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State of Disunion

This Is How You Dismantle Our Government

With ruinous appointments and destructive legislation, Trump is doing everything he can to break America—because that's what his wealthiest donors have demanded of him.

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Some people still dismiss it as a crazy conspiracy theory if you tell them there was a plan to put a president in the White House who would dismantle government as we know it, strip citizens and their environment of legal protections in favor of installing a Christian Taliban, re-segregate schools, and society, and decimate the tax burden of corporations and the .01%.

But people are paying attention now. And those of us who have been following the right-wing money trail for decades not only recognize the cast of characters—we’re familiar with their goals. Because it’s not a secret; they’ve been talking about this for a long time.

Some conspiracies are right out in the open—and they’re effective because to someone who has only superficial knowledge, they appear too far-fetched to be real. (Much of today’s right-wing agenda has its roots in the extreme John Birch Society, which Fred Koch, father of the infamous Koch brothers, served as a leader.)

But the extreme agendas of heavy hitter donors like hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer (who funds Breitbart and owns Cambridge Analytica, part of the Russia investigation) are right out in the open. Billionaires Charles and David Koch, who are the nation’s second wealthiest family,  made their fortune on oil refineries (Koch Industries is a major U.S. polluter). Dick and Betsy DeVos made their fortune from Amway’s multilevel marketing plan and hope to take their Christian agenda nationwide.

These donors aren’t willing to simply support conservative candidates; they want to reshape the country. They oppose acknowledging climate change, let alone addressing it. They want yet another round of tax cuts, they oppose gay rights, and they even want to control what Americans can do in their bedrooms.

So funders like these poured millions into imposing their agenda via legislation, think tanks, right-wing media, opposition research centers, candidate recruitment groups, stealth bill-drafting organizations like ALEC, and litigation centers. In effect, they created their own government infrastructure, which works efficiently in the shadows.

It is a profoundly anti-democratic movement. They don’t care what voters want, they only want their way.

“Right-wing Christmas,” one colleague described it. “They’re getting everything on their wish list.”

We got a major clue when we read what Steve Bannon, then executive editor of Breitbart News, blithely told a reporter,  “I’m a Leninist.” The reporter asked what he meant.

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” (He later denied making the statement.)

Bannon, of course, went to work for the Trump campaign and became a senior White House advisor. He may be gone from the West Wing, but Trump still consults with him and his extremist philosophy will live on.

So much is happening so fast, even seasoned journalists have trouble keeping up.

For one thing, Trump is refusing to fill necessary positions. Entire agencies have been gutted by his appointees, as Rex Tillerson did with the State Department. Citizens complain that they call federal agencies, and no one is there to answer the phones. The administration likes it that way.

It’s a libertarian fantasy come to life, and many Republican donors are thrilled. They see this administration as an opportunity to push extreme policies while hiding behind Trump. (GOP anti-tax extremist Grover Norquist, author of the famous “no tax” pledge that’s kept legislative progress in deadlock for decades, said back in 2001, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”)

Unless Democrats gain control in 2018, we should take Norquist literally.

The Republican agenda, executed with the ruthlessness of a Donald Trump and the men who hide behind him, may set the federal government back for decades.

Making Appointments That Undermine Agencies 

The first clue is that Trump appoints agency heads who either are largely unqualified or have long records of being openly adversarial of the agencies they now lead.

The story of Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), nominated as Trump’s drug czar, is only the latest. The congressman is one of Big Pharma’s most enthusiastic supporters and takes credit for a lobbyist-written bill that gutted the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to suspend opioid shipping. (UPDATE: Marino has withdrawn his name from nomination.)

Trump has appointed Accuweather CEO Barry Myers, who relies on National Weather Service data for his company, as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He is the first non-scientist appointed to the position. Myers has lobbied Congress to curtail how much information NOAA shares with the public, so he and companies like his can sell it back to the consumer. (Even though your tax dollars paid for it.)

The Environmental Protection Agency is basically being stripped and sold for parts to the energy lobby and other polluters. EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt and the Trump budget have gutted many of the environmental programs that serve communities all over the country. Pruitt doesn’t see his job as representing the environment. He represents the oil industry.

Remember the 2008 economic crash? Many people still haven’t recovered from losing their jobs, investments, and houses, which was largely brought on by the poorly-regulated and Wild West-like mortgage and investment banking business. An estimated 10 million people lost their homes. One of the worst offenders was Goldman Sachs’ Gary Cohn, who is now the director of Trump’s National Economic Council. You would think he would have learned a lesson, but instead, he’s working hard to deregulate the industry again.

