Wednesday, July 20, 2016


     This warning might be a wee bit late, but I’ll post it anyway: It’s a medically proven fact that watching televised political conventions will reduce your brain mass by as much as 103%, so don’t! (No, I didn’t. If I had, would I be writing this?)

     Anyway, the agonizing suspense has ended at last: the presidential nominee of the Republican Party is Donald J. Trump. That has a lot of people cheering wildly and a lot of others trying to drink themselves senseless. Which camp is “right?” Well, I’ve long been a proponent of the Mencken Recipe: i.e., that the country’s ills could be most effectively treated by keeping us all “gently stewed:”

     ...I marvel that no utopian has ever proposed to abolish all the sorrows of the world by the simple device of getting the whole human race gently stewed....The man who is [gently stewed] is a man who has put all his best qualities into his showcase. He is not only immensely more amiable than the cold-sober man; he is immeasurably more decent. He reacts to all situations in an expansive, generous, and humane manner. He has become more liberal, more tolerant, more kind. He is a better citizen, husband, father, friend. The enterprises that make human life on this earth that make men uncomfortable and unsafe are never launched by such men. They are not makers of wars; they do not rob and oppress anyone. All the great villainies of history have been perpetrated by sober men, and chiefly by teetotalers. But all the charming and beautiful things, from the Song of Songs to terrapin a la Maryland, and from the nine Beethoven symphonies to the Martini cocktail, have been given to humanity by men who, when the hour came, turned from well water to something with color to it, and more in it than mere oxygen and hydrogen. [“Portrait of an Ideal World,” 1924.]

     However, I draw the line at blackout drinking. Nubile young ladies can make free with your body and you won’t enjoy it. Indeed, you won’t even remember it.

     But seriously, Gentle Reader, the question of the hour is what it’s always been: What now? And your humble Curmudgeon Emeritus is here to tell you.

     Allow me to lay down a postulate. It’s an important one, from which much else follows:

No politician will succeed in restoring Constitutional soundness to government in these United States in our lifetime.

     At this point in our political degeneracy, elected officials possess far less power than what has been called the Deep State: the millions of unelected bureaucrats and functionaries who are the true rulers of our nation. It is they who set agricultural, industrial, commercial, and informational policy. It is they who determine what shall and what shall not be done. It is they who thwarted the efforts of Nixon and Reagan to reduce the burden of government on our longsuffering backs. Remember this blatant statement of conditions:

[United States Senator from Oklahoma David L.] Boren, formerly a state legislator and governor, went to Washington expecting to make some changes. “What impressed me most is the great power of the bureaucracy compared to that of elected officials. All the talk about growing control by the bureaucracy is not exaggerated. The shift in power is very real.... There is almost a contempt for elected officials.”...

Senator Boren found, to his surprise, that a Senator has great difficulty even getting phone calls returned by the “permanent” employees, much less getting responsive answers to his questions.

The voters can’t “throw the rascals out” anymore, because the main rascals are not elected but appointed....

Regulatory bureaucrats have extra power because they can outlast the elected officials. “Often,” Boren explains, “I’ve said to a bureaucrat, ‘You know this is not the president’s policy.’

’True, Senator, but we were here before he came, and we’ll be here after he leaves. We’re not in sympathy with his policy. We’ll study the matter until he leaves.’”

[From Armington and Ellis, MORE: The Rediscovery of American Common Sense.]

     Now imagine what would follow from an attempt by a sitting president to abolish an entire department of such creatures. The rest of the bureaucracy would rise in defense of their threatened colleagues. Tens of millions of private citizens – what’s been accurately if scatologically called the “Free Shit Army” – would league with them. Chaos unimaginable by a decent man would ensue. Congress and the White House would never recover.

     There are some who yearn to see such chaos. I don’t.

     Electoral contests are times when the politician’s central gift is on most garish display: the ability to make promises he can’t keep. Politics is like that. An old joke, the Pachydermic Personnel Predictor, puts it thus: “Politicians don't hunt elephants, but they promise to share the elephants you catch with whoever will vote for them.”

     That’s politics, Gentle Reader: the making of insincere promises to gain, keep, or increase one’s own power, prestige, and perquisites. An American over the age of forty has no excuse for not knowing it.

     Much of the enthusiasm for the candidacy of Donald Trump is founded on his being outside the political elite. That’s understandable; when you’ve become convinced that all of those inside the elite are corrupt or ineffective, turning to an outsider makes sense. However, it doesn’t make perfect sense.

     Should Trump become president, then all other things being equal, he will face the same resistance from the Deep State that other presidents have faced. Its incentives and constraints will be unchanged. Therefore, its behavior will be consistent in direction with what Nixon and Reagan faced. The vector of government growth and its progressive strangulation of individuals’ lives will continue as it was.

