Laying the groundwork for future Democratic Party attacks, a new Politico piece detailing the numerous ways Donald Trump has promised to dismantle eight years of Barack Obama’s executive overreach now warns Americans, without even the slightest hint of self-awareness, to prepare “for an imperial presidency.”
Of course, judging from his disposition and history, it’s conceivable that Trump would use his pen and phone to circumvent constitutional norms if his agenda meets congressional resistance. As of this moment, though, he’s not done or suggested anything of the sort. Politico simply conflates undoing abuse with the abuse itself.
Politico’s reporters are very concerned about Trump’s use about “executive fiat” — a popular conservative phrasing these past few years — that might undo what should never have been. Liberal initiatives are generally treated as sacred, immovable objects, enshrined into the very heart of our national identity for time immemorial. The New Deal has gained just such currency, but it doesn’t have to happen to the international Paris climate change agreement – an agreement that was never sanctioned by the Senate.
Of course, the idea that Democrats are worried about the sanctity of our checks and balances rather than the preserving agenda gains is laughable. Remember, Obama didn’t merely push the limits of executive power, like others before him; he normalized and popularized arguments for circumventing the intention of the Constitution. The president — and his allies — regularly maintained that it was his duty to impose progressives’ will on the nation because the legislative branch “didn’t act” in a way he believed it should. This was always couched as a moral imperative. No post-World War II president (and maybe none before) had ever overreached in this way. Courts consistently found his actions unconstitutional, yet he continued to make the argument and act on it.
Let’s also remember that the Left spent the past eight years lamenting checks and balances as “obstructionism” that would sink sound democratic governance. “When they say ‘checks and balances,’ that’s their code word for obstruction or something worse,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently warned when she thought her party would take the White House. Only last week, The New York Times referred to conservative/libertarian arguments to keep the court ideologically balanced a “coup” against the Supreme Court. When Republicans won Congress back in 2010, Washington was always referred to as “dysfunctional.” Legislators were “nihilists” and “willfully negligent.”
I look forward to consistency on this issue. Surely all the people who grumbled about our “unproductive” Congress the past few years will celebrate the speed in which Republicans enact the Trump administration’s agenda. No doubt, Vox writers will continue to lecture us about the destructive nature of the filibuster and argue strenuously against transparency. We need to get things done, right?
Liberals justified their attacks on checks and balances by claiming that the GOP’s positioning is driven solely by racism or some other hatred. In the matter of governance, this is irrelevant even if true. Constitutional norms aren’t contingent on the intentions of those governing. But it’s also ridiculous. “Unprecedented” or not, what’s happened in Washington is an organic political reaction to a nation with two parties that can’t agree on much. Barack “I won” Obama was no more interested in compromise than Republicans were.
Although I hope the GOP will strengthen the filibuster rather than do away with it, it will have a strong case for undoing Obamacare using the same parliamentary methods Democrats used to pass it. Now, it would probably benefit the GOP to approach Democrats and make a genuine efforts to incorporate some of their ideas into any package (the best-case scenario is to do it through federalism, which has been under relentless attack over the past two decades). As Democrats have learned this cycle, going it alone is not a sustainable way to govern in this system. I’m not naïve enough to believe that most partisans wouldn’t sacrifice checks and balances to enact their favored policies, but it’s in these moments that you wish the both sides would understand why it’s important to guard them.
There is no permanent ruling majority. Democrats acted as if they would never lose an election again. Admittedly, this is not unique. Now, most liberals — in punditry and government — have absolutely no standing to make arguments for preserving process. A legacy built on edicts is easily discarded — which is good news for the republic.