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A New President

Tomorrow will make it official that Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America. His inauguration will likely be full of the Americana that many of us love, one that will provide telling points of patriotism and gratitude without any of the postmodern irony that lurked in Obama’s second inaugural where he said the truths of the Declaration of Independence “may” be self evident, and, without pausing, concluded that we should still be willing to work eagerly on their behalf.  Trump’s election tells us that Americans are not rushing to enter the age of post-national and post-political governance that Europe has fitfully embraced. Will his statecraft bear this out? The victory of this improbable party nominee and vanquisher of a seasoned Democratic opponent tells us, too, that our country is enduring an era of constitutional crisis. What Constitution will we live under? What country will we become?

Voters seemed to grasp where the Progressive constitution was leading in terms of regulatory power and identity politics; just enough of them rejected it. For that, Trump deserves credit for potentially opening our constitutionalism to a more robust form of self-government. If nothing else, we have the opportunity for a debate about the substance of our constitutional order that many on the Left believe they had already ended. But if populist conservatism pushed Trump and the Republicans to victory, we should also be mindful that populism historically brings the double-edged sword of great enthusiasm and a certain gullibility, a susceptibility to accept narratives rather than hard facts.

That brings us to the readership of Law and Liberty. It’s likely that many picked Trump. For the first time since this site’s launch in 2012, these readers now have a President they are willing to support. And this is coupled with Republican control of Congress and of a majority of state legislatures and governorships. High tide. A shoring up of the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court, the big prize in our desiccated constitutional practice, appears to lie ahead.

Over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency, Law and Liberty published essays too numerous to count critiquing many elements of his policies and the manner in which he pressed them, often through unlawful executive actions. We aren’t about to change in any manner. This journal will continue to be a roiling conversation of classical liberal, conservative, and libertarian thought on any number of topics. Many journals are lining up to resolutely oppose or support the new administration.  This site will continue its independent discourse on constitutionalism and its attendant principles, including federalism, politics nobly understood, and a calibrated suspicion of power— whoever holds it, all in the service of a social and political order of free and responsible human persons. Two plus two did not equal five under Obama’s postmodern Progressive presidency and the same remains true under a Republican President and/or a Republican Congress.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on January 19, 2017 at 08:01:37 am

Land ahoy!

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Mark Pulliam
on January 19, 2017 at 10:57:06 am

Tierra del Fuego?

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R Richard Schweitzer
on January 19, 2017 at 12:07:57 pm

Well, I wasn't expecting "Milk and Honey" - not after 8 years of it!

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gabe
on January 19, 2017 at 12:27:42 pm

I expect nothing less of Law and Liberty. I have not generally understood this site to be partisan, but rather kind of libertarian.

Thus, while some at this site may well have voted for Trump, I rather doubt that many of our regulars are Trump enthusiasts. Of course, every vote for every politician is a vote for a compromise with your own preferences; otherwise you’d write your own name on the ballot. But I suspect votes in the last election reflected bigger compromises than most. Many here expressed disapproval of what they perceived to be Obama’s autocratic style. But if we are to judge by Trump’s tone, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

That said, I’m amused by one (partisan? ) incongruity expressed in the original post.

His inauguration will likely be full of the Americana that many of us love, one that will provide telling points of patriotism and gratitude without any of the postmodern irony that lurked in Obama’s second inaugural where he said the truths of the Declaration of Independence “may” be self evident, and, without pausing, concluded that we should still be willing to work eagerly on their behalf.
* * *
if populist conservatism pushed Trump and the Republicans to victory, we should also be mindful that populism historically brings the double-edged sword of great enthusiasm and a certain gullibility, a susceptibility to accept narratives rather than hard facts.

Ah, those gullible populists, accepting narratives rather than hard facts.

Yet the authors chide Obama for failing to dogmatically assert the Declaration’s self-evident truths—that men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among others—but rather merely exhorting us to work for such results. Why, it’s almost as if Obama regarded the list of self-evident truths as a list of values rather than facts….

Now, has anyone ever devised an experiment to demonstrate these self-evident truths? What would the hypothesis look like? What would be the control group? What would be the dependent and independent variables?

No, no one has ever devised such an experiment because anything who has thought about the matter has concluded that the Declaration of Independence was a narrative, not a statement of hard facts. Indeed, it would be hard to demonstrate the truth of the Declaration’s self-evident truths, given that 1) pretty much 100% of governments up until that moment had been founded on the opposite proposition, and 2) many of the Declaration’s signers owned slaves, an institution founded on the opposite proposition. To the extent that the Declaration really attempted to make a factual assertion, all available evidence was inconsistent with it.

But of course the Declaration was not an assertion of fact—its text notwithstanding. Rather, it was an expression of Enlightenment narrative. I largely embrace that narrative. But, as Reinsch and Weiner remind us, we should avoid confusing narratives with fact.

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nobody.really
on January 19, 2017 at 12:28:50 pm

With great appreciation for what this site has brought forward in the presentation of ideas, and appreciation for the difficulties of obtaining appropriate contributions, the following comments are offered:

Hopefully we will see a return to the concern for the impacts of governance on individual liberty as new administrators (managers) take over control of the management of the Federal Administrative State [FAS]. We will be observing a change in management NOT a change in STRUCTURE of the FAS. Here, at this site, will be opportunities for intellectual analysis of what the effects of management can accomplish for individual liberty and what will require changes in structure. This is an unabashed solicitation for contributions on those subjects.

