Sunday, January 14, 2018


As we approach the first anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration, it's clear that the administration has tightened the screws on a number of groups -- undocumented immigrants, Medicaid recipients, and so on -- but Trump isn't the full-blown Hitler some people expected. This Washington Post story helps explain why:
In May 2016, Taylor Weyeneth was an undergraduate at St. John’s University in New York, a legal studies student and fraternity member who organized a golf tournament and other events to raise money for veterans and their families.

Less than a year later, at 23, Weyeneth, was a political appointee and rising star at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.... Weyeneth would soon become deputy chief of staff.

His brief biography offers few clues that he would so quickly assume a leading role in the drug policy office.... Weyeneth’s only professional experience after college and before becoming an appointee was working on Trump’s presidential campaign.
Not only did he rise to this top position at the age of 23, he did so, the Post reports, despite lying on résumés he submitted to the government (he claimed he'd received a master's degree he doesn't have). Also, he spent some of his high school years working for a family firm that "was secretly processing illegal steroids from China as part of a conspiracy involving people from Virginia, California and elsewhere in the United States and one person in China, federal court records show."

So how did he get this high-level job?
Weyeneth’s ascent from a low-level post to deputy chief of staff is the result, in large part, of staff turnover and vacancies.

... nearly a year after [Trump's] inauguration, the drug policy office, known as ONDCP, lacks a permanent director. At least seven of his administration’s appointees have departed, office spokesman William Eason said. Among them was the general counsel and acting chief of staff, some of whose duties were assumed by Weyeneth....
Oh, and:
In October, Trump’s nominee to lead the office, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), withdrew from consideration after a joint investigation by The Post and 60 Minutes found he had sponsored legislation favoring opioid makers and curbing the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate abuses.
Think about this. The president has an attorney general who's promised to crack down on legalized marijuana. The ONDCP, if staffed by like-minded people, offers furthers opportunities for a "law and order" approach to drug use. If you're an authoritarian, why wouldn't you want the agency and the AG coordinating their efforts?

But if you're the Trumpers, you don't make this happen because so many other impulses are in conflict. Your instinct is to put pro-industry toadies in top positions, so you initially choose an industry lackey for the top ONDCP job. You want to prove you can run an administration without mastering any Washington skills, so you picked that toady without realizing he'd have a tough time being confirmed. Your chaotic approach inspires you to alienate staffers, and your blind hatred of government leads you to assume it doesn't matter whether you replace them, even though this could be an opportunity to put in smart, ruthless people who'll carry out your darkest plans. In the end, you wind up with a kid in a top position -- and then he can't survive a little scrutiny:
After being contacted by The Post about Weyeneth’s qualifications, and about inconsistencies on his résumés, an administration official said Weyeneth will return to the position he initially held in the agency, as a White House liaison for ONDCP, a job that typically involves working with outside interest groups. The official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said that Weyeneth has been primarily performing administrative work, rather than making policy decisions, and that he had “assumed additional duties and an additional title following staff openings.”
The administration has harmed a lot of people and will harm more before it's gone, but if the Trumpers were single-minded, they could be far more thuggish than they've been. They have too many conflicting impulses and goals. I don't think they'll ever get this authoritarianism thing figured out.

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