Trump is on a mission to tear the heart and the humanity out of America …

Over half a century ago, another controversial Republican president, former General  Dwight D. Eisenhower made a farewell address as he handed over the reins of power to a youthful Democrat, John F. Kennedy. Eisenhower warned the American people of the threat from what he called “the military-industrial complex”. It was a warning against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by a huge war machine whose growth was driven by the ideological conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. The American people, said Eisenhower, should be wary of the risk that “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

Much has changed in the 56 years since Eisenhower’s speech, yet a great deal feels worryingly familiar. For some, Russia — stripped of its Communist make-up — remains the greatest threat to the West, while many critics of our technology obsessed world would argue that the human values that once inspired politics have long become enslaved by the “scientific-technological elite” flourishing in Silicon Valley and all its off-shoots. But if this all looks like the world of the early sixties, it appears as though viewed in a mirror. To all intents and purposes, the new US administration represents the victory of the “military-industrial complex” in capturing the White House, but now they are driven by business and financial greed, and in an ironic inversion that beggars belief, they love the Russians. Such opportunities for looting and pillage don’t come often.

In all their twitterish triumphalism, the Trump administration offers the rest of us an equally rare opportunity to look into the future and come face-to-face with a vision of the nightmare we’re about to suffer.

Trump's team (c) Washington Post

Trump’s Cabinet choices – Graphic (c) The Washington Post 2017

The Washington Post produced a simple Venn diagram of the likely administration a few weeks ago. It divided Trump’s 18 choices at the time into four basic categories, representing their essential characteristics — holding an elected office such as senator or governor, having a military background, having links with Russia, and (the biggest group of all) being rich. Ten of the 18 were millionaires or billionaires, according to the Post, and even the ones who didn’t fall into those categories were doing alright.

“Even the military men seem to have made more than a few bucks in these last years,” according to Michael Klare on the Tomdispatch blog. “In retirement, Mattis (GH – Marine General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, the probable new Secretary of Defense), for instance, joined the board of military-industrial giant General Dynamics as one of 13 ‘independent directors,’ reportedly amassing at least $900,000 in company stock and another $600,000 in cold cash.”

Whatever else it is, Trump’s Cabinet is an administration of rich, white men — four of those names on the Post‘s list are women, and only one is black. It should come as no surprise that, contrary to the election rhetoric, neither he nor they are friends of workers or the poor.

For example, Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is “a billionaire who got rich by foreclosing on the homes of hardworking American families. Mnuchin will take us back to the risky, unregulated financial speculation that benefits his Wall Street friends, leaves consumers vulnerable and risks another financial crisis.” That, at any rate, is the view of Richard Trumka, President of the US union centre, the AFL-CIO.

Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is committed to destroying public education; the future Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is keen to take down Obamacare and Medicare; Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier and former Attorney General of Oklahoma (where fracking caused 2,547 small earthquakes between 2009 and 2014) will become head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and the new head of the Department of Labor will be Andy Puzder, “D-list fast food CEO” as the AFL-CIO describes him.

According to Michael Klare, “Puzder is against raising the minimum wage and thinks the automation of the workplace is a total plus, since machines can’t take vacations or arrive late.” He is against the living wage, preferring to expand the US’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) scheme, enabling the federal government to help employers pay poverty-level wages. He is also against paying managers overtime on the grounds that “for most businesses it will be just another added regulatory cost they must look to offset. For their employees, it will be another barrier to the middle class rather than a springboard.”

At the Department of Labor, Puzder will certainly seek to remove the Obama administration’s overtime rule which doubles (to just under $48,000) the salary threshold under which virtually all workers get time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours in a given week. Like his fellows in the Trump Cabinet, he is on a mission to tear the heart and the humanity out of America.

“By bringing in Puzder,” according to The Washington Post,  “Trump is signaling (sic) that he may scale back some of regulations introduced by current Labor Secretary Tom Perez. If confirmed, he will have the potential to reverse some of the Obama administration’s most notable efforts to bolster protections for workers, families and retirement savers.”

Puzder took over the helm at his company, CKE Restaurants, in 2000. The company’s founder, Carl Karcher, died in 2008. The company operates two franchise chains, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, and owns or franchises more than 3,700 restaurants in 44 countries. A Labor Department investigation found about 60 percent of CKE’s US-based restaurants and franchises were in violation of the US Fair Labor Standards Act, while, according to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking at a meeting on 10 January 2017, Puzder himself “has a long record of cheating workers out of overtime. And he has paid out millions of dollars to settle claims when he was caught cheating.” A former commercial trial lawyer, he and his wife contributed a total of  $332,000 to help get Trump elected. Pretty cheap for a chance to rid himself and his fellow plutocrats of the regulations safeguarding the jobs and working conditions of all the little people who made him rich.

It may be true, as Puzder claims, that he has a great record of job creation, but these are insecure, unrewarding, minimum wage jobs in the fast food business, which Puzder is all too ready to destroy when he can buy a machine to do the same work.

“Mr. Puzder took a company that I loved and turned it into a business that makes money by stealing from its workers,” Laura McDonald, a 20-year former employee at Carl’s Jr., told Senator Warren’s meeting. “I honestly can’t think of anyone less qualified to enforce laws that are supposed to protect employees.”

That’s the twisted logic of Trump’s appointments. Pick people whose best qualification is their detestation of the programmes, laws and regulations introduced by previous administrations to help protect workers and improve their lives; to make America better, not greater.

A statement issued by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka last December noted that Trump’s appointments “are deeply inconsistent with the pledges he made in the campaign. Donald Trump the candidate claimed he would rein in the power of Wall Street traders, protect Social Security and Medicare and ensure all kids have great schools. But his Cabinet choices send a dangerous signal about how President-elect Trump will conduct his presidency. We urge the president-elect to stop stacking his administration with billionaire insiders who do not share the core American values he campaigned on.”

How long will it be before we learn just how deceitful — and how deaf to calls for respect and decency — Trump and his military-industrial complex can be? I’m betting the realization will come quickly, and the truth will be shocking. Trump may have been elected on a superficially radical programme of populist political reform, but his team is comprised of some of the most divisive and deeply conservative examples of capitalist greed you could find. The AFL-CIO in Kentucky is already calling for resistance to “some of the most extreme anti-workers bills in the nation today, slashing wages and silencing working people across the state”, and nationally, the AFL-CIO has organized a petition to “Tell Congress to Oppose Trump’s Nominee for Labor Secretary”. There will be more to come, and the global labour movement should not remain silent, because what happens in America affects us all.


More details

Amber Phillips, ‘Four Cabinet nominations that could blow up in Donald Trump’s face’, 26 December 2016, The Washington Post.

Michael Klare, ‘Donald Trump’s Energy Nostalgia and the Path to Hell’, 15 December 2016,  Tomgram.

Kenneth Quinnell, ‘9 Reasons Why Trump’s Secretary of Labor Pick Andy Puzder is No Friend of Working People’, 19 December 2016, AFL-CIO.

Jackie Tortora,  ‘”These Decisions by President-Elect Trump Are Deeply Inconsistent with the Pledges He Made”: Trumka Responds to Cabinet Nominations‘, 1 December 2016, AFL-CIO.

Jonnelle Marte, ‘Trump names Andrew Puzder, a fast-food CEO and critic of substantially raising the minimum wage, to head the Labor Department’, 8 December 2016, The Washington Post.

Patrick Caldwell. ‘Carl’s Jr. Employees Tell Elizabeth Warren What It’s Like Working for Trump’s Labor Department Pick’, 11 January 2017, Mother Jones, San Francisco.

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Gary Herman

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