Tom Barrack: People should stop judging President Trump on every word that is uttered
The arrival of Trump is causing many legacy institutions to feel challenged
Editor’s Note: Tom Barrack, executive chairman and founder of Colony Northstar, an international investment firm, was the chairman of the presidential Inaugural Committee. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
As a very young man barely rounding the corner on 30, I had the opportunity to witness and view the Reagan revolution by serving as an enthusiastic and blindly optimistic apprentice in his administration. Now at the opposite bookend of my life, I have the challenge and honor of providing tiny bits of advice and counsel to my friend, the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Like President Reagan before him, President Trump is beginning a White House journey with a rocky and tumultuous introduction in the midst of great division, discontent and confusion among a very diverse and conflicted American and foreign constituency. I cannot help but reflect on the parallels of these two administrations as a compass for clarity and direction.
President Trump is not only changing the tapestry of policy but is maneuvering the manner in which it is woven and the threads of its composition. His campaign was unconventional and disruptive, and he is now tackling Washington in an unconventional and disruptive way. It was Reagan who famously responded to a question from a Washington veteran on doing things unconventionally, “Well, isn’t that why we are here?”
The arrival of President Trump is causing many legacy institutions to feel challenged as they scramble with the change that he is stewarding. The inertia and momentum of the government does not naturally lend itself to new methods of communication, thinking and negotiation.
In fact, the stable, recurring patterns of the Washington bureaucracy are designed to be immune from a consistent changing of the deck chairs, and become agitated by the need to acclimate to new circumstances. President Trump is facing the same opposition that President Reagan did almost four decades ago from the fixtures of the Washington and the global geopolitical scene. The bureaucracy is not the enemy but an essential ingredient to our success.
Without an unwavering entrenched establishment providing bureaucratic stability, our democratic system would cease to function in the ever-changing winds of temporal political shifts. An entrenched establishment is a safeguard, not a terminal illness. However, the bureaucracy must be amended, adopted, nourished, realigned, incentivized and held accountable. If not, the machinery itself, not the people who run it, become corroded and corrupt. Without constant supervision and monitoring, the bureaucracy will both grow in size and diminish in efficacy.
The President’s policies were clear and distinct in his campaign and continue to be his priorities into his second month of governing: tax policy, job growth, immigration reform, a reworked health care system, a renewed national security alignment, a strengthened military and a re-engineered trade practice and policy. If the President is able to take advantage of an aligned Congress and executive branch to enact even half of these policies within the first year of administration, he will accomplish more than any other president in history.
The difficulty and challenge is the implementation of the President’s policies into action by the agencies that are built to preserve the status quo and prevent abrupt movement. Aligning the leadership and bureaucracy of the Cabinet agencies with the policy initiatives of the President is a managerial nightmare.
The agencies are manned by political Schedule C appointees (individuals who report to presidential appointees), and an army of civil servants working hand in hand. Either group operating in isolation without the other is ineffective and somewhat dangerous. A little more than 30 days since the inauguration, the administration still has 2,000 vacancies, many of which require Senate confirmation, a process which is antagonistically slow and politically charged. These appointees are the nano-engines that will realign the bureaucracy to appropriately adapt to the President’s and Congress’s direction and practices. Without them, it will be status quo, “for better or worse.”
The press is not the enemy, the intelligence community is the not the enemy, and even leaks in the new world of instantaneous information and social media are not the enemy. The enemies are time and confused expectations.
If we stop judging the President and his administration on every word that is uttered, every hour, and instead hold him accountable over time for the implementation of policies under which he ran, confusion might turn to clarity.
The challenges that the President is facing are not abnormal, nor are they earthshaking. Leaks to the press, death by bureaucratic sabotage and rogue cables from within the State Department are nothing new under the sun; in fact, they are celebrated traditions and were even more demonstrable during the era of the Reagan administration.
America is a vast tapestry of millions of threads, a multitude of colors and a diverse and distinguished array of fabric. What is truly important to the mastery of the artistry is a process that melds all these diverse elements into an understandable and lucid portrait.
President Reagan is not remembered for the initial confusions as he first began to set the pace. In fact, the first year of the contrarian Reagan revolution was anything but seamless. Reagan is remembered for his effective policies – tax reform, deregulation, reinvigorating our military, bringing down the Berlin Wall – accomplishments which were not achieved in his first year and in fact, were the result of a lengthy processes requiring significant time in the saddle, and incredible perseverance in the face of opposition.
The bottom line is the debate, the dialogue, the concern, the bickering, the parrying and thrusting all contribute to the process of American democracy. The institutional press is doing its job in bringing to light all sides of the Rubik’s cube.
Journalism has dramatically changed over the last decade. Everyone has instantaneous access to data. Walter Cronkite’s “And that’s the way it is” no longer holds relevance to a viewer who can access information in an instant. The art of journalism is now about adding perspective and point of view to widely available facts that were once scarce and only disseminated to mainstream media. This, ultimately, is a good thing, and through adversity produces prolific dialogue and greater understanding of all points of view to a broader audience.
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The results will always appear unsatisfactory to varying constituencies. What makes America work is the process that allows us all to express our dissatisfaction, not necessarily bask in the results of unquestioned splendor.
So, as I sit here musing almost 40 years later, I am hopeful and encouraged by lessons learned from the final chapters of the Reagan presidency. President Trump is a great man, and the most effective action we can take as Americans is to give him a chance.
With our help, he will find the same trajectory as that of President Reagan, and the nation and the world will soon look through his abrupt, blunt and esoteric style to find bold substance, compassion, implementation of his policies, global respect and admiration, and a rebalancing of the attributes that truly make America great. Let’s simply hold the President accountable for delivering on the promises and policies upon which he was elected.
“And that’s the way it is.”