Noam Chomsky calls the Republican Party the most dangerous entity in human history. Those are strong words from a guy who makes a living as a linguist. But think about it: The GOP is a den of climate-change deniers and corporate connivers, that fiddles and prevaricates while unprecedented environmental trends endanger the security of not only our nation but the security of people everywhere. Changing global weather patterns and rising temperatures are escalating much faster than science had anticipated threatening the entire planet’s biosphere. Accompanied by a dissembling president with a penchant for nuclear saber rattling, the GOP proves itself worthy of Chomsky’s damnatory portrayal.
The late Gore Vidal once praised author and journalist John Nichols, stating: “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, Nichols’ sword is the sharpest.” With his most recent book, Nichols lives up to such praise. In a timely volume, “Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse,” he enlightens the labyrinthine corridors of governmental power. Nichols offers revealing vignettes of 45 individuals who compose that rebarbative rogue’s gallery known as the Trump administration. Each is given a brief information-packed chapter. Though this book became available less than one month ago, some depicted servants of the Donald — such as Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka — have already departed the kingdom of Trump.
Written with typical flair and an erudite grasp of history, this is more than a handy reference work. Nichols says the book “is written in a period of resistance to an imperial and imperiling presidency. It proposes to strengthen that resistance by providing insight into the whole of the Trump enterprise. That fuller view, which extends beyond a president to examine a presidency, is essential. It is the wellspring of the popular authority that in a democratic republic can still check and balance the governing leviathan.” Nichols is clear the book is not meant to focus simply on the flawed president’s character but on “Trumpism” defined as “the combination of propaganda and power, paranoia and plutocracy — that now grips America.”
Divided into four parts, various Trumpians are categorized under the rubric appropriate to their roles and affiliations. With an administration unusually top-heavy with military brass, the section “Generals and CEOs Searching for Monsters to Destroy” is instructive. The film “Patton” is a Trump favorite. Apparently nothing impresses him more than high military ranking. Writes Nichols: “Trump’s generals, and the civilians aligned with them, share the current president’s passion for massive military spending, for a pumped up Pentagon, for war preparation on an unprecedented level and for the waging of wars with a no-holds-barred aggressiveness that could unsettle Dick Cheney.”
One postulate that is supposed to have guided the American experiment over the course of our history is that the military is never to be independent of civilian control. A noble but not consistent guideline. The Department of Defense was created in 1947. It was stipulated a military officer could not become secretary of that body until at least 10 years out of uniform. In 2008 that was changed to seven years. However Secretary of Defense James Mattis retired as commander of U.S. Central Command in 2013. A special waiver was necessary.
Nicknamed “Mad Dog,” Mattis is also known as a “warrior monk,” an intellectual steeped in the reading of history. Yet his nickname would seem fitting. Once he asserted to Iraqi leaders: “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.” The waiver granting Mattis the post was not without controversy. But the Senate went ahead. He got the job on Trump’s Inauguration Day. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, was the sole naysayer. Previous to the vote she had made it clear: “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”
Washington native Patrick Shanahan is noted in the chapter “The Deputy Secretary for Boeing.” A senior vice president at Boeing, Shanahan became Trump’s pick for deputy secretary of defense after Michéle Flournoy bowed out. The seasoned Flournoy had been an adviser to Robert Gates and Leon Panetta during Obama’s first term. According to Nichols, Flournoy had no interest enlisting in an administration with the likes of Trump at the helm. Regarding the new pick, The Seattle Times noted, “Shanahan, 54, has no military or political experience” but he is “familiar with defense procurement from the business side.” Nichols refers to Shanahan as “a living, breathing embodiment of the military-industrial complex.” Again he quotes The Seattle Times stating that Shanahan’s appointment “is the latest sign of an increasingly cozy relationship” between Trump’s administration and the aerospace behemoth.
Some individuals vetted herein are not regular news fare, such as Seema Verma. Who? In the chapter “Health Care Profiteer,” Nichols describes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as “a powerful federal agency that you’ve probably never heard of.” Newly appointed Verma quickly notified the nation’s governors that she and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price would be “ushering in a new era for the federal and state Medicaid partnership where states have more freedom to design programs that meet the spectrum of diverse needs of their Medicaid population.” She suggested the imposition of insurance premiums for Medicaid and charging those with Medicaid for emergency room visits. Verma also said that Medicaid recipients should think about getting a job regardless of their health.
During Mike Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana, Verma’s consulting firm was behind the Healthy Indiana Plan described by Nichols as “a consumer driven insurance program” that had been considered as a blueprint for “an alternative to Obamacare.” For her efforts, Verma’s operation received “$3.5 million in state contracts.” Commenting on this, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell observed that Verma had made “millions of dollars in consulting fees by kicking poor, working people off of Medicaid for failure to pay monthly contributions similar to premiums.”
There is much more in Nichols’ informative volume. He is to be thanked for offering citizens an accessible work to help guide us through these dark and dangerous times.
WHAT: John Nichols, author of “Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse”
WHEN: Monday, Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Summit on Pike, 420 E Pike St. Seattle
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full September 6 issue.
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