By Jono Davis
Columnist, International Relations Student
A few weeks ago, I stipulated that I was fairly positive about a Trump administration in the foreign policy field. Needless to say, despite Stephen Colbert’s brilliant analysis (sarcasm) that someone with the nickname “Mad Dog” shouldn’t be Secretary of Defense, I stand by the opinion that there are some refreshing changes being to the foreign policy sphere, supported by the fact that even members of previous Democrat cabinets welcome Trump’s Foreign Policy appointments. That there is scope for any bi-partisanship in a system that appears rabidly more partisan every election cycle is only a good thing, and if ex-Pentagon Chiefs in Democrat administrations can find common ground with their Republican counterparts, then maybe the general population can begin to take a few leaves out of their books.
Yet things look very different in the Domestic Policy sphere, and that positive feeling one could debatably get from a James Mattis as Defense Secretary is not easily achieved when viewing someone like Michael Pompeo as CIA Director: Domestic cabinet appointments are worrying, Trump’s rhetoric in this field is a lot more determined and ideological, and despite promising to change his hairstyle upon being elected president, he appears to have gone back on this pledge which begs the question: “what can we really expect from a Domestic Trump?”
Trump understands a Domestic America more than he understands the world outside of it, and having been in business (mostly real-estate) for most of his adult life and amassing a fortune of around $3.5 billion, it is safe to say he is an active participant in the American Economy. The weak tie I have just used to associate Donald Trump with the Domestic Politics of America is purposeful however, because stipulating that Trump understands the Domestic is also like saying Jimmy Carter understood how to win elections more than Richard Nixon did – much of a muchness.
I stand by the opinion that there are some refreshing changes being made in the foreign policy sphere… Yet things look very different in the domestic sphere
This is highlighted best in Trump’s economic campaign pledges (that have been amended post-election victory to be more fleshed out), which consist of creating 25 million jobs through the next decade, citing that “growth averaged at least three and a half percent per year in the 55 years between World War II and the year 2000” which is apparently easily achievable again. Ignoring the fact that the Europe is not in dependency to the US due to crippling debt (unlike the United States), and also ignoring the fact that he will be taking office in 2017 and not 1948 (thank goodness because who knows how Trump would handle the Korean War) where there are challengers to the U.S. economic hegemon, Trump is planning to achieve 3.5-4% growth through a number of drastic tax and de-regulation policy changes.
As suspected, these tax cuts, whilst appearing at every income bracket, benefit those at the top the most (although it has become almost a cliché to whine that “Trump’s economic policy only benefits his friends”, there is unfortunately a lot of truth to it). The Tax Policy Center reveal that he highest-income 0.1 percent of taxpayers (those with incomes over $3.7 million in 2015 dollars) would experience an average tax cut of more than $1.3 million in 2017, nearly 19 percent of after-tax income. This is in contrast to Middle-income households would receive an average tax cut of $2,700, or 4.9 percent of after-tax income. These income tax cuts would be one of the main causes for the reduction in Federal revenue – $9.5 trillion over the first decade and an additional $10.5 trillion over the proceeding decades – but The Tax Policy Center also note that “about a third would be from the reduction in the corporate income tax rate and the introduction of special rates on pass-through businesses”. This would be fine (well, fine-ish) if Trump didn’t have plans to rebuild infrastructure as one of his key economic tenets, which means either Trump is going to pay for these projects out of his own pocket, or he is hoping that tax cuts to the wealthy mean infrastructure is improved from the private sector. It is worth noting at this point that Trump’s overall Domestic plan is looking to the private sector in order to reduce government spending and debt that has now reached close to $20 trillion, but the last president to lean on the private sector raised the national debt from $997 billion to $2.5 trillion.
Although it has become almost a cliché to whine that “Trump’s economic policy only benefits his friends”, there is unfortunately a lot of truth to it
To implement the bolstering of the private sector to replace the government, Trump has assigned key positions to experts in the field of managing such affairs. At Secretary of Treasury, previously held by experienced members of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at both state and federal level now sits Steven Mnuchin, a former investment banker and hedge fund manager at Goldman Sachs. This is not in itself a problem as there is an argument that what he lacks in governmental experience he makes up for in experience in dealing with the private sector – Tim Geithner, Obama’s first Treasury Secretary and before that President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, famously struggled to get banks to cooperate after the financial crisis. However, the difficulty will come in his ability to both work with congress and understand the nature of “no” in government; in a recent CNBC interview Mnuchin, along with new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who is also an ex-investment banker, Mnuchin brushed over the difficulty of running such a task, stipulating repeatedly that Congress will simply “work with him”. Additionally, as the less senior staff for Treasury and Commerce are announced, it is clear the Hill is being filled with investment bankers who have never before attempted to negotiate a bi-lateral or multi-lateral treaty; needless to say this is extremely troubling.
