First of all, a quick clarification about the structure of the executive branch of the government. There is the Executive Office of the President (EOP), and then there’s the cabinet. The EOP is a network of agencies whose sole function is to advise and assist the president, with a chief of staff sitting at the top. Generally, anyone in the EOP who wants to talk to the president about anything has to go through the chief of staff, though of course the president is free to choose to talk to anybody at any time. Most positions within the EOP are directly appointed by the president, including chief of staff and chief strategist. In contrast, cabinet members are heads of executive departments. While the president is their boss too, they are more involved in carrying out policy. They are part of the executive branch, but not exactly part of the presidency.
With that in mind, Trump has just announced that he is making Reince Priebus, up until now the chairman of the Republican National Committee, his chief of staff, and that Steve Bannon, who has worked in his campaign after having been an executive with Brietbart News, will be his chief strategist. Now, Breitbart is an “alt-right” network, one that has played to extremism, prejudice, and belief in conspiracy theories to oppose Obama and liberalism. So, what this means is that Priebus represents “regular” Republicans, while Steve Bannon represents the more extreme core of Trump supporters who sport the extreme hypernationalism that a reasonable person could call fascism. Already, anti-racist groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center are protesting the Bannon appointment.
He has not announced any cabinet nominations yet (those positions do have to be confirmed by the Senate), but it’s well known that he has Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich on his transition team, and that many expect Giuliani to be his attorney general. He also, of course, has his two sons and a daughter–the same trio who will be running his business enterprises for him–on his transition team.
The one consistent pattern there is that, at the moment, the man who people think will “drain the swamp” is practicing nepotism and cronyism to the hilt. He is surrounding himself with precisely the people who supported him in the campaign. Now, to be fair, the ones who opposed him the most fiercely might very well not be willing to accept positions in his administration, but there is still a pretty clear sense, early on, of Trump rewarding friends–in classic Washington tradition, raising questions as to how soon this so-called outsider is going to start draining the swamp.
No matter how caustic I sound on the subject, I’m actually not (for the moment at least) one of the people chanting “Not My President” in the streets. I’m watching to see what he does. Certainly, his words since his election have been a lot more well-behaved than before, and he’s pretty much abandoned that silly “build a wall and have Mexico pay for it” promise, a promise I think he made when he had no expectation of winning this election. But as I watch to see what he does, I can’t help observing that he is surrounding himself with cronies, and that some of whom represent the extremist base he was pandering to from the start. (What I’m not going to do is make predictions about what to expect from here. I’ve made a fool of myself too many times before to do any more of that now.)
Politico story, November 14, 2016.
(1) Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon is causing quite an outrage. Nancy Pelosi is calling him a white nationalist. Politico story, November 14, 2016.
(2) Trump’s shortlists for cabinet appointments show some serious right-wingers, especially in the lineup for Secretary of Health and Human Services. He’s also considering Chris Christie for a couple of cabinet posts, and considering Sarah Palin for Secretary of the Interior. New York Times article, November 13, 2016.
God, this country’s gone crazy!