By Ralph Nader
As the Trump wrecking crew ramps up its destructive campaign against federal health and safety protections and social services for impoverished, disabled and vulnerable people (young and old) the latest targets of their ire are the federal civil servants who faithfully keep our government functioning here and abroad.
Mind you, the Trump wrecking crew is not going after gigantic corporate welfare programs, giveaways, bailouts and subsidies to big business. Nor are the Trumpsters going after wasteful, inflated government corporate contracts or massive billing frauds on Medicare, Medicaid or other government programs. These egregious examples of crony capitalism, so disliked by conservatives and progressives alike, seem untouchable. While disgraceful, this is not surprising; many of Trump’s nominees benefitted mightily from this cronyism before coming to Washington and Trump still benefits due to his refusal to divest.
Given this state of corporatist mayhem, the important question is: Will the federal civil service hold against lawless, dangerous non-enforcement of the laws and arbitrary suspensions of ongoing programs to protect the people from corporate assaults on their safety and economic wellbeing?
These are tough times for career civil servants who have given their all to do the right thing and make government serve the people (If you doubt this, just read the new book American Amnesiaby Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson).
Consider civil servants’ anguish. If they keep doing their job, they’re going to be pushed to retire or be marginalized. If they do as they are illegally or wrongfully ordered to do, they are going against their conscience and undermining their oath of office.
The oath of office taken by federal civil servants is not to the president or to their cabinet secretary. It is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution defines the work role for federal employees, (according to the Office of Personnel Management [OPM]) “to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty”.
To further define their obligations, the Code of Ethics for US Government Service has declared that civil servants must “put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party or government department.”
Top civil servants are being told to freeze what they are doing or reverse course, suppressing science and take down scientifically informed websites (such as those on calamitous climate change) and suspend law enforcement – all under the direction of Trump’s cabinet lackeys who are openly bent on serving the Fortune 500 corporations, not the Constitution. Many of these public servants are quitting rather than violate their code of ethics.
In March, as the EPA wrecking crew chief, Scott Pruitt, moved to let corporations pour more poisons into your air, water, soil and food, the head of the Environmental Justice Office, Mustafa Ali, quit. Last week, the highly-regarded Elizabeth Southerland, the director of science and technology in the EPA’s Office of Water, resigned. She said that Pruitt and Trump, who are pushing a 31% cut in the agency’s already strained budget, are abandoning “the polluter pays principle that underlies all environmental statutes and regulations.”
Former Secretary of State (and Republican), Colin Powell, in an Op-Ed published in May for The New York Times, denounced the disabling proposed cuts that hollow out the work of diplomats and aid workers who advance peace and critical assistance to poor families in underdeveloped countries. He warned about creating “a vacuum that would make us far less safe and prosperous.” Almost certainly, in the coming months, scientists in the Food and Drug Administration will be told to back off and let inadequately tested drugs go to market for the drug industry’s gouging profits. Other civil servants will have their judgments repressed when they recommend recalling defective motor vehicles, prohibiting clear cutting in our national forests, enforcing civil and voting rights, removing certain pesticides from our food, issuing ready-to-go safety standards for travelers, enforcing safeguards for nursing home residents and implementing proper nutritional school meal recipes for children.
The Trumpsters actually want to have the best and most experienced public servants to quit. They are already retaliating against civil servants who speak truthfully of the harm to innocent people being caused by the grisly policies championed by the corporate paymasters.
Fortunately, there are outside groups already challenging in federal court the lawless Trump regime under the Administrative Procedures Act, the Freedom of Information Act and other violated federal laws. They are also defending harassed civil servants who try to bring their conscience to work.
These citizen groups – Public Citizen (see citizen.org), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (see peer.org), The Government Accountability Project (GAP, see whistleblower.org), and numerous other organizations, including civil service retirees, are working daily to remind Trump’s tyrants that our country remains one under the “rule of law” on behalf of, by and for the people.
Those ideals need the cutting edge of organized citizens and the larger backing of focused public outrage putting heat on members of Congress. Both between and during elections, an organized and motivated public can put a stop to this vast takeover of our government by the avaricious corporate supremacists.
Remember, we vastly outnumber them. It’s easier than we are led to think when “we the people” decide to show up.