQ community,” says Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, in an op-ed for US News & World Report. “In Sessions’ hands, the war on drugs could be used as a weapon to spy on, investigate, incarcerate and deport immigrants, Muslims and other targeted groups. He can’t be trusted to be America’s top law enforcement official.”
Mike Pompeo, CIA Director: A Tea Party true believer, Pompeo was one of the most vigorous voices promoting the fantasies surrounding the attack in Benghazi. He was a staunch supporter of President Obama’s plan to use military force in Syria, has difficulty believing that all Muslims are not terrorists, wants the death penalty for Edward Snowden, and wants to vastly expand the US surveillance state. “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “should be removed.”
Andrew Puzder, Labor Secretary: This choice tells you all you need to know about the next president, as Puzder shares with Trump a deep distaste for paying people for their work. According to CNN, “Puzder’s company, CKE Restaurants, has spent $20 million in the last four years defending itself in overtime lawsuits. In 2004, the company paid out $9 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over allegedly withheld overtime.” He is a vocal critic of any minimum wage increase and a variety of worker protections, and seems to prefer robots to people. “They’re always polite,” he told Business Insider, “They always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” A good employer wouldn’t have to worry so much about such things. Puzder is not a good employer. As Labor Secretary, he’ll be one of your bosses.
Dr. Ben Carson, Housing and Urban Development Secretary: The man, to this day, believes the Egyptian pyramids were constructed by biblical hero Joseph to serve as grain silos for the pharaohs. As for the job he himself says he isn’t qualified for, look no further than Carson’s opinion of HUD’s fair housing rule: “This is what you see in communist countries.” Jumaane Williams is a New York City councilmember, chair of the city’s Housing and Buildings Committee and lifelong housing activist. “I think I called it ill-advised, irresponsible and hovers on absurdity,” Williams told Democracy Now! of Carson’s nomination. “Housing, it’s not a plaything. It’s not something that you can just play around with. It is, I believe, the rubric of family. It is the glue for a healthy community. And to have someone that really wants to dismantle any government involvement in making sure that every community has access to that is very scary. We should be worried.”
Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary: As a member of the House delegation from Georgia, Tom Price has made a political career out of attacking women’s reproductive rights on a variety of fronts. He wants to defund Planned Parenthood, establish personhood rights for fertilized eggs, allow insurance companies the right to refuse coverage for contraception, remove the contraception mandate from the Affordable Care Act and remove contraceptive funding from various health programs meant to help women with obstetric injuries. “If Price had his way,” says Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, “Millions of women could be cut off from Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services like birth control, cancer screenings and STD tests. From his plan to take no-copay birth control away from 55 million women and allow insurance companies to charge women more for the same health coverage, to his opposition to safe and legal abortion, Price could take women back decades.”
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency: It’s not often that a presidential nominee gets referred to as “an existential threat to the planet,” but here we are. Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, thinks the climate crisis is nonsense, and further believes the EPA shouldn’t even exist. He does, however, love to file lawsuits on behalf of his far-right beliefs. “When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants,” writes J.B. Wogan in Governing Magazine, “Scott Pruitt sued. When the Justice Department offered legal status to young undocumented immigrants, Scott Pruitt sued. And when the Obama administration sought to give tax credits to states that hadn’t set up their own health insurance exchanges, Scott Pruitt sued. Since becoming Oklahoma attorney general in 2010, Pruitt has filed or joined lawsuits against federal agencies at least a dozen times. Even when Oklahoma isn’t an actual party in litigation, the state often submits a legal brief against the federal government. Besides air pollution, immigration and health care, Pruitt has fought federal laws and regulations on banking, contraception and endangered species.” Might as well rename it the Environmental Destruction Agency if Pruitt wins the position.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Interior Department: As with the nominations of Tillerson, Pruitt, Price and Puzder, there appears in this choice to be a very deliberate desire on the part of Trump to be as offensive and unreasonable as possible. GOP Rep. Rodgers is a strong advocate for turning national parks and tribal lands into cash machines for the oil, gas and mineral industries. The world just watched the events that unfolded at Standing Rock, North Dakota over the Dakota Access pipeline. With Rodgers at Interior, that struggle may only just be beginning. “She refuses to accept climate science,” Shannon Murphy, president of Washington Conservation Voters, tells the Seattle Times. “She has a consistent record of voting to prioritize oil and gas over public access, and clean air and water.”
