Following last week’s decision to end the Obama-era practice of releasing White House visitor logs to the public, the Trump administration is now saying that the petition site “We the People” could be the next thing to go. This is an absolute outra... eh, screw it.
U.S. News spoke with White House Communications Director Mike Dubke who said that the maintenance costs of the website are currently being evaluated and “this decision is still under review.” Maintenance costs were also one of the reasons the administration gave for ending the release of visitor logs. Ensuring that the public has no idea who is secretly meeting at the White House will save taxpayers a whopping $70,000 between now and 2020. (One trip to the president’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort is estimated to cost the taxpayers of Palm Beach $60,000.)
We the People was launched in September of 2011 as an initiative to give Americans a way to voice their concerns to their elected officials. The Obama administration committed to giving an official response within 30 days to any petition that reached more than 100,000 signatures. That pledge wasn’t always carried out perfectly. But according to the watchdog site whpetitions.info, as of October 16th, 2016, 321 out of 323 petitions that had met the signature goal had received a response. Nate Lubin, former director of the White House Office of Digital Strategy under Obama tells U.S. News:
“As we experienced when I was there, there were certain petitions that we could not give substantive responses to, for legitimate reasons. The main point, though, is that any White House should be following a commitment to giving the people a chance to tell leadership what they think.”
But, Trump doesn’t care what the people think. A reported 100,000 people protested last weekend demanding that the president release his tax returns. He responded by tweeting that the rallies were small and paid for by some shadowy source that’s always lurking around the corner trying to mess with him. On Tuesday, Press Secretary Spicer reiterated that Trump can’t release his tax returns because he’s still under audit. The IRS says this is bullshit. Take a guess what the number one petition is on We the People at the moment? That’s right, with over a million signatures it’s “Immediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.”
But why end the petition program when all it requires is a response? It could be any response. Here’s how they could respond to the tax return petition: “President Trump is under a routine audit and can’t release his tax returns at the moment.” How about the second most popular petition, “Divest or put in a blind trust all of the President’s business and financial assets”? They could just say, “President Trump has already put his assets in a blind trust that is run by his sons and you just have to trust that he doesn’t talk about it with them.”
But if the petition system is ultimately discontinued it most likely won’t be because the administration has a problem with repeating its lies one more time. It’s all part of a broader effort to squash expectations of government transparency in a time when the public demands it more than ever. In fact, experts claim this administration is the least transparent of the modern era.
Trump famously shuts out the press when he visits his properties and in his first 80 days, he averaged 2.8 days a week at those properties. He is systematically making sure that no one knows what the hell he’s doing. And that’s probably a good move because he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. His administration appeared to lose track of an entire U.S. carrier fleet this week and we still don’t have a straight answer about what happened.
Does it matter if the We the People site gets shut down? Well, in the past few years the only really substantial thing to come from it was legislation that gave consumers the right to have an unlocked phone that they can take to any mobile carrier. That probably matters to a lot of people. But most petitions received boilerplate responses or were just cute jokes like the time the White House had to address a demand to build the Death Star.
What does matter is that this administration wants to reverse any gains that have been made in giving people a voice and making sure they know what the government is doing in their name. We’ll see how many times people can say, “eh, screw it” before they notice how often they’re saying it.