Before looking ahead, we should review where our nation is today.
November’s election followed the most vicious and divisive presidential campaign in memory, mine going back to 1928, when the issue was candidate Al Smith’s Catholicism. Today we face far greater problems, among them instability in the Middle East, Russian and Chinese ambitions, an unstable Europe, U.S. federal debt and deficits, extreme financial inequality among our citizens, climate change, and divisive congressional partisanship.
This year’s election fractured the country, into disparate segments of society as well as between political Parties. The result? A President-elect chosen by the electoral college but having only a minority of the popular vote. A skilled populist vote getter, Donald Trump lacks government experience, and relies on instinct, rather than analysis of relevant facts, in making decisions. He refuses to release his tax returns, or disclose details of his business interests as others have done.
His choices for cabinet and other senior jobs are dominated by billionaires and retired military generals, with some nepotism thrown in. No proposed appointees are familiar with the disadvantaged groups who elected him, and few have government experience. Some have said that the agencies they may head should be eliminated. Others have business connections with Russia, as has Mr. Trump.
Trump has pledged to “drain the swamp” of government in Washington. Senior career government officials are alarmed over the effect this will have on their work and careers. They see it as “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
The administration I joined in 1985 was very different. President Reagan had been a governor; Vice President George H. W. Bush had headed the CIA and been an emissary to China; Secretary of State George Schultz was a former Secretary of Treasury and an economist with years in senior positions; Secretary of the Treasury Jim Baker had previously been White House Chief of Staff; Caspar Weinberger had held elective office in California and several federal positions before becoming Secretary of Defense.
In 1985, as a newly appointed ex-businessman, I found the career professionals in the Senior Executive Service invaluable teachers on government processes, and how to work across the aisle to get things done.
With this background of experience I fear that Donald Trump, as president, represents a great risk to the America that my generation fought for, and some died for, in the 1940s, and which we later helped build to greatness through careers in business, science, education and government.
What can we all now do to protect the nation that our kids will inherit? First, we must defend the free press, to keep us informed, and to counter the “fake news” that permeates social media. Then, starting with the confirmation process, we must urge senators, especially patriotic Republicans, to reject unsuitable nominees for federal government and Supreme Court appointments. Only with a watchdog Congress can our nation be protected from disaster until the 2018 elections give voters a chance to begin to remedy the errors of last November. An unhappy but realistic former Presidential appointee showed me this Emily Dickenson poem. Its first verse:
“Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
Hope and watchfulness are the best allies we have to ensure America’s future for our children. We must all stay connected and involved as that future unfolds.”
Bruce Smart, of Upperville, is the former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade