Gordon Weil

Gordon Weil

People say they want change. Politicians promise it.

Barack Obama offered change “we can believe in,” for fear of leaving the false impression that he meant to alter America democracy.

Donald Trump offered change by making proposals that broke with traditional policies. It’s possible that he means to alter American democracy.

Even if many, or even most, people want change, they say they also want it to be bipartisan and carried out peacefully. But these days political change seems to cause chaos. Perhaps what people want — change without chaos — is impossible.

To further complicate the equation, there needs to be some political continuity. Bringing broad change rapidly may produce clean breaks from the past. But previous policy produced some positive results.

Even more important, by recognizing the need for continuity, government can reassure foreign allies and give business the predictability essential for investing and planning.

Despite these considerations, the Trump administration has reduced the formula to its simplest terms. Change equals chaos.

Perhaps the prime reason for pushing change without considering the ensuing confusion is that Trump promised major changes and believes that such promises won him the White House. Surprising even himself by winning, he wants to stick with the formula that seems to have worked.

Also, the president’s main focus is himself, so many of his tweeted actions are launched more for their immediate public effect than for their impact, especially long term. In fact, his aides often seem to be chasing after his tweets to deal with the impacts not taken into account.

To be fair, Trump promised change. Many voters, including some of his supporters, thought he would mellow when he learned the difficult political and diplomatic balancing acts that go along with high office. Trump would become a more conventional president. Instead, he stuck to many of his promises.

When observers express surprise at the loyalty of his “core” voters, they may miss the appeal of keeping promises, no matter what they were or their unsuspected implications. For them, Trump may be entirely different from traditional politicians and that, more than policies, is what they want.

Among the problems of governing the way he does is that policy is developed on the fly. Trump reacts to his instincts without talking with advisors. In fact, the high turnover in top administration jobs leaves him with only the most loyal not necessarily the most savvy.

Recently, he launched a trade war with China, ignoring its effect on U.S. consumer prices. He had previously kept his promise to quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he saw only as a bad trade deal rather than as an attempt to encircle China together with a dozen other countries.

He took great credit for a soaring stock market, but failed to recognize that his protectionist trade policy and attacks on Amazon would bring it down.

Trump gets a lot of his policy ideas from Fox News. He likes the outlet because it praises him. It lauds him because he follows Fox’s policy proposals, often based on false data.

One place where Trump’s desire for change has run into some reality is his relationship with Congress. At first, he seemed to believe that his surprise victory should cause Congress to fall in line behind him. He missed the fact the legislators also have real powers, especially when both parties can agree.

That’s what happened with the government spending bill. The parties engaged in horse-trading, but avoided paying the full bill for Trump’s wall, which Mexico was supposed to finance. The president was furious, but bipartisan majorities left him no choice but to sign.

Because of his refusal to learn on the job, it’s likely only two major bills will have passed in the first two years of solid GOP rule – the tax cut and the spending bill. If the Democrats gain this fall, even less will happen before the next presidential election in two years.

Maine echoes Washington. Referendum voters decide to accept federal Medicaid expansion. Gov. LePage creates chaos by refusing to allow it. He continues to believe that he is above mere democracy. Ignoring the law, he closed the prison facility in Washington County. A judge made him reverse course.

With his term ending, LePage won’t learn how to govern in the time left. With two years left in his term, Trump won’t learn how to govern, because of his personal limitations.

Both are right that change is needed. Change requires courage, to be sure, but also some wisdom to keep the chaos under control.

Gordon Weil is a former public official. He lives in Harpswell.

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