As President-elect Donald Trump assembles his Cabinet and the legions of appointive posts that must be filled, there is an urgent need for intelligent, reasonable, ethical, innovative people at all levels to step forward and serve. They will have to do so in the face of what appears to be an increasingly chaotic transition that is starting to appear hostile to those who have not demonstrated fealty to Trump.
Trump's selection of Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist is a deeply disturbing start. Before he led Trump's campaign, Bannon helmed Breitbart, an extreme right website that fanned anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic sentiments, and served, in Bannon's own words, as "the platform of the alt-right." Bannon's appointment to such a powerful post has done little to comfort those who want to believe Trump is attempting to strike a more presidential, rational tone.
Bannon will be a key part of Trump's inner circle, equal in standing to Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee and newly appointed chief of staff. That will make it harder than ever for those who don't subscribe to such views to be willing to serve in a Trump administration. It may already be affecting Trump's ability to draw top candidates. Coincidentally or not, some of the more rational voices on his team are heading for the exits. Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a well-respected voice on national security, reportedly was asked to step down from the transition team. Eliot Cohen, a Middle East specialist who served in George W. Bush's State Department, had been asked to offer recommendations to the transition team, but encountered such hostility that he now says he is telling people to stay away.
There is only one person who can hit the reset button, and that's the president-elect. Trump must send a loud, clear signal that he wants the best, brightest, most creative minds this country has to offer, whether they supported his candidacy or not. He must say clearly that he welcomes the mix of viewpoints that challenge a president to produce the best decisions. And he should make clear that he intends to assemble an administration that reflects the country's rich diversity, albeit from the conservative end of the political spectrum.
There are plenty of legitimate candidates who could make solid contributions to a Trump administration. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad would be a far better choice for the Department of Agriculture than the current favorite, Texas Agriculture Secretary Sid Miller, who came to national notice when his Twitter account called Hillary Clinton a derogatory name for female genitalia. Sen. Bob Corker should be a leading choice for secretary of state, not the undiplomatic Rudy Giuliani. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, who has tackled the establishment repeatedly and actually won her last race as a write-in, chairs the Energy Committee and could bring actual experience to that department.
As the first president and commander in chief in history to have neither elective nor military experience, Trump will need some experienced hands who know how to effect positive change. Throughout his campaign he touted his business acumen and his ability to select top talent. It's time for him to prove it.
There is a parallel, once again, to be drawn from the surprise election of former wrestler Jesse Ventura to governor of Minnesota in the late 1990s. Ventura, it should be noted, had at least served in elective municipal office. Many were appalled at his elevation. But Minnesotans quickly buckled down and drafted smart, well-qualified people, giving Ventura a Cabinet that would have been the envy of many governors. They offered innovative reforms and Ventura wisely took in their counsel in many instances while holding true to his independent ideology.
Trump's first leadership test is here. He has nine weeks to make 4,000 appointments. It is our hope that he casts the net widely and selects carefully. Those called may need to set their misgivings aside in order to serve not just their president, but more importantly, their country.