There Will Be a Post-Trump State Department. Who Will Staff It?

This Foreign Policy piece on the gutting of the U.S. State Department under Secretary Tillerson is depressing.

Veterans of the U.S. diplomatic corps say the expanding front office is part of an unprecedented assault on the State Department: A hostile White House is slashing its budget, the rank and file are cut off from a detached leader, and morale has plunged to historic lows. They say President Donald Trump and his administration dismiss, undermine, or don’t bother to understand the work they perform and that the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk.

By failing to fill numerous senior positions across the State Department, promulgating often incoherent policies, and systematically shutting out career foreign service officers from decision-making, the Trump administration is undercutting U.S. diplomacy and jeopardizing America’s leadership role in the world, according to more than three dozen current and former diplomats interviewed by FP.

There is probably not much that can be done about such developments in the short term. However, there will be a post-Trump State Department. With the absence of foreign policy leadership in Washington right now, it is time to start thinking ahead for how to rebuild American foreign policy when that time comes.

The single greatest challenge facing the post-Trump foreign policy community will be in reclaiming understanding and expertise after an administration that does not care about the details, about history, or about the nuance of bilateral relations and regional dynamics. With the U.S. diplomatic corps hobbled, other reserves of foreign policy and area expertise will need to contribute. Universities and colleges have a critical role to play here. Political scientists and country- and regional-specialists should be thinking now about how they might contribute: writing for the policy community about how U.S. interests interface with local political dynamics, training students to value both critical inquiry and public service, and—yes—volunteering to serve themselves.

My advice to those in DC in the position to shape U.S. foreign policy after Trump is this: take advantage of this reservoir of foreign policy expertise. It will be especially important to have a grounded sense of the damage that the Trump administration has done to relationships with allies and partners. Make opportunities available for faculty and graduate students to contribute to this effort, and they will do so.

You may read some of my thoughts about the relationships between U.S. foreign policy, area studies, and political science here, here, and here.

The Failed ACA Repeal: Five Political Science Questions

As I wrote some months back, this is the best time ever to be a political scientist. The past six months of debate about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is one of the most important public policy debates in recent American history. With the failure of Skinny Repeal, here are five questions about the Affordable Care Act and the politics of replacing it, inspired by five core concepts in political science.

Structure versus Agency. Is the fundamental problem with the ACA repeal the fact that the ACA is complex legislation that affected many parts of the U.S. economy that had become fairly popular in a closely divided Senate (structure), or the failure of the White House and the Congressional GOP leadership to craft effective legislation and persuade the GOP majority to go along with it (agency or leadership)?

Credible Commitments. Four GOP Senators asked for a credible commitment from the House GOP leadership that the so-called Skinny Repeal would not be the final bill upon which the House voted. Speaker Ryan’s inability to provide such a commitment doomed the effort. What would have truly credible commitment by Speaker Ryan have looked like? Was it even possible?

Status Quo Bias. When the status quo is suboptimal, it would seem straightforward that any superior plan would be preferred. The ACA is suboptimal, but the GOP effort to repeal it was shrouded in uncertainty about its replacement. Would a better strategy have been to specify clearly the alternative, even had it been largely unpopular?

Policy feedback. New policies create new politics. The labelling of the ACA as “Obamacare” is a strategy to associate a complex policy regime with a polarizing individual, but the ACA proved substantively valuable even to many of the former President’s staunchest critics. How did this happen? In what ways was this intended policy-feedback-by-design, and in what ways unintended?

Mobilization and resistance. American progressives have been tirelessly working to protect the ACA. Senators Collins, McCain, and Murkowski are hardly progressives. So what effects did progressive mobilization ultimately have? Agenda setting in the media? Coordinating the health care establishment? Others? Nothing at all?

I’d happily read a long essay about any of these questions. Feel free to leave your own political science-inspired questions in the comments.