Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko

Wednesday, 20 April 2022 19:06

Trump and DeSantis: A Comparison

Trump and DeSantis: A Comparison

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is an associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

It is natural, in times of great partisanship, for developments in politics to be very rapid. If we consider what a novelty Donald Trump represented in 2016 and now, merely six years later, how much we take his conservative “populism” for granted, we ought to be astonished; but the observation is justified by considering the alarming descent of the Left into a politics of total national degradation. Trump, who seemed so novel and radical a solution to the dilemma of a middle America besieged by coastal ideologues in 2016, now appears almost quaint, and though he dominates the Republican Party, it is fair to question whether a future Trump administration will go far enough in its commitment to the quickly evolving conservative agenda. Conservatives by their nature do not like to disrupt “the state of things” too abruptly, even when that “state” is incremental political and cultural domination by the Left. But it is apparent that only an aggressively assertive and disruptive agenda, with bold demands and decisive methods, will be capable of stemming and reversing the tide of the leftist takeover of government, culture, and freedom. Trump remains the bastion of the Republican Party, but it is entirely fair to ask if he is the most capable individual to implement such an agenda of the future.

Of all the alternatives to Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stands alone in having successfully assimilated the new brand of conservative populism while preserving (and even enhancing) his essential individualism. This cannot be said for those national figures Trump diminished (Rubio, Cruz) or for those he advanced to prominence (Pence, Haley, Pompeo). All five of these figures have rumored presidential aspirations, but at the present moment each of them appears decidedly regressive in the necessary evolution of conservatism in comparison to Trump. Some of them are fatally linked to the DC establishment, and if they are not (as in the case of Cruz) they give off too much the savor of calculation. Only DeSantis has demonstrated a potential advance upon Trump, and, as of this writing, he represents the only truly desirable alternative. No doubt it has been an immense boon to DeSantis to be governor of an electorally crucial state. But much of DeSantis’ gain in reputation has been due not merely to circumstances but to his own knack for publicity and his willingness to venture boldness in policy and narrative when so many Republicans are content to be docile or parrot talking points. Perhaps having learned from the Left, DeSantis creates talking points for the purposes of policy advancement. He is shrewd enough to recognize the energy and outrage that animates conservative voters, who have too long been in the thrall of half-hearted politicians giving token acknowledgment of cultural and economic grievances while doing nothing to pragmatically address them.

It remains very early in considerations of 2024, and politics is a fickle arena. One false step can crater a promising career, and any politician, no matter how charismatic, can be wafted far and wide by changing circumstances. Trump will almost certainly run, and it is likely that DeSantis will resist the urge to challenge him, recognizing that a failure to defeat him could spell doom for all his future prospects. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on conservatives to carefully and dispassionately weigh the available options, and to confront as objectively as possible the question: Who is most capable of achieving a triumph for the conservative agenda? If a Trump nomination is inevitable, it does not follow that he should feel no pressure from the urgent demands of his voters, or that he should be comfortable in the conceit of certain power. I present this comparison of Trump with his strongest intra-party rival not to endorse one or the other but to objectively weigh the demonstrated merits of each in various domains, and to offer a summary vision of expectations for the conservative voter.

Theatricality

Politics is grand theater, and Trump is the consummate political actor in all American history. So much of Trump’s success, both in business and politics, was contingent on his ability to perform his part to perfection. Like all great actors, Trump is entirely without self-consciousness, a quality which charms even as it intimidates. His rallies are masterclasses in palpable spontaneity, as evidenced by my favorite Trump aside, made on October 18, 2018, at a rally in Montana:

“The choice could not be more clear. Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs. It’s true. It’s true. By the way, this is the most beautiful sky. Well, it’s big sky. I guess there’s a reason for everything, right? No it’s just — I got out and I’m looking. . . . Someday one of you will explain exactly why, but that is a beautiful, beautiful, big sky. But Nancy Pelosi, crying Chuck Schumer, and the radical Democrats, they want to raise your taxes, they want to impose socialism on our incredible nation. . . .”

That apparent sincerity is unmatchable, and no politician should be foolish enough to attempt an imitation of Trumpian stream-of-consciousness in addresses to the public. They must find their resonance elsewhere. DeSantis has learned a great deal from Trump’s bully pulpit techniques but has been careful to ensure that he retains his own unique brand of presentation based in firmness and precision. While DeSantis has copied the many hand gestures employed by Trump, the words are quite different. He always remains focused and clinical, and avoids the subjective assertions of which Trump is so fond. Trump remains the great original in this area and undoubtedly outshines all competition, but DeSantis could hold a stage with Trump better than anyone.

Advantage: Trump

Magnetism

The special allure of celebrity will belong exclusively to Trump in any race, but such a quality is never sufficient of itself in acquiring and retaining the hearts of voters. Reagan had this quality also, but more important was his emotional directness, his ability to sever the barriers between himself and his audience through a shared sense of feeling. Trump only displays this empathetic understanding indirectly, and one rarely senses that Trump is speaking with immersive sympathy. Celebrity is colorful but inevitably bears the hint of frivolity, and even after six years at the center of American political life, Trump cannot always shake free from an air of levity, even when he is discussing deeply serious matters. If DeSantis seems more distant, he also seems more probing, and this produces its own kind of magnetism: one that is firm and passionate but, most importantly precise. In times of crisis, people do not follow flamboyancy and spectacle but pragmatic and focused resolve. They seek competence and vision over entertainment, and DeSantis, even in his most passionate moments, always projects total assurance. If DeSantis can carry these essential qualities to the national spotlight, he stands a chance of muting the special advantages of Trump’s stardom.

Advantage: Both

Education

Historically, the issue of education has been a political winner for the Left. This was often due to the Left’s success in its intentionally naïve framing of the issue as being a question of “funding kids and teachers” by increasing expenditures in public schools. The breathtaking corruption and incompetence displayed by public teachers’ unions were well hidden by the Left, and they were often able to reduce considerations of levies to a virtue signaling exercise in “supporting” teachers. But the prospects for this issue are changing for conservatives, who have finally recognized the insidious nature of the Left’s desire to infect the young with ideological bile as early as possible. DeSantis has been at the forefront of this realignment, most crucially in the signing of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill (derisively termed by the Left the “Don’t Say Gay” bill), which aims at a school’s funding should the staff be found spreading gender ideology to younger elementary-aged students. As always with conservative policies, the ability to present a clear counter-narrative to the Left is pivotal, and in focusing on parental rights DeSantis has uncovered the defining angle on this issue. No matter how much they deny it, the Left is after children. They seek malleable minds that are susceptible to predatory propaganda, and there is no better forum for them than in the public schools, where they can seek to influence children outside the guiding eyes of parents. In the long term, the American public education system ought to be entirely dismantled and reformed on new lines, but for the present the ideal conservative platform should focus on encouraging those who can afford to remove their children from the system to do so, and to protect those who cannot. DeSantis is the greatest conservative voice on this issue.

