Team Trump (Pt. 2): Top of the Crop is a Mixed Bag
The best way to foresee Trump’s real direction once he becomes president is to evaluate the team he’s assembled. Typically, a leader selects people with a strong track record of working in the direction the leader intends to go. This article looks at the trifecta at the top of Trump’s team to see if they embody his promises and at how Trump, as a shrewd and creative manager, might be using those who don’t fit the image.
Mike Pence (Vice President)
The man behind the president was put in charge of guiding the selection of Trump’s cabinet, as if cabinet members are going to work more directly under Pence than Trump. One usually puts someone who is going to manage the team on a day-to-day basis in charge of assembling the team while the CEO reviews and approves final choices.
Trump’s leadership style is to delegate everything to highly qualified people while overseeing the big picture. A single early news report said that Pence was offered the opportunity to be the most powerful vice president ever — in charge of domestic and foreign affairs — and things seem to be shaping up that way.
Is the way Pence and Trump are working now the way the presidency will go? Pence acts as COO and runs operations, but final decisions advance to Trump who also lays out the overall direction? Is that distanced leadership and laziness toward doing the actual business of president or expert CEO-style leadership by which Trump able to keep his eye constantly on the big picture while handling top diplomatic meetings by having a COO run operations?
In an article titled “Whirled Politics,” I have already laid out my concerns about Pence as a pure establishment person in the position that will fill the presidency if anything happens to Trump; so you can turn to that article for numerous details, but in summary, I wrote,
In an odd marriage of opposites, Trump chose a running mate whose history demonstrates he stands for everything Trump has railed and rallied against. Being the quintessential establishment neocon, Pence never saw a war he wouldn’t approve … or free-trade deal that he didn’t vote for or a bank he wouldn’t further deregulate or a major corporation whose greed he would stand up to…. Pence is a champion of the free-trade deals that moved jobs out of America … and voted for NAFTA. He has even spoken in support of Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership plan.
Pence is also a longtime ally of the Koch brothers who said the choice between Trump and Hillary was like a choice between cancer or a heart attack. Trump retorted that he was above being influenced by the Koch brothers because he didn’t need their money. Later, David Koch attended Trump’s election victory celebration. Apparently, he’s the brother who likes cancer. Whether the Kochs immediately influenced Trump at the party, we can’t immediately know, but they certainly wound up with a number of their own key players on the transition team.
The president-elect, in filling out his transition team and administration, has drawn heavily from the vast network of donors and advocacy groups built by the billionaire industrialist brothers, who have sought to reshape American politics in their libertarian image. From White House Counsel Don McGahn and transition team advisers Tom Pyle, Darin Selnick and Alan Cobb to Presidential Inaugural Committee member Diane Hendricks and transition-team executive committee members Rebekah Mercer and Anthony Scaramucci, Trump has surrounded himself with people tied to the Kochs. “In creating the Koch network, I don’t think that we ever envisioned that we would be supplying staffers to this semi-free market, semi-populist president,” said Frayda Levin, a donor to the network who chairs the board of its main voter mobilization group, Americans for Prosperity. “But we’re happy…” (Politico)
At least, Kochs & Co. are happy.
Like the Kochs (and perhaps somewhat via the Kochs), Pence is said to have deep personal contacts throughout the Republican establishment, but maybe Trump chose this man not just to pacify the Republican establishment during the campaign but because the establishment trusts him and is more likely to work with Pence than with Trump. Perhaps he’s a go-between for the pragmatic Trump who knows he must get the Republican majority in congress to work with him if he’s going to accomplish anything that can’t be struck down overnight by the next president, as Trump has said he will do with Obama’s legacy that was accomplished mostly by executive decree.
Pence’s calm demeanor about Trump’s acerbic statements has certainly assuaged many Republicans and evangelical Christians, among whom Pence has high approval. However, those with a high conspiracy coefficient say that the establishment massaged Pence into his new COO role so that, when the Donald is removed (by impeachment or a pill in his Perrier), the establishment winds up with everything they ever wanted in his place.
Stephen K. Bannon (Chief Strategist)
Bannon is Trump’s idea man, so he assures Trump’s anti-establishment, non-globalist supporters that their concerns daily have Trump’s ear and support. To keep the line of influence clear, Trump created a new top-level cabinet position, co-equal with Chief of Staff in presidential influence.
As Chairman of Breitbart News until Trump took him on as a campaign strategist, Bannon brought into prominence many anti-establishment voices and helped create an alternative press publication that now rivals mainstream media organizations in size and influence — much to their disdain.
Thus, they criticize him with fake news stories that inexhaustibly declare he is an anti-Semite. Never mind that Breitbart News is unabashedly pro-Semite with a Jerusalem office dedicated to “maintaining the state of Israel as a Jewish state.”
“The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country….It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no … idea what’s going on. If The New York Times didn’t exist, CNN and MSNBC would be a test pattern.”
