The television detective, Sgt. Joe Friday, used to say “All we want are the facts.” President Donald Trump promised that he would hire only “the best and most serious people.” It was an important pledge, since the success of any presidential administration largely depends on the people the president appoints to run the government. So, after 32 months in office, let’s take a look at the facts.
Trump claimed he would run government efficiently, “like a businessman,” and “drain the swamp,” meaning to eliminate corruption. On the basis of his appointees, he has failed miserably on both accounts. He has had an astounding 80% turnover of top officials, more than triple the average for other presidents during the same period of time. Many of the departed appointees — Trump’s “the best” — have been subjected to brutal public attacks by Trump. A few examples: “mixed up and confused” and “disgraceful” (Sessions), “he lost his mind” (Bannon), “dumb as a rock and lazy as hell” (Tillerson), “a crazed, crying lowlife” (Manigault).
His appointees have made the proverbial D.C. swamp dramatically deeper and wider. Cabinet officials have repeatedly been enmeshed in conflicts of interest and scandal. Here are just a few examples, and there are a great many, of his “best and most serious.”
Recently, a federal court held Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in contempt for improperly collecting loan payments from students of the defunct, for-profit Corinthian College. DeVos, an investor in for-profit private “colleges” has weakened enforcement efforts against these often fraudulent businesses (remember Trump “University”). DeVos is just one of many Trump cabinet appointees with gross conflicts.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has been accused of managing her job to help her family’s shipping business. Tom Price, Trump’s first secretary of health and human services, used public office to help drug companies and then invested for huge profits in those very companies. Not to be outdone, Trump’s former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brenda Fitzgerald, bought shares in tobacco companies while she headed the agency that regulates them.
The conflict of interest king in Trump’s rogues' gallery is David Bernhardt, the Secretary of the Interior, who is under investigation for seven different ethics violations. Bernhardt, who lobbied for Big Ag corporations and fossil fuel conglomerates, has repeatedly made policy decisions to benefit his former benefactors. His policies have put endangered species in peril to benefit wealthy agricultural and chemical corporations. He has handed over millions acres of public land to his paymasters in the oil industry
Then there’s Scott Pruitt, the former EPA head, who rented a D.C. condo at bargain basement rates from an energy lobbyist with business before his agency. He even tried to use his office to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise (couldn’t he at least aimed for Culver's?). And don’t forget Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who treated military jets like a personal taxi service, flying himself and his new wife to see the total solar eclipse. He even tried to hit the taxpayers up for a $25,000-an-hour military jet for a European honeymoon.
I’m just scratching the surface. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta had to resign because of public disgust with his role giving convicted sex predator and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein a slap (or really light tap) on the wrist sentence. Rob Porter, White House staff secretary, and speechwriter David Sorensen left the White House in disgrace because of accusations of domestic abuse. Not to forget a few so outrageous that they came and went in less than a month, like National Security adviser Michael Flynn and press secretary Anthony Scaramucci.
So folks, those are just the facts. Pretty damning, aren’t they?
Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.
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