At a time when the art world is concerned about what a Donald Trump administration may mean to public arts funding and arts education, it’s interesting to find out that President Trump feels that someone with an advanced degree in art history is an appropriate choice to serve on his National Security Council.
Yes, Dr. Victoria Coates has been picked to serve on the President’s main forum to consider national security and foreign policy matters of the highest importance. Her doctorate? A Ph.D in Art History from the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. Her exact role on the council is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Assessments. She’ll reportedly focus on long-term threats of terrorism.
How exactly does an art historian specializing in Italian Renaissance studies, with a stint as a consulting curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a few art history books to her credit become a power player in national security?
Well, it began when she waded into the fringes of the world of the right-leaning media (seems to be a pattern to these Trump appointees). While teaching art history at Penn, she used her free time to blog under a pseudonym (AcademicElephant) on conservative blogging platform RedState.Com. Apparently, some of those posts made their way into the daily briefing folder of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When he wasn’t busy conducting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld liked what he read. She once told National Review that Rumsfeld wanted to get in touch with the “military guy” who had written the pieces. Though, even when she turned out to be a woman in the arts, Rumsfeld hired her to do research for his autobiography, initially on a part-time basis. After four years with Rumsfeld, she then went on to advise Governor Rick Perry on Foreign Affairs during his 2012 presidential run, and eventually landed a long-term gig as a Policy Advisor for National Security to Senator Ted Cruz.
Started as a blogger, and now she’s on the National Security Council… and some people sneer at fashion bloggers in the front row.
If it makes you feel any better, she did once claim that she was just one credit shy of getting her double major in political science as an undergrad at Trinity College.
Coates’s unlikely path to high-level national security advisor has drawn scrutiny even before her appointment by Trump. While still serving with Cruz, Esquire‘s military writer Robert Bateman pointed out that Coates “has never worked in the Pentagon; never worked in the State Department; never worked in the intelligence community; never served in any branch of the military; never lived overseas representing the United States in any way; never worked for the federal government; never had a security clearance.”
According to National Review, during the primaries, even some on the right were alarmed that Ted Cruz was being advised by an art historian on security matters.
It’s also worth pointing out that she never fully gave up her art pursuits even while forging her new career as a security expert. Her gig at the Cleveland Museum of Art overlapped with her time advising Senator Cruz. She also found time to publish an art history book in 2016. Dubbed David’s Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art, the book explores Coates’s theory that the best art is produced under free markets and democratic societies.
So, in summation: Some anonymous blogging, a part-time gig as Rumsfeld’s autobiography editor, and two stints with failed presidential candidates, and now the former art history professor is responsible for keeping us safe from terrorism.
Though, the next time your parents ask you what you actually plan to do with that expensive arts degree, you can tell them that you plan to serve on a high-level executive branch council that has the controversial legal authority to allow the killing of American citizens suspected of terrorism.
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