Taft, whom Rosen calls “the only president to approach the office in constitutional terms above all.”
Wilson was the first president to criticize the American founding, particularly for the separation of powers that crimps presidential supremacy. Roosevelt believed that presidents are free to do whatever the Constitution does not forbid. Taft’s constitutional modesty held that presidents should exercise only powers explicitly granted by the document.
.. Romanticizers of Roosevelt ignore his belief that no moral equivalent of war could be as invigorating as the real thing
.. Taft“extended federal environmental protection to more land than Roosevelt” — and he created 10 national parks — “and brought more antitrust suits in one term than Roosevelt brought in nearly two.”
.. Roosevelt thought that, in industry, big was beautiful (because efficiently Darwinian) if big government supervised it... Taft unsuccessfully resisted President William McKinley’s entreaties that he become governor of the Philippines (“I have never approved of keeping the Philippines”)... In 1912, Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” promised populism rampant and a plebiscitary presidency untethered from constitutional inhibitions: “I don’t think that any harm comes from the concentration of powers in one man’s hands.”.. And “I believe in pure democracy,” the purity being unmediated, unfiltered public opinion empowered even to overturn state court decisions by referendums... The 1912 strife between conservative and progressive-populist Republicans simmered until Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 sealed conservatism’s ascendancy in the party.
In recent decades, the label “progressive” has been resurrected to replace “liberal,” a once vaunted term so successfully maligned by Republicans that it fell out of use. Both etymologically and ideologically, the switch to “progressive” carries historical freight that augurs poorly for Democrats and for the nation’s polarized politics.
.. Historical progressivism is an ideology whose American avatars, like Woodrow Wilson, saw progress as the inevitable outcome of human affairs.
.. The basic premise of liberal politics, by contrast, is the capacity of government to do good, especially in ameliorating economic ills. Nothing structurally impedes compromise between conservatives, who hold that the accumulated wisdom of tradition is a better guide than the hypercharged rationality of the present, and liberals, because both philosophies exist on a spectrum.
.. A liberal can believe that government can do more good or less, and one can debate how much to conserve. But progressivism is inherently hostile to moderation because progress is an unmitigated good. There cannot be too much of it. Like conservative fundamentalism, progressivism contributes to the polarization and paralysis of government because it makes compromise, which entails accepting less progress, not merely inadvisable but irrational.
Hillary Clinton, for example, called herself “a progressive who likes to get things done” — the implication is that progress is the fundamental goal and that its opponents are atavists.
.. Unlike liberalism, progressivism is intrinsically opposed to conservation. It renders adhering to tradition unreasonable rather than seeing it, as the liberal can, as a source of wisdom.
The British philosopher Roger Scruton calls this a “culture of repudiation” of home and history alike.
The critic of progress is not merely wrong but a fool. Progressivism’s critics have long experienced this as a passive-aggressive form of re-education.
.. Because progress is an unadulterated good, it supersedes the rights of its opponents. This is evident in progressive indifference to the rights of those who oppose progressive policies in areas like sexual liberation.
.. The ideology of progress tends to regard the traditions that have customarily bound communities and which mattered to Trump voters alarmed by the rapid transformation of society, as a fatuous rejection of progress.
.. Trump supporters’ denunciation of “political correctness” is just as often a reaction to progressive condescension as it is to identity politics.
.. Where liberalism seeks to ameliorate economic ills, progressivism’s goal is to eradicate them.
.. Moynihan recognized this difference between Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he always supported — as exemplified by his opposition to Clinton-era welfare reform — and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which he sympathetically criticized.
.. The Great Society partook more of a progressive effort to remake society by eradicating poverty’s causes. The result, Moynihan wrote, was the diversion of resources from welfare and jobs to “community action” programs that financed political activism.
.. Conservatism holds that accumulated tradition is a likelier source of wisdom than the cleverest individual at any one moment. It fears the tyranny of theory that cannot tolerate dissent.
.. Liberalism defends constitutionalism. One of the finest traditions of 20th-century liberalism was the Cold War liberal
.. progressivism, by its very definition, makes progress into an ideology. The appropriate label for those who do not believe in the ideology of progress but who do believe in government’s capacity to do good is “liberal.”
