Trump's Transition Team Doesn't Drain the Swamp — It Adds More Mosquitoes to It

Donald Trump has surrounded himself with lobbyists to make key early policy decisions and recommendations.
Publish date:
November 14, 2016
politics, Washington DC, lobbying, Donald Trump

Ever since the election, I've alternated between towering rage and a numb sort of silence. There's a lot to take on here, but with an inbox overflowing with people in panic and a rapidly growing list of hateful acts exploding around the country, what I'm thinking about this week is this: the policy shifts we can expect from a Trump Administration, given the scant and often contradictory information we've been provided with thus far. As he announces his transition team, we're getting some valuable insight into what changes he plans to enact, and how.

But first, a word. This election has been characterized as many things ("it's about economic anxieties," "it's about the working class," "it's about the establishment"), but it is really, fundamentally, about these things: whiteness, hatred, and the successful cultivation of the attitude that to be white and wealthy in America is to somehow be part of an oppressed minority. Anyone who says otherwise is engaging in some wishful thinking. Donald Trump won the election by dint of dominating the white vote (yes, including the white wealthy class, yes, including urban whites, no, this was not about "poor ignorant rural hicks") and he did so because he ran a campaign on hatred.

This is also not about "differing policies" or having some disparate opinions on what we want for America. This is about hatred. And I join those who are rejecting the calls for unity, taking a wait and see approach, or giving Trump a chance. Trump is a bigoted, self-obsessed demagogue who channeled virulent hate to capture the presidency and ensure the Republicans retained control of Congress. A man who thinks that people like me and the people I love should not exist is not a man I am interested in trying to reason with. This is a man who just appointed a proudly avowed white nationalist as his chief strategist.

So let's take a look at some of those policies. Astute readers may recall the "drain the swamp" speech, in which he pledged to rid Washington of corruption, something echoed by the calls in this 100 day plan to eliminate lobbyists from Washington. Lobbyists are a huge part of the engine that drives Washington, and those with the most money tend to advance the most legislature priorities, often to the detriment of the American people. Given that post-Washington lobbying jobs are also juicy plums, few members of Congress would vote to kick lobbyists off the Hill. His leveraging of the issue was a classic example of the superficial "populism" that embodied the campaign — see, he cares about the American people and their values, and wants big money out of Washington.

This is a bit much coming from a purported billionaire, and it's a really excellent illustration of the cognitive dissonance both within the campaign and among Trump's supporters. Especially when you get to the news about his transition team, as well as several of his picks for key government offices — like, say, his interest in Steven Mnuchin, formerly of Goldman Sachs, for the critical financial policy role of Treasury Secretary. Man, it's a good thing the United States didn't elect the candidate with long-running ties to big banking.

After all, Trump's pledge to repeal Dodd-Frank — you know, the skeletal regulations designed to at least halfheartedly protect us from the worst depredations of the big banks? — is definitely the hallmark of a man who cares deeply about going against the establishment. Already, trading in a number of big financial corporations, including the embattled Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, is up, especially since Trump's financial policies are likely to drive inflation and growth in the financial sector, or at least, the parts of it that involve reaping dizzying profits from fake money.

But as long as we're talking about big banks, let's also look in on Deutsch Bank, which was fined $14 billion for misdealing in mortgage securities. The bank hasn't actually paid, and it's in an interesting position now, as Donald Trump has borrowed billions from them for various business ventures. Deutsch Bank is attempting to negotiate with the government to get the fine reduced, which creates a huge potential conflict of interest. If you think they'll settle up the tab with the Department of Justice now and start 2017 with a clean slate, I have a bridge to sell you.

This is far from the only massive conflict of interest in the Trump campaign. While presidents have historically placed assets in a blind trust and separated them from the White House, Trump doesn't appear to be planning to do that — and his avowed plan to "let the kids run it" and take a hands-off approach (which is not, let me be clear, legally sufficient to address conflict of interest concerns) is already belied by the fact that he's stuffing his transition team with his children. The same people running his businesses will be involved at the ground level with the policies that will shape the future of those businesses.

Draining the swamp!

The head of his Domestic Issues team is a senior fellow with the Family Research Council, a virulently anti-gay and transphobic organization that lobbies incredibly hard on the state and national level to roll back civil rights for the LGBQT community. The FRC is already busily crowing about the wins it hopes to gain under the Trump Administration. Other members of his team represent the tobacco industry, Dow Chemical, and a number of other industries and major lobbying firms.

Rather than draining the swamp, it sounds much more like this is about stacking the deck. And this isn't just a commentary on yet another false campaign promise. It also reflects some real concerns, because lobbyists have the skills, connections, and experience to rapidly push through legislative and executive change. It's their job to do just that, and each of them is entering the transition team with a personal agenda that's going to play out in the policy they play an active role in shaping, in the hires they recommend, and in the executive orders they push Trump to sign or rescind.

If you don't really know what you're doing in government — and Donald Trump does not — surrounding yourself with people who live to do the heavy lifting to ensure that they get their way is a recipe for an administration that will cater to the desires of the largest companies and special interest groups in the U.S. That a vanity presidential run should result in policy that will set the country back decades shouldn't be surprising, and it certainly won't be to the scores of supporters who are about to get exactly what they asked for.