On Jan. 20, President Donald Trump will become former President Donald Trump, and when he leaves the White House – voluntarily or by force – he’ll take with him his appalling attacks on religious freedom and separation of church and state.
That’s good news – and it’s not the end of it. When Trump departs, several members of his cabinet will accompany him. These men and women were the ones who implemented Trump’s ideology of division and destruction. Their policies harmed people of many different backgrounds and orientations. No one should be sorry to see them go.
Trump had a tendency to surround himself with a bevy of sycophants, many of whom were clearly in over their heads. At times, the White House looked like it had installed a revolving door. (Remember Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House director of communications for a grand total of 10 days in the summer of 2017 but then morphed into an outspoken Trump critic?)
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that everyone Trump hired was ineffective. Some of his appointments caused real harm, and it will take time and a lot of work to undo their damage.
Consider, for example, billionaire Betsy DeVos. DeVos, who served as secretary of education, was the rare Trump appointee who managed to hang on for all four years. DeVos, a major GOP donor from Michigan, was particularly ill-suited for that post because she is an ideologue who opposes public education. Her tenure was marked by a constant push for private school vouchers and other schemes to siphon money away from public schools, which serve 90% of America’s children, into the coffers of private (mostly religious) academies that all too frequently engage in flagrant discrimination and often elevate sectarian indoctrination above sound education.
Attorney General William Barr was another problematic Trump appointee. Barr had served as President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general in the early 1990s, and Americans United was quite familiar with his record. During his tenure with Bush, Barr outspokenly attacked secular government and secular public schools in more than one speech. On one occasion, he called for American government to be based on “natural law” – a philoso-phical concept embraced by conservative Catholic theologians who insist that the church’s moral principles can be arrived at through secular reasoning.
Barr continued these attacks on church-state separation during his time in the Trump administration, freely spewing nonsense against separation of religion and government.
“I feel today religion is being driven out of the marketplace of ideas, and there’s an organized, militant secular effort to drive religion out of our lives,” Barr said earlier this year during a radio interview. “To me, the problem today is not that religious people are trying to impose their views on non-religious people. It’s the opposite. It’s that militant secularists are trying to impose their values on religious people, and they’re not accommodating the freedom of religion of people of faith.”
Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), also holds extreme religious views, fundamentalist Protestant in his case. During his own brief campaign for president in 2016, Carson opined that no Muslim was fit to be president, grandly ignoring a provision in the U.S. Constitution that bars religious tests for public office.
After being appointed to the position at HUD, Carson promised to ensure “that both our physical infrastructure and our spiritual infrastructure is solid.” He also called on church and state to work together to “promote godly principles.” His housing policies especially hurt members of the LGBTQ community.
Finally, Trump’s departure means the end of his Evangelical Advisory Board. This band of Christian nationalists enjoyed undue influence with Trump and were likely responsible for some of his more reckless policies, such as an executive order that Trump falsely claimed legalized church politicking and a raft of anti-LGBTQ orders.
As we noted elsewhere in this issue, President-Elect Joe Biden will have the power to reverse many of Trump’s worst policies. Lacking support in Congress, Trump tended to govern through executive orders and regulatory changes. Biden can begin repealing these orders on day one; in fact, he has already said he will.
We at Americans United welcome that. We also welcome the departure of so many administration officials whose policies have been based on capricious cruelty.
Their departure from public life is a cause for celebration.