This quote, at the very end of today’s Globe story reporting the confused state in which Washington policy types find themselves as they try to figure out what Donald Trump would actually do as president, to me says a lot about our current circumstances. It’s from Heather Hurlburt, “director of the New Models of Policy Change at the non-partisan New America Foundation and a former Clinton administration official.”
The guy [Trump] is enough a master of the American political process to get nominated by one of our two political parties; you really need to take him seriously…. If you think what’s at stake in the election is the demise of the liberal international system, but taking a position on that edges you closer to what your tax lawyers are telling you you can’t do, that’s a struggle for executives at think tanks.
It’s a perfect storm, no? The unfortunately outsized role in policy that Washington think tanks – densely populated by “former ___ administration officials” from both parties – have played for decades suffers a head-on collision with the absurdity that is American tax law governing nonprofits, and the result is a whole bunch of legitimately smart and knowledgeable people who can’t actually say out loud that a Trump presidency is a serious threat to America’s position in the world.
It doesn’t appear to be universally true that the think tank crowd can’t take a strong anti-Trump stand – as just one example, Robert Kagan, of the Brookings Institution and a “former Reagan administration official,” wrote a good column concluding that “[t]his is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes … but with a television huckster, … and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.” But the hand-wringing, both over what Trump actually says (how do we evaluate it? our models break when we input his statements!) and over their employers’ coveted 501(c)(3) status, is yet another unpredictable factor in this most unpredictable of election years.