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December 18th, 2017

National

Ayn Rand's cabinet: Tillerson, Puzder, Pompeo and Trump himself cite the author's work as a major influence

James Hohmann

By James Hohmann The Washington Post

Published Dec. 14, 2016

Ayn Rand's cabinet: Tillerson, Puzder, Pompeo and Trump himself cite the author's work as a major influence

Donald Trump has decided to risk a confirmation fight, officially nominating ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state Tuesday morning.

Tillerson and Trump had no previous relationship, but the Texas oilman and the New York developer hit it off when they met face to face. One of the things that they have in common is their shared affection for the works of Ayn Rand, the libertarian heroine who celebrated laissez-faire capitalism.

The president-elect said this spring that he's a fan of Rand and identifies with Howard Roark, the main character in "The Fountainhead." Roark, played by Gary Cooper in the film adaptation, is an architect who dynamites a housing project he designed because the builders did not precisely follow his blueprints. "It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to ... everything," Trump told Kirsten Powers for a piece in USA Today.

Tillerson prefers "Atlas Shrugged," Rand's novel about John Galt secretly organizing a strike of the creative class to hasten the collapse of the bureaucratic society. The CEO listed it as his favorite book in a 2008 feature for Scouting Magazine, according to biographer Steve Coll.

This has now officially become a trend. Trump is turning not just to billionaires but Randians to fill the cabinet:

Andy Puzder, tapped by Trump last week to be secretary of labor, is an avid and outspoken fan of Rand's books. One profiler last week asked what he does in his free time, and a friend replied that he reads Ayn Rand. He is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is owned by Roark Capital Group, a private equity fund named after Howard Roark. Puzder, who opposes increases in the minimum wage and wants to automate fast food jobs, was quoted just last month saying that he encouraged his six children to read "Fountainhead" first and "Atlas Shrugged" later.

Mike Pompeo, who will have the now-very-difficult job of directing the Central Intelligence Agency for Trump, has often said that Rand's works inspired him. "One of the very first serious books I read when I was growing up was 'Atlas Shrugged,' and it really had an impact on me," the Kansas congressman told Human Events in 2011.

Trump has been huddling with and consulting several other Rand followers for advice as he fills out his cabinet. John A. Allison IV, for example, met with Trump for about 90 minutes the week before last. "As chief executive of BB&T Corp., he distributed copies of 'Atlas Shrugged' to senior officers and influenced BB&T's charitable arm to fund classes about the moral foundations of capitalism at a number of colleges," the Journal noted in a piece about him. "Mr. Allison's worldview was shaped when he was a college student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and stumbled across a collection of essays by Ms. Rand."

Ayn Rand was perhaps the leading literary voice in 20th century America for the notion that, in society, there are makers and takers, and that the takers are parasitic moochers who get in the way of the morally superior innovators. Her books portray the federal government as an evil force, trying to stop hard-working men from accumulating the wealth that she believes they deserve. The author was also an outspoken atheist, something that oozes through in her writing. Rand explained that the essence of "objectivism," as she called her ideology, is that "man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself."

Some of Rand's scenes also don't hold up well in a culture that's become more intolerant of sexual assault and skeptical of patriarchy. Roark, the character Trump says he identifies with, rapes a woman in "The Fountainhead," for example.

For many Republican elites, Rand is someone whose books they read one summer in high school or college and got super excited about but then grew out of once they were exposed to more sophisticated intellectual influences and/or tried to reconcile her worldview with the precepts of the Christian faith. (Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote about this rite of passage in a 2011 column for The Post.)

Though many would agree that Christianity and objectivism are incompatible, this is not a consensus view: "There's no contradiction between raising my children in the church, and urging them to lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels," Puzder, the incoming labor secretary, argued on the Journal opinion page last month, adding that he also had his kids read C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity."

Remember that scene in "Dirty Dancing" when Baby tries to get that waiter who knocked up Johnny's dance partner to pay for her abortion? He refuses and instead pulls out a weathered copy of "The Fountainhead," urging her to read it. "Some people count, and some people don't," he tells her. Jennifer Grey's character responds by pouring a pitcher of water on him. In popular culture, the Rand acolytes are that guy.

The fact that all of these men, so late in life, are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing. They will now run our government.

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