Trump and the bureaucracy

Tevi Troy, a veteran of the Washington bureaucratic behemoth, devotes a Commentary article to detailing one type of challenge the incoming Trump administration will face.

Career officials are savvy bureaucratic maneuverers. They understand that Republicans come into power looking to reduce the size of government, while Democrats seek to expand its regulatory reach. They have plans and option papers and briefing books on the shelf prepared for Republican administrations and for Democratic ones alike. They are happy to tell political appointees which ideas have been tried before, and why they failed, and perhaps even how they could be made to succeed. Certainly, some will leak, but so will some politicals. And some will cooperate more than others. But for the most part, experienced politicals know who careers are, what they do, and how to work with them. Some meetings of a political nature should of course be held without career officials in the room, but it’s a mistake to shut them out of all meetings. As imperfect and generally pro-Leviathan as the arrangement is, both careers and politicals typically know the score, and there is a generally understood détente among them.

The question for 2017 is whether this détente will hold.

Donald Trump is a different kind of president from the type we have seen previously. He is blunter and brasher and generally more hostile to the way things are done in Washington. In addition, the opposition to Trump is more adamant, and even perhaps more unhinged, than at any point in the modern age. This hostility to Trump may reshape the relations between career and political officials in a way that could affect the ability of Trump to carry out his ambitious agenda.

There is some evidence for this notion that things may be different this time. A poll in February 2016 showed that one-quarter of career officials would consider quitting their jobs if Trump secured the presidency. Still, 67 percent said they would remain in place, which is not surprising given the lifetime tenure of these jobs. These positions are not given up easily. Furthermore, the promises of those who would consider quitting in the face of a political event they opposed should be taken with a grain of salt. The long line of cars driving north along the I-5 from Hollywood to Canada has not yet materialized, for example.

There were indications of bureaucratic resistance to the legitimately elected president during the transition period. In one Politico piece, career officials at HHS were disturbingly candid about their disdain for President-elect Trump, while at the same time protecting themselves in the veil of anonymity. One told reporter Dan Diamond that “it’s tough from the career staff side,” before asking, “Do you stay and try and be the internal saboteur?” Another called the Trump win “obviously shocking and upsetting,” a third “soul crushing.” One of the staffers quoted paid lip service to the fact that they “respect the need to have a peaceful transition of power,” but added that “it’s just frustrating to calmly hand over the keys when you know they’ll wreck the car.” Politico’s Blake Hounsell quoted one anonymous, presumably career, official lamenting the appointment of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson at the State Department: “I’ve been resisting the urge to drink since 7 a.m., when I read the news.”

$7 billion down the drain

I’ll let Politico explain:

The [Obama] administration pumped $3 billion of economic stimulus money into the School Improvement Grants program. Six years later, the program has failed to produce the dramatic results the administration had hoped to achieve. About two thirds of SIG schools nationwide made modest or no gains — not much different from similarly bad schools that got no money at all. About a third of the schools actually got worse.

The SIG program was created in the final year of the George W. Bush presidency.  All told, the U.S. Department of Education poured around $7 billion into the program.

Since 2010, North Carolina public schools received tens of millions of SIG program dollars.  The state received nearly $40 million in SIG grants in 2016 alone.

Fossil Fuel Free Watauga?

This week, Watauga County commissioners adopted a resolution calling for “100% green energy” by 2050, meaning no fossil fuel use at all in 33 years.  And not just for Watauga County, but for the entire United States.

The problems with this are myriad, of course.  First, the commissioners can adopt whatever resolution they like, but they don’t have any power to bring it about.  This doesn’t do anything at all to actually move the country in that direction.

Second, the science behind the notion that we even should eliminate the use of fossil fuels is somewhat dubious.  Is that really what’s even driving climate change?

Third, we’re talking about Watauga County.  I loved the first comment from a reader on the story in High Country Press.

