When the American people elected Donald J. Trump as their president, they not only rejected the most “experienced” candidate on the stage but also the idea that experience and expertise are all that matters. Trump’s cabinet picks are undoubtedly conservative, but some, like him, also share the common trait of never having been at the head of a large government institution.
Political pundits, following their conventional wisdom, point to this as proof that Trump is not serious about governing, that instead he is only rewarding his friends and leaving his opponents out in the cold. But Trump is anything but conventional.
The pundits are wrong once again to confuse expertise with experience. The two are related to be sure, but the former is more encompassing than the latter. Expertise tends to mean experience as well as education regarding a particular subject matter.
This ill-placed reliance on “experts” to govern is rooted in an understanding of government handed down to us by progressivism. In the minds of progressives, expertise is the basis for rule, not consent.
James Landis, a favorite of FDR and the author of “The Administrative Process,” argued that the separation of powers — and the consent of the governed from which it is derived — is unable “to deal with modern problems.”
Instead, experienced “civil servants of the government,” educated in the art of administration, must control numerous agencies of the administrative state for government to be useful and effective.
For progressives, the modern world requires strict regulation. And regulation requires expertise, “for the art of regulating an industry requires knowledge of the details of its operation.” This, in turn, requires a massive government and centralized power.
For Trump and his supporters, this is the opposite of how things should be.
Instead of unlimited government, small-“r” republicans — people who recognize and support that our form of government is a republic — want limited government; instead of the rule of experts, small-“r” republicans want the rule of law supported by separated powers and based on the consent of the governed.
Expertise today does not mean “quality representative.” Instead it means something more like "bureaucrat.” Trump has many expert bureaucrats to choose from, but choosing these insiders goes against one of the pillars of his campaign: to restore the rule of the people over that of the establishment.
Choosing only experts also undermines a lesser, but still important, promise of Trump’s message: to invigorate the economy, we must deregulate and reduce the size of government. This is unlikely to happen if large bureaucracies are headed by bureaucrats.
More importantly, reviving the economy requires that people not invested in the system or previous policy efforts lead agencies. As strange as it seems, people who are well established in a system tend to be loyal to a system, no matter how incompetent that system is. Moreover, people who have worked hard for an outcome rarely decide that such outcomes are suddenly unimportant or are honest enough to admit when they fail. Outsiders, who are necessarily inexperienced and lacking expertise, are needed to fulfill Trump’s promises.
Even in cases in which Trump does not intend to spend the political capital to deregulate or diminish the bureaucracy, there is a case to be made for bringing in outsiders simply for good governance.
Good governance requires prudence, and prudence can be hampered by experience. Prudence, the virtue of accomplishing the greatest human good given particular circumstances, requires that problem-solvers orient first and foremost on the good, or end, to be accomplished and the particular circumstances in which one is acting.
Being a slave to one’s experience is a concern for people who solve problems for a living, such as the people in the military. We all have a tendency to look at what means have worked in the past without properly considering how to readjust those means to fit current circumstances.
There is obvious utility in having experience, but the temptation to use familiar methods simply because they have worked before is hard to avoid for those with lots of experience.
In other words, inexperience is not always good, but doing big, new things often requires a fresh mind. And it is possible that Trump wants to do big new things enough to risk inexperience.
One of Trump’s most criticized picks is Dr. Ben Carson.
Carson is no expert in government nor an expert in Housing and Urban Development. But as a world renowned neurosurgeon with 38 honorary doctorates, and as an avowed Christian, no one questions his intelligence or upright moral character.
Additionally, having been director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, and named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report, no one should question his leadership abilities.
Whether or not he has the expertise, few people have the natural talents, and fewer still have the personal insight into the struggles of urban households in America that Carson has. He knows first-hand the difficulties of being raised by a single mother who worked three jobs and relied on government assistance. He understands the minds and hearts of the people living in some of the toughest communities in urban America. Compare that to anyone from a different background with a master’s degree in social work.
The “experts” have consistently chosen failed policies to address the problems of urban households. Carson has no vested interest in maintaining those policies or their methods. Instead, he has a heart to make government of, by, and for the people.
Perhaps it is time we allow someone with the intellect, moral character, and personal experience of Carson to effect some change in the lives of those who live in urban areas, lives Carson understands and is passionate about helping.
Trump’s choices of inexpert people might be the most republican we have seen in a long, long time.
David Danford earned his Master’s Degree from the Van Andel Graduate School, and he serves as an Army Officer and Instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Juan Dávalos is a Ph.D. student in Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the U.S. Military Academy, Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
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