By Steve Huntley
February 4, 2024
I thank heaven for Democrats. What would we do without them to warn of the impending doom we face if Donald Trump is returned to the White House? So, we’re fortunate that they are around to caution us about the danger of the authoritarian ambitions of “MAGA Republicans.” And where might those tyrannical impulses lead us? Perhaps to a GOP Washington micromanaging our lives to the point of dictating to us which stoves and dishwashers we can have in our kitchens and what light bulbs we can install in our lamps.
Oh, wait a minute, that’s what Democrats in Washington and state governments are already pushing on us. Then maybe those MAGA autocrats will restrict what cars we can drive. Uh ho, that’s what Democrat climate-change fanatics in the Biden cabinet, the federal administrative state and liberals running some states are already out to do. They’re busy calculating what year automakers must stop producing gasoline-powered cars and exclusively manufacture electric battery vehicles.
Okay, then surely the danger is Czar Trump and his minions of thought police will crack down on media so the big web organizations will toe the line to his messaging. Argh — the Democrats are already at it. Journalists such as Matt Taibbi have documented how petty but powerful bureaucrats in D.C. have bullied, cajoled and pressured social media sites to characterize as “misinformation” and “disinformation” any dissent from liberal groupthink to minimize or outright banish it from the public forum.
The country’s school children still haven’t recovered from damage caused by Anthony Fauci and other self-declared public health experts shutting down any national conversation about how to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Okay, okay! But watch Trump try to brainwash our children with MAGA curricula from elementary to high schools and beyond. Uh, wrong again. As we’ve learned from zoom classes during the Covid-forced school closings, it’s Democrat teachers, administrators and local school boards shoving down the throats of vulnerable children woke cultural claptrap about race, gender and American history.
Prestigious universities take the ball from there and, well, the shocking outbreak of anti-semitism on their campuses pretty much sums up the results of far left-wing indoctrination. The record is clear. For all their shrieking about Trump despotism, Democrats are the agents of authoritarian, quasi-dictatorial government — from the school board to city hall to state legislatures to Washington.
The attacks on individual liberty are coming from all sides of the Democrat government complex. It’s difficult sometimes to say which is worst: The school boards that try to characterize as domestic terrorists those parents furious at the political indoctrination of their children? The government censors out to undermine the First Amendment and control who can be heard on the critical issues of the day?
The bureaucrats who wrapped themselves in “science” to shut down the economy and cripple the education of America’s children during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Perhaps the strongest assault of our republican form of government, the most powerful attack from authoritarian forces, comes from the administrative state, known in the conservative circles as the Deep State. It has bestowed on itself the authority to govern us by seizing the power to decide what our laws mean.
Unfortunately a few decades ago the Supreme Court green-lighted that power grab by ruling that the executive branch — from the president down to unelected government bureaucrats — has the right to interpret laws passed by Congress if the details of legislation seem ambiguous.
That decision established what is known as the “Chevron deference.” It means the courts and the rest of us should defer to the president, his department heads and unelected apparatchiks when they decide this or that law is ambiguous. They then interpret that ambiguity the way they want to write the regulations they want.
It’s a viewpoint that Democrats love, for reasons easy to understand. Even when a Republican occupies the White House, the functionaries of the administrative state remain overwhelmingly Democrat, liberal and progressive. With a stroke of a pen, they can rewrite laws to achieve ends Democrats could never get through Congress.
From the education department to the energy agencies to the interior department to the many government mandarins overseeing the economy, the bureaucrats took that ruling and ran with it. Paragraph 5, Section 2, Clause 14 of a law isn’t crystal clear? No problem. We in government are here to help.
So off the bureaucrats went to impose regulations on American citizens not explicitly or even implicitly written into the nation’s vast body of laws. That’s as authoritarian as you can get. It empowers presidents and faceless bureaucrats with near dictatorial authority. Just ask the Idaho couple wanting to build a home who had the hammer of the Environmental Protection Agency come down on them. It declared a soggy part of their property to be “wetlands” and thus a federally regulated waterway. That case ended up in the Supreme Court, which found that EPA bureaucrats used the Clean Water Act in a way Congress never intended.
Presidents also try to enact policies that Congress would not authorize. A couple of years ago then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi observed that Congress had never authorized forgiveness of student loans, so President Biden didn’t have the power to cancel student debt. Biden said never mind and tried to do it anyway — only to see his plan struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Never mind that, he’s back to trying to find a way to do it.
Screw the taxpayer, the millions of them who paid their own college costs or never went to college.
(Pelosi, being a good big-government Democrat, blessed Biden’s power grab when she realized she couldn’t get Congress to do her bidding and that executive action was the only way to achieve student debt forgiveness.)
The ground work was laid by former President Barack Obama. Remember he declared that if Congress wouldn’t enact legislation he wanted, “I’ve got a pen to take executive actions where Congress won’t, and I’ve got a telephone to rally folks around the country on this mission.”
To their shame, members of Congress from both parties have acquiesced to this coup by the White House and the nameless bureaucrats. Spineless lawmakers write vague laws to outsource the hard work to apparatchiks hungry to increase their power.
Now there’s a chance to turn the tide.
The Chevron deference theory was back before the Supreme Court in January — a challenge to the desk jockeys in Washington who decreed commercial fishermen must pay the salaries of federal monitors on their boats. The tough questioning from justices seemed to indicate that they are leaning toward restricting that all-powerful bureaucratic discretion.
Still, such a victory would mark only a first step toward reclaiming our democratic republic from authoritarian government.
The bottom line is that Democrats — with foolish Republicans occasionally joining in this project — have worked for decades to slowly expand the power and reach of presidents and, more critically, the unelected bureaucrats of the administrative state.
For all their hand-wringing and often expressed anxieties about an authoritarian presidency under Trump, Democrats are the ones who have greased the way for that. They have erected a maze of complex laws and an unelected government colossus free to interpret them in any way its functionaries see fit. It’s a system ready made for an autocrat to exploit. Democrats have seen the enemy — and, surprise, it’s them.
Steve Huntley, a retired Chicago journalist now living in Austin, Texas, has contributed other pieces to johnkassnews, from an examination of the secret jail for Christopher Columnbus and other politically problematic public art to an essay on Americans suffering from Joe Biden gas pain.
For almost three decades Huntley spent most of his career in Chicago journalism at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was a feature writer, metro reporter, night city editor, metropolitan editor, editorial page editor and a columnist for the opinion pages.
Before that he was a reporter and editor with United Press International (UPI) in the South and Chicago, and Chicago bureau chief and a senior editor in Washington with U.S. News & World Report. Northwestern University Press has issued soft cover and eBook editions of Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America by Truman K. Gibson Jr. with Steve Huntley, a memoir of a Chicagoan who was a member of President Roosevelt’s World War II Black Cabinet working to desegregate the military.