Why Is Donald Trump Destroying the State Department?

Chris Kleponis/CNP via ZUMA

Ambassador Barbara Stephenson describes what’s happening at the State Department:

Our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers by more than half. The Foreign Service officer corps at State has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January [the equivalent of a four-star general]. Ranks of Career Ministers, our three-star equivalents, are down from 33 to 19. The ranks of our two-star Minister Counselors have fallen from 431 right after Labor Day to 369 today—and are still falling.

….Not surprisingly, given the blocked entry path, interest in joining the Foreign Service is plummeting. I wrote with pride in my March 2016 column that “more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year,” citing interest in joining the Foreign Service as a key indicator of the health of the institution. What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?

The big question is why this is happening. Republicans have long had a distrust of the “striped pants brigade” in the State Department, but that’s never led to a wholesale decimation of the diplomatic corps. It’s led—as you’d expect—to Republican presidents appointing lots of conservatives to senior positions. And Republicans in Congress aren’t pushing for this anyway. They mostly want funding and staffing levels to stay about the same.

So this is all Trump—and Rex Tillerson appears to be wholly on board. And yet, Trump isn’t pleased with Tillerson:

“The one that matters is me,” Trump said. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.” Asked if he planned to keep Tillerson on board for the rest of his term, Trump told Fox, “Well, we’ll see. I don’t know.” 

….On Thursday, Trump said many of the posts were not needed and he is “not happy” with others already there. “I want my vision, but my vision is my vision,” he said. “Rex is in there working hard … he’s doing the best he can.”

This is a mystery. Is it possible that Trump is destroying the State Department solely because it was once run by Hillary Clinton? Even for Trump that seems like a stretch. But why else would he be doing it? Can the career diplomats at State really be so unhappy with Trump that they’re actively obstructing his policies? I’ve heard nothing along those lines.

So what’s going on?

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate