There are many terrifying things about Donald Trump: The fact that he has publicly praised Vladimir Putin, his rampant misogyny and racism, the fact that he has never had a job in politics before in his life. However, if these things are somehow not enough show that Trump is an extremely dangerous individual then the atrocious people he is picking for senior positions in the next government should be. Needless to say, the line-up reads as a rogue’s gallery of apologists for torture, racial and religious discrimination, deportation and all manner of abuses of civil and human rights. The common sense reaction to this should be the widespread condemnation of Trump and all his appointments from people of all political stripes, especially democrats. However, rather than present a vigorous united front against these nominees and demand that Trump replace them, Democrats and Republicans who in the past have been sensitive to concerns about civil liberties are at best offering to give them a chance and at worst supporting them!
One notable exception to this is Trumps appointment of Steven Bannon, the former head of far right propaganda outlet Breitbart news, as his chief strategist. On a policy level, Bannons appointment is potentially catastrophic. Breitbart peddles in disinformation and conspiracy theories of every far right stripe. Under Bannons leadership Breitbart – joining Infowars – has become the voice of the alt right, publishing articles promoting popular white nationalist tropes such as ‘black on white crime’ and that ‘rape culture is inherent in Islam’. It should come as no surprise then that White Nationalists and neo Nazi groups openly glorified Bannons appointment. ‘Bannon is our man in the white house’ wrote one commentator at Neo Nazi website Daily Stormer. Perhaps the most defining aspects of Bannons alt – right white supremacy, is that he vehemently denies its own existence. He is just ‘defending free speech’. He is just an anti-establishment firebrand. We are told that voting for racist policies is not a racist act. We are told that sexual assault is not a misogynist act. That mocking disabled people is not ableism and that vowing to deport Muslims and Mexican immigrants is not xenophobic.
Luckily, Bannons appointment has rightly received a wave of condemnation both from mainstream and non-mainstream sources and there is a vague chance that Bannon may not keep his job as Trump’s chief strategist. The most notable character amongst those calling for the firing of Steve Bannon is former contender for Democratic presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders. In addition to this however, some 169 House Democrats signed a letter calling on Trump to fire Bannon, pointing to allegations of anti-Semitic remarks he made. They were also joined by 10 sitting senators and Maryland’s Democratic Senator Elect Chris Van Hollen. Anti-Semitism then, would appear to be a litmus test for congressional democrats, but not Islamophobia, or the advocacy of human rights abuses like torture!
Take, for example, Michael Flynn, the former general Director of Obamas Defence Intelligence agency who Trump has tapped to be his national security advisor. Flynn was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Joint Special Operations Commands dirty wars in the Muslim world, and was critical of Obama for ending the use of torture and committing to not putting additional prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. He has also maintained a Twitter account where he doesn’t shy away from telling people that ‘Fear of all Muslims is rational’. Although Flynn does not have to face Senate confirmation, federal lawmakers could still make their voices heard about his extremism. Most in Congress have not yet responded to the Flynn pick. Indeed, the only acknowledgement of it comes from Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat member on the Senate armed services committee, who put out a statement saying that Flynn has ‘served honourably’ and that he ‘respects him’. The only note of criticism was in two separate sentences implying that the only issue with Flynn is some ill-tempered remarks he made during the presidential campaign. ‘I do not agree with Flynn on every issue. I have concerns about some of statements he made in the heat of the campaign’ Reed said.
Then there’s Trumps pick for CIA chief, Kansas Republican representative Mike Pompeo, who will have to be confirmed by the Senate. Pompeo is an outspoken defender of CIA torture that was used by the Bush administration, has called for the death penalty for NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and implied after the Boston Bombings that ‘Islamic leaders across America’ are ‘potentially complicit in these acts’ because they supposedly refuse to speak out against terrorism (they have actually spoken out many, many times). California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff did speak out against Flynn writing that he is worried about an ‘impulsive president with a volatile advisor’ – but then praised Pompeo as ‘someone who is willing to listen and engage’ even if they have differences. This is particularly troubling because Schiff is a senior member of the house intelligence committee, meaning that his views could influence many of his colleagues. Similarly, the incoming ranking senate Democrat on the intelligence committee, Virginias Mark Warner, didn’t even bother to list any disagreements with Pompeo, simply congratulating him and saying that he would ‘look forward to learning more about his views on national security and intelligence policy and his vision for the CIA’. There are also Republicans who are typically strong on civil liberties who refrained from opposing Pompeo. Michigan Republican Justin Amash, a strong critic of government intelligence agencies, noted his disagreements with Pompeo but also called him a ‘great pick’.
For the Attorney general slot, Trump picked Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who will also require Senate confirmation. Sessions has a troubling history of opposition to civil rights, and is a staunch advocate of crackdowns against undocumented immigrants. The incoming Democratic Senate leader, New York’s Chuck Schmer, said in a chummy statement that ‘I know Senator Sessions and we work out in the gym’. Schmer added ‘I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil rights division at the department of justice, and am interested to hear what he has to say’. Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake appeared unbothered by Sessions record. Flake is relatively moderate on civil rights and immigration issues, and refused to support Trump due to his advocacy of discrimination. This did not stop Flake from saying he would ‘support Sessions nomination’ however.
Criticism of the Trump picks has been scattershot. Amash, despite his praise of Pompeo, expressed concern about Sessions, noting the wide powers he will have as attorney general. Democratic Representative Don Beyer, who represents a Northern Virginia district with a large Muslim population put out a statement condemning both Flynn and Sessions. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, upon hearing that the warmongering John Bolton, may be picked as secretary of state, blasted out an op-ed denouncing the Bolton pick as a betrayal of Trumps campaign promises; He also said the Pompeo must answer for his support for waterboarding. Senate Intelligence Committee member Rob Wyden, had perhaps the strongest statements of any Democratic Senator, calling Flynn’s remarks about Muslims ‘profoundly alarming’ and criticising his position on torture and other war crimes.
Its Horrifying that Trump surged to victory with the extremely vocal backing of bigoted Nazi Saluting fascists; It’s even more alarming that Trump has given these extremists an inside track to the white house; and it’s disgusting that by doing this Trump has given the racist Nazi worshiping scumballs such an elevated sense of victory and validation. Trump is finally in a position to be held accountable, and for members of Congress to simply express isolated disagreements with these extreme nominees – but say they will support them anyway or plan to give them a fair hearing essentially – essentially throws away any leverage Congress has to pressure Trump to appoint people to the government who respect civil and human rights.