Washington Monument and Capitol

Two pieces caught my eye today about the current state of the government, and how the administration, when it’s not walking away from its latest rage-induced self-harm, is doing real damage to our institutions and the expertise they contain.

First, in the New York Times, Roger Cohen writes about “The Desperation of Our Diplomats:”

An American jewel is at stake, a place where honorable patriots take an oath to the Constitution — that is to say, to the rule of law, representative governance and the democratic processes that, with conspicuous failings but equally conspicuous bravery, United States diplomats have sought to extend across the world. They have done so in the belief that humanity, in the long run, will benefit from freedom. Since 1945, liberty has extended its reach. But now, at a time of growing great-power rivalry, a diminished State Department leaves a vacuum Russia and China will fill.

Second, Vanity Fair has a long piece by Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the Department of Energy under Rick Perry, who seemed surprised to discover that the DOE mainly does stuff with nuclear weapons, not oil exploration:

Donald Trump’s secretary of energy, Rick Perry, once campaigned to abolish the $30 billion agency that he now runs, which oversees everything from our nuclear arsenal to the electrical grid. The department’s budget is now on the chopping block. But does anyone in the White House really understand what the Department of Energy actually does? And what a horrible risk it would be to ignore its extraordinary, life-or-death responsibilities?

The piece makes a couple things really clear. DOE deals with some incredibly hard and technically complicated issues, and has attracted people competent to deal with them– but the current administration seems to barely care about the world’s nuclear problems (except for North Korea, which they want to outsource to China, since we’ve outsourced so much else to them). Second, there are big problems that have traditionally been hard for anyone to get a grasp on, that the administration is likely to ignore or make worse.

I’ve long liked Michael Lewis, and thought his reporting on the aftermath of the financial crisis was one of the only good things to come from the meltdown. So I’m a little worried that someone who’s so good about writing about catastrophes caused by a mix of greed, hubris, self-interested short-sightedness, that play out in a way to does virtually no harm to those who created it but great harm to everyone else, is now writing about the state of the federal government.

Then again, maybe it’ll be Moneyball Michael Lewis writing, and it’ll turn into an uplifting story about how a bunch of rebels and misfits changed the game. But I doubt it.