Ben Carson and Myron Ebell could soon become even more important and unconventional.
In the past, successful men who have sat in the Oval Office have appointed to cabinet and other high-profile governmental positions people who are highly-qualified for the jobs, regardless of whether or not the person was a political ally. The practice has been most publicly popularized by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” in which she wrote about President Abraham Lincoln’s filling of his administration with political rivals who were well-suited for their positions regardless.
President-Elect Donald Trump’s two rumored nominations for the heads of the Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency show us a lot about what we can expect from Trump appointments once he is actually elected to and inaugurated as President of the United States of America. Essentially, we should expect heavy Trump patronage and light regard for actual qualifications.
Ben Carson and Myron Ebell Represent Opposite of Team of Rivals
Dr. Ben Carson, a previous political opponent of Trump’s during the Republican primaries who later endorsed Trump after exiting the race, has been rumored to be Trump’s pick as Secretary of Education.
The fact is that Carson’s formal education and work history are in the medical field, specifically pediatric neurosurgery. He has no experience working in the administration or regulation of governmental agencies or academia. The Department of Education is involved in both of those arenas simultaneously.
The only time that Carson has ever voiced any opinion regarding the Department of Education is during his presidential campaign. In that interest, he proposed that the Department of Education should monitor and pull funding from colleges and universities whom in his opinion represent a bias toward liberal viewpoints.
What Carson has proposed would actually be an extension of the powers of the Department of Education. Currently, establishing curriculum and monitoring performance in the education system in the United States is a matter of local and state jurisdiction, not federal.
When President Jimmy Carter created the department in 1979, its stated mission was to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect raw data on schools in the United States and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.” Those facets have been maintained through the decades and different administrations since the Department of Education began operation in 1980.
It’s easy to perceive Carson’s potential appointment as patronage, a “kickback” for the endorsement of Trump. The ties aren’t as clear between Trump’s rumored choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, but the links in ideology are clear.
Ebell and Trump are of the Same Mind
Ebell’s denial of climate change has been well documented, as has Trump’s. Like Trump, the denial has put Ebell in the category of making claims that hinge on crazy. Trump’s claims that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy were brought up during his debates with Secretary Hillary Clinton, and in the second debate he perpetuated they myth of “clean coal.” Ebell has made statements that are no less deviations from sanity.
Ebell states his disbelief of climate change in a 2006 piece for Forbes, and says that even if it were real, it’s a good thing. He cites more mild winters as a clear benefit and says that if rising sea levels are the cost we have to pay for warmer temperatures, then that’s a trade-off he’s willing to take.
Given the rumored nomination of Carson for a position that he has zero qualifications for, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Trump would nominate someone who doesn’t believe that the environment needs protecting to head up the government’s agency responsible for protecting the environment. Trump has voiced his support for dismantling the EPA altogether, at one point blaming the EPA for his bad hair.
Ebell shows us that even if you didn’t have implicit ties to Trump before his victory on Nov. 8, but will help enable him to take revenge on the EPA for messing up his hair, you can get a high-profile governmental job that you are clearly unqualified for.
The Dangers of Patronage
The disadvantage of having unqualified people in positions of leadership can’t be understated. Such situations most often lead to corruption and waste. In these particular instances, harm to the environment and federal overreach into our nation’s education systems are at stake.
Additionally, there are two underlying benefits to a President filling his administration with political rivals. First, it acts as a filter for his own biases, a check-and-balance on his ideology, and a counter-weight to his motivations. For many reasons, considering a candidate for a position based on her/his credentials above her/his political affiliations is a prudent move.
With a Republican-controlled Congress and a Supreme Court vacancy that Trump will get to nominate an individual of his choosing for, the potential for Trump’s agenda to be checked decreases even more if these patterns of patronage prove true.
Finally, filling cabinet positions with political rivals acts as an olive branch to factions of the country which are opposed to the president’s platforms. A failure to do so can not only enhance the chances of obstruction toward a president’s agenda, but harm his re-election campaign as it lends toward those factions feeling excluded by the administration.
Neither of these rumored nominations have been either confirmed nor denied by Trump’s spokespeople, and until such time have to be treated as speculation. If these rumors turn out to be valid, however, it’s a big sign that what we should expect from the Trump administration is the exact opposite of a “team of rivals.”