The Progressive apoplexy over Donald Trump—which is justified on myriad grounds, many of them other than those his critics are articulating—ought not obscure this decisive fact: Trumpism is a disease of Progressive constitutionalism. Its symptoms include an inflamed presidency and Supreme Court—and embrace of the former and a reaction against the latter.
The Supreme Court is lost. Sunday night’s debate settled that. The question now is not how to save the Court but rather how to navigate an adverse one, and the answer is to deprive it of power.
There are few economists smarter than Bryan Caplan, whose efforts to apply economic analysis to political phenomena have produced breakthrough insights, none more than his pioneering Myth of the Rational Voter (2007). But higher authorities also command deference. Aristotle is one. He warned in Book II of his Politics that political life is not reducible to an economic problem. Caplan’s recent post at Law and Liberty’s sister publication, EconLog, illustrates why.
Presidential debates neither are nor ought to be midterm exams. The people who administer midterms do not necessarily possess political wisdom (see “Wilson, Woodrow”), and the people who excel at taking them may be better at demonstrating technical detail than prudential judgment (see above). Thus questions that make a candidate stumble—and that can win the journalistic brass ring for the moderator, namely, instigating news—tend not to be as valuable as those that prompt reflection and reveal a mind at work.
Aristotle teaches that justice is necessary where friendship has failed. His point is that the strictures of the law need only be imposed where ordinary, informal, face-to-face interactions collapse. Lawsuits—and, for that matter, laws—thus begin where comity and common sense end. That is worth keeping in mind as the first frontal constitutional challenge to the U.S. Department of Education’s attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to transgender access to intimate facilities—bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers—works its way through the courts.
According to Livy’s History, the Roman consul Publius Decius Mus sacrificed himself to the gods by “leap[ing] upon his horse and dash[ing] into the middle of the enemy” in a ritual that secured victory for his embattled army. One hopes the polemicist using Decius as a pseudonym in a much discussed broadside against Never Trumpers, having anonymously expressed an opinion with which somewhere north of 40 percent of Americans agree, is safe. The republic almost certainly will be.
The ongoing debate between libertarian and more traditional constitutionalists is about something more fundamental than what standards of review to apply to which cases. What’s at stake in this disagreement is politics—its very survival, and in what form. Is this institution that is, or at least was, enlivened by argument among citizens to be replaced by a desiccated vision of rational claims adjudicated by courts?
The forgotten etymology of “conservatism” lies in its hardly hidden first two syllables—to “conserve”—so when the Republican Party underwent its lurching metamorphosis from its commitments to constitutionalism, free trade, and chivalry to royalism, protectionism, and vulgarity, the news was not that George F. Will, conservative, stood still. It was that, in the terms of conservatism’s father Edmund Burke, the Republican Party may no longer constitute, properly speaking, a party at all. It is at risk of reverting to the primordial state of “faction” from which Burke rescued what he called the practice of political “connection.”
Among its myriad other mysteries, the 2016 election presents this Madisonian puzzle: Why are so many members of Congress genuflecting before presidential nominees whose platforms include emasculating them?