As the US government shut down drags on, I figured it was time to learn more about the threat the Trump presidency poses to the day-to-day running of America. Turns out that, like basically every political story from anywhere in the world at the moment, it’s significantly worse than I thought.
Michael Lewis books are almost their own specific little sub-genre now – relatively light and readable looks at deeply boring topics. The Fifth Risk has less of an overarching narrative than previous works like The Big Short or Moneyball. Instead, it’s three separate novella-sized looks at three opaque departments of government – the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce.
The start of each of these three sections is tremendously interesting. All three of these departments have huge responsibilities and perform the sort of boring but necessary work that huge swathes of society need to continue functioning. In each department, we meet people who’ve devoted a significant period of their lives to performing this work during the Obama administration. As part of a government-wide push, they all developed extensive handover programs to ensure that the transition to the next administration was as smooth as possible.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s actions have wavered between negligence and malice. The fact that staffers were leaving at all seemed to take them by surprise. No one showed up for meetings, or even seemed aware that they were happening at all. And naturally, a number of the individuals appointed to important positions in these departments had a financial interest in ensuring the government no longer provided these services.
Unlike the border wall or the travel ban, it’s hard to organise protest against the restriction of government weather data. But the damage being done to these dull areas of government will likely create even worse damage in the medium- to long-term.
Entertainingly wonky and existentially depressing.