George Will’s Obtuseness
Normalizing Trump via poor analysis.
George Will’s current column, A Constitution-flouting ‘authoritarian’ is already in the White House, is maddening, if not infuriating. It is the kind of thing that gives cover to Trump’s truly egregious behavior. It is the kind of argumentation that will allow a lot of people to rationalize that since “all politicians are the same” then all of Trump’s behavior in office and out isn’t that big of a deal.
After all, if all politicians are really authoritarians, then might as well vote for the one on my team.
We know that Trump told the insurrectionists at the White House that he “love[d]” them, after having egged them on the Mall, and after having watched their chaos for hours without intervening.
We know that Trump wanted Mike Pence to act unconstitutionally and not certify the legally cast Electoral Votes.
But, you know, Biden has acted unilaterally on some issues (as, quite frankly, all presidents do, which is an issue worthy of debate but is not the kind of problem of, say, the insurrectionist type), and he almost potentially violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (but, actually didn’t).
On the unilateral action:
Instances of Trump’s anti-constitutional behavior have been amply reported and deplored. Biden’s, less so — although they (e.g., the eviction moratorium, the vaccine mandate, the cancellation of student debt), and judicial reprimands of them, have been frequent.
So, trying to address a pandemic (the eviction moratorium and the vaccine mandate) and dealing with student debt is the same as Trump’s anti-constitutional behavior? This is Will being too clever by half in deploying long-standing complaints about the imperial presidency in a way that creates a substantially false equivalency with Trump’s behavior in office (not to mention that which is currently being promised).
News flash: the president has, over the centuries, acquired a lot of power and is hard to check in some arenas. That is a problem that can only be rectified by some serious political reform. But trying to forgive student debts with questionable legal authority is simply not the same evil as fomenting an insurrection and being willing to overturn an election.
For Will to yada yada Trump’s behavior (“Instances of Trump’s anti-constitutional behavior have been amply reported and deplored”) and then equate it to the vaccine mandate is shamefully absurd.
How about Biden’s flaunting of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act?
Check out the horror of it all:
Biden nominated Ann Carlson last March to be administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Two months later, when it was clear that the Senate would not confirm her, Biden withdrew the nomination. But less than five weeks after that, he named Carlson acting administrator. His impertinence would perhaps be limited, by the Vacancies Act, to 210 days, which would expire Dec. 26. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has held that the act prohibits “any person who has been nominated to fill any vacant office from performing that office’s duties in an acting capacity.”
Biden, whose indifference to these legalities is Trumpian, is also unimpressed by several other provisions of the act that redundantly disqualify Carlson. In a masterpiece of understatement, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) says, “It would be odd indeed for the law to prohibit someone to serve as acting while nomination is pending but to allow them to serve as acting after their nomination was pulled.”
Yes, that’s right, it is “Trumpian” to have appointed an acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Note that Carlson did, in fact, resign on December 26th (which Will notes in the column). Whether she should have been allowed to have the position even on an acting basis, I will not here attempt to debate. I will just say that I know enough about government to say that this is a low-level problem as compared to, say, calling the Secretary of State of Georgia and asking him to find you the votes you need to win an election you lost.
By the way, it is disingenuous of Will to assert “it was clear that the Senate would not confirm her” when the real issue was Republican obstruction at the committee level.
As a scholar of democracy, I can assure Will that this is not exactly the stuff of authoritarian nightmares. But I can also assure him that a man who had legal protesters cleared from LaFayette Square for an awkward photo op, who speaks of his enemies as “vermin” and asserts that immigrants are poisoning our blood, and who said that he “love[d]” the 1/6 insurrectionists will be far more of an authoritarian threat than Biden’s NHTA administrator appointment ever was.
Moreover, while Will engages in a bit of Very Serious Concern about the fact that separation of powers and checks and balances don’t work the way it is usually taught in school, I would refer him to my post, Partisanship, Separation of Powers, and the Limits of Oversight. Because, indeed, Madisonian checks and balances do not work the way they are described in Federalist 51 because Madison’s model did not account for political parties.
But, really, for a man who has warned us against Trump in the past, Will is doing a lot of work in a column like this to normalize him.