I don't know about you, but overall I've been generally impressed with the quality of President Trump's cabinet appointments. Sure, I could find something to disagree about with pretty much every one of them. But the change from the Obama days has been dramatic, and dramatically positive -- from advancing an endless list of brain-dead progressive power grabs, to pushing back against the bureaucracy and rescinding many of the worst of the Obama-era regulations.
Is there any one of them who stands out as particularly bad? I have a nominee, and it may not be the guy you would expect.
First, a couple who are not my nominee. One guy widely disliked in conservative circles, and frequently criticized by Trump himself, is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The most common criticism of Sessions that I have seen is that he is "passive" or "unenergetic" in the face of a Justice Department and FBI that remain hostile to the boss. Perhaps there is a measure of truth in that. But Sessions has been badly hampered by the failure of the Senate to confirm many long-pending nominations for the next level below him, Assistant Attorney General. According to Above the Law in January, no fewer than five of the AAG positions remained vacant, including most of the main ones, even though nominees had been pending for all of them for many months, some going back to the first half of 2017. These included the AAGs for the Civil Division, Criminal Division, Civil Rights, Environment and Natural Resources, and National Security. According to the U.S. Senate website, one of the nominees, John Demers for National Security, finally got through on February 15. That leaves the other four still out there. I don't know how Sessions can even function at all with nobody on his team heading any of these divisions.
Another one who is not my nominee is Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State. Sure, I find it completely bizarre that the former head of Exxon seems to be pushing to get the U.S. back into the disastrous Paris climate agreement. But Tillerson can't really advance that objective over the boss's objection. Meanwhile, the constant gnashing of teeth in the media about staff departures and budget cuts at State sounds like music in my ears. It takes someone with a very strong stomach to push back against the blob to this extent. Very few could have done it.
So who is my nominee for worst member of the Trump cabinet? It's Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce.
You might say, how could he be so bad? Commerce is the smallest of all the departments, mainly concerned with promotion of American business interests. Ross is a business guy with a long and successful career. I actually ran into Ross at several points in my legal career (corporate bankruptcies), and Ross was known as a smart businessman and a tough negotiator. Why wouldn't such a guy be perfect for the job? The answer is, things can go badly awry when government uses its power for the wrong ends.
Ross's career included a good bit of dabbling in the steel industry, most prominently buying up assets of bankrupt U.S. steel manufacturers in the early 2000s, running them for a while, and then reselling them, mostly to foreign entities. Everybody I've ever known who has spent time in the steel or aluminum business has come away with the same perspective, namely "the foreign competition (mostly Chinese) is killing us with ridiculously low prices." Tariffs are the universally-proposed "solution." There is nothing surprising about Ross having caught this bug. It seems that much of his first year in his position has been taken up with an investigation and evaluation of what to do about the declining steel and aluminum industries. Of course, he has proposed large tariffs. Granted, Trump pushed this same idea during the campaign, so we can't be surprised that Ross has proposed it, nor that Trump is receptive. However, Trump's entire economic team seems to have been (sensibly) opposed to the tariff idea. If Ross had been a different guy, the idea may have died. It may still die. But if there is one guy other than Trump himself who should take the blame for this very bad idea getting as far as it has, it is Ross.
And there's an even bigger reason why Ross is a disaster. That involves NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Did you know that that agency is part of the Department of Commerce? Study the government, and you find out that there are zillions of small and medium-size bureaucracies that don't fit neatly in any particular department, so they just stick them somewhere arbitrary. And thus NOAA ended up in the Department of Commerce. NOAA includes many of the government's efforts in the fields of weather and climate, like the National Weather Service, and the National Centers for Environmental Information, formerly known as the National Climatic Data Center. Yes, these are the people who "adjust" the historical temperature data to create a spurious warming trend, and put out regular phony press releases claiming that the current (month, year, whatever) has been the "hottest ever."
The temperature data adjustment scandal is far and away the biggest scandal anywhere in our government. It provides the main purported evidentiary support to keep the climate change narrative going, and to justify proposals from the bureaucracy to transform our energy sector and force the citizenry to spend hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars to achieve nothing. This scandal is the subject of the now-eighteen-part Manhattan Contrarian series The Greatest Scientific Fraud Of All Time.
With a climate skeptic in the person of Trump finally elected to the White House, we had every reason to expect that someone would finally turn a spotlight on this scandal. The Secretary of Commerce is the key guy to do it. As far as I can tell, Ross couldn't be less interested in this subject. Has Ross made even the slightest effort to figure out what is going on over at NCEI? Nothing that I can find. I guess, unlike steel tariffs, it's just not something he cares about. Granted, it doesn't really relate to what would seem to be the core mission of the Department of Commerce. Nevertheless, it is by far the most consequential thing that the Department is up to at the present time. A Commerce Secretary who doesn't pay attention to this subject is worse than just completely incompetent. He is a disaster.