The Proven Perils of Rolling the Dice on Trump

From the moment he began assembling his administration, president-elect Donald Trump has confirmed the worst fears of the 75 percent of the electorate who did not vote for him. He has eschewed a team of rivals in favor of prospective nominees who carry the stains of inexperience and insouciance regarding issues that matter most to millennials and minorities, who voted overwhelmingly against him, or the issues that matter to the majority of all voters who declared by a margin of over 2.8 million distinct ballots that Mr. Trump is not their president of choice. Americans have been asked to "give him a chance" but, if he didn't already squander that chance on the campaign trail itself, his actions since the election have certainly proven that his administration is a sure bet for disaster on numerous fronts.

With each successive pick, Mr. Trump has entrenched his inner circle of executive confidantes and cabinet nominations with radicals who are, at best, inexperienced and, at worst, white-supremacist ideologues. Within a week of the election, Mr. Trump appointed the architect of his divisive campaign, Stephen Bannon, formerly the executive chairman of the sensationalist media outlet Breitbart News, as his chief strategist. During Bannon's tenure at Breitbart, he helped fuel a hard-right nationalist movement with anti-immigrant and racist content, earning him the title of father of the "alt-right"--a sanitized appellation for white nationalism.

Rather than looking to qualified, consensus picks, Mr. Trump has moved to staff a cabinet dominated by hard-liners, many of whom are of questionable competence and fitness to serve and who, collectively, are woefully less educated than previous administrations. For United States Attorney General, the chief law enforcer in the country, Mr. Trump has promised to nominate Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama and fast-track his appointment. Sessions first rose to national prominence because his nomination to a federal judgeship was withdrawn amid evidence of extreme racial animus and bias. Sessions joined the Senate in 1997, where he continued to build his long record of standing in vehement opposition to civil rights and equality. Just this year, Sessions publicly praised a 1980s Trump ad that called for the execution of the Central Park Five--five African-American young men who were fully exonerated five years ago. These are teens who spent nearly two decades in jail for a crime they did not commit, yet, Sessions still believes in 2016 that calling for their execution in 1989 was praise-worthy. This is on top of his opposition to critical protections for Americans like voting rights, pay equity, and hate crime enhancements.

Jeff Sessions' nomination is as much a threat to our democracy and dog whistle to political extremists within our borders as the discussion of creating a Muslim registry based on the same legal precedent used during World War II to establish Japanese internment camps. Moreover, misrepresentations and omissions in his response last week to the questionnaire that the Senate requires of all nominees underscore that Mr. Sessions lacks sufficient hands-on legal experience, possesses an abysmal record on civil rights, and is unlikely to exercise and independence from the president-elect who enters the Oval Office mired in legal troubles and conflicts of interest.

Even the president-elect's nominees that add diversity to his cabinet are troubling. In naming Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Trump diversified his picks in gender and ethnicity, but not political and cultural outlook. The daughter of immigrants, Governor Haley garnered national attention when she spoke out belatedly, and somewhat reluctantly, against the Confederate flag in the aftermath of the 2015 massacre of the Emmanuel Nine in Charleston. Although she was a prominent critic of Mr. Trump early in his campaign, she has now agreed to serve his administration, and the positions she espoused as governor indicate she is far more ideologically in step with Mr. Trump than her earlier criticism indicates. She has voted against freedom of choice and for strict voter ID laws. Perhaps more important, however, is her stark lack of experience in foreign affairs, which leaves her highly susceptible to heavy-handed direction from the equally-inexperienced and uninformed president-elect.

Mr. ​Trump's nomination for Secretary of Education is also alarming and consistent with the deepening trend of politically radical wealthy nominees, such as Wilbur Ross for Commerce Secretary, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury, and Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. Billionaire Betsy DeVos is a long-time conservative education activist whose arguable bone fides derive from her outsized philanthropy in support of school vouchers and against affirmative action. She founded and serves as chair of the American Federation of Children and has staunchly promoted voucher programs that siphon taxpayer dollars away from public education to fund enrollment in private and religious schools. This is fully consistent with Mr. Trump's avowal to do away with regulations ensuring education accountability, effectively retrenching the country's painstaking progress toward education equity in the sixty years since Brown v. Board of Education.

In contrast to other cabinet picks, Elaine Chao, whom Trump has named to lead the Department of Transportation, adds diversity as an immigrant from Taiwan and has significant agency experience. She served for eight years in the George W. Bush administration as labor secretary, and served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush. But during that time, she demonstrated that she is decidedly anti-union and anti-low wage workers. Allowing her to lead a potentially $3 billion infrastructure project does not bode well for the rights of the laborers needed to execute that mission.

Mr. Trump's proposed nomination of Dr. Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) continues this troubling trend. Dr. Carson possesses negligible experience in housing policy, as demonstrated by his remarks on the current administration's stricter rules targeting segregation in housing. Dr. Carson wrote that this new HUD rule was a "government-engineered attempt to legislate racial equality" and reflected a history of "failed social experiments." This sentiment reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the Fair Housing Act's explicit mandate to "affirmatively further" fair housing which, according to the rule, requires "taking meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster which inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics." This mandate would become Dr. Carson's responsibility, as head of HUD, to enforce, and his record thus far suggests that he is lamentably inept to do so.

In choice after choice, Mr. Trump has selected people at the fringes, and certainly far removed from the views and values of the roughly 66 million Americans who did not vote for him. If these picks are any indication of how he plans to fill the nearly 4000 remaining posts over which the executive has first dibs, we should be alarmed. Mr. Trump appears to be on an irreversible course to squander the chance we've been asked to give him. What we cannot do is also give his proposed cabinet and advisors a chance to destroy the fundamental principles of our democracy. For these reasons, we must call upon President-elect Trump to withdraw the names of his most offensive cabinet picks, including Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos, and to dismiss Steve Bannon. Should he fail to do so, we must call upon the Senate to vigorously interrogate each nominee about their ability to represent the best interests of the American populace and to deny confirmation unless that bar is fully met. This resistance is critically important in the context of a fraught presidency that faces unprecedented scrutiny domestically and abroad, and that lacks not only the backing of the popular vote, but also a discernible vote of confidence from his own party.

Those who publicly decry the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and religious intolerance that, for many, have come to define the president-elect, have no basis to ask the American polity to take a leap of faith against a parade of reckless picks. With high stakes riding on the composition of the Supreme Court, the United States Department of Justice, and key cabinet positions that hold our nation's future on civil rights, equality, and the rule of law in the balance, we must ask whether giving Mr. Trump a chance is a risk worth taking. In the persistently misguided zeal to "make America great again," the chance ever to make America whole is being squandered. We continue to roll the dice at our own peril.

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