When the Clintons left the White House in 2000, right wing AM radio—and supposedly mainstream media—ran stories claiming that various items, from antique furniture to formal silverware, went with them. All those stories were lies.
But as it becomes increasingly clear that Donald Trump is going to lose yugely, his supporters inside the White House are engaging in a desperate last minute quest to break everything they can on the way out the door. It’s not clear that they’ve yet made a grab for the portrait of George Washington or the Resolute Desk (though someone should definitely keep an eye on those items). What they are destroying at the moment is regulatory agencies, advisory boards, and the regulations that actually hold government, business, and daily lives together.
A flurry of changes from from Trump cabinet members is underway to secure “Trump’s legacy.” Whih in this case means a trail of regulatory destruction and disarray, altering key provisions in ways that leave the nation less safe, less secure, more polluted, and less able to respond to corporate criminals.
As The New York Times reports, changes are underway that let truck drivers go down the highway with less rest, allow agencies to conduct more surveillance and collect more information without a warrant, and allow more government workers to be classified as “contractors” who don’t get benefits, and are subject to much lower levels of scrutiny. That last change in particular is part of an extended effort to turn America into a 19th century state, where every worker is disposable and every job is piece work.
It shouldn’t be surprising that, as they rush to smash as many rules as possible before Trump is forced to vacate, his team is also violating the existing rules. They’re skipping over things like required periods for public comments, advisory board reviews, or the pesky idea of performing analysis to see how the revised regulations fit into the remaining framework. They’re moving forward with their idea of a pro-corporate, anti-worker paradise. Consequences be damned. By implementing changes without doing upfront analysis, the Trump team isn’t just tearing down regulations, they’re lacing the system with land mines, any one of which could have dire results—like a little rule change that allows highly dangerous chemicals to be transported directly through population centers.
In addition to scratching out or altering regulations, Trump’s team is working to stuff advisory boards with lobbyists and right wing ideologues rather than independent scientists. Many of these positions have terms that run far past the end of Trump’s remaining time in office, or even beyond the next term. Some of these same board positions are currently open expressly because conscientious regulators resigned after agencies simply stopped listening to facts.
One of the biggest changes would make it impossible for states to deal with companies like Uber or Instacart who want to classify workers as contractors rather than employees. Trump has already been free with use of contractors within the White House. Even “vaccine czar” Moncef Slaoui, who is heading up the White House effort to develop a vaccine, was changed to a contractor—specifically so that he could hold onto millions in stock in one of the leading companies in the vaccine race.
But the changes would go far beyond just making it harder for states to force new companies to obey existing rules. The changes being made would mean that corporations could even reclassify existing employees as contractors, shedding insurance, and other benefits. It would allow more companies, of every type, to treat employees at every level, as contractors. Companies could be staffed by contract managers managing contract accountants and contract programmers, even if they’re seated at company desks.
How many workers would be changed by this gift to the greedy? The Labor Department says that “it cannot predict how many workers may see their status change as a result of the new definitions.” But it’s safe to assume that the number would be in the millions. Workers at almost every level, in all types of companies, could find that their corporations were free to reclassify them as contractors, and that states were unable to do anything about it. As with the other regulations, the public comment period has been cut in half. And, as in other cases, those comments are being ignored. Despite letters of opposition from 22 states, the Labor Department fully intends to move forward with this new rule.
In other cases, departments are eliminating public comment periods entirely. They’re using emergency rules to immediately enact changes without the opportunity for comment or review. That includes simply changing requirements on work visas for immigrants in a way that makes most such visas impossible. For example, one rule would require anyone looking to sponsor a family member for immigration to provide three years of credit reports, credit scores, and bank records. Trump may not feel he needs to release his tax forms to occupy the White House, but anyone looking to bring a parent or child into the United States would have to provide years of tax returns. And they would forfeit the ability to sponsor anyone else if they had taken any kind of public support. It’s a rule that means wealthy people could continue to sponsor as many family members as they like (see Trump, Melania) while poor and working class people would be shut out from bringing family members into the country.
All of this is just a fraction of the effort that’s underway, and it comes on top of a four-year program of removing experienced workers and replacing them with those who hold right wing political positions, even when they have no knowledge or experience. It’s going to make Joe Biden’s work infinitely more difficult.
And it’s why Biden’s transition team should seriously consider a “Reset.” The simplest thing to do would be to return all federal regulations to where they stood on January 19, 2016. Then work to incorporate necessary changes from laws that have passed in the interval. Otherwise, they’ll be pulling out the bad wiring of Trump changes for years.
And while they’re at it, they should reach out to every scientist, diplomat, doctor, and experienced bureaucrat who resigned or was forced out during the last four years. Every effort should be made to see that qualified people are in place both in every agency, and on every advisory panel.
Trump may not be taking the furniture—yet—but his team is engaged in a massive smash and grab operation, where the smashing is actually more valuable. It’s becoming clear that they’re no longer going to be able to pull the strings of government, so they’re trying to leave them as tangled, or broken, as possible. To be effective, Biden better bring scissors.