What the 'deconstruction of the administrative state' really looks like

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Story highlights

  • The term was coined by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon
  • The process began with Trump's staffing decisions

(CNN)Donald Trump's budget proposal was a statement of intent. And his actions this week were a down payment.

The warning to Americans from the government is clear: your national defense will be well-funded and your security will be a priority, but for benefits beyond the most basic services, don't count on me. It's a kind of break-up note to taxpayers. Uncle Sam can still be your friend, sure, but that's it. Nothing more.
In Washington, the vogue term is the "deconstruction of the administrative state." That was coined by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who used it during a rare public chat at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland last month.
The world according to Steve Bannon
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The process, he explained, began with Trump's first presidential hires.
"If you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction, the way the progressive left runs, is if they can't get it passed, they're just gonna put in some sort of regulation in -- in an agency," Bannon said. "That's all gonna be deconstructed and I think that that's why this regulatory thing is so important."
In the aftermath of the White House's failure to forge a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare, simple deregulation has again moved to the center of its immediate agenda. In less than a week, the administration and congressional allies have moved on three fronts.

Chipping away

On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order that called for a review of the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that, though tied up in court challenges, would regulate fossil fuel emissions from energy plants. His signature also withdrew a moratorium on coal mining on US lands. More broadly, it urged federal agencies to "appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources."
House Republicans on the same day voted to repeal internet privacy protections pushed for by the Obama administration, and approved by the Federal Communications Commission, just before the 2016 election. The regulations would have prohibited internet service providers -- like AT&T and Comcast -- from sharing or selling users' personal data, including browsing history and geo-location, without their permission.
Less privacy will translate to bigger profits for those businesses, who will have now be able to offer outside businesses more detailed information about their users, creating a lucrative market for targeted advertising. Trump is expected to sign the legislation, which has already been approved in the Senate.

Citizens... or 'customers'?

There is no apparent role for Congress in the administration's other new venture, the creation of an executive office dedicated to applying private sector (read: profit-driven) standards to government. The "White House Office of American Innovation" will be run by Trump's son-in-law and trusted adviser, Jared Kushner.
"Our hope," Kushner told the Washington Post, "is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens."
New administrations routinely plot courses for streamlining government and saving tax dollars, but they are almost always unsuccessful. And the Trump White House, disdainful and antagonizing of federal bureaucracies, is unlikely to find many allies to grease their operation.
Still, Kushner's idealized conception of government as a business and citizens as consumers of its product is perhaps the cleanest and most accessible explanation of what a depleted "administrative state" would yield.
That is, a fundamental remaking of the relationship between the people and the state, with an expanding gap between what Americans have come to expect from government and what it would be equipped to provide.