The battle over the administrative state is joined. In remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, presidential advisor Stephen Bannon called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee elected as its chairman the very embodiment of the administrative state: former Obama Administration Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.
The administrative state denotes not merely a calcified bureaucracy but a whole complex of political and legal structures intended to replace the elected branches of government, Congress and the presidency, with the rule of unelected experts. It is— besides this institutional revolution—a conviction that a ruling elite ought to run our politics because ordinary citizens are just too ordinary to have a serious role in government. Degrees from elite schools and prestigious positions in commerce, law, academia, think-tanks, or the media enhance this sense of separation and superiority.
Perez, with three degrees from Ivy League schools, embodies this elite. He won one election in his life, for a position on the Montgomery County Council board, in the bedroom community of Washington, D.C. federal bureaucrats. Among his issues during his single term from 2002-2006 were transgender discrimination, protecting illegal immigrants, and the right of domestic workers to unionize.
In 2002 he also served as president of CASA de Maryland—CASA originally being an acronym for “Central American Solidarity Association,” a now multi-million dollar organization that provides financial and legal aid to illegal immigrants. Among the federal positions he held include stints on the staff of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno’s deputy assistant secretary for civil rights. All this before he became assistant attorney general for civil rights and Secretary of Labor in the Obama Administration.
How does such a career in the bureaucracy (my list is far from complete) prepare one to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee? It’s no longer the case that “all politics is local.” Now in the age of the administrative state (as the bathroom nonsense shows) all politics has been federalized. To be a “community organizer” one must be an adept federal (and state) bureaucrat. That’s politics in the administrative state.
It gets even worse. Perez’s chief accomplishments at Justice and Labor featured the advancement of disparate impact theory to measure discrimination in voting, housing, and employment. (I forego dwelling on his covering for the Black Panther voter intimidation business. ) Perez justified non-enforcement of anti-voter fraud laws and may have even perjured himself in a case involving disparate impact.
Contrast Perez’s championing of illegal immigration and group identities with President Trump’s vow to remake the Republican Party into the party of working men and women, his love of the “poorly educated,” and his America First convictions. These all fly in the face of the global elitism that underlies the administrative state. Nothing could horrify such cosmopolitan snobs more (whatever their political beliefs) than a band of Americans chanting “USA! USA!” The square-off features the global elites versus American citizens.
As noted political thinker John Marini observed before the election in a speech for Hillsdale College, Trump rejected identity politics and proposed common citizenship and the common good as the goal of politics . Identity politics with its deep, passionate, and irrational attachments makes a politics of the common good impossible. And it makes irresistible an administrative state that empowers groups based on how they feel discrimination. Trump’s inaugural address denied such claims, as he had throughout the campaign, observing elegantly: “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
The great challenge to Trump’s attempt to protect and restore politics is succinctly encapsulated in the elevation of Perez to Democratic National Committee chairman. Here is a tough and clever enemy who has advanced the administrative state in local, state, and federal government with all its enticements to aggrieved groups. That’s the choice: the administrative state or America First.