Compiling a comprehensive list of Donald Trump’s lies, norm-flouting acts, and other abuses of power during his first year in office is no small task. But two watchdog organizations dedicated to upholding integrity in American government have taken up the challenge.
“The Art of the Lie,” a report published Monday by Common Cause and Democracy 21, slots the Trump administration’s indiscretions into 20 categories, ranging in scope from “Trump’s Attacks on the Judiciary” to “Keeping White House Visitor Logs Secret.” The study paints a picture of an administration operating with unprecedented opaqueness and disregard for America’s democratic norms.
Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn and Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer note, “Given the chaotic and erratic nature of President Trump and his administration, it is easy for Americans to become overwhelmed. Some of Trump’s wrongful actions have been high-profile; others are more subtle.”
Trump’s “high-profile” actions are old hat by now: He has uttered “more than 2,100 lies, false or misleading statements, and untruths in his first year.” He continues to wage open war against the press; denounces the entire judicial system as “broken and unfair” when the courts issue decisions he personally dislikes, and still has not released his tax returns.
But Trump’s subtler actions demonstrate the more pernicious ways the president has undermined government integrity. While attacks on the Census Bureau have so far not shown up in Trump’s bombastic tweets, the groups warn that “recent decisions by the Trump administration risk making the 2020 Census grossly inaccurate.”
The groups argue that the 2018 budget request for the bureau is “woefully inadequate” and condemn Trump’s expected appointment of Thomas Brunell, an ardent proponent of racial gerrymandering, as the bureau’s deputy director—and the federal official charged with overseeing the 2020 survey. These moves will have far-reaching effects, as the decennial count is the basis for congressional and state legislative redistricting—as well as nearly $600 billion in annual government spending.
The damaging consequences of a cabinet currently overseeing an intentional hollowing-out of the federal bureaucracy, and whose secretaries are often hostile to the fundamental missions of the agencies they head, also raise major concerns: “The Trump administration has failed to fill an unprecedented number of critical positions throughout the federal government [which] leads to dysfunction and wasted government resources as policies await direction.” The authors highlight the dramatic staff cuts taking place at Rex Tillerson’s State Department—a “national emergency,” according to former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
Elsewhere, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the federal agency numerous times as attorney general of Oklahoma, has dismissed hundreds of EPA employees, as has Betsy Devos at the Department of Education. And at Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, the report includes this telling quote from a career HUD employee: “No agenda, nothing to move forward or push back against. Just nothing.”
Many of President Trump’s missteps have been widely covered. But as “The Art of the Lie” cautions, the American public must remain vigilant about the serious consequences of the administration’s lesser known actions and about the equally damaging consequences of deciding to take no action at all.