One way to understand the differences between these three ideologies is to contrast their preferred methods for decisionmaking.
We have come to the end of this little series of observations and reflections on the Resistance. Perhaps a little retrospect is in order, before concluding with Socrates.
Every so often our politics produces something relatively new, something worth watching and thinking about.
We can’t help it, we’re human, we necessarily have worldviews. Everybody does. The Resistance does too, rough hewn, in the aggregate, and tacit as it may be. Now it is time to take a look squarely at the Resistance’s main object of concern: Humanity itself. The Resistance declares itself “inclusive” and it hates “exclusion.” Its vision and its concern encompass all of humanity. But not all “humanisms” are created equal. But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Who is to say that Resistance humanism is unquestionable?
In a first installment (“Resistance, in the light of 1776”), following the lead of Pierre Manent, the Resistance came to sight as a way of looking at things characterized by 1) a binary view of legitimate and illegitimate views (in keeping with Hilary Clinton’s “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it” litany); 2) a quasi-religious cast (“political orthodoxy” and “heresy,” observed Manent); and 3) a novel form of democracy characterized by terms such as “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” and “inclusion,” but with its own blind spots and exclusions. As I put it: it is “rather exclusive in its inclusivity and monolithic in its view of diversity.”
A common Progressive-era complaint advanced that the Constitution’s framers were overly suspicious of democracy. George Norris, a leading Progressive Senator, bluntly argued in the 1920s and 1930s that while the Constitution was an advance in democracy for its time, it created too many checks and balances on majority will, it created too many barriers to legislation in the modern era. (He thus advocated legislative unicameralism and opposed activist judicial review, among other things.)
Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School, wonders whether democracy can survive the internet. The immediate impulse for his question is the election of Donald Trump, who used social media to get around the established institutions, principally the mainstream media, that mediate between candidates and citizens. In particular, Persily fears that fake news circulating in social media empowers demagogues, of which a prime example in his mind no doubt is Donald Trump himself.
The essay is an exemplar of progressivism, because it puts its faith in institutions dominated by progressives to safeguard democracy rather than the Constitution. But to one who is not a progressive, Persily’s fears are unwarranted and his solutions are a source of concern. Begin with fake news. It is not a phenomenon of the internet. Political campaigns in the early republic were vicious because of outrageous and often false charges in the partisan press. Adams was said to be a monarchist focused on establishing a dynasty with his son; Jefferson was accused of being an atheist. He was also alleged to have sired children with one of his slaves. That last bit of dramatic information would have been labelled as fake news at the time by the self-designated great and good—the real fact checkers of any age–, but it appears to have been true.
The threatened filibuster by the Democrats of Judge Neil Gorsuch seems irrational if its purpose to help create a Supreme Court more friendly to Democratic commitments. Almost everyone expects the response by the Republicans will be the so-called nuclear option by which they use their majority to end the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominations. The Republicans believe that filibustering a mainstream judge in the first year of a President’s term is illegitimate. Given that in 2013 the Democrats eliminated the filibuster for lower court and executive appointments, they will also regard themselves fully justified in taking a similar action themselves. And the Republicans will be acting within their constitutional rights: as Mike Rappaport and I have shown, the Senate majority must have the authority to change supermajority rules by majority vote.
The elimination of the filibuster leaves the Democrats in a worse position for the rest of President Trump’s term. The most obvious reason is that they then cannot filibuster the next nomination— the one likely to fill the seat of Justice Ginsburg or Justice Kennedy.