Don’t snicker at Donald Trump’s high unfavorable ratings and lack of legislative achievements. He’s doing better than you think.
Trump may not have succeeded yet on his promise to repeal/replace the Affordable Care Act. He may not have succeeded in building a wall or ending immigration. He may have reversed himself on the Export-Import Bank, the value of NATO, labeling China a currency manipulator, and whether to get involved in Syria. But, while some pundits will seize on his failures and his national approval rating is at 42 percent, he is succeeding in a most sinister way. Like a giant termite eating away at the supporting structure of a grand building, the Trump administration is gnawing away at the underpinnings of government.
Start at the top of key federal agencies, and consider the Secretaries now in charge of agencies they have pledged to destroy. Scott Gottleib, Trump’s nominee to head FDA, has deep ties to Big Pharma and will be happy to fulfill his boss’ promise to reduce regulations by 90 percent. Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 19 times to block its actions and is now running the agency supposed to protect clean air and water. Rick Perry running the Energy Department, which he has now vowed to eviscerate if not eliminate. Just think about the 100,000 people in Massachusetts who work in clean energy, one of our state’s top ten employers. Trump’s new head of the FCC wants to end net neutrality, which could well limit the internet access important to start-ups here.
His inexperienced secretaries depend on smooth-functioning departments, but he has yet to nominate close to 2000 deputy, under-secretary and other officials, further undermining government. As Senator Ed Markey told the New England Council, “The Republican paradox is that they don’t believe in government, but they have to run for office to make sure government doesn’t work.” So Congressional offices calling agencies for information or action find there’s no one there. Those who do answer, he reports, are afraid to talk, especially if they’re involved in anything science-related. If you can’t outright abolish an agency, you can still underfund it, de-staff it, prohibit it from promulgating new regulations or enforcing old ones – in short, paralyze it.
Huge budget cuts will mirror such slash-and-burn ideology. Tomorrow Congress returns from Easter recess, and, by Thursday, we can expect a battle royal over a continuing resolution to keep the government operating through September. The President may demand money for building his wall with Mexico in exchange for keeping it open. Health care may also figure in this week’s drama. Despite language in a new repeal/ replace bill to preserve requirement of basic benefits and ban on denials for preexisting conditions, there’s also language to permit states to waive those requirements. It’s a poison pill. Through all this, Donald Trump still has the approval of 88 percent of his base, the people who put him in office in the first place.
During the campaign, candidate Trump laid out his contract to make America great again in 100 days. Now he tweets that the first 100 days is a ridiculous standard. Maybe so. But we still have 1361 days left to President Donald Trump, term 1. He is already demonstrating the damage he can inflict on our nation and its global leadership. He is already hollowing out government. Are you tired of winning yet?