The State Department is ground zero for Trump’s unrelenting assault on the federal government. As far back as the summer of 2017, Foreign Policy magazine examined “How the Trump administration broke the State Department.” The article explained that morale had hit “rock bottom at Foggy Bottom” because then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “hollowing out” and “marginalizing” the department.
What’s lower than rock bottom? Because that’s where we are today under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He is so selfish, ambitious and unprincipled — and so desperate for Trump’s approbation — that he has allowed shady operators such as Rudolph W. Giuliani to hijack U.S. foreign policy, failed to protect career officials such as Marie Yovanovitch, promoted Russian disinformation about Ukrainian election interference and refuses to comply with lawful congressional subpoenas. Former deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns writes in Foreign Affairs: “I’ve never seen an attack on diplomacy as damaging, to both the State Department as an institution and our international influence, as the one now underway.”
Similar damage is being done at the Department of Homeland Security. Trump fired Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by tweet in April, because — while she was willing to put kids in cages — she wasn’t willing to go far enough for a nativist president who fantasizes about closing the border with Mexico, shooting migrants in the legs, and “fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators.” With no one nominated to replace Nielsen, DHS is now led by its second “acting” appointee of the year — the fifth department head in less than three years. Trump has gotten his way: In October, for the first time on record, no refugees were admitted into the United States.
The National Security Council, meanwhile, has its fourth leader — Robert O’Brien, a part-time hostage negotiator whose chief qualification is his flattery of Trump. He is cutting the NSC staff by one-third in what he bills as an effort to trim a bloated bureaucracy. The real story is that Trump is furious at the NSC because he blames its staffers for a series of damaging leaks about his misconduct — including his attempted extortion of Ukraine. Trump wants to get rid of anyone who might interfere with such “drug deals,” to borrow the term employed by fired national security adviser John Bolton. Trump is so paranoid that career officials will find out what he is doing that he is conducting lots of business — including his infamous July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine — from the White House residence, not the Oval Office.
Trump’s wrath extends to the intelligence community. He has compared our intelligence officers to Nazis, refused to accept their conclusion that the Russians hacked the 2016 election and said he doesn’t want them spying on his pen pal, Kim Jong Un. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was forced out in July after speaking the truth too often, and no permanent replacement has been nominated.
Trump also got rid of his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for refusing to obstruct justice on his behalf. His successor, William P. Barr, hides fanatical partisanship beneath an establishment veneer. He lied about the special counsel findings in an attempt to exonerate Trump, and he launched an investigation designed to punish and intimidate the lawyers and FBI agents who dared to investigate Trump.
The Pentagon was relatively insulated from Trump’s subversion while Jim Mattis was “holding the line” as secretary of defense. But ever since his departure in December 2018, the Defense Department has become increasingly politicized — and demoralized. Trump has seized $3.6 billion from the defense budget to build his border wall. He opposed the award of a cloud-computing contract to Amazon — which Amazon was then denied. And he ignored the advice of military leaders by abandoning the Syrian Kurds and pardoning soldiers accused of war crimes. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is too cowardly to stand up to Trump as Mattis did. Instead he fired a Navy secretary who had loudly protested the president’s favoritism toward a SEAL accused of atrocities.
Trump has even upended the National Weather Service — the most innocuous agency in the entire government — by demanding that its forecasters endorse his erroneous claim that a hurricane was headed for Alabama.
Bannon should be delighted: The federal government is well on its way to being deconstructed. Heaven help us if Trump has another four years to finish the job.