The Rear Admiral Ronny L Jackson is highly qualified as a doctor. He served in Iraq as the man in charge of resuscitative medicine for a Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon, he was picked as a White House physician in 2006, and has been working in Pennsylvania Avenue ever since. In 2013, President Obama made him the Physician to the President, a position he retained with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. What the Rear Admiral Ronny L Jackson is not highly qualified for is running the Department for Veteran Affairs.
But Ronny Jackson this week found himself as the nominee to fill the latest vacant position in Trump’s merry-go-round of a cabinet. David Schulkin, the previous Secretary, was fired, as David Graham put it in The Atlantic, “nominally”, because of a summer trip to Europe that Schulkin used taxpayer’s money to take his wife on. He paid the government back, as he said he had always intended to, but the media storm surrounding the issue had put pressure on him.
What others, including David Schulkin himself have said, is that Schulkin was fired as a result of his opposition to the increasing moves to privatise the work of the Veteran Affairs department. Schulkin commented in an op-ed for the New York Times (an op-ed so timely it must have been pre-written in the event of his dismissal) that ‘Unfortunately, the department has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans. These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run V.A. care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.’
John Cassidy echoed Schulkin’s thoughts in the New Yorker, ‘During his twelve-and-a-half-month tenure as V.A. Secretary, Shulkin approved the contracting out of some services to private providers, but he resisted a broader privatization initiative that various right-wing think tanks and political groups have been pushing for years, and which has also earned the vocal support of a veteran group backed by the Koch brothers: Concerned Veterans for America.’
Schulkin was until his travel expenses scandal an uncontroversial and highly competent secretary, one so uncontroversial he was confirmed by a perfect 100-0 in the Senate. And, although Trump’s firing of him isn’t so surprising given the scandal, Trump replacing him with Ronny Jackson is. Jackson is a doctor, and although he has managed the White House physician’s team, he has done nothing like managing an entire government department (and a big one at that). Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer spoke about Jackson’s appointment on Pod Save America this week, noting that while they were in the White House Jackson went above and beyond as a doctor, they didn’t know whether he would be the man to lead the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
But, qualifications (or lack thereof) aren’t really a concern for Donald Trump, who seems to relish employing people who are either violently underqualified for the job at hand (Ben Carson, the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, who by his own admission had no prior relevant experience to his post) or people who are considered incredibly dangerous, and people who should be nowhere the man with the nuclear football (John Bolton, see last week’s article). The Washington Post pointed out though that ‘Trump prizes relationships and loyalty over traditional qualifications,’ and this certainly seems to be how Ronny Jackson has found his way into the cabinet.
Jackson came to prominence when he conducted President Trump’s physical exam, and gave him a near perfect score. Jackson said of Trump: “He’s very sharp, and he’s very articulate when he speaks to me, and I’ve never known him to repeat himself around me…I’ve found no reason whatsoever to think the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought process,” which at least shows Jackson has never watched Trump speak, and he definitely doesn’t follow him on Twitter. He also said “Some people have just great genes…I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old . . . . He has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.” This verdict was, unsurprisingly, approved of by Trump. If anyone has been looking for Ronny Jackson’s nose since that exam, it’s lodged somewhere up the president’s rectum.
Jackson still has to face a senate hearing to confirm his appointment, so his move into the cabinet is not guaranteed yet. But if he is confirmed, and if David Schulkin is to be believed, he better be a fan of privatisation, because if he isn’t, the same men who came for Schulkin’s job will soon be after Jackson’s.
Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press.