Summer 2016, "Why Are Voters So Angry? They want self-government back." city-journal.org, Myron Magnet
"Haunting this year’s presidential contest is the sense that the U.S.
government no longer belongs to the people and no longer represents
them. And this uneasy feeling is not misplaced. It reflects the real
state of affairs.
We have lost the government we learned about in civics class, with
its democratic election of representatives to do the voters’ will in
framing laws, which the president vows to execute faithfully, unless the
Supreme Court rules them unconstitutional. That small government of
limited powers that the Founders designed, hedged with checks and
balances, hasn’t operated for a century. All its parts still have their
old names and appear to be carrying out their old functions. But in
fact, a new kind of government has grown up inside the old structure,
like those parasites hatched in another organism that grow by eating up
their host from within, until the adult creature bursts out of the
host’s carcass. This transformation is not an evolution but a
What has now largely displaced the Founders’ government is what’s
called the Administrative State—a transformation premeditated by its
main architect, Woodrow Wilson. The thin-skinned, self-righteous
college-professor president, who thought himself enlightened far beyond
the citizenry, dismissed the Declaration of Independence’s inalienable
rights as so much outmoded “nonsense,” and he rejected the Founders’
clunky constitutional machinery as obsolete. (See “It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More,”
Summer 2014.) What a modern country needed, he said, was a “living
constitution” that would keep pace with the fast-changing times by
continual, Darwinian adaptation, as he called it, effected by federal
courts acting as a permanent constitutional convention.
Modernity, Wilson thought, demanded
efficient government by independent, nonpartisan, benevolent,
hyper-educated experts, applying the latest scientific, economic, and
sociological knowledge to industrial capitalism’s unprecedented
problems, too complex for self-governing free citizens to solve.
Accordingly, he got Congress to create executive-branch administrative
agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, to do the job. During
the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt proliferated such
agencies, from the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal
Housing Administration to the Federal Communications Commission and the
Securities and Exchange Commission, to put the New Deal into effect.
Before they could do so, though, FDR had to scare the Supreme Court into
stretching the Constitution’s Commerce Clause beyond recognition,
putting the federal government in charge of all economic activity, not
just interstate transactions. He also had to pressure the justices to
allow Congress to delegate legislative power—which is, in effect, what
the lawmakers did by setting up agencies with the power to make binding
rules. The Constitution, of course, vests all legislative power in Congress, empowering it to make laws, not to make legislators.
But the Administrative State’s constitutional transgressions cut
deeper still. If Congress can’t delegate its legislative powers, it
certainly can’t delegate judicial powers, which the Constitution gives
exclusively to the judiciary. Nevertheless, after these administrative
agencies make rules like a legislature, they then exercise judicial
authority like a court by prosecuting violations of their edicts and
inflicting real criminal penalties, such as fines and cease-and-desist
orders. As they perform all these functions, they also violate the
principle of the separation of powers, which lies at the heart of our
constitutional theory (senselessly curbing efficiency, Wilson thought),
as well as the due process of law, for they trample the citizen’s Fifth
Amendment right not to lose his property unless indicted by a grand jury
and tried by a jury of his peers, and they search a citizen or a
company’s private papers or premises, without bothering to get
judge-issued subpoenas or search warrants based on probable cause,
flouting the Fourth Amendment. They can issue waivers to their rules, so
that the law is not the same for all citizens and companies but is
instead an instrument of arbitrary power. FDR himself ruefully remarked
that he had expanded a fourth branch of government that lacked
constitutional legitimacy. Not only does it reincarnate the arbitrary
power of the Stuarts’ tyrannical Star Chamber, but also it doesn’t even
meet the minimal conditions of liberty that Magna Carta set forth 801
Adding insult to injury, Wilson, his allies, and their current
followers call themselves “progressives,” a fatuous boast implying that
they are the embodiments and chosen instruments of the spirit of an
ever-improving, irresistible future. In tune with the German idealist
philosophy that Wilson and his circle studied, they claim to be marching
toward an as-yet-unrealized goal of human perfection.
perfection, the German philosophers believed, would look something like
Prussia’s enlightened despotism. For Americans to think that it is
progress to move from the Founders’ revolutionary achievement—a nation
of free citizens, endowed with natural rights, living under laws that
they themselves have made, pursuing their own vision of happiness in
their own way and free to develop as fully as they can whatever talent
or genius lies within them—to a regime in which individuals derive such
rights as they have from a government superior to them is contemptible.
