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GUEST COLUMN: Whatever happened to Trump's best and brightest?

By: HAL BIDLACK
May 4, 2018 Updated: May 4, 2018 at 4:20 pm
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They dug up the tree.

The young sapling that French President Emmanuel Macron donated to the United States, and which he and President Donald Trump planted during a White House lawn ceremony last week, is gone.

But don't worry; they dug it up and put it in quarantine, as they are checking to make sure that no foreign parasites, fungi, or other worrisome and dangerous pests are allowed on White House grounds. And I can't help but be struck by what an apt metaphor that is for the manner in which Mr. Trump has staffed his senior leadership.

You will likely recall that during his campaign, Mr. Trump stated that he would simultaneously drain the swamp of bad people and bring in only the very best to run the government under him. "I'm going to surround myself with only the best and most serious people. We want the top of the line professionals," is how our president described his plan of action. How's that going?

Well, many of his supposed best and brightest have ended up doing an excellent impression of, well, the sapling. They started with great fanfare only to be hustled off the scene because, I dunno, Hillary's fault?

You see, Mr. Trump has the highest turnover rate of any modern administration in its first year. And not just higher, but more than double the rate of the next highest, under Ronald Reagan, and more than four times the Obama rate.

And we need look no farther than the recent debacle involving Mr. Trump's pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs to see the degree to which the Trump White House had abandoned the whole "best and brightest" thing.

Apparently, the president meant the best and the brightest currently in the same room with him. You've seen the news reports on Dr. Ronny Jackson, who withdrew his candidacy to head the VA after Trump publicly mused that he should withdraw so he wouldn't have to go through the struggles associated with confirmation.

It was a pretty remarkable thing for Mr. Trump to say. Did he intend to throw his own nominee under the bus? Or perhaps he forgot that he had nominated him? Perhaps someone even shinier had walked into the room?

As part of the ongoing campaign of "alternative facts" from this White House, senior leaders continue to parrot Mr. Trump's claim of hiring the best people. Remember Reince Priebus? How about Steve Bannon? Michael Flynn didn't even last as long as the sapling's quarantine will last before he was run off. And I'm guessing we are not yet done with undignified departures.

If I were EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, I'd likely not measure for too many new drapes to go along with his $43,000 phone booth and his $100,000+ spending on first class airfare. But don't worry about Scott; he's got a cheap place to sleep, since he rented a room for $50 per night from a lobbyist buddy, on an upper floor, presumably above the swamp.

I hope we can agree, even in this hyper-partisan time, that whoever is in power should have good, smart, honest people working for him or her. Instead, under Mr. Trump, in only a bit more than a year, we've seen people like Tom Price be named Health and Human Services secretary, only to see him forced to resign over the ridiculously extravagant use of private planes on the taxpayer's dime.

And let's also not forget the president's personal aide, the "body man" named John McEntee, who was not only fired, but also physically escorted from the White House grounds by the Secret Service. And did you know that literally minutes later, he was hired on by the Trump re-election campaign? Swamp? Drained?

The lessons, as well as the implicit dangers, of the way Mr. Trump runs his administration are clear. If you want a high-level job, demonstrate profound sycophancy, swear loyalty, and perhaps most important, be within eyeshot.

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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