Trump’s Dilemma: Explaining the President’s War on His Own Executive Branch
32 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 11, 2019
One of the most striking characteristics of the Trump administration has been the frequency and vehemence with which the President has sought to undermine the expertise, operational capacity, credibility, and legitimacy of his own federal departments and agencies. In some cases, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of State, Trump sought to attack the civil service through massive cuts in staff and budget, silencing of scientific experts, and a depletion of morale that drove career professionals out of government service. In other cases, such as the US intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the President engaged in direct public attacks on the credibility and legitimacy of government agencies and their leaders. The Governor’s Dilemma framework allows us to explain why, and how, an American President could devote so much of his energy to undermining the competence of his intermediaries. “Trump’s Dilemma” derives from the fact that the President-Elect came to office with views so far outside mainstream traditions of American public policy that he feared that executive departments and agencies – the so-called “Deep State” – would resist his dramatic policy shifts, or even directly threaten his position as President by revealing damaging information or prosecuting the President or his advisors for violations of federal law. In the face of this dramatical goal divergence, together with the perceived failure of traditional principal-agent controls, Trump responded by moving aggressively to undermine the competence of many of his own departments and agencies.
Keywords: Principal-Agent, Governor's Dilemma, Donald Trump, State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Agencies
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