We have all encountered disruptive influences in our businesses operations. The Great Recession of 2008 was a disruptor, large increases in healthcare rates year over year are disruptors. The post-recession “new normal” is a disruption. There are also people who are disruptors, someone the boss hired to “shake things up,” disrupt the status quo … sometimes for good, sometimes not so good.
There are disruptors in government as well. There are policy changes on spending priorities, on approaches to government reform—face it, everyone is about reforming government, but it can be handled in multiple ways. New policies of a new governor could disrupt the way business is done throughout the Commonwealth. A change in environmental regulation enforcement, a change in tax collection policy, a change in licensing at the Department of State, or changes in welfare policy. Changes in administration or changes in laws passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor could be disruptors—good or bad.
Many times in business, adding a disruptor (employee) to staff is a conscious decision. Many disruptors are seen as innovators. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak clearly turned technology on its head with Microsoft and Apple, respectively. Frank McNamara founded Diners Club Credit Card in 1949, before partnering with a member of the Bloomingdale family to start what we know today at credit cards. Henry Ford, Orville and Wilbur Wright were disruptors, dramatically changing the status quo on transportation and where we can live.
There are less famous disruptors, and many unknown disruptors since they only achieved disrupting without birthing any kind of innovation. That’s the unique thing about being known as a disruptor. For a moment in time, while disruption is happening, it is unclear if this will be a good or a bad thing.
This brings us to the world’s currently most famous disruptor: President Donald Trump. I’m not making a judgement here good or bad, just making the case he is a disruptive force in government. He ran on a pledge to disrupt the status quo, to “drain the swamp,” to “make America great again.” He ran on a pledge to be a disruptor. So how’s it going so far?
Everyone has their own opinions, but let’s step back and take a big picture look at the Federal Government, which has a huge influence on our businesses and day-to-day lives. Is disruption a bad thing for our country? I would argue no. I would argue that the status quo taxing and spending needs fixing, everything from polarization of political factions to the degree folks barely speak to the daily operations which continue to function without clear intervention from Congress, isolated executive policy pushes from the White House (both the Trump and Obama White Houses).
Looking back in history, we have had some disruptors as Presidents. Abraham Lincoln with his “team of rivals” and the Emancipation Proclamation were disruptive to the status quo at the time, particularly in the south. The Civil War was a very disruptive time in our nation’s history. Theodore Roosevelt was a disruptor throughout his entire career, whether it was his charge up San Juan Hill, his cleaning up of the New York City Police Department or his monumental impact on reigning in the power and influence of large U.S. corporations as President.
Franklin Roosevelt was a disruptor, leading the nation back from the Great Depression and creating the modern social security system. Arguably, every President since has altered our thinking as a nation and as a society. Eisenhower initiated the Interstate System, Kennedy put us on the moon, Johnson gave us the Great Society, Nixon took us to China and gave us the lasting legacy of Watergate, Ford steadied the ship, Carter was the ultimate outsider, who became trapped in the White House during the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and economic malaise.
Ronald Reagan, not unlike Trump’s aspirations, got us to believe in our country again, demonstrated how difficult government is to change, but changed government and cut some deals along the way. Reagan never controlled both Chambers of Congress, but figured out how to make Washington work and for the most part, left us in a much better place. George H.W. Bush kicked Iraq out of Kuwait, famously compromised with Congress, which prompted the rise of the far right and brought us Bill Clinton. After floundering a bit in his first two years, Clinton figured out Washington and brought people together in the middle using good ole’ fashion deal making with Congress.
George W. Bush squeaked out a victory, led the country through the 9/11 tragedy, engaged our military in the Middle East and rode the economic roller coaster into a deep trench at the end of his administration, while presiding over an increasingly polarized Congress. Barack Obama changed more in his first two years than many Presidents accomplish in 8 years using Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress, feeding more of the polarization both in Congress and in the country. The Affordable Care Act, Dodd Frank, supported the Supreme Court decision on Gay Marriage and was a champion of an activist federal government with numerous Executive Orders when the Democrats lost control of Congress after his first two years.
I take this little trip into the past to put our new present into perspective and to make a case. Donald Trump is not the most disruptive President in the history of our country. He is unconventional (no doubt about that) he is not a seasoned politico (no doubt about that). Trump is a deal maker and he is disrupting the current status quo. It’s roughly 100 days since he has taken office and what remains to be seen is can he use his deal making ability to bring both Congress and the country together?
Public policy historically swings right and left like a well balanced pendulum. As a country, we generally work better moving toward the middle. Disruptive as Donald Trump may appear, his opportunity lies in bringing people together, building a political coalition in the middle, re-building our middle class and re-building faith in our country and the ability of our government to work for general health and welfare of our citizens and our future.
David E. Black (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president & CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & Capital Region Economic Development Corporation.