The principal problem currently facing the nation is the profound lack of trust between Democrats and Republicans. We are a people deeply divided, and now that the midterms are over, and they have left us with the potential for two years of internecine strife, what we ought to be doing is seeking to repair this breach rather than exacerbating it.
The prospects are not encouraging. A federal judge has just ruled that the president does not have the authority to withhold press credentials from a reporter who refuses to conform to basic rules of civility at a press conference. A candidate for governor of Georgia, while acknowledging she lost the vote, refuses nevertheless to concede to her opponent. A Congressman from California vows that his party “will do everything they can” to get the acting Attorney General to “recuse himself” from exercising authority over the ongoing investigation of the Trump White House by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Democrats still cling to the notion that Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was somehow illegitimate, just as Stacey Abrams somehow asserts that there was a “failure of democracy" in her Georgia gubernatorial defeat by Republican Brian Kemp.
CNN’s Jim Acosta appears to believe that it is his job interminably to accuse President Trump of mischaracterizing reality and misleading the American people, and Democrats seem committed endlessly to repeating the canard that the president, his appointees, and his party are a collection of racists, misogynists, and miscreants. Humans are fallible creatures, and our framers realized that it was an extraordinary challenge, given the imperfections of mortals, to create viable republican self-government.
The belief in the late eighteenth century was that self-government could not exist unless the American people were able to manifest the virtue necessary to transcend the natural selfishness and suspicion of our species. Our framers understood that we would always face the twin dangers of demagoguery and corruption, and they sought to put in place Constitutional safeguards calculated to limit arbitrary acts. These include the checks and balances on legislative and executive power, and the maintenance of law-making authority in both the state and federal governments. Amendments to the Constitution have generally sought to secure the same ends, as well as extending the rights and benefits guaranteed by the documents to all Americans.
The election of Donald Trump came about not because of Russian collusion, but because of a realization on the part of Americans living in the heartland that our federal government had grown too powerful and too corrupt, that the federal bureaucracy was dangerously limiting our liberty, and that our courts had too often set aside the rule of law to promote the politically-correct policies of an entrenched governing class.
The Trump administration, especially in its nominees to the judiciary, has sought to reverse the overreaching on the part of the federal government, and has succeeded in overturning ill-conceived restraints on our economy, reducing misguided taxes, and restoring the primacy of private property and the rule of law.
The Democrats — the party of redistribution, of regulation, and of identity politics — appear to see in the successes of the last two years only a series of nefarious plots to enrich the president and his friends, and to imperil the country and the planet.
Just as Clinton, in her hubris, seemed completely incapable of understanding that those whom she dismissed as “deplorables” differed with her over the proper role of the federal government, and disagreed with her party’s governmental philosophy, so do many Democrats still fail to understand that their notion that “arc of history” was bending in their direction was rejected by many of their countrymen.
There are, however, issues on which both parties could compromise and bring us together.
If the House of Representatives, under the control of the Democrats, instead of launching an endless series of inquiries on the president’s taxes and pre-presidential business dealings, offers proposals for immigration reform, border security, healthcare improvement, and the restructuring and downsizing of the federal government, there ought to be an opportunity to end partisan calumny and restore community.
What we need now is a realization that we can differ, in good faith, over the direction of the country and of what constitutes the good life. There are things we cannot do, however, unless we want to experience the maelstroms that have riled most of the rest of the world, or unless we want to fight our second Civil War. We must all accept the legitimacy of our Constitutional directives, of our admittedly imperfect human status, of the results of elections, and of the necessity to work together with civility and mutual respect. These simple strictures ought equally to bind Congressmen, CNN reporters, and presidents.
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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