Having become interested in public policy because of Ronald Reagan’s message of limited government and individual liberty, I’m understandably depressed by the 2016 election.
But we can at least learn something from the process.
Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution savages Donald Trump in a column for the Washington Post. Here’s a particularly brutal excerpt.
…what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision.
Since I don’t know what actually motivates Trump or his voters, I have no idea whether the above passage is fair, but it is true that Trump’s policy agenda oftentimes doesn’t make sense.
But here’s the part of the column that caught my attention.
…what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms.
I’m tempted to send Mr. Kagan a card that says “Welcome to the Club.” Libertarians and small-government conservatives for decades have been warning against the dangers of untrammeled majoritarianism.
We revere the Constitution because we believe that our freedoms and liberties should not be decided by 51 percent of the population. We cherish the fact that our Founding Fathers put limits on the power of the federal government.
But I don’t think Kagan deserves a card because his opposition to mobocracy is very selective. Has he ever criticized the Supreme Court for acquiescing to the New Deal and abandoning its obligation to limit Washington to the enumerated powers listed in the Constitution?
Did he condemn Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court for deciding that the “power to tax” somehow gave the federal government the authority to force citizens to buy government-approved health insurance plans?
I don’t recall seeing Kagan fret about these majoritarian steps that eroded constitutional liberties, so it’s hard to take seriously his complaints now.
I’m also unimpressed by his concerns about potential abuse of power by a Trump Administration.
Trump will…have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. …In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? …is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?
He raises some very legitimate concerns. I don’t trust Trump with lots of power. That being said, the hypocrisy is staggering.
Did he write any columns about Obama’s sordid misuse of the IRS to target political opponents?
Why is abuse of power okay for Obama but not for Trump?
Notwithstanding Kagan’s glaring hypocrisy, his conclusion may be correct.
This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes…but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities.
Except it needs to be expanded. Because fascism already has a foothold in America.
And it might expand not just because of a “television huckster,” but also because of a corrupt former presidential spouse or an envy-riddled Vermont crank, both of whom tap into resentments and insecurities.
Indeed, Kagan’s description of Trump sounds a lot like Clinton or Sanders if you replace “Muslim” and “Mexican” with “banker” or “top 1 percent.”
Charles Cooke of National Review wonders whether Trump will lead leftists to change their minds about government power. He starts by highlighting conservative opposition to an all-powerful presidency.
…progressives tend not to buy the argument that a government that can give you everything you want is also a government that can take it all away. For the past four or five years, conservatives have offered precisely this argument, our central contention being that it is a bad idea to invest too much power in one place because one never knows who might enjoy that power next. And, for the past four or five years, these warnings have fallen on deaf, derisive, overconfident ears. …we have argued that Congress ought to reclaim much of the legal authority that it has willingly ceded to the executive, lest that executive become unresponsive or worse; that, once abandoned, constitutional limits are difficult to resuscitate; that federalism leads not just to better government but to a diminished likelihood that bad actors will be able to inflict widespread damage.
So are statists about to get religion on the issue of big government, albeit belatedly?
Time and time again, Trump has been compared to Hitler, to Mussolini, to George Wallace, and to Bull Connor. Time and time again, self-described “liberals” have recoiled at the man’s praise for internment, at his disrespect for minorities and dissenters, and at his enthusiasm for torture and for war crimes. …If one were to take literally the chatter that one hears on MSNBC and the fear that one smells in the pages of the New York Times and of the Washington Post, one would have no choice but to conclude that the progressives have joined the conservatives in worrying aloud about the wholesale abuse of power. …Having watched the rise of Trumpism — and, now, having seen the beginning of violence in its name — who out there is having second thoughts as to the wisdom of imbuing our central state with massive power? …I would genuinely love to know how many “liberals” have begun to suspect that there are some pretty meaningful downsides to the consolidation of state authority. …When Peter Beinart warns that Donald Trump is a threat to “American liberal democracy” — specifically to “the idea that there are certain rights so fundamental that even democratic majorities cannot undo them” — he is channeling the conservative case for the Founders’ settlement, and taking square aim at the Jacobin mentality that would, if permitted, remove the remaining shackles that surround and enclose the state. Does he know this?
I suspect the answer to all these questions is “no.”
There is nothing genuinely liberal about most modern leftists. They will act hysterical about the prospect of Trump holding the reins of power, but I predict they will fall silent if Hillary is in the White House.