How is a return to subjection an advance on freedom? No lover of liberty
should ever call such left-wing statism “progressive.” In historical
terms, this elevation of state power over individual freedom is not even
“liberal” but quite the reverse.
As these agencies have metastasized , they
have borne out not a single premise that justified their creation, and
their increasingly glaring failure has drawn citizens’ angry attention
to them. Expert?
As a New Deal congressman immediately recognized with
shock, many of those who staffed the Administrative State were kids just
out of law school, with zero real-world experience or technical
knowledge. Efficient? Can-do America, which built the Empire State
Building in 11 months and ramped up airplane production during World War
II from 2,000 in 1939 to nearly 100,000 in 1944, now takes years of
bureaucratic EPA busywork to repair a bridge or lay a pipeline, and who
knows how many businesses never expand or even start because the maze of
government regulation is too daunting and costly to navigate? Only last
year, EPA “experts” fecklessly stood by as workers under their
supervision accidentally dumped 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater
into the Colorado River, and the agency vouchsafed not a word of warning
to downstream Colorado and New Mexico officials for an entire day
before the poisonous, fluorescent-orange flood hit them. Over at
Veterans Affairs, those who’ve fought for their country die in droves
while waiting for medical care. But what’s the problem? asks agency
head Robert MacDonald blithely. After all, at ever-popular Disneyland,
“do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?”
Non-political? Ask Lois Lerner at the Internal Revenue Service. Oh
wait: she pleaded the Fifth Amendment—and her boss, John Koskinen,
simply ignores Congress’s orders, even as more than 2,000 of his
enforcement agents have acquired military-grade weaponry, among 200,000
of such administrative-agency officers now similarly equipped with
lethal arms, presumably for coercion of the citizens they supposedly
serve. Or there’s the Federal Elections Commission and the Federal
Communications Commission, lackeys of President Obama and his
Protecting citizens from industrial capitalism’s giant corporations? Where were the
Securities and Exchange Commission, the
Office of Thrift Supervision, and the
Office of Federal Housing
as the mortgage bubble blew up in 2008, nearly
taking the whole financial system with it and producing the worst
economic bust since the Great Depression, which even today has sunk the
labor-force participation rate and hiked the suicide rate among
working-class men and women to record levels?
Moreover, from the
establishment of the first administrative agency—the Interstate Commerce
Commission in 1887, essentially designed to create shared railroad
cartels—these agencies have been key instruments of crony capitalism,
which today often takes the form of senators and congressmen pressuring
agencies for rule changes or waivers to benefit their contributors, usually at the expense of their competitors as well as the public, as
the author of the recent Confessions of Congressman X complains
of his fellow legislative “puppets.” Little wonder that today’s
Americans think that such people don’t represent them. Pollsters report
that trust in government is at its lowest level ever, with only 19
percent expecting government to do the right thing, according to last
year’s Gallup and Pew polls.
Ensuring the citizens’ health and safety? Where is the Food and Drug
Administration as counterfeit medicines and medical supplies from China
infiltrate our hospitals? As for the infamously dysfunctional
Transportation Security Administration, its Keystone Kops’ regularly
reported inability to spot journalists carrying banned weapons onto
airplanes, while they are too busy fondling travelers’ private parts or
undressing grannies, is a standing national joke—on us. We lost our
constitutional safeguards for this?
FDR spewed out his agencies in a “try
anything” spirit to cure a Depression that his predecessor’s misguided
palliatives had worsened, and debate still surges over whether the New
Deal agencies did harm or good, putting aside their doubtful legitimacy.
But the majority of Americans at the time gave the president credit for
good intentions. By contrast, many voters give Barack Obama no such
credit for his analogous response to the Great Recession.
