Sunday, July 02, 2017

"The E.P.A. is acting"

Trump put out a wresting tweet this morning. Everybody is talking about it. There's nothing new about that except that it involves a 7th grade level degree of video editing skill that we all agree is beyond the President's capacity. So the revelation here is that the unhinged tweets are not simply Trump acting alone.

Maybe that isn't significant but it does lend credence to the "distraction" theory popular among Trumpologists. I have been and am still skeptical of going too far in this direction. But the general admonition is that we (we being the entirety of the popular and media observation) are too focused on the carnivalesque antics of the President while teams of evil geniuses working behind the scenes quietly dismantle civilization.  I'm most often skeptical of this analysis where it regards the Russia investigations. 

Conspiracy theorists of the "radical center" apply this mode of reasoning to Russia when they should be using Occam's Razor.  They construct grand narratives about secret agents working to undermine freedom when what they're actually looking at is a story about corrupt international business dickheads and their ethically conflicted relationships.  The enemy here isn't a shadowy state conspiracy. It's just mundane everyday global kleptocapitalism. Not that that's necessarily better. It's just different and less fantastic.

This doesn't negate "distraction" theory entirely, though.  Trump's absurdities, intentional or otherwise, can take attention away from the real damage his administration is doing. In some cases they can even mask a dangerous competence at work.  Take, for example, Scott Pruitt's E.P.A.
Mr. Pruitt’s supporters, including President Trump, have hailed his moves as an uprooting of the administrative state and a clearing of onerous regulations that have stymied American business. Environmental advocates have watched in horror as Mr. Pruitt has worked to disable the authority of the agency charged with protecting the nation’s air, water and public health.

But both sides agree: While much of Mr. Trump’s policy agenda is mired in legal and legislative delays, hampered by poor execution and overshadowed by the Russia investigations, the E.P.A. is acting. Mr. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built a career out of suing the agency he now leads, is moving effectively to dismantle the regulations and international agreements that stood as a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

“Just the number of environmental rollbacks in this time frame is astounding,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. “Pruitt has come in with a real mission. He is much more organized, much more focused than the other cabinet-level officials, who have not really taken charge of their agencies. It’s very striking how much they’ve done.”
The problem Trump presents doesn't have anything to do with his own perceived lack of "competence."  This is a chaotic and often bumbling administration. But often enough it's an active sort of bumbling that has real and dangerous consequences.  In Naomi Klein's words, it's important not to underestimate how good Trump is at being an idiot.
“I think he is a showman and that he is aware of the way that shows can distract people,” she says. “That is the story of his business. He has always understood that he could distract his investors and bankers, his tenants, his clients from the underlying unsoundness of his business, just by putting on the Trump show. That is the core of Trump. He is undoubtedly an idiot, but do not underestimate how good he is at that.”

Beyond that he has, presumably wittingly, “surrounded himself with some of the world’s most expert crisis profiteers”. Men who have made billions out of meltdown and financial crisis, such as Wilbur Ross, the “king of bankruptcy” who is now secretary of commerce, or the various crash-plutocrats recruited from Goldman Sachs and elsewhere. (“In any other moment,” Klein says with a laugh, “the very fact that the CEO of Exxon Mobil is now the secretary of state would be the central scandal. Here we have a situation where there is so much else to concern us it is barely a footnote.”)
And, of course, Pruitt fits into that group well. They're getting a lot done. Even while it seems like their boss is falling apart.

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