President Donald Trump tweeted about “’Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all).”
While Rep. Ilhan Omar did emigrate from Somalia as a child, and while Somalia is considered a failed nation, the other three congresswomen Trump had in mind – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley – are native-born Americans.
Trump’s tweet was offensive, but perhaps the president made a point, if unintentionally.
All three branches of government in the home country of Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley have been rendered unrepresentative and dysfunctional because of corruption. The gerrymandering of congressional districts, a deliberate effort to make them unrepresentative, is widespread; through PACs and direct contributions, big economic players routinely persuade Congress to take actions that are not in the public interest.
The Supreme Court has for a generation strayed from the one principle that most guarantees the impartial administration of justice: the rule of stare decisis, the principle that guarantees judicial decisions do not deviate when a court’s composition changes. The Supreme Court has been overruling settled law since it selected George W. Bush as president in 2000 in contravention of basic federalism principles and since it disallowed state regulation of the corruption of our politics by corporate money in Citizens United, in direct contravention of a decision it had itself reached only 20 years earlier. It seems likely that the court will accede to the current administration’s efforts to further undermine our constitutional balance, including the anticipated overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision, which ought to be untouchable as settled law. This is the worst kind of judicial dysfunction.
The root of the corruption and dysfunction, for the moment, is of course the executive branch. Elected with the possible help of foreign meddling and disinformation, the current administration has distinguished itself by the extent of its financial corruption and profiteering from public office. To mention only two examples: the president’s penchant for golf seems to have been paid for by taxpayers to the tune of $340 million and the president profits from the favor-seekers who stay at his Washington hotel.
Meanwhile, more wealth was concentrated in the first cabinet of this administration than in any previous one, and many of the officeholders have no meaningful qualifications for their jobs.
Moreover, never in the last 100 years have so many important government agencies been turned over to the interests they are supposed to regulate. A coal lobbyist is in charge of the EPA; a former telecom general counsel chairs the FCC; aircraft manufacturers vet the safety of new aircraft; a longtime foe of unions leads a Labor Department that has been dismantling worker safety and wage protections as fast as it can; a surgeon with no applicable work experience is in charge of Housing and Urban Development and is kicking people out of government-supported housing as fast as he can; and former drug company advisers and lobbyists are in charge of the FDA. We also have climate change deniers censoring the public statements of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while the Securities and Exchange Commission chair – in charge of regulating investment banks — spent his entire career as a legal adviser to the largest Wall Street interests.
The capture of these agencies by the industries they theoretically regulate represents the overturning of policies structurally instilled in the agencies by the Congress that legislated them. The only word for such extreme perversion of regulatory mission and structure is dysfunction.
At the same time, in many government offices no one is in charge, as departments are hollowed out. In no other administration in modern history have there been so many unfilled Senate-confirmed positions. This comes close to what Trump deplored: having no “functioning government at all.”
Nor does dysfunction stop at the water’s edge. We are destroying our national security by treating our allies as enemies and our enemies as allies. Our international trade teeters on the edge of tariff-induced chaos. We remain mired in the longest war in American history. And, however one feels about immigration, there is nothing to feel good about in the way people are treated at our southern border.
In short, there is no need to look to look to Rep. Omar’s native Mogadishu. Mogadishu is pretty much here. If the chaos in the Somalian capital is more extreme, the chaos here is more consequential because of America’s size and importance to the world.
Jack L.B. Gohn is partner emeritus with Gohn Hankey & Berlage LLP. The views expressed here are solely his own. See a longer version, with links to his authorities, at www.thebigpictureandthecloseup.com.