Feldman is correct that an unwritten norm has developed that certain aspects of government are too important to be monkeyed with by mere democratically elected politicians. But that norm may be in the process of becoming more important than the traditional power of democratically elected politicians to supervise and fire officials in the executive branch. I heard some of that when I served as general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the career staff periodically objected to what they characterized as “political interference.” One of my students later pointed out to me that “political interference” was the career bureaucracy’s pejorative term for democratic political control.
Like it or not, a powerful norm has developed in Washington that some matters must be left to the career staff — the so-called “administrative state” — the self-perpetuating bureaucracy of Platonic Guardians who see themselves as above politics and believe that they are really running the country.
Temporary occupants of political office offend the careerists at their peril. That’s what Chuck Schumer was trying to tell him when he warned an incoming President Trump, a Washington outsider who doesn’t know the unwritten rules, against offending the intelligence community: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”