Trump and the hatred of government

This article by Fintan O’Toole is very good as an analysis of Trump’s character and his motives. It is especially good because it captures something that nearly everyone else has missed: Trump’s initial campaign, his governance while in office, and even his behavior now are all unified by a hatred of government. Trump never wanted to make his government work particularly well because he’s opposed to the very idea of it. As O’Toole argues, this hatred of government has been “barely below the surface of American culture since before the foundation of the US.” In fact, although O’Toole doesn’t say this, much of the support for Donald Trump comes from those who understood precisely this about him. Wanting to destroy the administrative state, they saw in Trump the agent of combustion. O’Toole tells a story of Trump dumping into the trash sixty large folders that his transition team had compiled for him as he entered office. Those folders contained a vast bureaucracy of instructions and guidance as he proceeded. Dumping all of that bureaucracy into the trash is an apt metaphor for much that he did while in office. Rather than a seasoned bureaucrat who would know their way around the Department of Education, he chose Betsy Devos who hated the bureaucracy she was now in charge of. In other cases, he put in obviously unqualified people. I think O’Toole does get one thing wrong though. Trump hated government not on principle but simply because it ultimately restrains his power. Republicans who supported him did so not because they thought he had some grand unified principle in opposition to government; they just thought he was so combustible and so insistent on his own power that he’d destroy the bureaucracy that was trying to contain him. He’d destroy the administrative state not on principle but simply because it posed an alternative to his power. Republicans had for a long time been trying to destroy parts of the administrative state on principled grounds. Trump gave them a new possibility. As Trump threatens to bring down constitutionalism itself to prolong his power, we should see why this Republican gambit was too clever by at least half. I wouldn’t guess that many of those same Republicans supporting Trump also wanted to destroy the American constitutional system itself. But, once you let the lion out of the cage, you never know what he’s going to tear down.

One thought on “Trump and the hatred of government

  1. I think Finton O’Toole well understands the point you make. His article is considerably more subtle, and I think more interesting, than you give him credit for. As in my own post linking it a couple of days ago, I would urge readers to check it out for themselves. If we had a list of top ten political articles this year (and maybe we should here at The Constitutionalist!) O’Toole’s would be one of them. Others might be Zenep Tufecki’s recent piece, Laura Field’s five part series on Deneen for the Niskanen Center; Barton Gellman’s Atlantic piece, and Tim Miller’s Bulwark piece on Trump’s Mussolini moment on the White House balcony, one of the funniest and insightful pieces in recent memory:

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