The descent into oligarchy continues

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Last week, I covered some of Donald Trump’s more clownish Cabinet picks, a coven of loyalists so unfit for their jobs that their appointments would be funny if it weren’t for the damage they could cause. While I took great pleasure in arguing against those Cabinet picks, I feel that I’d be doing our readers a disservice by stopping there and failing to cover some of Trump’s more seriously noxious appointments.

During both the primary and general elections, Trump attacked his opponents for being too close to and taking contributions from big banks like Goldman Sachs. As of the writing of this column, Trump has hypocritically appointed six Goldman Sachs alumni to high level advisor or Cabinet positions. The most troubling of these former Wall Street bankers may be Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s appointment to the office of Secretary of the Treasury.

After spending years at Goldman Sachs, Mnuchin headed a California bank that profited off the human misery caused by the housing crisis and which ultimately foreclosed on over 36,000 homeowners, all while being subsidized by the FDIC. Mnuchin has been accused of running a “foreclosure machine” that frequently lied to at-risk homeowners, wringing as many debt payments as possible out of them while at the same time pursuing foreclosure – a deceptive and unethical tactic that is now illegal.

Does Trump seriously expect us to believe that someone who worked for a criminal Wall Street bank and who ran a foreclosure scam will now work for the benefit of the American people? Trump won the election in part due to his promise to remove people like Mnuchin and their influence from the machinery of power in Washington, not bring more of them in.

For Secretary of State, Trump has picked Rex Tillerson, the CEO of fossil fuel giant Exxon Mobil. Tillerson has a multitude of lengthy friendly relationships with dictators and undemocratic governments of countries in which Exxon Mobil operates.

Tillerson touts this record as indicating his negotiating experience. However, Trump could have nominated someone experienced whose past is not tainted by personal dealings with war criminals and autocrats and who does not harbor Tillerson’s massive conflicts of interest. At the State Department, Tillerson will have the power to make decisions that could benefit his former employer or the fossil fuel industry in general, an industry to which he may someday return.

Recently, the entire senior management of the State Department resigned while Tillerson was visiting the Department, refusing to work under him and a Trump administration.

Trump’s appointment to lead the CIA is Mike Pompeo, who for years has pushed islamophobic rhetoric and conspiracy theories. He’s appeared frequently on right – wing radio programs and at church events to bash Muslim faith leaders and push his clash-of-civilizations outlook on the war on terror. He’s left the door open for reintroducing torture as a condoned tactic for CIA agents, something that Trump has said he’d like in place.

Pompeo has also been a long-time advocate of expanding the government’s ability to surveil Americans beyond even the sprawling spy apparatus inherited by the Trump administration. He wrote an op-ed that stated “legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”

Anyone who cares about civil liberties and sane intelligence policy should be alarmed at the appointment and confirmation of a would-be holy warrior like Pompeo, who can’t seem to figure out whether torture is wrong and feels that Americans effectively have no right not to be spied on by their own government.

Trump has chosen one of the most anti-labor people possible to head the Department of Labor, in the form of fast food CEO Andrew Pudzer. Yet another appointment clearly designed to undermine the department they’ll be heading. Pudzer thinks American workers are “over-protected.” He opposes minimum wage laws, paid sick leave and – I am not making this up – is against workers having guaranteed breaks during their shifts. Appointing someone who explicitly opposes worker protections to the federal department tasked with protecting workers is just another part of the Trump administration’s effort to transform America into a Dickensian nightmare world of corporate dominance.

As I predicted last week, Democrats have so far completely failed to make themselves worthy of the title of “opposition party.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is the only Democrat who voted to oppose all of Trump’s appointments aside from Nikki Haley for ambassador to the United Nations. Even progressive favorites in the Senate, like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown have voted for some of Trump’s picks.

The only sense anyone seems to be able make of this is that Democratic senators know they will not be able to oppose all of Trump’s Cabinet picks due to their minority in the Senate, and are seeking to gain some kind of political capital to be cashed in later. Democrats need to be careful, however, as some voters are already promising to remember both Gillibrand’s willingness to challenge Trump and other Democrats’ reluctance to do so in future elections.