Departments of Insecurity and Dysfunction

I remember when most Americans most of the time lived in a world of predictable events, stable relationships, and reasonable expectations for the future. Well, our worlds are mostly not so stable anymore. That, after all, is what much of the current political turbulence is all about. Everyone seeks the novelty of interesting things, but not if they interfere with the stability of our everyday lives.

In 2016, fed-up with the self-serving political stagnation and corruption, voters decided to try an “outsider.” Had the Democratic Party nomination process been democratic, they might have chosen an independent predictably moral grandfather figure. But an inveterate real estate huckster effectively conned them into picking the brash disrupter over a corporate insider.

Never mind the fact that she won the popular vote; never mind the voter suppression, never mind gerrymandering; never mind Russian trolls. Resentment of stagnation and corruption of the political process drove many angry voters, as Michael Moore put it, to throw a political “Molotov cocktail” into the arena.

Even in these turbulent times, when the lives of so many have destabilized, we tend to see the institutional world out there as a given. Well, not so much. What we thought was certain, what we thought we could count on, has been “kicked under the bus.”

Constitutional Chaos

We tend to see American society as a stable institutional structure, ordained by the Constitution. We may see politics as an unfortunate if necessary disturbance of the normal process of constitutional government. Even in these times of administrative disruption of numerous departments and agencies, we believe that the institutions of the nation are rock-solid entities beyond the range of any threat to their existence. We remain placidly comfortable in the Constitution and the institutions it supports as if nothing could change what the founding fathers wrote in it. We see villains pecking at the perimeter, but no real threat.

Whether we are strict constructionists or interpretive relativists, we see the Constitution as a sacred and solid guide to the conduct of government and of citizens. Well, actually, no institution is any stronger than the beliefs and actions of the people who sustain it. The ties that bind an institution together are only as strong as the commitment of the people charged with overseeing its operations. What interests do they have in holding it together as required by the Constitution? What if a president appoints political hacks to cabinet posts or as directors of core federal agencies, who are diametrically opposed to the very mission of those institutions? Well, here we are.

Destructive Deconstruction

We now have plenty of evidence for what happens when a leader intends to “deconstruct” a department or agency. Typically, the appointed leader is “in bed with” the entities that legislation mandates the institution to regulate or prosecute. If so, s/he can do a lot of damage to the mission and morale of its members. Such “leadership” can divert and stifle normal operations and drive dedicated public servants away in despair.

Institutions do not stand alone. They stand only in the values of leaders who believe in them and support employees in carrying out their mandate. Yes, people come and go as members and leaders over the years. Yet in normal times, the structure and purpose remain stable and clear. That is because leaders of variable competence and commitment either drive the institution to greater achievement or do not much get in the way of effective performance.

However, if a president appoints a “leader” to administer an agency or department with the explicit intent to eliminate its function in society by budget constraints, executive orders, or censoring reports, all hell breaks loose. Employees committed to the mandate of their organization will retreat into obscurity to keep their jobs or they will resign on principle. The organization and its mission suffer severely and the destroyers claim victory.

Plunder and Plutocracy Propagate Profusely

Today, a presumptuous president produces an increasingly dysfunctional federal government. His executive appointees are hell-bent on reducing and eliminating any function or operation that does not serve his and his cronies’ economic interests. The plutocratic class of super-rich corporate and financial elites have already benefitted immensely, both financially and politically. They wallow in new freedoms from social and environmental responsibility and from windfall tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The appointment of Supreme Court justices that favor corporations and the ultra-wealthy over the people and the public interest, assures the continued future strength of the plutocrats. Hence, continued climate denial in the face of overwhelming catastrophic facts. No wonder the Republicans, who are more heavily bribed by the wealthiest of the wealthy than the poorly organized corporate Democrats, faun over the political pretender they initially despised. No wonder they are now so “loyal” to the would-be dictator. Their greed matches his.

Rob Riemen warns us in his brief book, To Fight Against this Age, of the dangers of the new rise of fascism. Timothy Snyder urges us to practice citizenship as argued in his small book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, to avoid falling under the spell of a would-be fascist dictator. These two scholars, one Dutch and one American, sum up the clear lessons of history on how to retain democracy and freedom. We must learn them or lose both.