“But Donald Trump…”

But Donald Trump…

The instant progressive rejoinder to almost any criticism of Joe Biden’s shambolic presidency is “But Donald Trump…”. Which in turn is followed up by a litany of accusations about Mr. Trump’s conduct in office. Many of these accusations are unquestionably correct. Trump was, and is, appallingly ignorant about—well pretty much everything. And he routinely lied about pretty much everything as well. 

But through it all there were some policy successes, some important.  The rapid development of COVID vaccines is a notable one. The signing of the Abraham accords is another. The reduction in tax rates and the appointment of 3 originalists to the Supreme Court should be counted as well. But none of the constructive things Trump did strayed very far from what used to be called Republican orthodoxy. 

The two questions Republicans need to ask themselves are these: (1) were the costs of the Trump presidency worth the benefits, and (2) what is the path forward? Those are the questions the party has to sort out by 2024. Although it is virtually certain that the Republicans will re-capture the House, and possibly the Senate in 2022, such a result would simply represent a typical “throw the bums out” mid-term reaction against the party on power. It will not reflect a Republican governing philosophy simply because they don’t have one, or at least haven’t annunciated one this side of sanity. 

While the Republicans lack even a semblance of coherence, the Democratic leadership has enforced a brutal consistency across the party. Elected Democratic office holders and activists are passionate and committed believers who are pretty much wrong about almost everything. Since a good many of them are facing tough re-election fights, they are finally waking up to the fact that the party’s approach has been thoroughly rejected by the vast majority of independents and Republicans, not to mention a substantial minority of registered Democrats. 

Hence the “But Donald Trump…” dodge designed to rally the base and remind suburbanites what they revolted against. But it is a dodge not least because it implies that all questions are at root binary. One answer is to embrace Donald Trump in full; the other is to embrace progressive politics. That formulation is simply nonsensical. 

More importantly, the “But Donald Trump…” motif is an exercise in turning off any semblance of critical thinking in favor of cartoonish framing of policy issues. In the minds of committed partisans, every question implicitly becomes one of comparing two (and only two) possible outcomes. The first is the End-of-Democracy presided over by Donald Trump and a coterie of White Supremicists. The alternate is a just and progressive society informed by science and reason, governed by all-knowing and benign experts. 

With respect to the (alleged) pending extinction of democracy it is worth reflecting on what the term democracy is supposed to mean. For instance, the Washington Post, which has made a habit of publishing Democratic talking points and referring to it as journalism first began running the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” on its front page in February of 2017, shortly after Donald Trump took the oath of office. 

It is a slogan that perfectly captures the mindlessness of the zeitgeist. Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, commented rather insightfully, that the slogan “sounds like the next Batman movie”. As to its meaning, well, who knows? All we can deduce is that its focus group inspired virtue signaling has been enthusiastically embraced by proponents of right-think.

But what does the term democracy really mean, or more to the point, what is the proper definition when used correctly? First, what it does not mean is that temporary majorities just get their way on any and all matters by the simple expedient of controlling 50% of the vote plus 1. Or to put it more bluntly, mob rule is not democracy. 

Second, Democracy spelled with a capital D is part of a process—but only a part—whose purpose is to protect liberty. Other factors that come into play are the rule of law, norms, culture, values, a separation of powers, property rights, free markets and a legal system independent of politics. 

Here is where it gets interesting. Interesting because those factors and values are part and parcel of classical liberalism but antithetical to progressivism. Consider for instance that classical liberalism is concerned with individuals and their natural-law rights and obligations. Progressivism on the other hand, is concerned with (ever shifting) group rights and outcomes. Consequently laws that are neutral on their face have to be evaluated with respect to their distributional impact on favored and disfavored groups. Which is to say, it encourages legal rent seeking.

By the language of the 14th amendment all Americans are supposed to enjoy equal protection of the laws. (Technically a better statement of equal protection is found in the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV. Not only is it is direct; it avoids the clash between the administration of equal rights legislation and the Bill of Rights). 

