As the Biden team assembles, I note a complete cultural difference between the previous administration and the coming administration, and it centers on a theory of governance.
Government is a bureaucratic function. While we may or may not elect the policy creators for any given level of government, local to federal, we do not elect the vast majority of those who will do the work of that office. Those workers have individual and group accountability to the higher authority of the US and State Constitutions that they work under, as well as county and municipal laws and regulations. Between the elected officials and the working mass of the government is a bridge group: political appointees.
Political appointees in the executive branch serve at the will of their elected supervisor. This is not only the Secretary of State, but the Deputy Secretary of State, the several Undersecretaries of State, and their assistant undersecretaries and so on. Who one chooses to fill these vacancies, and even if one chooses to fill these vacancies is perhaps the best way to evaluate a president's political philosophy.
President Trump chose Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo as his secretaries of state. The first was the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, with no prior government experience. This signaled that US corporate and energy sector concerns would dominate the priorities of the US Government. In Mike Pompeo, President Trump picked a "Tea Party" member of the Republican National Committee, an army tank corps veteran who had served as a member of the House of Representatives from a conservative, 85% white republican district in Kansas. He served on energy, commerce committees, and intelligence committees. He was a primary voice in the Republican partisan Benghazi investigations' prolonged attacks on Hillary Clinton. For this, he was elevated to Secretary of State, reaffirming that energy would drive foreign policy, but also that partisan muck raking and supporting the anti-Hillary agenda would be empowered and rewarded.
Neither of Trump's picks had foreign policy experience or expertise. So it is not surprising that among the 6 Undersecretaries of State, the two that are still vacant at this point are the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and the Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. These two classic core duties of the American Foreign Service in the Department of State were not priorities for Trump or his appointees and they - and everything they are meant to do - withered on the vine for four years.
Even more mind-boggling is the broad nepotism of family members in the White House. When loyalty matters more than knowledge, you wind up with incompetence. Take, for example, the much heralded Trump peace plan for Israel. Suddenly, you have Jared Kushner reading books like he is cramming for an exam before writing a term paper drawing conclusions from his own echo-chamber and passing it off as policy. It was dead before it started because of the deep lack of experience and understanding of the situation on the ground that was meant to be solved.
Diplomacy and international affairs is messier than that, and must take into account not just what one person thinks is best but what all actors think is best. The result is not a sermon, but a prolonged process of compromise. As a result, the Trump team found that they could only make deals with dictators - the UAE, Bahrain and the Sudan - and were not able to solve real social and political questions such as the complex hopes and circumstance of the Palestinian people. Lucky for them, there are plenty of dictators in the Middle East to have some success in that mode.
Biden is signaling his deep faith in experience and expertise. None of his first 8 cabinet level appointees has held elected office. Each of them have a life's work of directly relevant government experience in the line of promotion to the position that they have been given. Where they have second and third level appointments to make under themselves, we can expect to see that trend continue.
Whereas in the Trump administration mid-level managers in State, Defense and Intelligence repeatedly had their work devalued, ignored or even demonized as "unelected anonymous deep state actors," Biden understands that the work of governance is not obedience to the highest leader. Governance is the mustering of all levels of government work to support the political goals of the elected officials while simultaneously maintaining the good work and momentum of the government as a whole - most of which is the same under Democratic or Republican leadership.
I warmly welcome the return of the dignity of our civil servants, and of our military and intelligence specialists. I am encouraged that the full measure of our government offices will be filled with knowledge and experience representing the depth and diversity of the American people.
I welcome the return of governance as the political philosophy of the White House.