They see it as
a cynically calculated ploy to extend government’s power over the
people, especially given the White House chief of staff’s crack that a
president should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” So on the
pretext of addressing the financial crisis, the administration partially
socialized American medicine with legislation that only Democrats voted
for, without bothering to read it, and that citizens who opposed the
measure—still a solid majority of those polled—saw as a kind of coup
d’état, framed with utter irresponsibility and ignoring the scary
financial mess. As happened during the New Deal, a timid Supreme Court
found the act constitutional only by the politically driven legerdemain
frequent in that institution’s checkered history. It struck many as
flimflam, not government by consent."...
The result was a spectacular expansion of the Administrative State,
with some 150 new agencies and commissions created; no one knows the
exact number. And these agencies purposely removed the Administrative
State even further from government by the people. One agency, the
Independent Payment Advisory Board—the so-called death panel—is so
democratically unaccountable that Congress can only abolish it by a
three-fifths vote in both houses within a seven-month period next year.
After that, the law bars Congress from altering any of the board’s
edicts, a provision as far from democratic self-government as you can
When the administration finally confronted the financial crisis,
lengthened by Obamacare’s disincentives to hiring, its reflex response
was to expand the Administrative State still further with the Dodd-Frank
Act, named for its two legislative sponsors, both of whom had been in
bed with the mortgage racket, one figuratively and one literally.
Whether it solved the problem is dubious. What is certain is that it is
as undemocratic as Obamacare, with its Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau, whose budget Congress can’t control, its Financial Stability
Oversight Council, whose rulings no court may review, and its army of
regulators occupying the big banks and squeezing multimillion-dollar
penalties out of CEOs clinging to their supersize compensation,
regardless of what happens to the stockholders.
Meanwhile, the opaque
Federal Housing Finance Agency, formed during the crisis to salvage the
misbegotten mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, seems bent on
nationalizing permanently this sizable chunk of the economy, putting the
government in charge of citizens’ housing as well as their health care.
As for the “stimulus” that was supposed to give a Keynesian boost to
the economy: since you can’t prove a negative, no one can show that if
all that money had stayed in the private economy, it would have created
more jobs and economic growth than the economically anemic Obama era has
done. What unemployed or underemployed workers saw, though, is that a
good portion of stimulus money went to protect the jobs of public
employees, whose welfare evidently trumps that of the citizens whom they
supposedly serve. Coal miners saw that, even as the administration
aimed to kill their jobs, its stimulus shoveled out hundreds of millions
of dollars to now-defunct Solyndra and other nonviable,
crony-capitalist “green” energy companies, supposed solutions to a
global-warming crisis that many think a hoax, though some two dozen
public officials seem keen to suppress, Inquisition-style, the very
utterance of that thought. And voters noticed that America’s three
highest-income counties are in the Washington suburbs that house the
federal government’s recession-proof functionaries. (See “Hail Columbia!,” Winter 2013.)
Unease over illegal immigration also has
stoked today’s fear that the government no longer belongs to the people, and it’s important to understand the separate but mutually reinforcing
ways that it has done so. Once again, President Obama has made a bad
situation worse—this time, by his contemptuous refusal to execute the
laws faithfully. His catch-and-release policy for illegal
border-crossers, as well as his ban on deporting young aliens brought
here by their illegal-immigrant parents, are imperial, antidemocratic
edicts that might have sparked impeachment proceedings, had not
Congress’s silly move to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about his sex
games with an intern tainted that weapon for years to come. The result
of Obama’s diktat, as contrary to the spirit of the Founders’
Constitution as is the Administrative State, is that law-abiding
taxpayers must pay for the kids’ welfare support, health care, and
schooling—as they already do for “anchor babies” born to mothers who
have sneaked over the U.S. border for the purpose of having a child
eligible for “child-only” welfare benefits, scarcely less than ordinary
welfare payments and vastly more than the income of Central American
peasant families. No American voted to incur these costs, which, if
current trends continue, are likely to persist for several generations
of such families, so they amount to taxation without representation as
naked as George III’s.
As for the illegals who work, often for long hours at low pay, off
the books: because immigrants, 13 percent of the population, hold 17
percent of the jobs—and no one knows the percentage of workers who are
here illegally—jobless working-class citizens have understandably
concluded that a lawless government, by countenancing such cheap labor,
is taking the bread out of their mouths. Should they eat cake instead?
