Trump, Dictatorship and Competing with an Illiberal Left
A number of editorials have appeared in center-right outlets accusing Trump supporters of wanting a dictator.
Politics is a competition. Everyone wants to win the game based on the rules of the game. And the current rules of the game are not Constitutional. The left wanted a dictator. Obama gave them one. He implemented laws, started wars and took on powers which were not only beyond his authority, but which were opposed by the majority of Americans and elected legislators in Congress.
And he won. He got away with it. And that made his way of doing things the new game.
The media and some Republicans sputter that Trump’s proposals couldn’t be carried out. Well of course they could be. If Trump were to run things the way that Obama has.
There are two responses to this.
The left deems this unacceptable because it has a double standard. There’s always some reason why its rulebreaking is okay, but why the rules must be applied to the right. Mocking the kids of presidential candidates is off limits… unless they’re Republicans. Ruling by Executive Order is tyranny… unless a progressive does it. Starting wars based on lies is wrong unless… etc.
Now that kind of hypocrisy is only to be expected from politicians. The trouble is that the left encompasses the media, much of the legal system, academia and a raft of other key network institutions that make it impossible to have any kind of honest discourse about the rule of law.
That means the game is rigged. There are two sets of rules. So why play by them?
The conservative establishment has all sorts of replies, but none of them amount to much. Yes, the rule of law is important. But when the other side is breaking the law to destroy the law, the contention that it should be allowed to destroy the Constitution rather than violate the Constitution becomes idealistic absurdity. And it’s not as if the conservative establishment is comfortable even doing what it can within the existing rules. It talks a good game and then explains why it can’t do anything.
It’s not hard to see why this state of affairs is intensely frustrating to activists and voters.
The support for Trump without regard to his qualifications, statements, integrity, credibility, knowledge, consistency, etc is the end result of this state of affairs. The claims that Trump is a Republican Obama are not completely wrong. Obama has shown that his way of doing things works. Not in the sense that he has fixed any problems. Instead he has made them worse. But he has delivered major policy wins for his base of supporters by flagrantly violating the law.
The Republican establishment understands the problem which is why their responses to Trump and his supporters are so much sputtering. Trump is running on his ability to get things done. This ability and his actual commitment to doing anything are dubious. But that doesn’t matter when his opponents have no credibility at all when it comes to achieving any actual policy goals.
Worse still, in the Obama era, the idea that they will get anything done has little credibility.
Congressional Republicans laboriously explain their limitations. And then they pass a spending bill that offers all sorts of goodies to special interest groups while having no ideological victories to show their base. They’re not completely incompetent. Instead they appear quite capable of self-seeking. It’s just when it comes to delivering something for conservatives, they have come up completely empty after six years.
Is Trump’s rise really supposed to be a surprise? Sure he has little credibility. But conservatives have been sold three bags of goods, they have spent a whole lot of money, and seen it go into the pockets of political consultants and their allied direct marketing firms. They’re not in the mood for an idealistic speech from Marco Rubio about achievement. The base is bitter and burned out.
This isn’t just the situation in the United States. It’s also going on in the UK, in France and Israel, to name a few examples. It’s the larger problem of competing with an illiberal left.
How do you uphold a liberal open system while fighting an illiberal left for control of it?
There are no easy answers. And most of the easy ones come down to messaging. But simply making a better argument isn’t enough when the left flagrantly abuses power.
It’s not simply a question of getting a Republican in the White House. Reagan and Bush II were both in the White House. How much did they really get done? Bush II had a Republican congress. But the left simply shifts power and legitimacy to whatever institutions it controls, elected or unelected, and then governs from there.
If the Republicans control the White House, the left proclaims that Congress is the true voice of the people and must be heeded while the guy in the White House is the next Hitler. If Democrats control the White House and Republicans control Congress, then we must all support “our president” and Congress is a bunch of obstructionist bigots fighting to bring back the Middle Ages.
If Democrats lose both, then the Supreme Court suddenly becomes the most legitimate institution. If they lose all three, then it’s the heroic regulators, watchdogs and activist non-profits who matter.
The Senate was the House of the Lords, when it lacked a Democratic majority, but when Democrats held the Senate, but lost the House, suddenly the Senate was the voice of reason.
