How to sabotage the federal government

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The Trump administration offers us a ceaseless sordid circus of chaos and confusion, which dominates the headlines. Each day is a new episode of an absurdist TV series. With the subtly of a fifth grade schoolyard bully, Trump wages a full tilt culture war over race, gender, immigration, even science.

In more ordinary times, many people only pay sporadic attention to politics. How many more now are tuning out the conflicts in Washington?

Trump is causing serious damage to this country. His 2020 budget would shred the social safety net and give welfare to the rich. There are massive reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — which Trump frequently promised to protect from any cuts.

At the end of 2017, Politico reporter Danny Vinik had a lengthy piece entitled “138 things Trump did this year while you weren’t looking.” Many of these quiet and underpublicized actions of the administration contradict the image of Trump as the champion of ordinary folks. Here are two examples, one involving homeowners and the other involving workers.

Many homeowners didn’t know that the Obama administration had ordered a reduction in mortgage insurance premiums that was to take effect in 2017. Homeowners would have saved an average of $500 a year. But in a surprise move on Inauguration Day, the Trump administration got the Federal Housing Administration to roll back this reduction.

Obama’s Department of Labor (DOL) helped working people with a number of important regulations. For example, they cracked down on employers who mischaracterize their workers as “contractors” and they extended mandatory overtime pay to several million more workers.

However, Trump’s DOL started to undermine those rulings right away. Rules also need to be enforced. Vinik says Obama’s DOL, “used its enforcement powers broadly, earning praise from labor groups and criticism from businesses.” Trump changed that and big business is much happier now.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, talked about “deconstructing the administrative state.” That is happening now. That is what right-wingers have long yearned for. In 1986, Ronald Reagan told this anti-government joke: “You know, it’s said that the nine most frightening words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’” For decades, right-wingers have said that government is not the solution but the problem. You might wonder if they hate the federal government so much, why do they want to get elected?

What is their goal? Do they want to reverse all the progressive reforms since Franklin Roosevelt? Or do they want to return to an imaginary idyllic 19th century America with unregulated capitalism where rugged individualist propertied white men were in charge? Lobbyist and influential Republican activist Grover Norquist says, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Norquist is a proponent of “starving the beast” (the federal government) of funds. He once told a journalist he wants to go back to America at the turn of the last century when William McKinley was president, before Teddy Roosevelt and the socialists took over. Back when, “the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”

Trump and the Republicans seem to be pursuing Norquist’s dream. Shortly after Trump became president, sociologist Herbert Gans wrote in The Nation that Trump was “pursuing a radical shrinkage of the federal government that comes close to overthrowing it entirely. The goal of this project: to leave the country with a minuscule government that is basically an appendage to private enterprise. Call it the Overthrow Project.

“The essence of the Overthrow Project is familiar: to reduce taxes on the very rich, free the business community from taxes and regulations that interfere with its money-making and subsidize that community with public funds. In addition, the Overthrow Project aims to privatize as many governmental activities as possible. Left for government is the maintenance of the remaining public infrastructure that enables private enterprise to operate efficiently and safely, as well as the assurance of public safety through ever-higher funding of the military, the homeland-security apparatus, the police and other forces of so called law and order.”

It’s unnerving to follow the news every day –- little kids being put in cages, attacks on climate scientists, the destruction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, concessions to sleazy, for-profit colleges, big support for the fossil fuel industry, abortion clinics being closed, the violent far-right emboldened. Many doctrinaire right-wing federal judges are being appointed. They have lifetime tenure.

The unending Resistance to Trump inspires hope. The Democratic victories in the 2018 elections were impressive. Gans says, “the Democrats could halt the Overthrow Project with a single landslide election, and end it if they obtained control of all branches of the federal government for several consecutive presidential and midterm elections.”

Keep fighting.  

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.