Trump’s political appointments are more consequential than most think

Republicans have been rightfully jubilant since last week’s victory, but the next few months will likely determine whether President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will govern from the right, from the center, or from somewhere out in left field.

That’s because long after the arena speeches are delivered and the proposals are written, it’ll fall to the 2.6-plus million members of the executive branch to actually implement Trump’s vision – from the macro, like understanding how his election should alter their organization’s overall approach to governing; to the micro, like whether they should proceed with controversial initiatives that began under his predecessor.

Nearly all of those federal employees are highly professional patriots who are well versed in handling the changes that come with presidential transitions, but it’s naive to believe that one man in the West Wing – even one who isn’t shy about using his pen and his phone – can effectively guide the government in a new direction all by himself.

Thankfully, the president-elect won’t be.

Helping him will be 4,000 political appointees ranging from the headline-grabbing cabinet secretaries to the little known worker bees toiling within their departments and agencies, ensuring changes are made and new policies are pursued. The most senior appointees will be chosen in the next couple of weeks, with the bulk being named within the first six months of his administration, hopefully.

That may sound like a small army of loyalists ready to help the president steer the ship of state, but it’s actually only about one-tenth of one-percent of the federal workforce.

Sure, many of those appointees will be the decision-makers within their organizations, but the government’s own inertia will keep it sailing in a leftward direction – and growing in both size and power along the way – unless Trump appoints strong, decisive, and effective leaders who are committed to his vision.

They’ll need that commitment, because the bureaucracy they’ll manage has grown well beyond its constitutional boundaries, with Congress having ceded much of its lawmaking power to it years ago. Consider this: so far this year the Competitive Enterprise Institute found that the various federal regulatory agencies issued 3,410 new rules, many of which come with heavy fines and jail time if violated, while Congress only enacted 114 laws.

That’s a difference of 30 to 1, in favor of unelected individuals writing what amounts to the law of the land, and it’s repeated annually, one stratum upon the next until the citizen is virtually surrounded by a mountain range of laws, rules, and regulations.

Alexis de Tocqueville warned us of this in the 19th century when he wrote that the tendency of unrestrained government will “cover the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules … through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes…”

Regardless of your personal policy preferences, either left or right, the growth of this executive branch “administrative state” should alarm anyone who believes such law-making authority shouldn’t reside in the hands of those who are unknown, unseen, and – since we cannot vote them out after making a bad law – practically unaccountable.

Left alone, this will only get worse. The natural tendency of any organization is to maximize its influence, and with government, that means increasing its authority, personnel, and budgets.

This happens in both Republican and Democrat administrations, as well. When I was a political appointee for President George W. Bush, I saw fellow conservatives appointed to very senior positions, only to ask for more authority, more people, and more money once there. So much for governing principles.

Trump’s first challenge is to appoint people who are prepared to not only successfully lead their organizations to reach his vision, but resist that natural, and destructive, urge to simply get bigger and try to do more.

Without those indispensible men and women in place, and soon, Trump’s administration will fail to lead our government, and thus fail to lead our nation.

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