America will be embarking upon a peculiar experiment over the next four years: turning the Presidency over to someone who has never before held an elective office. However one feels about Donald Trump’s personality and policy goals, his complete lack of governmental experience is leading many to predict choppy waters ahead for his administration because it is believed his unfamiliarity with Washington’s ways will lead to a great many problems.
Setting aside for a moment the ready availability of insiders to help him plow the bureaucratic path for the enactment of his programs, I wonder whether the fact that he is a businessperson rather than a career politician is more of an advantage than is apparent to many at first glance.
As crass as it might sound to some, those who work in the private sector quickly learn a signal truth: The most effective way to affect human behavior is to either put money in people’s pockets—or to take it away. I believe this will be the key to understanding the operating principles of the Trump administration. If we look at three areas where we can already expect significant changes—education, immigration, and jobs creation—it is already easy to see how Trump and his team are going to use the power of the dollar to shift the direction of our nation.
Trump’s comments during the campaign and his nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education are the clearest possible indications that his intention is to use a dramatic—and utterly unprecedented—expansion of school vouchers to allow parents to send their child to whatever school they wish. This move will be fought tooth and nail by teacher unions who understand that this is an existential threat to a system that provides millions of paychecks and vast political power—but has also left generation after generation of children trapped in failing schools.
Trump’s education goals will not be fulfilled through a grand policy design requiring an army of educational professionals to implement and oversee; he is simply going to hand the cash to parents and let the messy magic of the marketplace determine what changes are needed and wanted. This is a gamble to be sure, but given that decades of extraordinarily expensive top-down reform have produced virtually no benefit, it seems Trump has decided that the revolution needs to be entirely at street level, so tens of millions of parents will soon decide for themselves the best educational option for each individual child.
Businesspeople—particularly those who are entrepreneurs—are often allergic to glacial bureaucracy, and it would seem a lot of paper pushers are going to be left out in the cold by this “people power” approach to educational reform. Therefore, I am going to guess this policy will result in a lot of pink slips at the Department of Education.
Immigration policy will certainly be another area where the Trump team will utilize financial incentives and penalties—rather than rely on heavy-handed police powers—to alter behavior. Advocates for illegal immigrants are busily forecasting a dire future of thuggish midnight raids dragging people off to barbed wire detention centers when Trump takes office, but I simply do not believe this will be the case. He is smart enough to know this approach will be both unpopular and impracticable.
I suspect that Trump’s policies will instead focus on cutting off access to the most important wants and needs of those residing here illegally—jobs, cash assistance, healthcare, and education—by punishing employers, local and state governments, and schools with fines and funding freezes to compel compliance. If businesses will not hire you, your access to money and healthcare is cut off, and schools will not enroll you, the benefits of residing illegally in the United States largely vanish, which will dramatically change the financial equation for the millions now here—and those thinking of coming.
Law enforcement will, of course, still play a significant role in managing the procedures for the arrest and deportation of many, but their part will be secondary to the use of dollars and cents persuasion to change behavior, which is the hallmark of the business approach to problem-solving. However, the practicality of the businessperson will certainly prompt President Trump to agree to strategic compromises on immigration policy matters where needed. As with education reform, strict ideology will take a back seat to closing the deal and pushing for results.
As regards job creation, we can already see the broad outline in the deal Trump cut with Carrier in Indiana before he even had taken the oath of office. We can expect more use of the bully pulpit—and more out and out bullying—in order to force businesses to “in-source” jobs back to the United States from abroad. Given the particular importance of manufacturing jobs in creating personal and national wealth (as opposed to the “part-time waiter and bartender recovery” of the Obama years), I am certain Trump will do everything in his power to drag huge factory complexes back to our nation (which will drive environmentalists who want us all to live in yurts insane) by handing out all manner of Federal tax breaks—yes, tax breaks. This will send many into a frothing rage about evils of crony capitalism (I may be one of them myself) but Trump surely knows the reality of the situation is that a certain degree of tax code bribery is going to be necessary to lure back those facilities we foolishly let leave our shores during the thirty years of our great globalist adventure with trade treaties that enriched the few at the expense of the many.
There are, of course, a number of connections between education, immigration reform, and job creation that will cause some inevitable stress and strain for those desperately seeking ideological purity and consistency, but Trump probably will be blithely unconcerned with how all the pieces and parts fit together—as long as they achieve the desired outcome. In the final analysis, Donald Trump will be a frustrating enigma over the next four years to those obsessed with identifying a governing doctrine because he will be our first “CEO President”, and someday I expect this pithy motto will be the one carved in the marble above the door to his Presidential Library: “Just make certain that you get it done.” It may not be inspiring rhetoric, but this sort of businesslike practicality may be just what we need right now.