The Enemy Within

Monday, February 20th, 2017 @ 9:39AM

Much of the noise coming out of the nation’s capital over the course of Donald J. Trump’s nascent presidency has to do with protecting the country from external enemies who want to lethally harm our citizens. One of the first executive orders issued by Mr. Trump was the ban on travel from seven majority-Muslim countries that has been essentially negated by the Ninth Circuit Court. It was a clumsy attempt to demonstrate that he could singlehandedly protect Americans from radical Islamist terrorists even though no one from the seven countries has been involved in terrorist activity on American soil. The equally comical roll-out of the order crowded out many more important issues that needed to be covered by the media. Who knows, this may have been a deliberate strategy.

While most American have been debating the competence of the Trump administration, several very troubling events have occurred under the radar of those who are not hardcore policy junkies. A few billionaires have been confirmed as cabinet members including Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary despite many questions regarding her competence and ethics. Steve Mnuchin, who made a ton of money on foreclosures during the housing crisis, is now Treasury Secretary. And, of course, Rex Tillerson has moved from being the head of Exxon Mobile to the job of Secretary of State despite complex ties to the Russian government. Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder withdrew his name as Republican senators began lining up against him. Scott Pruitt will oversee the Environmental Protection Agency despite suing the EPA on several occasions, and in a middle-of-the-night vote, ethically-challenged Dr. Tom Price was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services and will oversee the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act..

Can Sen. Elizabeth Warren save the Consumer Financial Protection Board?

After promising to “drain the swamp,” Mr. Trump has assembled a cabinet of the rich who will undoubtedly govern for the rich. Among early agenda items is rolling back regulations in the Dodd-Frank Act enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. The President also wants to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) created to protect consumers from the very people now in Mr. Trump’s cabinet. In similar fashion, he issued an executive order relieving investors of fiduciary responsibility when overseeing retirement accounts. They can now choose whether to act in the best interests of their clients.

If that is not enough to cause angina, the President’s team is about to submit a budget for 2018. If you missed it, the New York Times reported last week about several items on Trump’s hit list including the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. The list also includes the White House Office of National Drug Policy despite the relentless opioid crisis that has helped to lower the life expectancy in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years. With his insistence on building a wall between the United States and Mexico, the need for huge increases in military spending, and a trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure, we can only imagine the axe he will take to social services spending. That would probably include block-granting Medicaid—a horrible idea as states will race to the bottom to keep from attracting sick people.

There is no doubt there are enemies outside the United States who would like nothing better than to enter the country and wreak havoc. Despite Trump’s histrionics, the vetting process under President Obama seemed to work very well—particularly as it relates to those countries listed in the executive order. What worries me more are the enemies within who have declared war on the media, undocumented immigrants, and anyone who disagrees with them which includes Democrats and Republicans. One of the most alarming statements from Mr. Trump was his declaration that the media are enemies of the American people. By declaring all media unreliable, there is no one who can question his version of the truth or the many alternative facts his spokespeople give the American public.

As social workers, we must remain constantly vigilant and strategically engage our government without pause. Progressives—which means people in the Democratic Party—are not totally without power. Our power is limited in the House of Representatives but one United States Senator can prevent the Trump administration and a willing Republican-controlled Congress from doing irreparable harm to the environment and exacerbating the already massive inequality between the haves and haves-not. That must be our mission as social workers. We must be leaders in this fight.

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