Resistance to the Trump Administration has come in the shape of the largest march in American history, calls for inclusion and acceptance from celebrities and the mobilization of the news media. But more recently, the White House has faced opposition from unlikely sources: the Twitter accounts of its own agencies. Faced with the prospect of a Trump regime that is hostile to the very institution of government, federal agencies are subtweeting the revolution, undermining the administration’s efforts and presenting an obstacle that is unlikely to diminish during President Trump’s time in office.
President Trump had a very busy first week in office. For eight years, conservatives have decried former President Obama’s use of the executive order as presidential overreach and a violation of the Constitution. This didn’t stop President Trump from wielding the executive order to end the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, reinstating the ‘Mexico City Policy,’ which blocks federal funding to organizations that perform abortions and increasing security on the southern border.
For those who hoped Trump’s conservatism was a ruse to get elected, the first few weeks have been a wake-up call. But pushback against the Trump agenda has been strong, especially on Twitter. First, the D.C. metro system, WMATA, trolled the President of the United States by tweeting metro use statistics to compare President Trump’s meager Inauguration Day attendance to the Women’s March. A tweet from Inauguration Day read, “As of 8:30, parking available at all stations with lots/garages. All under 50 percent except E Falls Chrch (65 percent) & Van Dorn (55 percent).” By itself, this tweet would be unremarkable. But one day later came this tweet: “Metro Ridership as of 11 a.m.: 275k. For comparison, that’s more than 8x a normal Sat & even busier than most weekdays #wmata #womensmarch.”
On his first day in office, President Trump issued an executive order that began to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by allowing agencies to waive or delay the implementation of ACA provisions. However, the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t get the memo. The agency that administers the ACA has continued to praise the healthcare law, recruiting customers to sign up and posting testimonies from satisfied enrollees. The agency tweeted the story of Dana Bigelow, a Bay Area resident who was able to secure insurance after he left his job to care for his sick mother. The summary of the article reads: “The Affordable Care Act is great for those of us who are working in the gig economy or trying to grow our own business, big or small.”
On Jan. 23, the Trump administration halted the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) grant program, which provides funding for environmental quality monitoring, development projects and research to combat climate change. More sinister, the EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the National Parks have been issued ‘gag orders,’ preventing the agencies from issuing press releases, using social media and blogging. All speaking engagements and contact with the media must be approved by the White House’s transition team. While the restrictions on the Department of Agriculture were lifted, the EPA gag order remains in place.
The day after the ‘gag orders’ were put in place, the Twitter account for Badlands National Park went off. The account released an outburst of tweets about the environment and global warming, a direct response to the environmental policy of President Trump, which has so far included the rebooting of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines and declarations that global warming is a “Chinese hoax.” Tweets included statistics like, “Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any point in the last 650,000 years.”
The Badlands Rebellion was followed by the establishment of the handle @AltUSNatParkService, which continued to tweet statistics about global warming with an even more direct approach. “This account should not have to exist & we are sorry for any problems we are causing our colleagues,” one tweet read. “But we didn’t start this. #resist.” The account, which claims to be operated by disgruntled National Parks employees, later tweeted, “Can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS. You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”
There are dozens of examples of tweets like this – sent by official or off-brand agency accounts – pushing back against President Trump’s initiatives. What effect will this trend have? First, we know that President Trump reads and uses Twitter. You can be sure he’s aware of this insubordination. But more importantly, these tweets are emblematic of a larger barrier facing the Trump administration.
For decades now, the Republican Party has thrived by positioning itself as the anti-government party. Its strategy has been to criticize the federal government and then undermine its institutions, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. But now, the GOP controls the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. Soon it will hold a majority on the Supreme Court as well. Republicans now control the institutions they have long vilified, and this is coming back to bite them in the rear.
Policy emerges from the White House and Congress. But the drafting, implementation and management of laws requires bureaucracy; the mid-level employees have to buy in to the efforts of the presidential and congressional administrations. Conservative news outlets such as The Washington Times reported that as many as 28 percent of federal employees could leave in the early weeks of the Trump administration. But many of these positions are being vacated by upper-level employees and being filled by younger (read: often more liberal), Obama-era appointees. The hiring freeze that the administration has placed on federal agencies will not help Trump create a more willing bureaucracy. Federal employees may operate programs of which the Trump administration is either unsupportive or actively hostile toward. For bureaucrats in the EPA and the Departments of Justice, Education and the Interior, the advancement of the Republican agenda may cost them their jobs.
The Trump administration has an ambitious agenda. But now the anti-government rhetoric that carried the GOP to power may have positioned the party against the very institutions it needs to realize its goals.