Trump Needs to Start Replacing the Administrative State

Mytheos Holt
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Posted: May 21, 2017 12:01 AM
Trump Needs to Start Replacing the Administrative State

The past two weeks have not been kind to the Trump administration. Aided and abetted by a press drunk on their own moral certitude and delusions of Watergate-era public spiritedness, the unelected arms of the executive branch have begun asserting themselves as the hall monitors of democracy, who can hobble or even remove an elected leader simply for failing to live up to their swamp-generated standards of propriety. It is dangerous, disgusting, and dispiriting, and if the President wants to serve a full term or see any of his agenda enacted, he needs to get a handle on it.

Obviously the most aggressive enemies of democracy lie within the intelligence community, and many have explained the need for the President to reassert control over them. There is no need to rehearse that case. However, as already noted by James Downton at the Federalist, the arrogance of unaccountable bureaucrats is not confined to the intelligence portion of the so-called Deep State. Indeed, when it comes to getting Trump’s agenda implemented, the regulatory agencies who erroneously see themselves as Platonic guardians of what is right and proper in American society are an even larger threat. Witness staffers at the EPA openly declaring their insubordination against a President duly elected by their real bosses, the American people.

The EPA, fortunately, has Scott Pruitt to wrangle it. The same cannot be said for most other regulatory agencies that have long been complicit in Obama-era abuse. In particular, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) remains a foxhole of Obama appointees, some of whom have been wielding their cudgels for nine years. Trump can’t permit that amount of time to stretch any further.

Furthermore, the NLRB is one of the few remaining symbols of the anti-democratic ethos of the previous administration: recall that President Obama literally forced three appointees onto the board in defiance of the Constitution, under the pretext of a nonexistent Senate recess. And unlike so-called Trumpian power grabs like firing an FBI Director who lied to the Senate, this genuinely thuggish act was rebuked by no less an entity than the US Supreme Court, which voted unanimously to overturn the administration’s decision. In other words, if any body cries out for the return of constitutional republican norms after years of unaccountable, autocratic liberal thuggery, it’s the NLRB.

And then there’s the political angle: Unlike most Republicans, President Trump was able to gain trust from the labor movement at the same time he promised to expand opportunity and create jobs. Yet the NLRB’s rulings under Obama were geared entirely toward helping labor at the expense of opportunity and jobs, so much so that even the New York Times had to call them out on it. Trump has enough trust from the Democratic constituencies most affected by the board’s rulings that he could very plausibly reorient it toward a more pro-growth and pro-jobs agenda without being perceived as a soulless tool of the rich the way previous Republican presidents have been. There’s a saying somewhere about Nixon and China that probably applies.

But laying aside all the specific benefits of reforming the NLRB, the choice to focus on this body would also offer the White House some much-needed practice at mass replacement of a hostile executive branch beyond just the cabinet level. For whatever reason, personnel appointments in the Trump administration (really, the Trump Skeleton Crew, since most of the “administration” is still being vetted) have been held up, to the point where a sort of zombie Obama-era consensus still reigns. The NLRB is, as already noted, a politicized institution, and one that could prove a lightning rod, but this is a feature, not a bug. For one thing, the trial by fire of an NLRB fight would give the White House the tools it needs to force reforms even in less contentious environs. For another, one of the greatest assets this White House has in winning the sympathy of the American people is the self-destructive fury of the so-called “Resistance.” A fight over the NLRB would put the Left’s hysteria on full display, and galvanize even those disheartened by the recent rash of bad news.

One thing is certain: Wherever it begins, the Trump administration must start not merely fighting the administrative state, but bending it to its own purposes. Breaking the stranglehold of Obama-era policy and ideology is going to need to start somewhere. What better place than the most vile cesspits of the bureaucratic Left?