Advantage: DeSantis

Pandemic Policy

It is irrefutable that were it not for the pandemic, Trump would have won re-election. The pandemic obliterated Trump’s greatest political asset in the strong economy, and deprived him of his ability to hold rallies. But Trump still might have salvaged the situation had he taken a more forceful control of the narrative. Many circumstances conspired against him. In the early stages, when information on the true risks was scant, Trump was forced to rely on the “expert” bureaucrats in the CDC, a group that uniformly despised him and had no interest in doing him any political favors. As the pandemic continued, and the partisan divide on pandemic policy became apparent, Trump declined to create a firestorm by removing Antony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, though he had the authority to do so. Trump put his political fortunes in the hands of the developers of the vaccine, which was developed in an astonishingly rapid timeframe, a success that for reasons almost certainly political, was not announced until after the election. To this day, nothing during his tenure gnaws Trump so much as the general failure on the part of both his base and his opponents to credit him for this achievement. But Trump must be careful on this point. It is a political reality that a sizable number of Trump voters distrust the vaccine and remain unvaccinated, and this distrust has only exacerbated in the aftermath of numerous vaccine mandates at the state and municipal levels. The central contention on this issue has moved from being one of vaccine availability to one of bodily autonomy and free choice, and Trump has sounded out of touch in his post-presidential comments on the vaccine. DeSantis has emerged from the pandemic far stronger from a conservative perspective, and in retrospect was the only real national figure to have kept his head in the chaotic early days of panic and fear. Recognizing earlier than most that the highest-risk populations were the elderly and that others were low risk, DeSantis organized policy implementation to favor the appropriate populations and was always careful to recommend vaccination for those at risk and to defend the right of free choice for those who declined it. He was among the first governors to combat the mask mandates in schools and workplaces, and though he was defeated in state court on his executive order surrounding mask mandates, his rhetoric exposing the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of pandemic policy contributed to blunting its influence at the national level. On this issue, DeSantis has demonstrated a stronger understanding of the positions of the Republican electorate.

Advantage: DeSantis

Health Care

While conservatives have made encouraging inroads on the narrative hegemony of the Left on issues of education and voting, health care remains the Achilles heel of the platform, largely because conservatives have failed to formulate any comprehensive counter-proposal to the leftist pursuit of state encroachment in the health care industry. Mere repeal is not a compelling option, and it is no wonder that after the failure to reverse Obamacare in 2017 (by McCain’s single vote) the Republican Congress made no more attempts to do so. Health care was a fertile bastion for the Democrats in the midterm elections of 2018, and they will continue to be formidable in any election cycle in which they can convince independent voters that Republicans are after their coverages. But the bloated health care bureaucracy and the system it has wrought remains a severe instance of policy failure and a reckoning will come, especially since the prevalence of medical debt and the ghastly costs passed onto the federal budget is a prime breeding ground for the next major recession. Any conservative policy offering on this issue must center on lowering costs without interfering with existing coverage and breaking up the medical cartel that sets prices at levels far beyond market determinations.

Advantage: Neither

Election Integrity

Another issue in which the Republicans have seized the initiative is that of voting, and Trump is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing it to prominence. A good many Republicans would like the issue to go away, thinking that it sets dangerous precedents, but the truth is that there are major problems with national elections because of the machinations of Democrat operatives, by which I do not necessarily mean to imply the outright forging of votes. The prelude to the 2020 election saw the passage of mail-in-voting laws in states with Democrat governors designed intentionally to generate fraud and voting discrepancies. These policies (which will be repeated in 2022 and 2024) were coupled with disinformation campaigns in establishment media to protect the candidate Biden and the suppression of accurate reporting in the days leading up to the election. The Democrats are also playing the long game of altering the electorate by encouraging the settlement of migrants in red states and even moving to red states themselves and advancing the very policies that destroyed the states they came from. Whether they are engaging in fraud at the counting level (and they likely are) is negligible next to these more serious efforts. Trump is merely accurate when he describes the election as illegitimate, and it should be the expectation that future elections will be the same. This should not, as it proved in the Georgia run-off elections of 2020, deter conservatives from participating in elections. Rather, it should encourage them to adopt election integrity as a fundamental component of the platform, and to aggressively combat all leftist attempts to generate voting fraud by challenges in the courts and bills in the legislatures. Thus far, Trump has been the only major Republican to be outspoken on this issue. Many have been unacceptably lukewarm. DeSantis cleverly navigated the potentially fraught political terrain in the immediate aftermath of the election certification, and it was fortuitous for him that his state results were not in doubt, else he might have found himself in the unenviable position of poor Brian Kemp to the immediate north, who was forced to publicly avouch Trump’s defeat. Trump has been, and will continue to be, tenacious on this issue. It remains to be seen whether DeSantis, or any other prominent conservatives, will follow suit.

Advantage: Trump

Foreign Policy & Immigration

Trump has been fond of lamenting in recent months that he has not received the appropriate credit for the speed of the vaccine rollout. With even greater justification, he might claim that he has failed to receive appropriate credit for his foresights in foreign policy, for nowhere has Trump been so vindicated than in the arena of foreign affairs. Ridiculed as a crackpot by the Europeans throughout his administration, Trump nonetheless offered a witheringly accurate and refreshing assessment of the hypocrisies and contradictions in play in European presumptions about NATO. Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, nations like Germany find themselves in the awkward position of simultaneously sanctioning Russia and being reliant on the purchase of its oil. Never has Trump’s insistence on American oil independence and support for the Keystone pipeline appeared as prescient as now, when gas prices have exploded all across the country. Trump is hardly an intellectual, but he often has an uncanny intuition of basic facts denied and obfuscated by “experts,” and his sense of outrage at the fact of other nations “taking advantage of us” was one of the most endearing of his recurring contentions. It is possible on the other hand to pronounce the Trump administration a failure on the issue of immigration since it failed to pass comprehensive immigration legislation during the two years when it was possible. This was due both to lockstep Democrat opposition and a sizable Republican refusal to compromise on “pathways to citizenship.” But Trump retains his pulse on the issue, correctly and shrewdly associating the immigration problem with the theft of jobs and stagnant wages, and it is certain that a second Trump administration would represent a great deterrence to the mass illegal migration which has been rampant under Biden. At present, he is the only firm authority for conservative voters on both this issue and many aspects of foreign policy.

