READERS may recall news accounts of US president Donald Trump’s first full cabinet meeting. It was held at the White House on June 12. The nearly five month delay since his inauguration in January was due to confirmation delays for several of his nominees, as well as a few defections before the Republican-controlled Senate could even act to confirm them.
Trump’s conduct at that cabinet session became an instant news sensation. Numerous news organisations led by the New York Times described the conduct of that cabinet meeting as reminiscent of something to be expected from North Korea’s noxious dictatorship.
During press coverage of the cabinet session, Trump sat smugly as every single member of his cabinet duly sang his praises. Vice President Mike Pence led off with an obsequious tribute to Trump, stressing his pride and honour at “serving you” and “promoting your agenda.” One by one, the entire cabinet offered some kind of praise for Trump and his glorious agenda and future achievements.
The whole farcical sideshow did seem reminiscent of obligatory paeans offered to dictators across the world by their subservient minions. Televised as it was from the American White House, however, it was particularly jarring.
What has happened to Trump’s cabinet in the period since June? It seems only fair to say that this collection of wealthy plutocrats has enthusiastically lived down to the expectations their first full meeting engendered.
Pence has led the way in hewing strictly to whatever line Trump is pushing at the moment. His obeisance to the president’s orders is notable even in an office that has traditionally neither allowed nor anticipated much independence from the incumbent. Perhaps Pence’s most visible achievement was walking out of a professional football game in Indianapolis when players kneeled in protest during the playing of the American national anthem. Trump had expressed displeasure with such displays by the players, who were trying to protest social injustice and police killings of black Americans.
As for the other cabinet members, they seem generally disposed to undo as much as possible of what was established during the Obama administration. Many of Trump’s cabinet secretaries were appointed to weaken and emasculate the departments they were appointed to head. From rolling back regulations on greedy banks, cynical air and water polluters and rapacious drillers and developers on public lands, Trump and his associates have begun establishing a record of conscienceless behaviour that surpasses any of the notorious excesses of the dismal collection of cabinet secretaries serving under President Ronald Reagan 30 years ago.
A couple of these miscreants have behaved so egregiously that Trump could not retain them in the face of public ridicule. Most noteworthy is former Georgia congressman and health and human services secretary Tom Price. A long-time supporter of drug company efforts to extract big profits from questionable practices, Price seemed to prefer private government jets to readily available commercial air options. His excesses, once revealed in the press, became too much of an embarrassment even for Trump.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former Montana politician who is leading the charge to plunder and despoil public lands in the west in the misbegotten tradition of Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt, has reportedly also been a frequent abuser of the government travel privileges. His excesses have not yet cost him his job.
Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, a fabulously wealthy Wall Street tycoon, took advantage of an available private government jet to enjoy a spectacular view of the solar eclipse at Fort Knox in Kentucky, and reportedly tried to use an official aircraft to travel on his honeymoon to Paris, though this request was denied.
The wealthy but venal businessmen, bankers and former congressmen who comprise Trump’s cabinet have hardly drained the Washington swamp of the putrid stench of corruption and insider favoritism. To the contrary, they have shown a sensational disregard for the traditional ethics of their high offices.
By their casual disregard for regulations and indeed for the positions they hold, these disreputable public servants reveal their ignorance and disregard for the public trust. Like the president they so steadfastly serve, they bring their offices into well deserved disrepute. It will never be too soon to witness their departure.