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07 January, 2017

"Rebel Bureaucrat" (Death of an Oxymoron)


It only took a few weeks for Congress to start elaborating on Trump’s ascendancy to dictatorship. The guy is not even in office yet, and the GOP is in a headlong over heels rush to suppress opposition and bring the government under overt, complete control of Capitalism Gone Wild.

For reasons no one can rationally explain, the 1% of the 1% are offended by the presence of a middle class. The class war we’re living through is not rich against poor—being poor means you already lost—but oligarchs against a middle class. Maybe because the middle class enjoys a blend of financial comfort and education, the super rich feel a threat, resent the money in somebody else’s pocket, or fear that cities full of college grads may not sign on to the program of extreme social conservatism and endless upward redistribution of wealth.

Whatever the cause, a major battlefield in this war is “the government,” by which people mostly mean the people who work for federal agencies and the places they control. Conservatives are not so upset by the money government grants or the things government buys—pork barrel money feeds their districts’ businesses, they like all the stuff from irrigation systems to tactical police gear that pours in, subsidies are a major part of most farming, not state funds its own disaster recovery—but they hate the strings that are attached. Being told not to over-graze, to protect a stupid little fish, and that you cannot poison the water and air insults the independence-minded sensibilities of the rank and file, and more importantly cuts into the oligarch’s profit margin.

The strategy of riling up the base, buying the politicians, and pursuing de-regulation and down-sizing of government has proceeded unhindered from Reagan right on through Bush II. Although Obama’s compromise-oriented approach and inability to overrun the barricades thrown up by Congressional Republicans fell well short of the Right’s nightmares—remember how he was going to take all the guns and socialize the economy?—they apparently feel abused and angry and ready to retaliate.

The once desultory battle over “the government,” a Cold War of cuts made vs regulations implemented, is now blowing up; the carnage is about to begin for real. The GOP controls the elected government and stole the judiciary, and already they’re acting as if they had 100% backing of the populace.

This week, the new Congress, as it does at the beginning of each session, passed its own rules. By way of inoculating itself against the accusations of corruption sure to come as they pass a slew of heavily lobbied, pro-corporate legislation, the GOP included provisions to partisanize and weaken the non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics. Progressives garnered immediate grass-roots and politician outrage and the House Republicans backed down, comforted only by their belief that government offices are incompetent anyway.

Before the Left could claim victory, Trump tweeted and ended up getting a large share of the credit. His base seems satisfied that he is hard at work draining the swamp, when all he did was see the writing on the wall and throw some colleagues under the bus, as per his own personal ethics (which he maintains nobody is worthy of scrutinizing).

Meanwhile, the Rules package also included a much scarier provision, provided by yet another scary Virginia Congressman. This one revived a 19th-Century rule intended to target corrupt political appointees by allowing Representatives to offer amendments reducing a person or program’s budget to $1/year. So now when a Representative disagrees with a program or needs a scapegoat for a news cycle or two, a party-line vote puts people in the poorhouse. That li’l nugget slipped right on through with no protest.

Communities nationwide have federal workers, and defunding their jobs will hurt local economies everywhere. Of course it won’t actually have that broad an effect, because no politician would pull this move in their own district. As a way to eliminate inconvenient truths, hamstring regulation, and punish a liberal district, however, it’s a win-win-win (where they get all the wins and you get nothing). That little rule is starting to look like an effective weapon, isn’t it?

Meanwhile back on the ranch—which happens to be mostly federal ground leased by settlers sons at a fraction of market rate—government employees face other threats on the battlefield. Self-proclaimed militias can show up, take over, demand snacks, trash the place, literally dig shitters through Indian sites, and incite a shootout all while broadcasting calls to arms and threatening government employees. They can do all this and they face trial but get off with no conviction.*

Which you better believe has galvanized the conviction of the Bundys and their vehemently anti-government and pro-gun ilk. These white men fee entitled above immigrants and minorities (including the tribes whose lands they occupy), but also abused and angry. Emboldened now by their victory in court, fervent in their belief that the government is an agent of evil, these yahoos put federal workers in literal danger in some of the very places where land management costs are paid by the feds and the financial benefits accrue locally.

Which brings us back to those federal employees who could suddenly find themselves making $1 a year. Few of them have the personal wealth to keep working for free, and most of them would ordinarily be plowing their moderate paychecks back into their local communities, spending their off time participating in those communities. Being middle class.

If there are people still working for the government who think they can continue to be relatively comfortable, they’d better wise up. Congress has only just begun, and Trump hasn’t even unleashed actual and imagined executive powers. The Kochs and other wealthy advocates of concentrating all wealth at the top have plenty more money and a congress begging to be, ahem, lobbied. They’ll get around to privatizing public lands—taking care of that part of “the government”—but even quicker they’ll move against unions, programs that run counter to their ideology, branches of government that impinge on unfettered capitalism, and so on, using this Rule and all the other tools at their disposal. The plutocracy is at war, and the Civil Service has been declared an enemy combatant.

And so it’s time to resist. It’s time to stand your ground, re-unite with your union, and prepare for battle. The Right feels aggrieved by the fact that you might earn a pension, outraged at how much you waste on social programs for the unworthy, tyrannized by your rules and regulations, fed up with your elitist “rationality,” and just all-round pissed about other government sins imagined and real. They are coming for you, starting with the easy targets but not stopping until the bureaucratic machinery that helps maintain free and open society is broken or repurposed to something useful, like prospecting for oil or running detention centers.

As recently as a couple of months ago, I could have imagined this was not going to happen. I could have continued being comfortable in my government job, disappointed that my salary doesn’t keep up with the cost of living, but not worried that I’d be out on the street. I could act as if being a state employee rather than a federal one, as a union member rather than “exempt,” my head is not on the chopping block at the moment.

Now, I cannot afford to sit back. Now, I can no longer think that “rebel bureaucrat” is an oxymoron.

* If they’re white. Indians protecting land at Standing Rock have been brutally attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets, percussion grenades, water cannons (in sub-freezing weather), sonic warfare, and whatever a police force with para-military toys bestowed by the feds can muster.