Civics and “Draining the Administrative State”

Michael Anton:

Marini didn’t coin the term “administrative state”; that was political scientist Dwight Waldo in his 1948 book of the same name. But there can be little doubt that the phrase wouldn’t have escaped Bannon’s lips if not for Marini. No one—certainly not Waldo—has done more to explain what the administrative state is, how it works, and how it came to be. And not just in the historical sense, though Marini does show how the apparatus was built, by whom, and for what purpose. But his far greater contribution is to lay bare its theoretical roots. Plumbing those depths requires both a first-class education as well as practical experience in the swamp, both of which Marini has. In the 1980s, he served as a special assistant to then-Chairman Clarence Thomas at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before returning to academia and writing and editing essential books on the federal budget process and the separation of powers from his perch at the University of Nevada, Reno.

And now, finally, one on the animating interest of his entire career. Unmasking the Administrative State—ably edited and introduced by Ken Masugi, Marini’s friend, fellow student, and former co-worker at the EEOC—is actually a collection of Marini’s writings over 40 years, but its themes, messages and lessons are remarkably consistent. And, to some of us, familiar.

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, I had already been reading (and listening to) Marini for more than 20 years. His analysis of the insidious ways the administrative state undermines democratic politics prepared me to begin to understand the populist revolt against bipartisan orthodoxy.

* * *

Our opinion-making class, by contrast, thrashed about for explanations. How can this man say these things? Why are so many people listening? What’s the common thread, if any? The term one saw bandied about was “source code,” as in, “We must find the source code of Trumpism.” While most elites insisted that Trump was simply winging it, making things up as he went along, a few intuited that there might be—out there somewhere—a body of ideas (though they were quick to add: not any with which Trump himself was personally familiar!) that could explain the appeal of his candidacy. They were right, but they did not know where to look.