Early signs of what the Trump administration may look like: A man associated with white supremacy and misogyny will be White House chief strategist; a man rejected for a judgeship because of alleged racism will be attorney general; and an Islamophobe who has taken money from Moscow will be national security adviser.
No, this is not satire.
I’ve repeatedly noted that my side lost this election, that elections have consequences, and that President-elect Donald Trump should be given a chance. He seems intent on blowing that chance.
The announcement that Trump has recruited Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser is particularly alarming. Flynn is smart and knows the world very well, but he was fired from his last government job for incompetence. Worse, he today is regarded by many Republican and Democratic foreign policy specialists as a kook.
It’s all complicated. Flynn had a brilliant military career and did an outstanding job in Iraq and Afghanistan. Five years ago, he was widely admired as the best intelligence officer of his generation.
Then President Barack Obama nominated Flynn to become director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he began to unravel. He turned out to be a catastrophic manager. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, explained in hacked emails why Flynn was fired: “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management.” Powell added that ever since, Flynn has been “right-wing nutty.”
Flynn was proved right on one important point: His argument that the Obama administration was too passive about Islamic militants after the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Flynn’s former fans have been bewildered at his raging denunciation of Islam, including calling it a “cancer.” In February, Flynn also tweeted and asked others to forward a viciously bigoted video that argued that there could be no such thing as Islamophobia.
“Fearing Islam, which wants 80 percent of humanity enslaved or exterminated, is totally rational and hence cannot possibly be called a phobia,” the video declares.
Indeed, for an intelligence officer, Flynn seems to have trouble distinguishing truth from falsehood. This month, he tweeted an obviously fake story claiming that the police had found emails linking Hillary Clinton to sex crimes with children. When he was in government, subordinates had a special name for his delusions: “Flynn facts.”
Another problem is Flynn’s ties to foreign governments. He took money from Russia to attend an event in Moscow, sitting near President Vladimir Putin. He also appears to have taken money from Turkish interests and, without publicly disclosing the money, wrote an op-ed shilling for Turkey.
For his chief of staff, Flynn chose his son, who is a loony on social media, calling Obama a communist and fascist, tweeting racially insensitive comments and sharing absurd conspiracy theories.
The national security adviser not only guides the president on foreign policy but also coordinates across all the agencies. That requires a good listener with diplomatic and management skills – and Flynn is missing that gene.
The pick of Flynn comes on top of other problematic appointments. Trump offered the job of attorney general to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who was rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 by a Republican-dominated Senate because of a history of racially charged statements. For example, he had said that he had thought members of the Ku Klux Klan “were OK until I found out they smoked pot” (he explained that he had been joking). His nomination was only the second in 48 years to be rejected for a judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As attorney general, Sessions will be in charge of enforcing civil rights laws.
Then there’s Steve Bannon, the designated White House chief strategist, who at Breitbart was at the center of white supremacist, Islamophobic misogyny. One Breitbart headline: “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”
In fairness, Trump has also appointed normal conservatives: Reince Priebus as chief of staff and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., to lead the CIA. I don’t agree much with either, but both are intelligent and qualified.
Other signals are also troubling, such as a Trump surrogate speaking of instituting a registry of Muslims – and citing the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II as a precedent. Really?
George Takei, the actor whose family was interned, wrote eloquently in The Washington Post about the risks “when, in an atmosphere of fear or mistrust, one group is singled out and vilified, as Japanese Americans were during World War II and as Muslim Americans are today. How terrible it is to contemplate, once again, that the government itself might once more be the very instrument of terror and division. That cannot happen again.”
Plenty of smart, experienced Republicans are available for Trump administration slots. But so far, too many are being stiffed.
Eliot Cohen is a thoughtful, experienced conservative who worked in the Bush administration and, despite his own distaste for Trump, had urged others to work for him. But after his interactions with a Trump transition team that he described as arrogant, he tweeted, “changed my recommendation: stay away.”
Look, Trump has been elected, he will be our president, and he has the right to choose conservatives. But instead of turning to the many principled Republicans available, he seems drawn to hotheads and bigots, embarrassing himself and our nation.
Nicholas Kristof: Facebook.com/Kristof, or Twitter.com/NickKristof