Mr. Trump is a uniquely dysfunctional chief executive. He contributed to this latest failure of governance with some characteristic misbehavior: erratic, contradictory commitments; confusing tweets; even blowing up a negotiating session by crudely insulting vast swaths of humanity.
As Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said last week, “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.”
.. The problem Mr. Trump poses for the rest of the constitutional system is not that he is too strong and overbearing, but that he is too weak and fitful.
For Congress, such a problem might easily present an opportunity. A president unsure of what he wants could be a chance for the legislative branch to put itself in the driver’s seat.
That nothing of the sort has happened suggests that Mr. Trump is far from the whole story of contemporary Washington’s debilitation. His weakness has shed light on Congress’s weakness, and should force legislators to face some tough questions about the state of their own institution.
.. Conservatives are accustomed to blaming that on aggression by the other two branches — an overweening executive and administrative state and a hyperactive judiciary. There is surely truth to that indictment. But we should acknowledge, too, that the aggression of the other two branches has often been invited by the willful weakness of the Congress.
.. Not wishing to take responsibility for making hard choices, members of Congress (particularly when the president is of their party) have long been happy to enact vague legislation at best and to leave big decisions to the executive and judicial branches.
.. Is Congress’s purpose to
- implement the agenda of the majority party most effectively, or is its purpose to
- compel and enable accommodations in a divided country?
Today’s Congress does neither very well. But which failure is a bug and which is a feature?
.. Those two visions of Congress’s purpose (which the political scientist Daniel Stid labels “Wilsonian” and “Madisonian,” respectively) generally point in opposite directions when it comes to strengthening Congress,
.. The Wilsonian vision would have Congress function more like a European parliament, with stronger centralized leadership and fewer choke points and protections of minority prerogatives. It would enable the party that won a majority of seats to enact its agenda and see what voters make of it in the next election.
.. The Madisonian vision would recover the purpose of Congress in our larger constitutional system but would mean slow going, greater cacophony, less centralization and more opportunities for coalitions of strange bedfellows to form. It would have Congress serve as an arena for continuing bargaining and compromise, on the premise that greater social peace is better for the country than either party’s bright ideas.
A more parliamentary Congress has been the dream of progressive reformers for more than a century, but it is a poor fit not only for a system of divided powers but also for a polarized society. We need Congress to pursue and drive accommodations — in fact, as the political scientist Philip Wallach has recently argued, Congress is really the only institution in our system of government that could do that.
.. Too often, members in both parties seem to conceive of their work as performative rather than deliberative and use Congress as a platform to raise their profiles or build their personal brands before a larger audience, rather than letting Congress’s constitutional contours contain, reshape and channel their ambitions.
.. This is also how President Trump conceives of the presidency — and in some key respects how his predecessor did, too. It is how too many judges think of their work, and how too many journalists, professors and other professionals think of theirs. They think of institutions not as formative but as performative, not as molds that shape their character and actions but as platforms for displaying themselves and signaling their virtue.
What’s different about Donald Trump is that his inability to handle the weight and responsibility of his office is not something that crept up gradually
.. Instead it’s been a defining feature of his administration from Day 1 — and indeed was obvious during the campaign that elected him.
.. the president’s unfitness is not really a Harvey Weinstein-style “open secret,” an awful reality known to insiders
.. anyone who reads the papers (this one especially) knows that some combination of Trump’s personality and temperament and advancing age leave him constantly undone by the obligations of the presidency.
.. the book may be dubious in some particulars but as the consummate insiders Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen wrote on Thursday, the parts about Trump’s capabilities and mental state “ring unambiguously true.”
.. the 25th Amendment option isn’t happening — not without some major presidential deterioration in the midst of a major crisis, and probably not even then.
.. So unless Robert Mueller has more goods than I expect, we are going to live for the next few years in the way that America lived during the waning days of Nixon, the end of the Wilson administration
.. the central question of these years is not a normal policy question, or even the abnormal sort that the Resistance and other fascism-fearers expect to face.
.. The idea of a right-populist agenda died with Bannon’s exit from the White House
.. the standard-issue G.O.P. agenda has little left after the tax cuts
.. Trump’s authoritarian impulses, while genuine, seem unlikely to produce even aggrandizement on the scale of past presidents from F.D.R. to Nixon, because he has no competence to execute on them.
.. Can the people who surround Donald Trump work around his incapacity successfully enough to keep his unfitness from producing a historic calamity?
