President Reagan’s cute, ironic comment: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” may inadvertently have done more to undermine American faith in our institutions than the best efforts of the right-wing think tanks and the Koch Brothers. Embraced by the unthinking, it has inspired such imbecilities as banners at GOP campaign rallies that read, “Keep government away from my Medicare!” The same sentiment inspired the plutocratic outrage at President Obama’s suggestion that “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. …Somebody else made that happen...somebody invested in roads, bridges…the internet…your teachers.”
The destruction of a country begins with the undermining of its governing institutions. Without its bureaucratic infrastructure a country cannot exist. We need armies, police forces, diplomats, teachers, and a myriad of other bureaucratic structures to survive.
The plutocrats had rather limited objectives in reducing government; they only wanted to lower taxes for themselves, to eliminate regulations that reduce their personal profits, to suffocate trade unions that competed for their piece of the pie and to skew government spending towards their own pockets. In the process, they spawned a monster that will destroy them as well as the rest of us. President Trump, seemingly ignorant of the damage he has inflicted and continues to inflict on the structures of the United States, has set about undermining virtually all the institutions that make our country work and keep our citizens safe and prosperous. He understands that his base bought the slogans and he can exploit it for reelection in 2020.
Trump began by filling the top ranks of his administration with more serving or recently retired military officers than any other President. Within a few months he realized that (General Flynn excepted) he had brought men of principle, integrity and great intelligence into his offices. They are all gone, replaced by toadies and ideologues. He diverts badly needed military construction funds into his other election ploy, the Border Wall. He tries to make the Army into border guards. Trump also realized that he enjoyed more support among the rank and file than among senior officers. He ordered the Navy to drop a tarpaulin over the bow of a destroyer carrying the name of a real war hero, John McCain, to show his disdain. He has chanced upon a method to undermine the troops’ confidence in their leaders. He campaigns among the troops, signing red MAGA caps (never mind that it is a violation of the Logan Act). Trump intuitively grasps that the lower ranks do not understand why their comrades should be punished for killing enemy civilians or desecrating corpses; a serious offense among the military. He pardons military felons and humiliates the command structure. Trump has taken his contempt for legal process to new lows by forcing the Defense Department to deny an award to Amazon, a company owned by someone he dislikes.
Trump and his appointees have already decimated the top ranks of America’s first line of defense, the diplomats of the U.S. Foreign Service. More than 400 of the best and most senior Foreign Service officers have been forced out. He has appointed a higher percentage of political Ambassadors than any of his 20th century predecessors. And what a lot they are, e.g., a hotel magnate who got a plum job in Europe in return for putting a million dollars into Trump’s inauguration. He then broke every rule, talked on the phone (so loud it could have been on speaker mode) with the President from a Kyiv cafe swarming with Russian agents and then perjured himself in front of Congress. By contrast, the career diplomats that did testify two weeks ago were the very epitome of dignified, skilled professionals with their wits about them. We have already seen his trolls accusing the diplomats of being “unelected bureaucrats” disloyal to the president. Presumably, they should have taken an oath to Trump and not to the Constitution. What do they propose to replace the “unelected bureaucrats” with? More billionaire hotel magnates?
We have already seen the President force the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an organization whose weather predictions determine the economic health of our country, to issue a false announcement that the President did indeed predict the course of a hurricane via his “divining rod” Sharpie. He has ‘Trumped up’ charges against the FBI and asked his personal lawyer (posing as Attorney General) to investigate those who dared investigate him. He has dislocated many important federal agencies. The Agriculture and Interior Departments have already begun to transfer staff to remote locations. In the process literally hundreds of skilled researchers, including agricultural experts and other scientists, have quit. Farmers will suffer, but probably not before the 2020 elections.
More insidiously, Trump and his ally, Mitch McConnell, have launched a campaign to stuff the federal judiciary, not just the Supreme Court, with political and ideological hacks many of whom have been declared unfit for office by their own professional colleagues in the American Bar association. No country functions well without a nonpartisan and uncorrupted judiciary. Greece’s current financial problems stem in large part from an understaffed and underpaid judiciary.
Length limits the list. However, we should close by reviewing what happened to another country whose government was disassembled by right-wing American politicians. In 2003, America’s proconsul in Baghdad abolished the Iraqi Army, security services, police, judiciary, and the top levels of every government agency, the functional equivalent of firing everyone above the GS-10 level in the U.S. Government. Sixteen years and half a million dead later, Iraqis riot to take back their country.