Let the Age of Pragmatism Begin

The first round of Senate confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominees is now in the history books, and it is clear that the incoming president intends to make good on his promise to change Washington. Rex Tillerson and Generals James Mattis and Robert Kelly walked away having established themselves as strong, accomplished, serious men with records of success in their individual endeavors.  Even Dr. Ben Carson — who seemed an admittedly odd choice to head HUD — reassured, pledging to bringing a fresh look to programs whose structure has not been examined in decades, despite, in many cases, having failed to meet the expectations of activists.

There was one consistent theme throughout the testimonies: pragmatism over ideology. After decades of ideological warfare paralyzing Washington, the Trump Administration promises to reassess where we are as a country and chart a new, sustainable course both at home and abroad instead of pursuing ideological purity or utopia.

During the campaign, Trump’s opponents warned that his ego was very fragile, making him susceptible to flattery. If elected, we were warned, he would surround himself with lackeys — “yes men” who would indulge his impulsive, reckless, childish behavior, putting the country — no — the entire world at risk. The hearings effectively debunked the caricature. No one can call General Mattis a lackey or fear that he would not stand up to Trump. The same is true of General Kelly, and Tillerson.

Yet instead of being reassured that Trump is not filling the Cabinet with flunkies, his opponents have switched tactics: they point to areas where the nominees diverge from the president-elect and wring their hands about the divisions and tension or whether it will lead to chaos. There will be no honeymoon, it seems: every decision Trump makes will be cast in a negative light. If his nominees had gone before the Senate and agreed with Trump’s views to the letter — especially with respect to Russia — his opponents would have issued dire warnings that the Kremlin is about to take over our government.

Speaking of Russia, it is difficult to explain Marco Rubio’s conduct during the Tillerson hearings. Perhaps he was auditioning to be the Third Amigo of Sens. McCain and Graham, now that Kelly Ayotte left a vacancy. Perhaps he was setting up a possible second run at the presidency, in the event that Trump is vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2020. Whatever the motivation, Rubio tried to force Tillerson to label Vladimir Putin a war criminal and denounce Saudi Arabia for violations of human rights. Tillerson, being an intelligent, mature man, did not indulge Little Marco tie the hands of the incoming administration. Labels are meaningless unless one is prepared back it with as much action as necessary to achieve the desired results. Does Rubio really believe that more sanctions and tossing Russian diplomats out of the United States are going to bring Putin to his knees?  Unless we are prepared to back our words with military actions, we are creating another Syrian red line situation: Obama drew it without the support of the American people and we ended up looking foolish and emboldening Assad. Let’s avoid repeating mistakes.

Moreover, Trump made no secret of his desire to seek a working relationship with Putin. He repeatedly stated his intentions throughout the campaign. One of the reasons the experts were so confident he would never win the GOP nomination was because of his relatively dovish stance on Russia. Supposedly, Trump could never win the nod of the party that stared down the Evil Empire — but he did. In the general election, national security minded Republicans were going to flee from Trump and support the tough talking Hillary Clinton — but they did not. Trump made his case for a pragmatic approach towards Russia, his opponents made their case against working with Putin — and the American voters settled the matter by electing Trump.

Finally, no hearings would be complete without some grandstanding, and in this category the standouts are Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, the latter breaking with tradition by testifying against a Senate colleague. Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Wisconsin perfectly described Booker’s performance as “a poor man’s Obama in terms of acting.” Acting ability aside, Booker justified his unprecedented move out of concern for civil rights. Senator Sessions’ record on civil rights includes prosecuting the KKK in Alabama and helping secure the death penalty for a Klansman for lynching a black man. What is Booker’s record on civil rights? Or is Booker operating under the assumption that because he happens to being born with more melanin that Senator Sessions that makes him more credible on the subject of civil rights?

Senator Warren should be grateful that California sent Kamala Harris to the Senate just in time to pose the most ridiculous question of all, asking Trump’s selection to head the CIA  about…climate change — otherwise the honor would have belonged to her. During her posturing, Warren tried to corner Ben Carson by asking him to assure the American people that “not one dollar will go to benefit either the president-elect or his family” as a result of decision he will make as HUD Secretary — a completely unrealistic reqquest. Dr. Carson patiently responded that he will only considers what is in the best interest of all Americans and not any particular individual. When Warren tried to push him a second time, he replied, “If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that is working for millions of people and it turns out that someone that your are targeting is going to gain $10, am I going to say ‘No, the rest of you Americans can’t have it’? I think logic and common sense probably would be the best way.” Imagine a Washington where logic, common sense, pragmatism prevail! Based on the hearings so far, it may be just around the corner.