The word “public” is the target of our enemies

Yesterday Timothy Egan wrote a column in the New York Times about how the Trump administration is destroying our government from the inside.

Egan is spending time camping in Montana, and is especially outraged over the damage being done within one particular agency, the Department of the Interior, and its sub-agency, Bureau of Land Management.

Here’s how Egan begins:

Imagine if the head of Philip Morris were put in charge of the American Cancer Society. Imagine he had spent his career trying to fight cancer cures, while promoting one of the world’s leading carcinogens. For good measure, he mocked the mission of his new employer and insulted the prayers of those looking for hope.

No, I’m not talking about Ken Cuccinelli, the acting chief of federal immigration services, who wants to rewrite the poem on the Statue of Liberty to say something like: Keep out, wretched masses. Only well-off whites are welcome here.

The gallery of awful human beings, monumental incompetents, wife-beaters, frauds and outright criminals appointed to high positions in the Trump administration is large and varied. As wanted posters, they would fill an entire post office wall.

But you have to go pretty deep into the ranks of the Worst People to find someone equal to the man Donald Trump has now put in charge of your public lands — William Perry Pendley. This is another Onion headline that writes itself: Trump’s pick for public lands doesn’t believe in public lands.

As Egan says, we could create a gallery of the Worst People, i.e., heads or acting heads of all our crucial government agencies, and the sublimely horrific work they’re doing to demolish them.

But the thing that grabs me hardest in this essay is the word “public.” Because I see it as the simple key to comprehending what the Trump administration is trying to do.

First, though, I must say this: the “Trump administration” is a piece of factually empty  nomenclature. It’s a short-form term highly useful for journalists, politicians and the rest of us because how else can we attribute the dreadfulness of what we’re seeing without writing 90 page essays every time we mention it?

I think we all see there is no “Trump administration.” Certainly, destruction can’t be termed “administration,” and Trump himself is a painted shell with a working mouth that spews whatever nonsense his dopey, dissolving brain produces when he’s basking in TV lighting.

Trump, who has been a major failure at everything he’s done and who was never smart, is now clearly demented.

He is a miserable political anomaly, whose role is as useful idiot to many more than just Putin.

As our public governmental agencies are being decimated, as the genuine public servants who worked for them are leaving in droves, let’s talk about the term “public.” I believe this word is at the heart of everything.

What is public in our society? Public schools. Public transportation. Public lands, public parks, public streets. Public utilities. Public policing and public defense. Public courts. Public elections.

Public health care, i.e., Medicare and Medicaid. Public pensions, i.e., Social Security.

Public parades. Public spaces, like Lincoln Center’s grand plaza, where people meet and hang out and listen to public performances of all kinds.

Non-governmental, non-private organizations dedicated to doing public good are pro bono publico.

We read public commentary in our newspapers and if the Daily News weren’t a tabloid, it would call its letters to the editor page Voice of the Public, not Voice of the People.

Sometimes, even in some parts of my city, there is public parking. Although, when our public sanitation cleans the public streets, the public must move its cars temporarily somewhere else and then fight with other car owners to get its public parking space back. But it’s all public — including the free entertainment for those of us who don’t have cars and can watch the Dance of the Autos on street-cleaning days.

So what does “public” mean? It means tax-paid, it means free. It means we the public contribute our taxes to support large-scale public things which would be impossible to engineer and prohibitively expensive if we tried to establish them as individuals, as small communities.

If we did not have public services, what could we do?

Beg donations from obscenely wealthy people. We the Public would become We the Beggars, pleading for alms to repair our bridges and our subways and everything else that we use, that we need to be public.

And that is precisely what the true deep state, the shady oligarchs who have surreptitiously staffed what, for succinctness, we call the Trump administration, are aiming at: Death to “Public.”

This isn’t the first time I recommend for your (daylight only) horror story reading Nancy MacLean’s brilliant Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of The Radical Right’s Stealth Plan For America.

Although it started with the Civil War, the rage over “public” — the rage we’re now contending with — rose into another kind of civil war with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v Topeka, which said that segregated education was not equal education. Public school education.

Since then, the radical right, i.e., the Koch Brothers, et al., under cover of the lie called  “libertarianism,” have worked steadily to dismantle our sterling concept of Public.

“Public” is a dirty word to people who dirty up the earth with fossil fuels. They do not want to pay for anything that is Public, such as public school education for all kids, no matter what skin color. They do not want to pay for bridges they don’t use, or roads they don’t drive on. They certainly don’t want public land because that land, managed and owned privately, is mineable.

To these despots, “Public” is damnable since it demands their tax payments must go to what our publicly elected government determines is right.

Private Property! is their war cry, “Public” anything is their enemy.

Trump, as stupid as he is, is useful to them. From within his personal shell, they can destroy democracy, which can in a way be defined as “Public.”

 

 

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