As my friend Jill and I have been pointing out over the last several months of our project, the issues that confront us in this year’s election are enormous and growing by the minute. While many Americans may not have realized how crucial good government is to our well-being before, they certainly do now. We see, in real-time, what an incompetent and unresponsive government can do to a society. Lives continue to be lost at an alarming rate, while the leader of the free world dithers and blames everyone but himself.
Unfortunately, though, our current president and the Republican Party paved the way for this. When a political party believes that government should only exist for security purposes, and not much else, what you see is what you get.
This mantra is nothing new. The attack on the government by the Republican Party began many years ago, highlighted by none other than their hero, President Ronald Reagan himself. One of his most famous quotes? “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Or, even better, there was this gem from his inaugural address in 1981: “Government is not the solution to the problem, it IS the problem.”
So this philosophy that the government needs to get out of the way so the rich can make a ton of money and trickle down to the rest of us began a long time ago. And it’s still the primary tenet of the Republican Party’s platform. Long-time tax-cut guru Grover Norquist is another influential conservative who doesn’t care much for government. He famously said, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
I do believe there are a few common-sense Republicans left who think that government can be a force for good, but those people are rarely seen or heard in public saying any such thing. Most of them follow and stick to the talking points.
But what’s happening now in Washington, D.C. is nothing short of criminal negligence. Not only does the Trump administration not respect the norms and precedents we’ve long before held as the gold standard in our nation’s history, but they’re also trying to blow the whole damn thing up. We knew what was coming, at least those of us who were terrified of Trump ever getting elected, that is. The others? They loved the idea. They wanted to blow it all up. Now the rest of us are left picking up the pieces.
As I said, it’s not like they were hiding what their intent was when they came to power in 2017. Trump’s infamous and disheveled former chief strategist Steve Bannon told us as much at a CPAC event: “His cabinet picks are aimed at the deconstruction of the administrative state.” Translation? We want to weaken the hell out of regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities.
He then went on to say: “The way the progressive left runs is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put in some sort of regulation in an agency. That’s all going to be deconstructed, and I think that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.”
Yeah, ‘this regulatory thing.’ How quaint he was with that quote. But let’s face it, folks, he meant every word of it, and Trump succeeded in this endeavor far beyond what anyone thought.
It’s all about the Deep State with this group. What and who are the Deep State? It’s pretty easy. These are the non-political people sprinkled throughout the government. They come to work every day, are bound, not by a president, but by the Constitution. Trump and his minions can’t stand these types. How is it possible not to be loyal to the president? He is, after all, their boss, right?
Wrong. The people and the Constitution are what binds these career public officials and workers. Many of them are scientists and specialists in different fields of our vast governmental apparatus. Areas like climate science, public health, national security, civil and foreign policy, and many more. While previous administrations, even Republican ones, have valued the skills these so-called ‘bureaucrats’ possess, the current president couldn’t give a rat’s behind about them.
Just look at who Trump has put at the heads of the agencies that employ the Deep Staters. Usually, their views are antithetical to the agency itself. How about putting someone in charge of the Department of Education—who doesn’t believe in public education? That’s right. Hello, Betsy Devos.
How about putting a brain surgeon in charge of Housing and Urban Development, who has no background whatsoever in the field? That would be none other than Dr. Ben Carson.
And surely you’d want someone sympathetic to the fossil fuel companies in charge of the EPA, right? That would be former director, Scott Pruitt, who left in disgrace in 2018 over a cloud of ethics complaints. But he sure did his best to weaken regulations, much to the delight of billionaires like the Koch Brothers. His current replacement, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist (of course), took the torch from Pruitt and ran with it.
And now, a pandemic. Trump disbanded the pandemic response team that President Obama established during his second term. Why? For one, it was an Obama initiative. So naturally, it must be bad, at least as Trump sees it. But the reality is, it was a science-based team, and we know how Trump feels about science—he doesn’t believe in it.
And because of his overall disdain for people who aren’t loyal to him, we’re left with a situation where our agencies aren’t at full speed. Many high-level positions go unfilled, and when they finally are, they get the title of ‘Acting Director.’ Trump likes it that way. He has more control over them and doesn’t have to go through the Senate confirmation process.
But again, it’s not just Trump. The Republican Party is complicit in everything he does. Their fundamental anti-government/pro-one-percent dogma has only strengthened with Trump in charge.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though, and we can change it on November 3, 2020. Joe Biden believes in good government. Hell, he believes in government, period. The government can and will do good things because Biden will appoint people in his administration who only want to do what’s right for America. There’s a deep bench of knowledgable and qualified individuals out there. And you can be sure they’ll be ready to go on day one.
How about Senator Kamala Harris as Attorney General, or Senator Elizabeth Warren as Secretary of the Treasury? Hell, either one of them would make great Vice-Presidents as well. Can you see Washington Governor Jay Inslee as EPA Administrator or Interior Secretary? There are many others, of course. But we can imagine, can’t we?
Yes, the challenges facing an incoming Biden administration are going to be immense. But his cabinet won’t be coming in to destroy and deconstruct the administrative state, as our friend Mr. Bannon told us Trump’s goal was from the very beginning. On the contrary, they’ll work—hand in glove—with a President Biden to rebuild those very same agencies that Trump tried to decimate.
We’ll get competence, over negligence and malice. Instead of embarrassing the country, as our allies overseas look at us with shock and disbelief, a Biden administration will seek to strengthen the ties that bound us together, pre-Trump. We’ll get back to leading from the front, not from behind.
Because whether we like it or not, the rest of the world looks to the United States for leadership, especially in our current situation. If you remember, the Ebola hysteria was off the charts back in 2014. The right-wing went nuts and demanded President Obama close the borders and implement other harsh measures.
Instead, with then Vice-President Joe Biden at his side, they charted a different course. They sent the military to Africa, along with doctors and other health care professionals. They decided to take on the virus at its origin. The thinking back then was, it’s better to control it over there before it gets over here. It worked.
While the government doesn’t always get it right no matter who the administration is, I’ll take my chances any day of the week with people who believe the government has a decisive role to play in our society. Those who don’t—those who do nothing but denigrate and under-appreciate the career people who do a damn good job for our country? No thanks.
You don’t have to believe that government can solve all of our problems. But we should all want a government that works for us. A government that steps up to the plate, when needed, and competently gets us through whatever crisis that may arise. That’s the bare minimum we should expect. We’re not even close to achieving that with the current administration.
Trump tried and delivered on Bannon’s administrative state destruction proclamation. One could argue that it might be his only ‘achievement’ while in office. On November 3, 2020, though, we can change it all. As we see daily, especially now, with a pandemic raging across the country, lives are literally on the line. We cannot afford another four years of this. We just can’t.