Frank DeFilippo: Harvard Law’s Top, Right (and Left)

Harvard University's Emerson Hall, home of the school's philosophy department. Photo Kelly Sikkema, courtesy of Unsplash.

Harvard Law School must be proud or ashamed, pleased or embarrassed, enthused or bemused – hard to tell, as it remains silent – over the public roles being played by prominent graduates in the Trump Administration and elsewhere.

The current rise of populism in America, and around the world, is attributed largely to its subscribers’ hostility toward what they view as – “the elites”. These days, President Donald J. Trump’s perverse brand of populism – the opposite of what populism actually is – is considered the refuge of the right flank of American politics – a virulent mix of racism, anti-Semitism, fear of foreigners, gun-mania and always an itch for a good brawl, often under the colors of the Confederate flag.

The Harvard Law experience illustrates, to be fair, that most universities of its standing will produce diverse views fitting with students’ pre-conditions, attitudes, interests and environments. Harvard is ranked third among the nation’s law schools, after Yale and Stanford.

And remember, when Hercules was given the task of cleaning out the Augean Stables, the assignment did not include refilling them.

Many law school graduates never enter the practice of law, but consider a legal education as a middle – class finishing school and preparation for other careers, often in government service or elective office. Nothing in the nation’s history is more elite than Harvard. Presidents, princes, poets, laureates and, yes, even a select few lawyers, have strode its halls. Founded in 1817, Harvard is the oldest continuous law school in America.

Yet the Trump Administration, which regards itself, when convenient, as a revival of populism, welcomes to its ranks, and to the servile Republican cohort in Congress, a heady representation of the very elites it finds otherwise repugnant.

Frank A. DeFilippo

A year at Harvard Law, by its own estimate, will cost a trust fund $99,350. That’s elite.

Consider: Mike Pompeo, secretary of state. Pompeo added a Harvard JD degree in 1994 to his West Point bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. At Harvard Law, Pompeo was Law Review editor, an honor reserved for very bright students, which as happens, was a title bestowed on Barack Obama, also a Harvard Law alum. The distinction of Harvard Law Review editor was also awarded to Maryland homeboy, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th.). (Bill and Hillary Clinton earned their legal epaulets at rival Yale, where they met.)

Pompeo has said his lightning-strike moment arrived at 15, when he read Ayn Rand’s (yes, her again) “The Fountainhead,” a clunker of a novel about a headstrong architect who blew up buildings he designed rather than comply with the system. That fable very much sums up Pompeo’s bull-among-the-tea-cups policy toward China and Russia as well as the way he runs the State Department, according to a recent report.

Pompeo fired, or had fired, the department’s inspector general, Steve Linik, supposedly in retaliation for an investigation he has said he knew nothing about. The IG was reportedly probing reports that Pompeo and his wife, Susan, directed staff and diplomatic security personnel do chores for them. Very elite.

Another of Pompeo’s hot-water moments is his move to shift 12,000 U.S. troops out of Germany, a traditional bulwark of NATO defense, which has angered not only Congress but U.S. allies in Europe. Go figure.

Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary. McEnany brings a sterling resume to the White House briefing room. If only she’d use it to inform the public via the press. Instead, she is her master’s voice.

Hear this from McEnany: “This president does read. And he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on planet earth when it comes to the threats we face.”

Except for Covid-19. Trump had to ask what the “19” meant.

McEnany prepped for Harvard Law with a start at a private Catholic academy for girls, a degree from Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School and studies at Oxford. She also was a TV producer at Fox News, boot camp for Trump Administration job-seekers, and a mouthpiece for the Republican National Committee, her jump-off point to the Trump press office.

McEnany has perfected the percussive art of slamming shut, with a smart snap, her briefing book as a way of ending as well as adding a theatrical declamation point to her regular briefing-room appearances before reporters.

Jared Kushner, the Dauphin, works for his father in-law, the president, as senior advisor and Director of the Office of American Innovation.

That’s an amorphous title that basically means Kushner sticks his nose into everything, mainly where it doesn’t belong. Kushner is married to Ivanka Trump.

Technically, Kushner does not belong in the rarified company of the Harvard Law grads. He did attend Harvard for his bachelor’s degree. His father, Charles, donated $2.5 million to Harvard a year after Jared was admitted. After Harvard, Jared Kushner earned a joint JD/MBA degree from New York University. Kushner was publisher of the defunct New York Observer newspaper.

