KATHLEEN PARKER: Taylor Weyeneth story suggests systemic problems for Trump
WASHINGTON -- If the name Taylor Weyeneth rings a tiny bell in your head, then you might be related to him. Otherwise, the 24-year-old was until a week ago an unknown if powerful member of the Trump administration: deputy chief of staff in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Weyeneth’s qualifications for the job, which falls under the executive branch and spends hundreds of millions to fight illegal drugs and manage the opioid crisis, are essentially nil. As reported in The Washington Post, he did lose a relative to a heroin overdose and was very moved, making him uniquely qualified for no job whatsoever. His professional experience consisted of working on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and, before that, working for a family firm that processed health products such as chia seeds, which is a spiffy resume item if you’re aiming to make smoothies at Whole Foods.
Weyeneth’s alarming lack of qualifications raises a number of questions, principally: What in the world were they thinking? Didn’t the president not long ago declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency? Who put Weyeneth there and why?
Since the ONDCP is part of the executive branch, Weyeneth’s placement would have come through the Office of Presidential Personnel, run by John DeStefano, a former staffer and policy adviser to former House Speaker John Boehner. DeStefano is in charge of screening job applicants and interviewing potential ambassadors and Cabinet secretaries. He is the arbiter of loyalty among possible hires, and is involved in the firing of those found to be not quite loyal enough.
Given the hundreds of unfilled jobs throughout the administration, including top-level positions, loyalists must be few and far between. DeStefano doesn’t mind the criticism that he’s taking too long to fill positions, however. In a Post interview last April, he said he was more concerned about getting it right than fast. He often asks candidates: ”’What’s your vision? ... I’m the person who’s vouching for them to the president of the United States.”
One can only imagine what Weyeneth offered up. It must have been very, very good.
None of this is Weyeneth’s fault, of course. He merely stepped in where he was allowed, as any ambitious, recent college grad would. But his story suggests more-serious systemic problems. Bottom line: More-experienced, qualified candidates have simply declined to join the Trump club. It is broadly understood that one either doesn’t last long or that, once associated with this administration, one’s future becomes rather dim.
Too, word is out that Trump’s henchmen take no prisoners.
So it was with the ONDCP’s acting chief of staff and general counsel, Lawrence “Chip” Muir, who was suddenly shown the door last month. One hears dozens of stories of similarly shabby treatment. The only survivors in this reality show are those who apparently do as they’re told or who flatter the emperor as required.
Thus, people such as Weyeneth get important jobs for which they’re unqualified and accrue power wildly disproportionate to their talents or experience. After a week of reported tensions between Trump and his chief of staff John Kelly, insiders are speculating about whether the retired general will be the next to join the exit parade.
The exit doors seem especially busy with women these days.
“They’re keeping their heads down and getting the hell out of there,” a recent evacuee told me. Though a Republican loyalist who has worked in three administrations, she bolted after three months on a job when she realized that Trump world was a cartoon version of “Lord of the Flies.”
“No one’s in charge,” she said.
The pace of voluntary departures is likely to pick up as Democrats appear closer to taking back the House and Senate in November. What profit would there be in sticking around? A Democratic Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer could theoretically begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. The Senate Banking Committee, if led by now-ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown (assuming Ohio re-elects him) and featuring Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), would no doubt delight in closely examining Trump’s multiple bankruptcies.
The effect of such events would be to humiliate Trump, who hates to lose, and essentially neuter his power to move legislation. Rather than draining the swamp, he would have instigated an exodus of good people, reinforced the status quo, and lent a helping hand to an increasingly left-leaning Democratic Party.
In the interim, poor Weyeneth, who is only 24 after all, is just a kid on a fast ride, who, through no fault of his own has become both emblem and embodiment of the Trump administration’s recklessness and lack of seriousness. He deserves a job commensurate with his accomplishments -- and American people deserve grown-ups in the White House.