Big Advantage: Trump

Base Support

Many commentators, opposing and friendly, on the Trump phenomenon were baffled by an apparent contradiction: how could it be that a billionaire urbanite, whose whole life was spent in the glamor of celebrity culture, would prove irresistible to millions of rural, working-class voters? How could an overtly ungodly man gain the reverence of evangelicals? The answer lies not only in the essential fascination of contradiction but also in Trump’s role as the living embodiment of the myth of the self-made American. Brash, irreverent, yet also immensely patriotic, Trump can appear almost quintessential. That intrinsic sense of Americanism is what unites Trump with his supporters. Yet Trump’s apparently uncanny connection with his base is not unassailable, and he must guard against any tendencies to diminish it. Trump adores adulation, but curiously, this sometimes seems to extend to a craving for affirmative acknowledgment from political enemies. Trump is always on the lookout for praise from unlikely sources, and was quite joyous some months ago when Jen Psaki credited him on vaccine messaging. He also had this exchange with Maria Bartiromo in an interview on December 20, 2021:

Bartiromo: “Should you have fired Fauci?”

Trump: “So a lot of people ask me that question, and I don’t, right? ‘Cause if you do fire him you’re gonna have a firestorm on the Left again.”

This is a most disappointing response. Why does Trump care about the opinions of political enemies who hate him? If Republicans are unwilling to create firestorms on the Left, then they are as good as worthless. Trump’s base is a powerful force in national politics, yet too much of this kind of talk will erode its devotion even from the man who galvanized it. Trump cannot take them and their political demands for granted.

Advantage: Trump

Age

It is hardly unjustified to consider age in assessments of presidential suitability. The present administration is led by an empty figurehead who has lost necessary cognitive capacity due to old age. Were Trump to win re-election, he would be 78 on Inauguration Day, matching the record mark just set by Biden. While Trump shows infinitely more energy and gumption in his mid-70s than Biden, it is fair to doubt that he will be capable of maintaining the tenacity requisite for a Republican president in promoting the agenda or that he will be able to approach policy considerations in a detail-oriented and rigorous way. The coronavirus scare at the end of his administration was a demonstration that Trump’s health may not be as impeccable as he claims. DeSantis, meanwhile, is 43 and hardly lacking in experience, having served in the House before his tenure as governor. His dynamism is obvious, and his charisma is enhanced by his youth. DeSantis gives the GOP the kind of figure that the Democrats churn out in droves: one who projects an image of the future and not of the past.

Big Advantage: DeSantis

Bureaucracy Busting

Trump’s lauded slogan of “Drain the Swamp” can be credited with being the most concise assertion of the necessity of disrupting the power of bureaucracies for the achievement of any conservative policy goals, but in the end he did very little draining. Notable achievements such as cleaning up the Veterans Administration aside, Trump was generally content to polemicize against the corruption and ideological degradation of the federal government without offering overtly disruptive action to combat it. He relied on too many appointees who were fundamentally uneasy with him. Any future conservative administration must be willing to do two things to counter the bureaucracies: 1) assert, up to and through judicial challenges, the absolute right of the President to remove “inferior officers” for any cause, and to contend the unconstitutionality of any Congressional laws restricting such a function and 2) a willingness to attack the departments in the realm of funding if they are uncooperative with conservative policies, corrupt, or advancing Leftist propaganda internally. The first point concerns the will, the second the method. DeSantis has demonstrated in his tenure as governor an eagerness to play the disruptor, removing longstanding bureaucrats for politically motivated sabotage of policy implementation and threatening various leftist-infested bureaucracies with reductions of budget allocation. But the federal government is an unconstrained animal like no other, and reining it in will require a rhetorical adeptness to assuage enough of the public combined with a persistent temerity. At least at the state level DeSantis has proven such a commitment.

Advantage: DeSantis

It should be clear that no conservative movement can any longer afford out of principle to abjure the powers which are available to it for the achievement of political objectives. Whoever represents the Republican Party in the next election and in elections to come must possess an almost pathological forcefulness in the pursuit of destroying the power of the Left. The Left dominates the government and the culture, but much of the country is energized against the madness and excess it has fostered. It requires art and rigorous determination to transform voter enthusiasm into enduring policy, and therefore it is crucial for the conservative leader, whether Trump, DeSantis, or someone unforeseen, to maximize this energy while maintaining an ever-vigilant eye on the proper methods for the fulfillment of pragmatic designs.    *

Dialogue of the Two Founders in Limbo Concerning the Present State of the Nation

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is a brand-new associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

Preamble:

The conversation here presented is presumed to have taken place in an apartment of Limbo sometime after the deposition of the statue of Thomas Jefferson, which stood in the Council Chambers of New York City Hall. As part of the penance of Limbo, to which the souls of the two Founders were condemned for their part in the creation of political factions in the United States (though, respecting their achievements in other regards, they were spared more inglorious fates), they have been doomed to be ever privy to the course taken by the nation they founded, though eternally powerless to intercept it. In other respects, however, their eternal retirements have been satisfactory, though necessarily without bliss. The following dialogue presents a faithful transmission of the discourse that transpired on this memorable occasion.

The Dialogue:

Hamilton: “Are my condolences, then, so unwelcome to you?”

Jefferson: “It satisfies you to offer them, but they do no good to me. I am already so familiar with your mockeries that I might’ve expected a better grace in your endeavor to hide your insincerity. I wonder why you took such pains to come see me.”

Hamilton: “Did you think I could do otherwise? You do me wrong to presume my insincerity on this point, for you must see, as I do, that such a development as this can hardly pertain to you alone, but to us all. As to our partisanship, put that past. If death cannot shake the habit of animosity, then what hope is there for those on earth?”

Jefferson: “I would have been content to continue our avoidance — but I see you can’t resist mocking the misfortune of my fallen name; you only enforce our amity in the high privilege of your unsoiled reputation.”

Hamilton: As of yet unsoiled. “Is it possible you don’t see that the fate of one of us is sufficient proof of the fate of all?”

Jefferson: “I see you more celebrated than ever.”

Hamilton: “That is only the portal to disgrace. They put me on the stage to patter intolerable snatches of song and debase me as a chum of the commons. Did I make any secret in our time, how much I despised and feared the swath of pliable humanity? If only they knew how little I thought of them, they would learn to despise me better, and my monuments (which you must admit were always less plentiful) will go the fate of yours. We still are entangled together, you and I.”

Jefferson “I never saw it that way. There was a great gulf between the manner of my life and yours and so too with our fates. Had I lived as you did, as a machinator and a schemer in the delicate craft of power, I should never have been so loved. My words have doomed me. Others of our compatriots will suffer a loss of admiration though none will fall as precipitously as I have fallen.”

