Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

More canaries keeling over in the coal mine of American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson’s column tonight is another warning that Americans must wake up to the danger they face.

On Friday, Axios began to publish a deeply researched and important series by Jonathan Swan, explaining that if former president Trump retakes power, he and allies like his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), and head of Trump’s social media network Devin Nunes are determined to purge our nonpartisan civil service and replace it with loyalists. In a normal administration, a new president gets to replace around 4000 political appointees, but most government employees are in positions designed to be nonpartisan. Trump’s team wants to gut this system and put in place people loyal to him and his agenda.

When he campaigned for the presidency, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of officeholders who, he suggested, were just sucking tax dollars. Once in office, though, Trump grew increasingly angry at the civil servants who continued to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia, insisting that figures like former FBI director Robert Mueller and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, were Democrats who wanted to hound him from office. (They were, in fact, Republicans.)

Trump’s first impeachment trial inflamed his fury at those he considered disloyal. The day after Republican senators acquitted him on February 6, 2020, he fired two key impeachment witnesses: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top expert on Ukraine at the National Security Council. Ironically, Vindman had testified in the impeachment hearings that he had reassured his father, who had lived in the Soviet Union and was worried about Vindman’s testifying against the president, not to worry because in America, “right matters.” Trump fired Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, at the same time, although he had nothing to do with the impeachment.

A Trump advisor told CNN the firings were intended to demonstrate that disloyalty to the president would not be tolerated.

Within days, Trump had put fierce loyalist John McEntee in charge of the White House office of personnel, urging him to ferret out anyone insufficiently loyal and to make sure the White House hired only true believers. McEntee had been Trump’s personal aide until he failed a security clearance background check and it turned out he was under investigation for financial crimes; then–White House chief of staff John Kelly fired him, and Trump promptly transferred McEntee to his reelection campaign. On February 13, 2020, though, Trump suddenly put McEntee, who had no experience in personnel or significant government work, in charge of the hiring of the 4000 political appointees and gave him extraordinary power.

Trump also wanted to purge the 50,000 nonpartisan civil servants who are hired for their skills, rather than politics. But since 1883, those jobs have been protected from exactly the sort of political purge Trump and McEntee wanted to execute.

A policy researcher who came to Trump’s Domestic Policy Council from the Heritage Foundation, James Sherk, found that employees who work in “a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating” job can be exempted from civil service protections.

On October 21, 2020, Trump signed an executive order creating a new category of public servant who could be hired by agency heads without having to go through the merit-based system in place since 1883, and could be fired at will. This new “Schedule F” would once again allow presidents to appoint cronies to office, while firing those insufficiently loyal. One Trump loyalist at the Office of Management and Budget identified 88% of his agency as moveable to Schedule F.

Biden rescinded Trump’s executive order on January 22, 2021, just two days after taking office.

According to Swan, Trump has not forgotten the plan. Since the January 6 insurrection, he has called those former colleagues who did not support his coup “ungrateful” and “treasonous.” In a new administration, he would insist on people who had “courage,” and would reinstate the Schedule F plan in order to purge the career civil service of all employees he believes insufficiently loyal to him.

The idea of reducing our professional civil service to those who offer loyalty to a single leader is yet another fundamental attack on democracy.

Democracy depends on . . .

Continue reading. And perhaps think about your Plan B.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 10:42 pm

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