Who would you rather be in charge of your health: A doctor or someone who knows a lot about alternative medicine?
Would you rather have a lawyer handle your complicated case or represent yourself?
Should engineers design our bridges or should we leave it up to random people who claim to be really good at math? You know, the “Trust me, I’m an engineer” meme.
Right. So then why has a significant percentage of Americans turned against career politicians to run their country?
A major theme throughout the 2016 presidential election was “political outsiders,” i.e. the idea that career politicians are ruining the country and we need to get some non-politicians into office. In addition to Trump’s idea of “draining the swamp,” we saw several state office campaigns using the same tactic, including now-Missouri Governor Eric Greitens:
Within two weeks in being in office, Trump has stirred up more controversy than any other president in modern history within the same time frame. In addition to signing controversial executive orders, Trump has remained vocal and thin-skinned on Twitter and recently compared the U.S. to Russia. Many have commented that Trump’s actions and behavior are not presidential.
Perhaps the biggest controversy so far is the executive order dubbed a “Muslim ban.” According to CNN, “The order bars all persons from certain ‘terror-pron’ countries from entering the United States for 90 days and suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until it is reinstated ‘only for nationals of countries for whom’ members of Trump’s Cabinet deem can be properly vetted.”
Since the order was signed, a federal judge has blocked it and the Justice Department’s appeal to the block has been denied. This puts into question how much thought was put into the executive order in the first place.
In fact, former top security officials have said the executive order “’was ill-conceived, poorly implemented and ill-explained’ — and harms, rather than advances, U.S. interests,” according to an NPR report.
Donald Trump has no experience in politics and it is showing. President Trump believes that he can hastily throw together an executive order and it automatically becomes law, no questions asked. Now that he is finding out that is not at all how any of this works, his reaction is calling federal judges corrupt and accusing them of putting the country in great harm.
These are the actions and reactions of a political outsider, i.e. someone who has no idea what he is doing. Career politicians know about the intricacies of executive orders, legal hurdles and public opinion and consider all of these elements before signing anything. Ignoring these factors not only leads to adverse results, but also continues to divide a country the president is in charge of connecting. It is not as simple as doing whatever you want. There are consequences that need to be weighed. There is no such scale at the White House today.
During an interview with Bill O’Reilly on Super Bowl Sunday, Trump said the following after O’Reilly called Putin a killer:
There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?
Maybe, maybe not. Whether or not the United States is innocent of having “killers” is not the issue. What is at issue is the president of the United States claiming that the country does have killers. It’s one of those things that you don’t publicly announce or acknowledge.
I’m not alone in that thinking. As reported by The Hill, Former Gen. Barry McCaffrey said, “One could argue that’s the most anti-American statement ever made by the president of the United States. To confuse American values with Putin, who is running a criminal oligarchy.”
One skill that career politicians have mastered is the art of public speech and interviews. Nearly everything a politician says publicly is scripted in some form or another. Why? Because they know that speaking off the cuff leaves one vulnerable to gaffs and accidentally disclosing information. By sticking to a script or talking points, someone making a speech or doing an interview can stay on point without steering the vehicle off the road.
While we often criticize politicians for this, the country is better off this way. A huge part of being a leader, whether it’s a supervisor at the company or leader of the free world, is making your position clear and creating a positive relationship with as many people as possible. If a politician never scripts out their thoughts, he or she runs the risk of mixing signals and saying something that can be misinterpreted in a negative way. The higher up the chain, the more devastating the consequences. That’s why Congressmen, Congresswomen and those in the Executive Branch choose their words carefully.
But Trump is an outsider. He’s not a career politician. The people don’t want someone speaking from a teleprompter. Well, guess what. You need someone speaking from a teleprompter.
Another hot topic among Trump supporters is trade policy. They’re against the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trans-Pacific Partnership and 100 percent for an “America first” approach.
The average person knows nothing about trade policy. It’s insanely complicated and multi-layered. One of my beats as a staff writer at a transportation trade magazine is NAFTA. I know more than you and the overwhelming majority of Trump supporters. Yet, I still don’t know nearly as much as the career politicians in the Committee on Ways and Means. Yeah, you probably didn’t even know that committee exists, let alone it oversees issues such as NAFTA.
But Trump is not the average American. He’s a very successful businessman who makes international deals every year. Trump probably knows more about trade than most.
Although probably true, Trump has no experience with trade policy as a politician. He may know what works best for his interests, but as president he must know what’s best for everyone’s interest in the long term. This short Vox video does a great job explaining Trump’s misunderstanding of trade policy:
Essentially, getting rid of NAFTA will have severe consequences on a demographic that largely (and ironically) voted for him. The people who hate NAFTA are the people who need it the most, but since they don’t have a higher education – or experience – in global economics, they wouldn’t know that.
Vox also points out that manufacturing jobs have been on the decline since the 1940s, well before NAFTA. The decline has less to do with bad trade policy and more to do with advance technologies and globalization.
As far as TPP goes, getting rid of it will feed the giant monster that is China. If it’s all about “America first,” then weakening your opponent (China) is certainly best, and that’s partly what TPP does.
NAFTA passed with a 61-38 vote, mostly backed by Republicans. And the Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act, the bill giving the president authority to move forward with TPP, passed 60-38 with an overwhelming Republican majority.
We are the problem
The problem is not with career politicians. They know more about the important issues and the nuances of leadership and governing than nearly everyone else in the United States.
The real problem is not enough of the right people are becoming career politicians. Politicians are still primarily rich, white men. As soon as gay, black, Hispanic, female, Muslim, bisexual, Asian, etc. people who come from the lower half of the socioeconomic ladder become career politicians, you’ll never ask for an outsider again.
Perhaps a rich, white male is not the best “outsider.”