President-Elect Trump has almost completed his cabinet appointments with Rex W. Tillerman, another 'Yiwanren' (A Chinese term for people worth above one hundred million is an unique term having no equivalent vocabulary in English, that id between a millionaire and billionaire) named as his Secretary of State. Taking a quick view of Trump's appointees, you may get a feeling that he is organizing a rich men's club with names like Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), Betsy Devos (Secretary of Education) and Linda McMahon (Small Business Administration) all worth more than a billion dollars and many more millionaires. On a closer look, we find that Trump's cabinet does not have all gold fixtures like his Trump Tower cabinets. There are at least five members (out of 20 announced appointees), Mike Pence (VP), Jim Mattis (Secretary of Defense), John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland Security), Mike Pompeo (CIA Director) and Reince Priebus (White House Chief of Staff) with publicly reported net worth less than a million. In addition, there were no published net worth data on Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency) and Michael Flynn (National Security Advisor), so it is fair to chuck off the idea that Trump is going to run the country like a billionaire filling his top posts all with other billionaires.
Trump has always been cherishing his self-made billions and he is certainly proud to be called a billionaire; in his Presidential bid, he has recognized that the U.S. is broke and poor and prioritized his goal to fix the nation's finances. So, it is not surprising that he surrounds himself with experienced wealthy individuals capable of making money to fulfill his mandate to make America great again - really - rich again. Trump seems to believe that people with experience in building personal wealth will have better idea to make America rich again. But Trump also understands the value of being thrift to build wealth; this can be seen from his remarks calling the administration to reduce waste including his criticism of the billionaire dollar price tag Boeing has estimated for a new US Air Force One. Based on this light, we will review Trump's cabinet appointments and assess whether his team will collectively accomplish his mandate - to fix America's ills and make her rich again.
Trump's Vice President Pick of Mike Pence was a good move which helped significantly in getting him elected. Pence not a millionaire but had a proud record being the Governor of Indiana building a growing economy with a balanced budget, low taxes and conservative principles. So it is understandable that Pence has been trusted by Trump as his right-hand man to serve the chairmanship of his transition team replacing Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey tarnished by the Bridgegate scandal. Christie had over staffed the transition team with lobbyists which Trump recognized and smartly removed them. Trump’s transition team led by Pence is sizable having 13 vice chair expanded from original six and a 21-person executive committee including Donald, Jr., Ivanka (and husband Jared Kushner) and Eric Trump. Seven of the thirty four members in the transition team have been appointed with a cabinet position, they are Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing), Jeff Session (Attorney General), K.T. McFarland (Deputy National Security Advisor), Steve Mnunchin (Secretary of the Treasury), Steve Bannon in addition to Michael Flynn and Reince Priebus mentioned above. The much talked about names in the transition team, Chris Christi, Newt Gingerich and Rudy Giuliani did not receive any appointment.
Trump seems to rely on experienced business people to fix the financial problems of the U.S. Let’s look the following appointees: Steven Mnuchin was Trump campaign’s finance chairman, a former Goldman Sachs banker and an investor with experience in turning around a failed mortgage company with aggressive foreclosure measure; he is a proponent of cutting corporate taxes, now named as the secretary of the Treasury. Wilbur Ross, a billionaire, made his name in restructuring steel and textile corporations; he is the architect of ‘America First’ trade vision, now named as the Secretary of Commerce. Linda Mc Mahon, another billionaire, made fame and fortune in sports entertainment (World Wrestling Entertainment); she is a proponent for cutting red tape, now named head of the Small Business Administration. Rick Perry, twice Presidential candidate and former Texas Governor had experience with alternative energy in Texas; In his book, Fed Up!, he criticizes federal government taking too much sovereignty and wealth from the states, now named Secretary of Energy. It is interesting to see whether this team can create or bring industries back to the U.S. producing jobs for Americans and obtain a trade surplus.
On national security and defense, Trump has shown his distrust of the ‘old ways of doing things’, thus his appointments have a mix of new and experienced people. His choice of Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Chief Executive of Exxon, made extensive travel and contacts overseas, especially having a rapport with Putin; he is a proponent to improve relationship with Russia and playing Russia card against China, now heading the State Department with no government experience. One must note though Trump has appointed Terry Brandstad, Governor of Iowa, as the Ambassador to China before announcing Tillerson’s appointment. This may suggest that Trump simply would like to use people who are familiar with the leaders of China and Russia to deal with them but not necessarily able to pre-meditate a strategy of playing one against the other. Trump appoints Jim Mattis, as Secretary of Defense, a career military man with war experience in the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq; he is known as a strategist and critical of the past Administration’s Middle East strategy. Trump also tapped Michael Flynn, a retired army general and former director of intelligence briefly under Obama administration, as his National Security Advisor; he is famous for the chant, ‘lock her up’, and is firm against terrorists and Iran nuclear threat. Trump’s Chief Strategist, Steve Brannon, a banker with naval officer background, made a fortune producing the Seinfeld sit-com; Brannon is a nationalist with anti-immigration view. Mike Pompeo, a Congressman sitting on the intelligence committee, is picked as the Director of CIA; he is also a vocal critic of Obama Administration. John Kelly, a retired general, lost his son to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan is Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security. It will be interesting to see how this group of people with military background will shape up a strategy of national security and defense.
With limited space here, we will not comment on the other appointments so far including Scott Pruitt, Head of Environmental Protection Agency, Andre Puzder, Secretary of Labor, Jeff Sessions, Attorney General, Tom Price, Secretary of Health, Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing, Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, Betsy Devos, Secretary of Education, Nikki Haley, Ambassador to UN and Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff, except to say that we expect the experienced Secretary Chao will do fine and the new ones must climb a fast learning curve to deal with our domestic issues.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District