This Is What Happens in Authoritarian Regimes

Donald Trump's corruption is so vast and his lack of ethics so profound that it has caused a lurching shift in expectations of the United States President in only 159 days. It's easy to become inured to the erosion of our democratic norms, but we must resist the normalization of authoritarianism.

This is a big story, because this is what happens in authoritarian regimes: Coral Davenport at the New York Times reports that an E.P.A. Official Pressured Scientist on Congressional Testimony, Emails Show.
The Environmental Protection Agency's chief of staff pressured the top scientist on the agency's scientific review board to alter her congressional testimony and play down the dismissal of expert advisers, his emails show.

Deborah Swackhamer, an environmental chemist who leads the E.P.A.'s Board of Scientific Counselors, was to testify on May 23 before the House Science Committee on the role of states in environmental policy when Ryan Jackson, the E.P.A.'s chief of staff, asked her to stick to the agency's "talking points" on the dismissals of several members of the scientific board.

"I was stunned that he was pushing me to 'correct' something in my testimony," said Dr. Swackhamer, a retired University of Minnesota professor. "I was factual, and he was not. I felt bullied."

...James Thurber, the founder and former director of the Center for Congressional Studies at American University, said he had never heard of an administration pressuring a witness, particularly a scientist, to alter testimony already submitted for the official record.

"It's shocking and insulting to be told before you go in to alter your testimony to what the administration wants," he said. "This just shows a certain amount of amateurishness about how these hearings work. They're supposed to be places where you get objective views. You don't go around telling people what to say."
To call this "amateurish" behavior is to extend good faith to this administration, who has not earned any. It's not a matter of a failure of comprehension about hearings work; it's a matter of trying to avoid the appearance of subverting the role of academic science in environmental policy, while actually subverting the role of academic science in environmental policy.

This, as my friend Sarah Kendzior has noted, is part of the authoritarian's agenda (emphasis mine):
Shortly after Trump's inauguration, his administration reviewed the EPA's website and, during that time, instructed its employees not to communicate on its research to the public through press releases, blog posts, or social media. If citizens became ill due to environmental protection rollbacks, policies like this could lead to people would have less information to use to seek recourse.

That censorship of scientists and national parks workers — who reportedly went on to act as "rogue" employees posting statistics on climate change in anonymous Twitter accounts — furthers the administration's authoritarian ambitions: One cannot refute information one does not know.
No information, no recourse. No information, nothing to resist.

Dr. Swackhamer said she "felt bullied." No wonder. She found herself at the blunt end of an authoritarian order. Nothing about that is going to feel right.

And it should not sit right with us.

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