The Past Looks So Much Different From The Present

When I was growing up, I tended to look at civil service reform positively and to have a dim view of Andrew Jackson’s spoils system by which the victor of elections got the spoils of being able to fire and replace every single minor functionary within the federal government.  It is a testament of the political earthquake of the past few years that my opinion of Andrew Jackson and his view of offices is one I can wholeheartedly support at least now, where I felt differently about it before.  When one sees unelected bureaucrats view themselves and their own interagency operations as being the true locus of decision-making power and view elected leaders as being a hindrance to what they see as the proper authority within the elected branch, we have a problem.  We may not always approve of the people that we elect to office, and confidence in elected leaders is very low not only in the United States but around the world.  But even when accounting for the problems of fraud that typically exist in elections, there exists at least the possibility of voting out elected officials we do not like.  We have far fewer options when it comes to removing corrupt bureaucrats who have ensconced themselves within cushy public sector jobs and who fancy themselves the proper planners and organizers of humanity as if we were dumb sheep and cattle.  And the last few years have made it clear that we have many such corrupt bureaucrats who deserve being removed not only from office but also possibly the world of the living.

What changed?  These people have been corrupt for a long time.  It is not as if the grifting and the spying on citizens and the corrupt disdain of popular mandates is a new problem.  Indeed, it is quite likely that those who fancied themselves progressives and reformers in the 19th century when the civil service was first being voted upon in Congress and debated among political elites planned from the beginning to pass a system that would allow such mandarins to achieve a permanent place within positions of power and influence that would guarantee a steady income and plenty of power that avoided any hint of accountability to the general public for their conduct and behavior.  To be sure, they did not word it that way when they were seeking to have civil service passed.  Instead, there were likely arguments about how a “neutral” and “nonpartisan” body of bureaucrats would avoid corruption and the inevitable problems that turnover involved when people would fire all of the existing officeholders and replace them with political appointees.  And, to be sure, confirmation of such political appointees is by no means a rapid matter when it comes to vetting people who are proper for offices or getting such appointments voted on by Congress, not least when the federal bureaucracy is as bloated as it now is.  But we have seen that the existing bureaucracy is anything but nonpartisan and neutral and that it is deeply corrupt, beyond the level of even the most cynical opponent of the fourth branch of government’s worst nightmares.

What changed is not the behavior of these corrupt bureaucrats, who have always been corrupt, more than likely, and are certainly corrupt now.  What changed is that the bringing to light of the corruption and evil of so many of these bureaucrats in the face of their refusal first to countenance and then to bow their heads and serve elected leaders.  It is no great harm if mandarins have their own political beliefs if they serve institutions to the best of their talents regardless of who leads them.  When mandarins fancy that they and not elections should decide who is in charge, though, and when they seek to undertake palace coups to disrupt the mandate of heaven and exchange it for their own corrupt plans, that is a much more serious problem.  Again, these people would have been able to make out much better had they simply bowed their head and bit their tongue and simply gone about serving our president and his administration to the best of their abilities.  Few people would have been the wiser about the depths of their discontent and it would not have drawn attention to the lack of legitimacy of their position in the first place.  But in attempting and failing at a palace coup, it is time for them to face the inevitable and painful consequences of that failure.

And when one looks at such matters as the desirability of a civil service that is immune from political changes and the way that it looks much different when such people have placed themselves in support of corruption, it is possible to see that a great deal of what has bee viewed in a positive light before may not when one examines it in light of the present.  Has the press always been this bad?  How is it that we have not seen the press as being yellow and partisan now as it was in the days of the 19th century?  Is it that the press has gotten worse or that we are just becoming more aware of its corruption?  I suspect it is the latter rather than the former.  It is simply that for decades the press hid its partisan corruption under the banner of appearing to be professional and competent and it is just that they have stopped trying to pretend except in circle jerks among their own kind.  The same is true in other areas as well.  It is not that our times are necessarily more evil, it is just that the evil is more transparent and less hidden, and therefore our awareness of it shapes our perceptions whereas we were previously less aware of the extent of the corruption of our nation’s elites on all fronts.  But what is to be done about it? Can we make a clean sweep of them and start anew?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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