Steve Bannon, once described as “Trump’s brain,” might be chuckling that the ongoing retreat of federal power pursues his aim to “deconstruct the administrative state.” Bannon, now 66, has flitted through several jobs, wives and causes — including the alt-right Breitbart News — never sticking with one.

Bannon’s peak year began with his appointment in August 2016 as Trump’s campaign executive. After inauguration, he became Trump’s chief strategist — on the cover of Time — but was fired that August for boasting to Michael Wolff for his “Fire and Fury,” an early account of Trump’s dysfunctional White House. Bannon is a seductive persuader but eventually annoys sponsors and allies, who drop him.

Many see Bannon as a loose cannon, constantly shifting among alt-right causes. He worked to build populist-nationalist parties in Europe but now, back in the U.S., rages against China. He initially found a receptive listener in Donald Trump, whose rejection of expert advice is now amplified with the coronavirus outbreak. Trump appointees still follow Bannon’s call to take back the U.S. “deep state” from bureaucrats and experts.

Bannon should be pleased that his former boss dodges responsibility and leadership. Trump tries to return power to the states, where alt-rightists argue it belongs. The closest precedent is Herbert Hoover’s rejection of any major federal effort to fight the Depression. He lost in a landslide to FDR, who used federal powers creatively if haphazardly.

Trump bids to become the new Hoover, anti-government and paralyzed in the face of urgency. Case in point: After two months, the U.S. still cannot field nearly enough valid tests for COVID-19 or the follow-up tests for its antibodies. Maryland purchased half a million tests from South Korea. The U.S. cannot even produce sufficient face masks and nose swabs, hardly high-tech items.

Without mass testing, opening the economy is risky in terms of epidemics, politics and economics. Singapore held down its infection rate but reopened too soon, and the rate shot up. Several Republican governors refused to issue mitigation orders such as staying home. Trump’s tweet to “liberate” states from restrictions offers a natural experiment: Will such states suffer worse infections than states that stay locked down?

A second wave will likely follow relaxation of rules, like the Spanish (actually, Kansas) flu did in the fall of 1918. The second wave will likely hit during election season and will discredit Republicans for not taking COVID seriously. Those who lost loved ones are less likely to vote Republican. Trump ralliers, who take no precautions in their current protests, could be practicing voter suppression — against themselves. You can’t vote from an ICU.

Optimists suppose the economy — specifically, the stock market, which Trump parades as proof of his abilities (it proves nothing) — will form a V, sharply bouncing back. Pessimists worry that it will form a longer-lasting U or even an L, with years of stagnation. Actually, it might form a W: a joyous uptick followed quickly by another downturn.

An ethical dilemma will appear when the uncautious states get hard hit and seek help. Will doctors and nurses volunteer to work in states that have taken no steps to curb the spread of coronavirus? Should out-of-state medical personnel, at great risk to themselves, aid states that scoff at the most elementary mitigation precautions? They are brave and generous, but that could be asking too much.

Back to Bannon’s basic contention: Is the federal government too big, too intrusive, too expensive? Its rules are voluminous, bewildering and vexatious. Over the decades, they have shifted power to the presidency and within the executive branch to bureaucrats. It would be marvelous to chop back this monster. But can it be done?

This is not just an American problem; bureaucracies govern worldwide. Top example: Japan. Republican praise for Sweden’s comparatively lax rules ignores that COVID has climbed there and that Sweden is an elaborate and expensive welfare state governed by Social Democrats. They’re a bunch of Bernies over there!

The administrative state can indeed resemble Parkinson’s Laws: All government bureaus seek to expand 4 percent a year regardless of need. Their work expands to fill the manpower available. But these agencies were not visited upon us from a distant planet; they are the work of Congress in response to felt needs of the time.

Some examples: Social Security will run out of money, so drop it. Who needs driver’s licences? Making Obamacare unconstitutional will open the way to a full-Bernie Medicare for All. Lifting restrictions on financial gimmicks guarantees new bubbles. As the epidemic illuminates, nursing homes require tough inspections.

One may wish to reform government agencies, but that adds new layers of bureaucracy (e.g., inspectors general). Marx predicted the state will “wither away.” Max Weber countered that a modern, complex society requires more bureaucracy. Weber was right, but Bannon adopts Marx’s position. The coronavirus outbreak now demonstrates how right Weber was.