An old Chinese curse says, “If we don’t change directions, we are going to get where we are headed.” Some have said, “Now that Donald Trump and the Republicans are in charge we will straighten out the mess in Washington.” We will “drain the swamp” so to speak. Forgive me if I am a bit skeptical. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just snap our fingers and, like a stage magician, everything would miraculously turn out right? Unfortunately, that is not the way government works. Government has significant inertia, and like an aircraft carrier, it takes a long time to get it turned around and headed in a different direction.
Those who focus on the positive aspects of the Barack Obama administration point out the changes that have occurred in the economy between 2009 and 2017. Principle among these changes is the stock market that has risen from below 9,000 to over 19,000, unemployment that declined from 9 percent to 4.9 percent, and manufacturing that is an all-time high in production.
President Obama’s detractors point out that the president has very little to do with the nation’s economy. Of the 10 responsibilities of the president in the Constitution, none relate to the economy. In fact, we have a market driven economy. When President Jimmy Carter was asked about a president’s influence over the economy he responded that the president’s influence comes in third behind Congress and the Fed.
We need to remember that as we watch President Donald Trump attempt to fulfill his campaign promises, most of which have to do with the economy. When we elect a president we are not electing a king. He has a constitution to contend with that gives most of the ultimate control of governance to Congress. There is an old southern saying that can be applied to the transition of Donald Trump from candidate to president. It says, “When all is said and done, more will be said than done.” In short, because he might like to do “It” does not mean he has the authority and control to do “it.”
While we can’t give President Obama credit for the recovery of the economy from our serious recession of the mid-90s, we can give him credit for three very important accomplishments. One is the stimulus plan he fought for and brought through Congress in 2009, which most likely prevented a depression. Second, he brought our 187,000 troops home from the mid-east, from wars that most believe we shouldn’t have been fighting in the first place. And, he reached out to former enemies in Cuba and Iran, gestures that should eventually pay off from both economic and international peace perspectives.
Republicans are not just now gaining control of our government. For most of the past two decades Republicans have dominated Congress, controlling both the House and Senate for 16 of the 20 years. Right now they hold 248 out of 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 54 out of 100 seats in the Senate. The Republican Party also holds 31 out of 50 state governorships and four of the eight Justices of the Supreme Court were appointed by Republican Presidents. Shortly that will be five out of nine.
From all of the campaign rhetoric it is hard to remember, but Republicans have controlled the most important aspects of our government since 1996. Granted, we have had a Democrat President for the past eight years. But the primary control of our government is in Congress. The U.S. Presidency is designed as an executor for Congressional action.
It is important to know whose hands are on our government’s steering wheel. We need to know who is taking us into the future. In truth, it is pretty well the same people who have been steering the country over the past two decades. Who said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?”
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.