America in Transition

My Depression-era mother always advised, “Be careful of what you wish for.”

Granted wishes sometimes have unintended consequences. With the election over, my Facebook page and email inbox no longer suffer tsunamis of financial appeals or memes. I now can actually find emails from friends and relatives.

In the news, we receive reports of how the newly forming administration is doing, what historical milestones it has met, who is “in” and who is “out.”

During the campaign, we saw President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly shuffle his campaign staff. It appears that the transition staff is going through the same process. Former transition team leader Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” seems to have tainted him in the eyes certain insiders. Sending the father of Trump’s son-in-law to jail didn’t help. Although Christie was amazingly loyal to Trump during the campaign, apparently loyalty doesn’t win over revenge.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence now heads the transition team. This is the same Indiana Gov. Pence who signed a bill that requires women to conduct a funeral if they have a miscarriage.

The President-elect promised in the closing weeks of the campaign to “drain the swamp” in Washington. This is a great cry for a campaign slogan, but his job now is to govern and we already see well-connected political insiders—oil and gas lobbyists, lawyers, but not so many conservative think-tank experts and members of the foreign policy establishment—joining the transition team. It might have been attractive to elect someone without experience or expertise, but most realize that he better have a good co-pilot.

House Speaker Paul Ryan may see himself as that co-pilot.

The Congress has spent eight years obstructing President Barack Obama’s agenda, blocking, tackling and otherwise throwing sand in the gears of the government. Now, the Congress may finally realize it is supposed to be a positive part of the government.

Nevertheless, 7th Congressional District Representative David Brat and the shrunken Freedom Caucus have already begun attacking the House leadership.

Brat writes on Facebook, “When the American people chose a political outsider to be their president, they made it very clear that they are fed up with typical politicians who say one thing to get elected and then govern as if their constituents have short memories. The people are watching closely and they expect their elected representatives to deliver…” We’ll see if Ryan can make the House toe a consistent policy line, if there is one.

Steven Bannon, appointed as White House Strategist and Senior Counselor, might also see himself as that co-pilot. His years as a Wall Street insider, however, fade in the view of many who focus on his recent role as head of Breitbart News, the premier website of the “alt-right,” a loose-knit group of white nationalists and supremacists who are unabashed anti-Semites and racists. This position doesn’t require congressional approval, but will attract considerable distracting scrutiny.

Republicans spent months during the campaign encouraging Trump to “pivot” to a more presidential style. He resisted, believing that being as provocative as possible gained him his popularity.

No one has a clue how he envisions the role of the president, how he will interact with members of Congress and how he will deal with allies and adversaries. Shortly after the election, Trump tweeted “just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!” Not a ringing endorsement of free speech.

Later he complimented the demonstrators on their “passion for our great country.” Is Trump becoming a politician? We’ll see.

One thing that is hard to see is the restoration of the coal industry, one of Trump’s big campaign promises. It is not government regulations that hurt coal; it is economics. Just as battleships shifted from coal to oil, coal must compete with even cheaper oil and gas industries. The strong dollar and low-cost competitors reduce the U.S. export market. Even the coal industry is giving up on miners. That’s why the industry is turning to chopping the tops off mountains. This approach needs fewer miners. Western coal is cheaper than eastern coal for the same reason.

The massive coal dust explosion at the West Virginia Upper Big Branch coal mine in April 2010 killed 29 miners. Before this explosion, federal regulators cited the mine for dozens of safety violations. When the boss cuts corners on safety to save money, you know you are in a dying industry.

As sympathetic as we may be to them, miners voting for Trump won’t bring back the coal industry in the east. They would be better advised to go to North Dakota and protest the oil and gas pipelines. That industry, combined with wind and solar, is what threatens their livelihoods.

Looking at how the transition is unfolding, a conservative foreign policy insider wrote, “one bad boss can be endured. A gaggle of them will poison all decision making.” He advises that people of talent and experience should not volunteer to serve in this administration. No living president supported Trump; top elected Republicans did not endorse him. Watching the transition will be interesting.

Looking at the consequences of this election, I’m reminded of my mother’s voice saying, “Be careful of what you wish for…

David Reuther is a retired Foreign Service officer with service in Asia and the Middle East. He is a member of the Culpeper Democratic Committee.

 Editors Note: this article is reposted with the author’s permission, and originally appeared here.