What citizens want to know is that, of all the world’s people who
seek to live in America, our government will admit those who come
legally, whose families will not harm us, and who will add to the wealth
of the nation, not reap where they have not sown. After all, public
safety—not clean energy or national health care—is government’s purpose.
Nevertheless, Mexican criminals really have infiltrated the country and
really have killed Americans, inevitably, under the administration’s
anything-goes immigration stance. Further, it’s no comfort to any
American who has suffered loss from an Islamist terror attack within our
borders—from Ground Zero and Fort Hood to San Bernardino and
Orlando—that such incidents pose no threat to our existence as a nation,
as the president has said by way of reassurance, while refusing to call
such outrages by their right name. How many citizens would have to die
in a dirty-bomb attack in Grand Central Terminal for such events to
strike him as a threat to the nation’s existence?
The question of providing a path to citizenship for the 12 million
illegal aliens already here is also germane to the debate about whom the
U.S. government serves and to whom it belongs. Talk radio’s Rush
Limbaugh jokes that “illegal aliens” is a politically incorrect term; we
must say “undocumented Democrats” instead. But it’s a joke with a barb,
for no one can doubt that these 12 million, if they could vote, would
vote for the Democratic program of an ever-larger, richly paid
government extracting ever-larger transfer payments from productive
workers to the dependent poor—James Madison’s definition of the tyranny
of the majority in Federalist 10. With black poverty and
exclusion steadily ameliorating, thanks to decades of striving by
well-intentioned Americans of all races—even though Obama’s ex–attorney
general Eric Holder devoted his tenure to denying this plain truth—the
Democratic Party needs a new class of victims to justify its “helping”
agenda and its immense cadre of well-paid government “helpers.” Central
American peasants fill the bill.
Formerly, our open economy drew the enterprising and energetic to
these shores, and our lack of a public safety net, with only private
ethnic and religious charities to help the unfortunate, meant that those
who couldn’t contribute to the U.S. economy went home. But today, when
we have a vast welfare state that didn’t exist during earlier waves of
immigration, the mothers of anchor babies come for handouts, and even
the children of hardworking legal Hispanic immigrants end up on the
welfare rolls at troublesomely high rates.
In addition, our showering of
self-proclaimed refugees with welfare benefits, which attracts the
shiftless rather than the enterprising, only compounds the
government-sustained dependency problem—dependency upon taxpayers who
didn’t choose this particular philanthropy.
The phalanx of privately supported
settlement houses and other institutions that met the great immigration
wave around the turn of the twentieth century, along with the public
school system, aimed to “Americanize” the new arrivals—teaching them our
language, manners, and customs, and especially our republican civic
ethic. Culture, after all, is as important an element of national
identity as political institutions. To become an American in those days
meant little more than learning English and subscribing to a broadly
shared creed of self-reliance, self-government, self-improvement, and
allegiance to a tolerant nation that most people agreed was unique in
the freedom and opportunity it afforded—as well as in its readiness to
confer citizenship on newcomers who almost universally desired it. But
today’s legal Hispanic immigrants often don’t apply for American
citizenship, or retain dual nationalities: Americanization often is not
high on their agendas.
Moreover, our new doctrine of multiculturalism gives today’s
immigrants nothing to assimilate to, since current intellectual
fashion—set by the universities, Hollywood, and the mainstream
media—celebrates everything that makes us different rather than the
creed that once made one nation out of many individuals. And
multiculturalism’s accompanying creed of victimology encourages
dependency rather than self-reliance. Who are the victimizers of illegal
Hispanic aliens? According to today’s politically correct
“progressivism,” it is the neocolonial United States that has exploited
the Third World’s natural resources, shored up its ruling oligarchies,
and subverted its incipient democratic governments.
And then it further
victimizes them with racism when they try to escape to this country.
