President Trump (Susan Walsh/AP)
Opinion writer

The Post has published a devastating article on President Trump’s No. 1 criteria for serving in his administration. It’s not competence or experience or expertise in a subject. It’s loyalty — to him.

There is no way to sugarcoat the meaning of this, so here goes: This is how autocracies function.

As The Post reports:

Credentialed candidates have had to prove loyalty to the president, with many still being blocked for previous anti-Trump statements. Hundreds of national security officials, for example, were nixed from consideration because they spoke out against Trump during the campaign. But for longtime Trump loyalists, their fidelity to the president is often sufficient, obscuring what in a more traditional administration would be red flags.

There is one thing that gets checked thoroughly:

Since the early days of the presidential transition, however, the Trump team has been especially thorough in vetting job applicants for their loyalty to the president and his policies, with their social-media profiles and writings scoured for anti-Trump posts.

Even tepid comments in opposition could torpedo nominees, current and former officials said. Trump himself would sometimes ask if candidates were “Never Trump” or if they supported him during the general election, officials said. Having posted on social media with the hashtag “#NeverTrump” or having signed a public letter in opposition to his candidacy made the nomination a non-starter.

Any casual look at the literature studying autocracies demonstrates the degree to which this sort of behavior is one of their hallmarks. Autocratic leaders prioritize loyalty over competence, rewarding subordinates and others who demonstrate fealty with plum positions, access and multiple opportunities to profit, while turning a blind eye to blatant corruption. Those who are deemed disloyal are not just banished but jettisoned in humiliating rituals.

The obsession with loyalty and the urge to punish all those who don’t demonstrate it explain a great deal about the Trump presidency. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s multiple failures of ethics and good governance are all but ignored, but Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin got the news of his firing via a presidential tweet. Betsy DeVos, whose knowledge of education policy doesn’t even put her in the category of precocious amateur hobbyist, is allowed to remain as secretary of education, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not only learned he was out while on the can, Trump administration officials made sure word of that particular humiliation got out.

The most recent example: Ronny Jackson. It wasn’t that something went wrong with the vetting process when Trump decided the White House physician should take on the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s that Jackson passed the one vetting process that mattered with flying colors.

A reminder: Jackson all but slobbered over the president. Jackson didn’t just pronounce Trump’s health excellent, he claimed in sycophantic fashion that the 71-year-old president has “more stamina and more energy” than many of the younger staff surrounding him.

By these standards, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — whose verbal contortions in defense of Trump are a daily spectacle — is also doing a bang-up job. Her priority is buttressing Trump no matter what, and she defends the most outrageous of his statements.

Companies that would like to do business unmolested by the Trump administration appear to feel the need to demonstrate loyalty. This is almost certainly what explains the unseemly rush by American corporations to announce one-time worker bonuses they claimed were directly tied to the tax-reform legislation, which gave the one percent and corporations a fat payday, while leaving the middle class with a minuscule cut that will sunset at the end of 2025.

There are examples galore of what happens when a business doesn’t show what Trump believes is the proper respect due him. Trump’s order for the post office to review its finances after claiming Amazon, among other companies, did not pay adequate rates for shipping, appeared clearly tied to Trump’s dislike of The Post.

No one, of course, is more loyal than family. As a result daughter Ivanka Trump is allowed to temporarily sit in for Trump at the Group of 20 and privately brief South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Trump’s then just-announced sanctions against North Korea. Son-in-law Jared Kushner continues to serve as an adviser despite a yanked security clearance (for unknown reasons) and reports that he is a target of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

Trump’s values conflate demonstrated commitment to him and his personal agenda with suitability for government service and competence to do the job at hand. Let’s say it plainly: Loyalty tests have no place in a democracy.