Andrew Cline at National Review reminds us of one of the side benefits of a Trump presidency – that the left will rediscover the genius of the constitutional limits on executive power -in The Real Hero of the Trump Resistance? James Madison.
“I don’t think that any harm comes from the concentration of power in one man’s hands, provided the holder does not keep it for more than a certain, definite time, and then returns to the people from whom he sprang,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive who transformed the office of the presidency into a blunt tool with which to bludgeon political opponents.
Woodrow Wilson, who developed progressive views into a more coherent theory with which to dismantle James Madison’s system for dividing power, believed that Madison had unwisely prevented the state from acting as one great, unified institution to reshape the country.
“No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live,” he wrote. “On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick co-operation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose.”
The Left’s “resistance” to Trump is a tacit acknowledgement that conservatives have been correct all along: The great threat to individual liberty is government. They would argue that it is not government per se, but “business interests” obtaining control of government. But were government powers successfully checked through Madisonian divisions and subdivisions, and thereby widely dispersed among a diverse and independent people, there would be little to fear from a tycoon in the Oval Office. Only the consolidation of power in Washington and its concentration in the office of the presidency — as advocated by progressives for more than a century — would allow business interests to implement their agenda rapidly and largely intact.
The first progressive fallacy is that there is general will or will of the people, a singular force that is uncovered from a true democratic process. It is the mission of the leader, the president, to determine that will and execute it. In reality there is not a single will of the people but millions of objectives and tradeoffs. The true will of the people is better served in the protection of individual liberty from majoritarian democracy. The founders understood this; the progressives do not.
In the absence of the singular will of the people, the government becomes merely a tool for enforcing one group’s will over another. In the absence of this ‘will’ the leader is more likely to dictate the will than to discern it. Democracy and demagogue have the same root. He will dictate the ‘will’ of enough voters to win a majoritarian election. This is why the Bill of Rights is protected from majoritarian democracy.
The second progressive fallacy is that there can be an administrative state run by professionals that is not polluted by the vagaries and inconsistencies of politics. This is related to the first fallacy. After a century of progressivism the administrative state has developed extra constitutional powers, and has become a special interest of its own. The special interests of the large commercial interests that concerned the first progressives, have simply become registered lobbyists and exercise influence as they always have, only now they can use the government to write the rules in their favor.
The problem with reform is that the current faults of our system are displayed clearly, but the faults of the reform are obscured in a distant volume of history. This history is now written.