Talking to the Trump Administration

As the Trump administration puts people in place, federal agencies are changing in predictable ways.

Last week, the state senate’s Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs held a couple of days of meetings with federal agencies in Washington, D.C.  Senators Warren and Markey also took the time to share valuable thoughts with the committee.  I am not a member of the committee, but I went along at my own expense to sit in.

In each agency meeting, there were several career officials and a Trump administration appointee, to whom the career officials showed deference.  I was most interested to hear what the political appointees had to say and to understand how management directions are changing.

Overall, what I heard was unsurprising.   While Donald Trump’s personal ideology may be hard to define, the folks that he is bringing in at the political levels in agencies seem to be traditional Republicans – having a core faith that lowering taxes and reducing regulation will grow the economy and create jobs.

Their proposed elimination of the state and local tax deduction resonates with this faith. Eliminating the “SALT” deduction would mean that high income taxpayers in higher tax blue states like New York and New Jersey will lose a deduction on the federal income tax which will in turn put more pressure on the high tax states to lower taxes.

If an infrastructure bill moves forward, we should expect them to propose expansion of the role of private companies in building and managing infrastructure.

They distrust the public education system.  We should expect the department of education to use its discretionary money to further alternatives to public schools – parochial schools, charter schools, online schools.  To my question of whether this might undermine public schools financially, their quick answer was that overall federal education funding accounts for only 8% of school budgets.  In truth, if federal money follows students out of public schools, then other money will also move and financially weaker school districts may be destabilized.

We should otherwise expect the Department of Education to give less direction and regulate more lightly.  As an example, take the recent loosening of guidance on campus sexual assault.

I heard some bald statements about apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education: why should a kid get a degree in hieroglyphics . . . they need to know how to turn a wrench, not how to think . . . unless they are in higher management.

Apprenticeships, of course, can complement higher education and I do support new models for vocational training.  Yet, what I heard seemed to be a strong preference for industry-led training as opposed to government or university led training, a preference broadly consistent with an anti-government and anti-institutional perspective.

While mid-level Republican political people are happily moving into agencies and pursuing their traditional agenda, the times are politically challenging for congressional Republicans.  It is hard for them to straddle the concerns of their mainstream high-donor financial base and the anti-establishment passions of their primary electorate.

No one can predict how the big legislative issues will develop, much less how the rest of the world will respond to the President’s behavior.  But the Trump election is changing federal agencies in predictable ways.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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  1. Thank you, Senator Brownsberger.

    Yes, it was disconcerting, although not surprising to read what education appointees had to say about “apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education: why should a kid get a degree in hieroglyphics . . . they need to know how to turn a wrench, not how to think . . . unless they are in higher management.”

    I recall a similar thought process by Governor Ed King and his appointees when I taught with other arts-oriented teachers at juvenile detention centers and locked-up facilities in the late 1970s. Why do the youth offenders need the arts to express themselves. They don’t need poetry or historical figures that they might be able to relate to such Henry David Thoreau. Just offer them strict discipline, respect for figures of authority, and a conventional education. And yes let’s teach them a vocational skill. They don’t need to develop their critical thinking or find ways to express their traumatic childhood and family life. That will all go away under the traditional methods of education or so they said.

  2. A typically measured and thoughtful commentary. But let’s be clear: these conservatives aren’t just operating from a “different perspective.” Their denial-based climate agenda rejects science as a method. So does their skewed trickle down economic policy (in an only slightly less quantifiable way). These policies are either delusional or deeply cynical.Their whole agenda is a massive transfer of wealth upward to the very richest. I appreciate the ‘comfort’ Will feels but I can’t share it.

    1. I understand and fully share your concern with what they are trying to do, but I don’t think that words like “delusional” are helpful.

      The funny thing is that some of them think we are “delusional” too. I regularly receive email from people on the farther right who accuse me of being delusional, corrupt, ignorant of my duties under the constitution, etc.

      I usually am able to bite my tongue in replying.

