(Not) Draining the Swamp

Donald Trump had promised his voters that he would drain the swamp, which means that he would ensure that lobbyists and other special interests would not prevail in his administration and that he would place the interests of the whole nation before that of the special interests. With only a few weeks to go before inauguration, it is time to call him out on what turned out to be a non-promise.

The Trump Cabinet

Let’s start with a small selection of the people he had decided to appoint to his cabinet: Betsy DeVos, a billionaire, campaigning for the privatization of the public school system to use public dollars to benefit education investors like her and other buddies, became the secretary of education.

Steven Mnuchin, a high-level executive of the much detested Goldman Sachs bank, became the Secretary of Treasury, following in line with the tradition of appointing Goldman Sachs bankers to the manage the nation’s finances (after Robert Rubin serving under Clinton, and Hank Paulson serving under Bush; the former advocating for Wall Street deregulation and the latter throwing tax money after Wall Street following the great crash).

Wilbur Ross, a leveraged-buyout investor and billionaire making a fortune from buying up bankrupting companies, loading them with debt and then selling at his own profit, is going to become the Secretary of Commerce, ensuring that similarly shady deals will be performed under a Trump administration.

Andrew Puzder, a chief executive of a fast food company, who railed against minimum wage laws and favored accelerated automation of jobs so that pesky workers can’t bargain or strike for higher wages or better working conditions, becomes the Secretary of Labor.

Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobile, a giant oil corporation, who is very interested in making profitable business deals rather than maintaining balanced foreign policy, will be the Secretary of State.

Ryan Zinke, Montana Congressman, who voted for oil and gas drilling, will be Secretary of Interior, which is charged with overseeing federal land that might be tapped for oil and gas drilling despite the criticisms of environmentalists.

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general who led lawsuits against the EPA for the Clean Power Plan (setting carbon limits for power plants) and Clean Water rule (limit pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands), will become the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tom Price, Georgia Congressman and critic of the Affordable Care Act, will become Secretary of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, especially the smooth running of the exchange.

Carl Icahn, multibillionaire investor, will be Trump’s special advisor to “cut red tape” and government regulations, which usually implies the same barriers that hinder investment profits, like worker safety or environmental standards. He advocates for a tax holiday for companies stashing their earnings overseas in the hope that the cash will be repatriated. (It is safe to assume that Icahn will benefit from such a move.)

Peter Navarro, a University of California Irvine economist raging against trade deals with China and the rest of the world for undermining US production and increasing US trade deficits, was selected as director of the National Trade Council.


The pattern of Trump’s appointment is that most of his appointments tend to be businesspeople, who will benefit themselves or their industries substantially by working directly for the government, or politicians, who have a vested interest in helping various businesses make more money. All of these efforts are likely to intensify the swamp. Remember that the reference to the swamp was about a broadside attack against a politicized (crony) capitalism, where the state helps lobbyists and special interests enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers and the general public. But to appoint the very same special interests to become part of the cabinet is actually even worse than the current corrupt political culture of politicians currying favors with their donors. Cut out the middle man.

Taxpayer/ public-politician-business/ special interest

gets simplified to

Taxpayer/ public- business/ special interest

If your initial thought is that the Trump administration mean that the rich will get richer, and the working and middle classes that put Trump to power will be neglected again, there is strong reason to believe that this is exactly what will happen. Bernie Sanders and some other progressives are already calling for mass mobilization to ensure that social programs like Social Security and Medicare get defended (Fernholz 2016). Trump has not made it clear that he wants to slash entitlement programs, though he might ultimately not be opposed to it given that he did not invite any social policy academics or other left-wing representatives into his cabinet and staff of advisers.

“Speeches are in poetry, while governing is in prose”, is one of the proverbial pieces of wisdom in Washington politics. What this means for us is that the people have appointed their shiny charismatic leader, who is a skilled con man and TV celebrity, but this leader cannot govern without his bureaucracy. The bureaucracy then turns out to be drawn from the military, the Republican political establishment and the elite business community. People’s anger was targeted at the elites, but what they get back are the very elites, who can’t care less whether working people have struggle to afford their rent. The next four years will be a hell of a ride.

Now, it turns out that Icahn and Ross were major Trump donors, and they helped him stave off bankruptcy in the 1990s, when his businesses were in trouble. He is repaying his wealthy friends by appointing them to the cabinet. Trump is as much beholden to the big donors as Clinton, Bush and all of the other establishment figures.

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