The Trump Administration: A Confederacy of Dunces

Appointments and Allies - Donald Trump is not an LGBTQ Ally

We now know what an “anti-elitist” Administration looks like.

It isn’t simply Keystone Kop Cabinet-level appointees who know nothing about the agencies they lead: Betsy DeVos, who lacks any background or training in education, never attended public schools, and never sent her children to public schools; Rick Perry, who barely eked out an agriculture degree and cheerfully admits he had no idea what the Department of Energy did; Scott Pruitt, who scorns “elitist” scientists, denies climate change, and is methodically dismantling the EPA at a time when its expertise is most needed. Etc.

Trump’s roster of White House advisers and Cabinet officials has been called the least experienced in recent presidential history.

But Trump’s war on “elitists”–defined as people who know what they’re talking about–extends well into the bureaucracy. Some recent examples:

  • Sam Clovis, a former right-wing radio talk-show host and failed Senate candidate from Iowa, has been nominated to be the chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ProPublica reports that Clovis is a vocal climate change denier who has no formal training in science at all.
  • Appointments to the Department of Health and Human Services have been anti-evidence culture warriors. The Hill reports that “Trump has appointed some of the nation’s worst anti-women’s health extremists to top cabinet posts in the agency, including the designation of birth control skeptic Teresa Manning to lead the nation’s family planning program.” One of the newest HHS additions — Valerie Huber — is a vocal advocate for discredited and misleading abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
  • Of the 28 appointments to the Department of Energy analyzed by Pro Publicaonly 10 had any relevant experience, and most of those had worked as lawyers, advocates or spokespeople for coal, oil or gas companies. (Then there are those appointees that Pro Publica calls “wild cards,” like Kyle Yunaska, a tax analyst at Georgetown University whose primary connection to the administration appears to be his status as the brother-in-law of Eric Trump.)

Media has focused more upon Trump’s paucity of nominations than the appalling nature of the nominations he has made; hundreds of positions remain vacant seven months into his term. Given the “quality” of his nominees, that may actually be a blessing.

The one area in which he has sent numerous nominees to be confirmed is the Judiciary, and those nominees are terrifying. Two examples:

  • John Kenneth Bush, Trump’s nominee for the Sixth Circuit, contributed regularly to Elephants in the Bluegrass, a political blog run by his wife, posting far-fetched parallels between Barack Obama and Monica Lewinsky and calling slavery and abortion two of America’s greatest tragedies. He consistently cited WorldNetDaily, an extremist publication known for peddling conspiracy theories and white nationalism, including the lie that Obama was not born in the United States.
  • Damien Schiff is Trump’s nominee for the US Court of Federal Claims. He has called Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute” in a post,  strongly disagreed with the Court’s decision ending punishment for sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas, and criticized a school district for teaching students that homosexual families and heterosexual families are equally moral.

When “elitism” is defined as expertise, and people who know what they are doing are for that reason disqualified, ideology and incompetence fill the void.

There’s a saying to the effect that the only foes that truly threaten America are the enemies at home: ignorance, superstition and incompetence.  Trump is the trifecta.

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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