Only the Best People

Alan Zendell, August 27, 2018

Viewed objectively, “the best people” is a phrase that must by its nature be subjective, one that differs in the eye of each beholder. Indirectly acknowledging his own lack of specific expertise in the various facets of governing, candidate Donald Trump repeatedly used it to promise voters that only the most qualified people would be given important jobs in his administration.

Because of the emphasis he placed on defense and national security, his appointments in those areas were his first test. At the urging of a wide spectrum of military leaders, his most impressive pick was Defense Secretary James Mattis, someone we can rely on to protect the nation. But after Mattis it was all downhill.

Trump’s first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was fired weeks into the job due to serious conflicts of interest with Russia and Vladimir Putin, and lying to the FBI about them. His replacement, H. R. McMaster, was a no-nonsense Army General who called things as he saw them. He might have been an excellent replacement, but he wouldn’t toe Trump’s line on Russia, and his remarks about Russian aggression and information warfare resulted in the now familiar pattern of the president attacking and ridiculing his own people when they displease him.

McMaster and Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, were both high quality appointments, but Trump couldn’t get along with either of them. After being trolled by Trump in the media, McMaster was ignominiously replaced by John Bolton, a Bush era war hawk who is disrespected by most of the defense establishment. As for Tillerson, he was overheard telling the truth about what he thought of Trump. Exit one Secretary of State.

Continuing with the Cabinet, we have Tom Price and Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choices to head the Department of Health and Human Services, the largest agency in the government, and the Environmental Protection Agency. After months of corruption, violation of government regulations, and evidence of enriching themselves at taxpayer expense, both resigned in disgrace. And consider Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, whose only qualification for the job was her disdain for public education and her support for Trump’s brand of elitism.

Last but surely not least, we cannot discuss the president’s Cabinet without recalling the sad tale of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions committed the unpardonable crime of integrity, recusing himself from the Russia investigation, in which he was likely to be asked to testify. For that he has been subjected to eighteen months of insults and attacks from the president. The country has literally never witnessed anything like it.

Trump’s first two campaign managers Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski both had to be replaced within a few months. Manafort was fired because of shady business practices and his dealings with Russia, which ultimately led to his conviction on eight felony counts in federal court. Lewandowski, a staunch ultra-right wing political advisor was fired because he couldn’t get along with Trump’s family.

Also ranking high on the list of failed Trump hires are Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. Bannon tried to use Trump’s infatuation with him to advance his Alt-Right political agenda, but like others who refused to kowtow to the president’s ego, Trump finally fired him, proving that even the worst of intentions can have a positive result. Priebus, who was totally ineffectual as White House Chief of Staff, only lasted a few months.

In the main, Trump’s appointments fall into two categories: really terrible ones and good, strong people who rubbed Trump the wrong way because they refused to bow to Trump’s ego and give in to what they considered his wrong-headed policies. Another of the latter was Gary Cohn, Trump’s first pick for Chief Economic Advisor. Cohn was among the great majority of economists who opposed Trump’s desire for a full-scale trade war. He refused to back down, and that made his stay in the White House untenable.

To round out the list of unmemorable Trump appointments, we mustn’t forget Sebastian Gorka, whose lack of qualifications was exceeded only by his arrogance and nastiness. And we should at least give waves to such notables as Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci, Hope Hicks, Omarosa Manigault-Newman, and Ronny Jackson.

Trump has shown a remarkable capacity for either picking the wrong people or alienating and being unable to work with those who are competent and carry themselves with grace and integrity, two different failings with a single cause. The problem is that Trump values personal loyalty above all else, which frequently renders him unable to recognize the right person for a job, even when he or she is in plain view. What more evidence do we need than his treatment of John McCain?

John McCain, who Trump refused to acknowledge as a war hero because he’d been shot down over Hanoi, captured, and imprisoned by the North Vietnamese. John McCain, who Trump insulted and attacked relentlessly because he remained true to his own values when Trump tried to run roughshod over them. John McCain, who has always been a uniter and a gentleman, and who is being lauded by everyone in public life who ever worked with him.

Everyone, that is, except Donald Trump.

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