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How Trump Ends His Show

December 19th, 2020 by dk

Will President Donald Trump try to fire thousands of civil servants before he leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2021? The answer is yes. I’m confident that this is his plan, not because I have secret sources or deep political insight. Instead, I’m drawing on my limited experience as a screenwriter.

Trump found his calling when he became executive producer for a reality TV show. He has run his administration the same way he ran his “Apprentice” franchise. He chose cabinet members and key advisors based on their TV appearances, bragging about those who came “straight out of central casting.”

Trump monitors the ratings constantly. He types incendiary tweets whenever the news cycle is taking an unfavorable turn, reclaiming his control of the story. He has used rallies as ersatz focus groups, testing new material. The show stars him, but includes all of us. The script is carefully crafted, even though it’s played out in daily headlines.

The show is now reaching its conclusion. And nothing satisfies an audience more than a symmetrical story arc. Endings only exist to resolve conflicts that appeared at the beginning.

Don’t worry. I won’t ask  you to go back to William Shakespeare or Christopher Marlowe. I ask only that you remember how this drama began four years ago.

On January 4, 2017, Republicans took complete control of the federal government for the first time in a decade. Their literal first act was to reinstate an 1876 procedural rule (abandoned in 1983) that allows lawmakers to cut the annual salary of individual federal workers to $1. The so-called Holman Rule gave members of Congress the ability to amend appropriations bills, targeting specific government employees or programs.

News outlets reacted quickly. How might incoming president Donald Trump use the Holman Rule? Will he “drain the swamp?” Cripple “the deep state?” Policy wonks trembled, expecting that Trump and the Republicans would dismantle the machinery that makes government work.

Fortunately for civil servants across the government, President Trump entered the White House and immediately became distracted with other things. Republicans attempted to use the Holman Rule only twice, and without success. When Democrats regained control of the House in 2019, they rescinded the Holman Rule again.

Any dramaturg will tell you that the most direct way to have something accomplished on stage is never the most interesting. Republicans lost access to the Holman Rule midway through this administration, but not the desire it was designed to fulfill.

As this production wraps up its final season, the story-crafters found a new way to accomplish the old goal. In place of the Holman Rule, the White House issued an executive order, creating a new employee category within the civil service. Schedule F employees in policy roles across the government would be stripped of job protections.

The executive order was signed on Oct. 21, two weeks before the presidential election. Federal agencies were given 90 days to reclassify its positions and employees. That deadline is Jan. 19, 2021, one day before the presidential inauguration.

This looks like a scripted climax to me. Just watch.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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