Entrenched members of the Washington Establishment — politicians, lobbyists and career bureaucrats — are going to need “safe spaces,” Legos and counseling after billionaire businessman Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States on Friday, Jan. 20. During his wildly successful election campaign Trump promised to drain the political swamp in Washington. Go for it, Donald, but it won’t be easy.
Although I spent many years overseas during my U.S. Foreign Service career, I also served in our nation’s capital and saw the federal bureaucracy up close and personal. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I remember when Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter at the White House in 1981 and Reagan’s political appointees took their positions at the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency (USIA). Career bureaucrats, who tend to be liberal Democrats (that’s who they support in election years), made fun of Reagan appointees and vowed to continue with business as usual.
So President-elect Trump is going to find it difficult to turn Washington, D.C. upside down and inside out because it’s a company town where substantive changes are few and far between. No matter what’s going on in the rest of the U.S., from economic downturns to innovative management practices, things stay pretty much the same in Washington. No one ever gets fired because federal employee unions control the career bureaucracy and the two major political parties continue to follow an “I don’t win unless you lose” governing philosophy, resulting in permanent gridlock.
Trump, a successful businessman who’s accustomed to doing whatever he pleases, will find it difficult to get things done in Washington, where he’ll have to deal with Democrats who hate him, fellow Republicans who are opposed to his policy agenda, and career bureaucrats who protect their generous pensions instead of serving the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Full disclosure: Yes, I’m the beneficiary of a federal pension, but I never held a public service position like bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Veterans Administration (VA).
In a fascinating article titled “It’s Frustrating at the Top,” Jay Cost of the neoconservative Weekly Standard wrote “Donald Trump’s White House-in-waiting is already being roiled by divisions with conservative outsiders ... colliding with the Republican Party establishment ... Trump faces several challenges in using his appointment power to reshape the government.” Does he ever!
The first obstacle to a complete overhaul of the federal government is Congress, which is controlled by that same Republican Party establishment under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. By contrast, celebrity populist Trump has no known political philosophy and often contradicts himself from one day to the next.
As Cost noted, “The same civil servants who worked under George W. Bush and Barack Obama will continue to work under Donald Trump, without worry that the president can dismiss them.” Trump could fire non-performers in his companies, but not in Washington, D.C. “(Trump) is about to come face to face with Washington, that ‘swamp’ he wants to drain,” wrote Donovan Slack of USA Today. “The odds are not in his favor.”
I’d like to see Defense Secretary-designate Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis convert the Defense Department, outgoing President Obama’s favorite social engineering laboratory, into the fierce war-fighting machine it’s supposed to be. And I want Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson to drain the immense, sprawling State Department swamp, which has too many employees working on gender equality issues and not enough of them focused on defeating the malignant Islamic cancer that’s ISIS.
But will that happen? Don’t bet on it. Happy New Year!
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a retired diplomat.