Authoritarianism by Stealth

Author: Gary Hart

If you intend to be an authoritarian president, like others you so admire, then it is necessary to demean and diminish the professional career civil service that stands in your way by administering the laws of the nation.

A president at war with his own government, at least the executive branch which he has taken a Constitutional oath to administer according to the laws that govern our nation, deserves much more consideration than brushing aside his occasional references to the “deep state” to which he attaches full blame for his failures.

The “deep state”, as yet to be defined as anything other than a permanent, Democratic presence out to thwart him, springs from the Trumpian guru Stephen Bannon who early laid down the mission to dismantle, if not totally destroy, the “administrative state.”

That is a clearer objective to deal with.

The administrative state is the product of two domestic revolutions: first, the late 19th century reforms against the political state, the practice of filling government positions with patrons; and second, the Rooseveltian reforms and New Deal expansion of the role of the national government in administering a social safety net as a rescue from the Great Depression.

The result was a professional civil service apart from partisan influence.  That is the “deep state” that Bannon, and Trump under his influence, want to destroy.

Leave aside that the size of the professional civil service has rarely varied even in conservative Republican administrations, despite proclamations by Ronald Reagan that “the government is the problem” and various rhetorical flourishes by others about shrinking the size of government.

The national civil service remains at a constant size for the simple reason that it is required to administer laws adopted by both Republican and Democratic administrations, laws that Republican Congresses have failed to abolish for the equally simple reason that they are popular.  The most recent example is the failure to abolish the Affordable Care Act.

The anti-government rhetoric against government rarely if ever notes that the national government represents around 12% of the civil service, State governments represent twice that number, and local governments comprise all the rest, about two-thirds of all government employees.  Any growth in government has occurred at the levels Republicans claim to like.

But the sinister attacks on the “administrative (or “deep”) state” are not about its size or even the fact it is carrying out Congressional mandates.  It is about letting an authoritarian president become authoritarian.  It has taken Donald Trump almost three years to understand that the professional civil service’s resistance to his unilateral demands are because they are doing their respective duties under the laws.

No one explained these basic 8th grade facts of civics to him.  So, he has had recourse to claim to his “base” that he has been prevented from promised dismantling of many government programs (many of which the “base” benefits from) by a sinister “deep state”.

Where he has undertaken to dismantle those programs administratively, he has done so by wreaking the damage on blue States and sparing red States and districts.

It’s the old corrupt spoils system administered by the president.

The central point of all this is that the Bannons of the world seek to introduce authoritarianism into Western democracies, including first and foremost, into the United States through the backdoor.  The first and most important step is to destroy the professional civil service.

Trump has done so by fiat, for example in dispersing agencies of the U.S. Department of the Interior, encouraging early retirement by senior career officials, and appointing Washington lobbyists to key administrative positions.

Members of the press now celebrate the fact that it was career foreign service officers, members of the professional administrative state, who blew open Ukrainiangate.

Why one or two of the myriad Democratic candidates do not feature this explanation in their public appeals is a mystery.

4 Responses to “Authoritarianism by Stealth”

  1. Michael Says:

    There is not much one can add. Senator Hart’s observation that authoritarians need to demean and destroy an independent, professional civil service in order archive their goal of authoritarian rule is bone chilling in light of Bannon’s pronouncements and Trump’s record of ransacking important agencies of the government. His constant conspiracy mongering about the “deep State,” including the FBI, and willingness to believe foreign authoritarian leaders over American intelligence services make clear that he is “at war” with his own government. We are on the precipice. The entire Republican Party are collaborators. Americans, if not exactly sleepwalking through all this, are in seeming disbelief that the worst can happen here. But we are exactly ONE election away from losing our Democracy. Why there are no Democratic presidential candidates sounding the alarm is indeed a mystery. It is time for other voices to do so. As someone who correctly predicted a major terror attack on US soil, the Senator has the cred to issue a warning about the current, fragile state of American democracy. Maybe it’s time for an op-ed in the Washington Post, NY Times or some other major publication.

  2. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Michael states, Why there are no Democratic presidential candidates sounding the alarm is indeed a mystery”

    Senator Hart states, “Why one or two of the myriad Democratic candidates do not feature this explanation in their public appeals is a mystery.”

    There are no mysteries here. The current field of Democratic candidates are not willing to address this issue, because it would mean attacking the current republican demon at its base and stirring up a sh*t-storm of biblical proportions. All of them are trying to “unite” the Democratic Party, get a consensus campaign by addressing the social issues that they and many of us see as major and needing to be addressed.

    What they are not addressing are the SYSTEMIC issues that are dismantling and destroying this nations government and core institutions. They must realize, “. . . the sinister attacks on the “administrative (or “deep”) state” are not about its size or even the fact it is carrying out Congressional mandates. It is about letting an authoritarian president become authoritarian.”

    No one wants to “stand tall in the saddle” and “go forth to slay this dragon”.

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>>>>>Why one or two of the myriad Democratic candidates do not feature this explanation in their public appeals is a mystery.

    Indeed!

    Especially considering that one of them used to go around saying things like “America leads best by the power of its example rather than by the example of its power” and harping on the “promise of America”, ad Bidenitum. Ahem.

    Maybe he’s saving it for the general? Makes some degree of sense …

  4. Paul G Says:

    “NO ONE EXPLAINED BASIC 8th GRADE FACTS OF CIVICS TO HIME.” – GH

    The current WH occupant learned from successors of JFK and RFK murders that civics was mere lip service to fool the applauding multitudes; as a fearless coward he need only divide to conquer.

    Such are the lessons his direct and indirect enablers of five decades – reinforced by other WH occupants through republic-destroying lack of principled policies, especially a national public service requirement.

    Into the post 1960’s war-credibility vacuum marched a parade of secret foreign agents and profiteers at America’s enduring expense, including Ailes, Atwater, Barr, Black, Atwater, Manafort, Rollins, Rove, Stone; all committed to “winning at all costs” with un-American divide and destroy methods; all celebrated as virtual TV stars for the ever-fooled multitudes by “our” trusted media referees!

    The current WH occupant is an 8th. grade self-serving bully – a fearless coward and murderer of civics.

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