It’s a given that the Department of Labor prioritizes management under Republican control, and that’s certainly true with this one. Secretary Alexander Acosta, who formerly headed the heavily politicized Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice under George W. Bush, has a history of attacking voting rights.

All those coal miners who supported Trump because he would look out for them? Not so much. He’s nominated David Zatezalo to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Zatezalo is a former coal executive cited for “a pattern of safety violations.” Shortly after he was cited, “a miner was killed at the mine when part of a wall collapsed, leading to $44,500 in fines,” according to Huffington Post.

In addition to having no education experience, Betsy DeVos has spent her adult life lobbying to dismantle public schools—something that makes her perfect for Secretary of Education, at least under Trump. Mother Jones reports she wants to use American schools to “build God’s Kingdom on earth.” DeVos also profits from an array of family businesses that present conflicts of interest.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy? Perfect. A man who cheerleads for fossil fuels and wasn’t aware that his new job puts him in charge of the country’s nuclear weapons, he also doesn’t understand how policy works.

Also see Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney (who lives to cut Social Security and Medicare) and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who is believed to have been appointed because he’s black and wants to dismantle his agency.

The Affordable Care Act: Underfunding Is Just Another Form of Deregulation 

While Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House, they are facing a potential wave election in 2018 that would give control back to the Democrats.

With that in mind, they won’t have the stomach for taking on laws head-on, so instead, they’ll play games with funding. A favorite tactic is “increasing” funding below the rate of growth and insisting it isn’t a cut. (Even though it is.) Or refusing to pay for the enforcement of an act.

Trump, with the gleeful help of GOP leadership, is sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. Even though he was unsuccessful in his three attempts to repeal the law, he can erode it to the point of being non-functional.

Last week, he cut the Cost Sharing Reduction payments to insurance companies that keep premiums down, and next year’s ACA enrollment period has now been reduced to one month — with customer service closed on Sundays. (For “maintenance.”)

While shortening the window for enrollment was bad enough, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (led by Tom Price, the now-former Health and Human Services secretary who so loved expensive air travel) told health officials the budgets for navigators, the experts who help people enroll, was being drastically cut by as much as 90 percent.

There’s more. Trump has used executive orders to weaken the personal mandate, which experts agree is necessary for the long-term economic health of the program, and just last week signed one that would freeze funding for the premium support payments for insurance companies.

HHS even “helpfully” redesigned their website to make it harder to find info, and used funds meant to promote the program to make videos aimed at eroding public support for the ACA.

Rolling Back Environmental Protections 

In Trump’s first 100 days, he reversed dozens of environmental regulations, including approval both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines; revoked a rule that prevented mining companies from dumping carcinogenic coal sludge into local streams; and canceled mandatory reporting of methane emissions. (You can track the status of the rest of them here.)

Even the energy industry wishes he’d slow down. That was before all these major hurricanes.

At least the courts are blocking some of the worst actions taken by EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, a good friend to the energy industry. He recently announced he would attempt to repeal President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but environmental groups believe they can stop him.

To repeal requires a formal justification – and any attempt to contest the so-called “endangerment finding,” the Supreme Court-mandated scientific basis for the EPA’s requirement to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, will certainly be challenged in court.

The Jewel in the Crown: The Destruction of Voting Rights 

Finally, the ultimate goal: The Trump administration aims to destroy voting rights to the point that the Republican party maintains a permanent majority.

Since January, the Trump administration has launched an all-out assault on voting rights. His voter fraud commission manufactures lies about voter fraud to rationalize a rollback of voting rights laws.

Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice-chair, is also the Kansas Secretary of State. He has a long history of anti-immigrant legislation, even helping other states to write it (like Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” law).

While at the Department of Justice, he helped create a Muslim registry.

Ari Berman of The Nation writes, “The actions by Kobach, in particular, appear to mark the beginning of a nationwide voter-suppression campaign, based on spreading lies about voter fraud to justify enacting policies that purge the voter rolls, and make registration and voting more difficult.”

“The House Appropriations Committee voted to defund the Election Assistance Commission, the only federal agency that helps states make sure their voting machines aren’t hacked,” Berman continued.

“The House Administration Committee previously voted to kill the EAC in February, but yesterday’s vote makes it one step closer to reality — practically inviting Russia to try to hack our elections again. Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 states in 2016, according to intelligence officials. The $4 million funding request for the EAC is less than the cost of two trips by Donald Trump to Mar-a-Lago.”

There’s a lot going on. Don’t blink, you’ll miss something.

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