My reaction might not have been typical. I saw that photo of employees turning their backs on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and did not immediately decry the insolent rudeness of federal bureaucrats. I felt sorry for them.
I was thinking about cats.
Many people — dog owners, typically — incorrectly assume that when cats turn their backs to their owners, they are proclaiming their independence with a show of aloof indifference.
But the truth is that they are displaying humble deference to their masters. Acutely aware of their precarious position in the food chain — predator of some, prey of others — cats treasure the comforts of a safe haven where they can pretend to be in charge while all their needs are being met. So, they must demonstrate a high level of trust of those really in charge, however much it must gall them, lest they be cast out into the frightful wilderness.
I think the Department of Agriculture employees are like those cats.
The Trump Administration is finalizing plans to relocate several hundred to Kansas City. These poor souls will be yanked from their safe haven and flung into the predator-prey wilderness of Heartland America.
Naturally they are terrified. Their every whim will no longer be catered to while they pretend to be in charge.
And they might not be the only ones in danger.
Other presidents — notably both the Reagan and Clinton administrations — have announced initiatives to break up the bureaucrat-special interest machine in the nation’s capital by moving numerous federal agencies to other locations in flyover country. But the establishment has always fought back, so the plans have always fallen apart.
But Donald Trump the berserker is the president who might actually get it done. And that is a potential catastrophe in the making.
Sure, there are superficially appealing reasons for such a disruption.
Money saved, for one. It will cost taxpayers $300 million less over 15 years just by relocating those few hundred USDA workers. Imagine how much would be saved if a major portion of Washington’s more than 200,000 unelected functionaries were moved.
Partially depopulating Washington would also cut down on graft and corruption simply by diminishing a power center acting as a magnet for greed. And requiring the rule-makers to live among the people who have to actually follow those rules might provide a needed reality check.
Any benefits gained, however, pale in comparison to what is a possible refugee crisis of epic proportions.
Yes, this is the land of immigrants, but we can only absorb so many at one time into the main culture. Too many at once would simply overwhelm the system.
We can be careful in how we distribute members of the bureaucratic diaspora. Employees of the Department of the Interior, for example, could be equally divided among the 50 states. And every classroom in America could handle at least one Department of Education expatriate – a new kind of student teacher.
But that won’t be enough. If we do not carefully integrate the newcomers into society, after patiently instructing them in our mores and customs, we could end up with enclaves of hostile newcomers so fixed in their traditional ways of doing things that they don’t even want to assimilate.
Indiana, which has a pretty decent history with refugees, can step up here. Many communities welcomed the Boat People from Vietnam, and others now accommodate those fleeing Syria, the Congo and other hot spots of turmoil. Fort Wayne and Indianapolis alone have absorbed huge populations of Burmese.
I envision a series of relocation centers, where probationary settlers can learn the survival skills they will need to thrive in a strange land. Concepts we take for granted – such as “an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” and “my word is my bond” – are utterly foreign to them. The simplest transactions will at first befuddle them, like yard sales, church services, checkout lines, Fourth of July parades, potluck with leftovers, and Friday night Bingo at the community center.
That will help them blend in, live among us without fear or dread, a simmering resentment or a feeling of being oppressed. The next step would call for training them to be productive members of society who make meaningful contributions to the well-being of their communities. But, in all honesty, that might be an unreachable goal.
Herding cats, you know.
— Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.