Shortly after World War II, Congress passed a law requiring the federal government to assume responsibility for managing the economy. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy claimed that government stewardship was responsible for the post-War economic boom. In those heady days, there was even talk about how economists had learned to fine-tune the economy.
Looking back, the hubris of the 1960s governing elite seems laughable. Studies have shown that the best economic models of that era failed to predict most of what actually happened. We know today that the post-War boom had more to do with pent-up demand and America’s global dominance than government policies. By the 1970s, government policymakers seemed unable to understand or address the combination of high inflation and growing unemployment.
Being pragmatic, most Americans eventually came to agree with Ronald Reagan’s assessment that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” He connected with everyday Americans by declaring that the most frightening words in the English language were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” His words still resonate today as a majority of Americans believe the federal government has too much power. Only 7% think it has too little.
But a growing political class resisted that view and retained faith in the idea that the government could manage the economy. In fact, those in official Washington came to believe that government bureaucrats could create a better nation by managing every aspect of life in America. They cheered the dramatic growth of the Regulatory State and were convinced that bureaucrats know best.
Thus began a wide divide between everyday Americans and political elites.
That background helps explain the intense hatred of President Donald Trump. Some of the hatred stems from the president’s aggressive style and tortured language. Even many of the president’s supporters cringe at some things he says and does.
But, I suspect that the deeper cause of this hatred stems from the fact that President Trump is exposing the core myth of the political class. The privileged elites in Washington think the nation needs their wise leadership, but the president was elected by people who disagree. And, the president is proving that the voters are right.
According to the political class worldview, this Administration is doing everything wrong. Rather than steady leadership from smooth talking officials, the White House has been consumed with turmoil and distracted by the president’s unpresidential tweets. The political atmosphere is more poisonous than anyone alive today can remember. The government continues to be gridlocked and dysfunctional and Congress hasn’t passed any significant reforms. President Trump has been rolling back regulations rather than giving more power to bureaucrats.
If the political class worldview was correct, the economy should be tanking. But it’s not. In fact, consumer confidence is at a 13-year high, people are feeling better about their personal finances, and businesses keep generating more jobs.
This is good news for America, but not for the political class. It’s further proof that they’re not as important as they think they are. For many in official Washington, highlighting the irrelevance of their work is President Trump’s unforgivable sin.