Trump's transition team is putting together a list of nominees for the cabinet that sounds like a cast of characters for a surrealist play, maybe Ubu Roi or some newly discovered absurdist drama by Antonin Artaud, part of his "theater of cruelty. The revenge Donald Trump seems to be seeking with these nominees is so thorough and profound it leaves everyone gasping in disbelief. The extreme right is fully enabled in these choices, from Betsy DeVos, nominated for Secretary of Education, to Rex Tillerson for Department of State. But let's look briefly at Betsy DeVos, who is the daughter of a car-parts manufacturer and daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway, a cult-like distributor of household wares that holds annual conventions in which sales reps dance in ecstasy at the enchantments of ideologues promoting capitalism and direct merchandising without a middle man. Betsy DeVos stated her mission as making education bring about the "kingdom of God" in America. To do this she has been donating massive amounts of money to voucher schools with strong Christian instruction. Vouchers are the primary means for dissolving public education and its secular mandate.
Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, the largest fossil fuel corporation in the world, is an adamant opponent of alternative energies. He may admit from time to time that global warming is partly the result of human activity, and that some sort of moderation may be in order. But as the chief architect of fossil fuel monopoly, he hardly endorses any other energy sources, no matter the consequences. Of course, the press has made much of his close ties to Vladimir Putin, who offered his own praise and support for Tillerson's appointment to State. Tillerson has the face of the typical Republican white man, another Koch brother, with huge hanging jowls and baggy eyes, and a brain driven to the empire-building end of capitalism. He promises to turn the State Department into a juggernaut of corporate aggression, and throw every obstacle he can think of against the alternative energy industry he regards as anti-capitalist. Rick Perry, Trump's nominee for the Department of Energy, vowed to dismantle the DOE, even though he couldn't think of its name during a candidate debate. His "oops" moment.
There's no one slated for the cabinet, with the possible exception of General "Mad Dog" Mattis, who warned against tearing up the nuclear agreement with Iran, who is for diversity, women's rights, environmental protection, national health care or any of the dozens of other programs enacted into law by both parties in decades past. It's remarkable how many enemies of liberal philosophy have endured long years in political exile. They rose to prominence in the private sector, where scruples about ideology and conscience carry little weight. Charity does not begin on Wall Street or in the oil patch, or in Big Pharma. Its origins spring from small towns and from the neighborhoods of the hoi polloi, once the bulwark of democracy. But politicians who came to Congress and the presidency from these roots throughout much of the 20th century have slowly been replaced by the scions of dynastic families, who have no experience talking to ordinary Americans. Therein lies the estrangement between power and democracy in our time.
The Trump Cabinet is weighed down with generals and billionaires, which brings Jean Genet's The Balcony to mind, a play about a general, a bishop, and a judge who frequent a brothel where they can be humiliated and pressed into abject servitude while the streets below throb with the furies of a revolution. Genet's point is that power has transcended society and lives in its own illusory world; nothing is real, everything is a game and an empty ritual. We are already approaching this state of affairs with the abandonment of facts and information in the dream world of Trump Tower, where he stages episodes of a reality television version of "The Apprentice." As the New York Times reported just now, Mitt Romney's interview for the job at State was a cruel gest played on him, revenge for his assaults on Trump during the campaign. He was never seriously vetted, merely paraded before the cameras and left smiling on the marble floor of the Trump Tower lobby. The same treatment came with Al Gore's "interview" as well, to discuss environmental policy, only to find out the next day that Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, a fierce advocate of the oil and gas industry, was duly anointed to head the EPA. As Gail Collins said recently, Oklahoma has more earthquakes than sunrises from hydraulic fracturing.
The Republican leadership in the Senate and the House vows to block some of Trump's nominees when they come up for hearings. But I doubt they can dissuade rank and file members from voting for them. Trump's team inspires fear and trembling among vulnerable Congressmen who want to please their new boss. Trump already wields a formidable sword he will soon put to the throat of those who might privately wish to demur or thwart him. You will hear whimpers of assent, and cowering in the cloakroom. You will also likely see hand wringing among some Democrats who will abstain or whisper their own assent when it comes to show time. We will then move into an era of a "pudor pejorocracy," the poet Charles Olson's phrase for a government of the shameful worst. Entitlements will finally come under the gavel of Paul Ryan's House majority, who are eager to tear up the venerable covenants of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and of course, Obamacare. There's so much to do once the juggernaut begins rolling over democracy, like dismantling the principles of Clean Air and Clean Water, restrictions on drilling on public lands and wild life reserves, protected shorelines like the Everglades. Women's rights are hanging like low fruit to those eager to be rid of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood, and the rights of the LGBT community. So much to destroy, to dismantle, to dilute, in order to prepare the surface of America as a bleak market place without ethical restraints or morality, just a work force subject to ruthless competition and low wages.
We may yet achieve a vision of destruction as described in the Book of Revelations, where the four horsemen of Conquest, War, Famine and Death will multiply into the full panoply of cabinet secretaries and their aides and adjuncts. The world will tremble, Trump believes, once the destructive will power of his underlings reduces society to a system of gulags and internment camps. It could happen elsewhere, if Europe is not vigilant, and Asia complacent and too trusting. Our own situation is pretty nearly hopeless at this moment, unless something intervenes, a revolt of the Electoral College, an uprising of millions across the land, a wave of mayhem and anarchy to undo law and order. But it won't happen, and things will muddle toward their end. In two years, I hear friends say, we can stop this nightmare, and in four, overcome the terrible indictment of our carelessness and indifference.