A colleague of mine, Adam Freeman, recently asked me and other anti-Trumpites on Facebook:
What if we are wrong [about Donald Trump]?
What if he is a patriot and a disruptor? What if what we need is someone to break the status quo and rebuild a more just system of government, or a stronger economy? What would it look like if that were the case? How is that different than what we’re seeing?
I don’t know if I want a president to disrupt the system. Presidents who do it usually do it by taking more power for themselves.
A disruption that helped to “drain the swamp” was the 1883 Pendleton Act. The law tore down the “spoils system” — as in “to the victor belong the spoils”; the system gave jobs to people who were loyal to people who won elections — and installed the Civil Service, which would (in theory) reward people for merit and seniority.
The Pendleton Act didn’t come from a president but from a senator, George Pendleton of Ohio.
(You could argue that we have a spoils system today. The federal government has grown so huge that after every presidential election, the government issues the “Plum Book,” a list of more than 9,000 federal jobs that the president can fill even if his appointees haven’t risen through the Civil Service. But that’s a discussion for another time.)
Other disruptions came after the shocking revelations of Watergate: the Campaign Finance Law of 1974 and the Ethics in Government Law of 1978, which changed elections and government practices.
Yet another disruption came as a result of the disastrous Vietnam War: the War Powers Act, which limited the president’s power to make war.
None of these 1970s laws came from the White House. Members of Congress proposed and passed them, sometimes over presidential vetoes.
Another category of disruption has been letting a vastly increased number of people have voting power, generally by amending the Constitution. The 15th Amendment let African-Americans vote. The 17th Amendment allowed ordinary voters, not state legislatures, to elect senators. The 19th Amendment gave women the vote.
Again, though, these weren’t presidential initiatives.
I’ve heard conservatives say that Ronald Reagan’s reforms were disruptions that took power from the federal government. But as the Reagan administration was ending, the free-market Mises Institute’s Sheldon Richman tallied the results in government spending, taxes, regulation, bureaucracy, and trade. He concluded, “[Reagan] was to be the man who would turn things around. But he didn’t even try. . . . There has been no sea-change in thinking about the role of government.”
So if you expect Donald Trump or any other president to drain the swamp, forget it. He just drains the people from the previous administration and inserts his own loyalists, like every other president.
And if you expect him to be a disruptor — nope, that won’t happen, either. When a president disrupts Washington’s power centers, he usually does it to pull more power toward himself.
Is that what America wants?