Abandoning Presidential Administration: A Civic Governance Agenda To Promote Democratic Equality and Guard Against Creeping Authoritarianism
30 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2020 Last revised: 30 Jan 2021
Date Written: November 23, 2020
President-elect Joe Biden is likely to face an uncooperative, Republican controlled Senate. Democrats believe they have a good playbook for this situation: "presidential administration." Coined by now-Justice Elena Kagan, presidential administration endorses the use unilateral executive action to advance the president’s policy priorities. We argue that presidential administration is unlikely to be successful. More to the point, we fear it may prove dangerous, further legitimating practices that enable and embolden future authoritarians far more adroit than Donald Trump.
We propose that Biden instead practice (and preach) "civic administration," diffusing power away from the office of the president in ways that empower the civil service, state and local actors, and civil society as (1) partners in advancing social and economic policy and (2) potential counterweights if and when the White House pushes hyperpartisan or reckless initiatives. Biden should of course direct federal administrative agencies to take lawful action on the major issues of the day, from the pandemic, to climate change, to social inequality. But these and other actions should be taken in ways that recalibrate executive power, amplify and leverage the talents and resources of other competent democratic actors, and remain mindful of the dangers of presidential unilateralism.
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