As a real estate investor, Kushner purchased a New York City building at 666 Fifth Ave. for three times its worth. He recently had to beg for refinancing. Kushner’s real estate investment company owns thousands of rental apartments in Maryland and was sued by the state’s attorney general, Brian Frosh (Columbia Law School), for hazardous conditions in the units. Jared and Ivanka’s latest financial disclosure statement shows income of $36 million, up $7 million from last year, mainly from real estate investments. Natalie Portman, the actress and Harvard classmate of Kushner, described him as “a villainous man.”

Tom Cotton, U.S. Senator, Arkansas. Tom Cotton is the Gomer Pyle of the U.S. Senate. Cotton is full Trump, and profoundly full of it, as well. Cotton is a Harvard Lawyer and an Army infantryman who rose to the rank captain. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq where he earned several medals, including a Bronze Star.

Cotton sponsored a bill that would deny federal funds to classrooms where The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize Winning Project 1619, a history of slavery, is taught. Clever fellow, Cotton recently put his boot in his mouth by saying that slavery was a “necessary evil” to assure the building of the country. “As the Founding Fathers said, it [slavery] was a necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”

Cotton was instrumental in the resignation of New York Times Op-Ed Page editor James Bennett over the publication of his opinion piece in which he called for dispatching U.S. troops to cities to quell civil rights protests and demonstrations. Bennett, the Trump parrots claim, was a victim of what they call the “cancel culture.”

Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida. DeSantis has the best of both worlds – a Yale bachelor’s degree and a Harvard Law degree. So, with all of those supposed brain cells, what gives with DeSantis? He is a defiant libertarian and a former Navy JAG officer who was assigned to Seal Team One in Iraq.

Politically, he is a darling of the Koch brothers and a beneficiary of their campaign largesse. At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis sidelined legitimate science and followed Trump to repay the president for rescuing his campaign for governor with six days of rallies and tweets and a last-minute trip to help deliver the close election to DeSantis.

As a result, the coronavirus has devastated Florida and its elderly population due, mainly, to DeSantis’ macho refusal to order restrictions such as masking. Florida has set new coronavirus death rate records for a number of consecutive days and is a leading hot-spot state and one to avoid as hazardous to your health.

DeSantis sticks with Trump, no matter what. He opposed the Mueller investigation, denounced Planned Parenthood and is a hard-liner on gun-carry laws.

Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator from Texas, and a 2016 runner-up candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Cruz prepped for Harvard Law at private schools and Princeton University. It shows. He graduated magna cum laude, and was a primary editor of the Law Review.

Early on, he became student of free market economics, as espoused by Milton Friedman, as well as the separation of powers, the subject of his Princeton senior paper, whatever that means in Harvard talk. Before moving on to the U.S. Senate, Cruz was solicitor general of Texas, Texas attorney general, a lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, and a domestic policy adviser to President George W. Bush.

Cruz is elbowing with Cotton for the crown of the remains of the GOP in the post-Trump era. In that case, as in Shakespeare, “uneasy lies a head that wears a crown.”

A Harvard law degree is a calling card as much as a license to practice law. It opens doors as well as creates links to the network of other alums and law firms that employ the choicest of graduates from every year’s class.

There’s proof that there are two sides to every story. Marylanders needn’t worry about a Harvard sellout. Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes is a Harvard Law graduate, as is his son, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3d). So, too, is Rep. Anthony Brown (D-5th). Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th) is a graduate of both Harvard University and its Law School. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) earned a master’s degree from Harvard University, but earned his law degree closer to home, at Georgetown University.

It is interesting to note that Harvard has more of its Law School graduates in Congress than any other, followed by Georgetown, according to a survey in the publication, Bloomberg Law. And Maryland ranks as the state with the second highest percentage of lawyers as its members of Congress, following Alabama, if you can believe that. (Maryland has two law schools in Baltimore and easy access to the several in the District of Columbia.)

“The first thing we do,” William Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, Part 2, “let’s kill all the lawyers.” Some theorize that it was the Bard making a joke to a group of pretenders to the throne who wanted to improve the country.

The wonder is whether Shakespeare might be joking if he were writing today.