Dismantling Government is Hard When You Have to Govern

In the aftermath of 11/8/16, there have been a lot of uncertainties about the direction of our country, but last month at the CPAC conference, senior advisor to the president Steve Bannon very clearly outlined the game-plan for the Trump administration. All of the goals seemed terrifying to anyone with a sense of history because it threatened to undo nearly 100 years of economic and social progress. But one goal stood out: the dismantling of the administrative state.1

Since the inauguration in January, we’ve seen Trump and his administration use executive authority to tear down parts of the government, piece by piece, and to pave the way for an autocratic, neoliberal state that would have made even Ronald Reagan nervous. One of the first steps to undo the administrative state was to repeal the Affordable Care Act. To do this, Trump needed the help of his party, but as has been clear for a generation now, the Republican Party is incapable of governing.

Economist and former secretary of labor Robert Reich notes as much in a piece, “No, Paul Ryan, Your Healthcare Defeat Wasn’t Because of ‘Growing Pains,'” published yesterday. He writes about the Republican Party

Their real problem isn’t the “growing pains” of being out of power. In reality, the Republicans who are now control the House – as well as the Senate – don’t like government. They’re temperamentally and ideologically oriented to opposing it, not leading it.

Repealing Obamacare wasn’t the problem. The Republicans had all the pieces necessary to do it: they had a majority in the House and a Senate process in place to pass it. They had a president ready to rubber-stamp whatever bill he received.

The political reality, however, required them to craft a replacement plan, and the party of “nay” couldn’t do it. They couldn’t figure out how to actually make a better plan and sell it to members of their own party, much less the American people.

Aside from trying to repeal Obamacare, the Republicans spent the entire Obama presidency fighting him on two very public fronts: raising the debt ceiling and passing a Federal budget. Those battles culminated in a downgrade of the US government’s credit rating in 2011 and in the government shutdown in 2013. Both are coming up on the Congressional agenda in the coming months, and both will require making an actual plan. Unless the Congressional leadership reaches out to Democrats to counteract the persistent “nay” votes, expect more of what we saw during the Obama presidency. Congress will kick the can down the road and will pass more continuing resolutions to keep the government from shutting down.

This however doesn’t mean that the Republicans can’t succeed in tearing down the government. Dismantling the administrative state won’t always require replacement legislation to do so. There’s plenty of opportunities for Republicans to do lots of, what Robert Reich calls, “irrevocably awful” things between now and when we get to vote for a competent government in 2018.


  1. Bannon actually said “deconstruction of the administrative state,” but he meant “dismantling.” Deconstruction means to take something apart to analyze it, not to destroy it. 

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