The Editors note:

". . . our country is enduring an era of constitutional crisis . . . "

"Crisis" Is an exciting word; but, when it is applied to an era, whether from 19i3. 1932 or 1960, is probably more accurately an era of deviations from, perversions of, and substitutions for, constitutional support and concern by and from the polity. We may not be at the "breaking" point of a crisis; but, perhaps consideration could and should be given to whether the recent political events evince a change in the preferences of the polity ( not just the electorate) that may reestablish the primacy of individual liberty that was provided under the terms of the Constitution. Writers might address whether or not that can occur without substantial changes in the structure of the FAS, going further than changes in management.

The Editors further note:

". . . we should also be mindful that populism historically brings the double-edged sword of great enthusiasm and a certain gullibility, a susceptibility to accept narratives rather than hard facts."

As usual in most such essays the intention of the use of "populism" is not clear (it is probably never precise); but, if it refers to the polity, writers here could give some attention to whether or not there have been sufficient changes In the aspirations of the polity (again, not just the electorate) to permit the commencement of changes in the structure of the FAS, which has become our form of government; intruding and intervening as it does down through the state and local levels of governments and civic affairs.

It is possible that the new managers will determine that the most they can do initially is gain control of the forms of management and their exercise; and, that any change in structures will have to be deferred until complete control of management has been achieved and the effects of those changes have been demonstrated.

Again, hopefully, we will see less and less reference to "left and right" in the descriptions of managerial policies and attention to structures. If we do not, we may have evidence that the aspirations of the polity have not changed sufficiently.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on January 19, 2017 at 12:50:49 pm

From today's PowerLine Blog:

"Tevi Troy offers an important survey and tour of the scene in the current issue of Commentary, “Will There Be An Internal Revolt Against Trump?” Tevi very nicely gives a shout out a key line in my forthcoming book: “That bureaucratic government is the partisan instrument of the Democratic Party is the most obvious, yet least remarked upon, trait of our time.” Tevi goes through all the tricks bureaucrats use to frustrate a president or cabinet member it disagrees with. A useful primer that every Trump appointee ought to read."

This IS the FAS. As I said, I do not expect a Land of Milk and honey so long as PARTISAN, bureaucrats continue to "nudge" us along the path that nobody.really wants to go!

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gabe
on January 19, 2017 at 12:59:13 pm

I am not certain what this rambling is about?

Do you honestly believe that (m)any of the readers of this site actually think that the Declaration was a statement of fact. or that anyone believes that the founders thought the self evident truths were an established reality in the world of their time; or that they did not know (nor intend) that the DOI was a narrative and one that was intended to be aspirational - a guide, as it were, to how to properly form a political association?

Moreover, it is clear from contemporary readings that the founders were well aware of the worlds shortcomings, and the shortcomings of their own infant nation.

Seriously, apart from the "natural rights" underpinning (BTW, also a *narrative*) there is little evidence that people, then and now, considered the claims of the DOI to be "factual."

So what is the point - other than to continue to *harp* upon nasty American "myths" that many deplorables may structure their belief systems around.

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gabe
on January 19, 2017 at 14:05:11 pm

I agree.

Recall that Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration stated that the subject truths were "sacred and undeniable," but Franklin amended them to the final "self-evident" to imbue them with the Enlightenment sense of reason and the value of evidence even if, at the time, the evidence was contrary. I think what the founders had in mind was more along the lines of "we would like to proceed on the notion that the average guy should not have his talents and energies limited to the perceived needs of the sovereign, nor should his ambitions and desire for a meaningful life be constrained by interests of the powerful." This is a narrative, and a pretty good one, even if, at the time, "the average guy" was a member of a still limited class. It was however an improvement on the status quo, and did not foreclose the possibility of the eventual expansion of that class.

Of course, the Declaration's pronouncement regarding self-evident rights is no less a narrative than modern pronouncements regarding equality, or "safety," or "social constructs." A difference is noted in the relationship of these narratives to the government. The founders' narrative was one of limiting the sovereign's role in the day to day lives of the average guy; to propose that the affairs of the state could proceed with at least some regard for the conscience and dignity of the individual. The modern narrative contains no small measure of the antithesis of this, seeking to regulate bathroom use, provocative speech, the manner in which colleges and universities involve themselves in the personal lives of students, what political views are subject to bureaucratic obstruction, which business transactions are mandatory, etc.

Both the founders' narrative and its more modern counterpart seem to recognize Washington's dictum that government is force. The difference seems to be that the founders saw this as something about which to be wary; the modern activist sees it as a convenience.

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z9z99
on January 24, 2017 at 17:47:20 pm

Over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency, Law and Liberty published essays too numerous to count critiquing many elements of his policies and the manner in which he pressed them, often through unlawful executive actions.

Many here expressed disapproval of what they perceived to be Obama’s autocratic style. But if we are to judge by Trump’s tone, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Interestingly, Obama issued fewer Executive Orders per year than any other president in the past 120 years.

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nobody.really

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.