Trump's Republican allies wanted to sabotage government. They largely succeeded

Trump's Republican allies wanted to sabotage government. They largely succeeded
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A New York Times story on the ongoing effects of Team Trump's spectacular mismanagement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is notable for two reasons. First, because of a seeming unanimity in assigning blame: Everyone involved who is not former HUD Head Ben Carson or speaking on behalf of Carson pins a good chunk of the blame on Carson's incompetence and lack of interest. That left a void eagerly filled by lower-level party apparatchiks who did care what HUD did, in that they wanted HUD to stop doing almost all of it.

And second, because it really hammers home just how effective this Republican sabotage of government has become, now that it's had years of plotting and strategy behind it. HUD as a department was subjected to the same party-devoted incompetence, ideological contempt for expertise, and government-by-retaliation that has defined every other significant conservative initiative from the Iraq War and rebuilding to the Jared Kushner Carnival of Solvin' Things, and the result is a federal agency that is in large part unable to carry out its duties, despite it being extremely important that it carry out those duties during a national health crisis.

A good chunk of that dysfunction was implemented on purpose. A good chunk of it was not so much on purpose as the natural result of leadership that is actively hostile to the notion that government should do anything to help anyone. (The Times singles out Republican ideologue Anna Maria Farías as a key figure in both.)

The end result is now a department that's been gutted of personnel, stripped of career experts, and one that current HUD Head Marcia Fudge is finding it difficult to restaff.

Want to drown government in a bathtub? Cut funding until each department's mission becomes impossible to carry out, send in party-loyal incompetents and witch hunters to ferret out any expert whose knowledge threatens to undermine the crafted party talking points, and wait. So long as you can damage each agency faster than experts can rebuild it, you'll win. Public faith in government will ebb as your enforced incompetence slows agency response and willfully makes public problems worse, upon which you can campaign on further cutting funds and expertise because everybody knows the agency is incompetent, repeat.

None of this, it should be emphasized, was Trump. Demands to underfund the agency and hollow out staffing were and are Republican demands; Trump himself never bothered to learn what each federal agency even did, much less had deep thoughts on their restructuring. Carson may have been utterly incompetent, lacking any relevant knowledge or experience or even interest, but he was also a Republican Party hero with or without Trump and installing ideologues with zero relevant experience is a central tenet of Republicanism itself. Each post is assigned an ideological placeholder whose only mission is to thwart whatever the career staff believes should be done while writing up new documents declaring that actually this could all be solved by [longstanding conservative claim] that never worked before but that's only because all the experts were mean and rude and secretly put gum on the seats all those other times.

The demand that government be defunded, destaffed, broken up, its tasks given to for-profit corporate enterprises and the withheld funds be distributed to the wealthy, has been the Republican demand for, at this point, decades. It is the reason there has never been a serious Republican health care reform proposal, even as the party swore up and down it was inches from having one. It is the reason that Republicans are, as we speak, demanding a continued defunding of national infrastructure, even during crisis. If the roads are paved, citizens will be happy with government. If the United States gets the sort of mass transit options or high-speed internet access that citizens in other nations take for granted, Americans will like it.

A decaying bridge is a signal to all that "government," in whole, is incompetent. Nobody's going to agree to privatize every road and highway in America, putting up toll booths and letting a future Amazon of infrastructure decide where you can go and how much it will cost you to get there, if things are going well.

It's going to take years of effort to restaff HUD, and it may take a decade to cobble together the sort of expertise that Republican saboteurs hunted for and drove out during four short years of incompetent autocratic buffoonery. Even that presumes no further sabotage by Republican leaders, and a glance at current House and Senate Republican leaders and their newest demands puts to rest any hope of that happening.

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