The protestors who pressured Yale University into scrubbing the legacy of John C. Calhoun—racist, slaveholder and forthright apologist for African bondage; statesman, philosopher and critic of excessive executive power and American imperial ambitions; and, unto Saturday, namesake of a residential college at the alma mater where he was valedictorian of the class of 1804—have no palate for moral nuance, so assume they have no taste for irony either. Consequently, they are probably unaware that the identity politics they champion are Calhounian to their core.
The Senate has often been referred to as the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, most frequently by the Senators themselves. But the confirmation hearings on President Trump’s nominations have been marked by an absence of deliberation and responsive argument. They reveal a nation in the grip of polarization and interest group power.
The Democrats have been making a show of holding up the President’s nominees with late night sessions. And in these sessions they did make some arguments against the nominees. The Republicans almost never responded substantively. It is not as if they cannot respond. For instance, many of the arguments against Betsey DeVos were very weak based on distortions of her record of promoting charters schools in Detroit and on the inaccurate premise more competition in K-12 would harm rather than help children. But Republicans recognized that few people were paying attention other than the Democratic base. More dramatic debate would just draw more attention to the Democratic resistance. And what would please the Republican base were not arguments, but the actual confirmations for which Republicans had the votes.
And lest one think the Democrats were interested in actually persuading their colleagues, they boycotted at least three committee hearings where nominees were going to be debated. Walking out made a great show of anger to please their own base, but made a mockery of deliberation. Woodrow Wilson famously said Congress in action is Congress in committee. During these confirmations congressional inaction was Congress in committee.
The only time that I saw floor debate come alive was about the question of whether Elizabeth Warren violated Senate Rule 19.
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.
This century witnessed the “return of history” in international affairs, and has now shown that we Americans are not immune from the tendencies of human nature toward excessive ambition, and of political society—particularly democracy—toward oligarchy and tyranny. Americans are not exceptional.
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.
Henry Kissinger has drawn on his experience of statecraft to explore the contradictions of world order, and elucidate how statesmen keep international relations from becoming an anarchic struggle. Pithy observations punctuate his latest analysis, World Order, an engaging book informed by a wide appreciation of history and culture.
The first canon of Progressivism is faith in human reason. Politics for the Progressive is a science not in the Aristotelian but in the Baconian sense. Political questions are not prudential complexities to which human judgment approaches better or worse answers but rather moral rigidities with right or wrong solutions wholly within the ambit of the all-powerful human mind. The distance from that schematic to administration by experts is brief. In fairness, that portrayal substantially attenuates the chain. But a recent family visit to Monticello served as a reminder that, however ironically, Thomas Jefferson is one of the chain's first American links.…
In 1887, when Woodrow Wilson was still a mere academic, he wrote an essay that served as a clarion call for administrative power. Revealingly, one of his themes was that reformers faced greater difficulties in modern democracies than they had in the monarchies of the past:
Once the advantage of the reformer was that the sovereign’s mind had a definite locality, that it was contained in one man’s head, and that consequently it could be gotten at. . . . Now, on the contrary, the reformer is bewildered by the fact the sovereign’s mind has no definite locality, but is contained in a voting majority of several million heads; and embarrassed by the fact that the mind of this sovereign is also under the influence of . . . preconceived opinions; i.e., prejudices which are not to be reasoned with because they are not the children of reason.
Exacerbating this problem was the diversity of the nation, which meant that the reformer needed to influence “the mind, not of Americans of the older stocks only, but also of Irishmen, of Germans, of negroes.”
Angelo Codevilla comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations. Our conversation focuses on Codevilla’s main argument that American statesmen increasingly fail to understand the nature and purpose of statecraft: the achievement of peace. So what does it mean to achieve America’s peace? To do so, Codevilla insists, requires concrete evaluation of the means and ends necessary to protect American interests. This requires particular judgments about power, interests, and the practial reality we are confronted with. Our practice, for well nigh a century, has been to speak in…
Though it’s been a few weeks since it appeared, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen Knott’s excellent piece on whether Woodrow Wilson destroyed the office of the presidency. The clamor about the imperial presidency is on the rise with many commentators (such as George Will) and Knott’s article gives us a better understanding of its rise, as well as its implications. Knott describes the “expectations gap” that has arisen due to modern conceptions of the presidency, where we expect the president to heal the planet, rather than work to enact reforms within the institutions of constitutional government.
In response to Professor Knott I would only mention that I think Woodrow Wilson may not even deserve top billing in terms of producing the rise of presidential power.