54 countries have reported cases of Corvid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. In the US total infections have remained low, 512 at the time of this writing. Officials at the Center for Disease Control have warned Americans of the risk of community spread, and stated that it is a question of ‘’when’’ and not ‘’if’’ the virus proliferates internally. The Trump administration has put in place restrictions that temporarily deny access to the country by foreign nationals who’ve visited China 14 days prior to their arrival. US citizens returning from Hubei province (the outbreak’s epicenter) or mainland China will be subject to quarantines and health screening as part of reentry. The administration’s point man on the efforts to contain the virus is Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence is not a man of medicine or science. He once stood before the House of Representatives and attempted to disprove evolution. He has taken the position that smoking doesn’t kill and condoms are ‘’very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.’’ More significantly, Pence has previous experience with a public health crisis that did not go smoothly. During his tenure as Governor of Indiana, the rural town of Austin saw a sharp uptick in the number of HIV cases. Shared needle usage for the liquid painkiller, Opana, was determined to be responsible for the outbreak. Public health officials advocated for the establishment of clean needle exchange programs, which reduce the risk of infection and often link people to treatment. Pence opposed such a program on ideological grounds despite the severity of the situation. He has proudly stated he is a ‘’Christian, conservative, and a Republican, in that order’’ overlooking that he was governor to at-risk constituents who were neither Christians or conservatives. He would eventually acquiesce after 235 cases of HIV were linked to the outbreak. Since becoming Trump’s running mate and eventual VP, Pence has been perhaps the president’s most reliable sycophant. That doesn’t bode well for the man suddenly tasked with overseeing a public health scare exponentially larger than the one he bungled in 2015. Or to anyone at heightened risk of infection. Sadly, this is hardly the first Trump appointee whose life’s work run counter to their stated mission.
The Department of Labor is responsible for workplace safety, standards and unemployment wages among other responsibilities. Eugene Scalia, son of former conservative Justice, Anton Scalia, is a curious choice given a career advocating against worker’s rights and consumer protections. Scalia has spent the last two decades at a prominent corporate law firm. He has represented the likes of Wal Mart, Boeing and Wall Street Banks in their fights against workers. In 2006, he helped Wal Mart and others win a lawsuit against Maryland that would have required them to pay 8% of their payroll tax to fund employee health care ofrcontribute to Medicare.
The Obama administration spent six years devising a rule to protect consumers from predatory financial advisers. It eventually settled on a rule that financial advisers must provide guidance in the best interest of their clients. Early in the Trump’s tenure, Scalia led a team that successfully challenged the rule in court. He has also argued SeaWorld was not responsible for the death of a trainer in the aftermath of a killer whale attack and dismissed science linking repetitive working conditions to workplace related injuries. Scalia spent an illustrious career in labor law, and almost always in opposition to the working class whose interests he is now charged with protecting.
Secretary of Education Betsy Devos was among Trump’s most controversial Cabinet nominees. Prior to holding the position she’d been neither an educator or education leader. Her most significant experience in the field is as a fierce advocacate of school vouchers which allow children in struggling school districts to attend private (often for-profit) schools with public funding. Critics of school vouchers argue they are a step towards privatizing American education. Devos does however hail from one of Michigan’s wealthiest families, responsible for tens of millions of dollars in Republican campaign contributions. Devos and her family have spent a great deal of time and effort undermining traditional public education in this country. Her performance as Secretary of Education is a continuation of that behavior. After she was sworn in, she supported President Trump’s proposal to cut the Department of Education budget by 13.5%. She has taken aim at the rights of teacher unions to collectively bargain and weakened sexual assault on campus guidelines under Title IX. Mrs. Devos is entitled to her beliefs and to use her vast wealth to advocate for them. However someone so openly hostile towards public education is not credibly suitable to manage the federal department responsible for overseeing it.
The Bureau of Land Management is a subsection of the Department of the Interior which manages an eighth of the country’s land mass. Its head, William Pendley, was formerly president of a law firm which advocates selling off federal lands in the West and dismantling the agency. Trump’s first Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, was a former coal lobbyist and climate change denier. Last year Trump nominated Republican Congressmen John Ratcliffe to fill the void as Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe had no relevant experience to oversee the largest intelligence community on the planet. His enthusiastic nomination came on the heels of his pointed questioning of Trump nemesis, Robert Mueller on national television. The president withdrew his name from consideration amid public outcry, but has nominated him for the position again. This is a mercifully abridged list of Trump appointees with dubious qualifications of contradicting interests.
Appealing to voters sick of gridlock in Washington, Trump promised to drain the swamp in 2016. Not only has he failed, but he actively invited in persons acting counter to the interests of the American public. The swamp is murkier than ever and full of creatures serving special interest rather than US citizens.
Mike Pence’s appointment as coronavirus czar is merely the sad extension of a pattern that began in early 2017. Previous experience and credentials are largely irrelevant. The true litmus test for political appointees in the Trump administration is fealty to the president. Pence has had his bite at the public health crisis apple. He handled the chance poorly and the result was a rash of easily avoidable instances of HIV. The threat of Corvid-19 is nebulous, but real. It’s scope is far larger than the previous crisis bungled by the VP. There’s little reason to believe Pence is better equipped to handle a potential pandemic than he was an HIV outbreak in a tiny midwestern town. Or that he might take any action that would contradict the president. On the campaign trail Trump said he’d only hire the best people. One is left to wonder about what constitutes a “best person” in the President’s head..