I used to think Mona Charen’s conservatism was way off base and often criticized her. As of late, her columns have changed and the following column shows that conservatism need not be synonymous with insanity, as the present administration practices it.
Mona Charen: Don't let Trump discredit patriotism
October 26, 2020
Donald Trump has a documented history of driving Americans away from the policies he favors. This is both good and bad.
As Catherine Rampell noted, the president has moved American public opinion toward greater approval of immigration. The percentage of Americans who said that immigration is good for the country bounced around in the 50s and 60s in the first decade and a half of this century. But since 2016, the trend has been up sharply. In 2020, 77% of Americans told Gallup that they think immigration is good for the country. Similarly, the percentage who believe that accepting refugees fleeing war or persecution should be a priority has increased from 62% in 2016 to 73% in 2019.
Trump has also increased the appetite for government involvement in health care. Since embarking on his quest for the presidency, Trump has denounced the Affordable Care Act, but only because he promised something superior. His specific policy proposal for replacing the law was something "terrific," "phenomenal" and "fantastic." In February 2017, having been in office a few weeks, Trump tweeted "repeal and replacement of ObamaCare is coming fast!" At the end of March, with negotiations bogging down, he pleaded for more time. "I want to have a great health care bill and plan, and we will."
It didn't happen. Health care reform was a dead letter, except that having failed to repeal or replace the ACA through legislation, the administration joined in a legal assault on the law, challenging its constitutionality. If the Trump administration were to get its way at the Supreme Court, millions of Americans would lose health insurance in the midst of a pandemic. Oh, and on Aug. 3 of this year, the president once again promised his own health care proposal "hopefully, prior to the end of the month."
Amazingly, the public's response to this clown show was to express increasing support for the ACA, with a solid 55% expressing approval of the law this month, up from about 40% in 2016.
Trump's fulminations against trade have convinced some -- Republicans are now far more negative about NAFTA than in the pre-Trump era -- but most Americans have moved in the other direction, with 74% agreeing that trade is an opportunity for economic growth versus 21% who view it as a threat to the economy.
As a pro-immigrant free-trader, I'm not sorry that Trump has driven people away from his views, though I do lament the loss of a chance for free market health reform.
Trump has driven people away from the Republican Party, and caused them to reject the label "conservative." And while it's no loss for the nation if protectionism and nativism are discredited, there are other things that Trumpism endangers that would be serious losses.
I worry that Trump is contaminating patriotism itself. His blatantly racist appeals combined with his crude and offensive invocations of "America First" run the risk of associating patriotism with whiteness. His fondness for the Confederacy stains his embrace of the American flag.
What Trump's fans on the right never seem to grapple with as they ceaselessly invoke the specter of socialism, riots and gun confiscation, is how much Trump drives the left toward extremism. From the 1619 Project to the toppling of statues of anti-slavery heroes, there is a movement afoot that Bari Weiss calls a "mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality." Some of this predated Trump, of course, but he has turbo-charged it.
The left-wing challenge to American legitimacy has always stressed racism, colonialism, sexism and unconstrained capitalism. Trump has lived down to each and every one of those stereotypes. (You may object that he wasn't a colonialist, but don't forget, "Take the oil!")
As we look to rebuild in a post-Trump world, we non-leftists must be able to make the case for American patriotism. We cannot respond to the 1619 Project with heavy-handed attempts to limit its reach, but with arguments and context. No, this country would not be lovable if its history were one long chronicle of racism and oppression. It isn't. We have much to be ashamed of in our history but much more to celebrate and be grateful for. We have been free and a beacon of freedom for more than two centuries. We have welcomed people from all over the globe and insisted that when they become citizens, they are the full equals of those born here. We have confronted our past sins, imperfectly, but diligently, nevertheless. We've given the world fantastic inventions like the airplane and the Salk vaccine, but nothing more important than the Declaration of Independence with its ringing invocation of natural rights.
Trump is a shriveled soul and tends to diminish everything and everyone he touches. As we move out of his orbit, we can begin to recapture some of the grandeur of the nation he has led so miserably.
