The incoming Donald Trump administration is taking shape and the invaluable site ProPublica has compiled a continuously updated list with brief backgrounds of what we know about the people being proposed so far for cabinet and cabinet-rank posts. It seems to be a mix of bankers, corporate executives, political hacks, and military people, plus one nutty person (Ben Carson) to liven things up at cabinet meetings when he is not spaced out. None of them has a background that suggests that they are likely to work for the benefit of many of the less-well-off Trump voters. So the betrayal of the working and middle classes, many of whom voted for Trump because of his grandiose promises to solve all their problems, is well under way.
What is also going to be interesting to see is the dynamic of how this set of people work together. Although the US president has a lot of executive power, the government is simply too big and unwieldy for one person to run and it depends on a lot of people working in concert. Trump’s autocratic style was developed in a business where he was able to hire and fire people at will and everyone had to be obsequious to him and he clearly revels in that milieu. Technically he can still do that since cabinet level appointees serve at the will of the president, but many of the people he has chosen are also used to autocratic systems in which they call the shots. It is inevitable that at some point, sooner rather than later, Trump will be displeased with something they do or that they are getting more attention than him or even (gasp!) more praise than him. How will a narcissist whose style is to humiliate those who displease him, react? And how will these people who are not used to being belittled, react in turn?
Another thing to watch for are the inevitable lawsuits that are going to be filed as the Trump administration takes actions that are of dubious legality. Autocrats are used to thinking that their word is law and although US presidents have got used to thinking that they can bend the law to their will, Trump is likely to take that approach well beyond even what Obama and Bush and their predecessors did. Trump has been a magnet for lawsuits in the past and there is no reason to think that he will be less so as president. How will he react when a court rules against him?
A third thing to watch is what happens when Trump’s business interests around the globe are targeted by those forces like al Qaeda, ISIS, and al Shabaab who see in them much softer targets of emblematic US power than military bases, US embassies, and consulates. You can be sure that those groups are going to target them. Is the US military going to be deployed as a security and retaliatory force for his private business interests?
It also seems likely that we are definitely going to see, at least initially, a tilt away from China and in favor of Russia. But China is a bigger economic power in the world than Russia. It has for a long time been building up alliances around the world by providing economic support to nations, especially in Asia and Africa, the new emerging markets. How will China react to any attempts by Trump to ‘punish’ that nation for its monetary and trade policies? And what will happen when US and Russian interests collide over some future issue? There are already strains over Syria and Iran policy and you can be sure that there will be more to come. Russia has its own global agenda and its president Vladimir Putin has ambitions of increasing and extending Russian power and is no fool.
Another big unknown so far is what a Trump administration will do concerning Israel and Palestine. Trump has been pandering to Israeli extremists by promising to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a step that will be bound to inflame tensions in the region because it will be seen as a further step in Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian land and the continuation of the apartheid state that exists in the Occupied Territories.
We are entering an uncertain period because the US government is going to be run by people whose commitment to continuity is highly weak and who seem to believe even more than past administrations that the US really is the ruler of the world and can impose its will on it despite any opposition. That kind of hubris is what leads to trouble.