It would however be unfair to tarnish Trump with only appointing Wall Street to his cabinet, putting former neurosurgeon and Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson as Secretary for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) despite previously turning down a job in the Trump administration as Health Secretary because he felt he had “no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency.” Additionally, if Carson felt unqualified to run Health Secretary with his experience of his life’s work as a neurosurgeon, then it seems puzzling that his experience of dealing with public housing is his living in it as a child is deemed enough. This is an incredibly partisan view however, and it is worth specifying that previous HUDs under Obama have been both bureaucratic and useless, and so potentially one undaunted by red tape might breathe new life into the department and its operating procedures.
Whilst Carson didn’t feel qualified for Health, long serving Republican senator of Georgia and former orthopaedic surgeon Tom Price certainly did. Price made the national headlines for being one of the leaders in opposing the Affordable Care Act (dubbed Obamacare) stating that it “interferes with the ability of patients and doctors to make medical decisions”, and will be in charge of “repealing and replacing” (official Trump lingo). Criticisms of Obamacare have been numerous, mostly because its bi-partisan nature satisfies very few but disappoints many, but hardly any have been of the ilk that it prevents medical decisions.
What prevents medical decisions by patient and doctor are the ridiculous prices of medical treatment in the United States, driven by a $650 billion black hole of over-spending. $98 billion of this is accounted for by extortionate drug costs, whilst $450 billion of this is from “out-patient care”, which includes things such as expensive technological innovation and provider capacity growth in response to high outpatient margins. In short, Obamacare didn’t go far enough in providing a Healthcare system that works in bringing down costs (costs since 2010 have actually risen), but installing a Health Secretary who looks to allow private insurers to take the place of the already minimal role the government is playing is not conducive.
Finally, come the truly disastrous appointments that Trump has surrounded himself with in his inner circle (except for Reince Priebus) a proverbial cocktail of toxic and regressive views. His Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, has been accused by his wife under-oath that he was physically abusive towards her, as well as further accusations (notably not under-oath) of anti-Semitism. These are of course terrible accusations; however, it seems a little ridiculous that anti-Semitic Bannon would be keen on allowing Trump to appoint Mnuchin and Ross to their cabinet positions, both of whom are practicing Jews. What is truly terrifying about Bannon however is his position as ex-CEO of Breitbart, a self-proclaimed “platform of the Alt-Right” that now sits one door away from the President. Trump, who is certainly malleable on social issues, has a tendency to brush off comments about Bannon’s behaviour, but it is worth noting that Bannon (along with Kelly-ann Conway) was one of the sole drivers of the Trump campaign strategy.
Finally, come the truly disastrous appointments that Trump has surrounded himself with in his inner circle
In the West Wing directly opposite Trump sits Vice-President Mike Pence, who, as can be glimpsed from his archived campaign website, supported a congressional audit “to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” If this was not subtle enough, the following sentence reads as stating that resources should instead “be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Again, the expression “you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps” comes to mind, and with a Vice President who “hold[s] Dick Cheney in very high regard…[He was] a very active vice president”, Trump is going to have a real problem controlling his extreme views, if he wants to at all.
It is clear that Trump has given out many appointments to people who have supported him during his campaign rather than those with hard credentials; from Ben Carson to Steve Bannon, it is alarming to see so many unqualified cabinet members being given unwarranted opportunities in an unqualified White House. Foreign policy picks aside, Trump and Pence (who leads to transition team; notably exactly the role Cheney played in 2000 for George W. Bush). There are of course members of the Cabinet with previous Congressional experience, such as already mentioned CIA Director Michael Pompeo, who was elected on a Tea Party platform, with credentials such as supporting the government shutdown of 2013, being a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and calling Obama’s climate change efforts “dangerous” and “radical”. If he wasn’t concerning enough, then recently announced Scott Pruitt to lead head of Environmental Protection Agency should do it. Calling climate change a “hoax” and calling for the cancellation of the Paris accord the Trump cabinet is now filled with Domestic incompetencies, the future looks grim for those in public housing and polar bears alike.