  3. Thank you for sharing your observations. It appalls me that their proposed tax plan is a blatant redistribution of wealth from the middle class to corporations and the super wealthy. What about the deficit which they are always complaining about. It is an ideologically driven recipe for disaster that is designed to systematically roll back all the progressive programs introduced since the New Deal.

  4. This is appalling. First, that anyone should show “deference” to a political appointee sounds appallingly like the USSR.

    Secondly, this privatization of things that worked perfectly well, is a money grab pure and simple.

    We have an entire administration that is milking the government for every penny they can get. I’m just so disgusted with what is going on and this only confirms my worst fears.

  5. Kudos to you for going to D.C. to get a handle on how things are going in the various agencies day to day. The comment “they need to know how to turn a wrench, not how to think” reminds me of Mitt Romney’s remark in 2012 that 47% of the people are dependent on government and feel they are entitled to everything. A pretty hostile, condescending attitude to millions of Americans. These appointees may find themselves in the same position as congressional Republicans, trying to satisfy a base that likes lots of these programs, and donors that do not.

  6. The changes on Title IX were proper in my opinion. Due process should not have been discarded as it was under Obama. I am no fan of Trump but on this issue on sexual assault. The administration is correct. We need to protect all women and men but not by doing away with Due Process.

  7. Thank you for these, as usual, rational observations on our present federal government. I’m curious about your take on private industry and infrastructure improvements. I recently read a book that bemoaned the decline of the mixed economy, where public/private enterprises built the interstate system and so much more. Whatever you think of those projects, the truth was that we were much less cynical about the role of government in the 1950s and 60s. Today, I feel like any contribution from private industry is a money grab—probably just like conservatives feel like any contribution from government will result in graft. Where do you think we stand here?

    1. The challenge in private infrastructure projects is to get a fair deal — one is usually, in effect, granting a monopoly, for example, on crossing a certain waterway if the private party builds a bridge. But then, how much are they allowed to charge.

      Nothing wrong with private investment, all good, but it’s risky for the public and needs to be approached with caution.

  8. Thanks for attending the meetings and giving us your take of what may happen in Washington. Washington is moving very slowly these days due discord in their own party and the judiciary.

  9. It is doubtful that Trump and the Congressional Republicans will be able to pass any major legislation. Perhaps a stripped down tax cut, but I doubt it. They are doing a poor job of presenting a tax bill (no hearings), truly conservative Republicans like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake believe it would create a much larger deficit, with an accompanying spike in interest rates in a year or two, and public opinion seems to be growing against it.

    The President will be able to continue to deregulate, putting our health and safety at risk, and shifting monies, as you say, away from public education.

    I appreciate very much your going to Washington, and reporting back to us.
    This is an uncertain and clouded time, and we need all of the facts we can get.

  10. Thank you, Will. Although this new administration insists they have a planned direction, I feel like our country is now being run by an adult with severe ADHD who needs meds to make him more grounded and therapy to help him with his acting out behaviors. It is most disturbing to hear the plans for education but not at all surprising. I am devasted for all the wonderful iimmigrants who have worked so hard to find a better life only to be sent back. Where is diversity in all this? It is a word Trump does not recognize. All
    we can do is pray that the more traditional Republicans will wake up. A few already have. Thank you, Will.

  11. Thank you for going down and listening to the various agencies.It seems as if these ideas have been floating around for some time and it took Trump’s election to make many of them considered possible. As a former teacher I worry that our public education system is slowly being impoverished instead of strengthened and everyone is agreeing with the Secretary of Education.

  12. Thank you for this first-person perspective. As you say, nothing in your report here is surprising, but it’s helpful (if discouraging) to get another perspective on the agency-level changes.

  13. Thank you, Will, for attending. Your clear summary is akin to what I have been reading and hearing for the past several months. It is just so very Infuriating and sad. Sallye Bleiberg

  14. Sen. Brownsberger, thank you for going to DC for this. I am so tired of all the wrongs of the Trump admin. There are no surprises for me. I would like to know if there is something I could do to help change the situation. I sign petitions, make donations, write e mails, probably read by an office clerk or a robot. This admin.,all the liars and mean-hearted people have to go. Reason, honesty and compassion are lacking.How and when this will change I don’t know.- John

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