.. the men and women of the West Wing, for all that the media was ridiculing them, actually felt they had a responsibility to the country,”
.. the work has been necessary and important, and the achievement of relative stability a genuine service to the United States.
.. Can it continue in the face of some greater crisis than Trump has yet confronted? Can it continue if the Democrats take a share of power or if the president’s own family faces legal jeopardy?
.. Is the American system more able to correct for presidential incapacity than some of us have feared?
The GOP has married its fortunes to a fake news industry that has been driving & chasing its audience’s anger deeper & deeper into extremism and fantasy for over 2 decades. A country that mistakes Fox or Breitbart for journalism, or Mr. McConnell or Mr Ryan for anything but thieves (or Obama for a socialist), is a country that can mistake Trump for an intelligent adult.
.. Republican Party interest resides in power, not in government.
What they adore is a lack of government, a lack of free and fair elections, a lack of consumer, environmental and worker protection, a lack of affordable healthcare, a lack of education, information, science and progress… a lack of income taxes to pay for any sort of decent civilization for the non-rich masses.
.. Trump The Useful Idiot is a perfectly fine fake President for Republican pirates and Reverse Robin Hoods to decimate America with fake justices, fake elections, fake healthcare and the fraudulent Prosperity Gospel that has reduced America to a shameful, unrepresentative oligarchic state.
.. The more the media rails about Trump’s mental status, the more the third of the electorate which supports him will feel the vicarious paranoia and outrage against the “elites” who, they feel with some justification, are trying to gaslight him out of office sooner rather than later.
.. As long as the stock market keeps booming and the rich keep growing richer, the #Resistance will continue playing out as a soap opera for our aghast entertainment.
.. The media had their chance to destroy Trump’s candidacy. Instead they nourished it with $5 billion worth of free advertising. His TV rallies and debates were ratings bonanzas. Media mogul Les Moonves even gloated that Trump “may not be good for America, but he’s damned good for CBS!”
Despite the U.S. position, many Americans personally sympathized with Britain, France, and their allies. American institutions lent large sums to the Allied governments, giving the U.S. a financial stake in the outcome of the war. Nearly 10% of Americans identified as ethnic Germans, most of whom hoped the United States would remain neutral in the war.
In November of 1916, President Woodrow Wilson won a close re-election under the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War.” Yet in early 1917 when Russia’s internal political revolutions effectively took them out of the war against Germany, the prospects for the Allies darkened. Already receiving massive shipments of supplies and a near limitless line of credit from the U.S., the Allies needed reinforcements.
When easing Eastern military pressures made more forces available for their Western Front, Germany sensed the tide was turning. To capitalize on the shift, German leaders agreed in January of 1917 to resume unrestricted submarine warfare to break the devastating army stalemate in Europe and the British navy’s successful blockade of critical German supply ports. This pushed American public opinion toward intervention... Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare strategy sent more merchant and passenger ships to the ocean’s floor and the loss of American lives mounted. The U.S. protested and in February severed diplomatic relations with Germany, while Congress appropriated funds for increased military affairs.About the same time, British cryptographers intercepted and began deciphering Germany’s “Zimmermann Telegram” offering U.S. territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. Though Mexico declaring war was not perceived as an imminent threat by the American public, sensational headlines trumpeted each new development as one of history’s most influential acts of codebreaking played out. Across the nation, support grew for intervention.
On March 20, almost a month after the Zimmerman Telegram hit the American press, President Wilson convened the Cabinet to discuss moving from a policy of armed neutrality to war. It was unanimous: all members advised war. With a proclamation already being drafted by President Wilson, the American steamship Aztec was torpedoed and sunk by Germany on April 1.On April 2, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany specifically citing Germany’s renewed submarine policy as “a war against mankind. It is a war against all nations.” He also spoke about German spying inside the U.S. and the treachery of the Zimmermann Telegram. Wilson urged that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”
his repeated use of the word “fake” to describe news coverage when he actually means “unpleasant” and his style of rhetoric in front of the United Nations, where he called terrorists “losers” and applied a childish epithet to the head of a nation in whose shadow tens of thousands of American troops serve and with whom nuclear war is a live possibility, are all cases in point. There is no way to formalize conventions of maturity and dignity for presidents. Custom fills that void.
