Now that HHS Secretary Tom Price has resigned over his abuse of chartered flights and the taxpayers who funded them, it’s helpful both to have some perspective and to see this as a microcosm of why the 2016 election happened.
While it is truly hard to fathom what Price, a smart guy and successful physician, was thinking in charging taxpayers over $1 million on flights since May alone, let’s be honest: His behavior was just the latest example of the longstanding D.C. tradition of taxpayer dollars being abused by “public servants.” These abuses have been perpetrated by both Republican and Democrat administrations and members of Congress (Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s ongoing federal corruption trial is evidence of that).
What’s more painful is the blatant hypocrisy of Price’s actions. Not too long ago, then-Congressman Price was calling out Democrats for their use of private jets, calling it yet “another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now.”
Price’s apparent laissez-faire attitude at the taxpayers’ trough is why the American working class has lost faith in and despises Washington, D.C., and is why many Americans no longer trust their institutions. This is why 2016 happened. This is why people rallied around the idea of “draining the swamp.”
But I would put it a little differently: 2016 was really about the American working class waking up to the fact that our system of government — supposedly of the people, by the people and for the people — is not working to benefit them, but rather a small ruling class made up of Republicans, Democrats, and their special interest cronies and corrupt consultants.
As this system devolves, the outcome will be despotism — smiling statism or velvet despotism, but despotism nonetheless. Many of us pay taxes at a rate exceeding 50 percent when federal, state, local, food and gas taxes are combined. Yet many in Washington, D.C. have a mindset of “separate but equal,” in which they feel more entitled and more enlightened than the great unwashed masses out in the hinterlands who fund their pay and egregious behavior.
Some years ago, I wrote about the ruling class as “American Royalty,” and it still holds true today. The behavior of Price and many others adds insult to injury by using the working class’ hard-earned money to live a lifestyle many of them could never afford. We understand that in just associations, in civilized society, there are taxes to be paid for security and infrastructure and other limited government services. But we fund our government to advocate and protect the rights of the American people, not for government workers to advance their own narrow interests. Government work is supposed to be about service, not living the lifestyle of the rich and famous on taxpayer dollars.
Donald Trump ran on draining the swamp, on rejecting the status quo and business as usual. While I presume Price was given the choice to either resign or be fired, I would tell the president this: Tom Price’s (presumably forced) resignation does not guarantee future change. Price’s behavior is merely a symptom of “Swamp Disease.”
What Trump must immediately do, through an Executive Order, is lay down stronger guidelines, standards and practices as to how his Executive Branch and Cabinet members spend taxpayer dollars and government resources. This will not only set the tone for this administration, but will help change the behavior of future administrations. There will be hell to pay for any president who might revoke that order.
In the end, we want public servants, not elected officials, and there is a massive difference between the two. So Mr. President, don’t just address the symptoms of “Swamp Disease.” Cure the disease.