Few discoveries are more irritating than those which expose the pedigree of ideas. Sharp definitions and unsparing analysis would displace the veil beneath which society dissembles its divisions, would make political disputes too violent for compromise and political alliances too precarious for use, and would embitter politics with all the passions of social and religious strife.
Lord Acton, Essay on Liberty, p. 62 quoted in , p. 346
In the summary of John Marini’s, Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the Twenty-First Century we are told that
The election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency shocked the political establishment, triggering a wave of hysteria among the bicoastal elite that may never subside. The biggest shockwaves of all, however, were felt not in the progressive parishes of Manhattan or San Francisco, but in the halls of the political elite’s cherished and oft-overlooked center of power—Washington, DC’s sprawling “administrative state”—for President Trump represented an existential threat to its denizens, who came to be known as “swamp creatures.”
Reading this on my Facebook page a friend responded that “Trump has left most of the administrative positions VACANT. Basic abuse and neglect of the administration is what he’s doing. Some genius ‘unmasking’ that is.”
While it is true that many of the administrative positions in the Trump White House are still vacant, this isn’t why Marini says that the election and subsequent administration of Donald Trump have triggered the reaction it has.
Yes, many administrative positions remain empty and yet, the Republic still stands, the economy is growing and the country as a whole seems to be chugging along. It seems that whatever else might be said for good or ill for President Trump, his administration at least raises the question that Marini explores in his book that rule by experts is over-rated.
There is no question that President Trump (who I didn’t vote for) is a divisive personality–but he also owns this about himself. And by his own admission, he is not a morally upright man. He brags about cutting “good deals” in business, is an unapologetic self-promoter and takes a great deal of pride in his sexual promiscuity.
Nevertheless, the Republic endures. When Marini says the Trump presidency has “unmasked” the pretensions of the administration, he is not saying that Trump is a good man. Nor is he saying that Trump has only lifted the veil on the ideas of the Left.
Trump’s presidency (rather than simply Trump himself) not only calls into question the (progressive) commitment to rule by experts, it also casts doubt on the (conservative) notion of rule by the virtuous. Neither expertise nor virtue is evidently what effective government requires.
Or maybe more accurately, both conservatives and progressives have flawed notions of virtue and expertise.
Both ideologies I think are too narrow and fail to take into account the complexities of governance. If we are not (as the right says) electing a Pastor-in-Chief, neither are we electing a Professor-in-Chief.
This isn’t to disparage either pastors or professors (and I am both) but to highlight that for too long we have sought to find in the president and other elected officials a reflection of our own, idealized self-image. Trump hasn’t just pulled back the curtain on only progressive conceits. He’s done the same for conservatives.
Finally, none of this suggests that (a) he is a morally good man or (b) that he did this intentionally. But did it he has I think.
As I was finishing this post, a priest friend sent me a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge that speaks to the underlying discomfort of both Christians on the Left and the Right have with not just the Trump administration but the Obama administration as well. Muggeridge writes:
I’m saying that contrary to what has been the practice and indeed dynamic of the church in the past century, that to identify Christian hopes with an earthly cause – however ostensibly noble – is disastrous, because all earthly causes end in total disappointment.