A Healthy Swamp: Trump Appointments Show Little Change For Washington

I’ve never drained a swamp – but I feel like there’s a right way and wrong way.

On October 18th, Donald Trump made a pledge to “stop the Clinton cartel” from taking away America’s “independence.” In a document prefaced “Remarks as Prepared for Delivery” (make of that what you will) he issued a five-point plan, which consisted of: 5-year congressional and executive bans on outgoing members becoming lobbyists, expanding the legal definition of lobbyist to include consultants and advisors to candidates or firms, issuing a lifetime ban on senior executives lobbying on behalf of other countries, and finally, passing a reform to prevent foreign lobbyists from donating in American elections. (You can forget these last two because the former has never happened and the latter is already against the law.)

Judging by these promises, it seems that Donald Trump is really concerned with people exiting the government and returning to the corporate world in order to leverage their Washington savvy and connections to a company’s benefit. Which, even I will admit, sounds like a good idea. How could the integrity of government benefit from having former political insiders working on behalf of corporations? Surely this is a recipe for corruption and unfair dealing in legislation. The kind which, in Trump’s own words, “robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations.”

If I am to understand that Trump is as committed as he yells to this ideal – what am I to make of the fact that his current cabinet is on track to be the wealthiest in history?

He has nominated Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce, net worth $2.1 billion, who has been described as a “vulture investor,” lives in a 16, 000 square foot estate and gave $200,000 to the Trump Victory Fund during the election. Just a regular working class Joe who Donald Trump has absolutely no vested interest in rewarding with a cabinet position.

Or, if that’s not rich enough for your blood, take Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos, net worth   $5.1 billion, married to an heir of the Amway fortune, GOP “megadonor” who has not personally donated to Trump, although many members of the Devos clan have in her stead. She has been a longtime advocate for charter schools and the voucher system in Michigan, a state where test scores have dropped by 80% in the last year, coinciding with reforms she supported.

Unconvinced? I can do you one better, with Harold Hamm, the frontrunner for Energy Secretary. Mr. Hamm boasts a modest personal fortune of $13.1 billion, made in oil and gas. He has been a close advisor to Trump on energy policy and is a noted climate change skeptic who wants to increase America’s oil production by 100%.

Trump’s cabinet may be the wealthiest in history, but that does not necessarily make it synonymous with corruption. Sure, the danger of blending enormous personal wealth and corporate obligation with government is there, but as long as these people do not attempt to profiteer from their appointments, everything should be fine.

And chances are if you’re a Trump supporter then wealth is not an obstruction to wielding power in Washington. In fact, it would seem that slightly less than a majority of Americans think that a wealthy oligarch is exactly what the country needs.

But what about the kind of blatant nepotism and conflict of interest Trump so openly criticized Hillary for?

Trump has tapped Steve Mnuchin, former chair of Goldman-Sachs, as Treasury Secretary. He was a leader in fundraising for Trump’s campaign. Remember Goldman-Sachs? The people partly responsible for the 2008 meltdown that put so many Americans out of work? Remember how vocal Trump was in his criticism of Hillary Clinton for taking money for speaking to these people? Now he’s going to put their leader in charge of the treasury.

Then, of course, there is Elaine Chao, Trump’s pick for Transportation Secretary, who is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Or there are the appointments of Washington insiders Reince Priebus (GOP Chair, now Chief of Staff), Jeff Sessions (long term Senator and nominee for Attorney General) and Tom Price (6-term congressman and nominee for Health and Human Services), all of whom have spent more than 20 years in Washington.

Like I said, I’ve never drained a swamp, but I do know some history. The expression “drain the swamp” comes to us from regions of the world with malaria, where it becomes necessary sometimes to drain them to stop the spread of disease. I can see why the rhetoric is so pleasing, drain the swamp and get the disease ridden little bloodsuckers off the backs of the public.

But Trump’s appointments and actions so far don’t seem to be keeping the mosquitoes at bay- they seem to be swapping out the current pests for a different strain. Whether they’re carrying malaria or yellow fever, the swamp is still alive and well in America. It may even be that due to the first amendment right to petition the government, there may never be a time without a swamp. But for a man who ran on the promise to change things in Washington, the President-elect doesn’t seem to be doing very much to change it.


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