I know, right? That headline sounds like a really good thing, doesn’t it? Naturally, the Washington Post, where Democracy Dies with Distraction and Deception, tries to portray this as a scary development, articulated by a “reclusive mastermind”:
The reclusive mastermind behind President Trump’s nationalist ideology and combative tactics made his public debut Thursday, delivering a fiery rebuke of the media and declaring that the new administration is in an unending battle for “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
. . . .
Appearing at a gathering of conservative activists alongside Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Bannon dismissed the idea that Trump might moderate his positions or seek consensus with political opponents. Rather, he said, the White House is digging in for a long period of conflict to transform Washington and upend the world order.
“If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken,” Bannon said in reference to the media and opposition forces. “Every day, it is going to be a fight.”
. . . .
Bannon framed much of Trump’s agenda with the phrase, “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president says have stymied economic growth and infringed upon U.S. sovereignty. Bannon says that the post-World War II political and economic consensus is failing and should be replaced with a system that empowers ordinary people over coastal elites and international institutions.
I’d be standing on my feet applauding if I didn’t know that this is accompanied by a desire to put ruinous tariffs on foreign goods. But let’s not let that particular bit of economic ignorance overshadow the point of this post: the joy we should all feel at an administration that seemingly wants to take an axe and start chopping down the forest of regulation that is choking off economic growth in this country.
The administrative state has become one of the greatest threats to liberty in this country, in large part because of its trashing of the separation of powers. Bureaucracies pass regulations like a legislature, enforce them like an executive, and rule on the validity of their own actions like a judiciary, with administrative law judges who are arms of the same bureacracies whose regulations they review. Meanwhile, Congress abandons its role in the process, and judges defer to the agencies’ interpretations.
But Donald Trump is fighting back. His admittedly ham-handed executive order — requiring two regulations to be repealed for each one passed — may be a meat cleaver . . . but that may be what’s required here. It actually creates incentives for agencies to do away with regulations, and that’s a good thing. Trump’s signaling that he would sign the REINS Act, by which Congress would take back explicit responsibility for reviewing significant regulation, is another positive step. (It’s been passed by the House. What’s taking so long, Sen. McConnell?) Finally, by nominating Neil Gorsuch, who has opposed excessive judicial deference to bureaucracies as a dangerous threat to the separation of powers, Trump has attacked the administrative state from yet another angle (whether he realizes that or not, and I doubt he does).
Something else I have noticed: it’s a lot easier to appreciate some of the actions taken by Donald Trump during periods when he keeps his mouth shut, his Twitter feed largely quiet, and his administration free from ridiculous publicity-seeking controversy.
Let’s hope he keeps that up, even as we recognize that he most definitely won’t.