Formally, in the United States, the term divided government is only used when one or both houses of Congress are controlled by a party other than that of the Presidency. Since the 1970s, divided government has been the norm rather than the exception in the US. President-Elect Donald Trump will, technically speaking, be presiding over a united government with both houses of Congress controlled by his party, the Republican’s. In truth, however, the emerging government of Donald Trump is quite fractured across many fault lines.
Party identity continues to be the main fissure in American politics, though now the partisan divide swells to truly unprecedented levels. Today, President Obama and Vice-President Elect Mike Pence met with members of Congress to discuss policy in the coming years. President Obama, however, only met Democrats while Mike Pence only met Republicans. Both meetings were focused more on the opposing party than on real policy details. President Obama called on Democrats to refer to any new Republican healthcare plan as “Trumpcare,” while the Pence rally focused on the repeal of “Obamacare” and other aspects of the Obama legacy. Both meetings were described as “fiery” and having a pep rally atmosphere. These were not meetings aimed to solve the nation’s issues and to bridge our divides, but were rather meant to increase militancy between the two parties. The Republican and Democratic parties are now, more than ever before, circling each other, like gladiators in the ring, each more focused on doing damage to the other than on why they are fighting in the first place. But, the new Trump government is not divided in the traditional, partisan sense. After all, the same party controls both the Legislative and Executive branches of government.
What really divides the new Trump administration, is the Trump Presidency’s war on government itself and the bureaucracy that constitutes it. Bureaucracy, that dreaded word, is a fundamentally under-appreciated system. Bureaucratic rules and regulations, and all the laws that depend on them, are society’s main defense against the temptation of the powerful to abuse said power. From preventing the excessive use of force by security services, to consumer protection laws, to environmental protection laws, to education standards, to anti-discrimination policies, and so on, what were once bureaucratic regulations can quickly become societal norms. We expect the police to behave justly, we expect companies and industry to be truthful and to not take advantage of their workers and consumers, we expect all people to be treated fairly regardless of race or creed, and we expect these things because of the bureaucratic protections that have shaped our expectations of a free society.
Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks and recent actions show his disdain and disregard for the services of government. His cabinet is filled with people from the world of business, with little to no political experience, and many whom have openly advocated against the agency’s they may now find themselves leading. I will not go through every pick but a few do deserve a mention. For Secretary of State, arguably the most powerful government position after that of the President himself, Trump has nominated Rex Tillerson. Tillerson is the head of oil-giant Exxon Mobil and is a man with absolutely no experience as a diplomat and drowning in potential conflicts of interest. His Treasury Secretary is venture capitalist and Wall Street veteran Steven Mnuchin. For Secretary of Labor Trump has chosen anti-regulation fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, head of CKE Restaurants which operates the Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s restaurant chains. Rick Perry, the nominee for Energy Secretary, has previously called for the abolishment of the Department of Energy. The Environmental Protection Agency will now be headed by a man, Scott Pruitt, who has devoted much of his life opposing the work done by the EPA. I could go on, but I believe the point is made. If bureaucracy is meant to protect people from the rich and powerful, it seems that Donald Trump has replaced watchdogs with wolves.
In another stunning development, and what CNN describes as “his latest attack on a key body he will rely on as commander in chief”, Donald Trump has refused to accept the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence community that Russian Intelligence services and hackers actively sought to interfere with the Presidential election. Further delving into the bizarre, Trump has defended Vladimir Putin after President Obama ordered the expulsion of Russian diplomats and closing of Russian properties believed to be involved in the hacking scandal, actions supported by nearly every member of Congress.
Donald Trump’s government is divided, not by party but by its commitment to the norms and institutions that have guided this country for many many years. Donald Trump has given the powers of regulation to the regulated and appointed as our protectors those from whom we need protection. He has thrust men from the world of business into the realm of politics. They may be skilled at signing business deals, but how will they handle issues whose currency is not money but lives, conflicts governed not by supply and demand but by emotion? A government is not a business, and should not be run as one.