How are we to understand the growing difficulty of bridging the gaps in our politics?
Why the increasing frequency of government shutdowns?
How is it that Democrats and Republicans find it so difficult to agree on the needs of the country and the direction in which the nation should move?
Perhaps the answer is the manner in which political debates are presented now, in this country, by a media obsessed with creating clickbait and hooking viewers. Struck, apparently, with the difficulty of making policy disputes intelligible to laypersons, a lazy and deplorably uninformed press insists on creating cartoon caricatures of our public figures, painting some (particularly the president) as inherently evil, and others as saintly and civic-minded (predominately Democrats).
What ought to be serious public matters, involving expenditures of unimaginable sums, or threats to the life and limb of our military or citizens, are presented, instead, as sport in which we are encouraged to root for one side or the other, or as reality-show entertainment. Perhaps this is made easier because we have a president who was himself a reality-show host.
It is a pity that the temptation thus to trivialize what is going on in this country exists, because our nation’s problems are now grave and the solutions to those problems are obscured by media lassitude.
There is virtually no reporting on what is most important in the early twenty-first century and that is that we are no longer ruled in the manner our framers conceived. We are increasingly governed by administrative agency regulations (this reached a peak during the Obama years). The legislation that is passed — two representative examples are Obamacare and Dodd-Frank — is so complex that no Senator or Representative can actually understand it, and implementation can only be accomplished by bureaucrats in the federal Leviathan.
Our Constitution established a decentralized polity, in which the federal government was supposed to handle our relations with other nations, to regulate commerce among the states, and to establish a uniform currency and bankruptcy system. Most matters were supposed to be left to the state and local governments, according to the principle that the governments closest to the people ought to be the ones tasked with most domestic matters.
Since the New Deal, 80 years ago, this model has been increasingly abandoned, but the election of Donald Trump signaled that ordinary Americans were no longer satisfied with what we might characterize as bureaucratic rule, by what amounted to a uniparty with vested interests in keeping things as they were.
Somehow, even without the help of a serious press, many Americans realized that a government with a budget of trillions, run by and for a cadre of lobbyists, lawyers, and professional politicians was not what this country was supposed to be. American (and European) intellectuals, most prominently Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, encouraged the creation of what we now call the welfare state, with its promise of cradle to grave security, and abandoned older notions of the more modest role for government — the protection of property, the encouragement of individual initiative, and the placing of national interests ahead of those of favored conglomerates and crony capitalists.
The rejection of Mrs. Clinton and all she represented led to the triumph of Trump. But the “deep state” — the bureaucracy loyal to the uniparty and those who have grown fat off of the national wealth in the hands of Washington — will not surrender power easily.
It is time to think of real reform, not only to secure our borders, but to return representative government to the people themselves. This will be difficult, because previously unachievable measures such as term limits, reducing the size of the House of Representatives, killing the filibuster in the Senate, and seeking other means of making elections competitive and restoring popular sovereignty are now necessary.
Most necessary of all may be an awakening on the part of the press to its duty to preserve self-government itself. The First Amendment carves out special protections for the media for that purpose, and with that set of rights comes responsibility. The alternatives to reform for this country are secession, rebellion, and civil war, as they were one hundred and fifty years ago. We are not yet at a crisis stage, but we are moving in that direction.
Gridlock, an irresponsible media, an unenlightened academy, and self-interested politicians and bureaucrats have brought us to a pass where a duly-elected president is threatened with impeachment for carrying out the mandate that his supporters gave him. The federal leviathan and its minions — including Special Counsel Robert Mueller — have sought to neutralize and cauterize the threat Donald Trump and his “deplorables” pose to them. They must not be permitted to prevail.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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