Delivering on His Promises
We are 259 days into the Trump “Presidency” and, while people on both the left and right may not like it, the promises made on the campaign trail are coming to fruition right before our eyes. You may recall back in February, when Stephen Bannon was still in the West Wing, he made the statement that “the new administration is in an unending battle for ‘deconstruction of the administrative state.’” That “administrative state” was “the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president says have stymied economic growth and infringed upon U.S. sovereignty. Bannon says that the post-World War II political and economic consensus is failing and should be replaced with a system that empowers ordinary people over coastal elites and international institutions.” (Stephen Rucker & Robert Costa, Washington Post, February 23, 2017) If we look at what’s going on in Washington, it seems the “administrative state” is, indeed, not being “deconstructed” but, in fact, is being totally dismantled!
While we all may have gotten a chuckle out of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling his boss a f*cking Moron,” the fact is that Tillerson has almost singlehandedly made the State Department the world’s largest Empty Suit by running the organization with a skeleton crew. According to a July 5 Business Insider account by Christopher Woody:
"Nobody has been nominated to be ambassador to South Korea," Brian Klaas, a fellow at the London School of Economics, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. "Nobody has been nominated to be under secretary for arms control and international security affairs or assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance. No nominee has been submitted for assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation affairs," Klaas writes, "or for assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs. The list goes on and on.”
Other jobs still unfilled include the under secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights; the under secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment; and the counselor to the department, who provides guidance to the secretary. Currently, 50 countries and international organizations are without a US ambassador, according to the American Foreign Policy Association.
That the “President” is almost certainly going to decertify the Iran Nuclear deal while continuing to goad North Korea are other examples of how this feckless Chief Executive is dismantling “the administrative state.” It is not necessarily thoughtful and carefully planned but, beyond the simple “we have to un-do anything/everything the Black Guy did,” there is a sense that “Good Government is No Government” in this White House.
If we look at what’s going on in other Cabinet Departments we can see that the Deconstruction Clown Car is barreling down the highway. We know, of course, that Tom Price was undone by his excessive private plan traveling habits but let’s not forget that Mr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon by trade, was specifically brought in to dismantle Obamacare. You may remember that Boy Scout Jamboree where (among other things) Trump said: “He better get the votes. Otherwise I will say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.'” Don’t doubt that Price’s replacement will be yet another lackey whose specific job at Health and Human Services is to somehow “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
Then we have Ryan Zinke over at the Interior Department. Secretary Zinke has some plane/travel problems of his own, of course, but more significant is his attempt to eliminate 4,000 jobs in the Department while commenting “I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” That led to not only a whistleblower complaint being filed by Interior Department executive Joel Clement, a scientist and policy expert, over his inappropriate “reassignment” to an auditing position because he publicly disclosed “how climate change affects Alaska Native communities” (a no-no in this Administration) but also:
In a separate letter, former top Interior executives under Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama ripped Zinke for his comments about loyalty at Interior. “As former Interior political appointees who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, we strongly disagree. The department’s career employees swear to defend the Constitution; they do not swear personal allegiance to individual secretaries or to anyone else.”
They said the comment was remindful of a time “when the infamous Boss Tweed doled out jobs in New York City government to his friends in Tammany Hall.”
“These employees are dedicated to public service and to advancing the public good, and many work for salaries considerably lower than they could earn in the private sector. In our experience, these employees fully grasp that elections have consequences, and that new administrations, priorities and policies may shift,” but they base their work on policies that is “wise, scientifically sound and legally defensible.” Daryl Fears, Washington Post October 4, 2017
Stories like this fly under the radar because of hurricanes, North Korean tweets, and NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem but this is a serious issue. According to the Department of Interior website:
The U.S. Department of the Interior uses sound science to manage and sustain America's lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, honors our nation's responsibilities to tribal nations, and advocates for America's island communities.
Apparently, under Ryan Zinke’s leadership, “sound science” is no longer part of that equation --- superseded by “loyalty,” as defined by him.
Finally, we can’t look at the “deconstruction of the administrative state” without checking in on Scott Pruitt over at the Environmental Protection Agency. If there were ever a case of the “fox in the henhouse,” this is certainly it. Before being appointed, “as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts to regulate mercury, smog and other forms of pollution. “ (Brady Dennis, Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2017) In suing the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma’s AG, “always in an effort to block a regulation or cleanup effort. A Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigation found that he had signed his name on letters to the EPA that were actually written by energy companies.” (Rafi Letzter & Madeleine Sheehan Perkins, Business Insider, May 21, 2017) He is also a climate change “doubter” and his primary advisors seem to be fossil-fuel executives, not EPA veterans or environmentalists. (Vox, David Roberts, August 14, 2017) Like the Congressional Health Bill committees, Pruitt works in secret. In fact, a July story by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone noted:
Except for his victory lap after Paris, he mostly avoids mainstream media. (Pruitt's office refused numerous requests to interview him for this story.) And despite his often-professed belief in "the rule of law," he has steadfastly resisted and evaded Freedom of Information Act requests for e-mail records and other public documents. He's so good at operating in the shadows, in fact, that he was recently given the Golden Padlock Award by investigative journalists, which recognizes the most secretive publicly funded person or agency in the United States.
Abandoning the Paris Climate Accord and eliminating regulations that would enforce environmental regulations while cozying up to business and preparing for a Senate run seem to be Pruitt’s main priorities and, like Zinke, he’s flying under the radar.
Pages and pages could also be written about the work (or lack thereof) being done in Ben Carson’s Housing and Urban Development Department, Rick Perry's Energy Department, or, even better, Betsy DeVos’s Education Department. But that’s for another time and another day. In the meantime, you may want to put your “under the radar” glasses on to keep track of how the Trump Administration is living up to its campaign promises and dissembling America, one Cabinet Department at a time.