In 2017, shortly after Donald Trump assumed the presidency, Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, made a startling declaration about dismantling the "administrative state," signaling a potential upheaval in the federal bureaucracy.
While Trump initially seemed unaware of the full implications of Bannon's statement, he soon adopted similar language, attacking what he termed the "deep state." This rhetoric stemmed more from Trump's personal grievances than ideological opposition to big government.
Despite early threats to the federal bureaucracy, the Trump administration's efforts were largely unsuccessful. Bannon's departure from the White House within six months and Trump's focus on other crises meant that the federal apparatus, including agencies like the EPA, SEC, and NLRB, remained largely intact.
However, the legacy of the Trump administration continues to challenge the administrative state. This was evident when the Supreme Court recently considered arguments against the Chevron Doctrine, a decades-old precedent granting deference to federal agencies in interpreting ambiguous statutes.
The potential overturning of this doctrine could significantly hinder the functioning of agencies across the government.
Expanding Trump's Doctrine
Trump's influence extends beyond the judiciary. The GOP, influenced by his rhetoric, has increasingly embraced the idea of dismantling the administrative state.
For instance, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis promised aggressive reforms from day one of his term. During his presidency, Trump's fixation on the "deep state" grew, leading to a systematic purge of dissenting officials, spearheaded by Johnny McEntee.
Trump's executive order, known as "Schedule F," aimed to remove civil service protections, politicizing the bureaucracy, though it was never fully implemented. This approach to government is now mainstream in Republican circles.
Presidential candidates are proposing even more radical measures than Trump, with figures like Nikki Haley suggesting sweeping reforms.
Shift to Authoritarian Rhetoric
The rhetoric has shifted from traditional conservative critiques of government inefficiency to more extreme attacks on the federal bureaucracy, often echoing conspiracy theories.
This is evident in documents like the Heritage Foundation's "Mandate for Leadership," which outlines a radical restructuring of the federal government. The idea of authoritarian leadership is gaining traction among conservatives.
They argue that to counter the perceived control of the government by "cultural Marxists," drastic measures are needed. This includes employing the "unitary executive" theory, which grants the president near-dictatorial control over the government.
This growing acceptance of authoritarianism among Republicans reflects a belief that their goals are unpopular with the general public, requiring more forceful means to implement. While public trust in the government is low, this dissatisfaction primarily targets Congress and politicians, not federal agencies or civil servants, which generally enjoy favorable public opinions.
In summary, the Trump era has ushered in a new phase in the conservative movement, marked by more radical, authoritarian approaches to dismantling the administrative state. This shift poses significant challenges to the functioning of the government and the democratic principles on which it operates.