The United States has had its share of turmoil in its 240-year history. But nothing has quite prepared this nation for the terrifying governing experiment that it’s about to be subjected to: a federal government run by knaves, know-nothings, kleptocrats, and zealots.
This might seem like a harsh judgment, but let’s take a look at President-elect Trump’s Cabinet selections so far.
His national security adviser, Mike Flynn, is a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist who has used his Twitter feed to push out fake news stories and anti-Islamic bigotry. This past August he even said in a radio interview that Arabic signs are posted along the Texas border to help guide Islamic terrorists illegally entering the country. Flynn’s last appointment in the military was as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, from which he was fired because of his management failures. What could be a better qualification for running the entire inter-agency national security process than being deeply paranoid and a lousy administrator?
At the Department of Justice, Trump intends to install Jeff Sessions, who has a long history of expressing racist, homophobic, nativist, and anti-immigrant sentiments.
For Education, Trump has selected Betsy DeVos, a woman who has dedicated much of her career to undermining public education, which nominally is the responsibility of the Secretary of Education. At Health and Human Services, Representative Tom Price got the nod, even though his tenure in Congress has been focused on taking away health care access from ordinary Americans.
For the Environmental Protection Administration, Trump has tapped Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who doesn’t believe that the single greatest threat to the environment — and human life on planet Earth — climate change, is a real thing. Trump wants to put Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurants, at the Labor Department. And who would be a better pick to defend the rights of American workers than a person who has built a career out of paying Americans minimum wage — and who opposes overtime pay, paid sick leave, and expanding health care for workers.
While all three of these picks are dreadful, at least one can say they are familiar with what their agencies do. That brings us to Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who Trump has selected to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development, even though Carson has zero experience dealing with housing issues. But since Trump seems to think that all black Americans live in inner cities, and since the word “urban” is part of the agency description of HUD and Carson is, himself, black — then, in bizarro America, it all adds up!
For the Small Business Administration, Trump is going with Linda McMahon, who has never spent a day in government and who once called Trump’s comments about women “deplorable.” But she did give $6 million to Trump’s campaign and was the largest donor to the Trump Foundation, so . . . bygones.
Then there are the two other generals after Flynn that Trump has tapped for Department of Homeland Security (John Kelly) and to be Secretary of Defense (James Mattis).
Kelly has said that flow of drugs and immigration to America is an existential threat, which suggests that he is confused about what the words existential and threat mean.
Mattis at DoD violates the sacrosanct notion of civilian control of the military — and risks doing real damage to the civilian-military balance — but if we’ve learned one thing about Trump so far, it’s that political norms are for losers.
Finally, at the top of the pyramid is America’s soon-to-be kleptocrat-in-chief, Donald Trump, who has made increasingly clear that he has no intention of separating himself from his business ventures — and clearly intends to personally profit from being president.
But surely the same speaker of the House, Paul Ryan will demand that the president do the right thing. After all, Ryan said in July, about congressional investigations of Hillary Clinton, “No one should be above the rules, no one should be above the law,” and that the problem in Washington is “people think there’s self-dealing and they think that everybody is being held to different standards. And the problem is that that’s true!”
Oh wait, what’s that? Ryan said that Trump should handle his conflicts “however he wants to” and this just isn’t something Ryan is “concerned about.” As for Jason Chaffetz, the congressman responsible for oversight of the executive branch and the leader of the Republican fight to investigate Hillary Clinton and Benghazi, he says he doesn’t have time for “fishing trip” investigations.
Actually that reminds me that I’ve forgotten two words for describing the members of Congress whose job it will be to hold accountable the individuals responsible for running a country of 300 million people and the most powerful nation on earth — cowards and hypocrites.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.