As I awakened from a very short night and spent time with the election results, I couldn’t help but reflect back to my first job at the seat of central power.
It was 1986, and I was a newly minted Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the second term of Ronald Reagan. In that year the federal government spent 1.7 trillion dollars. In 2015 the outlays were 3.36 trillion — the growth, almost 200%.
It is well beyond the scope of this article to compare the number of laws and accompanying regulations added since 1986. Or, the number of Supreme Court decisions that centralized interpretations of local and state laws. But, you get the idea, a great deal has changed and I was trying to understand, upstream of the Donald J. Trump phenomenon, what had happened.
There was, to engage in radical understatement, deep anguish among Hillary Clinton’s many supporters. In one way or another most were deeply invested in centralized answers and actions. They expected new initiatives and programs.
And then my mind turned to foreign affairs and the President-Elect’s role as Commander-in-Chief.
If American governance were more decentralized, the electorate would have more intensely weighed the candidate’s preparation to be Commander-in-Chief. In short, we would have been drawn to issues of war and peace rather than various domestic culture and class wars. Brief history lesson: in the third debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, the main topic was whether military force should be used to prevent Quemoy and Matsu, two island archipelagos off the Chinese coast, from falling under Communist control. The debates this year were driven by personality and various issues that framed the culture and class wars.
I type with barely digested results. It is much easier to identify the losers than to know who won, as the latter takes more time. So here is my partial list of losers in no particular order. Republican orthodoxy. Democrat orthodoxy. Elites. Celebrity endorsers. Pollsters. The media. National bathroom laws. Global markets. Climate change activists. Unions. Feminists. Standards by which we judge character. Supreme Court power. Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The ACA, aka Obamacare, I believe was a key element in Mrs. Clinton loss. As premiums skyrocketed many voted their pocketbooks as the old Democrat coalition that included blue-collar workers, cratered.
As noted, the results are only hours old and will be analyzed and reanalyzed. But, and this is a point the President-elect must understand, that at best he won a razor-thin victory in a deeply divided country. As a candidate, he used division skillfully. Presidents cannot do that, or they will soon find their Administration increasingly unpopular.
Recent history demonstrates, unequivocally, that declining popularity is like blood in the water. Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush all left office relatively unpopular and the later stages of their administrations were deeply frustrating to them.
Finally, one unsolicited piece of advice to Mr. Trump: designate Mike Pence to replace Governor Christie as the transition head. This step alone would begin to calm markets and provide an important early signal that President-elect Trump understands that the job he now has is more difficult by order of magnitude than anything he has done before.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.