Don’t freak out about Trump’s cabinet of horrors

My feed over on the ‘book is presently a litany of fear and loathing over the incoming administration – but I think folks ought to chill the fuck out. Trump was never going to be thoughtful about running the country, and I do not think the people who voted for him were hoping that he would be thoughtful about running the country.

Betsy DeVos, who will almost certainly be Secretary of Education, knows almost nothing about education policy. Ben Carson is clueless as to what urban development is about, despite having grown up poor and black in a major American city. The nominee for head of the EPA is not sure if there is a safe level of lead in drinking water regarding children (there is not). Many of my friends are presently exasperated by the sheer ignorance of the incoming administration. Moreover, the current attempt at formulating a replacement for the Affordable Care Act belies a serious misunderstanding of how health care policy works on the part of Republican policy makers.

Let me be clear: I am well aware that the country has been hijacked by nitwits. But it does not especially disturb me.

To understand what’s going on, it helps to know how conservative talk show hosts think about politics. The key to their appeal is that they are anti-liberal. Indeed, there isn’t anything especially conservative about Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, or anybody else in the vast panoply of right wing media. What matters is not what they are for – it never was – what matters is that they are against liberalism. What’s liberalism? The ruling ideology of the US Federal government since FDR.

The many achievements of the Federal government since 1933 – Social Security, the National Labor Relations Board, agricultural and environmental regulation, Medicare, Medicaid, the end of racial segregation of the military, along with many Supreme Court decisions (Roe v Wade in particular) – are, together, what conservatives are against in the US. This is what has given the Republican party its emphasis on cutting taxes. Its not that they especially care about cutting taxes – for rich people or anyone else – its that they want to defund the Federal government.

Let’s consider the Roe v Wade case. In my view, what is at the heart of the issue for conservatives is not abortion. No, no, no. It’s not about telling women what they can or cannot do. Not really. What it’s about is the Federal government telling States what laws they can and cannot make. Prior to Roe v Wade, abortion was banned by all 50 States, in individual pieces of legislation. And then the Supreme Court, in one fell swoop, declared those laws unconstitutional. The issue is that the freedom of State legislatures to tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies was taken away by the Federal judiciary.

This is a tension that has always existed in the United States. It is why we have two houses of Congress, and why we have the electoral college. It is why the Civil War was fought. And it is this tension, between the States and the Federal government, which drives the present political situation.

What’s the other side of this? Well, let’s imagine a government of technocrats for a moment. Smart, sensible, well educated folks who would make policy decisions on the basis of evidence and reason. If such a government were enabled to make laws applicable throughout the country, shit would be radically different. I can’t imagine we’d have anything other than a single-payer, universal health care system. I think it’s quite likely the EPA would be much stronger. And taxes would probably still be close to what they were in the 1950s – that is to say, very high incomes would be pointless, because they’d get taxed away. Hence, income inequality would be considerably lower than it is. And so on. So why are these problematic? What’s the problem with making good decisions?

Well, first of all, many people don’t like other people making decisions for them, superior reasoning faculties be damned. And it’s easy to imagine that everything would be coming up fucking roses if it wasn’t for the decision making bureaucrat you resent. And it’s not as if very smart, evidence driven policy makers don’t fuck up from time to time. And every time they do it works as an argument against the entire system. Remember Solyndra? A company making solar panels that got a grant out of the 2009 economic stimulus that failed – there were lots of successful parts of the stimulus, but conservatives only ever talked about Solyndra, because it was proof that the stimulus was a huge waste of taxpayer money, and that Obama and the Democrats were out of control, and had to be reined in.

But there’s also the disruptive element of Federal policy making. Again, Roe v Wade makes a great example. If a woman can end an unwanted pregnancy, what is to stop her from obeying patriarchy? Again, its not about the government telling women what to do with their bodies. It’s about patriarchy telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. There was a time in the US not so long ago where prostitution was essentially tolerated. It was the privilege of being a man. The introduction of birth control meant that women could also freely participate in sex for pleasure – which paradoxically meant that they could reasonably demand monogamy from men. This was a disruption of the established balance of power between the sexes. Personally, I think birth control was one of the best things in human history. But if you were a man accustomed to being able to dominate women within your family, birth control was and is a serious threat. And if States were allowed to ban abortion and Planned Parenthood, all that would go away.

For many Americans, freedom means being free of outside influence. The Federal government’s only legitimate purpose is to defend them from outsiders, even if they happen to be their fellow Americans. In the old South, the maintenance of racial segregation symbolized freedom. On the great plains, the freedom to have public schools which taught the local variety of Christianity as part of curriculum was freedom. And so on. The Federal government is always the outsider, the meddler.

And Trump is the revenge of those Americans who resent the Federal government. What they want from the administration is to stop doing the things the Federal government has been doing for the past 84 years. And that’s what the cabinet is all about.

Should we all be afraid? I mean, yes. But for me, the larger issue is that people who want sensible, intelligent, reasonable policy made and enforced by the government have to come to grips with the fact that such policy will be interpreted by some folks as oppression. This particular moment is the return of those oppressed by liberalism. They don’t want sensible policy. They want revenge. If a bunch of people get hurt in the process, well, they should have known better than to fuck with the established order of things.

Published by samuelbarbour

Besides writing a blog, I also teach, farm, cook, and play music. I live in the Illinois River Valley with my partner, Molly Breslin, who sometimes posts stuff at

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