Risky Business: When the Government Doesn’t Want to Govern

EARLY ON IN his most recent book, The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis writes:

The United States government … managed a portfolio of risks that no private person, or corporation, was able to manage. Some of the risks were easy to imagine: a financial crisis, a hurricane, a terrorist attack. Most weren’t: the risk, say, that some prescription drug proves to be both so addictive and so accessible that each year it kills more Americans than were killed in action by the peak of the Vietnam War. Many of the risks that fell into the government’s lap felt so remote as to be unreal: that a cyberattack left half the country without electricity, or that some airborne virus wiped out millions, or that economic inequality reached the point where it triggered a violent revolution. (Emphases mine.)

fifth-risk-paperbackLewis’s book opens in the summer of 2016, when the Clinton and Trump campaigns were instructed to meet with the Obama administration, as required by federal law, to begin learning about the government whose highest office they were purportedly seeking. Team Trump, as Lewis describes in appalling detail, was profoundly disinterested in this undertaking, an attitude that had not changed by January of 2017, when it received the keys to the executive branch. He continues:

Enter the presidential transition. A bad transition took this entire portfolio of catastrophic risks — the biggest portfolio of such risks ever managed by a single institution in the history of the world — and made all the bad things more likely to happen and the good things less likely to happen.

Which, of course, is precisely what occurred.

Published in 2018, two years before the novel coronavirus overwhelmed the world, two years before the Minneapolis Police Department murdered George Floyd, and two years before municipal governments across the country spat on the First Amendment by tear-gassing peaceful protestors and detaining journalists, The Fifth Risk persuasively lays out just how much Uncle Sam provides for this country, almost all of it out of the public eye and much of it responsible for keeping safe and solvent the very citizens who profess to loathe government. As always, Lewis writes clearly and compellingly. The book is no screed; rather, it’s a nonpartisan plea for Americans to educate themselves about, well, what their government actually does, as opposed to what Fox News says it does.

It is that early passage that gets me, though. Beginning on Inauguration Day 2017, the United States assumed a far greater risk of devastating losses precisely because the President and his team had no desire to govern. The last three-and-a-half years have confirmed this in general, with the last four months making it inarguable.

Some reading this will see it as just more political stupidity from a snowflake libtard who hates America. It is not. I write here not of politics but of governing, which are crucially different things. In placing his hand on a Bible and swearing an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the President promised to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, [and] promote the general Welfare.” These tenets are the foundation of our most sacred governing document. They are what the Founding Fathers believed were the government’s chief responsibility.

With months to prepare for COVID-19, the President stuck his head in the sand, refusing to listen to the dire warnings of the country’s best public-health experts and condemning tens of thousands of Americans to death. With his country in desperate need of unity, the President has wrapped himself in the flag of a treasonous nation that took up arms against the United States to preserve the right to own other people. And with the economy on the verge of collapse, the President escapes to the golf course every weekend.

As Lewis writes, months before he was elected, the President signaled with clarity that he did not want to, well, preside. Our current national calamities are the price all of America is paying for this potent, destructive failure. | DL

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