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From @realdonaldtrump to @POTUS

Donald J. Trump’s remarkable rise to the presidency presents this conundrum: The constitutional duties of the office he attained by stoking public passions now requires him to be willing to resist them. That is not because his voters should be regarded, merely for having supported him, as impassioned rather than reasonable. Such would be the very condescension that partly motivated them. The point, rather, is that the constitutional purpose of the presidency is not to give the people the “voice” that Trump promised to provide but rather to channel their impulses toward their interests.

This is part of the natural transition from campaigning to governing. No one seeks the White House on a platform of telling the people they cannot have what they immediately desire, and no one, including those of us who opposed him, should realistically have expected Trump to break that mold.

Other molds he did, of course, break. To a remarkable degree that redounds to his political credit, he utilized social media and other tools to forge a direct relationship with voters. The challenge before him now is to replace that relationship with the appropriate distance that the Constitution he will soon swear to preserve and protect demands.

He can start by consulting Federalist 71, in which Publius warns that the President’s job is not to give voice to public opinion:

There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the Executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best recommendation. But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the purposes for which government was instituted, as of the true means by which the public happiness may be promoted.

Note that well: Publius signals that the very “purposes for which government was instituted” are at stake. He had foreshadowed them in Federalist 49. “[I]t is the reason of the public alone, that ought to control and regulate the government.” So far, so good, but then he delivers the punchline that requires President Trump to pivot from Candidate Trump: “The passions ought to be controled [sic] and regulated by the government.”

The President, we learn as Federalist 71 proceeds, plays a special role in the control and regulation of the passions. But “regulation” is key, for it is the passions’ transformation into reason, not simply their thwarting, that Publius seeks. Thus the President cannot be “servile[ly] plian[t]” to a “prevailing current” but will nonetheless have to pay what Jefferson had famously called—in a phrase to which Publius alludes in Federalist 14—“a decent regard” to public opinion.

What, then, are the “true means by which the public happiness may be promoted”? The President will serve as a speed bump rather than a roadblock. Federalist 71 continues:

The republican principle demands, that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests.

As I have elsewhere argued, the temporal references are key. Passions are “sudden,” and impulses “transient.” The suggestion is that over the course of time, reason naturally prevails. Consequently:

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.

In other words, the people are usually sensible but occasionally inflamed. The delusion, crucially, is “temporary”: correctable by time. It needs merely to be “withstood” so that the people themselves can calmly reflect—a responsibility with which Publius is plainly comfortable entrusting them.

Publius fortifies the President to perform this seasoning function with a four-year term, which he says is sufficient for the executive to “reasonably promise himself, that there would be time enough before it arrived, to make the community sensible of the propriety of the measures he might incline to pursue. . . . He might then, with prudence, hazard the incurring of reproach.”

Trump, to be sure, can justly be accused of having committed the above-mentioned flattery of the public’s prejudices to betray its interests. But that is done. The question now is whether @realdonaldtrump can become @POTUS by risking the adoration of his crowds to protect the genuine interests of his supporters.

That may require telling them, for example, that impeding economic freedom by substantially restricting trade will neither save nor restore their jobs and may in fact imperil them. At a minimum, it requires a constitutional distance that will, in turn, demand an adjustment of personal style. Trump by all accounts feeds off crowds, and they off him, a trait in which he is not alone but which, like other things, he takes to 11 and which reports say he wants to continue as President. His thumbs are drawn seemingly inexorably to his Twitter account. His impulse toward the demagogic is undeniable.

To be sure, his election signals the triumph of a new and probably irreversible age of politics. This new age of politics, incidentally—and Progressives must confront this fact—was begun by Barack Obama. The outgoing President ushered us into this era of “change” without content, politics without intermediaries, and presidential parent figures without personal responsibility. There is a substantial sense in which Trump represents a culmination rather than a repudiation.

Regardless, we are unlikely to revert to the constitutional distance of George Washington. One suspects that the commander-in-chief who forbore handshakes would demur with respect to Twitter. That, too, is done. Still, the exclamation points can give way to periods. The monomaniacal use of the first-person singular can evolve, as can the impulse to respond to the trivial and, even in triumph, to play the victim.

All this must be a prelude to the ultimate responsibility of a chief magistrate, which is often not to give voice to the popular will but rather to resist a popular torrent—to stand against the public impulse in favor of the public interest. The constitutional distance this requires does not mean being a member of an elite. It means being a President.

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 November 16, 2016 at 09:10:49 am

Oh shut up. Every issue Trump campaigned on were longstanding beliefs of the people. You establishment types just refused to listen for decades. Trump promised to drain the swamp that our government has become, the very group you now want him to be restrained by.

