Donald Trump may not have accomplished a heck of a lot in his first couple months in office in terms of policy, but he sure has done some wonderful stuff to instill a healthy sense of fear and paranoia in the federal workforce, beyond just the normal stuff like making clear he wishes some agencies didn’t exist at all. But now the Washington Post reports that even though the administration hasn’t bothered filling a lot of top jobs in cabinet-level agencies, Trump’s people have been very careful to appoint senior aides who will ensure the departments are politically loyal and don’t do anything that deviates from White House policy. Assuming the White House has any.
This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Freedom of Information Act”? That sounds suspect. Better get someone on that and get that shut down. These nice political minders don’t report to the cabinet secretaries, but to Rick Dearborn, a deputy chief of staff in the White House, who has an aide to coordinate the inside snitches and make sure everyone is on message and not getting too independent. One former Trump campaign advisor, Barry Bennett, said this is perfectly normal and a really smart idea: “Somebody needs to be there as the White House’s man on the scene. Because there’s no senior staff yet, they’re functioning as the White House’s voice and ears in these departments.”
Or maybe they could give some thought to actually staffing up those department with competent people. It’s a thought, at least. Hey, how’s that Trump hiring process coming along anyway?
So political minders it is, then!
This isn’t a normal part of a presidential transition, not even when there’s a change of parties in the White House. Political commissars weren’t used by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, although it was super-creepy that Obama had all those “czars,” and not at all weird that Trump has a political minder in every department. Kevin Knobloch, the chief of staff for Obama’s Energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, says it’s kind of weird, and doesn’t foster independent thinking, as if that were something the Trumpers would be interested in:
“That can only happen when agency secretaries have their own team, who report directly to them,” he said. “Otherwise it comes off as not a ringing vote of confidence in the Cabinet.”
Again, that sounds like it will perfectly suit what the Trumpers want. Groupthink is a terrific thing when the smartest man in the world is running things, after all. And with most departments still hollowed out, the political guys end up doing a lot of the work, even if they’re campaign or business people who have no expertise in what those departments do. Not a problem, since expertise is elitist. This election was about kicking out experts and letting a bunch of business guys, campaign aides, and lobbyists run things. We were really reassured to learn that a raging anti-Islamic conspiracy theorist named Frank Wuco is the political minder for Homeland Security. He thinks all Muslims are likely to turn into head-chopping jihadis, because that’s just how those people are, and also gives motivational speeches in which he pretends to be a jihadist, complete with thick accent and fanatical glint in his eyes. Good to know he’s found a place where he can put his abilities to use.
The Post does note that every president has tended to butt into cabinet affairs; Obama was a bit of a control freak but didn’t assign political aides — when he tried to do that at Justice, Eric Holder said hell no and didn’t let it happen. But for Trump, it’s very, very necessary to enforce absolute loyalty, as no less an expert than Newt Gingrich explains:
“If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators,” Gingrich said. “These people are actively trying to undermine the new government. And they think it’s their moral obligation to do so.”
That would be that “deep state” you keep hearing about. Gotta root out the enemy everywhere in order to get the agencies to do their jobs, which is to dismantle government anyway, after all. Don’t want the Secretaries getting any crazy ideas that aren’t the boss’s crazy ideas, like when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly didn’t immediately fall in line with whatever the official policy was during the first travel ban (to be fair, it probably didn’t help that no one really knew what that policy was).
The Post notes that some of the political minders are fitting in better than others — the guy in Elaine Chao’s Transportation Department seems to work well with others, and as far as we know makes a damn good cup of coffee, while at the Pentagon, the political aide has been met with suspicion and been nicknamed “the commissar,” which is terribly unfair since Soviet commissars were political stooges sent to enforce ideological orthodoxy, whereas this is America.
We’re happy to hear that loathsome environment-despoiler Scott Pruitt is saddled with a real twerp of a political minder, former Washington state Senator Don Benton, who “two senior administration officials” said had made such a pest of himself by making unwanted contributions to policy discussions that Pruitt eventually banished him from meetings. Here’s hoping there were lots of hurt feelings and spite, and that Benton makes trouble for Pruitt with the Great Man. The busier these assholes are with infighting,the less damage they can do.
Also, if you’re a government employee and you have some nice juicy stories of political interference from Team Trump, we’d love to hear from you! Contact Yr Dok Zoom at doktorzoom at-sign wonkette dot com — why should big-time political reporters have all the fun? Let’s see… how about… “Wonkileaks?”
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