With all the attention paid to President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, let's not forget to give some heed to some of the more alarming hiring decisions made by our wannabe tinpot dictator.
Just this week, for instance, the White House announced the hiring of Beth Van Duyne, the mayor of Irving, Texas, to be the regional administrator for five states, including Texas, for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The choice is an odd one, and not just because the mayor of a suburban Texas town seems like an odd fit for such a major federal office. It's odd because Van Duyne is a completely bonkers conspiracy theorist who has spent her time in the mayoral office railing against the imaginary threat of "sharia law."
Van Duyne received national attention for defending the police in her city for arresting a 14-year-old Muslim student for bringing a homemade clock to school and has since been running around humble-bragging about her supposed courage standing up to a completely nonexistent effort by Muslim fundamentalists to take over the American court system by subterfuge.
It's tempting to see Van Duyne's appointment — which echoes Trump's appointment of other nuts and conspiracy theorists, from Ben Carson to Betsy DeVos to Michael Flynn — as a symptom of Trump's own weirdness, something that can be fixed by booting him personally from office. Unfortunately, this habit of elevating people who believe false and strange things to federal office is yet another example of how Trump is building on long-standing habits of the Republican party, which has long rewarded conspiracy theorists and anti-science cranks with powerful government positions.
It's easy to forget now, but George W. Bush appointed some real corkers to federal office.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has gotten enmeshed in a corruption scandal right away, with the role he played in the firing of Comey. But let's not forget that Bush-era attorney general Alberto Gonzales was corrupt through and through, eventually drawing well-founded accusations of perjury. It was Gonzales who was at the center of one of the biggest Bush-era scandals, in which it was discovered that illegal influence-peddling had resulted in a bunch of unqualified hires at the Justice Department.
Or take Trump's climate-denying hire to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt. Trump is simply building on Bush's legacy in this department. Bush went through a series of EPA heads until he could find one that was willing to deny that greenhouse gases are a legitimate environmental hazard, which resulted in a group of states and other interested parties successfully suing the EPA to force them to do their job in regulating pollution.
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Trump has rightfully drawn a lot of fire for hiring anti-choice extremists Teresa Manning and Charmaine Yoest for prominent positions at Health and Human Services, even though both women openly spread lies about the risks of abortion. Just to make it worse, Manning, who has a public record of denying that contraception even works, was hired to oversee the Title X family planning program. But these choices echo the strategy employed by the Bush administration of stuffing health care agencies with anti-choice cranks who believe all manner of strange conspiracy theories.
Janet Woodcock, hired by Bush to be the deputy commissioner for operations at the FDA, circulated a memo during the battle at the FDA over emergency contraception's legal status in which she said that making such drugs available over the counter "would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B." Another FDA appointee, Dr. David Hager, argued that emergency contraception is for women "who did not want to take responsibility for their actions and wanted a medication to relieve those consequences."
But perhaps the most bonkers Bush appointee, to the office of deputy assistant secretary of population affairs at Health and Human Services (the same office Manning was appointed to), was Eric Keroack, an anti-choice ob-gyn who argued that condoms don't work and that birth control is "demeaning to women." Keroack got special attention from feminist blogs during the Bush years because of his pet theory that premarital sex distorted women's oxytocin levels and made them unable to feel love once married, a theory that, needless to say, holds absolutely no scientific value.
President Barack Obama ran his administration in a corruption-free way that put a premium on evidence and thorough deliberation. But that shouldn't lull us into forgetting that Bush staffed up the place with science-haters and conspiracy theorists. Trump is probably worse than that — or at least his administration is reaching critical mass of crazy more rapidly — but everything he's doing is just a continuation of Republican business as usual.