Who’s In Charge Around Here?

I binge watched three episodes of Rachel Maddow on Saturday — catching up on shows I missed during the week.   I had planned to skim through them just to pick up her take on recent events.  But instead, I sat riveted, glued to the screen as this spy thriller of a story unfolds before our very eyes.  I felt disappointed and dazed after the end of Friday’s episode.  And also nauseated and horrified. Because of course, this isn’t a thrilling spy novel — it is something real that not only happened, but is happening to our country.

Tempted as I am to burrow more deeply into the twists and turns of the Russian plot and how it was/is being carried out, I am worrying about something else — not unrelated, but slightly different.  And I’m not talking about the investigations or lack thereof; or the recusals, or lack thereof; or the cover-ups.  I’m talking about something that at least on its face has nothing whatsoever to do with the hacking.  Namely, what is actually happening in our government right now.

Let’s take a look at two of the Administration’s recent staffing and personnel choices (I’m not even talking about the latest purge of U.S. Attorneys):

First, as described in Pro Publica, “While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior. Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-calledbeachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.” https://www.propublica.org/article/meet-hundreds-of-officials-trump-has-quietly-installed-across-government (emphasis added by me)

Second, the State Department remains almost entirely empty — with major posts like Deputy Secretaries of State unfilled.  Trump’s budget proposal calls for a 37% cut in State Department funds.  Secretary of State Tillerson has said nothing about either condition, and seems perfectly content with his apparently diminished role, and the diminishing role of the Department generally.  As summed up in Vox recently,

  1. “Tillerson’s State Department is so poorly staffed (he doesn’t yet have a deputy or a permanent spokesperson) and out of the loop on high-level decision-making that its press secretary wasn’t even informed of a visit by the top diplomat from one of Washington’s most important strategic partners.
  2. Foreign governments appear to be recognizing State’s weakness in the Trump administration and are bypassing America’s trained diplomatic corps. Instead, they’re speaking directly with White House aides whom they see as wielding real influence over the president. That includes ones like Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law, who has no experience in international affairs or diplomacy.” http://www.vox.com/world/2017/3/10/14882684/state-department-mexico-briefing

The Trump Administration is consolidating power, there is no way to deny or ignore that reality.  Decisions are made by a few people, most of whom have not received public scrutiny, let alone Senate confirmation.  We know the names of some of these people — Bannon, Kushner, Miller, Sessions, Comey — but most we do not know.   This is not how a functional democracy runs.  If we don’t have a way to hold power accountable, we no longer have a system of checks and balances.  And then it won’t matter who hacked whom and who knew what when.

Bannon and Putin — to name a couple of possible Geppettos to Trump’s Pinocchio — are in it for the long con.  Even if the hacking were discovered, and even if investigations did take place, Trump would still be president, for at least a little while.  A lot of long term, structural, damage can be done in a short time.

Keep paying attention.