Like many other people, I stayed up late Tuesday night to watch coverage of the election results, and like most of the people watching, I was stunned with Donald Trump’s success. I had noted the amount of quality time Mr. Trump spent in America’s Heartland during the last weeks of the campaign, but I couldn’t have predicted that he would prevail in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In fact, I had toyed with interactive campaign maps to see what might happened, and I had realized that if he won all the battleground states and took either Michigan or Pennsylvania, he could win. Actually, I was looking for the possibility of a tie, throwing the election into the House of Representatives. That could have happened, but of course it did not happen.
I was one of six million voters who cast my ballot for someone other than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Sometimes votes for those other candidates are called “wasted votes,” but I studied the positions of all the candidates and cast my vote for the one whose positions came closest to mine and the one I considered best qualified for the job. To me, this choice was a valid protest against the process which nominated Clinton and Trump–far more valid than shouting in the streets after the votes had been counted.
Now that Mr. Trump has been chosen by the voters to serve as our next President, we owe him respect and honor and support. We should pray for him, asking the Lord to grant him wisdom and to guide him in his job. We can hope that the dignity of the office will change Mr. Trump rather than the other way around. His speech early Wednesday morning already sounded more presidential than his campaign speeches; this is the beginning of a trend that we can pray will continue.
On election night, Donald Trump surprised the nation. Now Trump is about to be surprised, as the last twelve presidents have been surprised. The power and the influence of the presidency are not as great as most people imagine. Already during the transition, Trump is learning things he did not expect to learn. He is being given new information about Iraq, Iran, China, Russia, and other countries in the world. He is being given new information about the CIA, the FBI, and other government agencies. He is beginning to discover how American government really works, which is not exactly the way it is described in high school civics classes or portrayed in the movies.
The President cannot initiate legislation. He can propose legislation, but his proposal must then be made a motion on the House or Senate floor. It then will be assigned to a committee which will study it, refine it, reshape it, and amend it. When the committee has rewritten a proposal in a way that they like, they will bring it to the House or the Senate, where it is likely to be discussed and amended some more. Both the House and the Senate must approve the bill, and they often approve different versions of the bill. Then they have to negotiate a version that both can pass and send to the President. Congress is accustomed to this process of negotiation and compromise. Donald Trump will not be able to fire the members of Congress. He will have to negotiate with them. He will have to learn the art of compromise. He will not get everything he wants out of Congress.
He will not get everything he wants even out of the Executive Branch. He will appoint the members of his Cabinet, and they will choose some people to work in their offices, but most the employees of the Executive Branch are career government workers. They have learned how to survive under Republicans and under Democrats. They have learned how to pursue their own interests and desires. They have learned how to ignore a direct order, how to stall until the order is no longer relevant, and how to distort messages to make them match what they have already decided. These people cannot be fired. Without their jobs being filled, much government work would come to a halt. Trump will discover that most of the people who work for him are Democrats, since Democrats tend to believe that the government can do meaningful things, while Republicans tend to doubt that belief.
Does Donald Trump want to build a wall between the United States and Mexico? If he proposes such an idea to Congress, it is sure to die in a committee. Does he want to kick all the illegal immigrants out of the United States? He might persuade Congress to make tougher immigration laws, but he will have trouble finding anyone willing to enforce those laws. Does he want to screen all legal immigrants from Muslim countries to weed out possible terrorist? He will find that procedures are already in place to detect possible terrorists among people seeking to come to the United States. Once again, he may persuade Congress to make stricter rules, but he cannot guarantee that the stricter rules will be followed.
Does Donald Trump want to repeal Obamacare? For three years I have been saying that it cannot be repealed. It can and should be improved, and Republican members of Congress are already talking to one another about amendments to the Health Care Act that will reduce or eliminate its objectionable provisions while continuing to help the people who need its help. Does Donald Trump want to reduce the spending of the federal government? He can propose changes, but for every cut he wants to make, he will have to find a compromise or two that will move his spending cut through Congress.
Donald Trump has a mandate from the voters to try to fix what is wrong with the American government, but not many solutions can come out of the White House. The obligation returns to the voters to send honorable men and women into the government, to advise those elected or appointed to government positions, and to honor and respect the government we have created for ourselves. When we are better citizens, then we can produce a better government. Until then, we can only pray for the government that we have made. J.