A Rough Transition


The Indy takes a look at recent developments in the political landscape.

For many traditional inhabitants of Washington, which voted overwhelmingly against President Trump in November, uncertainty has characterized much of the recent transition in the White House. Last Friday at noon, some of this uncertainty was resolved as the new President was finally inaugurated after two months of intense speculation about the acceptability of his cabinet and legitimacy of the election result. It makes sense, therefore, to summarize some of the key tussles that the executive encountered in what appeared to be an unprecedentedly complicated transition.

At the very top of this list is the proposed appointment of Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, as secretary of state. Given the consistent skepticism of much of the intelligence community over President Trump’s alleged ties with the Russian government, and his apparent bonhomie with Vladimir Putin, Rex Tillerson’s name took many in the foreign policy establishment by surprise. As first a frequent detractor of the Russian judicial system until late 2000’s, and eventually an awardee of the Order of Friendship from the Russian president, Mr. Tillerson has proven to possess a track record that is unusually, and perhaps perilously, associated with an antipathetic foreign government. This probably explains why it took two prominent Senate Republicans, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, until last week to finally agree to confirm his appointment. What appears abundantly clear, however, is that Mr. Tillerson’s exploits in the oil industry represent a pragmatism akin to Mr. Trump’s own; he has been known to change his tone and affection for Russia over time to gain a foothold within the oligarchic makeup of the Russian oil space.

Another appointment that raised eyebrows, particularly in the Justice Department, was that of Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. In a conclusive 14-page report, the Department eventually clarified that anti-nepotism laws that may otherwise have prohibited such an appointment, do not apply to the White House staff itself (to which Mr. Kushner has been appointed as a special adviser). However, the PR battle was a lot harder to fight for the administration, with Mr. Trump generously announcing his faith in Mr. Kushner’s ability to broker a deal to end the Israel-Palestine conflict. “If he can’t do it, no one can,” he confidently proclaimed. Interestingly, laws to avoid conflicts of interest that do not apply to President Trump do to Mr. Kushner, requiring him to forego control over several of his assets including the New York Observer and the investment fund Kushner Companies. Nevertheless, it appears increasingly that Mr. Trump will seek constant advice from people with whom he has closer personal ties than his office, professional.

Lastly, and perhaps most notably, the rate at which Mr. Trump has been appointing officials to ensure the smooth functioning of most governmental bodies has been sluggish at best. The New York Times reported this Monday that over 75% of the 100 top positions in the government remain unfilled. Further, of the 4,000 positions that an incoming president is charged with filling, 1,100 require confirmation by the Senate; of these, fewer than 100 have been confirmed thus far, and over 50 officials have been requested to stay on from the previous administration. While the chaos ensuing in the Senate is understandable, the lousy pace at which the White House seems to be operating to fill these positions is not. For a candidate who benefitted greatly from his perception of being a potential “CEO President”, and of being endowed with the experience of running a large multinational conglomerate, the Trump White House seems to not have its plans in motion from Day 1 quite as they claimed to.

The transition in Washington may not have been as smooth as many would have hoped, or as has previously been the case. The prime concern of Mr. Trump’s presidency, however, remains his position on many of his campaign promises. The obscurities of his healthcare, trade, immigration, and foreign policy agenda remain troubling, as does the demeanor in which he may choose to pursue them. Having failed the test of booting operations, President Trump now faces the much crueler test of governance. For the sake of the country, and the world, we hope he measures better.

Pulkit Agarwal ’19 (news@harvardindependent.com) and the Indy will continue asking questions about the administration’s accountability.