Zinke, who has repeatedly stated "I am a geologist" to support his disastrous environmental policies, was really a geology major in college 34 years ago
and hasn't held a job as a geologist since. He attended the University of Oregon on a football scholarship, and picked his major "as a result of closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog," he wrote in his autobiography. After graduation, he entered the military and became a Navy SEAL.
If a college major alone qualifies someone as a professional, should Mr. Bean
(electrical engineering, Queens College, Oxford, 1975) rewire the White House? Would President Donald Trump hire Lionel Richie (economics, Tuskegee University
, 1974) to run the Federal Reserve?
Let's hope Trump doesn't come up with that last idea himself. It could happen.
In an administration populated by officials woefully unqualified for their jobs and yet suddenly possessing vast political power, sans experience -- beginning with our reality TV star President and moving all the way down -- Zinke is notable only for having tried to fudge the facts. (He knows enough, at least, to recognize that he should know something but doesn't.)
Cabinet appointments don't have to go to the top expert in each field, but competent Presidents at least appoint people who know what they're doing, who know how to reach for actual experts with deep and long experience -- and who don't grossly mischaracterize their own experience in order to justify their active hostility to the mission of the department they run.
For one example: Zinke used his supposed experience as a geologist to justify cutting back the protected area of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. He even had the chutzpah to criticize the US Geological Survey -- that's actual geologists -- from his perspective
as a "geologist, saying that the group's assessments "fall short, from a geologist's point of view."
An embellished resume isn't Zinke's only problem. Two government watchdog agencies are examining whether he misused taxpayer funds
for personal and political gain (another favorite scam of the Trump administration toadies).
And according to an article in The New York Times detailing his political aspirations, it seems Zinke is happy to deplete and threaten public lands across the country, but not in his home state of Montana, where he may later seek office. Fossil fuel magnates
, happy to drain the planet's resources for some extra cash, love him. Actual geologists seem less keen
That's because actual geologists are tasked with studying the Earth, and tend to recognize humans' impact on our planet
(Zinke, by contrast, allegedly ordered an official
at Joshua Tree National Park to stop tweeting about climate change).
His Interior Department has prioritized energy development
and axed policies that focus on climate change and conservation. Real geologists are busy doing a range of actually useful things: making sure the ground is solid enough so that bridges don't collapse, studying how the Earth has changed over its millions of years of existence and learning valuable lessons about climate change today -- not to mention discovering huge new supplies
of rare earth minerals in Japanese mud.
It's dangerous to appoint and elect startlingly unfit leaders, especially if they are, like Zinke and the President, also serial fabulists. Trump has appointed
what appears to be the least qualified cabinet in recent memory—and that's saying a lot.
Remember Energy Secretary Rick Perry
, who was surprised to learn that his new role put him in charge of America's nuclear arsenal? Or Betsy DeVos, whose primary experience with the public educational system has been her long-standing attempts to destroy it?
Or Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate who is, inexplicably, now in charge of the Department of Housing and Urban Development? And, of course, Trump himself
, who inherited the money that allowed him to build businesses (which then repeatedly filed for bankruptcy) before segueing into a storied career as a cartoonish and callous TV personality.
Studies show that men are more likely
than women to believe they are particularly competent and intelligent, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, and Trump and Zinke are evidence enough of that dynamic. Experience, proficiency and expertise don't matter to this White House, and neither does honesty. Zinke fits right in.
The elections in 2018 and 2020 cannot come fast enough to begin to set this right.