Somehow Michigan’s governor, and others like her, will have to be compelled to respect the rule of law and the rights of the people.
When Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation he was criticized by abolitionists for not issuing a more sweeping order. He refused to do so, asking “If I take the step, must I not do so . . . without any argument, except the one that I think the measure politically expedient, and morally right? Would I not thus give up all footing upon constitution or law? Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism? Could this pass unnoticed, or unresisted?”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer stepped into this boundless field at the end of April. The legislature refused to extend her emergency powers as required by the Emergency Management Act of 1976, so she granted herself the extension the legislature refused. She declared a new, separate state of emergency under a dubious interpretation of the Emergency Powers to the Governor Act of 1945, and granted herself the extension the legislature refused. Sound statutory construction dictates that when two statutes cover exactly the same ground, the more recent statute governs, and the more recent statute limits the governor’s power to 28 days unless extended by the legislature.
Even if both laws are still fully operative, they must be read in a way that is not nonsensical. Whitmer’s construction of the two acts effectively reads, “The governor’s emergency power shall extend no longer than 28 days, unless extended by the legislature, unless the governor, according to her own unfettered will, shall choose to extend her own power, in which case it shall last as long as she pleases it to last.”
The 1976 statute obviously was intended to limit the duration of the governor’s emergency powers, and she has simply ignored that. The state of Michigan will be governed by Whitmer’s unlimited, arbitrary will until she deigns to allow the rule of law to resume.
In usurping power, Whitmer merely is revealing her nature, and it is far from unique in our history. In the antebellum American South, slaveowners and their apologists frequently asserted the relationship of master and slave was a paternal one, and that slaves were perpetual children who needed to be ruled absolutely for their own benefit. The difficulty is that adults cannot be ruled like children, for the simple reason that they are not children.
Adults can be ruled only politically, as equals, or despotically, as inferiors. Paternal rule, unlimited power exercised by one over another, when applied to adults, under whatever guise, is simply despotic rule—it is tyranny.
She has a tyrannical soul, and a tyrannical soul will yield to nothing but superior force.
Whitmer’s official biography reads “the most important title she boasts is MOM,” and in keeping with that, one supposes, she treats the people of Michigan like children. When protesters arrived in Lansing, she responded by stating that their continued misbehavior may result in extended lockdowns. Translation: “I’m going to continue to punish you until you behave, and it’s for your own good.” She refuses to be bound by law or constitution. She refuses to negotiate. She threatens, she digs in her heels, she makes arbitrary pronouncements.
When these America’s slaveholding oligarchs once upon a time went to Congress, they found life there confusing. Self-government requires that people treat each other as equals; this is essential to negotiation and deliberation, to accepting adverse decisions as legitimate, and to the notion that the majority ought to respect the rights of the minority. The slaveholding oligarchy could not do this.
Bred to be an elite class, they were accustomed in their home states to commanding and to being obeyed by everyone who was not also of their social class. In Congress, however, they had to work with northerners with different opinions and who did not defer to them, and thus these elites did not know what to do. Frequently angered by what they saw as “impudence,” they often resorted to threats of violence, and occasionally to actual violence, in order to cow their opponents into submission—the same tactics, in other words, that they used against their slaves.
Whitmer, likewise, flatly rebuffed offers from the Republican-controlled legislature to negotiate. She’s done this before. Her primary campaign promise was to “fix the damn roads” and she wanted a 45-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax to do it. When the legislature balked she dug in her heels, refused to negotiate, and attempted to browbeat legislators into giving her exactly what she wanted—though mercifully she failed. When the budget reached her desk, out of sheer pettiness she used her line-item veto power to strike additional funding for charter schools. For Whitmer, it’s her way or no way.
Frederick Douglass, having lived under the heel of tyranny for the first 20 years of his life, understood the nature of it and the soul of the tyrant better than most. When the slaveholders rebelled after Lincoln’s election, it came as no surprise to him. As tyrants, he said, “they know no law, and will respect no law but the law of force.”
We would do well to recognize the type, as this crisis has revealed that it is appallingly common in our government at all levels. Whitmer has already defied the legislature and ignored the law. What reason is there to believe she would yield to a state supreme court decision? She has a tyrannical soul, and a tyrannical soul will yield to nothing but superior force. Somehow Whitmer, and others like her, will have to be compelled to respect the rule of law and the rights of the people. One can only hope that the federal government will intervene and supply that superior force.
With America’s Democrats on the cusp of nominating Bernie Sanders, they have one last chance to look across the Atlantic for a glimpse of how this could end up.
The warning comes via the British Labour Party’s historic defeat in December’s general election. Under Jeremy Corbyn, a leader uncannily similar to Mr. Sanders in ideology, affect and career trajectory, Labour suffered its worst drubbing since 1935. This despite Mr. Corbyn’s adroitness at rallying a youthful and fervent-to-the-point-of-derangement base, the likes of which British politics has rarely if ever witnessed. Ahem.