[Bannon is] the man with the idea. If Trumpism is to represent something intellectually and historically coherent, it’s Bannon’s job to make it so. In this, he could not be a less reassuring or more confusing figure for liberals — fiercely intelligent and yet reflexively drawn to the inverse of every liberal assumption and shibboleth. A working class kid, he enlists in the navy after high school, gets a degree from Virginia Tech, then Georgetown, then Harvard Business School. Then it’s Goldman Sachs, then he’s a dealmaker and entrepreneur in Hollywood — where, in an unlikely and very lucky deal match-up, he gets a lucrative piece of Seinfeld royalties, ensuring his own small fortune — then into the otherworld of the right wing conspiracy and conservative media. (Zero Hedge)
Although he’s another Goldman-Sachs alum, Bannon is perhaps more of a Goldman expat. He believes a vision that makes America great for the middle-class is a vision that works for all races and, in that sense, is more inclusive than what liberal Democrats have offered under Obama:
“I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist…. The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver … we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years.”
In Bannon’s view, Democrats don’t understand Trump, and that will be their own downfall. They don’t get why he connects at a ground level with the populace. They simplify and demonize it at the same time with equations like Trump’s hatred appeals to their anger. Bannon’s opinion is to let them keep misunderstanding, as their gross simplifications hurt them in the long run.
Bannon sees the establishment as self-satisfied and inbred and the mainstream media as homogenous with the mainstream political establishment. Bannon believes that both are wholly owned by Wall Street (hence, “the establishment”) and are selling out America and destroying the middle class for the sake of global corporate interests.
Bannon has not just triumphed over Democrats, but over neoconservatives, and over Fox News and the Murdock family, who sought to diminish Trump. Gannon summarizes,
Rupert is a globalist and never understood Trump. To him, Trump is a radical. Now they’ll go centrist and build the network around Megyn Kelly.
Bannon believes the Trump administration will start a transformation of America that is bigger than the Reagan revolution. He backs a trickle-down tax plan that makes Reagan look like a kindergartener, while at the same time goosing government spending on credit. He claims,
The conservatives are going to go crazy.
Whether his revolution turns out to make conservatives crazy with delight as he believes it will, one thing is certain: Bannon is driving liberals crazy. Having no dirt on him, the liberal press went into hysteria hyperdrive in order to tar him as antisemitic. Not all Jews or media majors agree. David Horowitz says that the lefty losers …
have worked themselves into such a bizarre hysteria over the fact that they lost the White House that they have lost all connection to reality and are now hyping their most ludicrously paranoid fantasies…. I can’t think of anything stupider than the charge coming from all quarters of the left – including a headline in the pathetically wretched Huffington Post – that Bannon is an anti-Semite. The source? A one-sentence claim from an angry ex-wife in divorce court no less, that Bannon didn’t want their kids to go to school with Jews. I find that particularly amusing since Bannon wanted to make a film to celebrate this Jew’s life. (Breitbart News)
Particularly amusing since Bannon has worked for and with Jews most of his life from his years at Goldman-Sachs to his years with Breitbart News to his involvement with Hollywood. But apparently, the words of a disgruntled ex-wife with no context as to what she was talking about, count for more than a lifetime of living.
Desperate to bone-up their fake-news proof that Bannon is an anti-semite, the liberal press found a single article that called Bill Kristol, a neocon commentator, “a renegade Jew.” They stretched that evidence thin enough to snap because that article (and its renegade headline) was not written by Bannon but by Horowitz. One Jew calling a fellow Jew a renegade is probably not anti-semitic. Horowitz called Kristol a renegade because, as a Republican, he led the “NeverTrump” movement after the Republican party chose Trump as its presidential candidate.
None of those facts have stopped the mainstream media from running these fake news stories for weeks on end all over the media in order to churn them into buttery truth.
Defending his statement, Horowitz wrote,
Bill Kristol and his friends betrayed the Republican Party, betrayed the American people, and betrayed the Jews when he set out to undermine Trump and elect the criminal Hillary Clinton. Obama and Hillary are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that launched the Arab drive to destroy Israel and push its Jews into the sea (that was their slogan).
Gee, as it turns out, the article was actually supportive of Jews and was trying to say that Bill Kristol was supporting a Democrat candidate (a renegade action in that he’s a Republican) that supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypts’ Arab Spring (a renegade action in that he’s a Jew, and the Muslim Brotherhood hates Jews).
So powerful is fake news when it airs relentlessly everywhere, that many liberal commentators like Alan Colmes and Stephanie Miller continue to repeat it, as if it were a fact, every day.
I have known Steve Bannon for many years. This is a good man. He does not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body.
