The Spoils System

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

I have heard this story line too often; a new person is elected president, and he (so far it remains a man) picks all kinds of people who either supported him in the presidential election or the new president-elect feels is qualified to be in a certain position. The current president-elect, Donald Trump, is appointing people that many people—both in the Republican Party as well as the Democratic Party—find objectionable. And perhaps some of his selections are. But I have noted a fundamental problem that has existed with at least three presidential administrations—appointing people because those people were on the candidate’s side and regardless of their qualifications. In this instance, Donald Trump is no exception. I have seen this with the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

In those three administrations alone, these presidents have chosen all sorts of people who had supported the candidate even if they did not have the qualifications for the cabinet posts and offices they were to hold. It is what I call a left-over of the “spoils system.” A long time ago, back in the 19th Century to be exact, whenever a political party won the presidential election, the winning party would purge all of the lower functioning civil servants and federal employees and replace all of them with people who supported the winning party. Eventually this was reformed so that lower level functionaries could stay in their offices that they are qualified to run under the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. However, this has not worked for the higher executive positions. When we get a new president, we get it seems entirely new people in the executive—with the problem of foreign policy, domestic programs, and new and weird laws passed every four years (not to mention how disconcerting this all is to world leaders and elected public officials in all of the American states).

In only a few cases have incoming presidents kept any people who have proven exceptional regardless of their politics. For example, former President Bill Clinton kept Alan Greenspan as the head of the Federal Reserve even though Greenspan was Republican. Also, soon to be former President Barack Obama has kept Jerome H. Powell as head of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors even though Powell is Republican. Sometimes, a person’s expertise and qualifications goes well beyond party lines, and getting rid of such a person would only bring chaos to the whole federal government. What will a Trump presidency look like in this regards? We can only speculate. Some of his choices are highly questionable. One example is Monica Crowley, who will be Trump’s senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. Crowley has gone on record stating that a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border should be built because “walls work” and she cited the Berlin Wall as an example. There are three problems with this. First, the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in rather than keep people out. Second, the Berlin Wall was built by the Communist side to prevent the ideas of freedom and democracy from coming into the former East Germany and Soviet bloc as well as prevent the freedom of travel. Finally, the Berlin Wall failed because the Communists, despite their best efforts, could NOT keep the German people from wanting to become free. Talk about a complete ignorance of history! This type of talk does not bode well for the new administration.

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