Trump as undercover “small(er) government” agent?

by Steve Trinward

[ Note: This was initially sketched out as part of a previous attempt to find something a little “positive” about the upcoming Trump Administration. On contemplation, it seems the most useful of the five paths outlined then. To read the initial piece go to: ]

What if President-elect Donald Trump has been looking at the Cabinet as a chance to shrink government? If so, he would be appointing skeptics, instead of insiders, in order to get a real evaluation of what should be cut and which first, to mitigate the pain for those now dependent on them, but to ultimately trim the size and scope of their fiefdoms.

Consider that one of the biggest problems we face in the ever-expanding government control over our lives comes from career bureaucrats, who make policy decisions and issue edicts on pretty much a daily basis—based mostly on their own whims, not on legitimate laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the reigning President. This has led to expansions of power in every realm from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Drug Enforcement Administration, most recently with the DEA’s latest edict declaring CBD oil to be a dangerous drug with no approved medicinal uses.

Now contemplate the fact that most of the names Trump has mentioned so far, whether for Cabinet position or agency head, have been someone from outside the usual suspects. From Education to HUD to Labor and the Small Business Administration, from Energy to Commerce to State to Defense, every prospective appointee is being pilloried for being “inexperienced” and or “incompetent” to perform the job, as well as for being already independently wealthy by whatever means. But let’s take a closer look, focusing on the positions that will need Senate confirmation, starting next month, before they can assume any duties at all:

  • For Education Secretary, he’s tapped Betsy DeVos, a homeschooled and homeschooling mom who is at best skeptical about government schooling systems, and an advocate of charter schools and other alternatives to the orthodoxy. She might provide a challenge to the business-as-usual cartel of teachers’ unions and educrats who have basically trashed education since the department was created. Trump has said he wants to shift responsibilities for curriculum research, development and educational aid to state and local governments, and DeVos seems a good agent for such change. (Of course, all the critics can see is that she is rich, and not part of the standard hegemony.)
  • For Housing and Urban Development, he picked Ben Carson, who grew up in the projects, then moved well beyond them, to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Although he might be more suited to serving as Surgeon General, his upbringing might have given him some ideas on how public housing [sic] might be made better, and how incentives to “rise above your raisin’” might be a good thing.
  • For Labor Secretary he chose Andrew F. Puzder, CEO of the Hardees and Carl’s Jr burger-chains. Rather than being a union organizer or lobbyist, he comes from running companies, where he has not only improved the product (both quality and variation—not just a burger place now) and focused on customer satisfaction (food variety, auto-kiosk option with discounts, consistency of product, competent and cheerful service). but he has also done things for the employees. (No, he hasn’t raised all wages to $15 minimum, but he has aimed to make the work experience a bit less arduous, and reward good performance with raises. I’ve known more than a few people who work that game; very few have delusions of burger-serving into their retirement days.) Once again. he makes a lot of money doing this; that also might mean he has no vested interest in expanding his fiefdom’s reach while in a public servant’s role (as often happens with career bureaucrats).
  • For Secretary of State, Trump has gone from downright-scary (neocon war-hawks John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani), to maybe-moderate (Mitt Romney, whose expression at their dinner together said it all), to his current option, Rex W. Tillerson. As president and CEO of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson also has close ties with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, which only scares those who think we need to resume the Cold War with “Russia” (which hasn’t been “the USSR” for almost 30 years). The good news might be that Tillerson has a lifetime of negotiation behind him, rather than being steeped in the “public policy” wonkdom that has led us back to the brink of World War III with the last several choices for this post. (Once again, the critics say we’ve just proven the meme that “America is an oil company with an army”; once again, time will tell if this means war or peaceful trade with other nations.)
  • I’m also rather intrigued by his Defense Secretary choice, at least so far. James N. “Mad Dog” Mattis, the erudite and well-read career Marine, might indeed be a remake of George Patton (at least the George C. Scott version), who might actually detest war—and be someone NOT focused on where the next one should be, but on ending those we have and returning us to peacetime. And as one of the best-read warriors since . . . well, Patton himself, he has the potential to see a bigger picture of conflict, beyond the shortsighted regime-change fiascos that have characterized the last 50-plus years of American foreign policy. (I have no idea if my optimistic vision here might come to pass, or if we’ll find ourselves in the same seconds-to-midnight scenario I’d expected from the true warmonger in this election, upon her coronation. I do know that neither Trump or Mattis has declared toppling Assad and no-fly zones over Syria as a first-day-in-office goal, as she did.)
  • To head the Small Business Administration he’s looking at Linda McMahon, who as a wrestling promoter might be able show small businesses how to focus and grow, and would fight for simplification of their lives (so they’d come to her events). She might know things from a practical perspective that could help in shaping policy to deregulate small business barriers to entry, and
  • For Energy Secretary he’s chosen ex-Texas Governor Rick Perry, who once helped jettison his own Presidential campaign by not being able to remember the name of this department, as one of three he’d abolish if elected. His perspective of skepticism might be just what that bureaucracy needs to streamline and outsource most of its duties. (That his primary duty would reportedly be overseeing new nuclear missile production is an anomaly of that department’s mission statement.)
  • To head the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump has once again pointed to a strong critic of that agency, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt. If the ineptitude of the EPA in actually preserving clean water and air (Flint, MI; West Virginia as a whole; that river out west running with sewage and industrial runoff; etc.) has not caused it to be drastically rebuilt or abolished, maybe Pruitt’s hand will do the trick.
  • As Health and Human Services Secretary, Trump chose Tom Price, a six-term Republican congressman from Georgia and orthopedic surgeon who has led opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which Trump allegedly wants to “repeal and replace,” although since his election he has seemed to backtrack on that promise. Price in that role would also be dealing with the Food and Drug Administration, and overseeing changes in Medicare and Medicaid. His valid objection to the ACA (aka ObamaCare) is that it interferes with the ability of patients and doctors to make medical decisions, and hamstrings attempts to provide affordable access to wellness and disease prevention.

