The real scandal of the Ukrainian debacle that continues to lead every cable broadcast is that, once again, the actions of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats have deeply affected an election in United States.
In recent days, it has come out not only that the intelligence community inspector general changed policy about secondhand information to fit this particular whistleblower complaint, but also that the whistleblower him- or herself was working with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and House Democrats before filing the complaint.
President Trump called the whistleblower complaint a “scam” in a press conference with the Finnish president on Wednesday, and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller called it a “partisan hit job” in a contentious interview earlier in the week.
“The president of the United States is the whistleblower, and this individual is a saboteur trying to undermine a democratically elected government,” Miller said on Fox News Sunday.
Among the revelations of the past week has been that the president has to “hide” his phone calls from much of his own administration to reduce leaks. This move might seem to indicate guilt—and is certainly being spun that way by Democrats and the media—but for the knowledge that the president isn’t wrong to mistrust his own workforce.
Federal employees are anything but neutral administrators of the law. Fully 95 percent of donations from those working for agencies went to Hillary Clinton in 2016. And a web of civil service laws built over the past century effectively inures them to the consequences of defying the elected and appointed officials tasked by our political process with captaining the ship of state.
It takes up to two years to fire a federal worker, even those convicted of felonies while on the job. Four different appeal routes and a flowchart’s worth of avenues prevent most managers from even trying to rid themselves of incompetent or outright insubordinate employees.
“At the DOJ, we can’t really get fired,” a career employee chuckles over coffee in an undercover video from Project Veritas, while outlining how she uses her position to undermine the administration. As early as the winter of the president’s inauguration, federal employees were already publicly trading tips on how to “#resist” from within.
When President Trump claims to be an outsider in his own administration, in a very real sense, he’s not wrong. Say what you want about Trump (and I’ve said plenty) he represents a real challenge to the post-war liberal order, both foreign and domestic, of the last 70 years.
Many of what are really just political heresies are instead labeled dangerous or insane by a ruling class that has mistaken its consensus of the last few decades for the foundational pillars of democracy. Instead of meeting the Trumpian challenge within the boundaries of the normal political process, too many of the unelected bureaucrats who staff the alphabet soup agencies seem to feel entitled to circumvent the will of the American people when it conflicts with their priors.
Our political moment contains more than a few parallels to the Jacksonian era, among them a rough-and-tumble president who horrifies the denizens of Washington and a restless voting public that has deep disagreements with the business as usual that has been taken for granted among the chattering classes for decades.
We’ve fortunately greatly expanded the franchise since Andrew Jackson’s time, but in some ways our government is much less responsive to the outcomes of elections themselves. In the early nineteenth century, government employment was the opposite of permanent; officeholders were expected to hand in their resignation letters with every election.
By contrast, today’s sprawling administrative state, long cabined as a concern for legal scholars and conservative academics, has now inserted itself into our politics in a nakedly partisan way. 2.8 million federal employees never leave power, remain totally unaccountable to voters, and enjoy virtually ironclad protection against losing their jobs for defying their political bosses.
The Robert Mueller investigation, and now this impeachment attempt over the president’s call with Ukraine, are waking Americans up to the consequences of allowing such an insulated and permanent class to wield enormous power over the country’s policies.
If it was ever viable, the Wilsonian experiment of rule by politically detached experts is over. In its place are high-ranking bureaucrats who are displacing the people’s judgement on policy and politics with their own. If we cannot get rid of the administrative state, we must at least tame it by empowering those who actually have to stand before the American people for their blessing every two, four, or six years.
That means rolling back the civil service laws that serve as a protective patina over what now must and should be considered political actors, so that they may be held accountable in a democratic republic.