Hamilton: “Why, sir, you’ve hit it. It’s only because you had the furthest to fall, and for the sake of your well-earned bitterness, I’ll forgive you your digs. You’ll find in all ages that the figures of the most sentimental reverence take it harshly when they are uncovered as human. Men are not judged evil by their words or actions but by the distance between them. Had any of your pettily pragmatic deeds come to public light, or had you been caught in office in the coils of such a mistress, you would have fared better, for then your broken aura might’ve begun in life. But such things having been uncovered after your deification, it is bound to go hard for you, for then you countenance the betrayal of a god. But in truth what do we care for them? Can they drink of the cup which you drank of? Say they call you a hypocrite; yet they don’t know (being immune from awareness of themselves) that the truest hypocrite is the one most worthy of pity, for he endures the sufferings of the enlightened mind: the bad dreams of agonized aspirations.”

Jefferson: “I begrudge them nothing. Those who condemn me, condemn me justly. If it is incumbent for the perfection of the citizenry and the refinement of republican government, that the errors of former generations are corrected — and the representatives of those generations be cast aside — then I submit myself to the consequence.”

Hamilton: “Ah, sir you were always primed to find the poetry in public life — and all poets covet martyrdom. You would say, like a sophist, ‘history is many weathers and no man blows in all winds.’  I didn’t come for such stultifying platitudes as these — I came, sir, so that I could hear you revile those far-enlightened citizens who blot out your good name, that I could hear you blast their audacity for thinking of you as they do. It wounds your pride, I know. Call them rabble, and demand their continuing obsequies. For you know even better than I what sorry figures they’d be without Jefferson in the vanguard of their history.”

Jefferson: “You speak as though I still retained the power of my personhood. The life of the world has long been given over to others, and it is futile to castigate the ages that refine us. I do not denounce the legacy I gave my country, and if my pride remains with my nation I need reserve none for my long-antiquated self.”

Hamilton: “You say they refine us as though they were our betters.”

Jefferson: “Many of them are, if you would consider them carefully. Even where they falter, I perceive the over-indulgent expression of pure intentions.”

Hamilton: “Ah, sir, you never wore humility with so clear a conscience as your more aristocratic liveries. You consider the present citizens of the United States with the sympathy of a creator who would rather sustain the renunciation of his creations than renounce the integrity of his art in having so created them. It takes a great deal of pride to renounce one’s pride — the man without pride is incapable of it. But you see we are alone and quite deceased. You may speak truly to me about what you think of them.”

Jefferson “You say I created them?”

Hamilton: “For a time, it could be said so. Of all the men that lived, you were one of the very few who baffled Nature concerning the composition of man, though now she comes to re-claim her prerogative.”

Jefferson: “I hardly understand you.”

Hamilton: “Oh, you do, sir. You are sheepish, but I’ll conjure the philosophy out of you. You will grant that the mind of man, once it has risen above sustenance, has two basic needs: to believe that the world is intelligible and to believe that it is capable of acting with freedom. But see how antithetical they are! Man’s essential nature gives him the first need, for which he supplies himself deities and such images of authority as make the terrible powers of Nature understandable. But man himself has evolved into the second need by much circuity, and by the influence of such persons as you, who have preached no higher good than for him to be free. This is not his natural bent, for the desire for intelligibility craves the certitude of an absolute, which a system of liberty can never impose. Liberty depends on the inherent respect for the reality of other domains of consciousness, but such a respect squashes the intelligibility of the world. By founding a government on the principle of liberty have we not created a great pendulum for human political society? Look to the present state of America — our America we would say — and you will readily see what it lacks. They have been so long in liberty that they can scarcely stand it, and those ideologies and loyalties that promise them the full explication of the miseries of life and the perfect demonization of their enemies, are balms of clarity to them in the troubled wash of freedom. You can comprehend, by the great oscillation of these opposing needs, that there can be no permanent political structures, and no political philosophies which can abide for them together. Our Constitution, I grant, was a pretty piece of work — but I fear it has nothing to assuage the awesome assault of man’s great confusion.”

Jefferson: “You’re seeking to provoke me into refuting you.”

Hamilton: “I haven’t asked you anything. I say only that you shouldn’t be cheap with your time when it is given to you so liberally.”

Jefferson: “The dynamism you displayed in life . . . .”

Hamilton: “Oh, sir, long departed. You’ll recall that my death was the death of my party. I perceived the beginning of the spoliation of the country even in your tenure.”

Jefferson: “You lacked the requisite faith in such an experiment as ours, and still do now. Our Constitution does not leak, but reiterates, its freedom. Liberty has no better advertisement then the specter of despotism; it is under such conditions that it regains its original fervor. I rejoice, then, at the challenge of the present time. You speak of man’s nature, driven by urges and compulsions. But you do not see that man, though compelled by the unsavory desires of coercion and oppression, has within his faculties the natural disposition to contrariness — which is the evidence of at least a partial freedom — and which he may deploy to overcome his own baseness. For the Constitution was not entrusted to the generations without containing within it the means to enrich them also; it obliges the citizen to concern himself with the preservation of the freedoms of his countrymen for the sake of his own. The equilibrium of American political civilization arose because its citizens proved capable not only of conceiving that they might have been any other citizen but also that they had within themselves the freedom to attain the condition of any other. Man cannot conceive of his own liberty until he has conceived of the liberty of another, and the Constitution binds him to this recognition. If we must use your words then this is surely the absolute which you crave. The relative principle of man’s individual perspective depends on the absolute principle of the dependence of each on each.”

Hamilton: “Oh, sir, the faith which you place in the citizens is touching, but misapplied. You ask too much of man. Man is not a multi-conscious beast, ever peering from new perspectives and memories — he must always carry with him the continuity of himself. The mind of man must be a stand-in for the world. The altruism which the Constitution so lovingly endows its citizens is not a salutary invitation. There are few men who can believe in a God who is not a God for all others. You ask for the citizen of a particular faction to believe that his own freedom is protected by the proponents of opposite factions, and I tell you this can never be. For no man holds his morality so tight that he refuses to invoke its application to others — else he would not believe it himself. It is impossible for individual man to believe that another’s experience has equal validity to his own, for even if he acknowledges by deduction that this must be true yet his behavior can never extend so far as to truly reflect it, for he remains at all points inevitably himself. We cannot call this selfishness when there is no alternative. Better that you pitied man than that you trusted him, and if our Constitution survives, it is only in spite of the citizens and not because of them.”

