Instead of draining the swamp, Trump is muddying the waters

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Politicians in India vs US – Kanishk Tharoor , in Hindustan Times, : Jan 12, 2017

US president-elect Donald Trump during a news conference, Manhattan, New York City, January 11, 2017 (Reuters)

(Note: In this article and in ever so many appearing across the world, it is the fear of the unknown, especially the fear of the ‘feared’ to happen, that is hogging the lime light. In such a situation what should keep our mental equilibrium, is to reflect on the age-old wise council: “Don’t count the chicken before they are hatched!” We are not yet, at the end of the world.

The whole world, including the much admired Obama and team expected Hilary to win hands down. It didn’t happen. Thought Trump would continue his uncivil, dare-devil campaign style into his presidency, but he has been very polite to Hilary in responding to her conceding speech. Confronted by critics he is changing partially at least his views on Putin. It is not Apocalypse for any of us, to borrow an Obama phrase. Trump will be crowed president only on 20th. So let us wait, till he starts performing.

One thing is certain. Politicians are the most distrusted or disliked people around the globe. The allegation always has been that they are the most corrupt people in the world, always bend on looking for lime light and looking for parties where they can make a fast buck. Of course there have been few exceptions like rare saints in the Catholic church. Now due to their fast multiplication for marketing purpose, it is difficult to say which saint is a popular one today.

This scribe always voted for the candidate he thought corruption free, but never for any party as he could not find any corruption free party in his 82 years of life and search. But he did one Hymalayan blunder in joining the Aam Aadmi party due more due to Anna Hazare than Kejriwal. He corrected that mistake immediately after the party boss sacked the Bhooshans to turn dictatorial and stopped all writing in its support. CCV is a critique of all parties and James Kottorsocio-religious organizations and invites criticism from them and readers, to correct its own mistakes. Three cheers to healthy criticism with no love lost to Trump, Hilary,  Putin, Modiji or Cardinals. james kottoor, editor)

In India, the cliché has it that people enter politics to become rich. It’s a cynical truism, a measure of the lamentable corruption in the political system. In the United States, the reverse seems to be increasingly true; you have to be rich to enter politics. And not just rich, but stupendously rich. The members of Donald Trump’s proposed Cabinet include several billionaires and numerous captains of finance and industry.

Together, they will form the wealthiest Cabinet in American history, estimated to be worth $12 billion. During his populist campaign for the presidency, Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” of Washington, to sweep away encrusted political elites and corporate interests. Now as president-elect, he is assembling an administration that will tug the United States towards oligarchy.

Republicans in Congress rushed through the confirmation of a slew of Trump’s appointees this week despite grave concerns voiced by the office of government ethics. According to the New York Times, the standard ethics and financial disclosure forms don’t have enough boxes to accommodate the extraordinary assets of many of the nominees. The worry is that the new Cabinet members’ historic investments in certain domestic industries and in strategically sensitive countries abroad may improperly shape government policy.

But what’s wrong with having successful businesspeople in charge? I’ve often heard well-educated, professional Indians bemoan the dominance of “career politicians” in India, those men and women who have no track records of accomplishment outside of politics, whose only credentials seem to be ingratiating themselves with party leaders and marshalling their cadre.

From a middle class perspective, politicians are not to be trusted because politics is their livelihood. They seek power in order to line their pockets. Americans, too, share a similar disdain for the political class, fed by a steady trickle of scandals involving national and local figures. In the last year in New York, where I live, a number of prominent state politicians were imprisoned for acts of corruption, bribery, and misuse of public office (all prosecuted by the tenacious Indian American federal attorney Preet Bharara). Many New Yorkers saw those crimes not just as the sins of a few individuals but as proof of the guilt of the entire political establishment.

In both places, the corrupt failings of traditional politicians make some people yearn for more technocratic, managerial leadership. That’s why it’s not uncommon to hear praise in Indian sitting rooms for the more decisive, bulldozing (and undemocratic) Chinese system. Sensing the changing national mood, the current and previous ruling governments in Delhi have invited leading businessmen to work more closely with the Centre.

Trump campaigned entirely on his credentials as a businessman, since he has no political experience. It worked, in large part because voters were drawn to the idea of Trump as the consummate Washington outsider; his extraordinary wealth freed him from having to play the same tawdry game as other politicians, freed him from needing to curry the favour of powerful, moneyed interests. When his supporters called Washington a “swamp”, they imagined the capital as a place infested with career politicians, corporate lobbyists, and other back-scratching elites disinterested in the lives of ordinary Americans.

Instead of draining the swamp, Trump is muddying the waters. His choices for Cabinet include individuals who have donated lavishly to his campaign, as well as former executives from Wall Street (vilified during his campaign, embraced after his victory). Betsy De Vos, the prospective secretary of education, is a billionaire who has spent her entire career championing the dismantling of the public education system that she will now preside over. Andy Puzder, picked to head the department of labour, made his fortune in the fast-food business and is dead-set against expanding the minimum wage and other provisions for workers. Scott Pruitt, the next head of the environmental protection agency, attacked that same agency on behalf of oil companies. Rex Tillerson, the presumptive secretary of state, was until recently head of Exxon, and now will be in charge of US foreign policy, suggesting that the caricature of the state department as merely an organ of corporations may now carry greater truth.

That’s just a few of Trump’s disgraceful nominations. The worry here is not that these figures will tilt American policy in a frightfully Right-wing direction, but that their ascent represents the triumph of the “revolving door” between government and business, where the desires of big corporations become the imperatives of the political executive.

Trump’s own conduct doesn’t bode well. While he has surrendered his rights and responsibilities in The Trump Organization to his sons, he has refused to divest from his vast holdings or form a blind trust. He seems keen to treat the White House like a family business, bringing his daughter Ivanka to Washington. He recently appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as senior White House adviser. This isn’t the way democracies should be run. As journalist Jon Schwarz noted, other politicians to deputise their sons-in-law include Raul Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Mussolini.


Kanishk Tharoor is the author of Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories. The views expressed are personal)

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