“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others: we are interested solely in power, pure power. Power is not a means; it is an end…. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
In this interview with The Real News Network, I argue that while it may seem hard to believe that Trump has appointed to high government positions a number of religious fundamentalists, conspiracy-theory advocates, billionaires, misogynists, climate-change deniers and retrograde anti-communists, this should come as no surprise given the anti-democratic conditions that produced Trump in the first place. Not only do these individuals uniformly lack the experience to take on the jobs for which they were nominated, they are unapologetic about destroying the government agencies in which they have been put in charge.
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These appointments are indicative of forthcoming policy decisions that will increase the attack on democratic institutions and public goods, as well as the degree to which power will be further consolidated in the hands of the financial elite. While there is little doubt that Trump’s gaggle of appointees represents a deep embrace of ignorance and crony capitalism and a disdain for the institutions that give legitimacy to the social contract and the welfare state, these administrative heads also represent the front guard of the dark times that are to come, times that will be marked by a combination of state repression and unchecked collusion among big corporations, banks and the ultra-rich. Yet not only has Trump turned a number of important cabinet positions over to the most criminogenic elements of neoliberalism, he has also filled cabinet and high-level positons with generals, ensuring that the militarization of American society will not simply be continued, but accelerated. This mix of incompetent and mean-spirited billionaires and generals represents support of the worst elements of militarism and neoliberalism — a war on education, support for austerity policies and an attack on social provisions, the poor, workers, unions and the most vulnerable. Under Trump’s administration, a war culture will morph with an updated version of the Gilded Age. Trump’s government of billionaires and militarists makes clear that the next few years will be governed by ruthless financial elite who will give new meaning to an updated version of authoritarianism that will accelerate the misery, suffering and exploitation of a wider sector of American society. — Henry A. Giroux
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Kim Brown, in Baltimore.
Well, Donald Trump is forming his cabinet very much in his own image white, male and wealthy with few exceptions. Highly corporatized and militarized, with few public servants or diplomats, it appears as though the long held desire of conservatives to have the federal government run as a business, could soon be coming to pass. So, what does this mean for the rest of us and for the country at large?
Well, to discuss this, we’re joined with Henry Giroux. He is a professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest at McMaster University. He’s also the author of America’s Addiction to Terrorism and America at War With Itself. Professor Giroux, thank you so much for joining us.
HENRY GIROUX: Hi, Kim. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
KIM BROWN: Well, there’s a lot being said about President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks, one of which is being mentioned: this piece in the Boston Globe says that his cabinet picks so far have a combined wealth of over $13 billion, which is more than the gross domestic product of 70 small countries. Have we ever seen a president select this many billionaires and CEOs to be part of his cabinet?
HENRY GIROUX: There’s no historical precedent that I know of, but I think the emphasis on the fact that they’re simply rich, is important, but it may miss the point. And I think the real point is that these are neoliberal evangelicals. I mean, these are people who are absolutely wedded to a notion that the economy should govern all aspects of social life, and it basically should consolidate the wealth of the ultra-rich.
So, I think that in talking about people like Rex Tillerson and talking about Andrew Puzder, Wilbur Ross, Ryan Zinke, I mean, these are all people who want to basically destroy the social contract, deregulate business to the degree that is at all possible with this new cabinet, and basically bring us back to the Gilded Age. That’s certainly one way to look at this.
But, I think the other way to look at this, is that there’s a certain alliance of groups coming … of individuals coming together in this cabinet that speak to an alarming set of elements that would constitute, what I call, a new kind of neofascism, an American form of authoritarianism, and I think the economic fundamentalists that you’ve referred to, these ultra neoliberalists, are just one segment of that group. But, yes, they’re rich. They’re wealthy, they’re powerful, and they would like to do everything they can to make the United States government simply an arm or an agent of a corporate culture that benefits the rich.
KIM BROWN: You mentioned some really interesting points, because some of his appointments to some of these cabinet positions seem at odds with the actual agency itself. As you mentioned his pick for Secretary of Labor, is the CEO of Hardee’s, and does not seem to be in favor of raising the federal minimum wage. His choice to head the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, once sued the EPA himself. So, what does it serve to have people in these positions who seem hostile, at least in their histories, to these agencies themselves?
HENRY GIROUX: No, it’s a great question, Kim, because I think that in almost every appointment that we’re looking at, whether we’re talking about Puzder — he also opposes worker protections, and he also runs sexist ads for Hardee’s, which he thinks that women eating hamburgers in bikinis is a central part of American culture. I think that what all of these appointments are designed to do and what they’re suggesting, is that they want to eliminate any … or weaken as much as possible, any cabinet position that in some way is related to the social contract, any cabinet position that in some way would place regulations on business. Any position, any cabinet position that in some way would serve the ends of democracy and benefit a wide range of people.
I mean, these people are being appointed, not because they’re simply stupid and incompetent and unqualified, but because they harbor such a hatred, I would argue, for these institutions, for government regulations, for institutions that in some way provide social provisions, that their basic game is to destroy them.
KIM BROWN: Also, as we were discussing and as I mentioned in my intro, that the desire to have the federal government run as a business, to have CEOs put in the place of federal agencies and run them as a business, tell me why this is a bad idea.
