Being Secretary of State is, as it turns out, is really just a side hustle for Mike Pompeo. He’s happy to have the gig if it helps advance his personal political ambitions, but should the burdens or restrictions associated with being America’s chief diplomat ever get in the way of those ambitions, time and time again this heir to the legacy of Thomas Jefferson chooses himself or his political party over his country. He, like his boss, has turned his solipsism into his brand.
As Donald Trump turned the White House, his pardon power and the oath of citizenship into campaign props Tuesday night, Pompeo again violated the norms, standards, and rules associated with his office by delivering an address to the Republican National Convention. It was the first time in memory that a sitting secretary of state has chosen to enter the political fray of a convention, thus debasing the office and undermining his role as representative of all the American people by revealing himself to be a mere mouthpiece for a political faction in the U.S.
The Trump administration’s most prominent evangelical spoke from a rooftop in Jerusalem, in a signal to the evangelical base Trump sees as critical to his re-election. Pompeo allowed himself to essentially become a human tweet, echoing the same kind of fatuous, pandering sentiment as this weekend’s social media exhortation from Trump to his flock, “Happy Sunday! We want God!” (The exclamation marks on behalf of the deity perhaps offset the fact that this sermonette was delivered from a golf course.)
Pompeo’s brief RNC performance, which contained multiple references to faith, scripture, and freedom to worship including one concerning his presence in Jerusalem, which he described as “this very city of God’, was odious on many levels. Most notable among these was the fact that his tribute to Trump was largely a fabric of lies and deceptions about the president’s—and Pompeo’s—foreign policy record. He blamed America’s failures to contain COVID on China. He argued Trump had made progress on trade with China when he has made precious little. He made the case that Trump had improved the situation with North Korea even though it is clear today the threat Pyongyang poses is greater than before. He argued NATO is stronger even though our NATO allies view Trump as a threat to the alliance. He touted help for Ukraine when in fact, Trump has defended Russia’s annexation of Crimes and done Putin’s bidding at every turn. He implied progress with Iran and in the war with the Islamic State that was misleading and illusory.
As troubling as many aspects of Pompeo’s brief remarks were however, it was not his words so much as the fact of his presence as a convention speaker itself that has generated the most controversy, Last month, a cable reminded State Department officials, specifically including presidential appointees, that they “may not engage in any partisan political activity in concert with a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, even on personal time and outside of the federal workplace.” On Tuesday, Pompeo spoke, supposedly in his “private capacity”—at Trump’s Republican National Convention, violating department standards and norms, and possibly American laws at the same time as he blurred the line between church and state, as he has a number of times since taking office. (To be fair, the Democrats at their convention also embraced higher powers too closely for me, in part because one of Trump’s lines of attack is that his opponent would “hurt God”—which credits Joe Biden with quite a lot of clout given that God is, after all, supposed to be omnipotent.
Violating norms, standards, ethical guidelines, rules, laws and common sense is nothing new for Pompeo. The secretary of state is currently under investigation for seeking to quash an inspector general investigation into his use of departmental resources, an investigation that led to the forcing out of former State Department Inspector General Steve Linnick on charges of leaking to the press that were later proved to be bogus by an independent investigation. Pompeo has been accused of using departmental resources improperly including for having staff walk his dog, fetch his dry-cleaning, and ferry him around the Midwest on “official business” trips that actually had nothing to do with State Department business. Those trips, efforts to test the waters for a possible Pompeo Senate run and perhaps to lay the foundations for a future presidential run, have also drawn scrutiny.
Pompeo’s public professions of his faith have also drawn scrutiny. He has regularly made reference to it, at one point going so far as to suggest it was possible that President Trump was chosen by God to “help save the Jewish people” from Iran. He has prioritized Christian missions worldwide including expanding anti-abortion policies. And, in 2015, while still a member of Congress, he spoke publicly about his belief in the idea of “the rapture,” the moment when those who share his faith are elevated to Heaven. While the idea of the rapture drives many evangelicals’ support for a Jewish state of Israel today (which is supposed to be a precondition for the big moment), post-rapture things don’t go nearly so well for the Jews.
So while the image of Pompeo with the Old City of Jerusalem in the background will be framed by the GOP as a sign of Trump’s commitment to Jews, based on Pompeo’s eschatological views, Jewish donors should really try to get their money in before they are left behind to suffer for all eternity.
I should note that one other foreign policy initiative Pompeo raised in his remarks from Jerusalem is the recent effort by the U.S. to help broker a new understanding between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Because my company produces a podcast underwritten by the UAE, I will not comment on that process. Suffice it to say, the views expressed in this column are solely my own and do not represent those of my company, my colleagues or any affiliated entities. While this echoes Pompeo’s statement that he is speaking on his own behalf as a private citizen, I would note that I am not the U.S. Secretary of State.
Pompeo is, of course, entitled to his beliefs. But when those beliefs become central tenets of the views of a political party—one that has taken the unprecedented step of untethering their national convention from any policy platform, thus leaving it to be a cult of personality-like celebration of Trump himself—then it is fair to ask what the origins of those beliefs are, whether they mask or otherwise contain or promote any form of intolerance and to try to understand how they might guide a president or his secretary of state in lieu of traditional policies.
This is especially the case when that president and his secretary of state have demonstrated that not only are they ushering us into a post-policy world, but one in which senior public officials no longer are guided by standards, traditional views of governance or, for that matter, by the law. As we have discovered, when everything is politics, nothing is truly public service.