By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – January 18, 2021
As the Trump Presidency ends in the disgrace of the Capitol riot, an effort is already underway to erase everything in the last four years as disgraceful too. That’s a lie—a Big Lie, to borrow the cliché of the moment. Donald Trump’s profound character flaws need to be separated from what so many people in his Administration accomplished for the country.
These men and women didn’t “enable” Donald Trump. Sixty-three million Americans did that when they elected him in 2016, with a significant assist from the Democrats who nominated Hillary Clinton, perhaps the only candidate who could have lost to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump appointed people who had the usual varying combinations of conviction and ambition. They served despite the hostility of the bureaucracy and press, and a President who often didn’t appreciate their work. Sometimes—in some cases, often—they protected the country by stopping Mr. Trump from his worst impulses.
We can’t list everyone who contributed, but before the Biden Presidency begins we thought we’d link some of those who did their jobs well with the successful policies they promoted. We’ve already saluted Betsy DeVos at Education and Ajit Pai at the Federal Communications Commission. Here’s a sample of other significant people and policies:
• Larry Kudlow, Kevin Hassett, Casey Mulligan, Gary Cohn, and others on the economic team. The pandemic-lockdown recession has obscured that the pre-Covid U.S. economy was the strongest since the 1990s. Unlike the Obama years, the benefits of growth were widely dispersed, wage gains were strongest for the least skilled, and poverty saw its sharpest decline in decades.
This wasn’t a continuation of the Obama economy, which was losing steam in its final years. Growth accelerated after the GOP-Trump policy mix of tax reform, deregulation and an end to business harassment. Growth reached 3% for a year or so before Mr. Trump’s trade policies added costs and uncertainty. But these advisers also dissuaded Mr. Trump from even more damaging protectionism, such as withdrawing from Nafta.
• Neomi Rao, Mick Mulvaney, Russ Vought, Scott Gottlieb, Elaine Chao and the deregulators. The Trump Administration promoted the most far-reaching deregulation in modern times. They did this in ways large and small—from easing rules across American finance, ending the attempt to put entire industries (for-profit schools, coal, payday lending) out of business, rewriting unachievable vehicle mileage standards, accelerating generic drug approvals, and easing permitting standards for oil and gas development and exports.
The Administration also raised the standards for cost-benefit analysis in issuing new rules, and instituted a regulatory budget. The result was a strong economy, yet no major breakdown in health or safety. Nothing close to the Flint water or Colorado wastewater disasters of the Obama years happened in the last four. They proved emphatically that the administrative state can be reined in with effort and no harm to the public.
• Jay Clayton, Eugene Scalia and investor protection. At the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Clayton focused enforcement on genuine scams rather than political targets. He expanded access for small investors to private capital markets and he took on the proxy adviser racket.
As Labor secretary, Mr. Scalia rewrote an Obama rule so pension funds must focus on returns to investors rather than serving the political demands of environmental, social and corporate governance goals. Both looked out for the little guy, not Wall Street.
• Don McGahn and judicial nominations. Assisted by Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Mr. McGahn created a process for vetting, nominating and confirming a record number of judges. This includes three Supreme Court Justices and 54 appellate judges whose influence will be felt for decades. Mr. McGahn and other lawyers also steered Mr. Trump away from blunders like sacking special counsel Robert Mueller or exceeding his executive authority on regulation and other matters.
• Mike Pence, Bill Barr and the rule of law. Few men have been vilified more than the Vice President and former Attorney General, but they deserve better. Mr. Barr refused to endorse Mr. Trump’s claims of election theft when the evidence didn’t exist. He also refused Mr. Trump’s demand for indictments in the FBI Russia collusion probe before the election—per Justice Department standards.
Mr. Pence resisted Mr. Trump’s pressure, private and public, to overturn the state electoral vote count. He followed the Constitution. This may cost him with some Trump voters if he runs for President in 2024, but the country should be grateful he was there when Mr. Trump finally exceeded his constitutional bounds in 2020. The actions of Messrs. Pence and Barr, as well as by conservative judges who rejected fraud claims, reveal the underlying strength of American institutions amid the Trump stress test.
• White House aide Matt Pottinger, Mike Pompeo, H.R. McMaster and the China challenge. These men developed the strategy and tactics for the new U.S. relationship with China. As national security adviser, Mr. McMaster never meshed with Mr. Trump, but his national strategy document redefined the U.S. security challenge in a world of great-power competition.
Messrs. Pottinger and Pompeo, among others, called out China for its aggression abroad (Hong Kong, South China Sea) and abuses at home (Xinjiang labor camps). They offered renewed U.S. support for Taiwan, formed an alliance against Huawei as a security threat, and invigorated the “quad” of Asia-Pacific nations—India, Australia, Japan and the U.S.—as a defense group resisting Chinese expansion.
They accomplished this despite Mr. Trump’s frequent resistance because he thought he could charm President Xi Jinping. We’d add John Bolton to this list for heading off many of Mr. Trump’s other bad ideas, such as meeting with the Taliban at Camp David and pulling U.S. troops from South Korea. Heather Wilson and Robert O’Brien pressed Air Force readiness and Navy modernization, respectively.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but these offer a flavor of the people and policies who made a difference for the better. A Presidency is more than one man, as we will soon learn the hard way as progressives populate the Biden Administration. The Trump Administration should be remembered for far more than its terrible final days.
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Source: They Did Their Jobs Well – WSJ