By Dan Calabrese
I have no idea if the irony is lost on him, or if he’s fully aware of it. But as much as Ben Sasse is scandalized by Donald Trump’s behavior and style, he seems strangely aligned with Trump on the ways Washington has gotten off track and how it puts the republic in peril.
In opening statements for the Kavanaugh hearings, Sasse made some excellent points about how and why the country has lost its bearings with respect to the role of the judiciary. That, Sasse believes, explains much of the hysterics we see every time – as in now – we find ourselves engaged in confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court Justice.
Sasse argues that too many Americans expect the judiciary to serve as a sort of superlegislature, and that’s true, but where Sasse’s comments really soar is when he decides not to stop there:
How did the legislature decide to give away its power? We’ve been doing it for a long time. Over the course of the past century, especially since the 1930s and ramping up since the 1960s, the legislative branch has kicked a lot of its responsibility to alphabet-soup bureaucracies. These are the places where most actual policy-making—in a way, lawmaking—happens now.
What we mostly do around this body is not pass laws but give permission to bureaucracy X, Y or Z to make lawlike regulations. We write giant pieces of legislation that people haven’t read, filled with terms that are undefined, and we say the secretary or administrator of such-and-such shall promulgate rules that do the rest of our jobs. That’s why there are so many fights about the executive branch and the judiciary—because Congress rarely finishes its work.
There are rational arguments one could make for this new system. Congress can’t manage all the nitty-gritty details of modern government, and this system tries to give power and control to experts in technical fields, about which most of us in Congress don’t know much of anything.
But the real reason this institution punts most of its power to executive-branch agencies is because it is a convenient way to avoid responsibility for controversial and unpopular decisions. If your biggest long-term priority is your own re-election, then giving away your power is a pretty good strategy.
But when Congress gives power to an unaccountable fourth branch of government, the people are cut out of the process. Nobody in Nebraska, Minnesota or Delaware elected the deputy assistant administrator of plant quarantine at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If that person does something that makes Nebraskans’ lives difficult, where do they go to protest? How do they navigate the complexity of this town to do executive-agency lobbying? They can’t.
Bravo. Sasse is right. When the deputy assistant administrator of plant quarantine at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is allowed to do basically whatever he wants to whomever he wants, there is no accountability in government, and the result is that the government serves the agenda of its own bureaucracy, not the people.
And yes, this is happening because Congress can’t be bothered to legislate in a serious way, and has been content to allow the bureaucracy to more or less decide how the law should work.
But here’s the real irony: The American people in 2016 got tired of waiting for the political class to do something about this, and elected Donald Trump precisely because he doesn’t care about Washington’s norms and conventions and was willing to go to war with the methods of the bureaucracy – also known by some of you as the Deep State.
If Sasse doesn’t like Trump’s methods – and he clearly doesn’t – that’s his prerogative. But Trump is president precisely because the public no longer has any confidence in Sasse and his fellow Washingtonians to make the government accountable. Trump’s approach may be crude and chaotic, but he’s actually trying to change the status quo, which is more than we can say for the politicians whose comportment is considered acceptable to Ben Sasse.
Dan writes Christian spiritual warfare novels and does all kinds of other weird things too. Follow all his activity by liking him on Facebook!