Five days after the inauguration, several protesters climbed a crane in downtown Washington and hung a banner across the top.
From a political standpoint, the protest was a flop. The protesters were arrested at the end of the day, and the cause that they were promoting was soon forgotten.
The image soon went viral, and became a fitting symbol of the Trump administration’s protest-filled early days. And yet when one thinks about the volatile first month of the Trump administration, one could easily imagine another banner from America’s recent political past hanging above the Executive Mansion – a banner that read, “Mission Accomplished.”
Indeed, to the extent that one of the President’s stated goals coming into office was to disrupt Washington and upend the old way of doing things, then the first four weeks of his term can be called a resounding success. But just as George W. Bush's mission was far from accomplished when he strode triumphantly across that aircraft carrier in 2003, so too is Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMaxine Waters: ‘You can’t trust this president’ Obama shamefully lines pockets with 0K for Wall Street speech Dem senator fears Russian election interference could be ‘normalized’ MORE's mission far from accomplished as he tweets up a storm today. For in addition to being elected to upend Washington, he was also elected to make government work.
Making government work. The concept itself has become laughable in recent years. From Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the Great Recession of 2008 to the VA scandal of 2014 to the rise of ISIS today, the federal government has repeatedly been unable to ward off threats and deal with problems effectively after they arise. As a result, poll after poll shows that trust in government is at or near an all-time low.
Despite this mistrust, a recent survey of the American electorate by The Ripon Society also reveals that people want government to work. Conducted by veteran Republican strategist Ed Goeas, the Ripon survey found that 66 percent of voters think that the federal government is not doing enough to solve problems. “Don’t take this to mean that people want more government or bigger government,” Goeas stated. “They want effective government.”
To that end, the survey also provides some insight into how the new President and Congress can achieve that goal. When asked if “Federal government programs should be subjected to regular performance reviews to ensure they are providing Americans with value for their tax dollars,” 94 percent of Americans – and 95 percent of Trump voters – said that they should. It is worth noting that the Ripon survey asked voters about many proposals – from reforming taxes to repealing Obamacare. By far, though, the idea of subjecting government programs to performance reviews was the most popular proposal of all.
Other proposals geared around limiting federal power and making the bureaucracy more accountable also proved popular. For example, when asked if federal regulations should have a sunset date “where they either end or Congress decides to renew them,” 79 percent of Americans – and 88 percent of Trump voters – said that they should. Along similar lines, when asked if they believed that “federal workers should be rewarded if they are doing a good job” and more easily fired “if they are doing a bad job,” 85 percent of Americans – and 89 percent of Trump voters — said that they believed that they should.
The fact that taxpayers are looking for a return on their federal investment should come as no surprise. Indeed, taxpayers are no different than any other kind of consumer in that they want to know they’re getting their money’s worth. They want value. That’s why consumers shop at Target, because they know, as the company promises, that they can “Expect More, Pay Less.” When it comes to the federal government, taxpayers believe just the opposite is true. To make matters worse, taxpayers also believe that Republicans and Democrats in Washington don’t care. They are like two sales clerks who are so busy fighting in the aisle that they ignore what’s on the shelf.
Donald Trump was elected to change all that -- to rise above the partisan bickering and do what works. The challenge for our new president is to not let his ego and other obsessions get in the way. For just as any consumer would walk out of the store if they saw two clerks fighting in the aisle, they will do the same if they see that the store manager has let power go to his head.
About a month after the election, Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal wrote that Donald Trump is America’s first post-ideological President. Others have made similar observations, and they are right. The Americans who voted for Trump did not elect him because they thought he would conform to some political orthodoxy. They elected him because they thought he could make government work.
Chaos is easy. Governance is hard. Which is why the ultimate test for the president will not be his ability to disrupt the old way of doing things in Washington. It will be his ability to convince Americans that the tax dollars they are sending to Washington are finally being put to good use.
If he achieves that, his mission truly will be accomplished, and he can raise a banner above the White House proclaiming as much for all to read.
Lou Zickar is the Editor of The Ripon Forum, a political journal of thought and opinion published by The Ripon Society.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.