The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.
We’ve all been there, at some point, in our lives. People, businesses, and even governments have faced it. With the best intentions in the world, a policy, a program, even a family rule designed to make life better, backfires right in your face. Project managers use risk analysis to try to foresee every possible scenario where the project can go wrong. But often, even that is not enough.
Because there is a law. A law that none of us can ignore. The law of unintended consequences.
Take, for example, the No Child Left Behind legislation passed during Bush 43’s administration. Passed with the best of intentions to ensure that all children received a quality education through increased federal spending, increased standardized testing, and more stringent qualifications for teachers, it left behind instead a legacy of bureaucratic nightmare. Many states were unable to meet all the requirements and either received waivers or ignored those portions of the law they were unable to meet. The law of unintended consequences.
President Obama was not able to ignore this law after the implementation of Obamacare. Despite the promises of “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” or assurances that premiums for health care coverage would be reduced dramatically. While healthcare did become available for many, others saw the monthly payments skyrocket. Some to the point that they could no longer afford it. The law of unintended consequences.
President Trump discovered this law in the first weeks of his administration. His executive order restricting immigration found many individuals with approved visas or green cards suddenly prevented from entering U.S. soil. Many of these were in mid-flight when the restrictions went into place. Granted, a poorly designed executive order, coupled with a disastrous implementation plan, resulted in the ensuing personal and legal confusion. Nonetheless, the Trump administration ran face first into the law of unintended consequences.
Fortunately, reasonable people are usually able to recognize and correct the unintended consequences. The deficiencies in the No Child Left Behind Act were addressed by the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act of ESSA in December 2015. It may be too soon to know if there are unintended consequences to this legislation as well.
Repairing the unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act is proving far more difficult than Republican politicians blithely promised. While “Repeal and Replace” made a good campaign slogan, implementing it is far more difficult. Do you repeal the law before having a replacement in hand? Do you repeal parts of the law while leaving others intact? Or do you now, as many in Washington are saying, fix it instead?
Donald Trump was a great one for making promises to the American people without ever considering the possible consequences that might occur if he kept them.
- A wall across the entire border between the United States and Mexico, that Mexico would pay for.
- A tariff of up to 35% on goods imported into the United States
- “Punishment” for companies that moved manufacturing or services overseas
These represent just a few of the poorly considered proposals Trump says he plans to implement. Fortunately, in some cases, wiser heads have convinced him that some of his ideas such as re-instituting “waterboarding” for terrorist suspects were not just wrong, but illegal. Just this week, Secretary of Defense Mattis has been in Iraq assuring the Iraqi people that we have no intention of taking their oil. This was after German Chancellor Merkel schooled Trump on the illegality of just such an action under the Geneva Convention.
Even some of Trump’s own policies appear to be on a collision course of unintended consequences. His highly touted massive infrastructure spending plan could find significant parts of it derailed by his proposed ban on federal funding for sanctuary cities. Eliminating cities such as Los Angeles or New York from the infrastructure plan would not only hurt the residents of those cities but could send ripples flowing out to the areas surrounding them.
Trump is not solely to blame. Surrounded by family members and inexperienced sycophants as his primary policy advisors, he is being told what he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear. Even some who should know better, such as the John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, are either ignored (as in the executive order on immigration) or are willing to go along with highly problematic plans. The latest of these is the proposal to deport all illegal immigrants, regardless of country of origin, to Mexico. Can you imagine what Vicente Fox Quesada would have to say about this idea?
Yes, even with the best intentions and most careful planning, the law of unintended consequences can frustrate the best of us. But to enact orders, legislation, or policies without due diligence is not only reckless, it is downright dangerous.
Because we live in a world where the use of nuclear weapons by ourselves or another country could be the last unintended consequence we might face.
And that is one law that even Trump cannot afford to ignore