The Editorial Board
President Trump says his administration signals the end of “the establishment” that “has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” He pledged in his campaign to tend to the interests of the forgotten workingman, and, in his Inaugural Address on Friday, said he was “transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”
Mr. Trump may be out to challenge one establishment — the liberal elite — but he is installing one of his own, filled with tycoons, Wall Street heavyweights, cronies and a new rank of shadowy wealthy “advisers” unaccountable to anyone but him. His gilded cabinet, still being confirmed, presents a jarring contrast with his message.
Take first the Goldman Sachs crowd. The Trump campaign lambasted global financiers, led by Goldman, as having “robbed our working class,” but here come two of the alleged miscreants: Gary Cohn, Goldman’s president, named to lead the National Economic Council, and Steven Mnuchin, named as Treasury secretary. Hardly the workingman’s ideal of an anti-establishment figure, Mr. Mnuchin is the son of a Goldman partner who worked his way up to partner himself. Now a hedge fund manager, he has a net worth estimated as high as $500 million and, like Mr. Cohn, has no public policy experience.
Mr. Mnuchin failed to disclose about $100 million in personal assets to the Senate committee vetting him last week (“an oversight,” he called it), as well as his role in an investment fund registered to a Cayman Islands tax haven. In his hearing, Mr. Mnuchin acknowledged that OneWest, a subprime lender he bought and rebranded, foreclosed on military veterans and widows in the aftermath of the housing crisis. Still, he said, he’s “proud of our results.”
Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s pick for education secretary, is an advocate for moving public money into private charter schools. Great wealth should certainly be no bar to public service, nor should it necessarily be a qualification. In her Senate hearing, Ms. DeVos seemed bewildered by questions about public education policy, philosophy and law. But as the child of one billionaire and the spouse of another, her path to confirmation is most likely smoothed by her record of spreading cash to Republicans on the committee, and in the Senate.
Meanwhile, over at the State Department one finds Rex Tillerson, now busily divesting himself of many millions in Exxon stock. At Labor is Andrew Puzder, a Trump pal and fast-food magnate who has paid millions to settle class-action lawsuits over claims of labor law violations. He likes the idea of replacing workers with machines because, he said, “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
And did Mr. Trump pick Linda McMahon, the billionaire ex-chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, for boss of the Small Business Administration because she’s a start-up enterprise policy wonk? Or was it because she and her husband, whose head Mr. Trump famously shaved in the ring, held two WrestleManias in a struggling Trump hotel and gave $7 million toward his campaign?
Mr. Trump’s odd interpretation of governance by the working class extends beyond his planned cabinet. He named Carl Icahn, 1980s corporate raider and close friend, his adviser on overhauling federal regulations, including those that govern financial empires. Corey Lewandowski, former Trump campaign manager, proudly tweeted about an article on his new lobbying business in which he is called “a D.C. fixer peddling access to the White House.”
And on it goes. Standing in the rain during Mr. Trump’s inaugural speech, farmers and factory workers, truckers, nurses and housekeepers greeted his anti-establishment words by cheering “Drain the Swamp!” even as the new president was standing knee-deep in a swamp of his own.