My problems with What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s nearly 500-page self-proclaimed explanation for why she isn’t the 45th President of the United States as she fully expected to be, began around page 7. Clinton was describing how it felt to be sitting on the inaugural platform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol when Republican Donald Trump, the man who actually won the election, was sworn in: “The day was unusually warm.”
What a year it has been. “Trump wins and the Resistance begins,” might sum it up. Into this maelstrom steps our annual “What would the Declaration say?” reflection. We could turn in three directions: toward Trump; toward “the Resistance”; toward the people who fall outside his devoted followers and fierce opponents, who wish to make some contribution to the commonweal in the midst of low-intensity civil war.
The old Democratic playbook on Republican Supreme Court nominations will no longer work for the Gorsuch confirmation hearings. Democrats used to spend much of their time talking about the importance of precedent and demanding that nominees follow it. The point, of course, was to protect one particular precedent above all—Roe v. Wade—and more generally keep alive the precedents favoring liberalism that were minted in the Warren and to some extent Burger and even Rehnquist eras.
But this approach no longer fits the times. One reason is multiplication of precedents that the Democratic base wants overruled. Citizens United is the best example. Hillary Clinton was even going to make its overruling a litmus test of her judicial appointments. But there are others too. Senator Schumer has already complained in the context of this nomination about Shelby County v Holder, which found a portion of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. And few cases enraged the left like Hobby Lobby, which held that closely held corporation had religious freedom rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. More generally, given that liberals have not been a majority on Court in several generations, there is growing body of precedent they do not like.
And much of the Democratic party too is changing to become more openly radical. Thus, its base is not satisfied with simply standing on past precedent while hoping that the Court will drift their way. It wants the Court to be a more active partner in progressive social change.
This creates a dilemma for Democrats. The very important advantage of prioritizing precedent is that that appears to make them adherents of following the law, where the law is defined as the past case law of the Supreme Court.
In response to: He Tried to Warn Us
The Road to Serfdom’s publication was one of the intellectual and political turning points of the 20th century. The bloom was starting to come off the rose of socialism and Hayek explained why—in clear, crisp, and precise language and in a spirit of respect for those who had believed or still believed in socialism. I’m grateful to Greg Weiner for providing both a stimulating Liberty Forum essay and an occasion to reread Hayek’s 1944 book, which I found even more compelling than I did when I first read it more than three decades ago. I also found it surprisingly relevant…
Within days of Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s 1984 shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. Trump’s America is not Big Brother’s Oceania or Airstrip One. (Hillary Clinton’s America would not have been, either.) But however far Orwell’s dystopia is from becoming our reality, it’s good for Americans to reacquaint themselves with his warnings.…
In many key respects, F.A. Hayek’s fears that the modern social-democratic welfare state would lead to totalitarianism did not come to pass. Even soft despotism seems only to have been partially realized. However, rereading The Road to Serfdom in the opening days of Donald Trump’s presidency offers an uncomfortable glimpse of where our national politics…
Friedrich Hayek did not predict Donald Trump, and President Trump is not the central planner of Professor Hayek’s dark imaginings. The question is whether Hayek’s analysis of the central planner can help explain the Trump phenomenon. The claim of my February Liberty Forum essay was that it could. In assessing that claim, I have the…
It has been a disorienting year for classical liberals. The presidential candidate of the more classically liberal of the two major parties took some positions wildly at odds with classical liberalism, like opposition to freer trade, enthusiasm for government intervention in corporate decision making, and hostility to some civil liberties. He won the Presidency in part because of some of those positions.
But then the same candidate announced the nomination of a substantially better cabinet from the classical liberal perspective than those Hillary Clinton would have appointed. It is through these generally decent appointees that he must largely govern, not by twitter.
He also shows every sign of following through on his commitment to appointing a justice sympathetic to enforcing the constitution as written and thus better implementing a charter broadly reflecting the classical liberalism born in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, although not of modern libertarianism. Once again the relative success of classical liberalism is made even clearer if potential nominees are not evaluated against a standard of utopian perfection, but compared to the result-oriented justices(s) that Hillary Clinton promised to appoint.
Here then are a few classical liberal resolutions for this strange era.