Freedom is the freedom to say that fewer is fewer

Unit­ed States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed a pres­i­den­tial mem­o­ran­dum1 today insti­tut­ing a hir­ing freeze on Fed­er­al civil­ian work­ers. White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said the mem­o­ran­dum «coun­ters the dra­mat­ic expan­sion of the fed­er­al work­force in recent years.»

This comes as wel­come news to mil­lions of peo­ple who believe that the Fed­er­al work­force has been expand­ing dra­mat­i­cal­ly under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion. The White House Press Sec­re­tary has said it, and Pres­i­dent Trump would nev­er have tak­en such bold, deci­sive action about it if it weren’t true, would he?

If the Fed­er­al work­force has been expand­ing in recent years, it’s news to the Office of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment whose report on the mat­ter shows that dur­ing the Oba­ma years, civil­ian Fed­er­al employ­ment rolls dropped from 2,774,000 in 2009 to 2,663,000 in 2014.2 When com­pared to the over­all pop­u­la­tion of the Unit­ed States, this means that we’ve gone from one Fed­er­al employ­ee for every 110.59 cit­i­zens to one Fed­er­al employ­ee for every 119.82 US cit­i­zens. As a pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, Fed­er­al employ­ees have gone from nine-tenths of a per­cent to eighty-three hun­dredths of a per­cent.3

I won’t deny that gov­ern­ment has been expand­ing; it has. But it has not tak­en the form of increas­ing num­bers of Fed­er­al employees.

The admin­is­tra­tion’s «dra­mat­ic expan­sion» is a fic­tion. Pres­i­dent Trump’s pres­i­den­tial mem­o­ran­dum and Press Sec­re­tary Spicer’s cor­re­spond­ing state­ment are no more than a shad­ow­play designed to make us believe things which aren’t true. These are mean­ing­less maneu­vers designed not for the good of the nation but to make Trump look like he’s doing some­thing. The self-aggran­dize­ment would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly be a prob­lem, if it were based in the truth. Like Saint Patrick get­ting cred­it for chas­ing out snakes that were nev­er in Ire­land to begin with, Pres­i­dent Trump is try­ing to take cred­it for doing noth­ing at all.

We can­not per­mit our lead­ers to rewrite his­to­ry. Has Ocea­nia always been at war with Eas­t­a­sia? Has the Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment been on a hir­ing spree? It’s all true to those who take the word as it comes from the White House.

Now, it’s not sur­pris­ing that a politi­cian4 — espe­cial­ly this one — would gov­ern with this kind of con­tempt for truth. Politi­cians lie and they deceive. They ought nev­er­the­less be held account­able. Pres­i­dent Trump should get no cred­it for fix­ing a prob­lem that was­n’t there. Our eyes ought to be on him and his admin­is­tra­tion now that he has tak­en office. We owe the new Pres­i­dent a chance to prove his trust­wor­thi­ness. We owe our nation vig­i­lance as he fails to do so.

Even with­out the mis­in­for­ma­tion, this shows Pres­i­dent Trump in a poor light. If this is an exam­ple of the kind of «action» we can expect from the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, it sup­ports a very dif­fer­ent view of Don­ald Trump than the one he’s presented:

…A poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing.5

  1. Orig­i­nal­ly this was report­ed as an exec­u­tive order rather than a pres­i­den­tial mem­o­ran­dum. Mono­chro­mat­ic Out­look regrets the error. 
  2. New­er fig­ures are unavail­able at this writ­ing, but it’s implau­si­ble to think that the prob­lem of Oba­ma’s gov­ern­ment expan­sion all hap­pened in the last two years. 
  3. Cor­re­la­tion isn’t cau­sa­tion. Oba­ma may not be able to take any cred­it (or blame) for the shrink­ing of the Fed­er­al work­force. The num­ber of Fed­er­al employ­ees has been shrink­ing steadi­ly (if slow­ly) since its peak in 1990 at 3,067,000 civil­ian Fed­er­al employ­ees (com­pared to the pop­u­la­tion in 1990, that was one Fed­er­al employ­ee for only 81.39 — or 1.23% — of us). 
  4. He can’t any longer claim he isn’t a politi­cian, now can he? 
  5. Yes, that’s Mac­beth. 

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