We cannot permit American patriotism to be hijacked by yahoos and bigots. As we start to heal from the past four years, we must rescue patriotism from Trumpism.
Mona Charen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
de Tocqueville Had it Right
A recent letter appearing in the Palm Beach Post opposed getting rid of the Electoral College, cited it as something to temper the “tyranny of the majority” which otherwise would run roughshod over minority factions.”
“Tyranny of the majority.” That rang a bell with me.
“Democracy in America,” published by Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville about 180 years ago, is a classic analysis of our system of government which at that time was a fascinating experiment to many curious Europeans.
In it, de Tocqueville addressed this issue in great detail. He concludes his Chapter XIV (Unlimited Power of the Majority in the United States and its Consequences) by saying that “If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority, which may at some future time urge (in the sense of “drive”) the minorities to desperation, and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.”
Think about that for a moment. Who are the minorities and who is the despot in de Tocqueville’s mind? And today?
In the succeeding chapter, (Causes Which Mitigate the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States), de Tocqueville specifically cites the legal profession and the jury system as barriers to a tyranny of the majority. In the following Chapter XVI, he goes further, concluding by saying that “three circumstances contribute most powerfully to the maintenance of the democratic Republic in the United States.” (By that he means “democracy.”) They are the our Federal form of government, which “combines the power of a great empire with the security of a small state,” municipal institutions which limit the “despotism of the majority” and finally the judicial power which “can repress the excesses of democracy.”
That last one is crucial!
From reading de Toqueville, I conclude that there is much more than just the Electoral College to prevent a majority from running roughshod over everyone else here. If we abolish it, there still would be a lot going to preserve our republican form of democracy. And oddly, this also applies to a minority which behaves as if it is a "majority." Recall some years ago, Republican references to a "silent majority."
Key to this, it appears to me, is ”the judicial power” de Tocqueville mentions, which would act to prevent those supposedly elected by a majority from running roughshod over those who might disagree with it, and whose protection rests in the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments. Political manipulation of the Supreme Court, as carried out by Republicans who refused to even give a hearing to Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Scalia because it was barely within a year of a Presidential election … but are rushing through the approval of a nominee to replace the late Justice Ginsberg because they are likely to be out of power within a few weeks …. are efforts to weaken that judicial system, or at least politicize it, so that it no longer serves to “repress the excesses of democracy.” (Republicans may answer that the Democrats started playing this game when they refused to confirm Robert Bork’s Supreme Court appointment in 1987. History denies this claim because the Senate vote against his appointment was bipartisan, 48 for him and 52 against him, including six Republican Senators.)
Once the Republican political nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is on the Court, all it would take to ignite the Democrats’ fuse would be one vote on her part, just one vote, perhaps for the destruction of the Affordable Care Act or perhaps for the reversal of Rowe v. Wade to force the Democrats to fight fire with fire and appoint two, three or even four more Justices to the Supreme Court, once they are in power. (The attempt by Franklin Roosevelt to expand a very conservative Court in 1937 failed, but the Court got the message and came up with less partisan decisions, making expansion unnecessary.) Most Republicans, it appears, fail see the connection between Barrett’s politicized appointment and the removal of the long-standing judicial barrier between American democracy and a “tyranny of the majority.” Some may see it as the exact opposite, an ultra-conservative judiciary as a barrier to benefits advocated by a tyranny of the majority, which includes universal health care, legalized abortion and an economic safety net, things that a majority of Ameicans want and need.
This is particularly difficult to deal with because it is likely that the tyranny of that supposed “majority” will soon become a tyranny by a minority, an entirely different problem. And that minority will have significantly weakened the role of the judicial system to remedy the problem, specifically by lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court and lower courts as well. Perhaps the best way to approach this is to consider the judicial system as a safeguard against "tyranny," be it by a majority, a minority or a despot.
No, it isn’t just a matter involving the Electoral College, when one talks about “tyranny,” be it of the majority, or even worse, of an empowered minority. There are other barriers to such tyranny, and guess who is trying their darndest to destroy them.
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