E. Scott Cracraft - Privatization of presidential security cause for concern

  • Published in Columns

Since, the 1980s, the United States has seen unprecedented "privatization" of services traditionally run by the national, state and local governments. Ultra-conservative economic ideologies have been accepted as the norm and increasingly, any opposition to them is seen as "un=American." A distinguished professor at a well-respected college, who was lucky enough to escape the terror of the U.S.-backed coup in Chile in 1973, once told this writer that Chile was our first experiment in neo-liberal economics. People speak of a "Chilean Miracle" under this system but many forget that while it made some Chileans very rich, it did little of the working classes. And, of course it was "successful" in the sense that it was implemented when everyone was too afraid to speak out against it.

In the last three decades, we have privatized more and more public services and the list grows longer. The private sector has been allowed to make profits on providing these services at taxpayer expense. The areas affected include health care, social services, mental health service, and education.

If President-Elect Trump and his proposed administration, advisors and supporters have their way, we will undoubtedly see even more privatization of public services from Social Security to Medicare to veterans' benefits. In spite of what conservative propaganda tries to tell us, privatization is not of benefit to the normal working or middle-class American taxpayer. The taxpayer will still pay taxes, only those taxes will go toward making a profit for private corporations. Although people often rightly complain about "bureaucracy" when the government runs something, public agencies are not innately more bureaucratic or less competent than private ones. In fact, private companies than be even more bureaucratic. And, there is the additional incentive of profit for private agencies to deny or cut back on services.

One of Mr. Trump's more disturbing proposals is to privatize his own security and to pay for it himself. On the surface, this may seem appealing, considering the much higher cost of security since Trump's family wants to continue to live at Trump Towers. But, there are serious problems with the idea.

First, there are the practical considerations. Who is going to be in charge? Congress has tasked the Secret Service with the duty of not only protecting the president and vice-president but also political candidates, foreign dignitaries, former presidents and former presidential family members. Who is going to be ultimately responsible for decisions regarding the president's security details: the U.S. Secret Service or the private security force?

Obviously, whether one agrees with a president or not, almost all Americans would agree that the protection of our chief executive and a world leader is of the highest priority. Will a private security force be better than what we have had in place for decades and one that has been mandated by Congress? The Secret Service, which, as an agency of the Department of the Treasury, is also responsible for fighting counterfeiting of our currency, has been trained for decades in protecting the president and his family.

Overall, they have done a very good job. Since the Secret Service became responsible for the president's safety, we have had only one presidential assassination, one assassination of a presidential candidate, and relative few "close calls" such as those involving Presidents Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. Will conflict between the Secret Service and a private security detail loyal only to Mr. Trump stand in the way of the best possible presidential security? Since he seems to dislike advice and even intelligence briefings, will Mr. Trump ignore the procedures which have helped protect presidents for decades?

Another concern is that such a security force would be subject only to Mr. Trump who already, by his words, has indicated that he does not respect the law, the Constitution, or even common decency. This opens the door to possible abuse. There are "bodyguards" and there are "bodyguards." With all due respect to the honest, dedicated people who do these jobs, there are not a few thugs in the profession. After all, in Germany, didn't the S.S. start out as Adolf Hitler's relatively small security detail?

(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, a taxpayer, a veteran, and a resident of Gilford).