The Trump White House is extraordinarily short on talent and expertise in every facet of governance, starting with the president. Whatever vague semblance of competence the administration was able to bring in in the early days of the Trump presidency has since walked out the door, creating gaps in the White House often filled with “acting” directors and random hangers-on from his historically light campaign staff. Or sometimes the talent gaps aren’t even filled at all. Denigrating the concepts of competence and expertise are, of course, part of Trump’s self-justifications for his existence as president. These traditional qualifications for participation in the highest levels of American government have been replaced by cronyism and nepotism. If skill and competence mattered, after all, Trump would not be qualified for the presidency. So instead of bridging that expertise gap, surrounding himself with proficiency, he’s done the opposite: boost his own comparative abilities by surrounding himself with a confederacy of dunces.
On Wednesday, we got the latest indicator of how bereft the Trump administration is of standards and how contemptuous it is of people who might know better with Politico’s report that the White House is hiring a college senior to be what Politico describes as “one of the top officials in its powerful Presidential Personnel Office.” James Bacon, a 23-year-old undergraduate at George Washington University, is being installed as the office’s director of operations and right-hand man to the PPO’s new 29-year-old director, John McEntee. Bacon’s role appears to be to help McEntee carry out a purge of insufficiently loyal Trump appointees as part of a “re-vetting” process. Bacon comes to the department that the Washington Post described in 2018 as having “far-reaching influence as a gateway for the appointed officials who carry out the president’s policies and run federal agencies” by way of a brief stint at the Department of Transportation, a White House liaison role at the Department of Housing and Urban Development while he was still taking classes, and, of course, the Trump campaign.
This is not the first example of Trump or his administration brandishing its ability to lift inferior loyalists, weaponizing capriciousness and arbitrariness as an expression of power. As the Post pointed out in 2018, just one year into the Trump presidency, the Presidential Personnel Office “has served as a refuge for young campaign workers, a stopover for senior officials on their way to other posts and a source of jobs for friends and family. … One senior staffer has had four relatives receive appointments through the office.” Unsurprisingly, the office, which served as the epicenter of graft and gifting political jobs, was also an island of privileged, misfit toys with dubious personal histories.
The “obscure White House office responsible for recruiting and vetting thousands of political appointees has suffered from inexperience and a shortage of staff, hobbling the Trump administration’s efforts to place qualified people in key posts across government,” the Washington Post reported in 2018. What we didn’t know then, but is abundantly clear now, is the hobbling incompetence is the point.