The conventional interpretation is that it’s Mr. Corbyn’s socialism what done it. He promised a wholesale re-nationalization of the British economy—utilities, transportation, even the internet. He promised an outsize expansion of the state, and outsize tax hikes to pay for it. Those taxes, voters soon noticed, would fall heavily on the middle class, not only the rich.
All that played a role in Labour’s drubbing, but economics may not have been decisive. Polling by YouGov before the election found voters trusting Labour more than the Conservatives on health policy and education, less on taxation, and roughly the same on unemployment.
This angle needn’t worry Mr. Sanders much. Unlike Americans, British voters had labored under the yoke of democratic socialism within living memory. It wasn’t a positive experience for them, and it prompted their turn to Margaret Thatcher and free-market reform in 1979. Mr. Corbyn pledged to take the U.K. back to a past Britons would rather forget.
Mr. Sanders has the luxury of campaigning for socialism in a country that has never tried it. He can present his program as a door to a fabulous new future. U.S. voters still frustrated with the economy for various reasons might be tempted to knock on that door, not understanding what lurks on the other side.
The Corbyn warning for Democrats takes a different form. What British voters really, really didn’t like about Mr. Corbyn wasn’t his economics. It was his culture.
To a remarkable extent the December election wasn’t a vote on Brexit or socialism or Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s economic “leveling up” of poorer regions. It was a referendum on Mr. Corbyn’s Britishness: Does he have enough of it, yea or nay?
Nay, said voters in Labour’s traditional heartlands. Michael Ashcroft, a former Conservative deputy chairman and veteran pollster, this month released a postmortem on Labour’s campaign. His surveys and focus groups with former Labour voters who defected in 2019 are devastating. “He is not patriotic,” one participant said of Mr. Corbyn. “He meets all those terrorist parties. You want someone with good old values.” Quoth another: “He said he would never press the [nuclear] button. We need protection. He should have said he would, even if he didn’t mean it.”
Among those who voted Labour in 2017 but not in 2019, the most common reason for switching allegiance, cited by 53%, was that they didn’t want Mr. Corbyn to be prime minister. That sentiment outranked Brexit as a motivation even among voters who defected to Mr. Johnson’s get-Brexit-done Conservatives by 75% to 73% (respondents could choose more than one option). These voters decided the election.
Mr. Corbyn had given them ample reason for doubt: There was his tendency to pal around with terrorists who killed Britons or their allies. His indulgence of anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks, which offended working-class Britons’ sense of decency. His disdain for alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and military programs such as the Trident nuclear deterrent, which give the U.K. its esteemed place in the world.
Mr. Sanders faces the same problem. No one who shares Middle America’s core values of freedom, democracy and entrepreneurship would choose to honeymoon in the Soviet Union. No one who values American achievements in science, the arts or education would heap praise on Cuba’s schools.
And if he wins the Democratic nomination he’ll be running against Donald Trump, whose only consistent mode is American greatness. Mr. Corbyn ran aground against a candidate in Boris Johnson and a policy in Brexit that spoke directly to British patriotism.
British voters concluded that the danger of a leader who didn’t share their values was greater than the risk even of Brexit. Labour now faces years in the political wilderness as it tries to rebuild the trust of those who came to doubt whether it’s truly a British party. Democrats still have a chance, barely, to spare themselves that misery.
There was always a yin-yang thing to conservatism. Its hard-headedness and philosophical realism about human nature and the limits it imposes on utopian schemes appealed to some and repulsed others. For those who see politics as a romantic enterprise, a means of pursuing collective salvation, conservatism seems mean-spirited. As Emerson put it: “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” That’s what Ben Shapiro is getting at when he says “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The hitch is that the reverse is also true: Feelings don’t care about your facts. Tell a young progressive activist we can’t afford socialism and the response will be overtly or subliminally emotional: “Why don’t you care about poor people!” or “Why do you love billionaires!?”
.. What Is Neoconservatism?
Here’s the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia page for neoconservatism:
Neoconservatism (commonly shortened to neocon when labelling its adherents) is a political movement born in the United States during the 1960s among liberal hawkswho became disenchanted with the increasingly pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party, and the growing New Left and counterculture, in particular the Vietnam protests. Some also began to question their liberal beliefs regarding domestic policies such as the Great Society.
.. The first neocons were intellectual rebels against the Great Society and the leftward drift of American liberalism (The Public Interest, the first neocon journal, was launched in 1965. It was dedicated entirely to domestic affairs, not foreign policy). Unable to reconcile the facts with the feelings of liberalism, a host of intellectuals decided they would stick with the facts, even if it meant that former friends and allies would call them mean for doing so.
.. The Harrington essay that cemented the term “neoconservatism” in American discourse was titled “The Welfare State and Its Neoconservative Critics.” In other words, the original neoconservative critique wasn’t about foreign policy, but domestic policy.