As for the not-so-good choices, I have to include these:

  • I.A. Director: ex-Army officer and Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, who was among the critics of Hillary Clinton about her role in the Benghazi murders. He would also be involved if Trump as president orders a resumption of torturous interrogation tactics for terrorism suspects.
  • Attorney General: Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is on record as not only a heavy-handed drug warrior, but a basic “law and order Southerner” and a strong proponent of immigration enforcement. He does favor reduced spending to some extent, but he also carries some “racist” baggage. His nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986 was rejected on the basis of his comments and actions. He is by no means going to be a slam-dunk in Senate confirmation hearings.
  • Secretary of Treasury: Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s campaign finance chairman. This pick is at first glance just another crony-corporate bankster, a former Goldman Sachs executive, with, as the New York Times puts it, “deep Hollywood roots but no government experience.” However, it’s possible that Mnuchin, whose duties would include overseeing the Internal Revenue Service and assisting in tax-code rewriting, might look at his job as one of true oversight, preventing the IRS thuggery that has become so obvious.
  • Transportation Secretary: Elaine L. Chao, who not only served as Labor Secretary under Dubya’s reign, but is married to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. (Trump clearly went back inside the Beltway here.) Given that her presumed duties would be to oversee Trump’s infrastructure plan to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, airports and transit systems, that’s likely to involve the usual crony-cartel of favored builders.

Under wait-and see:

  • Secretary of the Interior nominee Ryan Zinke seems an odd choice, since Zinke is a recently elected Congressman from Montana, and an ex-Navy SEAL commander whose primary campaign push was about national security, not better National parks. His mission if accepted would be more about dealing with Obama-era rules curbing public land development and exploration for oil, coal and gas, while promoting wind and solar power—all on “public” lands.
  • For Commerce, he’s selected Wilbur Ross, who is an investor worth about $3 billion. Ross has been outspoken as a critic of “bad trade agreements” and a backer of steep tariffs on China. He might be the least beneficial choice for those who believe in free market economics, but he might also seek to trim the departments under his jurisdiction.

And then he has some choices still to make, at least as of Christmas Day:

  • Director of National Intelligence, the president’s principal adviser on intelligence, overseeing the entire military and civilian intelligence apparatus. Coordinating among the intelligence agencies of the military and civilian wings could be vital for the “war on terrorism.” Trump’s shortlist here includes:

David H. Petraeus, the former four-star Army general and CIA director who had to resign over personal issues; Michael S. Rogers, Navy admiral and current director of the National Security Agency, though the Obama administration might be ousting him over his lack of speed in combatting ISIS, whatever that means; or Frances Townsend Homeland, who was a security adviser under Dubya’s reign.

  • Agriculture Secretary, overseeing America’s farming industry, inspecting food quality and providing income-based food assistance—and propping up agribusiness subsidies under the guise of “protecting family farmers.” Not much would change here, regardless of who he picks:

Sam Brownback, current Kansas governor; Chuck Conner (no, not the guy who played the Rifleman), CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; Heidi Heitkamp, Democratic Senator, North Dakota; Sid Miller, Commissioner of agriculture for Texas; Kristi Noem, House, South Dakota; or Sonny Perdue, former Georgia governor.

  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs, taking charge of the VA hospitals and other aftercare issues for returning soldiers, sailors, fliers and Marines. Trump has been very critical of this realm, although the real answer to “treating our troops better” is to bring them the hell home. Again he has a varied but similar shortlist:

Scott Brown, former Massachusetts senator; Delos M. Cosgrove, a heart surgeon and Vietnam veteran, now CEO of the Cleveland Clinic; Michelle J. Howard, the first female four-star admiral in the history of the Navy; Jeff Miller, retired Florida Congressman, former chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; and Sarah Palin, ex-governor of Alaska, and McCain’s vice-presidential nominee in 2008. Of these, Cosgrove or Howard might use actual combat experience as a guide to reaching more veterans with treatment; hard to tell yet.

  • S. Trade Representative: So far, only Dan DiMicco, ex-CEO at the Nucor Corporation, a steel production company, has been mentioned he is a strong critic of Chinese trade practices, and so might be in alignment with Trump’s alleged intentions to put the squeeze on China trade.

I’m not going to weigh in on how much credence I give any of this, but is does represent one possible motif in this truly unpredictable shift on the Presidential throne. I’ll leave you to draw the conclusions. Feel free to comment. . . .