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Making America great? Who’s on team Trump?

Donald Trump’s path to the presidency was a journey of the unlikely, becoming the unstoppable. Boasting and bulldozing his way past his own political inexperience, he cast himself as a potent new kind of candidate: the outsider. Now, more than 50 chaotic days into his presidency, we take a look at the team that Trump promises will Make America Great Again.

Draining the swamp

The core political promise of Trump’s campaign – that he would ‘drain the swamp’ and take on the ‘elites in Washington’ – always made for effective rhetoric, but was glaringly hypocritical; given his gold-plated planes and the Manhattan towers he calls home. Matthew Sharpe, Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University, says that looking at the team that Trump has chosen to surround himself with, shows his rhetoric now makes even less sense. ‘The first thing to note about the cabinet he has appointed is that it is the richest, dollar-for-dollar in American history. How these people, with their histories, will be able to relate to workers whose jobs were outsourced, as they “Make America Great Again”, seems unclear’ explains Assoc. Prof. Sharpe.

'How these people, with their histories, will be able to relate to workers whose jobs were outsourced, as they “Make America Great Again”, seems unclear.'

Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

Texas gold 

The team’s intense wealth – and inexperience – is captured in one key player in particular. Millionaire, and former Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is Trump’s Secretary of Energy – a grimly humorous move, since Perry publically misunderstood the job title. Having hoped that he would be able to advocate for the fossil fuel industry (a cause which has helped him make millions) he openly admitted his dismay to find he was now in charge of nuclear weapons. Despite this, and once deriding Perry as only ‘wearing glasses to seem smart’, Trump claims Perry’s success as Governor of Texas and creating ‘a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state’, qualify him for the team far beyond any scientist (who normally holds the role).

Artful dodger

The contradictions Assoc. Prof. Sharpe points out are skillfully covered up, thanks to Trump’s spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway. Conway is the first woman in history to run a Republican presidential campaign. She’s run her own polling firm for many years and mastered the art of staying on message, especially when under pressure. Trump has said of Conway’s ability to mince interviewers’ words, ‘There is no den she will not go into. When my men are petrified to go on a certain network I say, “Kellyanne, will you go?” Then she gets on and she just destroys them.’ ’Destroys’, via her non-committal relationship with the truth. It was Conway who introduced the phrase ‘alternative facts’ to the world, frustrated media to the point of being banned from TV and deflected criticism away from Trump by creating events that never happened (from the Bowling Green massacre to spying microwaves).

Prince of darkness 

According to Assoc. Prof. Sharpe, we shouldn’t underestimate the inexperience. While much of Trump’s presidential team appears as self-interested or unqualified to the point of farce, the impacts may soon be felt by many as tragedy – should one ideological heavyweight in particular get his way.

‘Steve Bannon, Trump’s most senior advisor, is a particularly worrying figure’, says Assoc. Prof. Sharpe. ‘He is a kind of far-right intellectual, and intellectuals and politics have throughout history not generally mixed well. 99% of politics is administration, and consensus-building. About 1% is big decisions. Intellectuals are drawn to the 1%,’ he explains. Bannon previously used his position as editor of Breitbart, the platform of the so called ‘alt-right’, to translate his radical ideologies to a wider audience. Among these are the beliefs that both climate change and Muslim immigration are liberal conspiracies to overthrow the West and its values. Bannon’s impact on Trump’s agenda is clear. ‘It is difficult not to expect more; more radically anti-liberal orders and actions from Trump,’ Assoc. Prof. Sharpe explains.

The trailblazer

Competing agendas in the cabinet may slow Bannon’s radical far-right influence. Trump recently stripped Bannon of his role in national security, signalling a shift in overseas priorities. In turn, Nikki Haley, Trump’s pick for United States Ambassador to the United Nations, has emerged as a key player, defining a less radical international relations policy for Trump.

Haley was initially seen as an odd choice, even by Trump’s standards, given her open criticism of Trump. She’s made it clear that while she’ll serve alongside his team, she sees a keen distinction between his governing style and that of traditional Republicans: ‘The president-elect deserves tremendous credit for the way he was able to connect with the electorate, but he did not do it by celebrating the Republican Party’. But her history provides an interesting insight as to why Trump would hire her. Having been a successful businesswoman for many years, and a public firebrand, she’s played a key role in shaping what it means to be a female Republican representative in America. This tenacity to work inside the party power plays to reshape its image is Trump’s own drive, and in his own words, makes her much like himself – ‘a proven deal maker’ who, by their wheeling and dealing, can Make America Great Again.

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Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe
Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
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