.. When he violates such customs, Mr. Trump is at his most impulsive and self-destructive. It may sound ridiculous to invoke James Madison or Edmund Burke when we talk about this president, but that is part of the problem. Mr. Trump could profit from the wisdom of his predecessor Madison, for whom the very essence of constitutionalism lay not in what he derided as “parchment barriers” — mere written commands there was no will to follow — but rather “that veneration which time bestows on every thing.” The Constitution, in other words, would be only as strong as the tradition of respecting it... Burke is generally seen as the progenitor of modern conservatism, but Mr. Trump, who came late to the conservative cause, is said to be so hostile to custom that his staff knows the best way to get him to do something is to tell him it violates tradition... demagogic campaign rallies masked as presidential addresses.. because many elements of his base associate these customs with failed politics, every violation reinforces the sense that he sides with them over a corrupt establishment... Historically, conservatism has tended to value light governance, for which custom is even more essential. Aristotle writes that “when men are friends they have no need of justice.” In other words, rules enter where informal mechanisms of society have collapsed. The philosopher and statesman Charles Frankel summed it up powerfully: “Politics is a substitute for custom. It becomes conspicuous whenever and wherever custom recedes or breaks down.”.. Since Woodrow Wilson’s critique of the framers’ work, progressive legal theory has generally denied that the meaning of the original Constitution, as endorsed by generational assent, wields authority because it is customary. Much of libertarian theory elevates contemporary reason — the rationality of the immediate — above all else.
.. The president’s daily, even hourly, abuse of language is also deeply problematic for a republic that conducts its business with words and cannot do so if their meanings are matters of sheer convenience. The unique arrogance of Mr. Trump’s rejection of the authority of custom is more dangerous than we realize because without custom, there is no law.
Will Progressives erase the history of their racist heroes, or only their racist enemies?
.. Much of the country has demanded the elimination of references to, and images of, people of the past — from Christopher Columbus to Robert E. Lee — who do not meet our evolving standards of probity. In some cases, such damnation may be understandable if done calmly and peacefully — and democratically, by a majority vote of elected representatives.
.. Few probably wish to see a statue in a public park honoring Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founding members of the Ku Klux Klan, or Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the majority opinion in the racist Dred Scott decision that set the stage for the Civil War four years later.
But cleansing the past is a dangerous business. The wide liberal search for more enemies of the past may soon take progressives down hypocritical pathways they would prefer not to walk.
In the present climate of auditing the past, it is inevitable that Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood will have to be disassociated from its founder. Sanger was an unapologetic racist and eugenicist who pushed abortion to reduce the nonwhite population.
.. Should we ask that Ruth Bader Ginsburg resign from the Supreme Court? Even with the benefit of 21st-century moral sensitivity, Ginsburg still managed to echo Sanger in a racist reference to abortion (“growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of”).
Why did we ever mint a Susan B. Anthony dollar? The progressive suffragist once said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”
Liberal icon and Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren pushed for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II while he was California’s attorney general.
President Woodrow Wilson ensured that the Armed Forces were not integrated. He also segregated civil-service agencies. Why, then, does Princeton University still cling to its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs? To honor a progressive who did a great deal of harm to African-American causes?
In the current logic, Klan membership certainly should be a disqualifier of public commemoration. Why are there public buildings and roads still dedicated to the late Democratic senator Robert Byrd, former “exalted cyclops” of his local Klan affiliate, who reportedly never shook his disgusting lifelong habit of using the N-word? Why is Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, once a Klansman, in the 20th century, still honored as a progressive hero?
.. Are the supposedly oppressed exempt from charges of oppression? Farm-labor icon Cesar Chavez once sent union thugs to the border to physically bar U.S. entry to undocumented Mexican immigrants, whom he derided as “wetbacks” in a fashion that would today surely earn Chavez ostracism by progressives as a xenophobe.
.. What is the ultimate purpose of progressives condemning the past? Does toppling the statue of a Confederate general — without a referendum or a majority vote of an elected council — improve racial relations? Does renaming a bridge or building reduce unemployment in the inner city?
.. Does selectively warring against the illiberal past make us feel better about doing something symbolic when we cannot do something substantive? Or is it a sign of raw power and ego when activists force authorities to cave to their threats and remove images and names in the dead of night? Does damning the dead send a flashy signal of our superior virtue?