What exactly is a kakistocracy? According to Merriam-Webster the definition is concise and quite clear:
Definition of kakistocracy
plural kakistocracies: government by the worst people
The origin of the word is pretty banal, the root, kakistos,- is the superlative for the Greek word kakos; and the suffix, -ocracy, simply means form of government. Put the word together and you get the definition above.
So if you are reading this and wondering why this is at all relevant, you probably will not like the rest of this article. In short, the United States is currently a kakistocracy. However, you might be surprised to read that I am not going to blame Donald Trump for this. Trump, as President, is an outcome of a process that was started decades ago and is the subject of another article for a later date. I am going to blame the Senate, the Republican Party, and the right-wing media for this state of affairs.
Let’s begin by exploring the current cabinet. Donald Trump seemed to have selected the singly least qualified people for some, but to be fair not all, cabinet positions. His power to appoint cabinet officials comes directly from Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
So make no mistake about it, every cabinet official, no matter how incompetent, has been duly approved by the Senate. So it would be spurious to blame Trump exclusively, the culpability of the republican controlled Senate cannot be ignored. So who are these current cabinet holders, and exactly what are (not) their credentials which make them qualified? Let’s examine some of the most glaring kakistocratic choices for senior positions in the executive branch.
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt
Scott Pruitt is a former state Senator and Attorney General from Oklahoma. Before becoming the EPA administrator he described himself as “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”. In fact, as state Attorney General, he filed 14 different lawsuits against the EPA, each of which would benefit the coal, oil and industrial lobbies which funded his many elections. Most of these lawsuits were to reverse health and safety standards which cost businesses money and productivity, but protected the environment. Some examples include lawsuit which fought against: Safeguards limiting mercury and air toxic pollution, public health standards for smog pollution, protecting scenic vistas in iconic national parks and wildernesses, clean air standards for oil and gas pollution, and clean water.
So to be perfectly clear, the man appointed by Trump to oversee the department created specifically to protect the environment, has built his career fighting to allow wealthy industrialists to pollute the environment as much as possible. No wonder he is currently facing over a dozen separate investigations . Despite this, he still apparently has the full support of the President and most of the GOP.
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney
Mick Mulvaney, by all accounts, is perfectly qualified to run the OMB. A former congressman, a lawyer with an undergraduate economics degree from Georgetown University. Since his appointment however, he has met his share of controversy, including request from ethics watchdogs to investigate him for bribery Admitting that while serving in congress, he blatantly ran a pay-to-play scheme for lobbyists, and saw nothing wrong with this.
“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you, if you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”
Representative of the United States to the United Nations Nikki R. Haley
The United Nations is arguably the most effective vehicle of international diplomacy in the history of civilization. Countless wars have been avoided, conflicts have been avoided and humanitarian crises have been mitigated. So it would make sense that the President who has displayed an extraordinary amount of open hostility to the UN would select a representative who is equally hostile, going so far as to withdrawal the United States from the UN Human Rights Council referring to it as “A cesspool of political bias”.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
A professional politician, former state senator and then governor of Georgia. Sonny Perdue’s professional history is as a veterinarian and small business owner. He has no previous agricultural experience (contrary to popular belief, he has no relation to the Perdue Farms). The closest Perdue ever came to agriculture is when he led a prayer vigil to end a drought in Georgia. He is also a climate change denialist and has made dubious claims about the role of African Americans with the confederacy during the Civil War.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.
By all rights, Wilbur Ross should have been a great choice for Commerce Secretary, at least by moderate, conservative standards. During his confirmation process he received bipartisan support and vote of 72-27. He likely received Democratic support because he was himself a registered Democrat until fairly recently. He has been a business associate of Donald Trump’s for decades, however. Back in the 1990s he helped to bail Trump out of his disastrous attempts at the casino business.
His record since confirmation, however, is tainted with multiple ethics violations, including failure to divest his all of business holdings which include significant interest in a Chinese company with ties to Vladimir Putin, despite his promises to do so. His spokesperson has claimed that he never stated he would divest entirely, only his interest in the Bank of Cyprus, which has ties to wealth Russian oligarchs. He also took a short position on stocks of Navigator Holdings, a shipping company tied to a Russian oil company, when he learned of an impending negative story which would have adversely affected stock value for a profit up up to $250,000.
Secretary of Education Elisabeth Prince DeVos
Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos is perhaps the least qualified person to ever serve as the Education Secretary. She has no degree in education, has no experience in the field of education, and her sole connection to education has been promoting the idea of “school choice” which favors privately-managed charter-schools over public education. Her most desirable characteristic seems to be her successful Republican Party fundraising, and that she is the sister of Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private defense contractor Blackwater who is also heavily implicated in the Trump-Russia investigation.
Secretary of Energy James Richard Perry
The Secretary of Energy is a position typically held by a scientist or engineer with an extensive research or practical background in energy production or management. Prior to Rick Perry, the former Governor of Texas with an undergraduate degree in animal science, the incumbent was Ernest Moniz, a theoretical physicist with a PhD from Stanford, before that was Steven Chu, a particle physicist and Nobel Prize laureate with a PhD from UC, Berkeley.
To be honest, Rick Perry would have been an excellent choice for Agriculture Secretary, having served as Agriculture Commissioner for the State of Texas for most of the 1990s. Nevertheless, his tenure thus far has been apparently without controversy, if nothing else it is fair to say he is an effective administrator.
Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin
Steve Mnuchin is precisely the kind of person who Donald Trump warned Hillary Clinton would appoint during his campaigned against her.
“I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over [Ted Cruz]. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton,”
Steve Mnuchin began working for Goldman Sachs in 1985 and continued to do until 2002, becoming a partner in 1994 and making it up the corporate chain to become Executive VP and Chief Information Officer.
As Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin has taken policy positions against the protections put in place by the Obama administration to prevent another recession like the one that occurred in 2008.
There are and have been others in Trump’s inner circle who are not part of the cabinet with troubling pasts and specious credentials such as Sebastian Gorka, Steven Miller, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and others. Connections to white supremacists, Nazi aligned organizations, histories of racism, sexism, conspiracy peddling, and flat-out incompetence abound.
To be fair, there are some senior-level persons and cabinet secretaries who are quite qualified to hold their respective positions. Although I most likely disagree with most of their policies, their bona fides are not really in question. These include: Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.
It is hard to reconcile some of the choices that Donald Trump has made, but its harder still to rationalize why the Senate confirmed them. Trump’s naivete can be explained by his lack of government experience, the Senate’s complicity to this kakistocracy can only be explained by either incompetence or apathy.