The Stark Truth About Trump

In his Inaugural Address, President Trump intoned that “we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” He praised the “just and reasonable demands of a righteous people and a righteous public.”

The Trump rhetoric evoked a strain in all democratic politics, since such governments are indeed to follow in some sense the will of the people. But the populist conceit is that The People form a single and coherent whole whose mind is discernible, with the populist leader liable to claim clairvoyance as to what that mind holds.

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Burning Down His House

White House Entrance

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.

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Containing the Weapon of Mass Disruption

“[W]e expect he would work with Congress, as the Founders intended.” Scholars and Writers for America, Statement for Candidate Trump “We don’t have a lot of closers in politics and I understand why. It’s a very rough system. It’s an archaic system. You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House—but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through, it’s—it’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They’re archaic rules and maybe at some point we’re going to have to take those rules on because for the…

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Desperation and the Conservative Bet on Trump

While containing an element to truth, the idea that Trump supporters, elite supporters, in particular, support Trump as a disruptor, as a way of “blowing things up,” strikes me as too negative, too destructive, of a spin on their aspirations for Trump. Reading Andrew Sullivan’s account of his meeting with Charles Kesler suggests a more-accurate picture. A model, to be sure, that still reflects a desperate gamble, but one that aspires not to destroy but to prevent destruction. Jack Hirshleifer and John G. Riley provide a clever setup to model desperation at the end of an early chapter of their book,…

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Donald Trump and the Future of the International Liberal Order

Since Donald Trump unexpectedly won the presidency in November, his foreign policy pronouncements have received considerable scrutiny from those anxious to elicit from them how potentially detrimental his presidency is liable to be to the so-called liberal international order. By this expression is meant that web of alliances and international arrangements and organizations that the United States has been instrumental in helping to create and support since 1945 to promote global peace and prosperity. Most notable among the elements of this global order are such bodies as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, as well as that medley…

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Hewitt’s Mostly Wrong Way

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The latest venture to confront the new Donald Trump era is what Hugh Hewitt calls his “conservative playbook for a lasting GOP majority.” This is the subtitle of The Fourth Way, his new book. Hewitt, the Chapman University Law School professor, former Reagan administration official, and talk radio host, is everyone’s favorite nice guy—a charming media personality, fair-minded debate moderator, and the author, so far, of 17 books. This one is his most ambitious.

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Trumpism: A Politics Desperately Seeking a Theory

If Hillary Clinton were President, conservative scholars and journalists would know what to say about the current state of American politics, the Republican Party, and conservatism. With Trump, all is in flux. It might explain why awkwardness and a talking-past-each-other quality would be the impressions left by a panel discussion in Washington that the Claremont Institute sponsored last week.

The institute, located in California, not Washington, is nonetheless being spoken of as “the academic home of Trumpism.” (See this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education and another in the New York Times.) Anyone expecting to get the inside scoop on “Conservatism in the Trump Era,” as the event was entitled, would have gone away unfulfilled. Trumpism is at this point as hard to pin down as its unpredictable namesake.

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James Burnham and Our ‘Soul-Sick’ Elite: A Conversation with Julius Krein

PDCAComes now to Liberty Law Talk, Julius Krein, founding editor of the explosive new journal, American Affairs. We discuss the crack-up in our politics and in the conservative movement through the lens of James Burnham's classic work, The Managerial Revolution.

Independent Agencies Must Follow the President’s Interpretations of Law

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President Trump must soon decide whether to say “You’re fired” to Richard Cordray, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Cordray’s policies are clearly at odds with the deregulatory impulse of the administration, whose fate depends  on whether it can substantially increase prosperity beyond the sluggish growth of the Obama years.

The obstacle to getting rid of Cordray is that the statue setting up the CFPB permits the President to fire Cordray only on the basis of “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” One possibility would be to fire him anyway on the theory that the restriction is unconstitutional.   Indeed, in PHH Corp. v. CFPB, a panel of the District of Columbia Circuit held that it was unconstitutional to limit the President’s removal power over the director. It acknowledged that the Supreme Court has upheld insulating other executive agencies, like the FTC, from presidential removal.   But those independent agencies were directed by multi-member commissions composed of members from different parties. The panel concluded that CFPB lacks the important check of collegial, bipartisan control, concentrating power in a single official.  Thus, the Constitution required that the President have the power to remove him at will.

The difficulty with acting on the panel’s analysis is that the full District of Columbia Circuit has vacated the PHH ruling to hear the case en banc.  It is true that the President could still follow the reasoning of the panel ruling and dismiss Cordray. But that action would be portrayed by the press as flouting a judicial order, even though the President is not a party to PHH v. CFPB.   Moreover the President’s substantial latitude to decline to follow statutes that violate his constitutional authority is premised in part on the need to obtain judicial resolution. But here the issue would already be before a court.

The President has a better option, because he has the constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed. “

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Trump’s High-Stakes Game of Chicken

In games of “chicken”—canonically, two teen boys drive their cars toward one another at breakneck speed, the one who swerves is “chicken” (and if neither swerves, then both lose and it’s small consolation to either that neither is “chicken”)—there are two ways to make the other guy swerve. One is a commitment mechanism: Tie down the steering wheel so it won’t swerve, jam the accelerator full down with a broom stick, and jump into the back seat. The second is to have the reputation of being crazy, as in being crazy enough not to swerve.

Acting crazy gets less respect than it should as a winning strategy in politics and other areas. North Korean dictators are given a wide berth in international affairs because the international community thinks they’re crazy. Overseas, George W. Bush was widely decried as a crazy belligerent. I often wondered whether he invited the reputation intentionally.

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