With President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointments almost complete, it is possible to seek an assessment of the direction that the new team may choose for the United States.
The first feature of Trump’s team is that, broadly speaking, its members are people who were somebodies in their respective fields before being asked to join the administration.
This is in contrast with President Barack Obama’s administration which consisted largely of unknown figures plus defeated presidential candidates such as Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry. Obama’s team was dominated by lawyers who, like himself, had not even practiced their trade before they entered politics. In Trump’s team, in contrast, you need a loop to find a lawyer, if at all.
In forming his team, Trump has looked for strong personalities who, because they have had distinguished careers of their own, are unlikely to form a chorus of yes-men and women. In contrast, Obama couldn’t tolerate anyone who challenged his views. This is clear in Hillary Clinton’s memoirs and was manifested on at least three occasions when Obama publicly reversed decisions announced by his Secretary of State John Kerry.
Trump also had a wider field of recruitment, picking his team from 15 states, a wider choice than Obama’s which was, initially at least, centered on the Chicago political Mafia.
Trump played an interesting game by leading many Republican dinosaurs, notably Newt Gingrich, Rudolph Guiliani and Chris Christie, not to mention turncoat Democrats like Senator Joe Libermann and former CIA head James Woolsey, up the garden path by dangling the mirage of big jobs in front of them. In the end, however, he formed his own team and united the Republican Party on his own terms, owing nothing to any party grandee.
Unlike Obama’s team which consisted mostly of people on the margin of American elites, Trump’s Cabinet is a coalition of constituencies that together form the core of the United States’ national power.
Represented in the Trump Cabinet are the Wall Street, the oil and energy industry, the military-security establishment, and the business community. The team includes the largest number of military figures and business people in any US Cabinet since the 1940s; yet, it is more of a citizen’s Cabinet than many previous ones dominated by professional politicians.
The profile of Trump’s Cabinet indicates changes of the pendulum in a direction opposite the one produced by Obama’s wayward presidency. First, the pendulum will swing away from the expansion of the public sector favored by Obama and most dramatically illustrated by his so-called Affordable health scheme. If allowed to develop its full potential, the Obama scheme could mean the virtual nationalization of some 16 per cent of the US gross domestic product, a huge step towards a state-dominated economy.
Next, the pendulum will swing away from globalization. Trump does not want, and cannot, stop let alone reverse globalization. But he seems to want to modulate its rhythm and tempo to reduce its adverse socio-economic effects on sections of US society. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, however, were committed to expanding and speeding up globalization with a series of new trade deals covering the Pacific region and, later, the European continent.
The Trump presidency will also see the pendulum swing away from massive and systematic cuts in the United States’ defense capabilities. Rather than pursue Obama’s strategy of gradually disarming the US, Trump promises an ambitious modernization plan aimed at increasing the American military power and its global reach.
Under Trump, the pendulum will also swing away from Obama’s very a la mode but ultimately vacuous commitment to environmental schemes, notably the witches’ brew cooked in last year’s Climate Change Conference in Paris. Trump believes that at a time the global economy badly needs growth it would be wrong to impose on it restraints motivated by ideology rather than science.
The pendulum will also swing away from restrictions that Obama imposed, and Hillary Clinton endorsed, on the US energy industry. That gives the coal industry a longer lease of life while the shale oil could benefit from a review of rules imposed on it by the federal government. Current restrictions on energy, especially oil exports by the US may also be eased.
In foreign policy the pendulum is likely to swing away from Obama’s policy of wooing, and helping, America’s enemies while antagonizing her friends and allies.
Obama gave Russia the space to go rogue, invading its neighbors, annexing other people’s territories and ignoring international rules even in the field of Olympics sport. The Trump team, in contrast, is unlikely to be such a pushover for Vladimir Putin who, opportunist that he is, knows full well when to stop if there is a risk of hitting something hard.
Under Trump the pendulum will also swing away from Obama’s sycophantic courting of the mullahs of Tehran. Trump is unlikely to follow Obama’s example of writing love letters to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, not to mention the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Nor will Trump repeat Obama’s James-Bond style smuggling of suitcases filled with cash for the mullahs flown via Cyprus to Tehran at night. Trump may not try and overthrow the mullahs, which, in any case, is not anyone’s business except the Iranian people’s. But he is unlikely to help the mullahs, as Obama has done for almost eight years, get out of the holes their antediluvian ideology keeps digging for their regime.
In the same context the pendulum is sure to swing away from lip-service to Islam, support for the Muslim Brotherhood and disdain for pro-democracy forces in the so-called Muslim World. In 2009, Obama sided with the mullahs against the people of Iran, then in nationwide rebellion. In 2011 he helped the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Cairo, wrecking the chances of reformist and pro-democracy forces. However, always lacking the courage of his professed convictions, when the tide turned, Obama abandoned the Brothers to their tragic fate.
Trump may end up disappointing many, including some of his ardent supporters. But his presidency offers a chance for the US to change course away from the disastrous direction set by Obama and his associates.