There are numerous books about President Trump and the supposed inner workings of the Trump White House. Whether they were written by famed journalists or those who claimed to have worked closely with the president, majority of these books seem to only confirm what the president’s detractors already believed — that the president doesn’t know what he’s doing; he’s unpredictable; he spends all his time on tweeting false or exaggerated statements. Essentially, they argue the White House has been in a constant state of chaos.
Amidst the array of these indistinguishable narratives, it is refreshing to find a book such as You’re Hired: Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President, which casts both Trump and his White House in a very different light. The author of the book, Casey Mulligan, is an economics professor at the University of Chicago.
Mulligan gained national notice after he penned a series for the Wall Street Journal, such as How Obamacare Wrecks the Work Ethic and The Myth of Obamacare’s Affordability, that exposed the fallacies of Obamacare in its early days, when few economists bothered to produce conventional economic analyses on Obamacare’s effects on our economy and consumer behaviors. It was Mulligan’s analysis that eventually convinced the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to admit that Obamacare will harm growth and jobs, despite the admission arriving four years after Obamacare became law.
Between July 2018 and June 2019, Mulligan served as chief economist of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), a position which gave him the front-row seat to witness how President Trump, the White House staff, and the president’s cabinet worked together on fulfilling the president’s campaign promises and formulating policy solutions. According to Mulligan, what he saw and experienced at the White House “differed significantly” from his expectations and conventional wisdom. Therefore, he felt that it was necessary to document his observations and experiences in a book to supply American people with “information and economic interpretation that nobody has yet provided,” given how biased and partisan our mainstream media has become.
Given Mulligan’s position, his book is less about the populist president and more about economic policies Mulligan worked on, such as analyzing the economic costs of socialism, lowering prescription drug prices, and comparing President Reagan and Trump’s policies regarding international trade. Still, Trump looms large throughout the book.
Myth vs. Reality in the Trump Administration
Based on his observations and analysis, Mulligan disputed several popular claims against both the president and the White House. For example, 72 percent of voters believe that the president spends too much vanity time on Twitter.
According to Mulligan, Twitter is an effective tool for President Trump for multiple purposes – sometimes the president uses Twitter to test policy ideas with the American public. Depending on the public reaction and media coverage, Trump may then decide to either turn the idea into an actual policy or make adjustments before rolling it out or shelving the idea completely.
Trump also uses Twitter to broadcast his accomplishments and amplify his messages, bypassing hostile mainstream media, which is more interested in blaming him for everything wrong than to give him any credit where credit is due. According to Mulligan, Trump often intentionally exaggerates statements in his tweets, especially when talking about his administration’s accomplishments, so “the press might enjoy correcting him and unwittingly disseminate the intended finding” of the president’s success.
There is no doubt that Twitter has given Trump the kind of reach he would never get from corporate media. Mulligan cited a study by Gallup that found three-quarters of U.S. adults or 190 million Americans “see, hear or read about @realdonaldtrump’s tweets ‘a lot’ or a ‘fair amount.” Therefore, it is extremely important for Trump to maintain a constant presence on Twitter, but “the image of POTUS alone tapping tweets from scratch on a cell phone is inaccurate.”
The president also has a social media team, which consists of himself and Dan Scavino. According to Mulligan, Trump and Scavino often work together to compose tweets and “tweets sourced from advisers would typically be vetted among dozens of them.” Still, one can’t help but wonder whether the president’s tweets name-calling and disparaging his opponents were ever vetted. On a practical level, fewer of those might do good for the president’s reputation and image.
The American people also have been told again and again that the Trump White House is chaotic and inefficient, that staff morale is low and they are more interested in backstabbing than getting anything done. Mulligan devoted an entire chapter to evidence that, on the contrary, the Trump White House he experienced is full of “collegiality, predictability, and productivity.” Mulligan writes almost everyone he worked with was friendly and courteous, including the president, who “was often polite and kind (not to mention interesting) in personal relations, in contrast with many of his Twitter performances.”
Mulligan noted that the CEA is often “months ahead on requests from POTUS and his staff” and has “published roughly three million words (the equivalent of fourteen 500-page textbooks) during its first two years,” including “seventeen supply and demand analyses in its first three Economic Reports of the President, as compared to one by the Obama Administration and only eight for all other Presidents combined.”
To counter the complaint that Trump must have been a horrible boss because there is a seemingly high turnover rate of White House staff, Mulligan explained that the Trump White House is a well-oiled machine and people leave as soon as they accomplish what they were set out to do or what their skill set allows them to do. Mulligan shared several examples, including his own.
He wrote, “in my own case, 12 months was just enough to complete the 8 or 10 projects for which my skills were especially applicable. Those same projects could easily have been dragged out over three or four years, but that would have been wasteful and prevented other economists from benefiting from the historical opportunities to serve in President Trump’s CEA.”
The majority of the book focuses on economic policies, especially how an idea was debated, formulated and eventually became policy. Mulligan does a sufficient job of explaining various complex issues free of economic jargon, so even readers without an economics background can easily grasp the core issues and solutions.
One alarming takeaway the book delivers is that when a proposed legislation becomes incredibly lengthy, even very intelligent people may fail to grasp its most fundamental flaws. A telling example is when Mulligan proposed to add a talking point in the POTUS’s State of the Union speech, about the fact that Medicare for All would end private health insurance.
Plenty of smart people within the White House questioned this line, as it seemed too radical to be true, although nobody bothered to read the entire bill. So, Mulligan began to carry Section 107 of the Medicare for All bill, which specifically outlaws private health insurance, in his pocket, and had to pull it out more than once to convince skeptics. This descriptive scenario is reminiscent of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s famous saying about Obamacare: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
It is terrifying to think about how often a bill as consequential as Obamacare became law solely because lawmakers and those working in the executive branch give their support without reading or understanding what’s in it. The American people, then, are left to bear the law’s terrible consequences.
Mulligan is clearly a fan of President Trump, and his You’re Hired gives a flattering description of the current administration. Still, the book isn’t all praises of the Trump administration. It also encompasses a few policy failures. But in these scenarios, Mulligan holds certain cabinet officials accountable rather than blaming the president.
The title of the book, according to Mulligan, alludes to President Trump’s former television series, The Apprentice and the famous phrase, “You’re fired.” The American people hired Trump, a Washington outsider, in 2016, to “try something new” in Washington.
From historically low unemployment rates, especially for minorities (until the pandemic hit this spring), the first criminal justice reform bill, the appointments of Supreme Court Justices, to the groundbreaking Middle East peace deals, Trump has accomplished a great deal in just one term. At the same time, the country is more divided than ever, and our economy took a big hit as a result of lockdowns.
Today, eleven million Americans, including the president, have been infected with COVID-19 and the virus has claimed the lives of nearly 220,000 Americans. America is still a long way from going back to normal, and it is difficult to re-imagine what normality may be.
Despite Trump’s personal flaws and failures as president, November’s elections might have looked a lot different if more Americans understood and appreciated Mulligan’s perspective from inside his administration. Trump may not have been rehired, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do a good job.