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Newsletter | Revolving Door Project Newsletter | June 26, 2024

A Trump Administration Postmortem for the 2024 Election Season

2024 ElectionExecutive BranchGovernance

Revisiting the damage Trump’s administration did to the body politic.

This newsletter was originally published on our Substack. Read and subscribe here.

How much do you remember about what politics was like under President Donald Trump? I would not blame you for putting Trump’s parade of scandals in the rearview mirror. But we have to look again, because that clown show is still on the road. It’s in our blind spot, endeavoring to pull ahead. 

It’s the media’s job to help us remember, and—as if we were suffering from a concussion—to periodically shake us awake, preventing us from sleepwalking into the straitjacket of Trump’s embrace. Some indomitable journalists and outlets are laser-focused on this mission, while other swaths of the mainstream media continue to administer the general political anesthesia themselves. It’s clear that all of us could do with a quick, visceral reminder of what it was we lived through: the extensive destruction that the Biden administration has expended great effort to (mostly) undo, and which looms all over again as a possibility.

We’ve put together a tool for anyone who wants to jump-start their memory, or who knows some sleepwalkers in need of a wake up call. Our series of short retrospectives highlights how Trump and his hand-picked honchos across the executive branch worked to make life a bit worse for people across eight different issue areas: disaster managementeducationenvironmentfinancial regulationhousingimmigrationlabor, and transportation

We revisit the cartoonish corruption of Trump’s personnel picks, like: 

  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the billionaire heir and GOP donor who didn’t believe in public education.
  • Head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no public policy experience whatsoever.
  • Head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, whose previous experience with environmental protection was suing the EPA fourteen times, and who “misspent millions in public funds on 24/7 private security, first-class plane tickets, chartered jets, and renovations” at EPA, “while misusing EPA staffers to find his wife a job and do his personal errands.”
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who brought a zeal for deregulating Wall Street to the Treasury Department after spending his previous career profiting from foreclosures during the Great Recession, leading a bank whose aggressive foreclosure practices preyed on elderly homeowners and whose loaning practices discriminated against racial minorities in California.
  • Head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney, who did his best to prevent the Bureau from protecting any consumer’s finances, reducing enforcement activity by 80 percent and “gunning for the repeal of the payday lending rules that were instituted to protect consumers from predatory lending practices.” 
  • Senior Advisor for Policy Stephen Miller, who was an architect of Trump’s racist immigration policies including Title 42 expulsions, family separation, and the Muslim Ban, and who “has been described as a ‘catch-all symbol of the racism and malice’ of Trump’s White House, and a particularly controversial one given his promotion of explicitly white nationalist books and articles as well as his close ties to prominent white nationalists like Richard Spencer.”
  • A succession of Labor Secretary picks, first Alexander Pudzer, a fast food executive whose nomination fell through “after a series of scandals including domestic violence accusations, employing an undocumented housekeeper, and outsourcing his company’s technology jobs to the Philippines”; then Alexander Acosta, who resigned after renewed sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein shed light on the Epstein plea deal that Acosta had previously agreed to as U.S. Attorney; and finally Eugene Scalia, corporate lawyer and son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In a dark demonstration of how “personnel is policy,” empowering cruel and corrupt individuals to head up executive branch agencies led to cruel and corrupt decision-making like: 

  • Prioritizing disaster aid according to how much it helped Trump politically, slow-walking aid to Puerto Rico in the wake of Irma and Maria, two consecutive disastrous hurricanes.
  • Rolling back over 100 environmental safeguards, rollbacks which a Lancet report estimated killed 22,000 people in 2019 alone. Air pollution increased in heavily industrialized eras after 47 years on the decline, causing more premature births, more premature deaths, more chronic health conditions.
  • Separating at least 5,000 children from their families, and imprisoning almost 500,000 children in unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded conditions for significantly longer than the legal 72-hour limit, creating lasting traumas for them and their families. 
  • Weakening financial regulations that were passed after the financial crash in 2008, directly contributing to the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, and creating “an environment ripe for financial malfeasance and systemic risk.”
  • Overseeing “the shattering of American supply chains, causing massive inflationary pressure; presid[ing] over the Boeing 747 MAX 8 disaster in 2019, where the US stalled and lost credibility as a leader in civilian aviation; and repeal[ing] rail safety regulations, which made derailments, like the one last winter in East Palestine, Ohio much more dangerous.”
  • Proposing to triple rents for the nation’s poorest tenants just months after Congress enacted Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut for the top 1%.
  • Hiring revolvers from the for-profit college industry while passing a rule making it easier for for-profit colleges to rip off students and dismantling the office which investigated fraud at for-profit colleges.
  • Enabling tip theft by restaurant managers and owners, reducing overtime pay, and expanding the definition of who qualifies as an independent contractor while removing minimum wage, discrimination, and overtime protections for independent contractors.

As my colleague Timi reminds us, “the president’s primary responsibility is to direct the vast apparatus known as the executive branch of the federal government.” Trump wielded this vast apparatus for personal enrichment, and for the benefit of his fellow white collar criminals. Our executive director Jeff puts it this way: “Donald Trump’s most important legacy as president wasn’t what he said, or even what bills he signed, but how he turned the federal government into a favor machine to benefit his family and cronies.” 

One thing is for certain—if Trump becomes president again, he’ll do worse than the litany of horrors we outline in this series. Check out “The People’s Guide to Project 2025” from Democracy Forward to understand the radical right-wing plan to dismantle the government and undermine democracy from day one of Trump 2.0. 

Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week: 

CRFB Misleads About Spending

The Truth About Matt Yglesias and Inflation

Low-Emission ‘Gas Certification’ Is Greenwashing, Climate Advocates Conclude in a Contested New Report

Watchdog memos show a Trump ‘utterly indifferent to the public interest’ in first term

‘Truly Horrifying’: Trump allies already making list of federal employees to target

Boeing’s Old Friend Inside Biden’s Justice Department

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More articles by Hannah Story Brown

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