Friday, July 13, 2018

Peter Strzok: The Face Of An Out Of Control Government

I didn't watch all or even most of the Peter Strzok hearings yesterday but I saw enough to get a flavor. A lot has been made of his facial expressions, with good reason...


Yikes. If one of my kids made that kind of face at me, or really at anyone....well, I would take steps to ensure they understood how inappropriate and juvenile it was. Spoiler alert, the steps wouldn't involve talking.

Peter Strzok is part of the FBI, one of the most revered and respected of American institutions. He is being questioned by the United States Congress based on text messages between himself and the woman he was cheating on his wife with, Lisa Page, who was an attorney with the FBI. His text messages indicate a general disdain for Trump and Trump voters including his infamous promise to "stop" Trump, which seems to be quite a dangerous statement for a high ranking member of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Of course, why shouldn't Peter Strzok look so smug and arrogant? He knows this is political theater and nothing is going to happen to him. He is part of the Federal bureaucracy and better yet the FBI. Sure he has been moved to HR and had his security clearance revoked but he is still employed. I imagine that in a year or two he will quietly move right back into a senior position within the FBI. At a minimum he should be fired and he probably should be hit with contempt charges but he almost certainly will not. His face shows that he thinks he is untouchable and he is probably right.

The bigger issue here is harder to see. Most people assume that because the Republican Party controls both the Senate and the House and of course the Presidency, that they are "in charge" of the government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you walk around D.C. for very long you will find yourself going past mammoth buildings like the one below. The Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of "Education", on and on. These buildings are full of people that you don't see on the news. But in many ways they are the real power in D.C.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
There are over two million Federal workers and a lot of them are in rules-making bureaucratic positions where they make the rules and enforce those rules regardless of which party is in power. When the White House changes hands and new Cabinet Secretaries are appointed, most of the staff stays the same. They are career bureaucrats protected by the powerful Federal employee union. They live in places like Alexandria, Virginia that went 75% for Hillary Clinton. Ten years ago the median family income in Alexandria was over $100,000. I had occasion to visit Northern Virginia during the last big recession while we were living in Michigan. In Michigan things were in the toilet. People were losing their jobs and moving out of state. There were tons of half-finished housing developments.The bank branch I managed closed and I was relocated to a branch in the Detroit area. But in the D.C. area what struck me was how many new cars were in driveways. The malls were full. People seemed to be completely untouched by the recession.

What seems to drive many of these Federal employees is not ideology but self-interest. They want above all else to keep their cushy careers with the Federal government humming along. I would imagine that most of them wouldn't have been all that upset if Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio had been the Republican nominee and won the election because both of them would have left the government to run pretty much as is. Susie in the Department of Transportation could keep on pushing papers, filing reports no one would ever read and marching inexorably toward retirement without interruption. Then Trump came down the escalator and everything changed.

What people like Peter Strzok really hate about Trump are not his policies or positions, although they might dislike those. What really makes them frothing-at-the-mouth furious is that he threatens what they consider to be the natural order. The natural order is that the D.C. bureaucracy is the noble ruling class. They are the elite and the rest of us are the peasants. We who live in fly-over country are tax cattle. Our purpose in life is to show up to our little meaningless jobs and pay our taxes to keep the tax revenue flowing so our betters can run our lives for us. Why else would the U.S. Department of Education have a $68,000,000,000 budget when they aren't actually educating anyone? Why else would the Department of Agriculture, with essentially no farmers, have a budget of around $150,000,000,000 when they are just going to send most of that back (around 80%) to the states for food stamps? How does it make sense to have a Department with over 100,000 employees that serves basically as a clearinghouse that takes money from tax-payers in all 50 states and then turns around and sends it back? The reason why is that they assume we are too stupid and incompetent to be allowed to manage giving people cash assistance for food without oversight from Washington. I used to work in the retirement plan business and that is an industry chock full of stupid rules and meaningless filings. Every year every business with a 401k has to file a form 5500 that no one reads and no one cares about. Most of them also have to do a test called a "non-discrimination test" that makes sure highly paid employees aren't saving too much money compared to their less highly paid employees. People who make more money also have more money to save, who would have ever thought that? But all of those filings and reports have to go to the Feds and they have to peer at them and stamp them with their little stamps and file them in their filing system and that employs a lot of people. Woe be unto anyone that crosses the bureaucrats because they can make your life a living hell if you fail to follow their commands to the letter.

What is so arrogant about this is that even if Trump wins re-election in 2020, which I think is very likely, his tangible impact on the ruling class bureaucracy after 8 years will be almost negligible. Short of burning the whole system down, nothing significant is going to change. The bureaucrats will find reports that have to be filed, regulations that need to be published, fines that need to be levied. I can't imagine that the Federal government, the real government, not the kabuki theater we call Congress, will be any different in 2024 than it was under Obama. I am sure these people know this as well as I do. But they are still infuriated that anyone would dare suggest something is wrong and they they are the problem. When Trump talks about draining the swamp, he is talking about them. The nerve of that guy! Doesn't he know just how critical to America it is that people in cubicles in D.C. squint at Form 5500s?! Trump hasn't and almost certainly won't impact their little lives one iota but what he has done is prick their pride. That is unforgivable. The farcical little world of the self-important can't stand being ridiculed. Just look at the media and how insane they have gone. Again, their issue is not with Trump's policies per se, it is with Trump being insufficiently deferential to them. Presidents are supposed to respect the media, not call them fake news. What is even worse is that he mocks them and nothing hurts the self-important "elites" quite like mockery. I am sure Trump knows this, he has dealt with these people most of his life. These puffed up bureaucrats being told they are part of the swamp, the pompous media being laughed at. That is unforgivable and that is why we see and will continue to see a concerted effort to thwart Trump at every turn from the media and, less obviously, from the bureaucracy. Peter Strzok got caught but how many hundreds of thousands of others just like him are in the FBI, in the State Department, in every nook and cranny of the massive eyesores that house our bureaucratic overlords in D.C.?

We could send Peter Strzok to jail, fire him, whatever and it won't accomplish anything. He is just the tip of the iceberg, someone who gives a face to the otherwise nameless and faceless goliath that is the Federal government. The political theater surrounding him will be forgotten in a day or two but the ruling class in D.C. will still be in power. As long as they can forcibly fund their departments by sending men with guns against anyone that steps out of line, nothing will change in D.C. and people like Peter Strzok will continue to undermine Trump at every opportunity. Apart from a few lonely voices, I don't see anyone that has any interest in changing this situation. Who in the Republican party is talking seriously about the national debt and what to do about it? Who in the GOP is proposing any serious measure to actually shrink the size of the Federal government? Almost no one is. So we keep sending our hard earned dollars to D.C., they keep shuffling their papers until they can collect their comfortable retirement and we keep careening toward the edge of the cliff.

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