Leaving aside the technicalities, the question remains, are all U.S. citizens equal under laws that are neutral on their face?  Obviously not. The new segregationists, otherwise known as social justice warriors, proponents of affirmative action, woke activists etc, favor actions by the administrative state specifically designed to achieve desired racial, ethnic and gender based outcomes in things like college admissions, the acquisition of broadcast licenses and access to capital. Hardly equal protection.

Or how about what progressives insist on referring to as “reproductive rights?” The way the law is currently interpreted, women, compliments of the so-called living constitution, have a court manufactured right to abort their unborn children without so much as a second thought about the father of the about to be extinguished child. Much less the child. However impolitic it is to mention it, women don’t get pregnant by themselves, a fact the law seems to think is irrelevant. 

How about the administration of vaccines? It may be foolish in the extreme to refuse vaccination, but that doesn’t necessarily give the federal government, which lacks the police power reserved to the states, the right to impose vaccination mandates. 

Not only are the unvaccinated treated like second-class citizens, they are rapidly approaching the point where they will be denied the possibility of earning a living or traveling in public unless for a state sanctioned activity. Remember during the lockdowns that social justice demonstrations were just fine, but going to church wasn’t? Even now, the unvaccinated are treated like lepers even thought the vaccinated can infect others as well. It is increasingly clear that the chief benefit of vaccination is not that it prevents infection, although it may reduce the odds; it is that vaccination mitigates the severity of potential infection.  

And while we are on the subject of unequal treatment, let’s not forget that the right to bodily autonomy (see abortion above) suddenly goes right out the window when it comes to vaccination. It seems that bodily autonomy only counts for abortion. Progressives seem intent on acquiring the power to make a person’s life and livelihood dependent on the whims of administrative agencies. Run by non-political experts of course. 

And how about those political norms that Donald Trump routinely violated? Progressives certainly wouldn’t do that. Or would they?

Well, the Biden Administration with an able assist from AG Merrick Garland and the Teachers Unions decided to start treating parents who objected to the indoctrination of their children as potential terrorists. 

Or the Biden Administration’s take  on the legality of vaccine mandates. After the 5th circuit  Court of Appeals blocked Biden’s order, the administration decided to carry on anyway hoping to buy time to accomplish its objectives despite the Court’s observation that “the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate.” And not to put too fine a point on it, the Biden Administration issued the order through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citing an emergency, but didn’t get around to specifying rules for a solid three months after the supposed emergency was declared. 

Then there is the Biden Administration’s flatly illegal extension of the eviction moratorium issued through, of all places through the CDC. It should be noted that the eviction moratorium was first started by that constitutional scholar, Donald Trump. And let’s not leave out the filibuster that the progressives are trying to dismantle as they continue their penchant for changing the rules when they can’t otherwise get their way. 

Let’s not forget the Great Gerrymandering Scare of 2022. It now turns out that, despite previous claims of the pending End-of-Democracy as we know it due to Republican Gerrymandering, it is Democrats who may very well benefit from redistricting as a result of the 2022 census–and wait for it–Gerrymandering. All of a sudden the dire threat seems to have receded in press coverage. (Then again, when the Democrats do it, it’s redistricting; when the Republicans do it, it becomes diabolical and racist Gerrymandering.)

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that as the facts change, the Red and Blue teams do not change with them; they merely adjust their arguments (if they do even that) to accomplish their pre-ordained political goals. Facts are utterly irrelevant to their policy arguments.  

And first among the progressive arguments is “But Donald Trump…” which serves to turn off the brain (a necessary pre-condition of progressivism) and allow the faithful to believe what they wish to believe despite actual conditions here on planet Earth.  And let’s not leave out the Republicans. Their first argument is: I am not a Democrat. Which may be enough to get them elected in 2022, but not in 2024. Just like Biden’s argument: I am not Donald Trump was enough to get him elected in 2020 as a caretaker, but not to actually govern as anything more than that. That is a lesson he is starting to learn the hard way.

JFB