Americans have limitless faith in democracy. In the early 19th century, that charmed Alexis de Tocqueville. His book Democracy in America still rings true today because not much has changed. The entire country can be in ruins and even then, most people figure that it will all be improved or even solved come November. It’s been going on for our entire history. As a people, we believe our elections are what keep the people and not the dictators in charge.
Surely some of this faith is necessary simply because it is the only option we have. The sitting president and his party are in deep trouble now, and most observers are predicting a rout in the midterm elections, granting us two additional painful years of inflation plus recession unfolding amidst what will surely be a brutal political stalemate and cultural upheaval. Then November will come again and with it another round of trust that the new president will figure something out.
This faith in our elected leaders is belied by the experiences of the last 30 months. To be sure, the elected politicians are nowhere near blameless in what unfolded and they could have done far more to stop the disaster. Trump could have sent Fauci and Birx packing (maybe?), the Republicans could have voted no on trillions in spending (did they really have a choice?), and Biden could have renormalized the country (why didn’t he?). Instead they all went along…with what? With advisers from the bureaucracies, the people who have de facto ran the country for this entire grim period.
Reading Scott Atlas’s book, one comes away with a very strange picture of how Washington worked in the first year of the pandemic. Once Trump gave the green light to lockdowns, the permanent bureaucracy had all it needed. In fact, this happened even before Trump approved it: the Department of Health and Human Services had already released its lockdown blueprint on March 13, 2020, a document which had already been weeks in the preparation. After the March 16 press conference, there was no going back. The “deep state” – by which I mean the permanent non-appointed bureaucracy and the pressure groups to which it answers – was running the show.
The administrative state has probably not enjoyed such a good run since World War II or perhaps much earlier if ever. These were certainly the salad days. Merely by assigning a bureaucrat to type on a screen, the CDC could cause every retail business in the US to install plexiglass, force people to stand 6-feet apart, make the human face publicly invisible, close or open whole industries at will, and even scrap religious services and singing. To be sure, these were mere “recommendations” but states, cities, and corporations deferred for fear of liability should something go wrong. The CDC provided the cover but acted pretty much like a dictator.
We know this for certain given the CDC’s response to the Florida’s judge’s decision to declare the transportation mask mandate illegal. The response was not that the mandate was both compliant with the law and necessary for public health. Instead, the agency and the Biden administration too rallied around a simple point: the judge’s decision cannot stand because courts should have no authority to override the bureaucracy. They actually said it: they demand total, unchecked, unquestioned power. Period.
This is alarming enough but it speaks to a much larger problem: a hegemonic bureaucratic class that is not controlled by the political class and believes that it possesses total power. The implications extend far beyond the CDC. It applies to every executive agency of the federal government. They ostensibly operate under the authority of the office of the president but actually not even that is true. There are severe restrictions in place on the ability of the elected president to fire anyone among them.
Trump couldn’t fire Fauci, at least not easily, and he was told this repeatedly. That pertains to millions of other employees in this category. This was not the tra…