Jefferson: “I could speak of many demonstrations against what you say. The integrity of the citizens was evident in your own time, and at all times since.”

Hamilton:My time?”

Jefferson: “You’ll recall that during the administration of my predecessor, how, under your influence, the Congress endeavored to unravel the freedoms of expression (which had been ratified only some short years before) under the guise of sedition?”

Hamilton: “Well, sir . . . .”

Jefferson: “What was the result? The first transfer of power to the political opposition . . . .”

Hamilton: “Ah, sir, your colors are finally showing. Will you still be gloating? You, who said only moments ago our times have passed into irrelevance?”

Jefferson: “I mention it only for the sake of example.”

Hamilton: “Well, I remember. Ha, Adams the saint! What defamation can touch him now? Could we send him an embassy, what might we tell him? For you know up there they see nothing of the events on earth. That is our especial penalty. Who could’ve conceived of the final tally: Adams above, we here, and Burr below!”

Jefferson: “Will you let me speak?”

Hamilton: “Well, sir, what would you say about it?”

Jefferson: “That faction, which I regret to say you led, sought the installation of despotism and was defeated and its acts repealed. But your fidelity to the Constitution was greater than the fidelity to the despotic principles, and you accepted defeat by the mechanisms of free government. And thus it has ever been: the forces of liberty rally to defeat the agents of creeping despotism, and the Constitutional principle stands supreme. I grant that the citizen may be deceived, and may at certain times be captured by the lure of despotism, either, as you suggest, by the demagogue, or by the tyranny of the mob. But a government of liberty presents for factions the reality that an acquiescence to the temporary triumph of their opposite is preferable to a condition of potentially total suppression under a despot. Defeat is easier when a man has in mind that he can play again.”

Hamilton: “Well, sir, these are old disputes. But I won’t speak of the events of our time. It was the privilege of our generation to experience the novelty of liberty, but this can hardly be said for the present generation. The present generation is afflicted by the void of meaning, which is the curse of too much liberty. Such rational calculations as you’ve outlined are well for such a man as you are, but it is the handicap of great men that they cannot very easily put themselves in the mind of the multitude. I maintain that the essential nature of man requires the intelligibility of the world, and if the world is intelligible it cannot be subjective, but must partake of absolute truths. It was manageable, in the days when the mass of citizens revered religion, for this absolute to be pushed outside worldly bounds and left to unearthly demonstration. But not so for the secular generations, which must find salvation in the traffic of the world. Liberty suffers because it can only validate moral principles on majoritarian or pragmatic bases; it must acknowledge the nuances of moral partisans while also insisting on the absolute respect for reciprocity — the right of others to hold contrary beliefs. But how can liberty keep this from being relativized on condition of its own principles? It must protect itself by absolute claims. And absolute claims will always be despotic to the disagreeing mind. The Constitution was conceived for the United States not for a temporary passage of history but for all time, but I see now the fallacy of such idealism. You would compel men to the misery of unintelligibility rather than concede that our Constitution is unfit to govern a generation which has no desire for the burden of its freedoms.”

Jefferson: “And have we such a generation now?”

Hamilton: “I see that we do. Should they not revere us as inheritors? Many of them hate what we have given them and would gladly cast off their progeny.”

Jefferson: “The life of man is not often as barren as you present it, and this generation is neither especially miserable nor lacking in what you call intelligibility. The meaning indigenous to life is not found in lofty comprehensions of the world but in the daily, even monotonous, acts which carry us on our way to death. I pity that man more than any who can only find his happiness in the arena of public affairs, and I thank Nature that there are not so many of them. For man’s essential interest will always be directed to the private fulfillment of his own happiness — and such a project can only involve himself and a few others.”

Hamilton: “You speak of man’s interest! What is man’s permanent interest but to be outraged at his condition? Is man not a social animal? Does he not comprehend himself by comparison? For man, proud man, finding that he thinks, and carries on life in the solitary sway of the single mind, cannot perceive himself without the status of exemption — and this single thought is both his fear and his pride. It presses him both to be a tyrant over his fellows and then to be tyrannized. Man would make a bacchanal of life if only he didn’t have to live among others; and then for shame at the excesses of his desires and the licenses he presumed to claim, he would seek out new masters in the murky glow of his guilt. Most men do not find transcendence in their personal lives, and so must seek it in the bosom of the popular crowd or the radiance of the despot.”

Jefferson: “Transcendence is more valued for being indefinite, and the best governments are those which are most godlike; I mean God as He is — elusive to the point of perpetual doubt. He keeps the state of being most unknown, most malleable — and therefore best loved. The tyrant is much too defined to be truly reverenced for long, and all pernicious ideologies impose much too rigidly on the already formidable strictures of life. But the government of liberty keeps the advantage of the elusiveness of its principles. The fulfillment of liberty remains forever in esperance. Liberty is never perfectly achieved but remains an aspiration always, and in the endless pursuit of freedom it is good for the people to be purified by the challenge of despotism. Such a challenge has arrived for this generation, but I trust that the lovers of freedom, who have long lay dormant in the false optimism that the despotic impetus had been swept away, will prove worthy of the inheritance which we have bequeathed them.”

Hamilton: “Inspiring as ever, my dear sir. But you see these shades which surround us and kennel our eternities — who could possibly heed you?”     *

Wednesday, 15 December 2021 13:51

The Advent of the Cipher Presidency

The Advent of the Cipher Presidency

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is a brand-new associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

December 2, 2021, produced a sorry sight in Bethesda, Maryland. Joe Biden, President of the United States, stood next to Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and each delivered in turn some comments on the state of the pandemic and the Administration’s plan to combat it. The stark nature of the contrast between the two men was obvious. Biden, as he does in all his public appearances, seemed frail, unfocused, and confused. His comments were punctuated by awkward silences. Most prominent was the sense of nervous terror that persistently animates the President’s expressions: he knows that in those moments of public scrutiny he cannot slip. And this thought makes him fear himself. When Fauci spoke, he was calm, confident, and projected absolute certainty in what he was saying. The highest-paid and most infamous bureaucrat in the country entirely usurped the stage presence of the elected President. When it came time for media questions, Fauci was the undisputed star. Biden himself vaguely seemed to understand the implications of the scene and joked: “Hey, look who’s President, — Fauci.”

