The phrase “idiot savant” was almost made to describe Donald Trump. He inspires hatred, condescension and laughter in equal measure; all the while, he makes money and gathers power from the refusal of others to take the appropriate response: ignore his antics. He plays the fool but picks your pocket while you are laughing. The most obvious analogy is one from magic- he uses his ability to conjure convincing distractions to get his work done while the media and liberals are busy looking elsewhere.
While people respond to every tweet, every gaffe, and every small breach of protocol, Trump has quietly assembled a very extreme Cabinet who the Senate must scrutinize and choose to confirm or not. Here is what (a very conservative) National Review wrote on the topic:
Let’s Not Jinx It, But This Incoming Cabinet Looks Pretty Darn Good So Far
Let’s take a look at this Trump administration cabinet so far:
Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions.
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Representative Tom Price.
Secretary of Transportation: Former secretary of labor Elaine Chao.
Secretary of Education: Philanthropist Betsy DeVos.
Ambassador to the United Nations: Governor Nikki Haley.
White House Chief of Staff: RNC chair Reince Priebus.
National Security Adviser: Former Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn.
CIA Director: Representative Mike Pompeo.
Treasury Secretary: Banker Steven Mnunchin.
Secretary of Commerce: Financier Wilbur Ross.
Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: Indiana health-policy consultant Seema Verma.
We may quibble with a few here and there, but overall it’s a really good group, particularly considering the perceived limited circle of connections and talent around Trump during the campaign. By and large, this is a pretty darn conservative cabinet, and one that’s sufficiently experienced, professional, knowledgeable, and prepared for the massive tasks before them. In fact, if any of the other 16 Republican presidential candidates had won, it’s easy to picture some of these same names appearing in those alternative Republican cabinets.
What’s more, there’s still quite a bit of experienced managerial and legislative talent walking through the lobby of Trump Tower these days: Mitt Romney, David Petraeus, Rick Perry, retired general James Mattis, Representative Marsha Blackburn, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin.
Perhaps most surprising is that some of the figures most loyal and visible during the campaign haven’t been named to any cabinet positions yet: Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie. (There’s the rumor, not yet officially announced, that Ben Carson will run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.)
During the campaign, quite a few conservatives uncomfortable with Trump noted that they would feel better if Mike Pence was the guy really handling the details. We might be getting something akin to that scenario:
Trump’s choices so far have reflected Pence’s politics — potentially proving helpful on Capitol Hill, where the Indiana governor and former House Republican leader has long been expected to help Trump most. Pence’s devotion to conservative principles — and his relationships with powerful groups, including the Heritage Foundation — have allowed him to help Trump navigate a Washington terrain that is unfamiliar to the billionaire business mogul who just ran his first campaign for any office.
A top Pence aide said Tuesday that Trump and Pence consult on all Cabinet picks — Pence even got a close friend, Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) into the mix for Treasury secretary, though that nod ultimately went to Steven Mnuchin — and that they communicate throughout the transition.
As for the relationship, the aide said they can look like something of an “odd couple” — but the balancing works. Pence, the aide said, was the only person who would have had the discipline to make it through a gauntlet like that campaign and not lose faith.
Do you recall the Obama administration’s “stray voltage” theory? The gist was, “the president purposefully overstates his case knowing that it will create controversy… Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness.” Part of it was a cynical calculation to let an argument about a presidential statement ensure a topic stayed front and center in the public’s mind; there’s also the side effect of ensuring that a brouhaha about a presidential statement overshadowed actual policy decisions – decisions that may be more consequential, but are less dramatic and interesting to the news media.
Almost like, say, a president-elect declaring he wants to strip away the citizenship of those burning the flag.
If the incoming Trump administration really is using a variation of the “stray voltage” approach, and Democrats really have an uncontrollable impulse to focus on the controversial statement du jour, the Trump administration could end up being stunningly effective in policymaking. A lot of seemingly dry and boring regulations can be repealed, executive orders withdrawn, rewritten, and issued, legislation passed by GOP majorities in Congress and signed, all while the political world froths at the mouth about the president’s latest Tweet or denunciation of the media, or theater performers, or anything else that comes to mind.
You can enact sweeping, dramatic changes to Americans’ lives under the radar. As our friends at the Weekly Standard noted, the charter school movement grew enormously over the past 25 years, in large part because it wasn’t a big, Washington-focused political battle. Today, “43 states have charter-school laws, and approximately 3 million kids attend almost 7,000 charters across the country.” This happened without any giant federal legislation or heated governmental clashes in the national spotlight.
Could this really happen? Could the next four (eight?) years really turn out to be a golden era for conservative policy?
If progressives are going to limit the damage from the next four years of President Trump, the media and campaigners have to keep their eyes on the ball: a Health Secretary who wants to replace Obamacare with a system which denies services to those who can’t afford access to care; a billionaire Education Secretary who wants to ‘voucherize’ all public schools; a National Security Advisor who wants to undo the nuclear deal with Iran; a Goldman Sachs veteran who will be helping to unpick Dodd-Frank; and general malign neglect on Climate Change. The few bright spots for those seeking movement on the economy, like a potential infrastructure stimulus, will prove disastrous or great depending on whether it is truly directed into much-need investment that builds long-term growth, or a mechanism for a huge corporate welfare giveaway.
President Trump will not be defeated in four years’ time thanks to outrage at tweets or indignant responses to non-issues (like flag-burning, which has no change of passing constitutional muster), but by the steady demonstration that Trump’s actual policy proposals put him on the opposite side to working class Americans. Accepting Trump’s first-mover advantage for an ongoing trench cultural war allows Trump to distract progressives from the real action: Trump’s war on the small amounts of hard-won progress over the last 8 years towards a more fair and equal America. His Cabinet shows that, in this regard, Trump means business. Who knows what nonsense he can dream up to distract the media and political opponents from the steady passage of an extreme agenda.
Keep your eyes on the dealer’s hands and don’t get fooled again.