Containing the Weapon of Mass Disruption

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 4: President Donald Trump looks to House Speaker Paul Ryan after the House pushed through the AHCA. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 4: President Donald Trump looks to House Speaker Paul Ryan after the House pushed through the AHCA. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“[W]e expect he would work with Congress, as the Founders intended.”

“We don’t have a lot of closers in politics and I understand why. It’s a very rough system. It’s an archaic system. You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House—but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through, it’s—it’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They’re archaic rules and maybe at some point we’re going to have to take those rules on because for the good of the nation things are going to have to be different.”

Perhaps the clue was his use of “archaic” as a term of abuse. Is there some point at which we admit that whatever other virtues one may ascribe to it, this project of mass disruption is not conservative?

Take its latest iteration. Is there any serious person who thinks the slapdash manner in which the American Health Care Act was rammed through the House of Representatives was constitutionally or politically healthy? This process was devoid of hearings, opposition votes, and measurements of its cost or consequences. President Trump seemed equally clueless about much of the substance of the bill. In short, as Josh Blackman has noted, passage in the House of the AHCA can be impugned on precisely the same grounds for which Republicans pilloried Democrats in passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

The only evident reason for the bill’s hasty resurrection was to give President Trump a legislative victory within the artificial 100-day window.  But passage by a single Congressional chamber on day 105—for those keeping score—did not accomplish this feat. This was Trump’s “Mission Accomplished” moment, except for the part about accomplishing a mission.

Yet this much must be said for the passage of the bill: It was what the most ardent apologists for candidate Trump purported to want: disruption in the name of desperation. Things were said to be so out of control—the country such a “hellhole”—that the more wildly a wrecking ball was swung, the more decay it was likely to destroy.

The ball has been applied, and the wreckage of the AHCA is thus: Republicans walked a plank into waters populated by waiting sharks, and on their own reasoning less than a decade ago, the sharks have a point. Republicans have no clue what is in the bill they just passed. They do not know its costs. The President himself could not handle a 26-minute television segment that included the topic.  And since the Senate announced in advance that the bill was DOA, they walked the plank for—what? A mess of porridge? Porridge nourishes. This obtained all the vanishing sugary sweetness of an afternoon in the Rose Garden. Pyrrhus himself would recognize such a “victory” as imprudent.

This may be satisfying in some sense, at least to those who think in ever-shrinking news cycles. (One used to pine for politicians who thought about the next generation; one suddenly yearns for the good old days when they actually could see to the next election.)

But there comes a time when the Project of Mass Disruption must ask whether it intends to be conservative—that is, whether it intends to conserve and, if so, what—and, relatedly, whether it intends to reform or to revolt.

American conservatism has always regarded conservation of the constitutional regime as paramount over transient policy questions, because of its transcendent importance and their confidence in their ability to prevail in a constitutionally fair—i.e., intellectually deliberate—fight. That would include placing Congress, the branch of government designed to be deliberate—and which, on its own devices, would have been neither inclined to nor capable of such a process as was concocted for the AHCA—in the driver’s seat of policy formation.

It would help, of course, if someone in Congress with more seniority than Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska would provide the President with some constitutional guidance rather than wringing their hands in fear or lathering them in opportunism.  Nevertheless, the President, who demonstrates little familiarity with the working architecture of the document he swore to uphold, does not seem to share these constitutional commitments either philosophically or even—as his comments on FOX suggest—viscerally. (Just before those comments, he had gamely announced that his political philosophy was “common sense.”)

It is true that he appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, for which he deserves abiding credit, and that his reportedly pending slate of lower-court nominees is excellent. It is also true that his constitutional philosophy is such that, like Odysseus to the mast, he had to lash himself to a list of jurists prepared by others because the commitments involved do not appear to be his own.

The problem is that judgeships are not the totality of his impact on the regime. President Trump’s constitutional footprint can also be made in other ways, including the abominable precedent of personal presidential tweeting, which inflames rather than resists public passions.   Compare the President’s rallies and tweets with Federalist 71’s conception of the Chief Magistrate’s duty:

When occasions present themselves, in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed, to be the guardians of those interests; to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.

