Donald Trump is not what you’d call a conventional Republican, nor is his likely to be the most conventional presidency. His cabinet however, is as traditionally Republican as is possible to be.
The usual Trump labels have stuck as he has assembled his cabinet – the ‘foolish and inexperienced,’ the ‘wealthy, climate-change denouncers’ and the ‘racist xenophobes’ have all been mentioned. But when it comes these insults, nothing could be further from the truth.
A large proportion are wealthy former business execs, and this is hardly a new phenomenon. If we look at GOP governments of old, George W. Bush had Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, as his Treasury Secretary, and Ronald Reagan had the former CEO of Merrill Lynch, Donald Regan, as his. What is markedly different about these past examples is the change from former banking executives to former business magnates – those whose wealth has been accumulated in a manner similar to that of Trump. But is this a bad thing?
Well, in the case of Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, it’s unclear. An experienced businessman, but for the most part politically unpractised (he advised a USA-Russia committee during the Clinton administration), Ross’s nomination is a controversial one because of his reputation. He is known for ‘restructuring’ struggling companies – that is to say, taking any remaining wealth as they fail. He also came under fire from the UMWA after founding the International Coal Group, which, because of banking regulations, does not have unions, healthcare, or pensions. Nevertheless, he’s an experienced businessman, albeit not always on the right side of the moral line, but experienced all the same. And this experience will surely stand him in good stead as he takes up his new post as Commerce Secretary.
Much of the anxiety regarding Trump’s cabinet nominees stems from a lack of political experience. But do they need to be experienced? Previous political leaders have proved incapable of making their promises a reality, so why therefore shouldn’t business leaders be given a chance? And, additionally, might it be prudent to promote more business leaders considering the rapid rate of globalisation?
Rex Tillerson is a man who arguably answers all of these questions. The Incoming Secretary of State is the former CEO of ExxonMobil, a climate change believer, and a close ally of Vladimir Putin. His appointment defies the stereotype Trump has been burdened with. ‘The risks of climate change are serious and do warrant action,’ he said recently.
Appointing a climate change believer is the first reason this is a wise choice. The second is Tillerson’s links with Russia. Putin awarded him the ‘Russian Order of Friendship’ in 2013 for his contribution to the energy sector and his relationship with the Russian President may be of use in the immediate future. Trump is clearly going to be a militarily assertive President – the nominations of several former Generals hint at this. So having a Secretary of State who is on good terms with Russia is a smart decision, particularly as both nations may soon work together in containing China. In this context, despite all the questions about experience, this nomination looks shrewd.
Along with Tillerson and Ross, Trump has nominated eleven other names for his cabinet so far, of whom five are politically inexperienced and two are billionaires. America’s high-ranking politicians have failed to bring the hope they promised in recent years, so the baton has been passed to the businessmen. This may well be America’s new normal, but it’s not necessarily a turn for the worst.
Image by Chris Breeze via Flickr