President-elect Donald Trump's administration may be ineffectual if it neglects an intellectual infrastructure. It should not sneer at knowledge, wisdom, and the cerebral faculties as impediments to success. Mr. Trump needs a Pretorian Guard and coterie of advisors who do not fear competence and loyalty to the Constitution as mortal dangers to their power and stature. Otherwise, Mr. Trump will risk becoming an Arab Spring-like leader who feels the rage and pains of injustice, but is clueless about constructing a remedy. They accomplished nothing more than swapping the Titanic for the Hindenburg.
More than 95 percent of the federal Leviathan will remain undisturbed if the Trump administration fails to construct an intellectual infrastructure.
Like a giant Rube Goldberg machine, the United States Government is huge and bewildering.
The annual federal budget exceeds $4 trillion.
The federal government features 2.8 million employees and hundreds of thousands of federal contractors.
The national debt is rocketing past $20 trillion.
More than one million federal regulations blanket the landscape.
The Code of Federal Regulations consumes 180,000 pages.
Hundreds of thousands of federal judicial decisions pour forth annually.
New legal specialties proliferate faster than rabbits in response to new regulatory statutes and the writing of new regulations. Dodd-Frank alone established 400 required rulemakings--a virtual Fort Knox for the legal profession.
During the past 8 years, President Barack Obama filled thousands of policy making positions in the executive branch with appointees loyal to his agenda, for instance, the warfare state, the surveillance state, Obamacare, heavy-handed regulation, and fiscal profligacy. These political appointees recruited into the protected civil service professionals of like mind and character. They will resist Trump administration changes like a child resists bedtime. They will outfox any Trump appointee clueless about the legal and regulatory fortress that must be dismantled to implement a Trump administration agenda.
To effectuate change, Trump appointees will need to be masters of the Administrative Procedure Act, pertinent volumes of the Code of Federal Regulations, charter statutes, Executive Orders, Treaty obligations, judicial decisions and consent decrees, probable support or opposition from trade associations, think tanks, or other NGOs, and outstanding litigation. They must know the political and legal histories behind the Obama administration polices they are seeking to dismantle, and the key committees and Members of the House of Representatives and Senate instrumental to success. They need to know the names of respected former Members of Congress and the Executive Branch who could be enlisted to advocate for Trump administration changes.
Mr. Trump cannot afford to appoint policy officials who would need on-the-job training. The federal bureaucracy has mastered the art of delay, obfuscation, and procrastination. I spearheaded repeal of the so-called Fairness Doctrine as an affront to free speech as general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission. Repealing the Ten Commandments would have been less vexing. The multi-year repeal process did not conclude until the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Syracuse Peace Council v. Federal Communications Commission (1989).
Moreover, every federal agency encounters a crisis de jour. All time for thinking and long-term planning is subordinated to firefighting and the 24 hour news cycle. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger elaborated to Jon Meacham in Slate: "One of the problems of government is to separate the urgent from the important and make sure you're dealing with the important and don't let the urgent drive out the important."
In sum, if the President-elect neglects to insist on first-class competence for every political appointee, he will risk turning the 2016 presidential election into sound and fury largely signifying nothing.