The occasion of President Donald Trump's State of the Union Address marks a time of considerable optimism flowing from the prospects of more jobs, smaller government, less regulation, and more economic freedom.
This vibe seems to exist despite the despite the seeming "reality show" of Twitter surprises and unusual White House goings-on, and the animosity between Trump and media.
It will be interesting to compare what we expect to hear from Trump from the tone and messaging of his predecessor. The theme of President Obama’s addresses usually hinged on the idea that for the poor and middle-class to succeed, government must grow and expand. This worldview stood ready to transform every difficulty into a public policy issue, and it led to Obama executing plans without Congress—via “pen and phone.” The predictability led me to sum up President Obama's addresses in five words: more spending, dependency, and regulation.
Obama used the SOTU as a platform for advocating for sweeping new government programs like Obamacare and “free” community college.
Trump, in contrast, is expected instead to tout ways he has rolled back government, almost echoing the "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem" language of Reagan's inauguration.
In contrast to Obama, one might sum up the theme of Trump’s SOTU address in these five words: less dependency and less regulation. (Unfortunately I'm a little less optimistic that the Trump administration will pursue sweeping spending cuts.)
Basking in the passage of tax reform, Trump will showcase his parallel regulatory reform efforts and a friendlier attitude toward the private expansion of infrastructure (and no doubt toward more government spending in that respect, too).
Trump may very well reinforce the already announced intention to expand his “one-in, two-out” regulatory reduction program to streamline and reduce costs and rules even further. Among his examples, he may also take the opportunity to praise the Federal Communications Commission's rollback of a misnamed “net neutrality” rule, a direct contrast to President Obama’s 2015 SOTU address in which he urged imposing that very regulation.
The differences are stark. Obama's spending and regulatory proposals aimed at expanding middle class reliance on Washington, and injecting the bureaucracy into our ordinary business affairs. Obama was known for constantly lamenting income inequality and a wealth gap between rich and poor, yet his middle-class economics "remedies" would increase hiring costs, and perversely, aggravate these very concerns.
Trump’s emphasis has been, and one hopes will continue to be, expanding private sector productive freedom and job creation. Rather than class warfare, Trump’s vision appears to be that of a nation hosting a less-meddlesome Washington, a country less encumbered by needless, counterproductive, and expensive rules and regulations.
Such differences in philosophy are reasons why one of the biggest differences we see in Trump's administration compared to Obama's rests in the way the administrative state is managed on a day to day basis; and correspondingly, we see a difference in the way the productive class and striving workers are praised and elevated.
In large part, Trump's agencies have abstained from issuing significant new rules and regulations. While it’s true that Trump, too, has access to the pen and phone, he seems to be more fond of an eraser. More than 1,500 uncompleted Obama rules in the pipeline when Trump came to power were withdrawn or delayed in the last year.
Although there has been notable progress in cutting red tape, and our economic health is showing it, permanent regulatory reform of the sort Trump seems to envision will require Congress to act. That bipartisan action is something Trump is expected to call for in his SoTU speech. Bipartisanship is not just needed for enactment, but to lend permanence to today's newfound breathing room for business and job expansion.
Even more needs to be done. In the coming year, there will likely be more discussion of steps that both Congress and the administration need to take to curtail abuse of sub-regulatory guidance documents,” and more.
Trump appears to have tapped into discontent with an arrogance in Washington that comes across as a personal affront to Americans living outside the Beltway. Five of the 10 wealthiest counties in the U.S. surround the Washington, D.C. metro area; comfortable bureaucrats live in million-dollar homes and retire with generous pensions.
That doesn't seem fair. A State of the Union Address that calls for less dependency and less regulation, is also one that calls for more opportunities and prospects for Americans. For the first State of the Union Address in quite some time, we will not be told that Washington is the answer to most of our troubles.
Originally published to Forbes.