If you can’t beat ’em, cheat ’em (Presidentiary edition)

The news that President Donald Trump, in a fit of childish petulance, fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday is understandably dominating the news cycle. But on the same day, the director of another major federal agency, John Thompson of the Census Bureau, also left his job in a move that came as a surprise to those who follow the agency’s goings-on. In many ways, this sudden resignation of a major agency director is just as troubling as Comey’s outright firing. The Trump administration is trying to spin Thompson’s departure as a simple decision to retire, which is a narrative that’s impossible to swallow, considering the abrupt nature of his exit. The reality is that Thompson was at the center of an ugly debate over funding, with Republicans trying to slash the bureau’s budget well below what he felt he needed in order to conduct an accurate nationwide census. It’s widely believed Thompson left rather than deal with an untenable situation of trying to do a good job without adequate resources.

It seems as if we’re accosted daily with Donald Trump’s latest “WTF???” moment, each worse and more cringe-worthy than the last. It can be difficult to keep up…but what if that’s a deliberate strategy? What if the President is deliberately playing Looney Tunes in order to keep the media off the scent of the real problem? What if there’s something far more sinister taking place, something the media simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to cover?

As insidious as the President’s offensiveness as reported by the media is, consider for a moment that it’s entirely possible that there’s far more (and worse) which we don’t hear about. Media outlets don’t have unlimited bodies and resources, so it’s possible the obvious stories and controversies being focused upon are smoke screens. Yes, they’re serious problems, but what about the things we AREN’T being told about?

What if the real problem is the damage Donald Trump is quietly inflicting upon government at lower levels? Things like the Census Bureau, for example, which plays a crucial, if significantly under-reported, role in our democracy. The Constitution requires a headcount of every American every ten years. Those numbers are used for, among other things, apportioning Congressional representation. Republicans have no incentive to enable an accurate count, invested as they are in voter suppression efforts like voter ID laws. The President’s new commission on voter fraud is a feint intended to provide a patina of legitimacy to Republican efforts to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning constituencies. An accurate head count works against Republican efforts to create a system which will ensure them a permanent, unassailable majority nationwide.

What’s also not being reported on are the efforts to undermine government by replacing lower-level bureaucrats with Trump True Believers committed to sowing chaos and dismantling many, if not most, government services. The federal government at lower levels is staffed by career bureaucrats; in many cases, it’s where the real work is done. If Trump succeeds in seeding federal agencies with people committed to the devolution of government, the federal bureaucracy will rot and collapse from within. No one will realize what’s happening until the damage has been done.

If (and/or when) the federal government collapses of its own weight from lack of attention, it won’t be from the sledgehammer blows we hear about daily from the news media. No, it will die from the attrition of being nibbled to death by ducks- a little here, a little there, and before you know it a government agency collapses. It could be something as obvious as willful lack of funding or as subtle as refusing to adequately enforce rules and regulations.

The real threat Donald Trump poses to our democracy is one which will very likely never see the light of day in the mainstream news media. That’s what can happen when reporters are chasing shiny objects while the real damage is being done behind the scenes. Might this be the beginning of the end of American democracy? It may sound alarmist, but it might be closer to the truth that any of us realize.

Nice work, America.

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