Chang would never have been appointed by any other president, yet she fits right into an administration headed by a president who notoriously created his own phony Time magazine cover. A grifter himself, Trump has filled his administration with people who either lack professional qualifications or ethical standards — and often both.
These are people such as Monica Crowley, an assistant secretary of the Treasury with a record of plagiarism, and who is notorious for a tweet praising the Berlin Wall (“Walls work”). Or former national security adviser Michael Flynn, now a convicted felon after lying to the FBI. Or Gordon Sondland, a hotelier and Trump donor who became a mastermind of U.S. policy toward Ukraine because he was willing to do Trump’s unethical bidding. Or former acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, an erstwhile U.S. attorney in Iowa and then a peddler of toilets for “well-endowed” men who came to Trump’s attention by overzealously defending him on Fox News. Or Stephen Miller, the White House point person on immigration who espoused white supremacist views in messages obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Or Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who didn’t qualify for a security clearance yet acts as a shadow secretary of state — and a leading booster of the murderous Saudi crown prince.
Or . . . well, I could fill multiple columns simply by listing all of the Trump appointees who have no business being in government. This is, after all, an administration that made a 23-year-old former intern with no professional experience one of its top drug-control officials. Even officials who have not been accused of any ethical transgressions, such as current national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and trade adviser Peter Navarro, have been promoted multiple ranks above their level of competence and experience. (O’Brien was a part-time hostage negotiator; Navarro, an obscure economics professor.)
Ethical, well-qualified people refuse to work for a president as deceitful, incompetent, and abusive as Trump — and he doesn’t want them looking over his shoulder. Yet someone has to fill at least some of the jobs; they can’t all go empty. So, instead of the best and brightest, we are ruled by the dim and disgraceful.
For all of the populist bashing of elites, we can’t eschew them altogether. A nation of nearly 330 million people can’t be run through a continuous plebiscite. Someone has to be in charge. It’s just a question of how the elites will be chosen.
The old meritocratic elites — the ones who staffed previous administrations — were discredited by the failures of the Iraq War and the financial crash of 2008. This opened the way for Trumpian rabble-rousers to take over. I, for one, miss the old elites. Perhaps that’s because I’m one of them. But it’s also because, for all their undoubted failures, their record is underappreciated. Yes, they’ve made terrible mistakes, but they have gotten far more right than wrong. Their policies have made the United States the richest, strongest and freest country in history.
We were offered a reminder this week of how impressive the old elites could be in the House testimony of diplomats George P. Kent, William B. Taylor Jr. and Marie Yovanovitch — all of whom have sterling academic credentials (Kent went to Harvard; Taylor to West Point; Yovanovitch to Princeton) and decades of government experience.
In their rectitude and devotion to public service, they are reminiscent — as noted by Jon Meacham, Walter Isaacson, and Evan Thomas in an op-ed for The Post — of the “Wise Men” who crafted U.S. foreign policy after World War II. Dean Acheson, Charles “Chip” Bohlen, W. Averell Harriman, John J. McCloy, George F. Kennan and all the rest epitomized what Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), a faux populist who attended Oxford University, derides as the “cultured, cosmopolitan, goat’s milk latte-drinkin', avocado toast-eating, insiders elite.” That now-unfashionable elite built the institutions, from NATO to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (now the World Trade Organization), that have underpinned decades of peace and prosperity — and that Trump is now dismantling.
The “Wise Men” had many flaws and limitations, but I would much prefer to be ruled by their modern-day successors — now including superbly qualified women such as Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill — than by the fast-buck artists and flimflammers that Trump has brought into the federal government. It tells you all you need to know about the complete collapse of standards that George Kent and Mina Chang — the consummate professional and the stereotypical scammer — hold the same senior rank in Trump’s State Department.