Over the past few days, while much of the media focus on Donald Trump has been on whether he personally Sharpied a map detailing Hurricane Dorian’s likely trajectory, his administration has—more quietly—been on its own path of destruction.
Trump set William Barr’s pliant Department of Justice to work investigating car companies willing to abide by California’s higher than nationally mandated fuel-efficiency standards; the EPA also sent a notice of intent to California announcing that it planned to withdraw the long-standing waiver allowing the Golden State to set its own antipollution and fuel-efficiency rules for vehicles. Taken together, these actions mean the full weight of the federal government is now being thrown into rolling back the most vital of environmental protections—while also discouraging car manufacturers from making even minimal efforts to safeguard the environment.
On immigration, too, the news went from bad to worse. News outlets reported that as early as this week the administration—its policies being shaped by the macabre figure of Stephen Miller—will likely end, or at least massively cut, America’s refugee resettlement program. Legal-service organizations told reporters the administration was refusing to provide mandated funding for legal assistance to detained immigrant children in three “shelters.” And White House reporters detailed Trump’s promise of pardoning officials who facilitated illegal land seizures to build the border wall.
This past week, too, the USCIS removed John Lafferty from his position overseeing the asylum process. He was, apparently, deemed too sympathetic to applicants. With the administration looking for ever-harsher responses to asylum seekers, Lafferty’s demotion bodes only ill in the months leading up to the 2020 election.
To give one example of what all this means on an individual basis: An eight-and-a-half-month pregnant Salvadoran woman waiting for her asylum claim to be processed, who had gone into labor, was taken by Border Patrol officials to a Texas hospital, where doctors medicated her to stop her birth contractions. The Border Patrol then dumped her back across the border, into a tent camp in Matamoros, Mexico. All, presumably, so that her child would not be born in the United States and be able to claim citizenship. Compromising the ethical integrity of the medical profession in pursuit of totalitarian goals is nothing new: The Nazis did it, the Soviets and East Germans did it, the torture regimes of Latin America in the 1970s and ’80s did it. Now, doctors in Texas are apparently following their lead.
The new column “Signal:Noise” will cut through the omnipresent distractions of Trumpland to focus on the more lasting impacts. What new regulations are being used to further Trump’s nativist agenda? What old regulations are being shredded as the administration wages war on environmental and workplace protections? Who is being nominated to fill vacant judiciary positions? What important, below-the-radar, decisions are being taken on funding or defunding of programs and pet projects? What’s happening in the increasingly high-stakes battles between the states and the federal government? In federal bureaucracies, who is in and who is out as different factions within Trump’s White House vie for dominance? I hope you’ll find it essential reading—twice a week here on thenation.com.
Often the most significant developments are covered by major news organizations—but too briefly, getting speedily drowned out by the surrounding noise, the entertaining distractions. Other times, however—as with the recent decision to remove hundreds of USDA scientists’ jobs from DC to Kansas City, and the resulting exodus from public employment of scores of expert employees unwilling to uproot their lives, a move seen by critics as a none too subtle way to undermine the influence of USDA scientists, many of whom have been working on global warming–related issues—enormously important changes escape any real public scrutiny. Instead, they are buried in the Federal Register or reported only in obscure policy briefs or by local news outlets.
“Signal:Noise” aims to shine a twice-a-week spotlight on the stuff that actually matters.
I do, of course, need your help in this venture. Please follow me on Twitter, @AbramskySasha, and send me your thoughts on important goings-on: regulatory proposals, Department of Justice investigations, judicial nominations, hirings and firings, Executive Actions, or anything else that you are intrigued or horrified by—and that you believe might merit attention in this new column.
Onward and upward, in solidarity and in peace…