Trump FBI raid more proof we must remake a politicized bureaucracy


This week’s unprecedented FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home is just one more reason Republicans must fight harder to reform a politicized and powerful bureaucracy.

For three years, the bogus Russia-collusion conspiracy theory helped derail Trump’s presidency, but the problem wasn’t just the lies of his Democratic foes and their media cheerleaders. The willingness of FBI agents and Department of Justice officials to pursue that partisan plot demonstrated that the idea these agencies are staffed by apolitical civil servants is a myth.

Though Attorney General Merrick Garland probably ordered the banana-republic-style effort to treat a former president and likely future political foe like a criminal, the willingness of civil servants to go along with it made it possible.

The travesty demonstrates anew the importance of reforming the civil service. Laws that were intended to ensure those who hold government jobs aren’t playing politics are instead protecting a status quo in which Democrats can count on bureaucrats to aid them and sabotage Republicans.

Donald Trump
The FBI raided Trump’s Florida home looking for documents they believe he took from the White House.
AP/Wilfredo Lee

The “deep state” is no right-wing myth. While administrations come and go, the more than 2 million people who work for the federal government are largely immovable objects who cannot be fired except for cause and, as the Obama-era IRS scandal (among other incidents) indicated, not always then either.

Lois Lerner and other federal civil-service employees targeting conservative nonprofits exposed just how tight the Democrats’ grip on the administrative state is. And the fact that many IRS employees involved were able to stay in their jobs showed how hard it is to get rid of such people. That problem was also illustrated (so to speak) when a top-level Environmental Protection Agency employee was able to keep his job for years despite having thousands of pornographic files on his computer.

In the late 1800s, reformers like the young Teddy Roosevelt wanted to end the “spoils system” and make the civil service an apolitical body. The goal was to take politics and the potential for corruption out of the government. But in the 21st century, the system has created a different problem that threatens democracy.

For decades, the federal service has increasingly become a bastion for liberal Democrats. Every study shows that its members are almost uniformly on the left. To give just one example: 95% of federal bureaucrats who donated to a candidate in the 2016 presidential election gave to Hillary Clinton.

The Democrats’ grip on bureaucrats’ loyalties means these employees can stall and ultimately derail any attempt by conservatives to implement policies they don’t like. That was particularly problematic for a president like Trump, who didn’t want to play by the conventional rules set down by liberal “experts.”

Presidents are allowed to make 4,000 political appointments to government posts with about 1,200 of those subject to Senate confirmation. But 50,000 bureaucrats have decision-making authority over policy issues.

An aerial view of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate
An aerial view of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 10, 2022.
AP/Steve Helber
Police at Trump raid
The Mar-a-Lago raid is encouraging support for Trump’s re-election.
SF Sun Sentinel / Polaris

This “deep state” can be of enormous assistance to Democrats as they seek to transform government and the economy to conform to their ideological agenda. Republicans who want to drain the DC swamp, on the other hand, are faced with an unelected and unaccountable civil service that acts as an extra-constitutional fourth branch of government with an effective veto over elected politicians’ policies.

That’s why a growing number of Republicans realize that if they are to accomplish anything the next time they win the White House, they’re going to have to reform the civil service. A so-called “Schedule F” plan brought forward in the waning days of the Trump presidency — and a topic of discussion again — proposed changing the status of those 50,000-bureaucrat decision-makers from unfireable civil servant to worker serving at the pleasure of the president.

Liberals are slamming is as a step toward a Trumpist authoritarian regime, but it’s actually the opposite. It is long past time to strip this caste of partisan Democrat bureaucrats of their power and replace them, if need be, with people approved by someone whose power stems from the voters’ democratic will.

The worst corruption in Washington is the ability of those with lifetime tenure and no legal mandate to thwart the verdict of democracy as they tried to do after 2016 or, as we saw in Mar-a-Lago, act as accomplices to the politicization of justice. Whoever leads the GOP in 2024 must prioritize this plan and truly drain the swamp.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.org

Twitter: @jonathans_tobin



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