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Trump's Gag Rule Silences Government During Disasters Like These

January 25, 2017

Less than a week into his presidency, Donald Trump has issued a government gag rule covering a growing number of federal departments and agencies. Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department, the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These bans on "public-facing documents" and "any correspondence to public officials," as well as prohibitions on "news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content" aren't just chilling. They are potentially deadly.
Consider developments like these, any one of which could spell disaster if the responsible public authorities are silenced.
Mad Cow Disease. Imagine a herd of cattle in Texas begins showing signs of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease. As cows across the state begin dying as a result of the catastrophic central nervous system disorder, the first human cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) start to show up. To prevent the devastation of the U.S. food supply and mounting fatalities from CJD, a government-wide plan of coordinated communication, mobilization and response by USDA, CDC and HHS is required. But thanks to the Trump administration, the American people will be literally dying to find out what's going on.
Avian Flu. Given the recent outbreaks of the Ebola and the Zika viruses, the likelihood of a similar federal mobilization to contain pandemics around the world and inside the U.S. is high. In 2009, for example, the H1N1 avian flu killed 18,000 people globally. Just yesterday, as the Voice of America reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a stark warning and guidelines to national health authorities about a new strain now emerging in China, H7N9:

The World Health Organization called on all countries on Monday to monitor closely outbreaks of deadly avian influenza in birds and poultry and to report promptly any human cases that could signal the start of a flu pandemic.

Of course, that's awfully tough to do if agency employees can't communicate to the public or even members of Congress without first obtaining the blessing of the Trump White House. How will Americans know about cases contracted at Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta airports or at the port of Los Angeles? Making matters worse, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak Donald Trump showed he was more than willing to quarantine Americans without a public health basis for doing so.

Refinery Explosion and Oil Spill. In his new job as Secretary of State, Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson would be charged with putting out diplomatic fires around the world. But who will be responsible for putting them out at Exxon-Mobil.
Americans could be left in the dark if, say, a cataclysmic explosion levelled the Exxon-Mobil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As state and local authorities struggled to put out the fireball, hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil poured into the Mississippi River. Drinking water supplies jeopardized as far south as New Orleans would be jeopardized even as farmlands and bayous were compromised throughout the southern part of the state.
In all of these hypotheticals, the same kinds of questions arise. How would Americans be informed? How would the responsible federal agencies coordinate their response to prevent unnecessary panic and needless deaths? Having muzzled his government, President Trump is asking Americans to believe his most laughable campaign promise.
"I will always tell you the truth."


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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