Washington has long been populated by Yalies, and President Donald Trump’s Washington will be no different. Trump has nominated three Yale alumni — ex-neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson ’73, retired Goldman Sachs executive Steve Mnuchin ’85 and former investor and banker Wilbur Ross ’59 — to serve in his cabinet. But the majority of Yale students view these cabinet picks unfavorably, according to a News survey released in January.
Seven hundred and forty-three students responded to the survey, and the results were not adjusted for bias.
Of the three nominees, students least approved of Carson, Trump’s pick for secretary of housing and urban development. Almost 75 percent of respondents indicated they viewed Carson “unfavorably” or “very unfavorably.” Only 8.28 percent of respondents said they viewed Ross favorably or very favorably and only slightly more — 9.72 percent — said the same of Mnuchin. But many students indicated that they were unsure of their views of Ross and Mnuchin — 31.66 percent in Ross’s case and 24.15 percent in Mnuchin’s. Respondents could rate their view of each pick “very favorably,” “favorably,” “unfavorably,” “very unfavorably” or say they held “neutral” or “unsure” views of each nominee.
Ross is nominated to fill the secretary of commerce role and Mnuchin, secretary of the treasury. Carson and Ross, who were approved by the Senate banking and commerce committees respectively, now await a Senate vote. Meanwhile, Mnuchin faces fierce opposition in the Senate Finance Committee, where Democrats boycotted Tuesday’s meeting to delay the confirmation vote, saying Mnuchin lied to the committee about his past business practices.
Yale College Democrats President Josh Hochman ’18 lamented Carson’s “glaring inexperience” as well as Carson’s desire to revoke the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which Hochman praised for reversing “untenably high residential segregation in our cities and suburbs.”
Carson was the most polarizing of the three nominees among Yale students. Only 9.69 percent of students indicated that their view of Carson was neutral and 5.17 percent said they were unsure how to view him. In contrast, over 40 percent of respondents said their view of Mnuchin was neutral or that they were unsure how to view him, and more than half of students indicated that they viewed Ross in one of these two ways.
Max Goldberg ’17 said he believed Carson is unqualified for the cabinet role, a criticism he said did not necessarily apply to Mnuchin or Ross.
“Trump, of course, is a man utterly unqualified to hold the office to which he’s been elected,” Goldberg said. “Trump knows this, so when it comes to picking cabinet officials to be in charge of federal agencies that Trump doesn’t consider to be ‘mission critical,’ he’s gone ahead and picked others who are just as inept as he is. Ben Carson is a perfect example. He’s a brilliant neurosurgeon, to be sure, but he himself admitted that he would accept no cabinet nomination because he has ‘no government experience.'”
One respondent, who said he viewed Carson very unfavorably, cited the nominee’s inexperience in housing policy as his main concern. Most worrying, though, he said, is Carson’s seeming “disdain for poor people.”
“I think he buys into this pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative,” said the respondent, who requested anonymity to keep his beliefs private. “I don’t know if that necessarily makes him exceptional, but I think it’s really dangerous for someone in his position who’s responsible for making sure people … have good housing, and I don’t really trust him to do that.”
Hochman said he worried about Mnuchin and Ross in addition to Carson. He explained that Mnuchin’s commitment to “stripping Dodd-Frank [Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act] of its teeth” concerned him, saying that “after the destruction that the 2008 financial crisis wrought on our communities, we should not cavalierly dismiss the danger of gutting these protections.”
Hochman added that, as secretary of commerce, Ross would oversee several organizations that form the backbone of the country’s climate research apparatus, but that Ross had shown “no indication … that he will buck Trump” and take the mission of sustainable development seriously.
Just under 12 percent of Yalies said they viewed Trump’s choice of Carson for secretary of housing and urban development favorably or very favorably. Paul Han ’20 said he was confident in Carson’s appointment because Carson’s time as director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions provided him with leadership experience.
Students viewed the rest of Trump’s cabinet picks even less favorably than his three Yale picks: Over 80 percent of students indicated that they were unconfident or very unconfident in Trump’s cabinet choices.
Of Trump’s nominees for cabinet, five have been confirmed by the Senate.
Correction, Feb. 15: An earlier version of this article misquoted Max Goldberg ’17.