Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Aug 18: Democrats formally nominate Joe Biden for president. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says that he is suspending changes to the U.S. Postal Service, including removal of collection boxes and mail sorting equipment, until after the November election. “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” California’s governor declares an emergency due to wildfires.

Aug 19: Attorney General William Barr announces that 1,485 people have been arrested in Operation LeGend, a Trump initiative to send federal law enforcement agents to assist in stopping crime in areas that are “all run by liberal Democrats.” President Trump praises followers of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, which centers on a false narrative that Trump is leading a secret fight against a criminal band of pedophiles and satanic worshippers. The Government Accountability Office declares that two Homeland Security Secretaries were inappropriately appointed.

From the Cutting Room Floor...

It pains me to say this, but I am gradually coming to the exceedingly uncomfortable realization that it would have been better to have Jefferson B. Sessions III continue as Attorney General instead of Bill Barr. I didn’t feel this way two years ago when Sessions was summarily dismissed because he refused to un-recuse himself from the Muller Investigation.[1] But after reading through some of the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) report released today, it seems like current AG Barr’s knee-bending to the president has done immeasurable damage to the country.[2] The fifth (!) volume of the SSCI report (116-XX) looking at the connections between foreign actors and the Trump 2016 campaign screams “collusion,” even more than the Muller Report did.[3] But Americans in August 2020 are not focused on this much, if at all.

I suppose that’s understandable. Everyone is tired and, moreover, it seems like we’ve already been down this road. We went through a House trial and the president was impeached. The Senate was never going to convict one of their own, but one brave member of his party did vote to remove him. The Muller Report was the topic of podcasts, investigative journalism deep dives, and countless news stories. The desire to relitigate the last few years, even if we now know suspicions about foreign interference and the current occupant’s openness to it in 2016 were correct, now seems too little, too late.[4]

In fact, AG Jeff Sessions seems to belong to a quaint era wherein we believed Republicans would steadfastly hold to rules and traditions that they had held onto for generations, some of which date all the way back to the Constitution. Not because it served them politically but because it was part of the job description, or because it was just the right thing to do. But that’s been falling apart for years now. Take Senate approvals of presidential appointments, for instance. Hundreds of cabinet members and agency directors and subdirectors are required to come before the Senate.[5] The current administration manipulates this time-honored balancing of power by appointing loads of “acting” directors and “official overseeing the duties assigned to” and so on.[6] The Republican-controlled Senate does nothing to curtail this, such that now even parts of the Department of Defense are run by “acting” personnel loyal not to the country, but to the person who appointed them.[7] This definitely seems like one of those issues earlier Americans would not have tolerated.

Today the Government Accountability Office declared that Homeland Security Secretaries or people acting like it, Wolf and Cuccinelli, were never legally appointed.[8] Nor was their predecessor, former acting head Kevin McAleenan, appointed after Kirstjen Nielsen resigned—who was the last Secretary actually approved by the Senate. This state of affairs certainly makes the anti-immigration policies prosecuted by this administration seem pretty outside the bounds, then.[9] What’s more, Ken Cuccinelli, the person acting like a deputy head of DHS, was also illegally appointed to his last job as acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. In the just-under-six months he spent at that job, he made life more difficult for immigrants. First, he cut a program used at some detention facilities to explain legal rights to asylum seekers. Then, he slashed the amount of time asylum seekers have to consult with their attorneys from 48 to 24 hours or less before their “credible-fear” interviews—which is what determines whether they get asylum. And he removed the ability for those seeking asylum from obtaining continuances of that time in most circumstances.[10] Like the kids in cages, Cuccinelli’s policies are tinged by notion that asylum seekers are faking it, that they don’t deserve or need to be in the USA. And, if I didn’t know better, I’d say these policies grow from the soil of the “disgust” reaction psychologists and philosophers identify in racial bigots.[11]

DHS, CBP, and other agencies overseen by “acting” leaders loyal only to Trump are also the agencies sending paramilitary units into the nation’s cities to “quell unrest.” I’m alarmed that we do not even have Senate control, such as it is, over individuals who seem to be operating outside of any checks-and-balances. Of course, even confirmation doesn’t guarantee much these days, when non-career officials decide to delegate spending decisions usually left to apolitical laborers to hard-core partisan appointees, as brand new Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought is doing. Vought has long been a shill for Heritage Action, the democracy-restricting arm of the Heritage Foundation and refused to obey a House subpoena in the impeachment trial.[12]

The United States seems like it’s “by the people, for the people” less and less these days.


[1] Adam K. Raymond, “Trump Told Lewandowski to Do His Dirty Work, Thwart Mueller Probe,” Intelligencer, April 18, 2019,

[2] Ryan Goodman, “‘He’s Lying.’ New Book Reveals Havoc Bill Barr Wrought Inside Congress,” Just Security, July 28, 2020,

[3] Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures, Campaigns, and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, “Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities,” August 2020,

[4] Franklin Foer, “Russiagate Was Not a Hoax,” The Atlantic, August 19, 2020,

[5] Christopher M Davis and Michael Greene, “Presidential Appointee Positions Requiring Senate Confirmation and Committees Handling Nominations” (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, May 3, 2017).

[6] Amanda Becker, “Trump Says Acting Cabinet Members Give Him ‘More Flexibility,’” Reuters, January 6, 2019,

[7] Lara Seligman, “Trump Skirting Congress to Install Loyalists in the Pentagon,” Politico, July 17, 2020,

[8] Thomas H. Armstrong, “Decision Matter of: Department of Homeland Security—Legality of Service of Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and Service of Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security,” US Government Accountability Office, August 14, 2020,

[9] Pete Williams, “Congressional Watchdog Finds Acting DHS Chief Wolf and Senior Aide Cuccinelli Not Legally Qualified to Hold Their Jobs,” NBC News, August 14, 2020,

[10] John Lewis, Benjamin Seel, and Nitin Shah, “L.M.-M. v. Cuccinelli: Trump’s Preference for Acting Officials Hits A Wall,” Lawfare, April 23, 2020,

[11] Emilio Comay del Junco, “Four Types of Racism,” in The Empire of Disgust: Prejudice, Discrimination, and Policy in India and the US, ed. Zoya Hasan et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018),; Kathrine Vitus, “Racial Embodiment and the Affectivity of Racism in Young People’s Film,” Palgrave Communications 1, no. 15007 (April 2, 2015): 1–9,

[12] Ryan Grim, “The Trump Administration Is Giving Political Appointees Power Over Apportioning Federal Funds,” The Intercept, August 20, 2020,

[13] Victoria Bekiempis, “Steve Bannon Pleads Not Guilty to Fraud after Arrest on Luxury Yacht,” The Guardian, August 20, 2020, sec. US news,

Read more

“In this election, we have a chance to change the course of history,’ says Kamala Harris,” PBS NewsHour, Aug. 19, 2020.

“Northern California wildfires evening update,” ABC10 Northern California, Aug. 19, 2020.


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USPS. “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy Statement – Newsroom – About.Usps.Com,” August 18, 2020.
Sampath Kumar, Uday. “Home Depot Posts Record Sales as Demand for DIY Products Surges.” Reuters, August 18, 2020.
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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.