Many grassroots consevatives have woken up to what cons you establishment types have been. You are a sophist using fancy rhetoric to hide your corruption. Look at your first few paragraphs where you argue that politicians should ditch their campaign promises after election. You tried that with Bush and the Republicans lost all three branches of government. That's what gave us Obamacare, dummy.

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Mrboxty
on November 16, 2016 at 10:01:50 am

Perhaps, but at least Mr. Weiner has the courage and conviction of his position to publish it under his actual name.

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Paul Binotto
on November 16, 2016 at 10:49:28 am

Well said. I have long urged people here to publish under their real names because it promotes civility in two different ways--it encourages all of us to temper our words, because we are then personally responsible for them. Less obviously, though, when people publish exceptionally thoughtful remarks and comments, it allows those of us who respect and admire them to convey our appreciation directly.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on November 16, 2016 at 10:51:59 am

I obviously hit the wrong "reply" button. I am responding above to the remarks of Paul Binotto, and not directly to Professor Weiner. That said, his posts are laudable models of civil decency and thoughtfulness.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on November 16, 2016 at 11:39:16 am

I am amazed by the hysteria Mr. Trump has caused among otherwise sensible elites; it's as if a plumber were allowed into the faculty lounge--oh the humanity! Professor Weiner isn't sufficiently specific in his comments unfortunately, but it would seem reasonable to assume that he is doing what many are doing, which is reacting to the characterizations of Mr. Trump's statements as opposed to understanding their provocative purpose; he is cutting the knot rather than trying to untie it.

The man made billions and therefore is not an idiot, although he is clearly not an intellectual, a point in his favor according to most voters. As an example of intellectual discourse, consider Professor Weiner's statement:

"This new age of politics, incidentally—and Progressives must confront this fact—was begun by Barack Obama. The outgoing President ushered us into this era of “change” without content, politics without intermediaries, and presidential parent figures without personal responsibility. There is a substantial sense in which Trump represents a culmination rather than a repudiation."

What does this mean exactly? Is it in some secret intellectual code? My sense is that Mr. Trump is the anti-Obama and therefore hardly the culmination of whatever process is imagined by Professor Weiner. Rather than having the vapors, our former ruling class should take a breath, stop reacting to what their brethren are saying and see what Mr. Trump actually does; after all, President Reagan was considered a cowboy from bumpkinville and look where that got us.

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Ron Johnson
on November 16, 2016 at 11:42:40 am

Thank you very much for your kind words, Mr. Hardwick.

I am in complete agreement with the two premises behind your urging that actual names be used in comment posts.

With the rare exception of Mr. Gabe, who is always able to maintain the highest level of civility and thoughtfulness in his well-reasoned comments, for most others it is an exceptional challenge to do so with such consistency from the safe port of anonymity.

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Paul Binotto
on November 16, 2016 at 12:15:58 pm

OK - so let us get past the "name calling" or *not* calling and ask not whether Greg Weiner,s well crafted and reasoned essay is on point in all respects.

Clearly, the Chief Magistrate ought, and was intended, to be a "regulator" of popular passions (inflamed or otherwise) and that as Weiner asserts was / is tasked with directing those passions and concerns into a proper "public interest."

Question:

Who is to decide what is indeed the *proper* public interest?

Who is to determine if the expressed passion (inflamed or otherwise) is *NOT* the public interest?

The underlying assumption in Weiner's essay appears to be that the current "passion" of the The Trumpster's voters is somehow not in accord with their true public interest. Would we not agree that this is at least debatable? that the elimination of the causes giving rise to the current passions would not be in the true public interest.

Over the years on this site, we have read (and posted) of the danger to the Republic of a government grown well beyond its designated (delegated) bounds. Mostly we have agreed with these arguments.

Are we to now discount those very arguments simply because they are championed (albeit, that is TBD) by a character who does not meet the standard (expected?) of civility many believe necessary and appropriate to the Office.

Quite frankly, and having endured the rather uncivil behavior of the current occupant of the office AND his minions in the Democrat Party and the Press, I am prepared to tolerate a little crudeness AS (I suspect) is a segment of Americans, FAR LARGER than most in the academy and polite society is willing to admit. Results are, of course, expected and hoped for more so than the "pygmalionization" of one Donald Trump.

Of course, his mannerisms, expressions and use of a certain distinct New York city vernacular a) do not bother me, b) is not so vile (nor uncommon) as "proper society" would have us believe, c) is a device deployed by and in this vernacular to use hyperbole to emphasize a point and d) (whether you understand it or not) is part self denigrating / mocking. As a former long time user of the dialect, I can tell you there is far less venom in it than meets the uninformed eye.

Ought he to employ it? - No.

Does his use of it portend ill for the country? -No

But it does lead to all manner of outlandish allegations against The Trumpster.

