To say that the first days of the Trump Administration, which officially began Jan. 20, 2017, have been chaotic might be stating the obvious. The day after inauguration, and with regular frequency since, demonstrations and protests began opposing President Trump. Almost all of the new President’s cabinet picks have been opposed in bloc by Senate Democrats, resulting in the first ever Vice-Presidential tie-breaking vote on a confirmation. Among his first executive orders, Trump signed a directive halting immigration until cabinet-level officials can verify the accuracy, process and safety of immigration and asylum-seeking individuals from countries known to harbor and train terrorists, which has caused nationwide outrage and protests. Even the President’s press secretary has been scrutinized and made fun of in pop culture. From an outside observer’s perspective, it certainly seems like more is going wrong than is going right for the President.
Before we jump to conclusions, I offer a few considerations. First, consider the individual. Since his announcement declaring his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has been a divisive individual. He ran as the anti-politician, in contrast to a life-long politician, and won. He has never held public office before, nor had the opportunity to serve the people through governing. Comparing him to politicians of the past, whom have led our country to this deeply partisan landscape, is unfair because he was elected on the premise of rewriting the rules of how Washington operates. True, Trump is an outspoken, brash and impulsive public speaker, but expecting him to reverse course and be more politically correct now that he’s been sworn in is expecting Trump to be a politician and follow the playbook of the past.
Secondly, consider the sources of the chaos. The same media that is citing all of these alleged failures of the early days of the administration, were the ones giving Donald Trump billions of dollars worth of free advertising on their programs this time last year. As a result, faith in the media by Trump supporters has nearly vanished. Polling data that was cited in October and November before the election were heavily favoring Secretary Clinton. The reasons for the discrepancy between the polls and the results are lessons the media and pollsters haven’t seemed to quite grasp. At the risk of overstating, Trump’s supporters and conservatives were not answering pollsters partly because of distrust in the media and partly because of fear of reprisal, compromising the integrity and balance of polling results that has not been perceived to have been fixed. As a result, those talking most about the chaos and discussing it as an undermining of the presidency are the ones who profit and benefit from the chaos, or the ones who did not support Trump in the first place, and arguably were never going to.
Thirdly, whether the chaos continues or things settle down is inconsequential. Donald Trump will be our President for the next four years, and the House and Senate will be controlled by Republicans for at least the next two. I say at least because the 2018 election cycle landscape looks quite unfavorably for Democrats, especially in the Senate. Ten Democratic Senators are running for reelection in states won by Donald Trump, five of them by more than 20 points (Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia), while the other five were states that Democrats expected to win (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida). Only one Republican Senator faces reelection in a state won by Hilary Clinton (Dean Heller of Nevada). The last three mid-term elections have not been kind to the party controlling the White House, which should give Democrats some solace leading into 2018. However, their actions between now and then will be telling about their confidence in reelection. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have a choice to make concerning the chaos: Embrace it or work through it. Their decision will become evident soon and will clearly illustrate what they believe is their best road to reelection. Notice I did not say the best road for moving the country forward.
How the utility and excavation construction industry faces this chaos will dictate our legislative and regulatory successes over the next two years. We must look at the chaos as a distraction from our pursuits and priorities. Our job over the next six months is to ingrain the benefits of infrastructure investment in the minds of lawmakers, reestablish the financing of infrastructure as investment rather than spending and ensure regulators understand that infrastructure upgrades prevent and mitigate environmental risks, not cause them.
Keeping our eye on the prize will be our best, most fortuitous course of action in the midst of an otherwise chaotic environment.