Government by “Stand-up Guys.”

President Trump has referred to people who lie on his behalf and who are willing to be convicted for their service to him, as “stand-up guys.”  That could sound unobjectionable.  Who would not want to be served by people who are willing to do so even at a cost to themselves?’’

But what it obscures is that it is the personal relationship to the leader that is the basis for the assessment.  It is not the contribution to successful government.  Decisionmakers in the executive and legislative branches are supposed to be able to count on accurate information in making their decisions.  Members of the government who are responsible for producing that accurate information can serve their government—and the American people as well—by producing the most accurate information they can.  Their loyalty is to the accuracy of their work; it is not to the person who currently heads the executive branch. [1]

They are not “stand-up guys.”  They are honest scientists. That’s their job.  Note:  I don’t know anything about this book, but it has the mob guy, the stoop pigeon, and a dame.  I think that is considered a full set of characters.

At this point, I want to shift over to a column by Heather Cox Richardson.  You can see the whole column, including all the hyperlinks she offers in lieu of footnotes, here.  What I have done is to pull several sections that support my main argument for today, which is that government is under attack by the Trump administration, and very likely by President Trump himself.

Question 1:  Is the CDC telling us the truth:  Answer 1: No

“Since 1981, career scientists have compiled weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports to inform Americans about trends in disease. These records are not controversial. But in April, Trump passed over scientists to install one of his campaign advisers as assistant secretary of HHS for public affairs. …Caputo promptly began trying to change the CDC reports on Covid. Although he has no background in medicine or science, he and his team claim that the scientists are exaggerating the dangers of Covid-19. An aide, Paul Alexander, wrote an email to CDC Director Robert Redfield calling for retroactive modifications to two reports, saying, “CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration.”

Question 2:  Is the Intelligence community telling us the truth?  Answer: No.

“On Wednesday, a whistleblower filed a complaint that Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli have been pressuring intelligence officials to change their reports to bolster Trump’s campaign speeches. Rather than releasing the actual findings of intelligence experts that America’s chief threats come from white supremacists and Russian attacks on the 2020 election, Trump’s men want the intelligence reports altered to suggest that left-wing violence is equal to that of the right-wing thugs, and that Iran and China are as guilty of election interference as the Russians.”

Question 3:  Is the Justice Department telling us the truth?  Answer: No

“The Justice Department, too, is being shaped to support Trump’s narrative. Yesterday, Nora R. Dannehy, the top aide to John Durham, resigned from the department, apparently because of pressure from Attorney General William Barr to complete a report that could bolster the president’s claims that the Obama administration improperly began an FBI investigation of his campaign in 2016.”

Question 4:  Is NOAA telling us the truth?  Answer: So far, but the prospects are not bright.

“And today… we learned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has hired a climate-change denier. David Legate has spent his career casting doubt on climate science: in 2014, he told the Senate that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which identifies international consensus within the scientific community of 195 countries (no mean feat) is wrong. His work has been funded in part by grants from Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and the American Petroleum Institute. Neither he nor NOAA would tell NPR why he was hired.”

Question 5:  Is President Trump telling us the truth?  Answer:  Of course not.

“All of these stories dovetail neatly with the information shared this week from journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book. Woodward reveals that Trump knew on January 28 just how bad the coronavirus was. He called Woodward on February 7 to tell him “this is deadly stuff,” and to detail for him that the virus was airborne and that it was five times more deadly than “even your strenuous flus.” But he continued to tell the American people that coronavirus was going to disappear, that they did not need to wear masks, and that those warning of its dangers were trying to advance a “hoax” to weaken his administration.”  Note: Manafort is second from the left here.  He took the rap and that  is how he became a “stand up guy.”

It would be easy to say that these five clips have the theme of untrustworthiness and it would be true, too.  But behind the untrustworthiness is a failure to honor the notion that a government needs accurate information if it is going to work.  Campaigns can work on “talking points,” which ensure that everyone is saying the same thing.  That uniformity works the same way whether the talking points are true or false.

That makes me think that possibly the Trump administration doesn’t so much fail to honor the notion as fail to conceive of the possibility or maybe even to tell the difference.  All these examples, which Heather Cox Richardson offers, are ways of treating government as if it were a continuation of the campaign.  I know it seems bizarre, but governing requires that problems be solved—even problems that you yourself have not caused.

When I look at these instances from the Trump administration, I think of what “government” looked like under Al Capone in Chicago.  Capone valued “stand-up guys,” because the other kind were “stool pigeons” who would tell the truth to the cops.  The mob worked by asking only the question of what was good for them because they had no responsibility to anyone outside the mob.  They weren’t representing anyone; they were just making themselves rich. [2]

The Trump campaign continues and in places, it tries to look like governing.  But it is not; it is still just campaigning. It’s been going on for four years now.  It’s hard to think that we can wait much longer.  Dismissive remarks about “draining the swamp” don’t sound nearly as attractive as they used to.

[1]  The same applies to people who head the House of Representatives (the Speaker) and the Senate (the Majority Leader).

[2]  Oddly, there was one category of mob employee what was required to be accurate and to tell the truth.  These were the guys who kept the records of who had paid and who had not; of who had kept some of the payment for himself, and who had turned it all in.  Those were the honest guys.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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