He is a madman / uncontrollable / etc- Madmen do not build very large business enterprises

He will not be able to negotiate with foreign leaders - Ever do any work in the construction industry in NYC - NOW - that is "negotiating" buddy.

He has an uncontrollable temper. - See above re: Construction industry in NYC - Want to lose your temper, try getting something done in NYC w/o political interference, union (read: mob controlled) obstructionism.

Simply put: Let us not let our own biases / cultural preferences take precedence over "observed" facts on the ground.

In short, let's not assume that The Trumpster is going to trample either our liberties (leftist argument) or our constitutional structure (rightist argument).

New Yorkers DO take some "getting used to" - same with their (our) humor.

take care
gabe (BTW: THAT is my real name)

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gabe
on November 16, 2016 at 14:04:36 pm

Oh, and just for the sheer FUN of it, there is this for all those who may struggle with a little adversity (i.e., uncouth manners).

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/11/how-students-and-professors-respond-to-real-adversity.php

Now there was some really *uncouth* stuff going on at Stalingrad AND YET the academics there were able to handle 847 defenses of dissertations DURING the battle.

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gabe
on November 16, 2016 at 14:21:02 pm

Dear Mr. Gabe,

Quite so. In my view Mr. Trump, since having been elected, has for the most part conducted himself with a great deal of civility and decorum fitting of the High Office he is about to assume; while the opposition in many instances has responded and continues to respond to this election in a most undignified manner that demonstrates a complete lack of mature character and at best, a lack of commitment, and at worse, utter contempt for the American rule of law, and rule of governance. And, it does seem possible that the primary response of the opposition to this election will be to seek to keep Trump and his supporters on the defensive - from the tone and mood expressed here and elsewhere, they may already be reaping some benefit. I do expect this will wane before long.

But, it perhaps is not too much to hope for, in these days leading up to inauguration, that a blizzard descends heavily on the city and the country, in the form of a New York snowstorm, and not of New York expression.

Best, Paul (BTW, I thought Gabe might possibly be your real name, but just the same, I wanted to be sure to exclude you as the intended object of my comments, in case it was not.)

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Paul Binotto
on November 16, 2016 at 15:42:48 pm

A little courtesy, please.

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Scott Amorian
on November 16, 2016 at 15:54:04 pm

I write under a pen name because I am a working professional I would hate to have some comment of mine be read by a potential employer or manager who had a profound, and probably irrational, disagreement with something I've written. The professional world is a little different from the academic world.

Since I treat forums such as this one as a sort of scratch pad for working out ideas and figuring out problems, I tend to write things that are just plain wrong. The pen name gives me a little bit of freedom in working out problems.

The name Amorian is inspired by a Jefferson quote:
"Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life, into which you have entered, be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss."

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Scott Amorian
on November 16, 2016 at 16:01:25 pm

As for Mr Trump, he's a numbers guy and he knows how to get things done. He isn't going to work according to public passion unless it's a very good way to get things done. Numbers guys act according to the numbers not popular opinion. They tend to have problems with public opinions of themselves for that reason. If you understand those things, you understand most of what you need to know about Trump.

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Scott Amorian
on November 16, 2016 at 16:33:59 pm

Paul:

"in the form of a New York snowstorm, and not of New York expression."

Absotively luvv'd this! Very well said. BTW: I get a kick out of the appellation "Mr. Gabe" as that is what my beloved grandfather would call me, albeit in a very thick Italian accent and it brings back many pleasant memories of this dear and hardworking old immigrant.

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gabe
on November 16, 2016 at 17:10:27 pm

Dear Mr. Gabe,

"I get a kick out of the appellation “Mr. Gabe” as that is what my beloved grandfather would call me, albeit in a very thick Italian accent and it brings back many pleasant memories of this dear and hardworking old immigrant" - this is perhaps the nicest compliment ever to have been paid to me.

Paul
.

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Paul Binotto
on November 16, 2016 at 17:35:55 pm

This is a great quote and a great name derived from it! I totally understand why you would write under a Nom de Plume, as Jefferson might say. I am sure he would appreciate the tribute and the freedom it imparts.

I myself used to write under the pen-name Clay Potts until the author of one frequented blog near drove herself insane trying to figure out which branch of the Potts from the neighborhood she grew-up in had produced the progeny with such an impertinent tongue. So I figured instead of sullying further the good name of Potts, I would forego the pen-name and henceforth sully my own good name.

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Paul Binotto
on November 26, 2016 at 17:54:02 pm

Donald trump shows all signs of being Americas Silvio Berlusconi-he is already leveraging his position as Potus elect to further his business interests all over the world,and he has not even taken office yet. Look forward to seeing blatant corruption,such as Americans have never experienced before.

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anone

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.