 

The scene in Bethesda was a microcosm of what has been evident to honest observers over the course of nearly one year of the Biden Administration. Biden is not the President in any sense of the term as it has previously been understood. He is unable to understand the political situation and therefore cannot set a personal political agenda. He is in the early stages of senility and is incapable of projecting confidence or charisma. Unable to coherently speak on political matters or project any sense of the majesty of the office he holds, his handlers have wisely elected to limit him to prepared remarks only when absolutely necessary. It is unknown what preparations Biden requires for these moments in the public eye, but it is reasonable to assume that they are extensive and humiliating. At first glance, it would seem impossible that such a figure could hold the office of president. The president is empowered by the Constitution with so many assertive functions that it would be reasonable to assume that a purely passive president would spell disaster for national administration. And yet the “Biden” agenda rolls on apace, seemingly unencumbered by the reality that its putative head is both a nonentity and deeply unpopular. How can this be?

 

We may observe that in one very important sense, Biden is free. A sentient president, ambitious to be re-elected, is compelled by his awareness to alter course when the political situation has turned against him. But Biden benefits from the assumptions of both supporters and adversaries that he will not run for re-election. His obliviousness to political reality means that he will not reassess the tide of the agenda that has been grafted on him by his handlers and political allies. He is, in this sense, free from the normal persuasive force of political unpopularity. Granted, this agenda is on course to suffer a rout in the midterm elections of 2022, but the Democratic establishment has little to fear from a Republican Congress so long as it can assert a large part of its agenda before the midterms. Republicans are effective at obstruction and inadequate at repeal. Biden’s presidency will effectively terminate with the advent of a Republican Congress, but this is a suitable trade-off for the partisans of the Left, who know that time is on their side. All the permanent institutions of power are in their hands. They can spend the last two years of the Administration painting Biden as a helpless victim of Republican intrigue and begin paving the way for his successor. It should seem strange that a figure like Biden is desirable for the purposes of the establishment Left and their bureaucratic allies. But in truth, his elevation represents the blueprint for the advancement of their unitary factional interests: elevate a weak candidate to the presidency, one who will stay quiet and do what is required of him, and reap the benefits of a total operative independence in administrative and policy discretion. 

 

We may refer to this development as the advent of the cipher presidency. The bureaucratic offices have grown so autonomous that they no longer require executive direction to conduct and advance policy. More crucially, they have become ideologically in line with the interests of the establishment Left. If the permanent institutions of the government are capable of executive function and ideologically aligned with the goals of the Democratic platform, why bother at all with a strong, independent president, even one who appears to be in agreement with the party? When explained this way, we can now make perfect sense of the apparently inexplicable support accrued to Biden in the aftermath of the South Carolina 2020 primary. He was selected as the consensus candidate by the party because he was the most malleable, and would serve in the presidency as a cipher, or figurehead, through whom all their policy interests could seamlessly pass. This also serves to explain the elevation of Kamala Harris, a nervous, weak, and implacably awkward politician, who has never been popular with voters of any persuasion, and who will similarly do what she is told by political handlers. Pete Buttigieg, also, has risen in the ranks of the party at an astonishingly rapid rate solely due to his ability to play the perfect yes-man. It is no accident that both of these compliant figures, Harris and Buttigieg, can claim minority status. The partisan nature of the political landscape allows for the selection of such weak candidates. The personality of the candidate does not matter; so long as they are running on the Democratic side, they will win close to 50 percent of the electorate, and the Democratic establishment is confident that enough remaining voters can be won by appealing to the evils of the Republican opposition. They want nothing to do with such overly free-thinking figures as Sanders, Yang, or Gabbard. They have the institutional power and intend to consolidate and maintain it. A cipher president is optimal for their objectives. 

 

The advent of the cipher presidency presents a frightful reality: we have now reached a stage in the development of the administrative state in which the Constitutionally vested office of the presidency is marginal to executive function. The figure of the “incapacitated executive” has numerous precedents in the annals of history, many among the inbred lineages of the European royal houses: Tsar Feodor I, of Russia; Charles the Hexed of Spain; George III of England; Ferdinand I of Austria. Each of these figures was propped up by a bureaucracy of the nobility, which was happy to advance its own agenda and privileges through the cipher of the monarch. The position of the American president was intended to be one of dynamism and decisive projection of authority. It was designed to be indispensable to the structure of the constitutional government. Under Biden, the truth of the office has been exposed. The American government no longer requires a sentient executive. The sorry figure of Biden illustrates the shameful debasement of the principles of representative government dealt by the rise of the ideologico-bureaucratic state. It remains for a champion to be found with the will to entirely dismantle the vast structure of the federal bureaucracy, eradicate the destructive ideologies that guide it, and restore to the office of the presidency the high dignity and authority with which it was originally endowed.     *

Factions and the Tyranny of Bureaucratic Power

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is a brand-new associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

Preamble

Nations age no less than persons do, and the essential ideals which animate the myth-nourished childhood of nations must dull by the hard process of experience. We are now a great distance from the epoch of our national origin, and the disparities between the present state of our government and the kind envisioned by the Founders are vaster than ever. Increasingly we decline to honor our Founders, and where we make a pretense of honor we bestow on them a vacuous and generic display of cursory acknowledgment. This should not confound us; the technological, scientific, and material conditions of life are radically altered from their time. All ages must suffer inevitably from the discomforts of the progress of history, and it is likely that we have sacrificed a great many wisdoms to the greater object of material improvement. But it is in the nature of great men and great ideas that they find applicability in even the most alien passages of human life. If we trust that the Founding of our nation was a great event, then we must conclude that it remains permanent in many of its essential implications, that the animating principles remain relevant to representative government for all time and that no modifications to the modes of life can entirely purge them of their resonant truth. But no less do we admit that though in their essential aspects, the Founding ideals abide, we cannot see them through that prism of perspective which inculcated the Founders. Our ages are too diffuse for such an unfiltered view, and the discrepancies between them necessitate that some of their convictions must expire. How do we determine what is resonant from what we should discard? How do we discriminate between an everlasting insight and an anachronism? 

I propose a series of essays with the projected purpose of directly applying the principles of the Founders to the conditions of the republic in our own time, and to ascertain which of them ought to be preserved or resuscitated, and with what adaptations to contemporary civic life. I will be vigilant not to reduce the positions of the Founders to the nebulous generalities so common in our discourse and, to this end, I intend to confront them at their words through specific circulations, whether orations, political tracts, private notes, or correspondence, and to approach with fidelity the intricacies of their arguments. There are instances in even the greatest of this heritage when some of the ideas advanced must be, of force, obsolete, but I aim to demonstrate that where violations of principle are concerned, we are nearly exclusively more at fault and unjustified in our contemporary violations than the Founders were misguided in advancing them. The essential quality of the Founders was not expediency, but foresight; they did not mean to construct a government for themselves so much as for their countrymen to come, and their utterances are frequently characterized by the impatience of prophecy. To this end, they recognized that strength of principle is, in the final tally, the only inducement to historical permanence. 

