It is truly extraordinary: The still-new Trump administration keeps appointing people whose common priority is the destruction of the agency they head.
Their mission is therefore the opposite of their agency’s: priority to management over responsibility, product over people, and private interests over public service. In essence, Trump is presiding over a government that rejects governing and seems intent on creating a state within a state.
The examples are well-known.
Consumer protection is now in the hands of an anti-consumer, pro-business guy, someone who once called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “a sad, sick joke.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is under an oil and gas industry proponent who despises environmentalists and denies human agency in climate change. He is removing environmental reporting from the EPA website and preventing government scientists from speaking to the public.
Housing is under a well-known surgeon and political airhead who hasn’t the slightest idea about his department’s purposes.
A millionaire who leads the department of education has no experience in public education and is busily trying to privatize it.
Trump’s pick for health and human services is a drug company executive who had a hand in raising drug prices.
And then there’s the justice department, run by a racist who is determined to keep non-whites out of the country, limit enforcement of civil rights laws, and disenfranchise minorities.
Other government agencies, such as defense, homeland security, and immigration and customs follow the same pattern of politically skewed missions that undermine our most cherished values, not to mention common sense.
But the best example is the state department under Rex Tillerson. He announced his purpose as being to reorganize the department and save money, not promote diplomacy or refine America’s interests abroad.
Tillerson’s notion of good management has resulted in a gutting of the department and loss of considerable expertise in precisely those regional specialties — East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa — that demand constant attention. Following the lead of the president and his inner circle of inexperienced know-nothings who spout a white nationalist agenda, Tillerson is showing career staff the door in disdain for “bureaucrats.” Even when he makes a feeble mention of peacemaking, as with North Korea, Iran and Israel-Palestine, Trump immediately pulls the rug out from under him — as he just did with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The state of State is disheartening, to say the least, and the rumored removal of Tillerson in favor of CIA director Mike Pompeo will not make the slightest difference. Career diplomats are leaving in droves, the budget is being cut by nearly one third, and the number of new applications for the foreign service is down by one half. The new guy in charge of personnel, who would normally be a senior diplomat, has only eight years of experience. (But then, who needs an experienced personnel manager when so few people are left to manage?) Another Tillerson appointee who was supposed to manage the downsizing has resigned after only several weeks at the job.
What we are witnessing is the destruction of the government we pay for and to which we are asked to pledge allegiance. Every week some government service we took for granted is weakened or eliminated by official fiat.
By my count, Trump has now severely criticized or attacked outright seven American institutions: the media and various courts; the departments of Justice and State; the FBI; and both political parties.
No public official who defies presidential preference is immune from Trump’s wrath. He has played with the idea of establishing a private spy network to get around the CIA — an idea being peddled by none other than Erik Prince (of Blackwater fame) and Oliver North (cf. Iran-Contra). This president is totally committed to sustaining an oligarchy in the image of Vladimir Putin.
Those critics who point to the Trump administration’s failure to pass any legislation as evidence of the strength of the resistance are only partly right. When you put together all the Obama-era administrative regulations that have been rescinded and the legal cases in defense of the public interest abandoned, and add to that the reactionary actions of right-wing dominated state legislatures and the Supreme Court majority, you have quite a record of intentional destructiveness as prescribed by Steve Bannon.
There is no law that says weakening the federal government’s role is a crime. But deliberately subverting the U.S. government is reason enough to seek Trump’s impeachment. He is doing to America what no foreign adversary could do. Some might call it treason.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an Asia expert and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.