If President Trump’s indefensible and equivocating response to Charlottesville demonstrates anything, it is something of which conservatives—and originalists in particular—should have needed no reminder: Words, the vessels of truth for those burdened with this mortal coil and of political life for those living in a constitutional republic, matter.
Relations with Russia may or may not be, as the President said, at an “all-time and very dangerous low”—the Cuban Missile Crisis called and wants its ominous superlatives back—but the good news is that constitutional conflict is at a recent high. Congress is acting as independently as it has in a long time, including periods of split partisan control.
Tweets are often impulsive, especially when they emanate from presidential thumbs. Their meaning should not be overburdened. But impulses can expose genuine thoughts, so the particular modifier President Trump deployed to twist the shiv in Attorney General Jeff Sessions was at least suggestive: His chief law-enforcement officer had assumed a “weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”
Note that Sessions is being upbraided not for taking an unjust position but for taking a “weak” one. Weakness was said to be Reince Priebus’ sin, too. Some reports had the President unimpressed with the dignified, which is to say silent, position Priebus took under foul-mouthed fire from the White House Director of Communications, Anthony Scaramucci (he whose name is a lot like the Italian word for “skirmish,” and who, as of yesterday, is no longer the White House Director of Communications).
A market that rewards victims generates demand for offenses, so it is scarcely surprising that Nancy MacLean, author of an intellectual biography of James M. Buchanan, feels offended. This is the essence of her answer to charges that she distorted evidence, made scurrilous yet unsupported accusations (as I pointed out in my review for Law and Liberty), and generally wove a conspiracy theory under the banner of scholarship.
The Sixteenth of July, not having the same ring, will never compete with the Fourth for fireworks, picnics, or paeans to the document published on that day. But now that Americans have digested our annual hosannas to the natural rights theory of the Declaration of Independence, we might save a moment to remember the appearance, in the New York Independent Journal of July 16, 1788, of Publius’ broadside against a Bill of Rights. If the Fourth of July represents the American contribution to abstract universalism on rights, July 16 was the day we theorized it, in Federalist 84, as the…
It is a dicey business for scholars housed at academic institutions to embark on projects to influence public opinion and practical politics. That is one of the relentless premises of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, a scurrilous attack on James M. Buchanan that is written as a screed, published with a popular press, and suffused on every page with an obvious intent to influence public opinion and practical politics.
MacLean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, might better have entitled the work, which is pervaded with innuendo and guilt by association, “Six Degrees of Jim Buchanan.” His constitutional focus on veto points is similar to John C. Calhoun’s; Buchanan is therefore tarred by association with Calhoun’s racial views. Buchanan came to prominence in Virginia when the state was under the thumb of the segregationist U.S. Senator Harry Byrd. Byrd’s beliefs on voter suppression are unfurled in tandem with Buchanan’s story, inviting the reader to infer a phantom link between them. Likewise the implied association of Buchanan with the full range of the Virginia journalist James J. Kilpatrick’s views.
The travel ban case is headed to the Supreme Court by way of the once redoubtable Fourth and always activist Ninth Circuits, leaving revisionists to wonder how it might have unfolded had it made its way upward through Judge William H. Pryor’s Eleventh. Pryor’s view of the judicial role exhibits appropriate assertiveness within its sphere and a fitting humility beyond it.
The particular genius of Marbury v. Madison was John Marshall’s act of jujitsu. President Jefferson wanted William Marbury kept off the federal bench and let it be known he would defy any Supreme Court order to the contrary, so Marshall delivered that outcome while seizing the larger prize of judicial review. Two centuries on, President Jefferson’s successor Donald Trump is reduced not to defying the Court but rather to tweeting ruefully that the judiciary’s consideration of his travel ban is “slow and political.”
No man enters the presidency prepared for the office, yet few chief magistrates have managed a stage entry as startlingly rife with incompetence and impropriety as Donald Trump. The reason is that the inherent, inertial conservatism of the office disciplines most of its occupants.