The Ugly Face of Government: How It Threatens You and Everything You Hold Dear

It’s unanimous —Yep, that’s right —the media, talking heads, politicians from both sides of the aisle agree: we’re doomed. The world’s only superpower, the country that spends more than the next seven countries combined on defense, that in 2019 will spend $717 billion “keeping us safe” (54% of the entire federal discretionary budget) and another $47 billion on security (making sure the you-know-whos don’t get into the country), is having its democracy “stolen” by Russia which spent all of $66 billion on defense in 2017. Trust the media to embellish the narrative with weakly sourced reports of hijinks inside the Oval Office. Media gossip got a boost this week with the bombshell that Bob Woodward was about to release another of his explosive “you are there” tomes chronicling the alleged revolt of Trump subordinates inside the White House.

To dissect the media’s “get Trump” campaign, the perfect starting point is the acknowledged ringleader of the Russia-gate follies, the high-paid, bellicose, and liberal golden girl MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Painting a gloomy scenario of future calamity despite a lack of evidence—“The worst-case scenario that the president is a foreign agent suddenly feels very palpable,”  she epitomizes corporate media’s drive to keep the anti-Trump pot boiling.

The media is not the only engine driving the train of Trump-naysayers, congress people (mostly Democrats but some disaffected and retiring Republicans) have jumped in with both feet. Republican Senator Ben Sasse (NE) “[Trump’s comments about his press conference with Putin] bizarre and flat-out wrong.”  Here’s Adam Smith, eleven-term Democratic congressman from Washington state mugging it up in advance of the November election —“the president acts like he’s compromised…there is simply no other way to explain why he would side with this Kremlin KGB officer [reference to the sovereign head of a country] rather than his own intelligence agencies (Right, you mean the agencies that were sure Saddam Hussein had WMDs on the strength of which the U.S. blundered its way into the worst foreign policy disaster in the twenty-first century).

Even Senator Bernie Sanders, whom a diminishing group of well-intentioned progressives cling to as the great change agent, is spending too much of his time, not on the economic problems bedeviling middle and working class Americans, but on worn-out conspiracy memes — [I’m] absolutely outraged by his behavior in Helsinki [meeting with Putin] …Perhaps he’s being blackmailed by Russia because they may have some compromising information on him.”

 The late journalist Robert Parry put his finger on the way journalism has gone off the rails — The U.S. media approach [doubled down on by politicians] to Russia is now virtually 100% propaganda. Does any sentient being read The New York Times or The Washington Post and think that he or she is getting neutral or unbiased treatment of the facts?”

 With a groundswell of media hyping alleged Russian interference in “our democracy,” the one thing they got right —the Trump administration really is steamrolling its way toward wrecking “our democracy.”  Sorry media, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Russian spies hanging out in the Lincoln bedroom. What is really taking a wrecking ball to life inside the exceptional nation are presidential orders to the trolls running key federal departments. To be sure concentrating on problems inside the U.S. rather than some phantasmagoric Russian plot disrupts the business plans of corporate media like CNN and MSNBC where the hunt for ratings is their raison d’être. Ramping up war fever in an already military-obsessed nation is good for business, bad for America.

While the media is asleep at the switch or promoting Russian plots, Trump continues on his merry way making far-reaching and, in many instances, irreversible changes to the fabric of American life.

One of the lasting impacts of the Trump presidency, the remaking of the judicial system, has proceeded mostly unnoticed. But it will sooner or later have a profoundly negative effect on minorities, women, the LBGT community, and the poor. At this point in his presidency, Donald Trump is close to getting his second Supreme Court ultra-conservative nominee confirmed. However, the damage to the court system is far more widespread. Since most cases are adjudicated in lower courts, Trump’s newest hires in the appeals courts and the district courts will have the most dramatic effect. Already he has had 43 federal judges confirmed way more than either Obama or George W. Bush at the same point in their presidencies. What’s more these are forever jobs. Rest assured that Trump judges passed the boss’s litmus tests —pro-abortion, pro-gun, anti-union, anti-immigration, fossil fuel promoting, pro-business, anti-LGBT, and no doubt climate deniers. One branch (a third of the government) has become the property of the radical right. A justice system that is politicized and polarized generally wreaks havoc among those not on the A-list.

When it comes to the growing disparity between the protected class, the wealthy and powerful and the rest of us, unfairness reigns supreme. After Trump fulfilled a campaign promise to his top donors with a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway, a move that the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimates will cost taxpayers $190 billion annually for the next ten years, something had to give. It turned out to be the measly 2.1% raise 1.8 million federal workers had been promised. That’s right Trump pulled the plug on raises that would have cost the government $25 billion in favor of tax breaks that will eventually cost taxpayers $2 trillion. His explanation was awash in duplicity: “federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.”

