Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Plum Line | Opinion

Donald Trump has assembled the worst Cabinet in American history

By Paul Waldman

January 19, 2017 at 1:07 PM

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In his opening statement at his confirmation hearing Jan. 19, President-elect Trump's nominee for energy secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, said his past statements about eliminating the Energy Department do not reflect his current thinking. (Reuters)

Any time a new administration comes into office, there will be some complaining about the new president's cabinet picks. But we're seeing something extraordinary happening now. Donald Trump's cabinet brings with it a combination of ethical problems, inexperience, hostility to the missions of the departments its members are being called to lead, and plain old ignorance that is simply unprecedented.

This is shaping up to be nothing less than the worst cabinet in American history.

As just one colorful example, let's look at this report in today's New York Times about Rick Perry, who will be Secretary of Energy. The change from the leadership under Barack Obama is already striking: the current secretary, Ernest Moniz, is a respected nuclear physicist who also came to the job with significant experience managing scientific institutions, and he'll be succeeded by someone who advocated eliminating the department, although in his defense Perry couldn't quite remember that it was the one he wanted to get rid of (that famous "Oops" moment). But it's even worse than that:

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States' nuclear arsenal.

So Perry advocated dismantling the Department of Energy as a candidate in 2012 despite having no idea what the department actually does. But don't worry — he has recently become aware that his job will not in fact consist of traveling around the world telling people how great oil is. "After being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy," Perry now says, "I regret recommending its elimination." Good to know.

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Donald Trump has now assembled his Cabinet. Here's a look at the people he has put in the country's most powerful positions. (Deirdra O'Regan/The Washington Post)

That's just the beginning. Let's run through some of the other highlights of the Trump cabinet and cabinet-level appointees:

That's not to mention the sub-cabinet appointments who are already in trouble, like the Army secretary who punched out a concession worker at a horse auction or the national security spokesperson revealed as a plagiarist, nor the fact that Trump's senior adviser used to run a white nationalist web site and the President-elect intends to employ his family members, all while insisting again and again that ethics laws don't apply to him.

While prior presidents have had some miserable appointments — James Watt and Anne Gorsuch in the Reagan administration, Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown and Alberto Gonzales in George W. Bush's — never before has one president assembled such a remarkable collection of individuals who are either unqualified for their jobs, devoted to subverting their agencies, or both, not to mention the ethical questions that will continue to swirl around this administration.

We expect the Republican contempt for government to be evident to some degree in the appointments of any GOP administration. But Donald Trump has truly blazed a new trail with the people he has gathered around him. One can only imagine the damage they're going to do.

Paul Waldman is a contributor to The Plum Line blog, and a senior writer at The American Prospect.

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