By: Dylan Brugman, Abilene Christian University
I’m a little different than most of the students here. I’ve already earned a BA and MA from Abilene Christian University. So, you might find it surprising that I was caught off guard early on in this seminar. One thing I encountered early in The Washington Center’s Inauguration ‘17 seminar that surprised me was the conversation with Dr. John Hudak, describing the challenges facing a Trump presidency in light of his white, working-class constituency.
I do believe the President-elect faces significant challenges as he comes into office having lost the popular vote, but I never considered that some of the resistance that Donald Trump might face would come from those in his own party. Dr. Hudak’s study of American public administration gives him an important insight into the way that American bureaucracy operates, particularly in DC.
The conversations about bureaucratic inefficiency speak to the issue as if it is a barrier that past presidents have chosen not to overcome. Dr. Hudak, who is the deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, is right when he describes the American civil servant as bound up by laws that prevent significant change in a short period of time. The bureaucracy is organized through administrative legislation that is particularly difficult to change. For a leader who has been able to make and then execute quick decisions, Mr. Trump might find it frustrating to deal with an administrative entity resistant to change, not just because of some love of red tape, but also because Washington’s political culture is difficult to change. Questions about his outsider status are irrelevant in the federal government, not because of power and resistance, but because of the cultural and administrative makeup of the federal government.
Dr. Hudak’s presentation is just one of many unique learning opportunities that I have at The Washington Center. The chance to interact with experts in various fields around public policy and political science is fascinating for me. This is especially true on site visits.
During our visit to the Sierra Club, for example, I was pleased that I could ask nuanced questions about the role of the federal government in renewable energy policy and the future of the renewable energy market. I also found it important to know how the Sierra Club works with the Department of Energy, Congress, state governments, and private enterprise to push for affordable, clean renewable energy that can open up new avenues of industry in competition with fossil fuels.
The depth of knowledge and nuance in the answers I received was something that I could not get in a classroom, mostly because the people I hear from in my classes don’t deal each and every day with the environmental advocacy industry.
On top of the depth of information that I gather from these site visits, I also have a significant opportunity to introduce myself to people working in areas that I have a particular interest. My interest in environmental issues played really well into my ability to connect with the Sierra Club. The people who met us were accommodating and helpful, allowing us to exchange contact information with them and to reach out in the future if we had more questions about the work that the Sierra Club or other environmental advocacy groups do,
Considering this seminar more broadly, understanding the power of the executive in the context of presidential campaign promises has been really interesting. As an undergraduate student, I had the opportunity to take a class on Constitutional law and powers, which included studying the powers of the presidency. During this seminar, I am enjoying understanding in much more depth what the president can and cannot do.
This information has challenged the way I think about the presidency. It has also challenged what I think Trump will be able to do as President of the United States. It also presents a number of challenges to the incoming administration that will alter the way that it interacts with other branches of government.
I came into this seminar believing that the president had a lot more power than he actually does. It’s been really interesting to see the way that the president must interact with multiple groups and factors before instituting broad change; and when that change comes, it is slow, calculated, and methodically planned.