The Pentagon reported last week that Trump’s failed attempt to influence the midterm elections comes with a hefty price tag. Diverting five thousand active-duty American troops to the Mexican border—more troops than the entire U.S. rotation currently serving in Iraq— for the purpose of “protecting” the country against an imaginary “invasion” by a group of poor refugees from Central America, will end up costing the U.S. taxpayer over 200 million dollars.
The report was released even as Trump himself amazingly lost all interest in the so-called “caravan” after the election returns came in on November 7. Our troops, forced to fulfill their “toy soldier” role for Trump, will start returning home this week, long before the “caravan” arrives.
Derided as a political “stunt,” Trump’s action was criticized as an abuse and betrayal of the military for political purposes, which it was. But it was also an abuse and betrayal of the American public. And it’s an abuse and betrayal that is happening at all levels of our federal government, right now, day by day, even as you read this.
While nearly all of our media focuses reflexively on whatever vitriol emanates from Trump’s Twitter feed, the wholesale decimation of our government and an unprecedented, colossal waste of hundreds of billions in U.S. taxpayer money is happening “under the radar,” right before our eyes. But that is hardly being discussed at all.
Fintan O’Toole, in an article titled “Saboteur In Chief” for the New York Review of Books, explains how Trump’s practiced diversion, distraction and gaslighting, his daily, on-cue outrages and Twitter spew, all of which dominate the media’s day-to-day coverage of this administration, don’t really impact anyone’s pre-baked attitudes about Trump at this point. But they serve another, more important function by creating and maintaining distraction. Despite Americans’ expressed (and voted) disapproval, what continues from Trump, in spite of Americans’ wishes, is a masked, steady, and wholly intentional dismantling of our government functions and services paid for by working American taxpayers out of every paycheck they earn.
Trump’s flaunting of his own most shameful qualities deflects the damage that any revelation can do to him. When he displays his vices so openly, the drama of revelation leads only to a shrug of the shoulders: tell us something we didn’t know. His outbursts normalize the outrageous—habit, as Samuel Beckett has it, is a great deadener…
Instead of distracting us from the lurid and the sensational, Trump is using them to distract us from the slow, boring, apparently mundane but deeply insidious sabotaging of government. He is the blaring noise that drowns out the low signal of subversion.
O’Toole’s essay reviews a new book by veteran journalist Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball and The Big Short) titled “The Fifth Risk” which examines Trump not in terms of his much-discussed moral degradation, but his administration’s deadening and corrosive, destructive impact on our established government structures, particularly the federal agencies which he has deliberately neglected and populated with incompetent and hostile leadership, for the purpose of destroying their ability to perform their intended functions: to provide vital services and assistance to the American people.
Trump’s most visible actions in this regard were taken at the very outset of his administration—the employment of the anti-environment fossil-fuel stooge Scott Pruitt, to transform the EPA into a vehicle of encouraging the negligent disregard, rather than policing, of Americans’ physical environment; the appointment of the wholly unqualified quack Ben Carson as head of Housing and Urban Development; and the anti-public education and corporate hack and heiress Betsy DeVos, now put in charge of the Department of Education. These political saboteurs—no other word applies–of the very agencies they were charged to lead, were all dutifully confirmed by a compliant and thoroughly corrupt Republican Senate.
O’Toole cites the example of Trump’s failure to fill the post of Agricultural Undersecretary, overseeing lesser-privileged Americans’ food, nutrition, and consumer services, a position that controls and funds a system larger than the GDP of several countries, as representative of the Trump administration’s deliberate corruption of our government.
The undersecretary is supposed to supervise fifteen federal nutrition assistance programs, including school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and to develop policies to end hunger and stop kids from being raised on junk food. While failing to fill the post, Trump did manage to fill the lower echelons of the USDA with patronage appointees, described by Lewis as “a long-haul truck driver, a clerk at AT&T, a gas- company meter-reader, a country-club cabana attendant, a Republican National Committee intern, and the owner of a scented-candle company.”
This pattern has been repeated throughout our Federal agencies. Where prior administrations may have differed in their political and economic ideologies, no administration before this one has ever displayed such a consistent pattern of naked disinterest in appointing of patent, rank incompetents to every post of leadership within those agencies. And what also has escaped notice (because the media finds it too “boring”) is the fact that Trump’s appointment of lower-level employees—the ones who actually implement the policies of these agencies—follows the same pattern of intentional neglect.
Also missing in action from our corporate media is any analysis of the real costs of this study in neglect by the day-to-day sabotage of the agencies Trump’s saboteurs are charged to lead, and how their actions ultimately translate into a theft of truly epic proportions—from all of the American citizens who pay the taxes that fund them.
In the entire nexus of right-wing politics and business interests around Trump, deliberate chaos, willful ignorance, and strategic incompetence can be embraced as virtues. If you despise the food stamp program as a disincentive to the shiftless poor to buck up and take responsibility for themselves, if you make your profits from supplying junk food for school meals fed to 30 million American children, if you think that ensuring that pregnant women and new mothers get proper nutrition is socialist tyranny, then the easiest thing to do is nothing. Avoid briefings so you don’t have to know what these programs do and why they do it.
Lewis’ new book, as discussed by O’Toole, reveals the staggering degree of waste that Trump has imposed on our government’s functions, and it calls out the philosophy that guides it: let the government rot and people will begin to despair of government, allowing private corporations to take up historically public functions.
An example of this, cited by O’Toole, is Trump’s nomination of Republican donor Barry Myers, someone with no scientific background whatsoever, as the head of NOAA, which runs the National Weather Service.
Myers is the CEO of AccuWeather, a private company that profits solely by basically stealing data collected and paid for by U.S. taxpayers (at great expense) and generated by the publicly funded National Weather Service. Essentially, AccuWeather operates as a ”parasitic” private entity preying on the U.S. government, i.e., our tax dollars. In 2005, for example, Barry Myers’ corporate donations to the GOP prompted Republican Senator Rick Santorum to introduce legislation that would ban the National Weather Service from issuing public forecasts, in favor of private companies like AccuWeather. It was a classic instance of attempted profiteering by privatization (Myers’ nomination in October 2018 was approved in a party-line vote by Senate Republicans, but it is still awaiting confirmation of the full Senate). But now Myers is now charged with controlling the entity he sought to undermine.
Placing a for-profit college promoter and funder like Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education is another example of Trump’s wholehearted attempt to dupe the American public into serving the interests of private corporate interests. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, normally regulated toward the enforcement of public education, are now being diverted to subsidize the financial interests of private companies supported by DeVos; companies that historically rip off and destroy young Americans’ futures.
The American people are being effectively swindled by these appointments, and the amounts of taxpayer money that are being stolen from the public in furtherance of these private schemes are staggering. As O’Toole puts it:
We imagine that those in power at least want to convey the impression that they know what they are doing and that they do it capably. Neither of these assumptions applies to Trump. When you want to discredit government itself, obliviousness and ineptitude are their own rewards.
The 200 million dollars effectively stolen from the U.S. taxpayers by Trump’s phony “caravan” crisis is just the tip of the iceberg, compared to what is being done to us by these now-corrupted Federal agencies. A wholesale rip-off—a Trump University-sized scheme—of the American public is underway under this administration, with our tax dollars co-opted to private corporations that have no responsibility or duty to Americans’ real interests, or to the functions that these agencies are designed to perform.
This corruption of our government has been completely ignored for the past two years by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Beginning in January, however, it will no longer be ignored. That is the meaning of “oversight.”