I don’t want to write about politics, but I feel I have something of a civic duty to say something at this point. Trump has been president just one week and it’s been even worse than I feared. I no longer think that he couldn’t possibly be worse than Mike Pence, except that he and everyone around him seem to be almost completely unqualified to do their work at the most basic level of competence.
Take yesterday’s story about the State Department resignations, Departure of Top State Officials Fuels Concerns About Talent Loss. Apparently, all political appointees submit their resignations when a new administration comes in. But standard practice is that the new administration refuses those resignations to allow for continuity. But not the Trump administration. No, it just accepted them.
Most of the Government Doesn’t Change
What’s important to remember here is that a government is not just our elected officials. In fact, it is just the visible tip of the iceberg. As you may know, roughly 90% of an iceberg is below the water. (You can see the same thing by dropping a cube of ice into a glass of water.) The “under water” part of the government is made up of all the civil servants who keep the country moving regardless of administration: Democratic or Republican, good or bad.
It is this make-up of government that keeps countries stable. It is the same way in every developed nation. Democracy is about a whole lot more than voting. Voting doesn’t even matter if you don’t have some degree of stability. We quite simply don’t have the time to switch from a social democratic dream to a libertarian nightmare and back every eight years. So over more than 200 years, we’ve developed this largest part of the government that is not partisan. And it is critically important. It’s why we have better lives than the people in many other countries.
(Yes libertarians, I know. If there wasn’t any government, then everyone would have peace and prosperity. The whole thing wouldn’t collapse into a kind of Neuromancer-type dystopia where corporations rule us. Nor would it cause the rise of a ruthless ruler like Robert Mugabe. The only problem with all that is that I’m spending all my “believe” energy keeping Tinker Bell alive. So I can’t wish your particular fantasy into existence. Sorry.)
Ignorant Contempt for Government
But in order for such a government to work, everyone has to accept it. And that has generally been the case. But certainly over the last 40 years, I’ve seen a rise in people who have what I can only term “glibertarian” views toward government. They aren’t libertarian, because they don’t think about it enough to be. Instead, they have a vague hatred of the government, even though they don’t have a clue about all the really important things that the government does (under Republicans and Democrats alike) to keep them safe and even reasonably happy. And so it comes to this.
Now we have a man in the White House who is the perfect fulfillment of this kind of ignorant resentment. He’s an authoritarian. Read Michael Hiltzik for just one side of that, Trump Is at War With Science and Knowledge, and That Should Terrify You. Yet he’s also totally incompetent. That brings us back to those State Department resignations.
What’s Up With the Resignations?
I don’t know if they are a sign of Trump’s authoritarianism or his incompetence. Or maybe it is both. The truth is, he could do a good old Stalin-style house cleaning at any time. Now, he actually makes the job that Rex Tillerson is going to do (For Exxon or the US? It’s not clear.) harder. Now these positions have to be filled.
The whole thing makes me very worried. Yochi Dreazen reported the truth, The Worst Things You’ll Read About Trump Come From His Own Aides. But does it matter that our very own Stalin is incompetent? Authoritarians are not known for being competent about anything — except staying in power. I’m not sure Trump will manage even that. And that would give us Mike Pence, which, hard as it is to say, would probably be the best thing for this country.