I

The idea that a representative republic of sufficient size and with proper delegation of powers is, of all forms of government, best suited to manage the possible fractures of factional dissension and safeguard the threat to natural freedoms posed by faction, finds a classic expression in the tenth essay of The Federalist Papers, written by James Madison. Madison’s definition of faction is necessarily dissenting: 

"A number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of a whole, who are united or actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

We observe that Madison admits no possibility of a benevolent faction. An interest motive in society that originates from a desire to reward those activities which tend toward the welfare of the whole state is, by definition, non-factional. To call an interest a faction is to declare that it is subversive to the interests or the rights of some minority or majority of the whole and that the fulfillment of its aims will resolve in a manner detrimental to society, either because those aims destabilize a necessary balance of interests or because they foster the counter-factional resentment of the disadvantaged party. Madison distinguishes factions by the scope of their adherence: a faction of a majority represents an interest motive held by a plurality of the citizen body and a faction of a minority represents a motive held by less than a plurality. The greater part of the argument of Federalist 10 is devoted to considerations for curbing the effects of majority factions since, as Madison argues, pluralities hostile to minority interests represent the great peril to popular governments. Madison dismisses the threat of minority factions by the flat insistence that, in a representative government, “relief is supplied by the republican principle,” and though a faction of a minority might pollute the discourse, it would not have the votes to affect its aims. A pure exercise of the republican principle, or of any government by popular representation, necessarily has the effect of abetting majoritarian interests, and it is a fragile impediment to expect any majority to maintain conciliatory deference to minority claims on the mere basis of appeals to higher principles. The requirement of a national government is then an ability to distinguish between a necessary respect for the non-factional claims of the majority and the claims that, by undermining the natural rights or crucial interests of a minority, meet the definition of factional interest. Madison argues that the strengthened national republic outlined in the Constitution is requisite to distinguish between them. He offers two reasons, by way of contradistinction with both pure democracies and small republics: 

". . . the effect [of a greater delegation of government in a large republic] is to refine and enlarge the views by passing them through a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations."

". . . the other point of difference [between a large republic and a small democracy] is the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it."

So, Madison puts his faith in the temperance offered by a comprehension of the nation in its entirety. The legislators, put at a distance from the immediate milieu of their constituencies and placed in daily association with colleagues from all reaches of the nation, will learn to judge in legislative matters with a double eye to the interests of their constituents and the compatibility of those interests with the broader nation. This temperance is achievable only in a large republic because only a republic of sufficient scope can dilute the disparate aims of the citizen body so vastly as to make a perfect obstinacy in a majority faction untenable. In effect, Madison suggests that a truly amalgamated majority faction, in a republic so large as to offer a diffusion of distinctly regional interests, is impossible. 

II

The most lethal of all majority factions to a representative republic are those which are motivated to topple the republican form of government itself. It remains the great achievement of the American Constitution that no faction in the United States has ever coalesced in opposition to its principles of representative government. Whatever we may say against the Constitution for its failures to safeguard the natural rights of minority interests, perhaps even its initial sanction of them, only fringe political movements up to our time have ever openly insisted that the constitutional mechanism is inadequate to remedy its deficiencies. To attest to that would require a denial of the efficacy of the amendment process and a rejection of the authentic and obvious remedies supplied by it. No credible faction has ever existed in the United States that has openly challenged the supremacy of the republican principle as the abiding philosophy of a national government. Since we cannot say this for the myriad republics of European history, we must count the absolute adherence to republicanism among all political affiliations as a particular quirk of the American people. Only the densest of ideologues would deny that this owes, at least in part, to the resonance of the Founding principles. It is noteworthy that even in the greatest crisis of the republic, fidelity to the republicanism of the Constitution was so innate that the states that rejected the Union crafted a separatist government on the basis of strict Constitutional federalism, even when such a government was inimical to their war effort. The judgment of history thus far has declared the American republic victorious over factions of overthrow and subversion. But what is the cause for the uncharacteristic stability of American republicanism and its apparent immunity from factions of this kind? Is it, as Madison prophesied, a direct consequence of the prudence of the legislators and the large scope of the republic? Certainly, the dynamism displayed by the early American Congresses combined with the restrained and decisive exercise of executive power established robust precedence for the supremacy of the Constitutional government among all interest groups. But what can we say of such factors today? 

We recall that Madison distinguished between factions comprising a majority and minority of the population, and declared that the essence of republicanism represented a sufficient safeguard against the corrosive influence of minority factions. The argument of Federalist 10 is applicable then exclusively to majority factions, and the republic ought not to experience any menace from smaller factions so long as the representative conditions of the Constitutional mandate abide. We have the attestation of history to demonstrate the judiciousness of Madison in locating the remedy to majority factions in the scope of the republic. But I would like now to consider a different factor in the circumstance of republican governments, one that alters the consideration of factional influences and which is expository for the conditions of our present governance. No manner of government, at any stage of existence, is entirely free from the threat of overthrow or subversive machinations from a popular majority, but it is a historical truth that republican forms are most vulnerable to these hazards the more proximate they are to the time of their inceptions. An early-stage republic lacks the implements of a large corpus of law and an entrenchment of civic values, and has yet to routinize a public and cultural life associated with representative government. The tabula rasa conditions of an early-stage republic empower the legislative capacities and require their initial vigor to placate the agitations of the citizens, especially when the republic has emerged from a state of insurrection. The history of abortive and short-lived republics is replete with instances of the failure of legislative bodies to break from an unsatisfactory pervading policy or to offer clarity of political direction.1 The uncharacteristic security of the early American republic owed itself to the rich tradition of representative colonial government but also had much to do with the proactive energy of the early Congresses and the sagacity of the first administrations. A republic that surmounts the challenges of its infancy finds itself ever more gradually resistant to lacerations from possible popular majorities. But though the threat from majority factions declines as a republic prospers, the threat from another kind of faction grows incommensurately. 