All of this amounts to the illiberal idea that an institution controlled by the left should be able to wield absolute power while institutions controlled by conservatives should not be allowed to wield any power at all. This illiberal contention is echoed by the entire opinion-shaping network of the left in the media and academia. And it is a shape-shifting tyranny in which the left is always in power.
Can you defeat that by winning elections and better messaging? Maybe. But so far Republicans haven’t done it. They rarely even name the problem directly. And so it’s unsurprising that they have lost the confidence of much of their own base. Or that confronting illiberalism with illiberalism is increasingly appealing to conservatives tired of empty promises and no results.
The GOP has failed to confront this basic problem and so it has no ability to fight off Trump.
Feeble efforts such as “Jeb can fix it” or claiming that Rubio killed ObamaCare don’t impress anyone. Outsider candidates are thriving because they have more credibility when it comes to confronting that Gordian Knot even if, like Trump, they have no real idea that it exists or understand the left’s threat.
The fundamental question of this race is, “How do you plan to defeat an illiberal leftist opposition?”
Few candidates in this race can answer it. Trump probably couldn’t, but he doesn’t need to. He answers it implicitly with his attitude. He’s running on absolute confidence. No one else is.
This leaves the GOP with a major problem. It has lost to the left. Now it’s losing to its own base.
Cameron faced that problem in the UK from UKIP. He managed to consolidate his position. In Israel, Netanyahu and Bennett, facing a similar revolt from a base that has heard some great speeches, but seen too many surrenders to the left, have backed the left’s purge of the right, beginning with Yinon Magal and moving on the Duma hoax to smear the right as extremists and terrorists.
It’s the same cynical gambit, albeit bloodier, that the GOP is running against Trump, Cruz and their supporters.
If you can’t beat the left, you can always ally with the left to beat your own base. This preserves the status quo. A status quo in which an illiberal left is always in power and a right that plays by the rules always lets them win, in or out of office. Conservatives win elections, but lose policies.
The conservative establishment reinvents itself as the centrists standing between right-wing extremists and the left. In their deluded minds it’s win-win, when it’s really lose-lose.
Eventually the contention that anyone to the right of a mild-mannered establishment that talks tough during elections and surrenders between them is a fascist, an extremist, a Nazi or even worse leads to the real thing. The actual extremists, the ones who want to smash everything and impose some sort of glorious totalitarian state, start getting a hearing and picking up members. Their goal is to splinter the right. That’s also the goal of the establishment which would like nothing better than to be the only conservative alternative to actual crazies and so they feed off each other. And the left wins again.
The Tea Party revolt was launched to fight an illiberal left by restoring the Constitution. The trouble lay in the details. It still does.
Restoring the Constitution is going to mean prying an illiberal left from power across a wide network of institutions. There are plenty of activists, but few politicians, with the stomach for that fight.
And that fight will be tremendously ugly. Trump, by sheer force of personality, appears to offer a convenient shortcut. He’ll Make America Great Again and hopeful activists read all sorts of implications into that slogan. The biggest one is that he’ll fix everything so that they won’t have to.
It’s not dictatorship. It’s anti-dictatorship. It’s Cincinnatus temporarily becoming a dictator to stop a populist plot by a radical to seize absolute power by handing out free stuff to the masses, killing him, semi-legally at best, in a ruthless fashion. How America was Cincinnatus? Aside from Cincinnati, the Society of the Cincinnati was presided over by George Washington, who was often compared to the old Roman, along with two dozen signers of the Declaration of Independence, and quite a few officers. (The Society’s message to Aaron Burr and fellow radicals was quite explicit.)
Trump isn’t Washington. And Burr and his fellow radicals were eventually put down by Jefferson and cooler heads. The Republic survived Burr’s various treasons and conspiracies. We did not go the way of the French Revolution. But the question of how to defeat an illiberal left remains.
If the Republican establishment really wants to defeat Trump, it needs to find a credible answer to this question. Instead of thinking about how to defeat Trump, it really needs to answer how it will defeat Obama and the forces that gave rise to him. If it can’t figure out how to defeat illiberalism, it will be defeated by it.
First published at Sultanknish Blog
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