Deference to the greater wisdom of government, which Wilsonian
progressivism deems a better judge of what the era needs and what the
people “really” want than the people themselves, has been silently
eroding our unique culture of enterprise, self-reliance, enlightenment,
and love of liberty for decades. But if we cease to enshrine American
exceptionalism at the heart of our culture—if we set equal value on such
Third World cultural tendencies as passive resignation, fatalism,
superstition, devaluation of learning, resentment of imaginary plots by
the powerful, and a belief that gratification deferred is gratification
forgone—the exceptionalism of our institutions becomes all the more
Supercharging American anger over illegal immigration and its
consequences is the politically correct ban on openly discussing it,
with even the most reasoned reservation dismissed as racism and
yahooism. And political correctness generates its own quantum of anger
among citizens, who think of freedom of speech and debate as central to
American exceptionalism. But elite culture stigmatizes plain speaking,
so that now a rapist or a murderer is a “person who committed a crime”
or an “individual who was incarcerated,” says the Obama Department of
Justice, or, according to the latest humbug from the Department of
Education, a “justice-involved individual.” Implicit in these euphemisms
is the theory that “society,” not the criminal, is to blame for crime, a
long-exploded idea aimed at blurring the distinction between right and
That’s what makes it so disheartening to learn that the University of
California has just deemed it a politically incorrect offense to
declare America a land of opportunity, so as not to stigmatize those
who’ve failed to seize it. It’s disheartening not only because such a
retreat from our traditional culture will hold back immigrants, but also
because our long cultural unraveling already has damagingly demoralized
the native-born working class in the face of economic change. They
dimly know that, and part of what makes them so angry is what they have
allowed themselves to become.
When Theodore Roosevelt, who unsuccessfully ran against Woodrow Wilson in
1912 on the Progressive Party ticket, first declared his intention to
go into politics, his fellow clubmen jeered at him for wanting to
associate with the “saloon-keepers, horse-car conductors,” and other
“rough and brutal” characters running the nation’s political parties. “I
answered,” recalled TR, “that if this were so it merely meant that the
people I knew did not belong to the governing class, and that the other
people did—and that I intended to be one of the governing class.” That’s
the true voice of “progressivism” speaking. As the Founders often
cautioned, a self-governing republic doesn’t have a governing class.
Part of America’s current predicament is that it now has such a class,
and the American people are very angry about it."
"Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large and its editor from 1994 through 2006, is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. His latest book is The Founders at Home."
Comment: A very informative article except that the Republican Establishment deserves as much or more credit than Obama or any democrat for the situation today. To say "only democrats" voted for ObamaCare isn't helpful and gives
the GOP E credit it most certainly doesn't deserve. The Republican Establishment wants the same things democrats want especially regarding ObamaCare and open borders. The only reason ObamaCare exists today is not because
of democrats or Obama, but because of the GOP Establishment. In Nov.
2010 we gave the GOP House a landslide for one reason, to make it easy
for them to defund ObamaCare. From Jan. 2011 through today,
since they've had the majority, the GOP House has never allowed a
standalone, up or down vote to defund (not repeal) ObamaCare to come to
the floor. They've had many "repeal" votes, and at least one that
mentioned "defunding" along with other matters. The House has unilateral
Power of the Purse, can withhold funds for anything without Senate or
White House approval. But the legislation must only be about funding,
nothing else. If it mentions
more than funding, it must go to the Senate. If you mention this matter
to any elected GOP E today, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, they'll
lie and tell you Power of the Purse isn't what people think, it doesn't
apply to everything, or that "ObamaCare is mandatory funding" (though no such
thing exists), or other excuse. This doesn't get into why there were so few GOP members to vote on anything in congress, one way or the other, after 2006. The GOP didn't deserve the seats. The Bush crowd did a terrible job. On top of destroying the country, they treated their loyal voters with open contempt.
Therefore, not voting for passage of ObamaCare wasn't a matter of Republican virtue--there weren't enough of them to stop anything in 2009 and 2010 even if they'd wanted to. In 2006
they'd lost the majority in both the House and Senate under a "sitting
Republican president," very deserved, but not a problem to the GOP E. Now it would be easier to pass democrat programs. After Nov. 2008,
even fewer Republicans were left in the Beltway--again deservedly so. As of July 2016, elected Republicans have the seats they do only because Republican voters "had nowhere else to go."
Obama does whatever he wants for one reason--he knows the GOP E will never stop him.
News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Voters see a switch has been worked. The government they were told belonged to them has been replaced by a parasitic Administrative State which they must fund, which makes laws, imposes penalties, but is unelected, subject to little or no oversight, and which the political class is fine with-City Journal, Magnet
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