If there is to be real change in our form of government, the Trump administration needs to avoid the fatal flaw of previous Republican administrations: choosing to play the game by the Left’s rules.
Nearly every Republican administration makes some changes, but mostly lightly exfoliates the elephant of the State. These are temporary gains at best, small pauses in the seemingly inevitable march of government dominance. Most Republicans don’t seem to understand what we are up against, that the game is rigged against smaller government.
We have to view our government through system dynamics, the study of understanding nonlinear behavior in complex systems. Such systems, like vast government bureaucracy, include loops that reinforce certain actions and results. These loops act similarly to compounding interest, starting slowly, over time accelerating, then finally exploding in size, all the while strengthening themselves.
So we have to look at and understand our modern form of government, which made a dramatic shift in the early twentieth century, as “The System” filled with reinforcing loops.
Self-Government Is Impossible Under Big Government
The first progressive movement set our modern government in motion. Most date it from 1895-1920. It was a movement, sadly, birthed in many ways inside the Republican Party. It was intended to place our government more into the hands of the un-elected, educated elite bureaucrats (with as little interference from elected politicians), to make individuals more dependent upon the state because that was how to rapidly make real “progress.” The goal was for the state to take more and more of life’s decisions from the individual.
The progressives birthed the bureaucratic state, and while there were some legitimate reforms needed at the time, the explosion of the state began. Government spending as a percent of the total economy went through the roof, from 2 percent in 1900 to more than 20 percent today. Our government started with roughly 50 employees in three departments. All government employees, which numbered nearly 4 million in 1939, number over 22 million today, with nearly three million federal employees and the rest state and local (and that excludes military).
But in November something funny happened to the Left’s belief in the inevitable triumph of statism: Donald J. Trump won a race he was never supposed to win. In a turn of events that scared the Left silly, Trump’s election has thrown a wrench into The System. But it’s not entirely clear that even he or his advisors truly understand what they’re up against.
Now We’re Calling This the Deep State
This system of government with its reinforcing loops has been building for most of the last century. It is massive, entrenched, and will do everything it can to continue on as it always has. Sure, Trump can “gum up” the works, and slow statists’ progress. But let’s not kid ourselves: when a new administration comes into power it doesn’t mean the government will turn on a dime.
The presidential transition directory, known as the Plum Book, lists more than 4,000 politically appointed positions for a new administration to fill during its term (or terms). Those political appointees are supposed to go into the various departments of government and implement the new president’s agenda. But they leave when the president leaves, and in the case of conservatives, their meager reforms usually go with them.
It’s time for Republicans to have a reality check: do you really think that fewer than 5,000 appointees can win against 2.8 million federal government employees who have a vested interest in absolutely nothing changing? Maybe, if an administration had 20 years, but it doesn’t. It has four, maybe if they’re lucky eight, years, and as history has shown us, the odds of any party getting three straight terms of a single party in the White House are fairly slim. We have already seen bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and State Department not only promise, but also begin to resist any reforms from the Trump administration.
But it’s worse than simply having millions of federal government employees trying to outlast a Republican administration. The overwhelming majority of those federal employees who donated to a presidential campaign, more than 95 percent, gave money to Hillary Clinton. Ninety-nine percent of contributions from State Department employees went to Clinton in the 2016 elections. You can be sure they aren’t excited to be working for Trump.
Shut It All Down, Baby
So my advice to President Trump is this: don’t play the game by the current rules. Change the rules by which the game is played. It’s time to cut the leviathan of government down to size. Trump’s hiring freeze is a good step in the right direction. It stops one of the reinforcing loops. But he needs to reverse the loop and cut the federal workforce by no less than 25 percent in four years. Trump should then consolidate and shut down departments.
Ronald Reagan promised to shut down departments, including Education and Energy, but never did. If Trump wants to devolve power out of DC, he has to shut departments down. Take the Department of Energy and put the nuclear weapons management under Department of Defense (or even Commerce, as Reagan wanted, to keep nuclear protection in civilian hands), split energy issues between Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Interior, then shut its doors. Roll any necessary parts of Department of Education into Labor and send other responsibilities back to the states, then shut its doors.
Once departments are shut down, bulldoze the buildings to the ground. Shatter them, plow them under, then build beautiful parks, Liberty Parks, over where the departments used to stand. Trump should also then consider “farming” some departments out to states, further breaking the leviathan apart.
Bulldozing and shipping out departments is only a step in the right direction. There are many to explore, like repealing the Seventeenth Amendment. This would also devolve power out of DC, tie senators once more to their states, and stop making a farce of federalism. While of course the amendment process is out of Trump’s hands, he could be a powerful force in driving the issue.
Government Is Force, Not Reason
Beyond functional and structural changes, there has to be a philosophical shift in how Americans view government: government is not a force for good. It can never be. To loosely quote George Washington, government is force, it is not reason. It is a necessary evil that is meant to help lightly guide imperfect human beings in an imperfect world towards truly enjoying their God-given rights of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Philosophical changes take time. Structural changes can spur those, and Trump can put his mark on American history by truly changing the rules by which the game is played. The administration and Republicans in power must see the pitfalls previous administrations failed to avoid. Those administrations decided government really wasn’t so bad once they got the reins, and if we’re not careful, the swamp might start to seem like a hot tub.
President Trump and the GOP have a chance to conserve the original principles of the country, that government is limited to protect the rights of the people, not provide them everything they want or need. If Trump can change the rules, he’ll change history.
Ned Ryun is the founder and CEO of American Majority, a non-partisan training institute whose mission is to identify and mold the next wave of liberty-minded new leaders, grassroots activists and community leaders.