Mike Flynn, National Security Advisor: One of Trump’s many generals, Flynn is a true picture of paranoia. He is the first cabinet nominee in history to help a pizza shop get shot up by promoting conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and child pornography. Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey read a sample of Flynn’s odd tweets, and stopped cold. “I’m now extremely uneasy about some of these tweets,” McCaffrey told NBC News, “which don’t sound so much as if they are political skullduggery, but instead border on being demented. So I think we need to look into this and sort out what’s going on here. I think that we need to aggressively examine what was going on with Gen. Flynn and his son, dealing with these transparent, nearly demented tweets that were going out. I think it needs closer scrutiny.” Yes, please.
James Mattis, Secretary of Defense: Another retired general, Mattis carries with him some deeply troubling freight from his time in Iraq. Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail was there, and saw it all:
In November 2005 US marines in Iraq committed a massacre of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians. The slaughtering of unarmed men, women, children and elderly people, shot multiple times at close range, was retribution for a roadside bomb attack on a convoy of marines. When it came time to bring the marines responsible for the massacre to justice, Mattis was the convening authority over the eight charged with crimes at Haditha. Mattis went on to dismiss all of the charges leveled against the marines who had been accused of killing the civilians. Mattis was the head of Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division in Iraq and played a lead role during both of the US sieges of Fallujah in 2004. While reporting from inside Fallujah during that siege, I personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by US snipers under Mattis’ command. During the November siege of Fallujah later that same year, which I also covered first-hand, more than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. Most were buried in mass graves in the aftermath of the siege.
John Kelly, Homeland Security Director: Yet another retired general, Kelly brings a whole slate of troubling matters to the table. Having been in charge of the military jail at Guantánamo Bay, he is a staunch advocate for keeping the facility open. He was responsible for the policy of force-feeding people incarcerated at Gitmo when they went on a hunger strike to protest their incarceration. As head of Homeland Security, his purview would include enforcement of immigration laws, a disturbing prospect given the espoused policies of the president-elect. Kelly is also a staunch supporter of the so-called war on drugs. “First Sessions for Attorney General, then Price at HHS, and now yet another old-style drug war character for Homeland Security,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It looks like Donald Trump is revving up to relaunch the failed drug war.” Beyond all this is the disturbingly militarized fact that Kelly is the third general to be nominated to this cabinet, with more potentially to follow. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Steve Bannon, Chief White House Strategist: Here is where the crypt cracks open and the true bogeymen come shuffling out into the light. Trump’s decision to tap Bannon for senior adviser was endorsed by white nationalist Richard Spencer, along with the chairman of the American Nazi Party and former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke. Bannon’s flagship publication, Brietbart, runs stories with headlines like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield.” The New York Times editorial board says, “To scroll through Breitbart headlines is to come upon a parallel universe where black people do nothing but commit crimes, immigrants rape native-born daughters, and feminists want to castrate all men.” Bannon is an “alt-right” Pied Piper who has no business anywhere near the kind of power Trump is about to hand him.
The remainder of the list doesn’t get any better. Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for Treasury secretary, wants to deregulate everything and made his fortune by foreclosing on people. Betsy DeVos, nominated for Education secretary, is a member of the right-wing billionaire class and has spent her professional life trying to undo public education. Wilbur Ross, nominated for Commerce secretary, is known commonly as “The King of Bankruptcy.” Elaine Chao, nominated for Transportation secretary and wife of serial Senate obstructionist Mitch McConnell, is completely unprepared for the job, which tells you all you need to know about how serious Trump is when he talks about infrastructure repair. Oh, and Linda McMahon, former president and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has been nominated for secretary of the Small Business Administration. That last one really makes its own gravy.
People in this country become obsessed with the individuals running for president, and always manage to forget that some 4,500 other people follow the election’s winner into the White House. Far more than any president, these are the people who make and set real policy, and who have the most real impact on everyday lives. This rogue’s gallery is, far and away, the worst, most unsuitable, most unprepared, most dangerous rack of nominees ever assembled. Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice collapsed the economy and got millions of people killed. These people could very well leave that pestilent record in deep shade.
They are only nominees for now, but given that the Senate is owned by the Republicans and the Republicans are owned by Trump, the possibility of thwarting any of them — much less all of them — is murderously slim. Bannon wants to tear everything down, and Trump enjoys making people suffer. They will both get their wish ere long.
Chef Lecter is sounding better by the minute.