Boston Around Boston, this is their time of the year. Another Super Bowl football extravaganza, and once again, yawn, the New England Patriots are in the big show. The Boston Globe sports section was full of comparisons of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady’s matchup with recent backup quarterback Nick Foles for the Philadelphia Eagles. I haven’t read any report where victory was so clearly expected and in the bag since the 2016 pre-election reports, when everyone was sure that Hillary Clinton would clean Donald Trump’s clock.
Which brings me back again to Trump and his state of the disunion speech. If this was his best shot at unifying the country, he failed miserably. This regurgitation of hardline immigration proposals tore to shreds any thought that there was a deal cooked up and ready, just waiting to hear the blessing. He sent the fact checkers running again, but at least that kept them alert and awake for the 80 minutes of this speech, one of the longest state of the union addresses since anyone starting keeping time.
No one briefed the President that the football season was all over except the shouting though. Darned if he didn’t take a thinly veiled shot once again at the players who had the temerity to speak up and stand down and take a knee or raise a fist in protest of police brutality and the treatment of African-Americans in the country. Why did he do that? The season is over, the protest had almost petered out by the end of the season except for some stalwart few. The tactic has been exhausted, but rather that let it go, somehow President Trump thought that this notion of having a bully pulpit meant that he had to be a bully whenever he could stand in that pulpit.
Why can’t the President take public control of his private racism? What is it about black athletes that drives him over the edge? How could any speechwriter or White House staffer have thought this was a good idea, except for their desperation to keep the dog whistle blaring to his base so that he can hold onto the last shreds of his 37%, record low base?
You just know that the President was trying his best to be dignified. He was maybe even trying to reset and unify.
As long as he can’t control his racism, his chauvinism, and the fear of foreigners from non-Scandinavian countries, trying a new shtick is not going to work, no matter how long he talks, when his heart is clearly not in it.
Springfield President Trump came into his first State of the Union speech marking the end of his first year in office with the lowest level of popular support for his job performance in modern times with only 37% of the American people approving his work according to polls. Perhaps unsurprisingly he used the opportunity to dog whistle his base by taking shots at workers both large and small.
Part of the red meat of the right is attacking federal workers as bureaucrats and bums, and Trump seemed to be calling for an end to civil service protections for federal workers, saying he would “…call on Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.” That’s a scary statement that seems to call for something somewhere between a purge and a witch hunt based of the whims of a totally political appointee, which is what all cabinet secretaries are. What objective standards might possibly fairly determine among the millions of federal workers, who had undermined “public trust” or failed “the American people? Given Trump’s random broadsides at the Justice Department, State Department, and any number of others when they seemed to displease him, his remarks seem to be a call for an open season on any workers at any level that displease them so that they could be fired immediately.
This isn’t about the “spoils system,” which is part of the reason the federal civil service and others protections in most cities and states were created in order to prevent politicians from just randomly eliminating hard working civil servants to hire their buddies as part of their patronage. Last reports there were still thousands of appointments still not tendered by the administration for jobs that were exclusively political, rather than civil service qualified. Trump already has more jobs available for his sycophants than he seems to have people ready and willing to serve. This is all about a federal worker equivalent of his old reality show that he wants to make his new reality show from the White House where he can tweet “you’re fired” at every federal worker who offends him that minute. That’s not why we change a civil service system, that’s why we have a civil service system!
The precedent that Trump is trying to leverage here is the “Veterans Administration Accountability Act,” passed by Congress last June, which gives expedited firing authority to the VA chief. According to a White House fact sheet distributed during the speech, 1,470 VA employees were fired between the law’s enactment and the end of 2017, with 443 suspended and 83 demoted.” This program has been controversial and was triggered by problems in service delivery by the VA, and many believe this is the wolf trying to cover itself in the sheep’s clothing of that scandal in an effort to privatize the VA itself, despite its sterling record of offering top of the line health care and cost controls for millions of veterans.
The American Federal Government Employees union and the National Treasury Employees Union both immediately condemned these remarks. Some also thought this was a guise for Trump’s attack on the Justice Department not bending to his will and whim. The threat is meant to intimidate and chill the rights of federal workers, but these are also the words of a tyrant on try out, so his calls must be rejected.