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Looking the Part: the Problem with the President’s Personnel Priorities

< recent reshuffling of personnel, Donald Trump replaced his former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster with John Bolton.  For anyone keeping track, Bolton is Trump’s third National Security Advisor–in case you forgot about Michael Flynn, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his connections with Russian agents.

For comparison’s sake, President George W. Bush was still on his first Advisor, as was President Obama. Although this article could certainly be about the rapid turnover of National Security Advisors and the instability  that it promotes, I will instead write about what President Trump’s hiring of Bolton reveals about the qualities the President looks for in a political appointee.

John Bolton was on the shortlist for many high-level positions when constructing his Cabinet.  Trump was reported to be deciding between Bolton and McMaster to replace Flynn as National Security Advisor back in February of 2017.  Trump’s original choice of McMaster over Bolton to replace Flynn was rather unique.  It was one of the rare times where I supported a decision of President Trump.

McMaster is highly respected in military circles for his experience, team-building abilities, strategic expertise, and his non-extreme geopolitical views. McMaster, for these reasons, stood out like a sore thumb in the overwhelmingly unexperienced Trump; someone as measured as McMaster simply did not fit the culture of chaos in the West Wing. 

So this begs the question: why was McMaster even hired in the first place if Bolton would have been a better fit in Trump’s White House.  The answer might be where you least expect it: between the nose and the upper lip.  Yes, it has been widely reported that the President was put off by Bolton’s mustache. 

As someone who recently made a foray into the world of mustaches, I find this precedent particularly disturbing.  On a more serious note, it is deeply troubling that the direction of America’s foreign policy was influenced by something as arbitrary as a mustache.

Even if I am happy that Trump initially resisted hiring Bolton (Bolton is a trigger-happy individual who almost always believes war is the answer; he advocates for preemptively striking North Korea. He has made a habit of lying about intelligence to fit his agenda.

His views were so radical that he was unable to be confirmed by a Republican Senate when President Bush nominated him to be the Ambassador to the UN in 2003–Bolton later assumed the position via a recess appointment), presidential appointments of this standing are consequential, and decisions with far-reaching impacts should not be made arbitrarily.

Trump’s reluctance to hire Bolton hints at a larger and equally, if not more, problematic theme of the President’s decision-making.

As best worded in a 2016 Washington Post article, “Donald Trump believes that those who aspire to the most visible spots in his administration should not just be able to do the job, but also look the part.”  If I were being generous to the President, then maybe I would interpret “looking the part” to mean a prospective hiree ought to carry themself in a professional manner, with a certain level of grace and thoughtfulness befitting of the Executive Branch. 

But considering the President’s obvious disdain for doing anything that one could even confuse with being thoughtful, it is clear that when Trump says he favors people who “look the part,” it does not mean that he prefers administrators that carry themselves professionally.  This claim is only bolstered by the President’s illustrious history of racism and misogyny. 

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, there is something more sinister behind Trump’s yearning for appointees who “look the part.”

President Trump’s cabinet is whiter and more male than any Presidential cabinet since the 1980s, and a 2017 report by Reuters found that President Trump’s first 1,051 political appointees collectively were  “27 percentage points whiter and 13 percentage points more male than the population at large.”

It is not anything new for government to not reflect the demographic makeup of the country–there are only 22 women currently serving in the U.S. Senate. Still, President Trump should not be left off the hook for both his cabinet’s lack of diversity and that of the bureaucracy he is instrumental in reshaping. His keenness on appointees “looking the part” must be understood for what it really means.  President Trump prefers white appointees, especially if they are men. That is wrong.

By placing so much focus on physical appearance, and facial hair, when considering potential political appointees, the President is doing a massive disservice to the Country. He is sacrificing the experience and diversity that are so desperately needed in his Administration. 

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