Political polarization has created newly rigid political identities, complete with required enemies. Not only do partisans detest each other, devout Republicans and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Democrats also coalesce around those common enemies.
Democrats disparage the “un-woke,” distrust billionaires and powerful corporations, and rail against climate-change-deniers.
Republicans sneer at higher education, fear immigrants, use “socialism” as a dirty word (despite considerable evidence that most of them have no idea what it is), and really, really hate “elitists” –i.e., experts who actually know what they’re talking about.
“Elitists” populate the equally despised and mischaracterized “deep state.”
Frank Bruni recently had a column in the New York Times in which he explored the GOP’s resentment of professionalism–especially the patriotic public servants that Trump’s current, despicable press secretary labels“radical unelected bureaucrats.”
The impeachment inquiry and the events that led to it tell many stories. One, obviously, is about the abuse of power. Another illuminates the foul mash of mendacity and paranoia at the core of Donald Trump.
But this week, as several longtime civil servants testify at the inquiry’s first public hearings, a third narrative demands notice, because it explains the entire tragedy of the Trump administration: the larger scandals, the lesser disgraces and the current moment of reckoning.
That story is the collision of a president who has absolutely no regard for professionalism and those who try to embody it, the battle between an arrogant, unscrupulous yahoo and his humble, principled opposites.
Bruni notes that Trump’s contempt for professionalism is part and parcel of his aversion to norms of all sorts, including tradition and simple courtesy, and that such contempt has been a “distinct theme” in his business career, which has been “rife with cheating, and his political life, which is greased with lies.”
Go back to his initial staffing of senior posts and recall how shoddy the vetting process was. Also notice two prominent classes of recruits: people who had profoundly questionable preparation for the jobs that he nonetheless gave them (Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Stephen Miller, Javanka) and genuine professionals who wagered that their skills would be critically necessary — and thus highly valued — and that Trump would surely rise to the established codes and expected conduct of his office.
Now look at how many of those professionals (James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, Dan Coats) are gone. And tell me whether Trump has ever had the epiphany that the presidency is, in fact, a profession.
Interestingly, the Trump Administration’s sorry excuse for vetting came to public notice again just this week, when multiple media outlets reported that a senior official had embellished her résumé with highly misleading claims about her professional background, and had gone so far as to create a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it. She had invented a role on a U.N. panel, claimed she had addressed both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and implied she had testified before Congress, none of which was true. Lying at this level should have been easy to uncover, but she was appointed–and continues to serve–as a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department.
As Bruni says
A crisis of professionalism defines his administration, in which backstabbing is the new glad-handing, firings are cruel, exits are ugly, the turnover is jaw-dropping, the number of unfilled positions is mind-boggling, and many officials have titles that are prefaced with “acting” — a modifier with multiple meanings in this case.
Trump slyly markets his anti-professionalism as anti-elitism and a rejection of staid, cautious thinking. But it’s really his way of excusing his ignorance, costuming his incompetence and greenlighting his hooliganism.
Two of the professionals who have come forward to testify about Trump’s effort to blackmail the President of Ukraine were described by Michael McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Russia, in a recent essay for The New York Review of Books titled “The Deeply Dedicated State.”
Both always have struck me as first-rate government servants, singularly focused on advancing American national interests. Both have served Republican and Democratic presidents, and even after decades of interacting with them both, I could not guess how either of them votes.”
He characterized them as “accidental heroes” who aren’t “likely to seek the limelight.” “They are extremely well trained, competent, and highly regarded professionals,” he summarized.
That’s why they bucked Trump. And that’s why he can’t bear them.
When people resent competence, when they sneer at honorable public servants as “elitists” or label them members of a nefarious “deep state,” it tells you a great deal about their own deficits.
Such resentment permeates today’s Republican Party, and that explains a lot.