It’s time to apply the enemies test to government

If nothing else, the presidency of Donald Trump is worth it for inspiring our friends on the left to be skeptical of executive power.

Sadly, the lesson they could learn from this — that a large, centralized, all-powerful government that can do everything for us in society is a dangerous and undesirable thing — is not the lesson they will learn.

Rather, the lesson the left seems to be learning is that such a government is dangerous and undesirable in the hands of people they don’t like.

Take the recently confirmed secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. By most accounts, she isn’t all that dissimilar in educational approach to President Obama’s own secretaries. She, like them, believes in expanding school choice and charter schools.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

But did the left howl at the moon over Arne Duncan’s nomination eight years ago? Of course they didn’t. He was one of them. We don’t so much care about what you do, so long as it is our people who do it.

This has, incidentally, always been my problem with the establishment Republicans in Washington. They long ago gave up making the case for limited government and skepticism of executive power. They didn’t care about destroying bureaucracies. Instead, they cared about their own bureaucrats controlling the bureaucracies, because naturally, “our people can do a better job managing government.”

Thus is the sick perversion of team politics that has created a hypocritical left that ignores its own side’s transgressions on civil liberties, executive overreach, and international militarism, and a soulless, rudderless right that doesn’t believe in anything anymore, outside the accumulation of its own power.

And so the left marches on, suddenly outraged about things they ignored for eight years, and trying to make an example out of some people — like DeVos — simply because they are from what they perceive as the enemy camp.

If the wrong bureaucrats in charge can single-handedly ruin the education system in America, than maybe something is wrong.

My philosophy on government basically boils down to what I like to call “the enemies test.”

If you can envision your worst enemy in a certain governmental position, or with a certain governmental power, and you are fearful of what they will do with it, then your government is too big, too powerful, and needs to be severely limited.

Take executive orders. Conservatives never really cared about the growth of the power of the president’s office when it was their people — such as George W. Bush — who were exercising that power. Incredible and growing power in the hands of people you like, trust and respect doesn’t bother people.

Well, it bothered me. Because I knew that the accumulation of power in the executive branch was going to be abused when somebody I didn’t like — like Barack Obama — was in the Oval Office.

Likewise, liberals paid no attention and could not have cared any less about Obama’s unprecedented use of executive authority, concentrating power in the White House, to the detriment of Congress. In fact, many of them cheered for it, because in their eyes, he was using that authority to stick it to those obstructionist Republicans in Congress.

Flash forward to today, and now liberals have to face the prospect of President Donald Trump being able to wield the authority. He is, to them, a bad person, and now, suddenly, executive orders and the power to circumvent Congress are a problem.

So, I have a suggestion. Let’s all try to be a little more consistent, shall we? Let’s apply the enemies test to all levels of government. If the prospect of your enemies with power frightens you, let’s start removing the power that person can have.

If you are a leftist horrified by the prospect of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, for instance, then I suggest you take this moment in history as an opportunity to join me in pushing for for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education.

Destroy the national education bureaucracy, and it won’t matter if a bureaucrat you don’t like is in charge.

You know why that’s a great solution? It eliminates so many problems given to us by the tinkerers in Washington that those on the left and right seem to both hate. National standards, too much testing, unfunded mandates and massive bureaucracies.

Or we can go on giving more power and authority to unelected bureaucrats as our results continue to decline, and delude ourselves into thinking things will change — if only somebody I like had a job instead.


Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.