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.
The Department of Justice under Attorney General Sessions has been criticized for changing its positions in litigation from those taken by the Obama administration on such questions as whether Title VII prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Some of the criticism has been on the merits of the new position, but others have complained about the wisdom or propriety of changing a position that the government has already advanced in court.
This latter kind of complaint is wholly without merit. The Department of Justice is not like a private litigant and should change positions to reflect the jurisprudential stance of the President and his new administration. Unlike a private client, the President has taken an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and must “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Thus, as I have noted long ago, the Attorney General and his subordinates have obligations that no private lawyer has: not simply to prevail in litigation, but to advance the President’s interpretation of the Constitution and the laws made under it.
To the objection that President Trump, a non-lawyer, has no jurisprudence, the Attorney General and his subordinates should ask themselves what the President would do if he knew as much about jurisprudence as they do. With President Trump, they are substantially aided by President’s own actions. His list of potential Supreme Court justices were to a person committed originalists and textualists.
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).
When we read, in his new memoir, Patrick J. Buchanan’s statement that “To some of us, America was ceasing to be a democratic republic,” the thought is familiar coming from him. But this iteration takes us back to the Pat Buchanan of the 1960s and 1970s, who said and wrote such things staunchly, wittily, and combatively, as an affirmation of the beliefs of his father and mother, his family and friends, his teachers, his church, and his community growing up in the nation’s capital (a world that he skillfully evoked in a previous memoir, 1988’s Right from the Beginning).
Washington is a company town. Washingtonians tend to grow up wanting to become important inside the company, which is to say inside the government. Buchanan’s run at importance was notably successful. Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles that Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever takes readers through his filing cabinet, for it is built around the feisty memos that the Nixon speechwriter sent to his boss. It is a follow-up to The Great Comeback (2014), chronicling the years 1965, when he first became a Nixon aide, through the victory over Hubert Humphrey in 1968.
What a year it has been. “Trump wins and the Resistance begins,” might sum it up. Into this maelstrom steps our annual “What would the Declaration say?” reflection. We could turn in three directions: toward Trump; toward “the Resistance”; toward the people who fall outside his devoted followers and fierce opponents, who wish to make some contribution to the commonweal in the midst of low-intensity civil war.
There is a strange dialectic at work in Western society, or so it seems to me, between political apathy on the one hand and political rage on the other. In the recent French elections, for example, the rate of abstentions was the highest ever seen, more than half in the second round of the election of the legislature. But in the first round of the presidential election, the candidates of the extreme Left and extreme Right, both of whom drew their supporters by appealing to subliminal rage, had more votes than the eventual winner, a man previously almost unknown.
A common element in modern American politics is love for the outsider. The expectation, or at least the hope, that a person unsoiled by Washington can be sent there to sweep it clean (or to “drain the swamp” in current parlance). Hundreds of political campaigns, if not thousands, have promoted candidates centered on this theme. This theme figures prominently in American political mythology. Think of such films as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Dave,” and others. The idea that competence will translate from different vocations into politics played a role in the election of most of the…
The President’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord has caused international hyperventilation, and a minor rift in the Greve family. We all agree on three propositions: The U.S. should never agree to an international instrument that is called an “accord”: too French. A je suis d’accord that purports to save the planet by saying, vee all civilized nations may do what we may want to do by, say, 2030 or maybe later and if we don’t you can’t make us; and which then admits that even full compliance with its targets won’t make one whit of difference to…