Jesus, take the wheel: The president says, 'I'll be the oversight'
It's human nature to be drawn to a train wreck, and President Donald Trump's daily press appearances with his COVID-19 task force have been must-see TV for horror show aficionados. The president is pumped at "the ratings" from housebound Americans tuning in, but his appearances are a draw in the same way live footage of the sinking of the Lusitania would be a draw. His answers to reporters' questions have been increasingly alarming as his severe unfitness to lead -- long painfully obvious -- has become inescapably clear.
"Antibiotics used to solve every problem, and now one of the biggest problems this world has is the germ has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotics can't keep up with it," babbled the president about a virus, which, by definition, cannot be treated with antibiotics. He continued: "People go to a hospital, and they catch -- they go for a heart operation. That's no problem. But they end up from -- from problems. You know the problems I'm talking about." Asked about what the metrics are for easing public health restrictions currently in place, the president pointed to his head and said, "The metrics are right here." For tens of millions of Americans whose mouths are agape over the inanity of the self-styled genius at the nation's helm during this time of crisis, MSNBC host Joy Reid summed it up best. "Jesus take the wheel," she tweeted.
The president's announcement last week that he alone would decide how the $500 billion allocated by Congress to large corporations hit by the virus would be distributed has not increased the nation's comfort level. Asked who would oversee the half-trillion-dollar program, Trump had just the answer to calm an anxious citizenry's nerves. "I'll be the oversight," he proclaimed. For starters, his record for honest dealing is not exactly gold-plated. Two years ago he was required to pay $25 million to settle charges that he defrauded thousands of students through a profit-making vehicle he called Trump University. Just four months ago, a New York court forced him to shut down his personal foundation and pay $2 million to eight charities for having illegally misused charitable funds for political purposes. The payoffs to porn stars, the hidden tax returns and the waterfall of false statements on every topic under the sun have all made one less than Pollyannaish about the specter of this president having unfettered discretion to hand out $500 billion.
Because the impact of COVID-19 on America's economy has been so devastating and the need for wise deployment of federal aid to remedy the devastation is so desperate, Congress established mechanisms to ensure that the distribution and administration of the funds be responsibly overseen. These included a special inspector general obliged to report his findings to Congress, a panel of inspectors general from multiple federal agencies and a congressional oversight committee. For reasons that require no detective to discern, Donald Trump does not favor oversight, and he wasted little time seeing to it that, for all intents and purposes, there wouldn't be any. He appointed one of his lawyers to be the special inspector general and announced that there would be no reports to Congress. He removed the inspector general who would have chaired the oversight panel. And since he has repeatedly ordered his administration to give the middle finger to congressional committees forced to subpoena information from federal agencies, he has made it plain that as long as he is president, congressional oversight will remain a virtual nullity.
Even middle schoolers know that accountability is the key to a properly functioning democracy, and that leaders who arrogate the right to operate in secret subvert it. The president's proclaiming, "I'll be the oversight," is yet another reason for Americans to worry at a time when they hardly need another one.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate Inc.