A project to conserve this regime suggests a project of what Burke would call reform rather than reformation. In the Reflections, Burke suggested several criteria for political reform: changing in order to preserve, doing so only in response to a “great grievance,” “follow[ing] the example of our ancestors,” and “mak[ing] the reparation as nearly as possible in the style of the building.”

A politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timidity, were among the ruling principles of our forefathers in their most decided conduct. Not being illuminated with the light of which the gentlemen of France tell us they have got so abundant a share, they acted under a strong impression of the ignorance and fallibility of mankind.

This moral caution rooted in an awareness of human fallibility is not the Trumpian disposition, and it is ultimately why the Trumpian disposition cannot be the conservative one.  But Burke’s is conservatism oriented toward an end. Disruption is a tactic, not an end.

These are important questions the panicked talk of a Flight 93 election—storm the cockpit or die—overlooked. The passengers are now in the pilot’s seat, and it increasingly looks like they had no flight plan other than the act of storming. That is, of course, disruptive. It is desperate. But it is not a strategy for conserving the aircraft.  Congressional governance, and its trappings of delay, cooling of the passions and refinement and enlargement of public opinion, would be a start.

Reader Discussion

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on May 09, 2017 at 08:50:37 am


Modern commercial airliners no longer require a flight engineer. It is all automatic.
Principal staffing, other than Pilot and 1st officer, are flight attendants.

could it be that modern government is also so staffed, with the Congress (Paul Ryan, etc) being no more competent to guide the plane than a steward/ stewardess?

Perhaps, we would be better off had the *passengers* actually stormed the cockpit rather than the flight attendants? It would seem that the absence of a flight "engineer' is critical.

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Image of gabe
on May 09, 2017 at 09:52:30 am

Greg Weiner whines about President Trump’s style and offers as a remedy, “Congressional governance, and its trappings of delay, cooling of the passions and refinement and enlargement of public opinion, would be a start.” Good grief! It took 228 years for Congress to regress to its current sad state.

Congress has, for decades, assigned its constitutional responsibilities to either the administration or the judicial branch. Curtailing congressional dysfunction-and-shirking-responsibilities is the remedy I sought when I voted for Trump twice.

There is far more behind my vote: I hoped Trump would nominate not one but two Supreme Court justices: one to fill an empty seat and one to replace a voluntary retiree. I hoped he would eliminate as many administration czars as possible along with their regulations and judges. I hoped he would reduce federal controls on states---send decisions closer to the people, where they belong. For example, drastically reduce or eliminate the federal department of education; make medical care a state responsibility perhaps excepting catastrophic care. I hoped he would continue to provide a habitually lying liberal-democrat-media alternative lies until they learned to research, vet, and report with integrity rather than with anonymity, alibi or honesty; that’s right: Honesty is insufficient.

I envisioned President Trump taking three years to transition into the role of president, much as it took President Lincoln that long to realize he was elected into a Civil War. Yet I hoped for and think we are witnessing a faster schedule. I saw him as administrator who knows how to select managers for the duties needed, let them manage, and when necessary, say, “You’re fired.” I hoped he really meant he was going to empower the people, and that’s the key to my hope for future satisfaction with my votes for Trump. I hope to vote for Trump in four years, because the people are seeing not America great again, but America great at last. That cannot happen with allegiance to Burk.

America’s potential to be great did not come from England. Loyal colonists from 1720 to 1774 gradually realized they were being enslaved by England. They changed their style from colonists to statesmen and declared independence. When diplomacy did not yield autonomy, they declared war. With France’s strategy and military help at Yorktown, VA, they won the deciding battle. In 1783, they negotiated the treaty, which names each of the thirteen independent states.

Four years later, realizing they could not survive without a nation, they drafted a constitution for the USA predicated on the people in their states who were willing to trust and commit to the purpose and goals stated in the preamble. The articles that followed were known to be insufficient but were amendable. Only 5% of free citizen could vote! At each step in the process to ratification of the negotiated constitution on December 15, 1791, approval was obtained by 2/3 of representatives. The 1/3 dissenters had diverse reasons only they knew.