III

The gravest threat to our present republic, which is now in a late stage of its evolution, derives not from the encroachments of a popular, autocratic majority but from the covert machinations of delegated power. This delegated power represents a kind of faction of minority unforeseen in Federalist 10, and yet it is a kind that is perhaps inevitable in the progress of republican government. We remember that Madison regarded the republican principle as sufficient protection against minority factions. But there are a number of assumptions that are implicit in Madison’s definition of faction. The proposition of the sufficiency of the republican principle assumes that factions are public, sincere, and influential in proportion to the population of their adherents. But we cannot hope that in the arena of politics all parties will “speak openly to the world and say nothing in secret.”2 It is true that though a faction might falsify its designs and hide its ultimate motives to amass a broader swath of support, these measures can have only the eventual effect of diluting the cohesion of the original objective or of turning the deluded followers against the faction when they uncover its authentic ambitions. In either instance, a faction obliged to persuade has no abiding incentive to falsify its desires. But there are kinds of factions which may operate covertly and bypass constitutional obligations to the electoral will. As Madison suggests, we have little to fear from a minority faction that must compete on its persuasiveness. But a faction may circumvent the marketplace of political persuasion by two primary means in violation of a pure republican principle: 1) the faction represents an interest group that maintains privileged access to the legislators or the officers of the executive agencies or 2) the factional motive emanates from government officers themselves. The former means is evident in a number of instances, among them the role of special interest groups in campaign funding, the role of lobbyists in the drafting of legislation, and the appointments of industry figures to head bureaucratic offices. The outsized influence of “special interest” is not a desirable feature of the republic. Efforts might be made to reduce it, but a significant portion of it will always remain ineradicable. We may lament this constraint while also recognizing that a special interest faction remains subject to some conditions of electoral persuasion. Such a faction might wield an insidious influence over the constitutional officers of one or more of the branches, but it can hope in vain that its claims on those officers supersede electoral considerations when its advocacy is overtly damaging to the interest of a voting majority. The legislators may attempt to cloak their deference to special interests under the guise of generalized political aims, but they can maintain this mirage only so long as the aims of the interest faction coincide with the wishes of the electorate — at least partially. No legislator can survive being openly hostile to the interests of his majority constituency; it is, therefore, necessary for any special interest to attune its advocacy to alternating considerations of the electorate. Because a minority faction of this kind will still be subject to some of the vicissitudes of the electorate, the “republican principle,” though it is strained, is not obliterated. A minority faction of the second kind, the adherents of which are members of the government itself, is an altogether different dilemma and represents the greatest instance of “tyranny of faction” to the republic of our time.

Over the course of time the exercise of republican governments illustrates a history of the ascent of delegated power. By delegated power, I refer to those powers exercised by extra-Constitutional executive bureaucracies in the American government. The necessity of permanent bureaucracies is recognized by the Constitution in three clauses3, and though there is some dispute over the division of authority between the legislative and executive functions over “inferior Officers,” it is incontestable that all power vested in the bureaucracies are subject to the authority of Constitutional officers. Bureaucracies are granted no autonomous power by the Constitution and are theoretically constrained by the discretionary delegation of the legislature. But we have reached that crucial stage of republican government when the legislative power is in eclipse, and the routinization of bureaucratic power is such that the bureaucracies are decisive in the crafting of legislation and the orientation of policy. The legislature of our own time offers scant succor to the diminution of autonomous bureaucratic power. Why has the legislature been so weakened? Legislators, like those in the American Congress, who are deprived of executive and administrative functions must rely exclusively on the passage of legislation to exercise power. They thus have a tendency to accumulate authorizations for expanded administrative bodies and regulatory measures. This exercise of power has the effect of diminishing the overall share of future power because the legislature maintains a greater facility for institution than for revocation. Legislatures are generally incapable of destroying what they create because the political costs of decremental initiatives to the individual member are so much higher than additive measures, and the endowment of executive authority always makes itself harder to dislodge by usage. As the course of a republic unfolds and the body of legislation becomes permanent and routine, the legislative capacity naturally cedes authority to the organs that are tasked with the execution of its laws. We may note the phenomenon that the legislative powers of a republic are thus at a paradoxical apex when they have been least exercised.

A republic in a late stage of development is dominated by the fruits of this long active legislature: a vast administrative state, the offices of which were sanctioned by a legislative power that has become too weak to deconstruct them. In our own time, the bureaucratic departments (i.e., the NSA, FBI, CIA, FDA, CDC, EPA) and the other unelected loci of federal power (i.e., the Federal Reserve System, the military) maintain a decisive influence on the inclinations of policy in both the legislative and executive branches, and they each have come to represent a “bureaucratic faction” motivated by considerations of aggrandizement and political ideology. For much of their histories, these and other various bureaucracies had been motivated exclusively by a desire for expanded funding or greater autonomy; though these motives have suffered no diminution, we may now add to them corresponding politico-ideological motives. Once wary of overt partisanship, federal bureaucracies no longer fear direct opposition to hostile administrations and direct support for compliant ones. They may engage in outright deception and obfuscation because they recognize that efforts at oversight in the legislature will always divert into partisan antipathy. They maintain an advantage over the constitutionally vested executive authorities because a President and his cabinet are subject to term limits, while the bureaucratic officers are installed indefinitely. They may conspire against and outlast an elected regime hostile to their factional interests. They receive minimal opposition to their demands for budget allocation, and the auditing of their expenditures goes unexamined. It is not erroneous to observe that the federal bureaucracies collectively now comprise the greatest power in the American government, and they exercise a greater influence on the representative members of government than the citizens who elect those members. The republican principle that Madison so trusted to derail the pernicious ascendancy of minority factions has no power against such factions when they emanate from the republican government itself.  

A tyranny may emerge by habit just as well as by impulse. The slow ascent of bureaucratic factions, furnished with extra-Constitutional authorities and motivated by increasingly autocratic ideologies, continues to abrade the relics of an authentic government by popular representation. We must confront the question of inevitability: is it in the nature of all republics founded on the basis of enfranchisement, not exempting ours, to succumb to the habitual power of centralized apparatchiks? Does the Constitution, so resistant to exterior forces which sought to destroy it, have the means to hinder also those forces which seek to annihilate it from within? No historical postulate can abide as truth if it cannot combat the alternatives which seek to obstruct it. The principles of representative government contributed decisively to the hegemony of the United States; but if we abandon them, if we allow the nation to slip permanently into the quiet yet tenacious tyranny of unrepresentative overlords, then the judgment of history must condemn them as too fragile to survive the prosperity they fostered. Then the Constitution shall become a mere inkblot, a parchment exalted in “monumental mockery,”4 the posthumous testament of a forgotten faith, and another postulate consigned to the purgatory of historical memory.  

Notes

  1. There are numerous republics to cite under these criteria. Some of the most significant from European history include: the English Interregnum, the French First Republic, the French Second Republic, the Kerensky Provisional Government, the Weimar Republic, the Spanish Second Republic, and the French Fourth Republic.
  2. John 18:20
  3. Article I Section viii: [Congress shall have the power] to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Article II Section ii: [the President] may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices.

Article II Section ii: [the President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

  1. Troilus and Cressida: Act III scene iii.     *

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Annual Dinner 2021
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Words of Wisdom