As the philosopher said: “Life comes at you pretty fast.”
Ten minutes ago, somber progressives were lecturing Donald Trump over his “Make America Great Again” slogan. “America,” they sniffed, is already great. Five minutes later, out came the “F*** AmeriKKKa!” signs and American flags were being burned in the streets.
Ten minutes ago, Democrats were complaining that Trump’s talk of “rigged” elections undermined faith in democracy and in the legitimacy of the United States government. Five minutes later, Democrats were complaining that the elections were rigged against them by an electoral system that treats the states as states — entities with political interests of their own — rather than as administrative subdivisions of the federal government. With their candidate set to lose the presidency in spite of her being projected to win the most individual votes, Democrats once again turned their rage upon the American constitutional order itself, and out came the signs: “America Was Never Great!”
Par for the course, I suppose: We all remember how the Mormons rioted after 2012. Things grew so lawless that a car was spotted double-parked on a Sunday morning across from a church in Provo, and several young men were spotted nearby with their ties slightly askew.
As windows were smashed, fires were set, and bystanders beaten, our progressive friends tut-tutted that the protests were ‘mostly peaceful.’
Donald Trump of Manhattan and Palm Beach, a man whose personal style makes Liberace look like Danny Trejo, is, according to this view, going to be the great catalyst for anti-gay pogroms. You could make a case for racist and sexist — a pretty good one — but anti-gay? Not really.
(One suspects that they just need an easy rhyme for their chants. “Racist, sexist, divorcé! Trump Steaks made a poor filet!”)
There is much to dislike about Donald Trump, a man who is morally and intellectually unfit for the office to which he has been elected thanks to a cheesed-off Republican primary electorate and the fact that the alternative was . . . ugh. But the Left does not quite seem to get what he is about. His views on trade, and on economic relations with foreign countries in general, are very close to that of Senator Bernie Sanders, and his views on immigration are not all that different, either: It was Senator Sanders, not Trump, who whispered darkly of a shadowy “open borders” plot being hatched by American billionaires to undermine the economic and political power of the working class. Trump is not quite Ron Paul on foreign policy, but he is the closest thing to a Taft-style non-interventionist that Americans have elected since . . . since they didn’t elect Senator Robert A. Taft. He has some truly daft and potentially destructive ideas . . . that he mainly shares with the people out calling for his assassination.
We conservatives sometimes get bored of pointing out double standards, but recall that when well-behaved Republican protesters gathered to criticize some aspects of the Florida recount in 2000, the media described it as a riot — the “Brooks Brothers riot” — and Democrats such as Representative Jerry Nadler wailed that there was a “whiff of fascism” in the air. If the election had gone the other way and crowds of angry Trump voters were out in the streets beating people (they aren’t, though there are hate-crime hoaxes aplenty) there would be klaxons of alarum sounding 24 hours a day — and zero talk of how the protests were “mostly peaceful.”
Perversely, the Trump presidency is bearing some worthwhile fruit before it even begins: Once more, dissent is the highest form of patriotism, free speech is an absolute right that must be defended at all costs rather than regulated away in the name of reform, presidential power is to be limited, and the anti-war movement on the left, which went silent right around the time the fellow who won the Nobel Peace Prize started assassinating American citizens in extralegal drone strikes, has once again found its voice.
Two cheers for all that.
The pretensions of the imperial presidency are going to haunt Democrats for the immediate future.
For eight years, Democrats celebrated the aggrandizement of the already inflated presidency left to Barack Obama by George W. Bush. You remember the greatest hits: “If Congress won’t act, I will.” “I have a pen and a phone.” “Elections have consequences.” And, my personal favorite: “I won.”
Somebody else won this time around.
The pretensions of the imperial presidency are going to haunt Democrats for the immediate future, but they’ll quickly rediscover their belief in limits on the executive. While they’re rediscovering old virtues, they might take a moment to lament Senator Harry Reid’s weakening of the filibuster, an ancient protection of minority interests in the less democratic house of our national legislature. They might also lament Senator Reid’s attempt to gut the First Amendment in order to permit the federal government — which in January will be under the management of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and — incredibly enough — President Donald Trump — to regulate political speech, deciding who can speak, about what and when, and on what terms. Perhaps they’ll thank those wicked “conservative” justices on the Supreme Court for saving basic political-speech rights. If they are smart, they will rediscover federalism, too, and the peacemaking potential of a school of thought that says in a diverse nation of 320 million souls, there is no reason that life in rural Idaho must be lived in exactly the same way as it is in Brooklyn or Santa Monica. As Charles C. W. Cooke pointed out, the same people who until ten minutes ago denounced federalism — which they mischaracterize as the doctrine of “states’ rights” — as an instrument for the suppression of African Americans are now embracing secession, which, in the American context at least, has a little bit of its own racial baggage.
There are other ways of living. The enviable Swiss have such a wonderfully limited and distributed federal system that many of them could not tell you who the president is on any given day. The United States has never really been quite that free of executive pretense, but there was a time in our history when the question of who would decorate a wedding cake for whom was not decided at the national level. Given the current distribution of federal power, perhaps a few Democrats will see the wisdom in returning to such an arrangement.
The problem is that while conservatives see “Live and Let Live” as a useful if imperfect instrument of civil peace, progressives view “Live and Let Live” as a distinct moral evil. It is less important to them that California is allowed to be California than that Texas should be forbidden to be Texas. Progressives have since the time of Bismarck had a mania for uniformity, because they believe that uniformity is necessary for their larger project: managing society as though it were a single factory and its people were widgets. You cannot package widgets eight to a box if they vary in size or shape.
If our so-called liberals want to bust a few shop windows in Oakland — well, there isn’t much to do in Oakland, anyway. But those of you who are shaking in your Birkenstocks over the election of Donald Trump should consider the possibility that if the office of the presidency is that important to you, then perhaps the most intelligent course of action is not to pin your hopes on controlling it always and forever (something unlikely to happen under truly democratic processes) but to work toward making it less important — to you, and to everybody else, too.
You’ll find a great many conservatives ready to join you in that project.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.