Across the country, Americans are observing President-elect Trump’s transition to the White House with a range of emotions. While we may have different feelings about his victory, we can probably agree on this: The Trump presidency will be unpredictable. And our soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief won’t be affected by protests (from establishment types) that he shouldn’t do or say something only because, “We’ve never done it that way.”
Trump’s unorthodox approach to politics was evident throughout his campaign. His fundraising apparatus was virtually nonexistent. His speeches at rallies and performances during debates were mostly unscripted, often producing cringe-worthy moments that would have felled conventional candidates in a more conventional election year. And his use of social media to communicate over, rather than through, the news media was unprecedented. One by one, however, as he bested opponents who adhered to more conventional campaign plans, Trump’s strategy was validated.
Now, as he appoints his cabinet and puts more detail around a policy agenda, it is clear Trump’s unconventional campaign style will persist into his presidency. An early example occurred in an early-December phone call between Trump and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan. In what was billed as a simple congratulatory call, Trump became the first U.S. president or president-elect to speak with a Taiwanese leader since before we broke diplomatic relations in 1979. Foreign policy establishment types and media commentators were apoplectic that Trump’s action jeopardized our One China policy – in which the U.S. recognizes Taiwan as part of one China – which dates back to the Nixon administration.
Contrary to most pundits, I don’t believe this phone call was a gaffe. Trump knew exactly what he was doing and how the communist Chinese government would react to his communication with the Taiwanese president. According to The Washington Post, this conversation – the product of months of strategizing among Trump’s advisers – was an “intentionally provocative move” designed to create a break from the past. In response to the anticipated criticism, Trump launched a Twitter counterattack browbeating China for devaluing its currency, placing tariffs on American products and building up its military presence in the South China Sea.
There is a word that describes Trump’s particular brand of politics: Disruptive. But this should not be an immediate cause for alarm. After all, our country was founded on a remarkably disruptive declaration and armed rebellion, and the ongoing narrative of our “great experiment” has been propelled by one political, social, economic or technological disruption after another. It seems to me that, perhaps more than at any other point in recent history, our country – especially the entrenched and virtually autocratic bureaucracies that constitute the executive branch of government – can benefit greatly from a disruptive shake up.
For a number of years, conservative thinkers have increasingly called out the dangers of the growth of the “administrative state” and its intrusions into ever-more aspects of the private sector economy and even entire communities of citizens.
In my own experience in Washington during the Reagan Administration, I saw firsthand how career bureaucrats would boldly disregard the policies articulated by the President and Congress. The agencies that regulate our economy are especially dedicated to resistance. The bureaucrats’ tactics are varied, ranging from simply ignoring directives to leaking confidential information to activist groups and reporters in an attempt to generate lawsuits and other controversy that might cause the President to abort his policy directives.
Reagan famously warned of the dangers of a massive government establishment impervious to the dictates of the elected President and Congress. In his first inaugural address, the President declared: “From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Elsewhere in that address, Reagan said, “Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.”
For those of us who advocate for private businesses, those words certainly ring true today. The vibrancy of America’s free market economy is being dangerously eroded by the left’s successful utilization of a dominating administrative state (the regulatory bureaucracies) to advance their policy agendas.
Look no further than the plethora of state and federal agencies that wield control over our family farming businesses. Ideologically-driven bureaucrats have embedded themselves into agencies like the Department of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, and with the shield of civil service laws that protect them from being demoted or terminated for any but the most egregious actions, they impose their own agenda on those they regulate, irrespective of the policies articulated by the elected President (especially Republican presidents).
This is where Trump’s disruptive politics are necessary. Unlike previous Presidents who mostly gave up after battling recalcitrant bureaucrats, Trump seems to be the sort of person whose determination will only increase every time the bureaucrats and their special interest allies on the left and in the media try to define his policy directives as harmful to the environment, workers, etc.
To the surprise of many in the establishment, Donald Trump won the election. As he puts his own policy agenda in motion, these same people are likely to predict that the permanent bureaucracy will succeed in thwarting him. Don’t bet on it.
About Nassif's Notes
My intention for Nassif’s Notes is to provide a regular forum for Western Growers members, policymakers, reporters and the general public to engage in meaningful dialogue around key issues impacting fruit, vegetable and tree nut farmers in Arizona, California and Colorado. I will use this blog to provide commentary on timely topics, events and people, hopefully furthering the public discourse. From time to time, I will also ask Western Growers staff to weigh in on relevant subjects. Through it all, I invite your thoughtful and respectful participation.