President Donald Trump, speaking at a news conference this afternoon, appeared to stand by Ronny Jackson, his suddenly-embattled nominee to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs, even as he appeared to toss him under the bus.
Calling Jackson “a fine man,” Trump all but urged him to not take the job. “I wouldn’t do it. What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians who aren’t thinking nicely about our country,” Trump said, before going on to blame Democratic obstruction for the suddenly-stalled appointment.
Actually, the Ronny Jackson mess is entirely Trump’s fault. And it’s basic to his way of doing business. In fact, it represents a great deal of what we’ve come to expect from this presidency.
As it turns out, the Trump administration did conduct due diligence on the appointment. But in this case, it doesn’t matter. Because Jackson should never have been nominated for this position in the first place — which highlights how often Trump attempts to appoint people to positions they have no business being in.
Remember Andy Puzder, the former CEO of CKE Restaurants, the would-be secretary of labor whose fast food outlets were a mess of labor-law violations but who was undone by allegations he abused his first wife? Or Betsy DeVos, who couldn’t answer basic questions about education policy at either her confirmation hearing or on “60 Minutes”?
Jackson, who is Trump’s personal physician, almost certainly received the nod only because he gave Trump what he wanted — obeisance.
Jackson first received significant public attention when he declared Trump’s health excellent in a manner that was so over the top that it sounded like a real life video from The Onion. The president is in “very, very good health,” Jackson claimed, adding: “He has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.”
That brings us to another less than savory part of Trump’s presidency: He presides over Cabinet and staff meetings where courtiers — oops, I mean Cabinet secretaries and other appointees — regularly describe serving him in cloyingly obsequious terms (a “blessing”) and ooze praise for the successes of his presidency.
So Trump picked Jackson despite his lack of significant administrative experience, something one might think necessary to successfully run an agency such as the VA, which has more than 375,000 employees. It appears no one bothered to run anything more than a cursory background check, so they missed the allegations that started surfacing over the past couple of days, such as creating a hostile work environment, overprescribing of medication and on-the-job boozing.
Back when he campaigned for president, Trump promised that he would make sure “the best people in the world” served in his administration. We now know that the definition of “best people” turned out to mean a rogue’s gallery of sycophants such as Jackson, incompetents like DeVos, penny-ante sleaze like Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and people who will do the bidding of big business like Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
Complaining, as some pundits are doing, that the White House didn’t conduct proper vetting is to miss the point. The real problem is that Trump isn’t properly checking out nominees. It’s that his requirements for service are the opposite of good governance.
We don’t know whom Trump will nominate to replace Jackson if and when he drops out. But here’s one thing I can promise: Competence won’t even be on the list of requirements for getting the job.