My problems with What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s nearly 500-page self-proclaimed explanation for why she isn’t the 45th President of the United States as she fully expected to be, began around page 7. Clinton was describing how it felt to be sitting on the inaugural platform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol when Republican Donald Trump, the man who actually won the election, was sworn in: “The day was unusually warm.”
The party in control of the presidency typically loses seats in the House and Senate in midterm elections. Since Jimmy Carter, the presidential party has on average lost just over 20 seats in the House and just under four seats in the Senate. An average election (which they never are) would see the Republicans hold onto the House by a narrow margin, and would see the Democrats take control of the Senate. But with 23 Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2018, plus two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and only eight Republicans, it looks to be a tough slog for Democrats to replicate historical averages, and pick up the Senate.
In antebellum America, the U.S. underwent what historians call “the market revolution.” This is a movement analogous to the “Great Transformation” Karl Polanyi sketched in England and Europe. (Interestingly, Polanyi himself excepts the American experience from the process he outlines given the availability of land for the taking in the U.S. relative to Europe.) The penetration of the market and market forces into the everyday lives of everyday people separates the period of the market revolution and afterward from the time before it. The rise of wage labor and production for markets, rather than production largely for one’s self and one’s family, created different rhythms and risks in life relative to agrarian life prior to the rise of that system.
Maryland’s state song made the front page of the Baltimore Sun yesterday. The marching band at the state university doesn’t want to play it at football games anymore.
The lyrics, set to the tune of “O Christmas Tree” by a secession-minded poet in 1861, begin: “The despot’s heel is on thy shore.” It’s a reference to the federal government. Marylanders are urged to use their “peerless chivalry” to rise up and defend the state: “She is not dead, nor deaf nor dumb. Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!”
This egregious song comes up for debate every so often. For years there’s been a bill in the legislature in Annapolis proposing that it be replaced. Amid moves all across the country to ditch public reminders of American slavery and/or the Confederacy, the on-again-off-again campaign against “Maryland, My Maryland” is on again.
President Trump’s inability or unwillingness to lead on a legislative agenda has been cast as bad news for conservatism. But his weakness may trigger a renaissance of conservatism properly understood.
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).