     But what if all other things are not equal? What if Trump should take office with a greatly strengthened Republican majority in both Houses of Congress, including a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate? Wouldn’t true change be possible then?

     Theoretically, yes. The Democrat minority would no longer be able to prevent any sort of legislation. But the Deep State, whose numbers are vast, would hardly sit idle in the face of such a threat. For example, consider what would happen were Congress to consider a bill to abolish the Department of Education:

  • The educrats would immediately rally government-school teachers to support their continuation;
  • The major media would trumpet alarms of unprecedented magnitude about the prospects for “crippling the educational system;”
  • Racialist mouthpieces would beat their drums about this “assault on minorities and the poor;”
  • A minimum of ten million voters, many of them residents of districts represented by Republicans, would descend upon Washington via letters, emails, phone calls, and no small number of demonstrations.

     Is there any great likelihood that the bill would even be reported out of committee?

     Think so if you like, but the odds are heavily against it.

     My point here is that in our milieu, to look to an office seeker as a potential savior is a mistake. Regardless of what a candidate promises, his power to effectuate such promises is sharply limited. The Deep State, with assistance from its allies in the media and various quasi-public institutions (e.g., teachers’ unions), will thwart any attempt to reduce its power in scope or magnitude.

     Political fanboys either don’t get this or willfully disregard it.

     Political fanboys can be more fanatic than other sorts of fan. There’s a reason for that: they’ve pinned enormous hopes for enormous changes on their idol. Anyone who suggests to them that their hero is a single man with ordinary human qualities, and no match for the Deep State in a contest of wills, becomes the enemy. Several such fanboys have assailed me for sentiments of this sort. The most fanatic of the lot have assumed high dudgeon over my having pointed out Donald Trump’s personal flaws. They seem to think he’s the living incarnation of Stephen Graham Sumner.

     Sumner is a fictional character in a plot premised upon a devil theory. He’d have as much chance of prevailing over the Deep State as an infant would have against a tank.

     Finally for this morning, a few words in support of a healthful skepticism.

     Anyone can make promises. When ordinary men make them, they tend to be trustworthy. When a politician makes them, it’s best to put one hand on your wallet and the other on your gun. There is no sort of political promise that can’t be dismissed by the invocation of a single word: necessity. Nor will it matter whether you and I disagree about the “necessity.” The nation’s experiences of Jimmy Carter and Bush the Elder should be sufficient to drive this home.

     It won’t matter what the promising politician’s intentions were at the time he made his promise. All that will matter is his perception of a “necessity” that trumps the promise he made. That the “necessity” might be illusory, political, or personal and venal will carry no weight.

     Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. [Psalm 146:3]

     In short, don’t be a fanboy. Trust only in yourself and those who demonstrably love you. All else is folly.


Anonymous said...

In that in politics, necessity invariably arises in behalf of "compelling state interests," isn't it remarkable that it took SCOTUS so long to invoke that latter phrase in a decision (Kelo?) And it took years of trial-balooning the phrase before that so that the legal community was inured to the affrontery when it came. And as the experts collapsed before the fait accompli, so has 95% of the nation. What can you expect from a sumner confronting that reality? In solving that dilemma you may find your ending.


John said...

That's why the shows "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" were so great. In addition to being extremely funny, they were, without a doubt, the most accurate depiction of how politics actually works, ever filmed.

Linda Fox said...

I'm thinking that you DON'T try to eliminate them immediately. Instead (using the Dept of Ed as an example):
- Take away any oversight/administration of the Pell grants - offload it to Treasury. Sell it as the efficiency of reducing unnecessary paperwork/admin costs. By reducing their power, you will take away part of their budget - reduction by starvation.
- Point out that with so much of their function reduced, they need less money. Then chop off that money, and send every bit of it to Treasury. Meanwhile, at Treasury, put a priority on their finding fraud/waste in the process. Allow them NOT to reduce employees by using that money to keep up numbers, even with a reduction in budget.
- Keep chipping away their core functions. Return them to the states, with a block grant for 3 years to sweeten the deal. Eliminate the regulations that were imposed by previous administrations.
- Your major focus is getting rid of employees - they are a power base. Aim for taking the Ed Dept from 5k employees to less than 2k. Impose mandatory paperwork on the ones remaining. Eliminate the discretionary part or their budget. Put the squeeze on them until they quit or retire.
- When the department has been flattened, use the increased efficiency argument to merge them with another department, with instructions that there will be no increase in that other department to allow more staff. In other words, if the Treasury employs 79,500 (approx), they get no more money when they absorb the former Ed Dept employees. Divide and conquer, baby! Let the blood flow! Every person they take in leaves less for the people they already have.