Lets start by baning all wood burning stoves and fire places in the county. Will never happen, they will all lose their seats.

He’s right, of course.  “Fossil fuels” brings to mind diesel trucks and coal mines, but it also includes the firewood I burn in my home.  Do Watauga County commissioners really want to eliminate fireplaces?

When I read the story, I was reminded of a quote from Zaki Yamani, Saudi Oil Minister for more than 30 years (and educated at New York University, Harvard Law, and University of Exeter), who famously said, “The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”

He’s right.  Better technologies develop that move us away from existing ones.  That goes for oil, coal, and other fossil fuels, too.  But that kind of change works best and is most enduring when it is organic, developing from people’s changing desires and human innovation, not government dictate.

Which is really what we mean at the Locke Foundation when we talk about things being market-driven, i.e. driven by consumer demand and entrepreneurship rather than government regulation.  That will have far more lasting impact than a resolution by Watauga County Commissioners or any other government.

“Democide” and “Corporacide” Compared

Robert Higgs proposes such a comparison in a typically provocative piece at the Independent:

R. J. Rummel’s compilations show that approximately 262 million persons were deliberately killed by “their own” governments during the twentieth century alone—many times the number of death’s in that century’s international wars. Rummel calls this death toll “democide.”

It would be an interesting exercise for someone to compile the data for “corporacide,” the number of people deliberately killed by corporations in the same period, the time during which such business organizations were, so to speak, riding highest.

Aside from the fact that corporacide would be found, I am confident, to be close to zero—after all, as a rule, killing people is bad for business—one might call attention to the fact that corporations and other, similar business firms have been responsible for generating the bulk of the wealth that has lifted most of the world’s people out of poverty during the past century or so and for making a substantial portion of the world’s population affluent.

The combination “hate corporations/love governments” has to be one of the most bizarre ideological monstrosities of the past 150 years. It seems that people in general are utterly incapable of recognizing real threats and distinguishing them from threats that are inconsequential by comparison or actually not threats at all. Ideology’s power to blind people and twist their understanding is truly astonishing.

Praise for a Freshman Congressman

Legal scholar John McGinnis ends a generally negative discussion of recent confirmation hearings  on a postive note:

In the House Armed Service Committee’s hearing on the waiver for General Mattis to be Secretary of Defense, for instance, one Democratic member after another said that the Trump’s administration decision to block him from appearing at the hearing forced them to vote no. One Republican after another said that only a bipartisan vote in favor of the waiver would send the right message to the troops. But in the middle of this rhetorical desert, Congressman Steve Russell of Nebraska challenged the premises of the law from which the waiver was sought in a sprightly and informative speech. There he argued that the Constitution did not require any cooling off period before a general could serve in government, and then provided a lively tour of American history of the many ex-generals who soon served either as President and as Secretary of War, beginning of course with George Washington and his own secretary of War, Henry Knox. Congressman Russell is a freshman. May he never imitate his elders!

A new chance for triangulation

Byron York of the Washington Examiner outlines a potential political opportunity for President-elect Donald Trump.

In the mid-1990s there was a lot of talk in Washington about “triangulation.” The brainchild of Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris, triangulation referred to Clinton’s strategy, after losing the House and Senate in 1994, of steering a course between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress.

Clinton didn’t have a lot of choice. Elected with only 43 percent of the vote (but a big electoral majority of 370 votes) in a 1992 election that included populist challenger Ross Perot, Clinton threw away much of his support early on by pursuing a massive health care reform plan voters didn’t want. In the 1994 midterms, Democrats lost both House and Senate (the House for the first time in more than 40 years) in the Gingrich revolution. Clinton got the message and moved toward the center.

Now Trump is taking office after winning 46 percent and a solid electoral majority of 304 votes. (Trump of course originally won 306 but lost two to faithless electors.) Republicans control the House and Senate. The question is whether Trump will pursue policies voters want him to pursue.