Trump may deserve the major share of the blame for this rebuff of federal workers’ economic plight but he’s hardly an outlier when it comes to presidential smack-downs. In 2010, President Hope and Change imposed a two year freeze on federal employees couching this despicable act with smooth-talking nonsense— “broad sacrifice…that must be shared by employees of the federal government.” The share of the “sacrifice” to be borne by the 1%? Most economists peg it at zero. The bottom line: since 2011, government workers have “sacrificed” $200 billion in pay and benefits which in Obama-speak is their duty as “patriots who love their country.”

Trump’s tax breaks and assorted subsidies to his favorite moguls have emboldened creeps like House Speaker Paul Ryan to start singing his favorite tune — “We’re going to have to get back…to entitlement reform which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit…it’s the health care entitlements [like Medicare and Medicaid a faint echo of the universal healthcare enjoyed by the rest of the world] that are the big drivers of our debt”. Believe that one and I’ve got a bridge that has your name on it.

Ever inventive when it came to sabotaging those he considers his enemies, Trump tried an end run around the prerogatives of unions by making it easier to fire government workers for the flimsiest of excuses (like having a bad hair day) and undermining the collective bargaining process. Fate intervened in the form of a federal judge who ruled the new rules unconstitutional on the grounds that Trump had “exceeded his authority.” Count on Trump’s judicial appointees to turn the tables on union rights and privileges.

So much for the trashing of the judicial system, how are things in EPA land? Not much better. As past administrations have done, the interests of campaign donors like fossil fuel weasels and assorted poisoners of air, water and land get special handling. The Trump administration has jumped the shark when it comes to driving a stake through the heart of climate change regulations. Get a load of the questionable characters Trump has entrusted with carrying out his malign intentions. From Scott Pruitt, ex EPA Administrator, whose free-spending habits finally cost him his job to acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, climate concerns are going from weak to negligible. In a former career, Wheeler was an energy lobbyist whose biggest client —honest —was the largest coal mining company in the U.S.  When he’s not rolling out the red carpet for polluters at the EPA, he serves as vice president of the Washington Coal Club dedicated to the perpetuation of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel. His veniality extends far beyond the EPA to the Interior Department where he ran a well-funded campaign to open up the pristine Bears Ears National Monument to uranium mining. He made his bones working for Senator Jim Inhofe who swears that climate change is a hoax. Some of Inhofe’s biggest donors are America’s worst polluters.  His take on former and current EPA leadership — “There is no one more qualified than Andrew [Wheeler] to help Scott Pruitt restore the EPA to its proper size [miniscule] and scope [tiny].”

Have they been living up to the boss’s wet dreams? You betcha. Pruitt and now Wheeler have rolled up their sleeves determined to fulfill major agenda items on the Trump to-do list: roll back protections under EPA guidelines, prioritize fossil fuel company profits ahead of public health, breathe new life into the coal industry by “enabling some of the U.S. dirtiest coal plants to be refurbished [without updated pollution equipment] and kept running for years,” and give asbestos, a poisonous construction material that kills 15,000 Americans every year, a new lease on life. According to one EPA scientist “this new approach allows asbestos-containing materials that are not currently used to be used in the future.”

While the destruction of the EPA has major implications for the health and welfare of all Americas, the goings-on at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) are hardly less arresting starting with the amoral character Trump chose to run it (out of business), Nick Mulvaney. As a congressman elected to act in the best interest of his voters, his view of the responsibilities of elected officials is chilling— “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you were a lobbyist who never gave me money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave me money, I might talk to you.” With a leader whose moral character would make a coyote wince, whither goes the consumer protections the CFPB was formed to oversee? (That’s a rhetorical question)

In every government agency and department, the pressure is on to loosen the already minimal regulations that in previous administrations served as a brake on the total ransacking of the public interest. Those regulations are already being diluted or eliminated. The list of compromised agencies and their nefarious deals with the devil are mushrooming. Disappearing protections for students from a host of fraudulent practices like credit cards with sky-high fees and interest, worthless but costly degrees from for-profit schools, the probable extinction of social safety net program like Meals on Wheels which, according to the knucklehead that runs the CFPB, may “sound great but doesn’t work.” It’s not just in the domestic arena that things are going to hell in a hand basket, welcome to the screwed-up foreign policy of the Trump administration where the Iran nuclear deal was just trashed, the U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem and Trump is mounting what promises to be a catastrophic trade war against friends and foes. Together with corrupt agency heads like Tom Price (HHS), Scott Pruitt (EPA) and HUD Secretary Ben Carson (who pined for a $31,000 dining room table for his HUD office) doing the administration’s bidding, America’s maladies are on the upswing.

While we’re naming names and assigning blame, let’s not forget the role of the media in the trashing of America. No longer a trusted source of information, mainstream media has become a journalistic free-for-all where only the sexiest stories — right now Russia-gate — bring in the biggest profits and thus get the lion’s share of coverage. When was the last time real journalists broke real stories about real issues? Probably about the same time the Tasmanian Tiger went extinct.

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