Not long ago, I met up with a progressive writer from a well-known liberal outlet to discuss democracy. At one point, he told me that while the Constitution contained some superb ideas, it was an impractical and antiquated document unworthy of 21st century America. The Second Amendment, he argued, was a violent relic, and the Constitution’s penchant for diffusing direct democracy an affront to equality. I don’t think we’re far away from this being a common view on the Left. It might already be so.
It’s not exactly surprising that Democrats and the media have transformed an Islamic terror attack into another finger-wagging national conversation about Christian “homophobia” and the NRA. Gotta keep the focus on the real enemy, after all. What is surprising is how boldly illiberal many Democrats have become in trying to achieve their objectives.
It’s not just some Rolling Stone writer calling for gun confiscation or Vox calling on the president to discard the Constitution unilaterally; it’s West Virginia’s Joe Manchin openly arguing that due process is what’s really “killing us.” A senator, sworn to uphold the Constitution, actually said this. Playing on the fears of Americans after an act of terror, his colleagues — led by Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, who believes calls for due process are a “red herring” — are proposing to bar Americans from buying guns if the FBI decides they belong on a list. The Senate will take up four bills on Monday.
This is an attack on the Fifth Amendment, not only the Second. We’re talking about approximately a million people. These watchlists are tools for law enforcement, not a way to adjudicate your rights. (It must be pointed out that not all liberals are on board. The ACLU and others have remained consistent on the issue.) And since Omar Mateen wasn’t on any list anyway, similar legislation Democrats proposed last year wouldn’t have stopped him. None of their proposals would have stopped him. So what do Senate Democrats do? They propose we create a new list that isn’t even tied to law enforcement concerns. Via The New York Times:
The Democratic legislation, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, would seek to prevent individuals on the government’s terror watchlist from purchasing guns on the recommendation of the Justice Department alone. Ms. Feinstein unsuccessfully proposed a similar measure last year, after 14 people were killed by an Islamic extremist couple in San Bernardino, Calif. The legislation she is now proposing goes even further, covering not just people on the watchlist at the time of purchase, but anyone who had been on the list in the preceding five years.
Or, in other words, the Democratic Party believes the Trump administration should be allowed to put any citizen it deems suspicious into a government database — maybe they flew one-way to the wrong country or have a funny sounding name. Then, for whatever reason the Trump administration decides — and without offering any evidence to back up its suspicions — this American citizen can be denied an individual right explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court. And then, that person could lose this right even if he has been taken off the list. (The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has more specifics of Feinstein’s amendment here.)
On this, I’ve seen people offer a thought experiment: Let’s replace the First Amendment with the Second and then imagine what the liberal press coverage would look like. Well, I think they’re giving the contemporary Left too much credit.
It all depends on the topic, doesn’t it? Most of the same Democrats fighting against due process also support overturning Citizens United, a move that would empower the government to ban movies and books in a similar way. They support allowing the IRS to lord over Americans participating in the political discourse — in groups with subversive words like “patriot” in their titles. Many liberal attorneys general who support circumventing due process also support the idea of prosecuting individuals and companies that are skeptical about apocalyptic climate change theory.
What about those troglodytes who believe you can’t choose your own sex? Let’s get them next. For many on the Left, neither the process nor the right matter more than the outcome. Guns. Climate Change. Discrimination. Immigration. These things are too important to be bogged down by the limitations of republicanism. When listening to Murphy’s case for sidestepping legal norms, I was reminded of an entry in Robert Nisbet’s “Prejudices”:
This distinction between authoritarianism and totalitarians throws light upon the degradation of liberalism in the West in the 20th century, when liberalism began to change from an ideology based in the main upon the ideas of Tocqueville, Mill, and Spencer — ideas that pivoted upon freedom — to an ideology based more and more upon the goals of equality, redistribution, and social reconstruction. … This above all is the reason that liberals have such an equivocal attitude towards political power in the modern age.
For some, political power is the wellspring of most goodness. The Constitution limits power and thus often gets in the way of Left’s notions of equality, redistribution, social reconstruction, and safety. These days, the only two inalienable rights in the founding document are abortion and gay marriage. The rest — self-defense, speech, due process—is all up for debate and modification.
Obama adds that gun rights groups should explain “why it is they think our liberty requires these repeated tragedies.”— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) June 16, 2016
We have a president who demands Americans answer for those who take advantage of our liberalism but refuses to do the same for the illiberal culture that produces jihadists. We have a presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party who won’t even say she believes in a constitutional right to bear arms. We have an administration that ignores the Tenth Amendment to crush states that diverge from progressive orthodoxy on sex-specific bathrooms. The president spent six of his eight years arguing that separation of powers should be circumvented because he was frustrated that constitutional norms would upend his agenda.
People are okay with this. Democrats love to point out that polls show Americans want more gun control or more speech controls, and so Republicans should do something about it. To stand against the majority is to “defy” Americans, Barack Obama likes to say. Even if it were so simple, isn’t this why we have constitutions? To codify rights and protect them from the vagaries of democracy and abusive politicians who will use fear and anger and emotionally blackmail citizens to enact their agenda? Complain about Donald Trump all you like; it’s a big target. But let’s not pretend he’s the only one putting the Constitution and our norms at risk. It’s just that you have different ideas about why these things aren’t important anymore.