Republican nominee Donald Trump won the presidency in a surprise upset on November 8 because he focused more on jobs than on identity politics. While the bombastic billionaire was pilloried for everything from his lack of political experience to his distasteful words about women, he was smart enough to maintain a laser focus on bringing back jobs. Ultimately, his [allegedly] pro-labor stances helped him wrestle the Rust Belt, including Pennsylvania, from the Democrats, delivering Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a shocking loss in the Electoral College.
Now that the real estate scion is finally in the Oval Office, America is getting a firsthand look at whether Trump is ready to walk the walk after talking the talk. Although his initial flurry of executive orders have backed up what he said on the campaign trail, one order sparks fear: A widespread federal hiring freeze, affecting all of the federal executive branch aside from the military. The government-wide hiring freeze should make waves precisely because it contradicts Trump’s promised focus on job creation.
Refusing to hire new civilian federal employees is about the most inefficient way to reduce government spending. It also sets up the new president for a standoff against his own bureaucracy, which wields tremendous power. According to Politico, any battle between Trump and an angry civilian federal workforce could have long-run and widespread ramifications, ranging from Republicans being voted out in swing states and Washington suffering an unexpected “brain drain.” Bureaucratic leaders can also stymie Trump’s administration directly by refusing to work proactively with the White House. Malcontents could intentionally botch roll-outs of Trump policies, leading to their quick failure.
By moving swiftly to cut “big government,” Trump will quickly find himself in political quicksand…and he is in plenty of that already due to his former campaign manager’s use of alternative facts to explain his controversial inauguration attendance figures. Instituting a hasty hiring freeze could lead to agencies struggling to handle their workloads as older employees retire, forcing these agencies to cut back on services, hire outside contractors, or force employees to work overtime. All three options are likely to be far more expensive, in the long run, than allowing regular hiring to continue. And angry federal agencies, upset by the new president’s antics, are unlikely to play ball and keep a stiff upper lip. In retaliation, expect federal agencies to begin foot-dragging and airing dirty laundry.
Exempting the military from the hiring freeze hurts Trump’s ability to portray the freeze as a strict cost-cutting measure. While many voters would sympathize with a chief executive who is trying to cut runaway spending, it’s hard to be sympathetic when the chief executive is hurting the civilian half of the federal bureaucracy in order to give more funds to the military half. After more than fifteen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, did the United States have much to show for the countless billions it spent there? Sadly, there is little positive to be seen. Arguably, our warmongering in Iraq led to the rise of ISIS, which Trump is now vowing to spend billions more dollars (and unknown more military personnel lives) to defeat.
Spending money on defense is the least effective way to create jobs. The Department of Defense is, by far, the most bloated and inefficient federal agency: The Washington Post recently discovered that the Pentagon had wasted over $125 billion in bureaucratic mismanagement. And that’s just general inefficiency – there’s more money that simply cannot be accounted for! Even Fox News reported that the Pentagon could not document how it spent some $6.5 trillion. This problem goes back to before September 11. Why on earth would a supposed cost-cutting reformer (as Trump has eagerly branded himself) throw more money into the defense spending pit?
Defense spending is especially unnecessary given that our most powerful geopolitical rival, China, is slowing its own military expenditures. Its army, long known as the world’s largest, is shedding some 300,000 troops as the rising superpower seeks to streamline and become more efficient. Prominent figures in China are warning the United States that its obsession with defense spending is hindering its economic growth: Billionaire Jack Ma asserts that U.S. warring, and not foreign competition, is the cause of disappearing jobs. With the U.S. spending almost twice the percentage of its GDP that China does on national defense, it is hard to argue that we should continue to spend so amply on our military, much less increase such spending.
Democrats in Congress should ardently oppose Trump’s civilian federal hiring freeze and his ill-conceived proposal to “restore our military.” He is shifting from more efficient federal jobs spending to less efficient federal jobs spending, upsetting the civilian bureaucracy, diverting spending from infrastructure and healthcare, and potentially setting us up for an undesirable Cold War with the People’s Republic of China. We should heed the warnings of the erosion and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, which was triggered by overspending on its military. Playing soldier may help Trump feel like a hero today, but it could bankrupt America tomorrow. Such economic woes would permanently destroy the billionaire’s already dubious reputation and ensure that his legacy is one of catastrophic failure.