Many of the 62.8 million people who punched the ticket for Donald Trump in the presidential election voted, essentially, for change.
Trump promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington and vowed to bring down the “political elite.”
But those were just loaded expressions designed to fire up his constituents.
Just what kind of change are Americans in for? Judging from the president-elect’s Cabinet nominations, it’s not the kind of change that Trump’s core supporters — blue-collar Americans — would want.
He’s assembling a leadership team of wealthy and influential Cabinet members who are apt to adopt policies that benefit their cohorts, making the wealthy even more wealthy while average Americans suffer.
A new study by economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman charts, with figures adjusted for inflation, just how severely the distribution of wealth in the United States has been skewed.
In 1980, Americans in the bottom half earned 20 percent of the national pre-tax income, while the wealthiest 1 percent earned 11 percent of it. By 2014, the wealthiest 1 percent claimed 21 percent of the income and the bottom 50 percent earned just 13 percent.
This is even more striking: The average annual income for the top 1 percent rose from $428,000 in 1980 to $1.3 million in 2014, while the average income of the poorest 50 percent of Americans stayed flat at $16,000.
Those who might have imagined that Trump would address such inequities now know that he has no intention of doing so. His nomination of Andrew Puzder, who runs the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants and is an outspoken opponent of raising the minimum wage, for secretary of labor is a clear signal that Trump is uninterested in helping the working poor.
Trump’s Cabinet appointments have been a mixed bag mostly comprised of former military generals and wealthy businessmen.
Among those in the running for secretary of state is Rex W. Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon. And the longtime second-in-command at Goldman Sachs, Gary D. Cohn, is expected to be named director of the National Economic Council, which oversees economic policy in the White House. He would join Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman partner, who has been tabbed as Treasury secretary.
There is a common thread in the president-elect’s choices: loyalty to Trump. Most of the businessmen were stalwart supporters of him during his campaign, even when it seemed he was destined for defeat.
Some nominations simply make no sense.
Why would a brain surgeon, particularly one who has been an outspoken opponent of government aid programs, be the choice for secretary of Housing and Urban Development? There is no logical reason, yet Trump nominated former GOP primary rival Ben Carson to lead HUD.
And why would any sane president-elect nominate for U.S. attorney general a person who was denied a federal judgeship because of racism allegations? Again, no good reason, yet Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Perhaps the most disheartening Trump Cabinet nomination is that of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is a staunch supporter of the fossil fuel industry and denier of climate change.
It’s no exaggeration to say that placing someone like Pruitt in that position literally threatens the long-term health of the planet.
But issues like the health of the planet and the economic plight of average Americans obviously are not Trump’s primary concerns. As his Cabinet nominations reflect, he’s most interested in positioning the economic elite, particularly those who are loyal to him, to tighten their clutches on the country.