How to do that? By keeping his campaign promises. A new poll by the Wall Street Journal shows the public is eager for Trump to enact many of the things he promised from the stump. …

… The top, number-one, most important right-now issue cited by those surveyed: “Keeping U.S. jobs from going overseas.” Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed said it was an absolute priority right now, with only 16 percent saying it can be delayed until next year, and five percent saying it should not be pursued.

Number two on the most important list: “Reducing the influence of lobbyists and big money in politics,” with 66 percent saying it’s a right-now issue, 26 percent saying it can be delayed a year, and seven percent saying it should not be pursued. …

… Does anything look familiar about that list? It’s basically an outline of a Trump campaign speech. It’s a road map for a president who didn’t win the popular vote to become a broadly popular leader.

It’s also not what the leaders of either party in Congress, especially the Republicans who control Capitol Hill, want to do right now, or at least not in the order they want to do it. If Trump follows the Hill GOP, he’ll spend his critical early months in office cutting taxes and repealing Obamacare — things he needs to do, but probably not in those early days when the world will be watching his every move.

A case of federal spending that could drive you to drink

Elizabeth Harrington of the Washington Free Beacon highlights a questionable alcohol-related expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

The National Institutes of Health is spending more than a half-million dollars to determine why some couples drink a lot of alcohol and others do not.

The federal agency is looking into “problematic alcohol use in relationships” to try to “improve the health and well being of romantic couples.”

The State University of New York at Buffalo is conducting the study, which has received $592,693 in taxpayer funding.

“Understanding the relationship-specific motivations for alcohol use, as well as the risk and protective factors associated with relationship drinking processes as they occur in real-time in couples’ natural environments, is crucial to addressing problematic alcohol use in relationships,” according to the grant for the project. “This understanding can ultimately inform prevention and intervention efforts to improve the health and well being of romantic couples.”

The study aims to inform future research so that theories can be developed about why couples drink.

The research will try to better understand “relationship drinking processes as they occur in real-time in couples’ natural environments.”

Ultimately, the researchers want to understand why couples differ in how they drink.

“This is a public health concern because some couples continue to drink excessively despite experiencing alcohol-related and relationship problems, whereas others do not,” the grant said.

National Review didn’t like Trump’s candidacy but accepts his legitimacy

Editors at National Review Online explain why Democrats who suggest that Donald Trump‘s presidential election is “illegitimate” are wrong.

The notion that Trump is not “legitimate” has picked up steam as the extent of Russia’s attempt to sway the recent presidential election has become clearer, although exactly how Trump is not legitimate is never explained. Donald Trump was nominated in accord with the rules of the Republican party. He was then elected by more than 270 members of the Electoral College, in accord with rules that have been in place since the 18th century. There is no evidence that electoral fraud or disenfranchisement account for his narrow victories in key states, and no one forced Hillary Clinton to forgo late-October visits to key swing states.

Nonetheless, a recent poll found that a majority of Democrats believe that Russia not only waged a campaign of misinformation but actually manipulated ballot totals — an allegation for which there is not a shred of proof. This is what happens when Democratic leaders and media partisans recklessly declare that Russia “hacked the election,” preferring to peddle that tale rather than admit that Donald Trump had a more appealing message to American voters.

Donald Trump is no less “legitimate” a president than was Barack Obama in January 2009. That does not mean that he comes into office popular, and no one expects Democrats to withhold criticism. However, there is an obvious distinction between suggesting that Donald Trump is ill-suited to the presidency and that he is illegally in office.

Friday’s inaugural ceremony is an opportunity for Democrats to acknowledge that difference. Set aside the spectacle that now accompanies it; at the core of the inauguration is a quadrennial reminder that the president is not a monarch, but a public servant subordinate to the Constitution. The duty to “preserve, protect, and defend” America’s founding charter applies equally to Republicans and Democrats, or to presidents who won the popular vote and presidents who didn’t.