President Donald Trump has had 7 PATCO moments in his first 11 days in the White House.
What is a ‘PATCO Moment’ you may ask?
First, a little history lesson:
PATCO was the acronym for the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization that served as the union for all the nation’s air traffic controllers at all the nation’s airports.
No one in their right mind would suggest theirs is not a very important job to our personal safety and national commerce. They are highly trained people and everyone should be grateful they do a great job every day.
However, they are also federal workers. Public servants as much as any congressional staff or administration official is.
Here’s the oath they take when they accept the job at any of the approximately 10,000 US airports:
‘I am not participating in any strike against the Government of the United States or any agency thereof, and I will not so participate while an employee of the Government of the United States or any agency thereof.’
President Reagan took that oath seriously. As do the vast majority of federal workers when they take federal jobs.
Except the PATCO workers as of August 3, 1981, that is.
‘At 7 a.m. on August 3, 1981, the union declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay, and a 32-hour workweek. In addition, PATCO wanted to be excluded from the civil service clauses that it had long disliked.
In striking, the union violated 5 U.S.C. (Supp. III 1956) 118p (now 5 U.S.C. § 7311), which prohibits strikes by federal government employees.
Ronald Reagan declared the PATCO strike a “peril to national safety” and ordered them back to work under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act.
Only 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work.
Subsequently, at 10:55 a.m., Reagan included the following in a statement to the media from the Rose Garden of the White House: “Let me read the solemn oath taken by each of these employees, a sworn affidavit, when they accepted their jobs”
He then demanded those remaining on strike return to work within 48 hours, otherwise their jobs would be forfeited. At the same time, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis organized for replacements and started contingency plans.
By prioritizing and cutting flights severely, and even adopting methods of air traffic management that PATCO had previously lobbied for, the government was initially able to have 50% of flights available.
On August 5, following the PATCO workers’ refusal to return to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life.1)
And they never worked as an air traffic controller at a US airport ever again.
That one singular act was routinely referred to as the ‘signature moment’ when everyone in the nation knew for sure that President Reagan was setting a new course for America after 4 years of dismal economic growth, ‘stagflation’, rampant inflation, sky-high interest rates, 444 days of Iran holding 52 American hostages in Tehran, gas shortages and rising gasoline prices under previous President Jimmy Carter.
President Reagan had survived an assassination attempt in March of 1981, barely 2 months after he was sworn-in as President and he had started the process of passing tax cuts to revive the economy.
But the PATCO strike was the moment that defined the early years of President Reagan since it signaled a return to law, a return to reason, a return to honorable selfless public service and a return to common sense.
President Reagan had that signature PATCO moment in August, 1981 just over 7 months in office.
President Donald Trump has had 7 ‘PATCO-like Moments’ in his first 11 DAYS as President of the United States.
1. Signed order allowing Keystone Pipeline to proceed
2. Withdrew US from Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations
3. Announced hiring freeze in federal government
4. Announced freeze and rollback of federal regulations
5. Announced the beginning of the construction of the border wall with Mexico
6. Issued temporary halt to immigration from 7 countries most identified with Islamist extremism
7. Announced the selection of Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to the US Supreme Court.
We may have missed a couple along the way. At this rate, President Trump may average a PATCO-esque moment or 2 per day for each day he is in office.
You may love this change of direction under President Trump or you may hate it. But there is no denying that just as ex-President Obama promised significant change in 2009 as he took office, President Trump is delivering on significant change in 2017 as he takes office.
As monumental as many of these actions have been, it remains to be seen what the US Senate and Congress will do since that is where substantive changes can be made to last the long-term through legislation.
If Congress follows suit, this year may be one of the most active and substantial sessions of Congress in perhaps the last 20 years.
You might want to stay tuned.