A new controversy–well, not really new, just renewed–has now taken the stage regarding President-Elect Donald Trump’s transition. This one concerns the “flavor” of his cabinet choices, taken collectively. The media and Democrats are trying to figure out (1) what they tell us about Trump and (2) what the supporter–stakeholders think about the choices. Those are interesting questions. I am not sure they can be answered adequately at this point, but let’s at least explore them.
First, do the choices made skew the cabinet to the Right or to the Center, or, for some, to the far Right? Part of the answer depends on one’s perspective, one’s particular ideology. If you are on the Classical Liberal and Social Conservative side, you may view Trump’s choices as a mixed bag. The latter socially conservative view is yet open, since a new Supreme Court justice has yet to be appointed. Nevertheless, some Social Conservatives might take heart in the new Department of Education pick, who seems very pro-school choice, but may also be a bit suspicious about her stand on Common Core, since she has apparently held a pro-Common Core view in the past but now disavows it. We will see. Classical Liberals are already disturbed at Trump’s personal ideas about protectionism (as I am too), but it is not yet clear how that will translate to his picks for Commerce, etc. But the EPA head appears to fit the bill for Classical Liberals who want less government interference and freer markets. The HHS choice appears to be on board with repealing and replacing Obamacare. That would make classical liberals and social conservatives both happy. I don’t know what Treasury will bring.
But let’s be clear, or, rather, realistic. All Federal bureaucracies today are quite large, and their employees (by the latest data measuring campaign contributions) skew Left. They will tend to resist change, and this would be true even if they tended to be Conservatives. It will take much patience, a thick skin and a good legal team, to fight against the inertia. And in some cases, it will take help from Congress–the wild card in this. It is imperative to do what needs to be done to reduce the absolute size of government in terms not only of employees but of regulations and in terms of legal oppression (lack of due process in courts of law, etc. for citizens, as well as companies. See Philip Hamburger, Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Harvard University Press, 2014).
If you are on the political Left, you will tend to see most of the choices as too conservative. But if you are closer to the Center, you might be willing to accept a few, depending on what they actually do or don’t do.
Everyone seems to be worried about two kinds of choices so far: (1) too many generals and (2) too many business people, some of whom are the heads of large corporations. Those objections deserve attention. While I tend to think some positions like Secretary of Defense ideally should be civilian-led (“war is too important to be left to the generals”), I am willing to wait and see. It isn’t the end of the world (I don’t think). In addition, it is a little unsettling to have CEOs of big firms as heads of major bureaucracies, since the opportunities for cronyism are potentially available AND since government (despite the rhetoric) is not the same as business. However, on the other hand, they do represent outsiders from DC (affectionately known as “the swamp” for more reasons than one), and that seems to be what the electorate in the red states wanted. So again, we will see.
So in concluding, I will make reference to a couple of old and, for some, dated, sayings:
“When you are given lemons, make lemonade,” meaning this is our president, with whom we have to make the best situation we can, and we may see some good come out of it all.
Second, as opposed to some, who would say “The sky is falling,” I disagree.
Though I don’t agree with everything that has transpired, I am convinced that we will see some positive results, and we may even be surprised beyond modest expectations. Only the Lord knows, for which I am thankful.
Update: News that Trump has included Elon Musk on his Economic Advisory Board. Unfortunately Musk has fed at the government trough of green energy subsidies for some time. Not a good choice. That reduces the optimism I had a moment ago, but it might not make a difference. As always, we shall see.