The president’s twin dismissals last week — just days apart — of two highly respected government watchdogs (and an attack on a third) is a reminder of a fundamental truth: Donald Trump is guided by his own political self-preservation, not the well-being of the entire nation.
To review, on April 3 Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, claiming he had lacked “the fullest confidence,” in the respected government lawyer. As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote, Atkinson said he got the sack for supporting a whistleblower, who’s charges ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment.
The following Tuesday, days after he’d accepted the position, Trump removed Glenn Fine from his post as the executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which has been charged with overseeing the disbursement of the $2 trillion in taxpayer money authorized by the most recent COVID-19 relief bill.
That removal came despite the fact that, as the Washington Post reported, Trump begrudgingly agreed to rigorous oversight for the historic spending package, which itself was the product of laborious bipartisan negotiations.
And last week, during his daily briefing/campaign rally, Trump attacked Christi Grimm, the deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, who was the main author of a report concluding that hospitals nationwide are enduring severe shortages of testing supplies and personal protective equipment.
“Hospitals reported that their most significant challenges centered on testing and caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19 and keeping staff safe,” the report’s key takeaway reads. “Hospitals also reported substantial challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19. Hospitals described specific challenges, mitigation strategies, and needs for assistance related to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, staffing, supplies and durable equipment; maintaining or expanding facility capacity; and financial concerns.”
That shouldn’t have been news to anyone who’s paying even a modicum of attention to the headlines, which are replete with stories about first responders scrapping to find supplies, forcing physicians to wrap themselves in trash bags and using the same mask over and over again as they try to bring the pandemic to heel.
Defying what most Americans can see with their own eyes, Trump concluded that a mountain of evidence collected from more than 300 hospitals in 46 states was just Grimm’s opinion, dismissing the report in a tweet as “another fake dossier.”
From courts to the intelligence community, and now HHS, Trump’s hostility to government institutions is already well-established.
He’s spent the last three years seeking to undermine institutions across the federal government, replacing competent and experienced apolitical professionals with his own core of yes men. Such is the case with the intelligence community, which is now overseen by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a White House loyalist.
And if there is one area where there is cause for concern above all else, it’s in who’s overseeing the transparent and accountable disbursement of funds in the historic pandemic relief package. There, too, Trump has tapped someone with ties to the White House as a replacement.
The president has already rewarded cronies with posts at the highest levels of government. There’s every reason to believe he’ll act with equal disregard when it comes to doling out pots of federal money.
Will he punish critical Democratic governors, such as Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, and reward Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis? With the guard rails off, who can tell?
If there is one thing that authoritarians try to do, it’s to bend truth to their own will and replace objective fact with a narrative that favors the Dear Leader. From briefings that are quivering dangerously toward becoming the 21st Century equivalent of the Vietnam era’s 5 O’Clock Follies, to removing anyone who dares speak truth to power, Trump is already well down that road.
The Swamp just keeps getting deeper.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.