By Joe Lowndes (January 26, 2017)
Unable to sleep last night, I thought at least how relieved I was not to be teaching introduction to US politics and government again this quarter. I would have no idea how to do so.
Institutions are always undergoing slow transformations, and everything – the presidency, congress, the bureaucracy, parties, media, etc, must always be examined in broad developmental perspective. But now each lecture would have to start with “Up until last week…”
Between Trump’s assumption of total control of executive agencies (and their apparent Twitter rebellions); the crushing speed, number and force of executive orders; and now this – the mass exodus of longtime senior civil servants in the state department, we appear to be in a nearly revolutionary situation (but not one of our choosing).
Some of this was a long time coming, or at least the conditions for it have been steadily growing. The dramatic expansion of presidential power begun under George W. Bush after 9/11 (guided philosophically by the neo-Hamiltonian unitary executive theory) and solidified under Obama has gone along with a concomitant atrophy of the institutions that historically contained it – specifically congress, the court, executive agencies, and the press.
But this takeover is orchestrated by a Breitbart ideology of racial/civilizational and corporate supremacy at home and abroad, joined with a clear idea of how to use executive power that is part Jackson, part Lenin, and part Cheney. It is exactly what Steve Bannon has described as his own view of the world and of the uses of political power.
Much is made of Trump’s own insecurity, rage, and impulsivity. But his public infantilism is not worth our consideration. He may tantrum and tweet on a daily basis, but as he does so his administration continues a steady enactment of a maximalist agenda – aimed at women, immigrants, Muslims, indigenous people, workers, and the planet itself.
I don’t think the executive branch (and everything it touches) has undergone this radical a transformation since the New Deal. This time it is a full counterrevolution of the right.