31 July 2017

President vs. party

Contemplating the spectacle of President Trump, whom he describes as "the alpha male as crybaby," George Will consoles himself with the thought that Trump's follies will do the nation good. His difficulties with Congress should inspire the legislative branch to be more assertive, since it "cannot continue deferring to executive policymaking." His more embarrassing episodes, Will hopes, will do "invaluable damage to Americans’ infantilizing assumption that the presidency magically envelops its occupant with a nimbus of seriousness." By appearing to degrade the presidency, Trump "drains this office of the sacerdotal pomposities that have encrusted it."By this standard, "worse is better," on the assumption that the Trump administration will end any unhealthy desire Americans have for strong executive power while teaching them greater appreciation of the more deliberative, and thus more conservative, branches of government.

I suspect that Will misreads the temper of the time. Ambitious presidents around the world, from Nicolas Maduro to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Vladimir Putin, often seem boorish and embarrassing to sophisticated critics, yet retain large followings despite numerous foul-ups. The desire for strong executive  (or "authoritarian") leadership will not go away after one or more executives prove themselves fools, because that desire is driven more by persistent conditions than by any temporary faith in transient personalities. If Trump fails, it will only prove that Trump was the wrong guy. For that matter, in the eyes of his voting base, his feuds with veteran Republican leaders, most recently his Attorney General (a former U.S. Senator) and his lately ousted chief of staff (the former RNC chairman) probably aren't failures. All of us are witnessing a slow-motion showdown that will determine whether the Republican party is to be the President's instrument or his nemesis." Constitutionally, of course, the Republican party owes the President nothing; the chief executive isn't even really the de facto leader of the party, though his fans may assume he should be. While he can deal roughly with Republicans who answer directly to him after taking jobs in his Cabinet, he can't fire the party hierarchy and can only attempt to fire congressmen by recruiting candidates to run primaries against them next year. That's just as things should be for conservatives like Will, but Trump's voters more likely assumed, when they voted Republican for Congress, that people on the same ticket should be working on the same agenda. Their more dangerous assumption, in Will's judgment, is that the President is the one to set the agenda and the one to whom Republicans should be accountable when they go against it. I can't feel very sorry for them or Trump in their disappointment so far, since this is exactly what they deserve for taking the shortcut of "taking over" one of the established major parties rather than building their own party. But my lack of sympathy makes their desire for a more decisive executive no less real, and the divide between the expectations of ostensibly conservative voters and the ideology of the ostensibly conservative party no less profound.

For better or worse, we have to assume that voters chose Trump in the crucial states because they wanted him to practice his particular leadership style (as seen on TV) in Washington. In other words, Trump's voters probably want him to fire more people, yet he has little power to do so immediately outside his own executive-branch territory. His inability to fire top Republicans, in Congress or the party hierarchy, exposes what some may see as a flaw in American government, if not in the Constitution itself, that may not have been apparent earlier. Just the other day, so to speak, most right wingers believed that the problem with Congress was that it had no term limits for members, no maximum time in office. For the Trump movement, the real problem emerging now may be that congressmen have a minimum time in office, two years in which they are not really accountable to their constituents until the next Election Day. Ever since the first congressmen effectively shot down the idea that they should be subject to instruction from their constituents, their lack of political accountability between elections has been held sacred, the proof of their deliberative independence, their entitlement to legislate as they alone saw fit. But just as the original populists of more than a century ago included the recall of elected officials in their long-term reform agenda, so  the so-called populists of the 21st century might adopt that idea -- if they remember how Arnold Schwarzenegger ended up governing a state -- as an appropriate measure for a time of more instant accountability in every other sphere of life. That may seem unlikely to you, but how much less likely is it than George Will's expectation that we'll simply give up electing Trumps, when Americans are probably only getting started?


Anonymous said...

All of these political talking heads - Wills, Gerson, et al, are out of touch with working class, main stream America. For some reason they simply cannot understand the major two issues that caused people who don't normally vote to come out and actually vote. 1) Illegal (and anti-American) aliens being allowed to live and prosper among us. 2) Hillary Clinton.

These people see their way of life threatened by the number of foreign cultures being allowed to flourish in this country. AND they do NOT trust the Clinton dynasty. Unless these concerns are addressed in a way these people agree with by other candidates, tRump will most likely get a second term AND there will probably be a major shake-up in the party itself. These people aren't "republican" and they aren't "conservative", as the purists within the party see things. They are working class Americans who don't agree with the "business as usual" attitude of the average politician, so don't normally vote.

Tied to that, as long as the Democrat party is allowing itself to be run as the Clinton party, and as long as they kowtow to the SJW snowflake crowd, they will continue to lose support. This makes it probably the best chance for a strong third party to start up. Whether the average American is motivated to support such is unlikely as long as the average American is a beer-swilling, anti-intellectual hairless ape.

Samuel Wilson said...

I'm not going to dispute your reading of the motivation of the voters who put Trump over the top, but I should note that 2016 reportedly had the lowest voter turnout of any presidential election since 1996. While there may have been a large number of people awakened from apathy by Trump's particular appeal, there's presumably a still larger number who normally voted but stayed home because they didn't like what either Trump or Clinton was selling. The big question looking forward is whether these people found neither candidate sufficiently "left," sufficiently "conservative" or sufficiently "nationalist."

Anonymous said...

I think there is no single reason you can point to. I'm sure there is a fair-sized contingent of "Bernie Bros" who simply refused to vote for anyone but Sanders. I'm sure there are any number of people on the left who simply refuse to vote for Clinton for one reason or another. Just as there are obviously many, many people who consider themselves "conservative" who couldn't stomach tRump. None of that matters, because it is now all yesterday's news. Where do we go from here? Given the abject stupidity of the average American these days, the obvious answer is: DOWN.

Anonymous said...

Also, again, it was not voters who put tRump over the top, it was the electoral college. So if people insist on pushing the issue, the question should be why did the majority of the electoral college prefer tRump over Clinton?

Samuel Wilson said...

9:05 - When I wrote of "voters who put Trump over the top," I meant the voters in rust-belt swing states where Trump's narrow popular-vote wins earned enough electoral votes, thanks to the winner-take-all format, to put him over the top. Despite appeals from progressive extremists and other sorts of never-Trumpers, the electors almost entirely echoed the will of the voters of their respective states. The Electoral College "preferred" Trump because even the smallest states get a minimum of three electoral votes, which is out of proportion with their share of the entire population, and Republicans usually sweep those smaller wilderness-type states.