The Corner

Politics & Policy

Populism and Congressional Government

In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Chris DeMuth offers essential reading on the meaning of our political moment.

The piece is an excerpt from a longer and equally essential piece in the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books. That longer essay is behind a subscriber wall at this point (and you should quit Twitter and subscribe to more quarterly journals of political ideas) but the case advanced in this shorter piece will give you a good flavor of the whole.

Among its virtues, the piece stresses a key point that is easy to miss in the circus atmosphere of the last few years: that the dysfunctions and distortions of our political life right now result in part from (and also exacerbate) a breakdown of the structure of our constitutional system, which is intended to be at its core a congressional system of government focused on a legislature built for pursuing accommodations in a divided society. As Demuth puts it:

In the wake of the Trump rebellion, we should aim to restore relatively stable political competition and mutual accommodation, inspired by a sense of common destiny—a more capacious nationalism. That involves a revival of representative government. The legislature is where a nation’s multifarious tribes accommodate one another.

I’ve suggested elsewhere that the chief barrier to an institutional revival of the Congress is a failure of will among its members, rooted in the character of our political culture, which distorts the incentives they confront. DeMuth shows why such a failure might be both a cause and an effect of the transformation of our political culture. He also points to the revival of other key institutions (like the political parties) as essential to a broader renewal of our common life.

He shows by example what it might mean to look beyond a politics where “pro-Trump” and “anti-Trump” are the only options before us, and to consider the challenges the country faces in terms of the health of our society, the concerns and priorities of its members, and the integrity of our national life, rightly understood. Worth your while.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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