I’ve ignored my blog because I’ve been very busy teaching my three courses this semester, but I want to post before the month is over.
Two recent predictions I’ve made, both concerning the Trump Administration, have come to pass. When it became clear that the President-elect was appointing a cabinet of people who did not accept the missions of the departments they were chosen to administer, my post of December 9, Public Servants, Prepare for War, discussed how public servants could frustrate the designs of their politically-appointed masters. Shortly after Trump had taken office, The New York Times reported on a sense of dread within the bureaucracy. Many workers in the EPA lobbied their senators to vote against confirming Scott Pruitt. They have also begun archiving environmental data on external servers before it could be destroyed by the Trump Administration. The last, and most controversial, tactic I mentioned was leaking documents, and indeed there has been a flood.
As I understand it, the Administration has been slow to appoint deputy secretaries and under-secretaries to assist cabinet secretaries to dismantle and destroy their own departments. I hope that the Democrats in the Senate delay confirmation of these appointments to the maximum extent possible, thereby making Trump’s cabinet secretaries entirely dependent on their career public servants. This would give careerists more opportunities either to persuade cabinet secretaries to see the world differently or to prevent them from implementing their designs.
My second forecast was delivered in the context of a crisis management exercise in my undergraduate public management class. This year, I gave the class two imagined cases. The first was to prepare for a prime ministerial visit to Washington and the second to respond to a tweeted threat of extreme vetting at the Canadian border the day after Canada legalizes marijuana. I gave the students the exercise a few days before the actual Washington visit was announced. The exercise imagined that Prime Minister Trudeau would be faced with a climate change demonstration outside the White House and that he would be invited to meet with the Democratic Congressional leadership, an invitation to which senior White House staff would take vehement exception. The students grasped that Prime Minister Trudeau’s primary objective was to “make nice” to President Trump, which would require ignoring the demonstration and rejected the Democrats’ invitation. When I discussed Trudeau’s visit the following week, I noted that the class had certainly gotten Trudeau’s overall objective and tone correct, and that there was a visit to Congress, but it was to Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell.
The students doing the exercise about extreme vetting in response to the legalization of marijuana in Canada developed answers intended to point out the cost, in terms of delay to Americans as well as Canadians of extreme vetting, and to improve technology to detect attempts to smuggle marijuana across the border. So far, the Trudeau Government has gotten its relationship to the Trump Administration off to a good start, but the possibility of Trump rhetorically lashing out at some personal slight or policy deviation is never far away.
I am of two minds about the Trump Administration. I deplore its xenophia, racism, hyper-nationalism, authoritarianism, and rejection of evidence. On the other hand, especially when teaching, I regard it as a perverse experiment in a new type of governance, and watch fascination how its initiatives will play out.