The Constitution refers to “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the standard for its most extreme remedy: overturning a duly-held election through impeachment. But much of the first round of Democrats’ impeachment hearings have focused instead on the strangeness of the president’s foreign policy stances to longtime experts enmeshed in the post-Cold War consensus of the last several decades.
In his testimony, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman referred multiple times to the president disrupting “interagency consensus.” Others, like Bill Taylor and George Kent, testified in dark-sounding terms about the president’s alternate channels circumventing normal State Department and other agency procedures.
Though most of the witnesses tried to maintain their respectful demeanor, it’s clear from these hearings that they — along with most of Washington — have forgotten from whom their legitimate authority to make decisions for the country flows.
If powerful career officials in government agencies feel annoyed that the elected president is getting in the way of their policy priorities, it should raise the alarm that voters have totally lost control over the now-sprawling executive branch. If the president, exercising his constitutional powers as chief executive, doesn’t command them, who does?
To be clear, President Trump — or any other president — may make poor decisions regarding the foreign alliances and policies he pursues, but that is his right by virtue of actually being elected by the American people. If, in 2020, the people choose to withdraw their imprimatur, they can do so. This is not only the form of our government under the Constitution, it is the sole way decisions about the country’s relationship with Ukraine, or anything else, can have democratic legitimacy.
The president’s power to form U.S. policy is given legitimacy by his election, and there is no role in any democratic system for unelected bureaucrats to override his decisions, even if they believe he is charting a disastrous course. For all their hysteria about “democratic norms,” many in Washington D.C. and in the mainstream press seem to misunderstand this fundamental democratic concept.
The truth is that Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive dream of government by apolitical, scientific methods, which presaged the massive expansion of the administrative state, was inevitably set on a course collision with representative self-government.
Wilson believed the political branches could maintain control over the rudder of the ship of state, while leaving the majority of actual governing to apolitical and detached experts who would administratively carry out their wishes. But the executive branch is not made up of wooden vessels of policy, but rather, living, breathing human beings who themselves have strong political opinions.
In reality, federal employees overwhelmingly lean left; 95 percent of their donations in 2016 went to Hillary Clinton, which is unsurprising considering the Democratic Party is generally in favor of expanding and empowering the agencies in which they work.
Because of the Progressives’ flawed vision, and over a century of ever-stronger job protections for civil servants, the United States is now saddled with a permanent bureaucrat corps that has its own “interagency consensus” on conducting foreign policy for the country.
The vast majority of the 2.8 million federal employees making political decisions that matter enormously for the everyday lives of citizens cannot be fired for using their jobs to oppose the priorities of an elected president with whom they disagree. Legal protections are so strong that hundreds of government workers feel free to openly state their intentions to use their jobs to help the #resistance.
The Founders understood that you can’t take politics out of politics, which is why they set up a series of checks and balances for everyone exercising power to subject them to some form of democratic accountability, even if attenuated to ward off the excesses often created by the temporary passions of the mob.
Still, they understood the American people to be the only legitimate source of political power.
Regardless of where voters’ opinions end up settling on the president’s “perfect” phone call with Ukraine or the rest of his tenure, they should not forget the arrogance of unelected federal employees on full display during the first round of impeachment hearings.
President Trump is attracting the rage of the unfireable deep state because he happens to disagree so strongly with much of their conventional wisdom, but their contempt is ultimately directed at the ability of ordinary citizens to challenge their expert opinions through the democratic process.
Whatever one thinks of President Trump and his policies, that perversion of our system of government should worry not only Republicans and Democrats, but all who consider themselves (lowercase) republicans or democrats and wish to see the people’s will carried out in Washington.