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The Latest Crop of the Best and Brightest

Sam Clovis won’t become the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, but if he avoids prison time we’re sure he’ll find work somewhere. Why he’s not taking that plum USDA gig and why he was offered it in the first place, though, makes for an interesting story.
Clovis had previously worked at a fairly high level on President Donald Trump’s campaign, and given that he’s not a scientist and in fact has no scientific training at all that’s most likely the reason he was nominated to be the USDA’s chief scientist. Other Trump appointees have been confirmed with a similar lack of relevant credentials for the important jobs they were appointed to, and Clovis might well have survived the Senate’s scrutiny at a hearing that was scheduled for next week, but once again the “Russia thing” has complicated matters.
Earlier this week it was announced that former campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous had pleaded guilty to lying to a special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” and has since been a “proactive cooperator” with the investigation. There’s some speculation that means he’s been wearing a microphone to record conversations with other targets of the investigation, but it’s known for sure that he’s also turned over some e-mails he sent to other campaign officials offering to use his contacts with the Russian government to acquire information to be used against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. One of the campaign officials he e-mailed was Clovis, and Papadopolous has also coughed up Clovis’s e-mailed replies encouraging an “off the record” meeting with the Russians and even a trip to Moscow “if it is feasible.”
There might be some perfectly reasonable explanation, and Clovis’s high-powered attorney explains it as the cordial response of “a polite gentleman from Iowa,” but he chose not to make his case to the Democrats on the Agriculture Committee. In his letter of withdrawal to the president Clovis wrote that “The political climate inside Washington has made impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The relentless assault on you and your teams seems a blood sport that only increases with intensity each day.” Trump no doubt appreciated the sympathy, but his press secretary promptly announced that “We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination.”
The “Russia thing” had already led to Trump’s Attorney General recusing himself from the matter, the resignation of a national security advisor, the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and his another campaign and transition official on charges ranging from money-laundering to “conspiracy against the United States,” and now it forces the withdrawal of the nomination for a high-ranking post by yet another campaign official. Trump’s die-hard defenders can blame it all on the political climate in Washington and the left’s relentless assaults on Trump and his team, but to the rest of the country it doesn’t look good.
By now the most benign explanation for the “Russia thing,” and one that some die-hard defenders are already seizing on, is that from top to bottom the Trump campaign was entirely comprised of political neophytes who didn’t know any better than to have undisclosed contacts with Russians offering campaign dirt, so of course nothing came of it, but that also doesn’t look good. Back during the campaign Trump somehow made a selling point of his political inexperience, contrasting it with the hated “establishment” and its snooty know-it-alls, but he also promised he was going to hire the very best people to run the government, and its proving hard to keep that promise with a talent pool entirely comprised of political neophytes untainted by any previous government service.
Clovis holds a doctorate in public administration and once hosted a talk radio show and has a talk radio show’s host for making provocative statements, so we don’t doubt his intelligence nor his appeal to Trump, but the bill that created the position he was applying for states that appointees come “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” There’s nothing on Clovis’s resume that remotely fits that bill, which fits a disturbing pattern with Trump’s appointments.
After Trump was elected president a watchdog group called American Oversight started up to keep a keen eye on him, and they’ve been keeping an especially keen eye on his appointments. So far they’ve spotted an assistant secretary of energy whose last job before volunteering for the Trump campaign was managing a Meineke Car Care shop in New Jersey, a congressional relations employee for the Department of Housing and Urban Developments whose last job before the Trump campaign was “bartender/bar manager,” and confidential assistants — whatever that is — at the the USDA whose previous pre-Trump jobs were “cabana attendant” and trucker and scented-candle maker. Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican is Callista Gingrich, whose only apparent credentials are being Catholic and Newt Gingrich’s third wife, his ambassador to the Dominican Republics speaks little Spanish but does have a membership at Mar-a-Lago, and we’re sure American oversight will come up with more examples.
Many of Trump’s higher-profile picks have also had ill-fitting resumes for their jobs. He chose former Republican rival-turned-supporter and world-renowned brain surgeon Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which ain’t brain surgery, but neither is it rocket science, so brain surgeons and rocket scientists aren’t the most likely candidates for the job. Fellow billionaire and staunch supporter Betsy DeVos was chosen as Secretary of Education, and although we quite like her ideas about school choice and color-blind school discipline and such she doesn’t have seem to have any experience running a large bureaucracy or educating small children. Trump’s Secretary of State had spent his entire career rising to the top spot at the Exxon Corporation, where his biggest foreign policy achievement was winning Russia’s “Friendship Medal” after negotiating a multi-billion dollar deal for Russian oil if sanctions are ever level, and although some of us now see him as a moderating force in the administration both the most die-hard supporters and hard-core critics of Trump want him gone.
Meanwhile, all sorts of positions go unfilled, either because of congressional or the fact that Trump hasn’t nominated anyone. Trump has defiantly told interviewers that he doesn’t intend to ever fill some of the expensive positions, his Secretary of State has also promised downsizing, but half the department’s appointed positions are being ignored and some of them seem pretty darned important. There are still nominees for ambassadors to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, or assistant secretaries for Near East and South and Central Asian affairs, where some experienced hands are clearly needed.
That promise to burn down the establishment and bring in the very best people to replace it is going prove very difficult to keep. Some jobs require relevant experience, and in a political climate where that taints you as an establishment know-it-all things are bound to go wrong.

