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Trump and the conservative narrative

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(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Did I hear someone say, 'Drain the swamp?'

President Donald Trump has appointed the least effective, most detrimental and glaringly inept cabinet in recent history.

Besides surrounding himself with his billionaire buddies and GOP mega-donors, Trump has simultaneously reinforced the misguided conservative narrative that has taken hold of public discourse since the days of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley Jr.

The conservative narrative is defined by the notion that a government which governs least, governs best because big government breeds bureaucratic inefficiencies and therefore is wholly ineffective at promoting the general welfare of the citizenry. Considering Trump’s cabinet nominations, there is nothing better for the conservative narrative than having him nominate people who hold antithetical views of the agencies they will be running.

For example, Trump’s nominee for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma. According to a report by the New York Times, Pruitt, “has led or taken part in 14 lawsuits aimed at blocking E.P.A. regulations, including Obama administration policies trying to tackle climate change.” How can someone who has sued to block EPA regulations run the agency that is tasked with enforcing those very same regulations?

The answer is not at all — but that’s the point.

By claiming that the federal government is inefficient, broken and unmanageable, while simultaneously nominating a person for a cabinet position that does not believe in the mission of the agency, in this case the EPA, the agency and therefore the government will cease to function properly.

This narrative is deeply disturbing to people who care about the environment and the effectiveness of government programs to solve social problems, but for conservatives, this is a win-win situation.

They please their base who have been deluded with propaganda claiming that government could never help them or others, while also throwing a bone to their donor class by keeping promises to deregulate and gut the very agencies that should be regulating their business interests.

Unfortunately, the EPA is not alone in this battle. The mission of the Department of Labor faces similar hostility from this administration. Trump’s failed pick, Andy Puzder, is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the company that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains.

First of all, the Department of Labor has been traditionally headed by someone who has experience in either government or organized labor. Puzder has neither of those qualifications.

Secondly, he isn’t too concerned with the welfare of human workers in this country. Reporting from Business Insider has shown that Puzder prefers the machine automation of restaurant service. He said in an interview that machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

Thirdly, let’s not forget about Puzder’s stint as CEO. His time there yielded numerous cases of labor law violations due to the practices found in his franchises. Salon reported a “separate analysis of federal employment discrimination lawsuits published this week by Capital & Main found that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants had the highest number of complaints among the nation’s biggest burger chains since Puzder took control of CKE in 2000.”

Let’s put this all together. Pudzer doesn’t support human employees, nevermind their rights. He either approved or was unaware of the practices in his restaurant franchises that allegedly violated labor laws and he doesn’t have government or organized labor experience.

Clearly he was an extraordinary pick to head the Department of Labor, and he almost made the cut before withdrawing his nomination Feb. 15.

What about the Treasury, you ask? Is there hope for sanity there?

Nope. Not a chance. Trump has nominated Steve Mnuchin, a financier from Goldman Sachs, who the Washington Post has described as “an industry insider with no government experience to helm the agency in charge of the nation’s finances.”

How can an industry insider from one of the most powerful financial institutions run the U.S. Treasury in a way that doesn’t explicitly and overtly help his friends from Goldman Sachs?

The answer is quite simple. Elect Republicans willing to propagate a misguided narrative that hurts the welfare of their constituents while pleasing the people that donate to their campaigns. Conveniently, their petulant child of a president is willing to sign off on whatever Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner put in front of his tiny hands, in this case, a cabinet full of cronies, crooks and loyalists.

There seems to be a theme to these nominations: no government experience, experience in either allegedly violating the laws of the department they are nominated to run or suing the department in which they hope to run and being an insider within the industry they may be tasked with running.

What does this theme do for the conservative narrative? It makes fiction into facts. While I have only named three nominees, let’s make the safe assumption that this theme continues.

What happens next? These people, who now comprise his entire cabinet, will run their departments in a way that does not promote or enforce their agency’s missions. They will be mired in logistical and legal entanglements. This promotes inefficiencies.

When there are inefficiencies, their work becomes ineffective, and when their agencies are deemed ineffective, they are deemed unworthy and must be abolished. See how this works?

Run a campaign for a generation claiming that government doesn’t work. Reinforce this claim by appointing people who can’t effectively run a government agency, then take this narrative to cable news networks and win.

But who loses? Ironically and sadly, the very people who put their hopes into a party and a president who has shown blatant disregard to the services and rights they deserve, such as clean air and water, fair labor practices and the enforcement of regulations on the same financial industry that foreclosed their homes during the Great Recession in 2008.

Did I hear someone say, “Drain the swamp?”

Email Jack at [email protected] or follow him on [email protected]_danberg.

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
Trump and the conservative narrative