Who Elected You, Steady State?

By | 2018-09-08T09:57:56+00:00 September 7th, 2018|
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The New York Times’ Anonymous, proud to be saving the country from the president he is sworn to serve, dismisses fears of an unaccountable “deep state.” Rather, he argues, Americans should appreciate that, as he and other officials surreptitiously thwart President Trump’s inappropriate impulses, they are supplying a beneficent, steadying effect. He and other officials who share right-thinking people’s judgments on Donald Trump are not the bad “deep state.” They are the good “steady state.”

Essentially that is the position of the Wall Street Journal as well. Without explicitly crediting Anonymous’s (un)specific claims of successful subversion or the specific ones that Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Fear, makes on behalf of Gary Cohn and Generals James Mattis and H. R. McMaster, the Journal’s lead editorial praised as “heroes” “the Mattises and McMasters, the Kudlows and Cohns, the McConnells and Ryans, who’ve worked for the good of the country amid the tumultuous personality in the Oval Office.”

The media commentary on Messers Woodward and Anonymous misses the revolutionary nature of Anonymous’s claim, supported by Woodward. That is because it is limited to degrees of agnosticism about whether the allegations against Trump and the claims of successful subversion are true, as well as to tergiversations about the courage of  “whistleblowers” and the ethics of publishing unverified claims.

Truly revolutionary, as well as false, is the claim that officials who oppose the choice the voters made at the ballot box by acting under a false flag of loyalty thereby bring any sort of stability to American public life. For better or worse, the American people elected a president of the United States according to the Constitution. On their behalf, he acts. To them alone is he responsible, by well-defined constitutional instruments. To acquiesce in that claim is to abet a revolution.

Who appointed anyone as the guardians of the “steady state?” Among many notions of steadiness, whose do they guard? To whom are they responsible? Since they take care that none but their friends should know what influence they are having on what actions of government, on whom shall Americans displeased with those actions vent their displeasure? And how shall ordinary people vent their displeasure with a “steadiness” of which they disapprove? Pitchforks?

In short, who rules here? To whom does America belong?

The American people once waged a revolutionary war to assert the principle that “just powers” derive only “from the consent of the governed.” That meant—and that can mean—one thing only: elections. The Constitution begins with “We the people . . .” and goes on to describe powers conferred on elected officials, and on such others as depend on those elected officials. Elections define “popular government.” Popular government is what our ruling class’s self-identification with the “steady state,” “deep state,” expert state, administrative state—call it what you will—is destroying.

“We the people” owe no allegiance whatever to the “steady state.” Any and every act of government that does not proceed intelligibly from law, as in the civics books, is illegitimate. Why should any of us regard such things and people as good and right, much less as representing our interest? Americans are learning the sad lesson that others have learned by living under administrative authorities. They represent themselves, not you. Ignore them as much as you can. Tell them nothing. Go around them. Take much, give nothing. That is how republics die.

Popular government has never been popular among those who think themselves better than the common herd. That is what the progressive movement has been about since Woodrow Wilson and friends started it in the 1880s. They idolized the model of government adopted by Napoleon—itself a meritocratic variation on royalist practice—theorized by W. F. Hegel, and adopted widely throughout Europe.

According to this view of things, government has far less—if anything—to do with matters about which ordinary people have any knowledge or right to determine than it is about bringing the benefits of science and good judgment to bear on the improvement of life. Hence, the substance of government is to be reserved for expert officials, chosen for their intelligence and impartiality and insulated as much as possible from popular pressures. Of course, such officials will consult and blend with those in the community who transmit and implement progress into society’s its most intimate recesses. The country progresses, led by its progressives.

Public life in America today—and much private life as well—is closer to the progressive model than to what the civics books used to describe: people living freely subject only to laws made by elected legislatures, administered by elected executives, and applied in trials by jury. Americans realize that this is eyewash, that the rules enforced upon them are made by no-one-knows-who, and that whoever makes them is beyond reach. They also sense that the progressive dream government by a community of ruling experts who move from and to positions of social responsibility and government power has become a reality, and that this ruling community has nothing but disdain for them.

That is why, for the past decade, Americans have been doing all that can be done at the ballot box to shake this class off their backs. In 2016, Donald Trump was the likeliest instrument available for this. Today, we see this class rejecting the election’s outcome. The “resistance” has done so in practice. Anonymous’ idea of the “steady state” has now done so in theory as well. The Times’ and the Journal’s approbation of that theory attest to the sad fact that the revolution now ongoing among us has passed the point of no return.

Resisting, indeed ruling over the “steady state” is the constitutional responsibility of the president and Congress who we have elected. To the extent that they don’t take their responsibilities seriously, it is up to us to elect others who do. But the American people also have the power and responsibility to shift power into state and local governments that are more responsible. For example, California’s voters, right or wrong, have chosen to ignore or counter many of the policies that come from the federal bureaucracy. And some California localities are challenging the state government. No “steadiness” there! Voters in states differently inclined can take upon themselves the power that is theirs to ignore or to counter those federal dictates of which they disapprove. That is how republics live.

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About the Author:

Angelo Codevilla
Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).