— Bud Norman

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The Endless Campaign

President Donald Trump held another of his large and raucous campaign rallies in Florida on Saturday, which seems odd given that the last presidential election occurred nearly four months ago and the next one won’t take place for another three years and eight month or so. At this point in a presidency most presidents are busy filling the last of their administration posts, sending out the smart people they’ve already brought on to make a reasoned case to both the congress and broader public for the policies being proposed, digging into all the rest of the dreary work of a thankless office, and breathing a sigh of relief that the past campaign is four months over and the next won’t begin until a few days after the mid-term elections that are still nearly two months away.
Pretty much everything about the presidency of President Donald Trump seems odd, though, as his most strident critics will bitterly complain and his most ardent supports will proudly boast. Trump is behind schedule in filling such administration posts as Deputy Secretary to several of the more consequential Secretaries he’s been having trouble getting approved, largely because so many of the potential pool of conservative and Republican establishment figures had critical things to say about him during the campaign, but his most strident critics never liked any of those guys and his most ardent supporters are even more disdainful of the Republican establishment. So far the only detailed policy that has been trotted out is a temporary ban on travel into the United States from a limited number of Muslim-majority countries, which made some sense and had some obvious flaws and has since been so endlessly revised and re-intepreted and beset by such legal challenges both reasonable and absurd that both the smart people sent out to explain and the strident critics opposing it wound up looking ridiculous. So far, both sides seem delighted about everything.
Digging into the dreary work of a thankless office doesn’t seem Trump’s style, based on what we’ve observed of the man over his long career as a celebrity real estate and casino and strip club and minor league football and pro-wrestling and scam university mogul and constant tabloid sex scandal subject and better-ratings-than-Arnold-Schwarzenegger-and-should-have-won-an-Emmy reality television star, and he also doesn’t seem the type to breath a sigh of relief at being momentarily out of the spotlight of a campaign. “Life is a campaign,” Trump told a bevy of reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to the rally. “Making America great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign.” By now it should be clear that the campaign will last for the rest of all our natural lives, and will forever need fresh foes to vanquish more than it needs objective improvements in American life.
Even before the big Florida rally Trump had returned to bashing the throughly vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a widely watched news conference, and reviving unproved claims that she didn’t really win the popular vote by an embarrassing three million or so votes due to massive voter fraud, and making a provably false claim that his electoral victory was the biggest since Reagan’s and then embarrassingly attributing it to “the information I heard,” and it seems clear he’ll still be running against Clinton for the next three years and eight months or so. We take a back seat to no one in our disdain for Clinton, and were criticizing her way back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her to the hilt in his non-stop interviews, but by now we’re happy to let the subject drop.
Clinton not only lost her second and final attempt at the presidency but lost it to Trump, which is surely an innermost circle of hell that the combined imaginations of Dante Alighieri and Hieronymus Bosch and ourselves could not have conceived for her, and she will likely spend the rest of her addled days wandering the woods of upstate New York with no contributions flowing into her defunct charity and her speaking fees and book royalties at a bargain-basement price, and at at this point even Trump isn’t leading the rallies in chants of “lock her up.” At any rate she no longer seems an impediment to making America great again, so we’re eager to hear more about how Trump intends to achieve that with her well out of the way.
Apparently, though, there are other foes to be vanquished before the gain get around to explaining how he’s going to make everything better. There’s that pesky free press, of course, with all its fake news about how the administration isn’t humming like a finely-tuned machine and Trump isn’t already making America great again. During the rally he quoted Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln criticizing the press, which goes to show how long those nasty newspapers have been trying to undermine a free republic, and his most ardent supporters agreed not read anything negative they read about Trump, which caused his most strident critics to pull their hair and gnash their teeth, which gave great glee to all of Trump’s most ardent supporters, but such old conservative and Republicans hands as ourselves wondered how that was making America great again.
There is the very real and ever-present threat of Islamist terrorism, and Trump rightly mentioned that, but during that portion of the rally he also alluded to “what happened last night in Sweden.” So far as anyone can tell the biggest story in Sweden the night before was a microphone failure on a popular amateur singing contest called “Melfest,” which all those snooty reporters from the hated press and all the rest of Trump’s most strident critics had great fun reporting, and which all of Trump’s most ardent supporters were explaining to a general crime problem among Sweden’s Muslim immigrant population which had been reported on the night before on the Fox News network. Trump’s most ardent supporters love him because he means what he says, even though they often have to explain that what he said wasn’t really what he meant to say, but for all our longstanding concern about Islamist terrorism we’re not inclined to make such excuses for such sloppy language. Oh, and there are gangsters galore out there terrorizing America’s streets, but so far as we can tell the recent uptick in crime — which objectively are still nowhere near the 45-year highs Trump constantly claims, even when addressing law enforcement officers who damn well know better — is driven mostly by Chicago and a couple of other big Democratic controlled cities, and Trump wasn’t altogether clear about he was going to do about that.
Trump has described certain of his critics as “the enemy of the American people,” which also seems odd, given the terms association with the Roman Senate’s accusation against the Emperor Nero and the Henrik Ibsen play that Hitler somehow misread and the Bolsheviks’ slaughter of the kulaks, but we don’t suppose that Trump or any of his most ardent supporters are aware of any of that. In any case we hope we won’t be so accused, not because we’re afraid the thin-and-orange-skinned demagogue bothers himself with such small fry as ourselves, but because we’re all in favor of the people and wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise. We’d love to see a sensible skepticism about travel from Muslim-majority countries, and a more honest and accountable press, and a finely-tuned administration repealing bothersome regulations and freeing the private sector from bossy interventions, and safe streets even in Chicago, and all the things that have so long been yearned for the boring old Republican establishment that Trump has vowed to vanquish.
So far it seems an odd beginning, though, and something in our boring old Republican establishment souls would much prefer a president digging into the dreary work of a thankless office and sharing our sigh of relief that the campaign is at least momentarily over.

— Bud Norman