What You Need to Know About the Art Historian on Trump’s National Security Council

Victoria Coates's work has been about how great democracies make great art.

President Donald Trump signs three executive actions in the Oval Office on January 28, 2017, one of them outlining a reorganization of the National Security Council. Photo by Pete Marovich - Pool/Getty Images.
President Donald Trump signs three executive actions in the Oval Office on January 28, 2017, one of them outlining a reorganization of the National Security Council. Photo by Pete Marovich - Pool/Getty Images.

The National Security Council (NSC), which advises the president on foreign policy and national security and has the power to secretly kill American citizens whom the administration suspects of terrorism, now features an art historian.

Victoria Coates, a longtime advisor to Texas Senator and former Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, is now “senior director for strategic assessments.” The news was first reported by the Washington Post.

Coates holds a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and authored the book David’s Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art. The Conservative Review (a publication praised by Rush Limbaugh as “pedal-to-the-metal”) touted the book as “equally appropriate for an office bookshelf, a conservative coffee table or as part of a homeschooling curriculum on western civilization.” The book argues that free political systems are best suited to foster great art.

“Some of writing David’s Sling had to do with explaining myself and coming up with a rationale for why an art historian has a significant perspective on contemporary foreign policy and national security challenges,” Coates said in an interview published on Medium, pointing out that where others might use texts to analyze history, she uses objects.

In that same interview, she acknowledges that it might be difficult to predict what country would be next to “make art great again,” but expresses optimism:

“given the spread of democracy, and the fact that we now — when 70 years ago Israel didn’t exist, and Japan was a deadly enemy — we now have two terrific, vibrant democratic allies there for the United States, that we might look to either or both of them for places where the values that have produced these previous masterworks might resurface.”

Raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Coates attended Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned a master’s degree in art history at Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, according to a profile in the National Review, which says that her dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania was on Italian cardinal and diplomat Camillo Massimo.

She was teaching at Penn when her blogging on a conservative website gained the notice of staffers for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Coates went on to assist him in research for his memoir. She’s also worked for Texas Republican governor Rick Perry.

Coates is far from the only person on the NSC whose credentials are not like those of more traditional appointees. An executive order signed by Trump on January 28 gave Stephen Bannon, a former Breitbart executive who once called that publication a “platform for the alt-right,” an umbrella term for groups involving white nationalists, anti-Semites, and white supremacists, a seat on the “principals committee,” typically reserved for generals, as the New York Times pointed out.

Until late last night, the NSC was led by retired General Michael Flynn, who resigned after it emerged that he had withheld information on his conversations with Russian officials about then-President Obama’s sanctions on Russia. He was replaced by retired General Keith Kellogg.


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