A Field Guide to Trump’s Swamp

For me, a social anthropologist who has long studied how elites wield power and influence, President-elect Donald Trump and his Cabinet picks, near picks, and other associates make for a fascinating field study, writes Janine R. Wedel  in anthropology journal Sapiens.


This collection of primarily white men includes the wealthiest Cabinet members in U.S. history, chosen by the man who will be the wealthiest U.S. president ever. Many of them are slated to take charge of missions and bureaucracies they have vowed to thwart or even eliminate. And the vast majority of this homogenous group exhibit some form of conflict of interest, just like their chieftain, who, indications are, may take conflicts of interest to an unprecedented level for a U.S. president. Trump busts presidential norms not only in his own personal conduct but also in the number of conflicted players surrounding him—and in the magnitude of their conflicts.


Trump is only now taking office, and yet his legacy is already breathtaking. During the presidential transition, he has defied rules of both the modern democratic state (those of accountability, as seen in not releasing his tax returns, a rarity in recent memory), and the “free” market (those of competition, as seen in his strong-arming of U.S. companies like Carrier and Boeing). Such defiance, my research shows, is common among today’s most unrestrained and innovatively unaccountable power brokers, though Trump’s unapologetic brazenness is unmatched.


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