April 22, 2017
In my last post I apologized for failing to acknowledge what our new President got right. I talked about lost jobs, how he understood the anger over the disappearance of so many good jobs.
Another thing he got right was understanding the anger about government. He recognized that many Americans have lost confidence in government. Congress has become increasingly polarized and gridlocked. Important legislation dealing with immigration, health care, taxes, judicial appointments, infrastructure, and other matters seems to go nowhere. Soon we once again face a potential federal shutdown over budget disagreements.
People feel there are more failures of government agencies. The Veterans Administration is an example. Another is the inability to prevent occasional terrorist attacks. FEMA failed spectacularly with Hurricane Katrina. The war on drugs seems to have only gotten worse. We are falling behind in education.
The financial collapse of 2008 revealed our government’s inability to regulate our financial system. American families are still dealing with the aftermath of that crisis, in which many of lower incomes lost their homes. No relief was offered homeowners, but the big banks were bailed out. While everyone was hurt by the crash, the wealthy recovered nicely, but the middle class and the poor did not.
People are frustrated that we have engaged in a number of very expensive foreign wars and conflicts across the last few decades, and that none of them have helped America. It appears they haven’t even helped the people in those countries. Our foreign conflicts have heightened resentment of the US, terrorism, and immigration pressures. We can’t seem to grasp that the world is now multi-polar. We’re not the only leader.
A lot of the anger is toward the federal government, but people are also disappointed with state and local government. In my city of San Francisco, Board of Supervisors meetings are often a shouting match. The past governor of Illinois has gone to prison, as have three more of the last seven there.
Research shows politicians tend to listen more to the wealthiest in their districts, and that they often vote their elitist biases, instead of voting for what’s best for their constituents. This leaves the middle class and the poor without political influence.
Here’s are the findings of the unbiased Pew Research Center in 2015:
- Trust of government is very low. Of Republicans and Republican leaning Americans, only 11% trust government.
- 79% of Americans can be seen as frustrated or angry with government.
- 61% say the government is doing a bad job in helping people out of poverty.
- Only 29% say “honest” describes politicians well or fairly well.
- 74% say politicians don’t care what the people think.
There’s a feeling that anyone who has served in government for a few years has become part of the “establishment.” The establishment is seen as looking out only for the establishment, not the people.
So, Donald Trump understood this and he tapped into it. He promised to fix it—to “drain the swamp.”
There are two problems with his promise. The first is that he hasn’t drained the swamp. In fact, many people claim his Cabinet and selected appointees are more “establishment” than those of Presidents before him. Let’s hope that changes. He was good at firing on The Apprentice. Let’s see how he does as President.
But the second problem is far more important. It’s the idea that we don’t need government. Many people seem to think government is a threat to individual liberty. In reality, government is the protector of individual liberty. We can’t live without government. We don’t even need less of it, we just need better. By comparison to other large developed countries, we have less government than the average of the Euro area, even when we add in state and local spending. Take a look at this interactive OECD chart. Large advanced economies simply require strong institutions and a lot of them, to assure that everything works well. Government is critical to safely and sustainably growing our complex large economy and protecting our people.
The military is part of government, and our President wants to increase military spending, but cut services critical to workers. We don’t need more spent on military. We currently spend more on military than the next seven countries combined. We just need more sensible spending there. He’s cutting housing development for lower income citizens, cutting the health care budget, as well as education and environmental protection. Improving is not simply a matter of cutting, Mr. President. To the contrary. We need our new President to restore and improve critical government services.
Let’s help our President to turn his attention away from simply reducing government, without concern for improving quality. That’s not a strategy. That’s not management. Let’s ask him to focus on making government better. That’s how he can make America great(er) again. If he chooses that objective, I’m happy to pay more taxes.
He says he is a great manager, the best, he says. But he hasn’t revealed any plans to better manage government. I’m waiting, but it’s about time. We are at the 100 day mark.