The people, being accustomed to British common law---Blackstone and Protestantism and property---tried to go back to before, and many insist on British tradition to this day. Most citizens neglected the civic agreement that is stated in the preamble that was ratified in 1788. The consequence is 229 years of imposed confusion and the chaos scholars groan about in 2017. When 2/3 of citizens commit to the preamble for civic-collaboration and the-objective-truth for basis-of-power, America will resume its journey as the world’s greatest hope for justice.

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Image of Phil Beaver
Phil Beaver
on May 09, 2017 at 12:31:32 pm

Perhaps there is a different, if not more "productive," perspective to be had of the events that are transpiring.

It may be observed that there are now two forms of governance: The Constitutional Government {CG] and
( largely displacing it) The Federal Administrative State [FAS]. The processes and legislative procedures of the former [CG], through which the FAS has been created and nurtured, have proven incompatible for the structure and operations of the FAS in the determinations of the means for the objectives of the various elements assigned to it by the legislative processes of the CG.

Taking as examples the objectives assigned as elements by the PPA CA and AHCA to the FAS, the processes and procedures (or variations therein) may be viewed as a means of "getting the ball rolling" by establishing or revising those elements WITHIN the FAS, which can be at variance with the process and procedures of the CG..

While the determinations of the **objectives** which result in the establishment of elements into the FAS may involve concepts of "Conservatism," the structure, operations, and raison d'être of the FAS may not require consideration of those concepts in the processes and procedures for legislative assignments to the FAS.

What we are probably observing is the legislative floundering on the factual sea noted by Josh Barro, to the effect that "healthcare" consumes 1/6 of the GDP, but nobody wants to spend 1/6 of their income on health care.

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Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on May 09, 2017 at 15:07:40 pm

Two paragraphs in and it's obvious I'm reading political propaganda crap. Where is the highest quality scholarship I look forward to during my lunchtime perusing of Law and Liberty blog?

I am not a conservative. I would describe myself as a liberal rationalist, and I'm not a big fan of Trump. I've noticed that conservatives get really upset at the thought of something changing. Isn't that the definition of "conservative:" Resisting change? The fact that I read so much conservative condemnation of Trump--as illustrated by this political hit piece--suggest to me at least that Trump is being effective.

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Image of Scott Amorian
Scott Amorian
on May 09, 2017 at 19:15:01 pm


Well it looks as if ONE of the Flight Attendants has been FIRED!

However, we still need a good flight engineer, preferably from somewhere other than wisconsin or Ohio!

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Image of gabe
on May 10, 2017 at 02:44:10 am

Many in present day seem not to be interested in the Preamble to the Constitution, thank you for reminding folks of its existence and importance.

Appreciate your entire comments.

I too will vote for Trump again.

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Image of Patricia Gillenwater
Patricia Gillenwater
on May 10, 2017 at 10:05:16 am

Thank you, Ms. Gillenwater for the encouragement. I have been in this work for four years and will soon host the 4th annual ratification day celebration at a local library. I hope to just have a general discussion about the importance of the civic agreement that is stated in the preamble. If you are near Baton Rouge on June 21, please join us.

My sister, Dona Bean in Karns, TN, pointed out a couple weeks ago that Richard Dreyfuss, the great actor, has been promoting civics for 30 years. He got involved on the 200th anniversary of Constitution Day (a holiday as of 2005). See http://thedreyfussinitiative.org/ . I'm not sure his work is active in many cities.

He uses "civic" in the customary way, for example, civic-minded as in citizen for the city. I use "civic" to represent citizens of life who collaborate so that public connections and transactions assure individual justice. In civic justice neither party cooperates or subjugates; both collaborate. Also, both parties are aware that there will always be dissidents to civic justice.

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Image of Phil Beaver
Phil Beaver
on May 12, 2017 at 08:31:32 am

[…] Cited in Containing the Weapon of Mass Disruption, Library of Law & Liberty (May 9, 2017). […]

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Image of Media Hits, Commentary, and Events (4/25/17 – 5/12/17) | Josh Blackman's Blog
Media Hits, Commentary, and Events (4/25/17 – 5/12/17) | Josh Blackman's Blog

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.