.. According to William F. Buckley, the neoconservatives brought the rigor and language of sociology to conservatism, which until then had been overly, or at least too uniformly, Aristotelian. The Buckleyites (though certainly not folks like Burnham) tended to talk from first principles and natural laws and rights. The neocons looked at the data and discovered that the numbers tended to back up a lot of the things the Aristotelians had been saying... The idea that neoconservatism was primarily about foreign policy, specifically anti-Communism, further complicates things. Part of this is a by-product of the second wave of neoconservatives who joined the movement and the right in the 1970s, mostly through the pages of Commentary. These were rebels against not the welfare state but détente on the right and the radical anti-anti-Communists of the New Left (National Review ran a headline in 1971 on the awakening at Commentary: “Come on In, the Water’s Fine.”) Many of those writers, most famously Jeanne Kirkpatrick, ended up leading the intellectual shock troops of the Reagan administration.
It is certainly true that the foreign-policy neocons emphasized certain things more than generic conservatives, specifically the promotion of democracy abroad. In ill-intentioned hands, this fact is often used as a cover for invidious arguments about the how the neocons never really shed their Trotskyism and were still determined to “export revolution.” But for the most part, it can’t be supported by what these people actually wrote. Moreover, the idea that only neocons care about promoting democracy simply glosses over everything from the stated purpose of the First World War, the Marshall Plan, stuff like JFK’s inaugural address (“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”), and this thing called the Reagan Doctrine... And then there are the Joooooz. Outside of deranged comment sections and the swampy ecosystems of the “alt-right,” the sinister version of this theory is usually only hinted at or alluded to. Neocons only care about Israel is the Trojan horse that lets people get away with not saying the J-word. Those bagel-snarfing warmongers want real Americans to do their fighting for them. Pat Buchanan, when opposing the first Gulf War in 1992, listed only Jewish supporters of the war and then said they’d be sending “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown” to do the fighting. Subtle... In his memoir, Irving Kristol, “the Godfather of the Neoconservatives,” argued that the movement had run its course and dissolved into the conservative movement generally.So today, neoconservatism has become what it started out as, an invidious term used by its opponents to single out and demonize people as inauthentic, un-American, unreliable, or otherwise suspicious heretics, traitors, or string-pullers. The chief difference is that they were once aliens in the midst of liberalism, now they are called aliens in the midst of conservatism. And it’s all bullsh**... The editor of American Greatness, a journal whose tagline should be “Coming Up with Reasons Why Donald Trump’s Sh** Doesn’t Stink 24/7” opens with “Neoconservatism is dead, long live American conservatism” and then, amazingly, proceeds to get dumber... A bit further on, he asserts that “for years, neoconservatives undermined and discredited the work of conservatives from Lincoln to Reagan . . .” This is so profoundly unserious that not only is it impossible to know where to begin, it’s a struggle to finish the sentence for fear the stupid will rub off. Does he have in mind the Straussians (Walter Berns, Robert Goldwin, et al.) at that neocon nest the American Enterprise Institute who wrote lovingly about Lincoln at book length for decades?
And what of the scores of neoconservatives who worked for Ronald Reagan and helped him advance the Reaganite agenda? Were they all fifth columnists? Or perhaps they were parasites attaching themselves to a “host organism,” as Buskirk repugnantly describes Kristol?
He doesn’t say, because Buskirk doesn’t rely on an argument. Save for a couple of Bill Kristol tweets out of context, he cites no writing and marshals no evidence. Instead, he lets a wink, or rather the stink, do all of his work. He knows his readers want to hear folderol about neocons. He knows they have their own insidious definitions of what they are and crave to have them confirmed. Bringing any definition or fact to his argument would get in the way of his naked assertions and slimy insinuations... American Greatness ran a piecefloating the idea that Trump’s “covfefe” tweet just might have been a brilliant piece of historically and linguistically literate statecraft. That’s actually plausible compared to the idea that Trump is Moses saving conservatism from a “a purified strain of backward idolatry.”
.. Who is in conflict with the best principles of America: the magazine that for 23 years lionized the founders, Lincoln, and Reagan or the website that rationalizes literally anything Donald Trump does — from crony capitalism to denigrating the First Amendment to paying off porn stars — as either the inventions of his enemies or a small price to pay for national greatness? Not every contributor to American Greatness is dedicated to the art of turd polishing, but that is the site’s larger mission.
.. Trump’s sense of persecution is as contagious as his debating style. Facts are being subordinated to feelings, and the dominant feelings among many Trumpists are simply ugly. And even those who have not turned ugly see no problem working hand in hand with those who have. And how could they, given who they herald as their Moses.
Republicans have long criticized Democrats for dividing the country into competing grievance groups. Some now realize that the Republican analogue has been to divide the country into radically autonomous individuals based on a cartoonish misreading of libertarianism that replaces the free markets and free minds of Friedrich Hayek with the greed and hubris of Gordon Gekko. But that is changing quickly. There is a renewed emphasis on addressing America and Americans as a community characterized by fraternal bonds and mutual responsibility — what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.”
.. If Republicans really want to win, then their pronouns must be we, us and our, and they have to make sure that the people who hear them know that they are included in we, us and our.