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L’Etat, C’est Trump

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Again, the fact that Trump is incompetent in many respects doesn’t mean he isn’t authoritarian:

The political appointee President Trump installed last week to investigate waste, fraud and abuse at the Transportation Department is the same official in charge of one of the agency’s key divisions.

That means Howard “Skip” Elliott is now running an office charged with investigating his own actions.

Elliott serves simultaneously as the Transportation Department’s inspector general and head of the department’s pipeline and hazardous materials agency, whose mission includes enforcement of safety regulations on nearly 1 million daily shipments of gas, oil and other dangerous compounds.

“The idea that an independent IG could simultaneously be part of the political team running an agency they are supposed to oversee is preposterous,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

Elliott’s appointment was the fifth in two months in which Trump, chafing from oversight he perceived as criticism, replaced a career investigator with an appointee considered more loyal to the president. In three of the cases, Trump has installed new leadership drawn from the senior ranks of the agencies the inspectors general oversee.

The debate on the question of whether Trump is a “strong” or “weak” president strikes me as not very useful, because presidential power has so many dimensions. On the dimension Trump most cares about, though — dismantling oversight so he can loot the taxpayers while using state power to reward his friends and punish his enemies — he’s accomplished a lot. State incapacity authoritarianism!

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