Republican leaders are big fans of the “trickle down” theory of economics. Though widely disproven, the theory basically claims that if the rich get richer, they will hire more folks and buy stuff, so money “trickles down” and everyone gets richer, eventually. Eventually, though, doesn’t really come for most Americans. Almost half of the American workforce is employed in relatively low-paying jobs that bring in $18,000 or so per year, which makes it tough for families and those without significant stock portfolios.
I worry now about a new Trumpian version of trickle down, but this time instead of dealing with economics, the new trickle down has to do with accountability and oversight. With President Trump’s acquittal by the Senate, he now likely feels fully empowered to continue to employ his vision of presidential power. Recall that for the first time in American history, an impeachment trial was held without witnesses or documents. Trump is not known for his subtlety, and I anticipate his version of power — Article II of the Constitution “allows me to do whatever I want” — will trickle down to the rest of his administration and, I worry, to the states as well.
I expect Trump, fully empowered by the Senate, to expand on his refusal of congressional oversight, a system by which the Congress checks executive power, or at least it did, prior to the vote last Wednesday. Trump’s folks have already announced that his administration will now permit drilling and grazing in southern Utah sites that were once off limits and preserved. This comes with increased Trumpian announcements rolling back nearly 100 environmental protections, while Trump compares the traumatic brain injuries suffered by troops during the recent Iranian missile attack to headaches, that he called “not very serious.” Oh, and Trump’s Department of Agriculture recently reduced the number of meat inspectors in pork plants by 40% and removed most of the remaining inspectors from the production lines of slaughterhouses. But don’t worry, because those companies will now “self-police” themselves for violations. Bacon anyone?
And while much of the country was distracted by the president’s lack of geographical competence regarding the location of the Kansas City Chiefs, his administration was refusing all cooperation with the Congress. A number of scholars and columnists have written about the impact of Trump’s actions on the republic and our future, and it appears storm clouds have gathered.
This is not normal presidential behavior. A number of years ago, when I was working as a staffer on the National Security Council at the White House, my boss came in one day and asked me to “print out my hard drive.” It seemed a then-Republican controlled House committee had subpoenaed any document on White House work on climate change — my boss' and my area of expertise. It never occurred to my boss or his bosses to refuse a congressional subpoena, and as a result, I spent the next two days printing out hundreds of documents to send over to Capitol Hill.
As the old saying goes, things tend to run downhill, so let’s imagine that our own esteemed governor, Jared Polis, decided to pursue a Trumpian path of leadership. And for my GOP friends, let’s posit that during his second term in office, the state legislature is dominated by Republicans. Shall Gov. Polis decide that he will not cooperate with any legislative committee? Would you be sanguine with Polis banning his staff and agency heads from ever appearing before a state legislative committee?
And while we are at it, how about if he refused to talk to any press other than, say, a single TV station he feels covers his administration with respect and a browbeaten attitude? Would we all be ok with Polis following the lead of the so-called White House Press Secretary? It’s been well over 300 days since the last press briefing at the White House. You may well remember the last White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, but she’s been gone for quite a while. A brownie point if you can name the current “press secretary?” Her name is Stephanie Grisham, and with a straight face she has declared her boss to be the most transparent president in history, apparently because he often talks to Fox News — as close to a state media as we will, I hope, ever get — and the occasional brief chat with reporters in front of a helicopter with its engines running. I’m old enough to remember presidents of both parties giving evening press conferences in the East Room, taking questions from reporters and answering them in front of a national audience. Such times are behind us.
So, Gov. Polis, perhaps it’s time to employ your own trickle down, and stop talking to the press, stop working with the Legislature, and denounce your adversaries as un-American?
I sure hope not, but the president and his supporters in the Senate seem to think that would be ok. And that’s a pity.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.