The Troll Administration

Is Donald Trump just trolling us?

With each new appointee, one has to wonder just how many of the Trump administration’s decisions are made for political or ideological reasons, and how many are made just to troll and anger liberals.

The news of the last few days has been filled with dismaying appointments that reflect not only a hostility to the very positions the appointees are filling, but intentional taunting of those who care about competent governance.

For the first time in the agency’s history, NASA will be led by a man with no science experience. Jim Bridenstein (R-OK) has long advocated for more privatization of NASA’s functions, and is an avid climate change denier. That is especially troubling since NASA is one of the leading scientific agencies devoted to studying the existential threat to human civilization that climate change poses. To add to the trolling factor, Trump made the announcement during the ongoing disaster of Hurricane Harvey, an extreme weather event almost certainly exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Bridenstein’s appointment isn’t just the act of a president looking to hobble climate change research: it’s a direct effort to trigger and troll those who care about the future of the planet.

In similar news, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (herself an appointment specifically designed to infuriate anyone who cares about public education) named an ex-Devry executive as head of the agency’s fraud enforcement division. Devry, of course, famously misled students about the employment statistics of its graduates so blatantly that it was forced to come to a $100 million settlement with the FTC. Senator Chris Murphy had the same reaction most decent people would when confronted by an absurdist troll:

“This is a joke, right?” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat. “Basically akin to nominating influenza to be the Surgeon General.” Murphy weighed in Tuesday after the story was first reported by Politico.

Then, as part of a longer list of new appointments, Trump also named a coal executive, David Zatezalo, whose company Rhino Resources had been cited several times for safety violations as its top official for mine safety. These were not minor violations:

As the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Ken Ward Jr. reported, Zatezalo was an executive at Rhino when the company butted heads repeatedly with MSHA during the Obama administration. After several documented safety lapses, the agency issued what’s known as a “pattern of violations” warning to one of Rhino’s mines, ordering the company to get its act together or face more penalties. Not long after, a miner was killed at the mine when part of a wall collapsed, leading to $44,500 in fines.

MSHA also took the rare step of issuing an injunction against another Rhino mine when it found out the company’s employees were tipping off miners underground ahead of inspections, in hopes of avoiding penalties. The same practice occurred at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch, the West Virginia mine where 31 miners were killed in an explosion in 2010.

At a certain point one has to wonder if this isn’t more than just ideology, greed, and politicking to the lowest common denominator. These appointments are so obviously indecent, so clearly designed to elicit shock and anger not just from liberals but from those who care about basic well-being and good governance, that the simplest explanation is that Trump is actively seeking to troll all of us. It’s less a principle of governance than of triggering: if something makes liberals, centrists, and the “deep state” upset, it must by definition be good.

For now, the Troll Administration makes for an interesting spectacle, in the sort of way that an angry teenage driver squealing his tires while yelling obscenities out of his car window might do.

But what happens when there is a real crisis and these unqualified people are required to do their actual jobs?We’ve already seen the failure of the hamstrung EPA to do its job in Houston. What other avoidable disasters lie in wait for all of us as Americans because Trump and his miscreants took their greatest pleasure from our collective discomfort?

 

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.