If monarchy is rule by one, oligarchy rule by the few, and democracy rule by the many, a bureaucracy might be said to be rule by no one.
Perhaps no recent example better encapsulates the above observation by political philosopher Hannah Arendt than Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s largely unnoticed absence amid America’s worst supply-chain meltdown in living memory. Was Buttigieg ill? Fanatically dedicated to working behind the scenes? Nope! He’d simply punched out, like taking a personal day except for two months, in order to help husband Chasten recover from the traumas of childbirth.
PETE BUTTIGIEG has been MIA.
While U.S. ports faced anchor-to-anchor traffic and Congress nearly melted down over the president’s infrastructure bill in recent weeks, the usually omnipresent Transportation secretary was lying low.
One of the White House’s go-to communicators didn’t appear on TV. He was absent on Capitol Hill during the negotiations over the bill he had been previously helping sell to different members of Congress. Conservative critics tried (unsuccessfully) to get #WheresPete to trend and Fox News ran a story on October 4 with the headline: “Buttigieg quiet on growing port congestion as shipping concerns build ahead of holidays.”
They didn’t previously announce it, but Buttigieg’s office told West Wing Playbook that the secretary has actually been on paid leave since mid-August to spend time with his husband, Chasten, and their two newborn babies.
“For the first four weeks, he was mostly offline except for major agency decisions and matters that could not be delegated,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation. [Politico]
This revelation turned into a predictable, rather lame dispute between Red Team and Blue Team over whether the Butt Man was neglecting his duties. Tucker Carlson ribbed Buttigieg for taking time to “learn breastfeeding”; the rich gay surrogate dad sniped back by implying that Carlson, a man with a wife and four grown children, was alienated from the act of parenthood.
Also, something about Harvey Milk. Way to fight stereotypes, Buttigieg!
But the truth is this: Buttigieg could step away from his job permanently and it likely wouldn’t make any difference. In fact, so could the rest of the Cabinet, pretty much all of Congress, and the president too (mentally, the last part has probably already happened).
The president, pretty much all of congress, and all cabinet heads could go on paid leave and no one would notice
In a "democracy" these are all figurehead roles, and the bureaucracy (such that it is) will roll on without them
— Darren J. Beattie 🌐 (@DarrenJBeattie) October 15, 2021
Far from “slacking off” or irresponsibly stepping away from a senior U.S. government post, Pete Buttigieg has actually revealed the true nature of governance in America’s late-stage crumbling “democracy”: It’s a government where the presence of political appointees is entirely unnecessary.
The United States federal government is a behemoth with more than two million civilian employees, plus more than 1.3 million active-duty military personnel. Sitting atop the vast edifice are a mere 4,000 political appointees, about 1,300 of which require Senate confirmation.
While in an ideal world these political appointees would all be knowledgeable experts who are fitting choices for senior positions, in reality of course the opposite is often the case. Does anybody think that Marcia Fudge, Biden’s choice to run HUD, is the single best person for setting the nation’s housing policy? Revolver reader’s will recall that Ms. Fudge’s previous achievements include obtaining clemency for a local judge who later brutally murdered his wife. For that matter, is anybody sure that Marcia Fudge is better than picking a random name from a Duluth, Minnesota phone book?
The truth, of course, is that political appointments are handed out for all kinds of other reasons: To reward a political ally, to heal a schism, to allow younger party leaders to raise their profile. But above all, political appointees are there to exert control.
The purpose of political appointees isn’t to act as bureaucrats and administrators. Amazingly enough, the point of a political appointee is politics: They are there to exercise political control over the career bureaucracy so that it doesn’t become an unelected, all-powerful fourth branch of government.
This reality explains why Secretary Buttigieg could easily take three more years of paternity leave if he feels like it. Through a process of convergent evolution dating back decades, the Democratic Party and the federal bureaucracy have become ideologically indistinguishable.
Why does Pete Buttigieg need to go into work at all? He knows with absolute certainty that the senior leadership of the Department of Transportation are ideological progressives. He knows that they will mindlessly receive any mental software update that is put out by the progressive left. He knows that, if the Democratic Congress passes any bill involving the Department of Transportation, the career appointees will execute it without complaint.
And if Pete Buttigieg knows all that, who cares if he actually comes into work or not? For that matter, who cares if Joe Biden comes into work at all? Even a year ago, it was obvious that Biden wasn’t always 100% there mentally. Since taking office, Biden’s public confusion and bafflement have gone viral multiple times.
Suppose the bizarre conspiracy theories were true, and Joe Biden was actually being played by a body double while the real Biden lies dead or in a coma somewhere. What would be different? Quite possibly nothing at all. At most, the foreign policy deep state might have succeeded in perpetuating the Afghan permanent war through another presidential term.
This evolution is not simply a matter of the Democratic Party “taking over” the Washington bureaucracy. The arrangement actually goes both ways. The bureaucracy is certainly deeply loyal to progressive priorities like transgender rights or rooting out “racism.” But in turn, the Democratic Party has tethered itself inseparably to the values of the DC bureaucrat class. Among other things, this includes the cult of credential-collecting and meaningless “expertise,” the revolving door between government and senior corporate posts, and the military-industrial-diplomatic complex that obsessively spreads “freedom” and “democracy” to unwilling foreign lands.
