News in the Trump Era has featured countless headlines regarding the infighting between the Administration and longtime Executive Agency officials. The concept of a vast Administrative State is highly contentious, especially in current affairs. Ironically, those who depict the President and his supporters as anti-Democratic are those advocating a permanent bureaucratic class to combat a duly-elected president’s actions. President Trump has directed his Administration’s efforts at curbing the discretionary power of the Agencies, namely over-regulation and their ability to undermine the American people’s will. Unsurprisingly, many of the Agencies are resisting these efforts by an “any means necessary” approach.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the “deep state” as meaning “a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.” This notion of an entrenched bureaucratic class of individuals is not a new concept. Joseph Uscinski, a Political Science Professor at the University of Miami said, “‘Deep state’ has become very popular as of late, largely because of Trump, but in terms in which it is used by conspiracy theorists it has been bubbling to the surface for some time now.” Uscinski points to Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK, as an early example of a deep state-like concept, which “depicts a cabal of shadowy officials as the puppet masters behind President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.” Fast forward to 2017 and Oliver Stone said, “There is a system [in America], and that system existed before Trump.”
On January 2, 2018, President Trump tweeted, “Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!” President Trump is likely referencing the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation to track down leakers of classified information and the Inspector General’s looming report about the rampant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuses. Mollie Hemingway writes, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions is causing low morale and infighting among ‘rank-and-file employees’ by doing his job of implementing Trump administration policies at the Justice Department.” Attorney General Sessions’ progress at the Department of Justice is the most notable of the Trump Administration’s reforms.
Administrative agency officials often times possess extensive knowledge regarding various subjects; however, these individuals are not politically accountable. Hemingway continues, “Even so, the assumption that career bureaucrats must approve policy changes shows deep confusion about how the executive branch works in the American system… If cabinet officials were forced to follow the bureaucrats, there would be no need for cabinet officials or elections at all.” Ultimately, we must restore our federal government to a Constitutional structure.
The balance of power within the federal government has dramatically shifted to the Executive Branch. Senator Ben Sasse said, “The legislative branch is supposed to be the center of politics. Why isn’t it? For the past century, more legislative authority has been delegated to the executive branch every year. Both parties do it.” Congressional delegation of powers to the Executive Agencies is well-known. The central problem with legislative punting is the anti-Democratic nature of relying on the Executive Branch. The President is elected by the Electoral College; however, as Progressive activists have explained ad nauseum, the Electoral College ignores the national popular vote totals. Senator Ben Sasse explains this point perfectly, “We write giant pieces of legislation that people haven’t read, filled with terms that are undefined, and we say the secretary or administrator of such-and-such shall promulgate rules that do the rest of our jobs.” Senator Sasse describes this phenomenon as largely the product of a Congress willing to forgo legislative power for the sake of electoral politics.
The President’s successful efforts to roll-back the Agencies’ over-regulation have been largely overlooked due to his ability to drive the news cycle with tweets. Imagine that. Agency infighting has largely surrounded the Administration’s efforts to conservatively interpret statutory law. Unlike the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration has made it a priority to more strictly adhere to statutory text and legislative history. These efforts have been described as “regressive,” but there is a solution to this problem.
James C. Capretta writes, “The problems the country faces are more complex and technical than they used to be…Congress can therefore only retake its proper place in the policymaking process if it rethinks how it conducts its business.” Congress possesses the means and resources to enact or amend statutes, and Congress can utilize congressional agencies like the Congressional Budget Office or the Congressional Research Service. “Congress should look to expand support for their legislative efforts by building new pockets of institutional support that combine technical expertise in key issue areas with a policy development mission.” Rather than rely on Executive discretion, Congress can solidify its agenda and reinsure the American public that their will cannot be revoked on Executive whim, like much of President Obama’s legacy.
The solution to many of our political problems lies with Congress. Congress has forgone its constitutional duties, delegated under Article I, to legislate according to the people’s will, as Congress embodies democratic principles in the House of Representatives and republican principles in the Senate. If Congress is unwilling to reclaim its constitutional duties as the legislative branch, then the burden is on the American people to put pressure on Congress. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”
Mitchell Nemeth is a contributing writer with Merion West. His work has been featured at the Foundation for Economic Education and the University of Georgia’s The Arch Conservative.