Trump creep show gets ready for the big stage

The media talk about Trump's appeal to the "little guy," but the people around him are a terrifying collection of reactionaries and corporate criminals, writes Eric Ruder.

Donald Trump with new Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (speaking) and Mike Pence (right)Donald Trump with new Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (speaking) and Mike Pence (right)

DONALD TRUMP'S creep show is getting ready for the White House. Though "creep" might be too nice a way to describe the combination of white supremacists, neocon war hawks and corporate job killers that will soon scramble into positions of power in the new administration--not to mention the zombie politicians whose careers have, in a few short weeks, been made undead long after the establishment had buried them.

According to mainstream media reports, it didn't take long for Trump's transition team to turn on one another, with a Trump insider describing the power struggle over top administration appointments among establishment and insurgent figures as a "knife fight."

At the center of the mainstream media's coverage of the ugly cast of characters ordering office supplies for their new White House digs is Steve Bannon, the boss of the alt-right Breitbart News Network and notorious for his openly white supremacist views.

Bannon directed Breitbart's editorial team to run stories highlighting supposed instances of "discrimination" against white people. One headline celebrated the "glorious heritage" of the Confederate flag. Another referred to conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a "renegade Jew." Bannon has also expressed his admiration for nationalist racial movements around the world, such as the far-right National Front in France and Hindu nationalists in India.

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DURING TRUMP'S campaign and in the immediate aftermath of his shocking victory, the media often portrayed his bid as a quirky, populist effort--the billionaire buffoon who championed the little guy against the corrupt representatives of the Washington establishment.

But as the hard-right and very rich character of the new administration has emerged with news from Trump's transition team, it's clear that Trump's identification with ordinary people was cynical and fraudulent.

Yet the response of those who are supposed to be standing up to Trump is shocking in its own way--Barack Obama and other top Democratic Party officials refuse to condemn the racists and reactionaries converging at the heart of Trump's inner circle.

Instead, Obama emerged from a White House meeting with Trump describing him as "pragmatic" and not "ideological." "It's important for us to let him make his decisions," said Obama. "The American people will judge over the course of the next couple of years whether they like what they see."

Even the New York Times felt compelled to comment on his response: "Mr. Obama's conciliatory remarks disappointed supporters who had hoped that he would add his voice to the criticism of the president-elect for naming Mr. Bannon as his chief strategist."

Meanwhile, moderate Republicans were sounding the alarm. "The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office," said John Weaver, the Republican strategist who directed Gov. John Kasich's campaign for the GOP nomination. "Be very vigilant, America."

It's pathetic when someone like John Weaver can call Trump a "fascist"--and Barack Obama can't muster faint criticism.

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DESCRIBING TRUMP as not "ideological" is like calling a third grader unqualified to bring a flamethrower to school for show-and-tell. It's true, but grossly understates the case.

Trump is ignorant of history, oblivious to all manner of policy issues and, as he showed throughout the campaign, liable to reverse his positions from one day to the next. His racism and xenophobia aren't "ideological" like Bannon's, but casual--and no less despicable for that.

These features of Trump's personality--combined with the payback he owes to the hard-right Republicans who stood by him while moderate GOP leaders attacked his candidacy--help explain the glaring conflict between what Trump himself has said and the views of some of those rumored to be on the short list for various posts.

On the campaign trail, Trump railed against the U.S. war in Iraq, claiming falsely to be an early opponent--and he suggested that the U.S. should reconsider its commitment to the NATO military alliance. He even attacked the most recent Republican president before him, George W. Bush, angering the neocons who ran Bush's "war on terror." Like his opposition to free trade, Trump's foreign policy views seemed to reflect the isolationism typical of the Republican Party of the early 20th century.

But when it comes to appointing a Secretary of State, Trump is rumored to be choosing from a short list that includes campaign surrogate and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton--both ardent supporters of the U.S. war in Iraq, and both classic neocon defenders of aggressive U.S. military involvement around the world.

In September, for example, Giuliani argued on ABC's This Weekfor keeping American ground troops in the Middle East in order to control the region's oil reserves. Challenged by host George Stephanopoulos about the legality, Giuliani responded, "Of course it's legal. It's a war. Until the war is over, anything is legal."

In 2014, Giuliani argued that Obama should have bombed Syria despite Congressional opposition. "He bombed before without congressional authorization, Bush bombed--Clinton bombed without congressional authorization," said Giuliani.

Meanwhile, Bolton isn't just for the U.S. staying in NATO--he's for expanding NATO. Last year, he called Trump's idea of joining forces with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an "American-Russian coalition against ISIS" both "undesirable" and "glib."

The conflict between Trump's views and those of his cabinet officials has mainstream commentators speculating which side will prevail. On the foreign policy front, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat seems to be betting on the cabinet picks:

[I]t could be that in a Trump cabinet they would gradually conform their worldviews to his, as presidential appointees often do, and that Trumpism would advance (as it did on the campaign trail) through convenient conversions among the people charged with putting it into effect.

But since Trump himself is inexperienced, underinformed and deeply malleable, it's also quite possible that if he appoints conventional full-spectrum hawks to key posts, full-spectrum hawkishness is what we'll get--that by year two of a Trump administration we'll be arming the Ukrainians and Syrian rebels, saber-rattling anew with the Russians, and adding another intervention or two to the Obama administration's (six and counting) frozen conflicts.

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PERHAPS REALIZING that Trump's inexperience would grant substantial power to a well-placed adviser--without the limitations of accepting a particular post--former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been reanimating himself to push for such a role in the Trump administration.

Gingrich became so unpopular after the self-described "Republican Revolution" that took over Congress in 1994 ended in miserable failure that he hasn't been able to win elected office during this century.

But his early commitment to Trump's campaign--what did he have to lose?--has raised his political ambitions. Gingrich laid out his modest job requirements for Fox News:

I want to be the general planner, looking out over the next eight years and trying to design how we fundamentally reshape the federal government. That's a very broad job. The closest analogy probably is [New Deal architect] Harry Hopkins and the work he did for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The New Deal reference is appropriate--since Trump's economic team seems likely to take aim at the last vestiges of the social safety net first created with the New Deal.

Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker-turned-hedge fund manager (vampire squid, anyone?), is on the media's short list for Trump's Treasury Secretary.

Mnuchin was also CEO of OneWest Bank, which in the aftermath of the Great Recession distinguished itself for aggressively pursuing foreclosures, especially in communities of color, in order to fatten its bottom line. When OneWest tried to foreclose on one Long Island family, a judge ruled against it, calling the bank's behavior "harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive."

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MNUCHIN ISN'T the exception, of course. We don't even have time in this article to talk about Jeff Sessions, Frank Gafney, Michelle Rhee, Tom Cotton, Ben Carson or Michael Flynn.

Yet the leaders of the Democratic Party say that "we're all on the same team." At a time when many millions of people are fearful, angry and searching for ways to resist Trump's agenda, Obama's tame statements--"we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country"--are completely out of step.

One week after Trump's election, the far from radical Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen wrote:

I don't want Trump to succeed. I want him to fail spectacularly...What gives me fleeting hope is the knowledge that millions of Americans--a majority even--feel as I do. They are angry. They are scared for the future...[W]hat America needs today is not acquiescence to Trump, but impassioned, principled, and consistent opposition.

The time to start fighting is now--to show everyone in this country and around the world that Donald Trump has no mandate to pursue his reactionary agenda.