100 Days of Deconstruction: Part 3

by STEVEN HARPER –

Across the federal government, Trump is determining the country’s fate. The first 100 days of deconstruction set the stage for 1,360 that will follow.

Trump promised to be a transformational leader. It wasn’t an idle threat. He has assembled an unprecedented governmental wrecking crew. This is the third installment on Trump’s a unique combination of kleptocracy and kakistocracy that is reshaping America in ways that most of voters won’t like.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Don’t let the symbolic American missile strike on a Syrian airfield, dropping the “Mother of All Bombs” on tunnels in Afghanistan or threats directed at North Korea distract from a central fact: Trump is Putin’s President. Former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson is a player in the resulting saga. After Trump announced his choice for secretary of state, former Russian Energy Minister Vladimir Milov said that Tillerson was a “gift for Putin.” Indeed he is.

First, Tillerson announced that he’d miss his initial meeting with all NATO ministers and see Putin before visiting America’s staunchest allies. That move exacerbated strains that Trump had created within the Western alliance. After NATO ministers changed the meeting dates to suit Tillerson’s schedule, he reiterated Trump’s demand that participating countries pay a greater share of NATO’s costs. At a Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministers meeting of European allies on April 11, Tillerson posed this unsettling question: “Why should US taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” That was only days after America’s ineffectual missile strike on Syria and tough talk about Russia’s failure to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Perhaps Tillerson knew when he took the job that he would preside over the marginalization of the State Department so Trump’s son-in law Jared Kushner could run American foreign policy. In December, Kushner met at Trump Tower with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and, at Kislyak’s request, an executive at a Russian bank subject of US sanctions over Ukraine. In February, he orchestrated a call with China’s president to smooth Trump’s diplomatic blunder by speaking with Taiwan’s president. In April, Kushner met with Iraq’s prime minister to discuss the future of ISIS battles.

In fact, Tillerson is presiding over the decimation of the State Department. He spoke no public word of resistance to Trump’s proposal to cut its budget by 37 percent. He has accepted Trump’s rules: Trump can overrule Tillerson’s staffing proposals for key positions, including deputy secretary of state. As career policy personnel have departed en masse, replacements have not been forthcoming. Heading into March, the list of openings at the deputy, undersecretary and assistant secretary of state level was stunning. As of April 12, 2017, Trump had yet to nominate anyone for 478 out of more than 533 crucial appointments across the entire executive branch.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson

During the campaign, Trump accused Ben Carson of having a “pathological temper.” After the election, Carson put out the word that he wasn’t qualified to run a federal agency. Now he presides over HUD.

Trump’s proposed budget would reduce the department’s funding by 13 percent, in part by eliminating the Community Development Block Grant Program that funds Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts. When asked during his confirmation hearing about the department’s housing programs, Carson couldn’t rule out the possibility that money would go to the Trump Organization, which owns a stake in an enormous government-subsidized housing project in Brooklyn.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke

The person who runs the department charged with preserving federal lands for future generations has sided consistently with coal, oil and natural gas industry efforts to exploit them. Zinke’s lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters is 4 percent (out of 100). On his first day in office, he signed an order creating more access to public land for hunters. Within two weeks of his confirmation, Ryan Zinke opened 73 million offshore acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil exploration leasing.

Zinke’s professed desire to improve conservation efforts and national park infrastructure is impossible to square with Trump’s proposed budget, which would cut Interior Department funding by 12 percent. But Donald Trump Jr. likes Zinke, and that’s what matters most.

Other Notables

Who better to craft a Trump tax reform plan and frame national economic policy than billionaire Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s former national campaign finance chair? He’s a former Goldman Sachs partner who made a fortune from his purchase of a predatory lender that foreclosed on homeowners during the financial crisis. As nominee for Treasury secretary, he failed to disclose nearly $100 million of his assets on Senate Finance Committee disclosure documents, while forgetting to mention his role as a director of an investment fund located in a tax haven.

Over at the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry caused Harvard Professor Daniel Carpenter to describe “the least problematic of a very sorry pool of candidates” as “the most interest-conflicted commissioner in American history, by far.”

Another key Trump appointee, former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, rode into office on the 2010 tea party wave and became a charter member of the radical “House Freedom Caucus.” The anti-government ideologue dedicated his career to sabotaging the nation’s ability to govern. Now he’s the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Here’s a list of agencies that would disappear immediately under the proposed budget he and Trump crafted:

It Will Get Worse

The current Trump rogue’s gallery is only the beginning. Legal scholars Eric Posner and Emily Bazelon observe that Trump’s first US Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, “embraces a judicial philosophy that would do nothing less than undermine the structure of modern government — including the rules that keep our water clean, regulate the financial markets and protect workers and consumers. In strongly opposing the administrative state, Gorsuch is in the company of incendiary figures like the White House adviser Steve Bannon, who has called for its ‘deconstruction.’”

Trump’s lifetime appointments to the judiciary could inflict the most lasting damage on the country. During the final year of the Obama administration, the intransigence of Senate Republicans gave Trump 124 federal judgeships to fill, including 19 appellate positions. In his first term, retirements and other departures could give Trump the opportunity to name 40 percent of the nation’s federal bench — more than any first-term president in 40 years. Think about that as he rails against the federal judges who have dared to cross him on his unconstitutional travel ban.

Across the federal government, Trump is determining the country’s fate. The first 100 days of deconstruction set the stage for 1,360 that will follow. Make no mistake: he and his minions are playing for keeps.

 

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Reprinted with permission from Bill Moyers.com