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All The President’s Henchmen

By Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport
Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality concentrator in Adams House.

Which Trump administration officials will end up in prison, and which will end up in cushy positions at Harvard? Twitter is curious, and so am I.

The answer to the first question should be left up to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Attorney General. But the second question should be a non-starter: Exactly zero former Trump administration political appointees should end up at the institution whose motto is the Latin word for “truth.”

Exactly zero of the people who accepted positions in the Trump administration and spent the last four years gaslighting the public, undermining our standing in the world, and flirting with authoritarianism — or who associated themselves with those people — should be elevated to positions at Harvard.

That means no Institute of Politics fellowships and no visiting professorships. But it should also mean no speeches and no awards. And absolutely no exceptions.

A widely circulating open letter is seeking “accountability guidelines” in hiring decisions for former Trump administration officials, rather than an outright ban. But while this petition has been wildly mischaracterized and unfairly criticized, it does not go far enough.

Members of the outgoing Presidential administration are traditionally offered positions on campus in a bipartisan effort to connect Harvard students with political leaders. But this is no normal administration, and thus any deference to traditional Harvard protocol ignores the extent to which this administration has undermined the rule of law and threatened our very democracy. It ignores the extent to which this administration threatened students on campus — undocumented students, international students, BGLTQ students, students of color, and more.

This is the administration that locks children in cages, refuses to condemn dictators, and undermines our allies. This is the administration that threatens the freedom of the press on a daily basis, fuels white supremacists, and barred transgender people from serving in the military. This is the administration that lied about the threat of COVID-19, leading to over 250,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, and continues to do nothing to stop its spread. This is the administration that sabotaged the Post Office in an attempt to rig the election and refuses to acknowledge Biden’s clear victory, undermining democracy and creating a delay that will threaten national security and the COVID vaccine distribution plan. This is not a typical Republican administration, and any arguments about the importance of free speech fail to acknowledge Trump’s uniquely anti-democratic actions.

These actions show that Trump administration political appointees don’t care about us; they care about themselves. They don’t care about the Constitution; they care about pleasing one man.

What use would “accountability guidelines” be in this situation? There is no nuance to complicity with authoritarianism. There are people who put children in cages, and people who aligned themselves with those who did. There are people who ignored COVID because it was “only” affecting “blue” states, and people who aligned themselves with those who did. It is impossible to draw a line between those who perpetrate such acts of inhumanity and those who stand by and allow it to happen. Complicity toward evil is no better than evil itself.

No display of morality can negate the role every Trump administration official had in the administration. Take Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security: One might argue that his quiet opposition as the author of an anonymous 2018 New York Times op-ed — and his integrity coming forward before the election to endorse Biden and speak about his harrowing experience in the Trump administration — merits consideration from Harvard. But this is the same Taylor who aided and abetted — and then defended — the administration’s spin on its family separation policies. A person’s willingness to speak out at the 11th hour does not negate their initial willingness to join the administration and their subsequent complicity with the administration’s broader ambitions.

Harvard brings in outside experts to provide students with countless opportunities to learn from people who have been in the room and whose experiences will help shape our own understandings of the world. There is nothing we can learn from people who have put themselves, and their allegiance to a wannabe dictator, above this country. There is nothing we can learn from people who cannot see Trump — and, for that matter, who could not see Trump at the beginning of his term — as the threat to democracy that he is. There is nothing we can learn from people who willingly associated themselves with Trump even if they claim to have worked against him from the inside. By lending credibility to any of these officials, we by extension lend credibility to all of them and their collective actions.

Over the past four years, the challenge was to avoid normalizing the actions of the Trump administration, to protest at every authoritarian turn; now, we cannot forget what they have done to our country. Providing Trump administration officials with opportunities at Harvard would perpetuate a dangerous revisionist history that would only legitimize what should have stayed a reality TV presidency and normalize similar authoritarian behavior in the future.

The Trump administration has wreaked enough havoc on this country, and now is the time not for intellectual engagement, but for accountability. Now is the time not for guidelines about potential hires, but for a complete rejection of everything Trump stands for.

So — no IOP fellowships, no speeches, no visiting professorships, no awards. And absolutely no exceptions. Absolutely nothing for any of the grifting, gaslighting snake-oil salesmen or their complicit enablers, who were willing to put an end to the American conception of democracy if it pleased the whims of their Narcissist-in-Chief.

Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality concentrator in Adams House.

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