Perhaps you think Washington, D.C., has a problem with corruption. Perhaps you are tired of politicians toadying to lobbyists for campaign donations, of regulators swinging through the revolving door between government and big business.
However awful you may think Washington is now, Donald Trump appears to have a plan that would make it far, far worse.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported on Trump’s chilling plan to “purge” the government of civil servants hired during the Obama administration. During a private meeting with donors, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who in addition to being Trump’s tragic manservant is also charged with running his presidential transition team, said he had already put together a list of federal employees the Republican nominee would sack once in the White House. Christie said as well that he thought Congress should change the law to make firing civil servants simpler, all in order to prevent “burrowing”—the practice of turning political appointees into career employees so that they can continue on in the next administration.
As my colleague Elliot Hannon noted, cleansing the government of opposition party members is something you would expect from a third-world strongman, not an American president. It would be a fundamentally destabilizing attack on the basic functions of government, which rely on the continuity provided by career officials insulated from electoral politics. It would bring back the specter of rampant political patronage. It is completely nuts.
And yet that’s not even close to where things end. Tacked onto the end of its report, Reuters notes the following:
Christie added that the Trump team wants to let businesspeople serve in government part time without having to give up their jobs in the private sector. Trump frequently says he is better equipped to be president because of his business experience.
Now, there are certainly examples of presidents appointing advisers from the private sector—General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt was Obama’s “jobs czar,” which is to say, he headed up a panel on creating work.
That’s not what this sounds like. It sounds like Donald Trump’s plan to shake up Washington is to pack it chock full of conflicts of interests. Forget the revolving door. In Trumplandia, there will be no door. Business people will be able to happily continue drawing a salary from their corporate employers while pulling the levers of government. Given the atrophied state of our anti-corruption laws, there wouldn’t be much to prevent the transformation of Washington into an exercise in grift far more explicit and pervasive than anything that exists now.
The charitable reading here is that the Trump camp just doesn’t sense why any of this might be a problem—that it quaintly views this tossed off idea as a convenient way to lure more private-sector talent into the halls of government. But the fact that Christie is sharing these plans behind closed doors with donors casts a serious shadow of impropriety over the whole thing. (Reuters obtained recordings of the meeting. The Trump campaign declined the wire service’s request for comment.) It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to read this as him saying, “Hey, look how easy it will be to get your man on the inside.”
In a way, this is predictable, coming as it does from a nominee who has refused to give up his vast international business interests while campaigning for the White House, and who will just hand them off to his children if elected. Trump is nothing if not a walking conflict of interest. Apparently, he’d like to reshape Washington in his own image.