HENRY GIROUX: It’s a bad idea because it seems to me it operates off the assumption, that the most important thing that you can say about a democracy, is that it basically is about the accumulation of capital and the massive production of inequalities and one that basically sees the social contract as a nuisance.
I think that one of the things that we see in this kind of economic logic, is the argument that economic activity should be divorced from social cost, and so there’s no conception whatsoever of what it might mean to provide provisions that enhance people’s lives, that in a sense eliminate inequities, in other words, when you talk about running the country as a business, you’re talking about running a country in a way that has nothing to do with economic, political and social justice. That’s not a democracy. That’s a business.
And what we now know, particularly since the late 1970s, is that businesses in the United States have become criminogenic. They pollute the environment. They do everything they can to destroy the public goods. They wage wars against unions. They de-fund public schools. They argue for privatization. They eliminate self-interest to the most central category of agency. They individualize everything. They refuse to acknowledge there are no systemic causes that basically cause enormous social problems.
I mean, this is not a recipe for simply corporate success. I mean, this is a recipe for destroying democracy.
KIM BROWN: Trump, as the candidate, ran on a platform of populism and this phrase, “Drain the swamp.” And his cabinet selection so far seem very antithetical to that. Henry, what are your thoughts about, “Draining the swamp.” Does the swamp appear about to be drained?
HENRY GIROUX: He’s actually … adding more water to the swamp. I mean, he’s not draining anything. He’s hiring billionaires, he’s hiring neoliberal executives, he’s hiring racists and right wing ultra-nationalists such as Michael Flynn and Stephen Bannon and Mike Pompeo. All of these people are basically Islamaphobics.
He’s hiring anti-intellectuals who deny climate change, and are utterly incompetent. I mean, Ben Carson has been hired to run as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and he believes that social provisions simply weaken the social fabric. Can you imagine? Rick Perry is a climate change denier, who wanted to abolish the department, and he couldn’t even remember the name in an earlier presidential primary of the department he wanted to abolish. Scott Pruitt is a climate change denier and is a puppet of the fossil fuel industry, and now Betsy DeVos … this is a trip: Betsy DeVos is a religious extremist, who’s going to head the Department of Education and hates public education, and has no experience with higher education. She once said, Kim, if you can believe this, that education is a way to advance God’s Kingdom. I mean … and of course, then there’s Linda MacMahon, whose only qualification is she ran the premier pro-wrestling league, World Wrestling Entertainment.
I mean, this couldn’t be made up. I mean, this group of stooges, cronies and misfits, I mean, it would be hard for Orwell, Huxley or Kafka, to even have imagined that one day in the United States, you would have a government with this assemblage of people who basically as a whole, speak to a kind of authoritarianism that breeds not just misfortune and hate and intolerance, but prides itself on its own incompetence.
KIM BROWN: What can we expect from Donald Trump’s cabinet, the majority of whom have never served in government, have never been elected to public office? I mean, there are a couple, Congressman Zinke from Montana, and as you mentioned, former Governor of Texas, Rick Perry. But the majority of them have not ever held a government position or held public office, so what type of shock could they be in store for, or could their agencies be in store for, when they come with all of this corporate experience into the federal government?
HENRY GIROUX: It’s not just simply corporate experience. I mean, we’re talking about three or four generals, who occupy enormously powerful positions, and all of this points to a future of more war, violent military interventions, and of course, a massive embrace of Islamophobia. Then you have, of course, people like Jeff Sessions, who is the Attorney General, who was once denied a judgeship because of his own racism and said the KKK was okay, until he discovered that they actually smoked marijuana, and then he backed off, and here’s a guy who actually said that the Central Park 5, that Trump’s endorsement of the Central Park 5, who were exonerated, was actually a terrific thing.
So, I think you’re going to see militarization, you’re going to see an increase in a law and order regime, you’re going to see crackdown on cities, you’re going to see the de-funding of public education, and I think — there are civil servants who work in these agencies, and my sense is some of these people are legitimately good people, who all of a sudden are going to find themselves in the midst of a series of contradictions that are going to be very difficult for them to maneuver. You know recently we saw something happen that was very, very disturbing: the Trump coterie has asked the Energy Department to hand over a list of names, of people who basically were involved in any kind of climate change involvement whether they attended conferences… I mean, that was just frightening, I mean, that speaks of McCarthyism.
And so, there is the question of, are there going to be purges in these agencies? Are we going to find ourselves in an era in which all of a sudden names are being posted? Journalists are being imprisoned? Schools are being basically militarized? So, I think that the greatest contradiction will be between the agencies and the people who work there, and these neoliberal militarists, sort of right wing religious extremists and anti-intellectuals, who will basically be attempting to build a political system that is at odds with everything that these agencies represent.
KIM BROWN: Indeed — We have been speaking with Professor Henry Giroux. He teaches Scholarship in the Public Interest at McMaster University. You should check out his books. One titled, America’s Addiction to Terrorism, and America at War With Itself. Professor Giroux, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.
HENRY GIROUX: Okay. Thank you, Kim.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.