Distinguishing an individual from the people with whom they associate is no simple task. Although an individual’s personality varies according to the situation, the people one spends most of their time with can inform the observer of the type of person the individual is. All of the values and preferences of the individual may not be shared by his or her friends, but there is reason to suggest that they may act in similar ways.
President-elect Donald Trump is no different than any other individual. The businessman has chosen many of his Cabinet members and advisors, and the choices inform the American people of the type of administration they are to expect for the next few years. Regardless of whether his picks are ideologically or strategically based — if he shares their political goals or if they have been chosen for their loyalty — the president-elect will likely rely heavily on them for his policy agenda, especially because he has never held political office and lacks the expertise typically expected from the nation’s highest office. This means that they will determine the course of the nation, and this means that his choices are of immense importance. Already, there are signs that this course may be something different than our country has ever known.
Cabinet members should understand their duties to the country and should work together with the president as an effective team. However, many of Trump’s selections seem out of place or out of sync with the president-elect’s intentions. His choice for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has no experience in government, and neither she nor her children have ever attended a public school or college. Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon and presidential candidate, was tapped for the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development position, but he has acknowledged concern in his ability to perform. Armstrong Williams, a business manager who is close to Carson, said that the retired neurosurgeon noted that he “feels he has no government experience,” which might “cripple the presidency.”
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, will be Trump’s Chief of Staff, and Stephen Bannon, former executive chair of far-right website Breitbart News, will be the President-elect’s Chief Strategist. Both will be “working as equal partners” in contributing to the administration, according to Trump. These two officials are not likely to cohere. While both were loyal to Trump throughout his scandal-filled campaign, they come from vastly different political positions, with Priebus embodying the Republican political establishment Trump lambasted during his campaign and Bannon representing the alt-right movement. This partnership does not bode well for the Trump administration.
The choice of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Steven Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary do not bode well for the country at large, nor its vulnerable citizens. Sessions, a senator from Alabama, is infamous for his racist attitudes. Denied by a Senate committee in 1986, Sessions failed to be appointed to a federal judgeship because his former colleagues informed the committee that he had used racial slurs and joked about the Klu Klux Klan. They claimed that he said the hate group was “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.” Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, was the president-elect’s campaign finance chairman. In 2009, Mnuchin gathered a group of billionaire investors to buy the failed mortgage lender IndyMac and renamed the bank OneWest Bank, which gained notoriety for sudden foreclosure on loans given to delinquent homeowners. Over 36,000 homes were foreclosed under Mnuchin.
As Attorney General, a position which which must be confirmed by the Senate, Sessions would threaten the legitimacy of our legal system. As Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin would threaten low-income citizens and promote increased wealth inequality. By choosing Mnuchin, Trump has displayed that he will not maintain his campaign promises to the common people. Although he ran his campaign as a populist, his selection for Treasury Secretary demonstrates that he is no man of the people. His Transportation Secretary is Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — the supreme established politician, the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history. His promise to “drain the swamp” seems unlikely.
In the aftermath of a wild election night, Trump gave a restrained victory speech in which he calmed some of the country’s fears about his new role in government. Over the last few weeks, he has taken back some of his more controversial campaign promises, such as jailing his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He has settled the minds of many Americans; perhaps he will be a reasonable president.
However, his Cabinet choices tell otherwise. “You are who you surround yourself with,” the saying goes. As president, Trump will have to make many hard decisions he is not prepared to make. Let us hope not that Trump is a different man than his campaign promises suggest, but rather that his cabinet-level confidants and other advisors are different people than their actions would have us believe.