For four years, President Donald Trump has put on such a garish show of petulance, vindictiveness, boorishness and monumental narcissism that he has dominated the news like no president before him. Unfortunately, this has meant that the outgoing president’s outrageous personality received most of the attention while his disastrous mismanagement of the federal government too often slipped under the radar.
When Joe Biden takes over on Jan. 20, he will have a huge rebuilding job on his hands. A wide array of federal agencies have been hollowed out by the Trump administration and are now struggling to perform the very important jobs they are supposed to be doing for the American people. Particular sectors of the federal bureaucracy have taken the worst hits; sectors that protect the environment, manage public lands, do the scientific research that keeps us healthy and safe, conduct foreign policy, gather intelligence and enforce our laws.
Trump came into office with minimal knowledge about how the government runs and a deeply misguided belief that he had all the answers to every question. He politicized every corner of the federal bureaucracy and did all he could to transform America’s civil servants into vassals who would cater to his personal interests and whims. He appointed his own lackeys to top administrative jobs not based on their competence but on their loyalty to him. With those henchmen as his enforcers, he rooted out, fired, demoted or sidelined scientists, doctors, career professionals, diplomats, whistleblowers and anyone else who dared resist or contradict Trumpist schemes and propaganda.
The result is that a disturbing number of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to service in government have left. The State Department, for instance, has been so decimated that some estimate it could take a generation to rebuild the expertise needed to properly guide U.S. foreign policy.
Many American citizens have the idea that a president can simply snap his fingers and make good things happen, but that is wildly simplistic. A successful presidency relies on thousands of federal employees being there doing their jobs with dedication and competence. Biden is about to become the head of the biggest, most complicated organization on the planet. He may snap his fingers, but, thanks to his predecessor, the best people may no longer be there to hear him.
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