Defining Ideas

The Sullen Leftists

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Image credit: 
Barbara Kelley

Democratic leaders had many explanations for why the Party lost in the 2016 presidential and Congressional elections last month. Some blamed campaign mistakes, like not spending enough time in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton blamed FBI chair James Comey for reopening her email problems. Certain members of the media blamed those who do not share their views—the people whom Clinton called “deplorables.”

And some blamed the rise of “nationalism,” which, they said, propelled Trump to victory. These critics are mostly sullen and fail to distinguish between a narrow nationalism that leads to isolationism from a broader nationalism that seeks to put America and its citizens first. Trump’s intention to “put America first” may mean that his administration will negotiate foreign agreements that better secure America’s interests than those negotiated by the Obama administration, such as the the Iran nuclear treaty. Time will tell us more about what the new president means.

There are always many reasons for electoral victory or defeat. No one reason ever explains why each person voted the way he or she did. Nevertheless there was an overriding theme to the Trump campaign—Trump promised to empower ordinary individuals with his policies. And the fact that leading Democrats and their allies in the media do not mention this in their post-election commentary reinforces my belief that they are blind to the division their policies and actions have wrought. By concentrating their sullen ire at President-elect Trump, they ignore the fact that their party was totally rejected at the ballot box. Specifically, voters throughout the country rejected the left’s arrogant statist efforts to control their lives.

What progressives have failed to understand is the importance voters place on having government decisions reflect voter opinions. For years, both parties have acted as if they know what is right and best for everyone, and the Democrats are especially guilty of this sin. They regulated the way authoritarian governments do. Voters tried to force change in 2010 and again in 2014, but they were unsuccessful. The regulatory state remained intact and government continued to exert its control over the lives of citizens. Donald Trump heard the public’s complaints. Now he must show that he can restore popular sovereignty.

Trump’s message is as old as the American Revolution. America separated from Britain because the American revolutionaries wanted to make their own laws instead of having laws made by the British parliament. The system they created called for popular sovereignty. It was an experiment. Voters elected the members of Congress who made the laws subject to voter approval in an election of representatives every two years.

Nearly a hundred years after the American Revolution, Lincoln articulated the same theme in his magisterial Gettysburg Address. Lincoln expressed his hope that government of the people, by the people, and for the people would remain the guiding principle of this nation. But today’s voters know that this ideal is a far cry from the reality on the ground. 

In today’s political scene, Congress avoids making laws. Most rules are made by administrative agencies staffed by unelected presidential appointees. Despite the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 1, which gives Congress and only Congress the right to pass laws, the Supreme Court permitted the administrative agencies to approve rules by decreeing that they are not technically laws, even though they are enforceableand voters do not see a difference.. 

The Trump voters may not fully understand how they lost sovereignty but they want the Trump administration to restore their influence over the laws and rules that govern them. That requires action by Congress to restore its role as a co-equal branch of government. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recognizes that Congress must take responsibility for passing laws. The Trump administration should repeal most of the regulations issued by the Obama administration. By appointing a Supreme Court justice, the new administration can uphold the several lower court decisions rejecting several of these regulations.

Trump’s critics do not understand the message that this election sent to them. They do not accept the voters’ decisions. At a time when stock markets showed large daily gains and public support for President-elect Trump reached new highs, establishment apologists and cheerleaders for Hillary Clinton, including economists Nouriel Roubini and Joseph Stiglitz, wrote a joint column  declaring: “ . . . emotions are running high . . . alternating between fear, resignation, black humor, and desperation for any ray of hope. . . .” And they added, “Fear is growing day by day at home and abroad.”

The complaints begin with the claim that Trump has never served in government and has no political experience. Wasn’t inexperience the charge in 1980 against President Reagan? He was called a cowboy who would mishandle delicate foreign affairs. Instead, he brought new ideas that ultimately ended the Cold War and freed millions from tyranny. President Obama, likewise, came into office with promises of hope but no previous experience negotiating any major or minor political agreements.

Many voters were attracted by Trump’s promise to “put America first.” Critics see that slogan as an endorsement of the worst kind of nationalism. The Cuban agreement that President Obama signed does not require an end to the police state or any other major concession.

Candidate Trump criticized trade agreements like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I agree with those who claim his criticisms are mistaken. Trade agreements have reduced trade barriers with benefits to all parties. What has happened in the last twenty years is that workers in the firms that closed did not get retrained for other jobs. For years, our government has initiated or supported many retraining programs that were failures. The main benefits of these government retraining programs went to the people who operated them. As Germany has shown, the better approach is for people to develop skills as electricians, plumbers, and the like. And some of the best training is on-the-job training that teaches skills that are in demand.

Critics do not offer alternatives. They fixate on the possibility of a trade war, especially with China. They ignore what Trump’s long experience with negotiation has surely taught him: to start by reopening the agreements, offering changes, and requiring changes in return. One of the new president’s skills is judging people. He ran companies successfully in several industries by hiring managers who had skills and knowledge that he did not have when he joined the industry. That skill in judging people is not limited to industry. He showed it when he chose Governor Pence as his Vice President, and again when he moved him into control of the transition process. He displayed that skill yet again when he chose Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff.

Like all new presidents, President Trump should have the opportunity to start his tenure free of the sustained hostility of the mainstream media that he has met in his first weeks as President-Elect. Valid criticisms will follow when he makes mistakes, as he surely will. By continuing street demonstrations, making false claims, and refusing to accept the election outcome, progressives reinforce the conviction that they are authoritarian and anti-democratic, that their positions are the only correct ones, and that the rest of us are deplorable. The establishment critics should accept that voters here and elsewhere want the sovereign right to control the rules.