A recent dispute at U-VA offers an interesting follow-up to my last post. In Charlottesville, where last year a neo-Nazi rally turned deadly and Trump suggested that there were good people on both sides, the University of Virginia, a respectable bastion of academic freedom if not exactly a 1960s-style Berkeley, has agreed to hire one Marc Short as a senor fellow at the University-affiliated Miller Center. The Center, according to the Washington Post, focuses on "presidential scholarship and public policy." Mr. Short (who by the way has an MBA from U-VA) just left the White House staff last week, where he was legislative affairs director for the President.
An online petition nicely encapsulates the protest view: "The university should not serve as a waystation for high-level members of an administration that has directly harmed our community and … attacks the institutions vital to a free society.... we do not object to dialogue … [but] to the use of our university to clean up their tarnished reputations."
Short is a long-time Republican operator, and has predictable history with a variety of GOP figures ranging back decades. In his latest job, he obviously would have had to support some of the more controversial Trump positions. He has recently conceded that the White House could have handled the Charlottesville incident better. The University and the Miller Center are defending his appointment as representing the spirit of bipartisanship.
I feel certain that Mr. Short's appointment is secure, the opposition won't gain much traction. It's the norm, and it's legitimate. After all, as Americans, I think, we mostly accept the revolving door between government (even administrations we don't like), business, and academia. We expect that those who serve in government (both career civil servants and the Presidential appointees) will support the policies of the President for whom they work, and that elected politicians will likewise naturally favor their party's positions.
But this small tempest does raise some interesting questions. It seems to me Trump's excesses have created new obstacles to this easy acceptance of those who themselves too easily accepted, and even supported, lies, racism, humanitarian abuses, and very possibly illegal meddling in an election. These are not things we became used to dealing with in previous administrations. When exactly should we expect an official's moral code to make him/her say "enough?" And when she/he fails to do so, is it sufficient - when offenses reach trumpian egregiousness and even unlawfulness - for them to just apologize for a mistake in judgment as they move on to exercise their awful judgment elsewhere? And does their level of commitment make a difference - a cabinet Secretary, or a ?
Tough questions. History tells us they aren't new ones. I don't have definitive answers. But I feel certain that those who want to pass through the good ol' revolving door in future should legitimately expect to encounter a lot more pushing back from the other side. It's another way (not a good one) that Our National Embarrassment will have altered our political system. Maybe something Mr. Short will want to consider in his new role of examining "presidential scholarship and public policy."