While he was high up at Goldman Sachs, Bannon is apparently no more of a bankster than he is anti-Semitic:
Bannon, himself a former managing partner at Goldman Sachs, blamed the financial crisis and subsequent recession on the “greed” of his fellow bankers and expressed anger at the fact that no bank executives faced criminal prosecution. “Think about it — not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with 2008 crisis,” Bannon said. “And in fact, it gets worse. No bonuses and none of their equity was taken … and I think that’s one of the fuels of this populist revolt that we’re seeing….” He discussed what he sees as the need to limit the activities that financial institutions are allowed to engage in, such as forcing commercial banks to focus on lending, and blocking investment banks from trading in securities…. Bannon criticized steps taken at the outset of the financial crisis to prevent widespread failures in the financial services industry, arguing that “the burden of paying for the bailout was on taxpayers while the benefits flowed to ‘crony capitalists’ … all the burdens put on the working-class people who get none of the upside…. The bailouts were absolutely outrageous, and here’s why: It bailed out a group of shareholders and executives who were specifically accountable….” Bannon described an alliance of … influential players in Washington who collectively pressured politicians and prosecutors to look the other way as, in his telling, the same people who caused the crisis in the first place benefited lavishly from the efforts to repair the damage they had done…. And they’ve never been held accountable today,” Bannon said. “Trust me — they are going to be held accountable.” (Business Insider)
While I am dubious about his spend-the-nation-into-ruin infrastructure plan, Bannon is exactly the man you want guiding Trump’s vision against corruption, cronyism, and socialized capitalism. He’s the rare ex-Goldman Exec. who speaks in favor of exactly the kind of bank regulation I’ve been saying we have to have if we are ever to return to an economy that is not entirely manipulated by the Federal Reserve and owned by banks. That’s not your typical ex-Goldman Exec. talking. Let’s hope the other ex-Goldman people on Team Trump are like Bannon, though it is certainly not clear that they are; whereas Bannon’s positions have been in print for years.
It is, therefore, no wonder that high-up Democrats sent a joint letter to the high-up Wall Street bankers, imploring them to urge Trump to ditch Bannon as his Chief Strategist:
As leaders in the business community, you have a moral obligation to speak out against this appointment as contrary to the values of this country and to the values of your industry. We urge you to condemn this appointment immediately and without reservation. (ABC News)
I don’t know about contrary to the values of the country, but Bannon is certainly contrary to the current values of the banking industry.
Said the divisive Democrats who have constantly tried to drive a wedge of racial attacks between Trump and the people of the United States,
This is a person who does not belong inside the White House. He will further divide this country.
Are they concerned that Trump is going to beat them in furthering their own racial division of the country as they trump up their charges of anti-Semitism against Bannon and use race wherever they can to gin up anger at their opponents?
[amazon_link id=”B0047Y16FI” target=”_blank” ]Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World by Andrew Breitbart[/amazon_link]
Reince Priebus (Chief of Staff)
The new two-headed structure of the team beneath Trump means that Bannon has his own direct connection to the president and does not have to connect through the president’s chief of staff. Bannon’s co-equal status will provide some assurance that all information does not get filtered by a man who embodies the Republican establishment.
While Bannon is Chief of Ideas, Priebus’ job is to keep the trains running on time, coordinate all the connections and routes as the primary communicator between all the top-level leadership. Connections are where Reince excels, but one of his top connections is Paul Ryan, a long-time friend and ally. Both rose together through Wisconsin politics — Scott Walker country — where Reince was leader of the Republican Party.
Ryan, you may recall, staunchly denounced Trump as unfit to be president during the campaign, but he now proclaims Trump will be a great president (now that Trump helped him remain in his Speaker-of-the-House position). The cozying up between Trump and Ryan with Reince as the perfect weld between them is another thing making Trump’s supporters nervous. Ryan still plays by all the thirty-year-old stock Republican answers, and is a reminder of eight years of John Boehner’s purely obstructionist government that never accomplished a single good idea to help take the nation out of the Great Recession.
On the plus side, Trump is being pragmatic. Reince’s top-level connections throughout the Republican establishment will help Trump incalculably in moving his ideas through legislation if they’re going to have any chance against the NeverTrumpers. But Reince smells so much like old elephant, that you have to wonder if he is an establishment plant on the Trump team. Once it was clear Trump was the Republican’s chosen candidate, against the party leadership’s role, they certainly needed someone at the center of the administration. So, is Reince an essential tool for Trump or an essential stool for the Republican establishment?
Perhaps this was a brilliant move by an anti-establishment president who knows he still has to work with establishment politicians who form the majority portion of the house and senate Republican majorities if he wants to accomplish anything. As we have see in how easily much of Obama’s legacy can be dismantled, you cannot accomplish anything enduring if you can’t work with congress and operate, instead, by executive decree.
In the third and final installment of this series, I look at Trump’s second tier of leaders — the cabinet members under Priebus’ hand.
The first installment analyzed Trump’s transition team that is assembling his cabinet.