Delegitimization, Deconstruction and Control: Undermining the Administrative State

AuthorDonald Moynihan
Published date01 January 2022
Date01 January 2022
Subject MatterDemocratic Institutions: Resilience and Vulnerability
36 ANNALS, AAPSS, 699, January 2022
DOI: 10.1177/00027162211069723
and Control:
1069723ANN The Annals Of The American AcademyDelegitimization, Deconstruction, and Control
Three phenomena that undermine the U.S. adminis-
trative state were taken to extremes under President
Trump, contributing to democratic backsliding. The
first is delegitimization: a suspicion of the public sector
that has curdled into claims that public officials are
deep state enemies of the people. This undermines
belief in the capacity of government to deliver on
democratic promises. Second is deconstruction, which
includes undermining administrative capacity and
delivery of services, making it harder for institutions to
deliver on democratic promises, or to do so in ways
that are transparent or generative of conditions in
which the public sees government helping. The third
is political control, in which loyalty to the political
leaders is a primary virtue: this weakens structural
protections of public employees and the capacities of
government agencies to pursue their statutory mission
or respond to other sources of democratic control such
as Congress.
Keywords: Trump; public administration; administra-
tive state; administrative capacity; politici-
zation; bureaucracy
An uneasy relationship with the government
and centralized power patterns the U.S.
experience of democracy. Mistrust of a distant,
unjust, and unrepresentative administration
remains, we are told, central to the American
political creed (Huntington 1981). But a country
does not become a world power without a capa-
ble public service. As it gradually emerged from
the spoils system, the U.S. public service became
larger, more transparent, professional, and
more capable (Ingraham 1995). Improvements
in the quality of administration arose to match
Donald Moynihan is the inaugural McCourt Chair at
the McCourt School of Public Policy. His research
examines executive government management reforms,
performance management, and the administrative bur-
dens that people encounter in their interactions with

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