Trump’s Executive Order on Social Media Grows the Administrative State

Adam White

For all their disagreements, President Trump’s supporters and his opponents agree on at least one thing: that the Trump administration has been committed to “deconstructing the administrative state.” This has been conventional wisdom on the pro-Trump right from the moment presidential adviser Steve Bannon announced it at the 2017 CPAC conference, and the president’s critics have taken it to be obviously true; if nothing else, that narrative certainly suits both sides’ arguments. But Trump’s latest executive order, asserting vast new regulatory powers over social media platforms, reminds us that the truth is actually very different.

While the Trump administration has done much in three years to reform, reduce, and modernize regulatory programs—the most recent example of which I applauded just last week—the fact remains that the administration isn’t “deconstructing” the administrative state. Quite the contrary: On the issues that President Trump cares about the most—immigration, trade, and now social media regulation—he has actually worked to grow the administrative state. And his administration’s efforts and innovations may become the precedents on which future administrations further build.

To be clear, the Trump administration’s regulatory reforms should not be understated, and they too may be significant precedents. Agency efforts to promote transparency in the public interest, including transparency for guidance documents, seem unlikely to be rolled back by the next administration. Even last week’s executive order’s provisions for “Fairness in Administrative Enforcement and Adjudication” could have long-lasting salutary effects: A future administration might repeal the order in part, but it would be surprising to see a White House renounce the order’s requirement of “prompt and fair” agency enforcement practices, or reject the provision that says penalties should be “proportionate, transparent, and imposed in adherence to consistent standards and only as authorized by law.” Nor should we understate the work that many agencies in the Trump administration have done to make their regulations and regulatory practices more efficient, transparent, and lawful.

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