TRUMP’S SECRET: HOW A CAN-DO BUSINESSMAN ROILS THE ‘PROPER ORDER’ IN A TOWN IMMOBILIZED BY ATTORNEYS
Someone like Donald Trump is almost incomprehensible to the polished Washingtonian marble buildings and cliquish button down power structure that governs the Beltway. Of course, his indefatigable Tweeting, inarticulate speechifying, obnoxious high school bravado and cheerleading are jarring for all but his most ardent supporters. But the real problem is he challenges the orthodoxy of a town that has become so ossified by the legal profession that process has become far more important than any outcome — the exact opposite of Americans’ self-image of can-do rugged individualism.
In Washington, lawyers oppressively rule and any measurable outcomes are merely an inconsequential byproduct of a vast bureaucratic infrastructure, which has been built to perpetually churn out mountains of the most arcane analysis; justify, write, and then re-write mind numbing rules and regulations; as well as establish, codify and argue legal positions, all with no urgency or concern of cost, not to mention whether or not these exercises have any demonstrable effectiveness. Clearly the legal profession, by design, is risk averse and set up to protecting us; therefor Washington immediately dismisses any departure from well-established legalistic processes and procedures, as Trump is prone to do.
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Most citizens wrongly assume the president’s political appointees run the federal government agencies. However, anybody who has worked in these organizations or with these organizations knows the real power always resides with their general counsel’s offices. Meaningful change must come through the numerous law firms/lobbyists whose well-paid ranks — mostly attorneys — effortlessly move in and out of the government’s constantly revolving door. This system admirably perpetuates a status quo that handsomely benefits the legal power structure as is demonstrated by the fact that some of the most affluent zip codes in the country now are in the leafy suburbs of our nation’s capital.
Enter Donald Trump, a man who annoyingly and incessantly reminds us that he gets things done — the Grand Hyatt at the heart of a decaying late 20th century New York City, the infamous ice rink in Central Park, Trump Tower, etc. He likes to boast, “America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?” As a builder he well understands that frequently difficult and timely decisions have to be made based on limited information and calculated risks since there may not be enough time to explore all possible eventualities before the cement dries. Contrast this to Washington, D.C. where time and cost have no meaning, except of course billable hours, and where bureaucrats would rather pursue every conceivable argument and indulge in every possible outcome while the cement sets. And if it sets before they’ve finished their “important work” it doesn’t really matter because it can be torn out and replaced at the government’s expense and nobody cares.
Business is usually about completing tasks in a timely manner and building things. The law is all about bridling these instincts and limiting the possibilities. Obviously, from the days of our Founding Fathers attorneys who rightfully created checks and balances to control the government and society have dominated the Washington landscape. But since the mid-20thcentury when government has morphed into directly impacting every aspect of our lives, the legal framework that served a limited government well has bogged us down as a nation in a morass of inaction and decline. When Trump talks about draining the swamp he is fighting the tyranny of a legal profession that has filled it with slimy opaque putrefied mud that has gummed up the system for decades.
This is no more apparent than how the United States has built and evolved its trade policies and the governing organizations that have absorbed legions of identically thinking attorneys – both temporarily inside and later more lucratively outside the government. When Trump attacks this antiquated architecture, much of which has arguably outlasted its original design and usefulness to the detriment of America, Washington bureaucrats immediately circle the wagons and with the megaphone of their sympathetic and superficial journalistic cheerleaders tell us the status quo is sacrosanct and cannot be altered without doing irreparable damage. Avoiding addressing the undeniable decline in American economic might (total U.S. GDP as a percentage of the world GDP is half what it was in the 1960s) and its symptoms of closed factories and a decaying industrial base, this army of risk averse advisors assure us that trying something different is foolish and won’t work. Pay no attention to the ineffectual World Trade Organization they proudly established under American leadership and the insurmountable trade barriers U.S. companies face when trying to compete in overseas markets we’re told, because perennial massive trade deficits don’t really matter. To whom? Certainly not the legions of Washington attorneys that created these built in inequities with decades of asymmetrical trade agreements! While they’re happily driving their new BMWs and Mercedes to work from affluent McLean, Virginia and Potomac, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio will just have to adjust to the new world order they have proudly created. If there are problems with these admittedly imperfect arrangements we have plenty of time to work them out until their retirements or their next temporary move back into the government.