The month of June is recognized as (LGBTI) Pride Month. The United States respects the dignity & equality of LGBTI people & celebrates their contributions to the society. We remain committed to supporting civil rights of minorities, including LGBTI persons. #Pride2021 #PrideMonth pic.twitter.com/qgKPQAPaOY
— U.S. Embassy Kabul (@USEmbassyKabul) June 2, 2021
Crucially, the same forces that let the Democratic Party leave the bureaucracy on autopilot mean that a Republican administration can never expect the same sort of cooperation. From the moment President Trump took office, a huge proportion of the bureaucracy switched into full #Resist mode. This wasn’t centrally planned—it didn’t require orders from Nancy Pelosi or collusion between thousands of different actors. Instead, it took place automatically and implicitly: bureaucrats could act knowing right away that others would act in concert with them. And at the time, Washington’s official organs gloated about it.
The signs of popular dissent from President Trump’s opening volley of actions have been plain to see on the nation’s streets, at airports in the aftermath of his refugee and visa ban, and in the blizzard of outrage on social media. But there’s another level of resistance to the new president that is less visible and potentially more troublesome to the administration: a growing wave of opposition from the federal workers charged with implementing any new president’s agenda.
Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.
At the Justice Department, an employee in the division that administers grants to nonprofits fighting domestic violence and researching sex crimes said the office has been planning to slow its work and to file complaints with the inspector general’s office if asked to shift grants away from their mission.
“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, “people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.”
Career staff members in at least five departments said they are staying in close contact with Obama administration officials to get advice on how to handle Trump initiatives they consider illegal or improper.
While many federal workers have begun to consider avenues of dissent only since the inauguration, others had been preparing for weeks. In the last days of Obama’s tenure, several departments catalogued data and reports and got them into the hands of allies outside the government. [Washington Post]
The #Resistance continued for all four years of Trump’s presidency, and sadly, it was only in the final days of his first term that Trump and his allies properly understood the problem they were dealing with. Just two weeks before the 2020 election, the Post howled about what a second term might hold.
President Trump’s extraordinary directive allowing his administration to weed out career federal employees viewed as disloyal in a second term is the product of a four-year campaign by conservatives working from a little-known West Wing policy shop.
Soon after Trump took office, a young aide hired from the Heritage Foundation with bold ideas for reining in the sprawling bureaucracy of 2.1 million came up with a blueprint. Trump would hold employees accountable, sideline their labor unions and give the president more power to hire and fire them, much like political appointees.
The plan was a counterweight to the “deep state” Trump believed was out to disrupt his agenda. Coordinating labor policy for the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, James Sherk presented his bosses with a 19-page to-do list titled “Proposed Labor Reforms.” A top category was “Creating a government that serves the people.”
The result this week threatens to be the most significant assault on the nonpartisan civil service in its 137-year history: a sweeping executive order that strips job protections from employees in policy roles across the government. Exactly which roles would be affected will be up to personnel officials at federal agencies, who were tasked on Friday with reviewing all of their jobs and deciding who would qualify.
Civil service experts and union leaders have assailed the order as an effort to impose political loyalty tests on a nonpartisan workforce. The directive likely would not survive if Joe Biden is elected president. [Washington Post]
The Post’s prediction came true: Just two days after taking office, President Biden withdrew Trump’s executive order to weed out non-compliant bureaucrats. After all, Democrats have no need for an order to make sure policy-making bureaucrats are obedient. Now matter how extreme the policy—say, letting 15,000 Haitians into America or investigating parents who protest their daughters being raped by transgender predators—the Biden regime can count on bureaucrats who will be fully supportive and even enthusiastic in executing his diktats. For Democrats, obedience is a matter of course.
But Republicans must not forget about President Trump’s order. The next time an America-first president holds the White House, they must be prepared to revive it immediately. The nationalist movement cannot afford to waste another four years rediscovering it.
In effect, the monolithic Democratic ideology of the American bureaucracy means that, no matter how decisively it wins an election, any Republican presidency (or for that matter, any non-establishment presidency regardless of party) will always be a case of divided government. Not only that, but it will be a deeply asymmetric divided government, where a few thousand political appointees do battle with entrenched, hostile bureaucrats who are both far more numerous and far more experienced using the levers of policy and power.
This isn’t just a bottleneck to effective governance, but also an existential problem for democracy itself. Because in any government where the bureaucracy calls the shots, regardless of who holds power above them, elections become meaningless. The American presidency will be like the Imperial title under the shoguns, holding immense prestige but no power.
To say the least, the next Republican president cannot afford Cabinet secretaries who take two months off to raise adopted infants. They need a Day One strategy that assumes the bureaucracy will be hostile and will needed to be crushed. They will need a plan that takes no prisoners and topples every obstacle the bureaucratic deep state attempts to throw up.
For Democrats, a Cabinet official is a figurehead atop a vast machine. For Republicans, a Cabinet official is a general in a bureaucratic total war—and the time to understand this is right now.