Like many people, I am still trying to process the recent election results, and figure out where we go from here, and what this all means for my family. This is a time of great uncertainty for people all along the political spectrum. Every move any politician makes seems hotly contested right now, especially recent cabinet appointments.
The reaction I have observed to the cabinet appointments has been as divided as the election itself. On one side, people are saying, “You have got to be kidding me. These are not entry level positions. Appoint someone with relevant experience and credentials.” On the other side, there are a lot of people who seem relatively ok with it, even citing totally unrelated credentials of the appointees as arguments that they’re ok (please tell me how being a good neurosurgeon translates to being in charge of housing policy). The average Democrat is now looking with nostalgia on the Bush years, because sure, we disagreed with his administration on policy, but they at least had substantial knowledge of the fields they were placed in charge of.
Read any article on Trump’s election, Brexit, or both, and the common theme you see is that many people distrust experts. That is why this happened. Every person with the experience and credentials to know the ramifications of those decisions has been saying, “Hey, guys, this is a really bad idea. I recommend you don’t do it.” Ten years ago, people probably would have listened to them, but in 2016, Average America (and Average Britain) thumbed its collective nose at the experts, and told them to take their educated prediction and shove it. According to that side, we needed outsiders, fresh blood, and a departure from old ways that weren’t working for a majority of people.
In theory, I don’t disagree with that concept. There are whole segments of society that aren’t being served well by our current methods of doing things. Actually, I’m not sure anybody but the 1% is truly getting what they could be out of the deal. We pay a lot of lip service to environmental policy, but we still have leaky oil pipelines all over the country. We talk about police brutality against minorities, but have no results in policy. Everyone knows student loan debt is out of control, but somehow, actually doing something about it is out of the question. Then there are whole swaths of the nation that are facing rampant unemployment because the industries that once sustained them are no longer housed in this country. With all this going on, I understand the appeal of an outsider coming in, talking some sense into all of these bureaucrats, and bringing the great ideas we all discuss around the water cooler at work to fruition.
The problem is, that’s not how any of this works. We all have these fantastic ideas, but know very little about the public policy ramifications of implementing them. It takes way more than common sense to work at the highest level of government. It takes experience. It takes knowledge, yes, even the much maligned academic kind. Our awesome water cooler ideas are the governmental equivalent of my boyfriend telling me I should design bridges on giant springs every time I have a difficult foundation loading situation. They sound great, and they’re fun to joke about, but at the end of the day, bridge foundations are made of concrete, and laws are governed by established framework.
That’s not to say that there isn’t room for many perspectives within that framework. For proof of that, look how popular Bernie Sanders is, despite being a highly atypical politician. Regular people like him a lot because he talks about the same things that we do, but do we really think he would have gotten as far as he has if he were still doing one of the many jobs he had before he got elected to office? If he were still, for example, a Head Start teacher, do you think he could do much as far as policy writing and implementation? No, because he would not know how to be effective within the given framework due to having no relevant experience.
Bernie got it right, though. He moved up from the local level, learning about policy all the way. Now he’s a great Senator, and would have made a fantastic president. Would he have implemented all of our common sense ideas? No, I don’t think he would have been able to. Checks and balances still exist. He would have taken a large step in the right direction, though, because he knows how these things work. That is a key component of being effective in office.
With that in mind, how can we bring in the outside perspectives we desperately need? We should be casting a wide net among the states, and bringing people up from the local level. Wouldn’t San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro make a good Secretary of HUD? Wouldn’t Georgia State Senator Jason Carter make a good Secretary of Education? I’ll bet it wouldn’t take long to compile a list of local and state level officials in either major party who have a working knowledge of policy, a diverse array of ideas and backgrounds, and who are not so far removed from the people, and what the average person needs at this moment.
We have to strike a balance between being in touch with the people, and having the experience necessary to be effective. This administration has not done that. I am disheartened that the average person seems to think that anyone who’s not a DC insider is an automatic step up. That is not the case. I am in no way saying that the status quo is what we need. I am saying we need to make changes in a deliberate manner, not just turning the whole government off and back on again. Filling spaces with people who have no idea what they’re doing will not end well. Political leanings have nothing to do with it. We have to trust experts again, even if we don’t agree with what they’re saying.
The ironic thing is that this has had the opposite effect to what anyone wanted. We live in a country where even mediocre consulting firms want five years of experience from recent grads, and won’t even interview a candidate for an entry level position without it. This has resulted in an exploitative culture of unpaid internships because when it’s impossible to get a job without experience, a lot of people have no choice but to work for free. Yet, even though we all know this is horrible, we’ve turned the presidency and the cabinet into entry level positions, and watched the rich fill them. The segment of society who could always afford a seat at the table wins again, and the people lose. We are no closer to having our concerns addressed by our government than before. If anything, we are father away.
The only thing I can hope for is that this teaches people that experts are not the enemy, professionals aren’t evil, and experience matters. Think of any other aspect of life, and see how this applies. You wouldn’t drive over a bridge that wasn’t designed by a licensed engineer. You wouldn’t hire someone who wasn’t a doctor to take your appendix out. You wouldn’t trust your kid’s education to someone who had no credentials as a teacher. So why is it ok to trust the leadership of our nation to people with no relevant experience? I hope we learn from this.