Republicans Face A Choice: Do They Support The Constitution, Or Trump?

Republicans face a choice in the coming days. Do they support the Constitution, or do they support Donald Trump? You can count on them making the wrong choice.

The Editors at The New York Times argue that Republicans have a choice between their supposed loyalty to the Constitution and their devotion to the cult of Donald Trump:

Congress has the power to effectively override an emergency declaration through a resolution of disapproval. On Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi sent Democratic and Republican members a “Dear Colleague” letter urging support for such as move. “We have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Constitution, and defend our system of checks and balances against the President’s assault,” she wrote.

House Republicans once cared passionately about checks and balances, and frequently accused President Barack Obama of abusing his authority. In 2016, one of the “Big Ideas” in the conference’s “Better Way Agenda” was a pledge to end presidential overreach: “Our President has been acting more like a monarch than an elected official. That stops now.”

Mr. Obama did extend emergency declarations for several uncontroversial foreign policy matters and use executive orders (lawfully) to achieve policy goals. But he never invoked emergency authority to divert money after Congress refused to fund a pet project.

For some reason, the Republicans have been far less vocal about their high-minded principles with Mr. Trump in the White House. Of the more than 225 co-sponsors who had signed on to the disapproval resolution as of Friday, only one was a Republican, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan.

In the Senate, plenty of Republicans remain skittish about executive overreach. Several have publicly expressed disapproval of Mr. Trump’s faux-mergency, ranging from the ultraconservative Mike Lee to the more moderate Susan Collins, from the freshman Mitt Romney to the old-timer Chuck Grassley. “I don’t like this,” Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski told The Associated Press. ”I think it takes us down a road and with a precedent that, if it’s allowed, that we may come to regret.” Kentucky’s Rand Paul declared that “extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them.”

For the joint resolution to clear the Senate, only four Republicans need to join Democrats to assert that the president cannot thumb his nose at Congress whenever it suits him. But despite all the hand wringing, thus far, only one has said she will: Ms. Collins, who recently told reporters, “If it’s a clean disapproval resolution, I will support it.”

Some Republicans dislike what Mr. Trump has done but have convinced themselves that there’s no point in voting for the resolution since the president will surely veto it. Others rationalize that the emergency declaration, while outrageous, may be technically legal, and thus should be left to the courts to sort out. Some Republicans are toying with the idea of voting against the resolution but then introducing new legislation to reform the underlying National Emergencies Act.

These are all dodges — ways to make Republicans feel better about not pushing back — and they can provide only false comfort. As he has shown time and again, Mr. Trump is a bully, and he likes to push boundaries. Let him take your lunch money today, and tomorrow he will kick you out of your treehouse.

Republican lawmakers swore an oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of their office. Here’s their chance.

Over at The Daily Beast, Matt K. Lewis makes much the same argument, arguing that the vote on the President’s assertion of emergency powers to go behind the back of a Congress that declined to give him what he wants on a funding issue is a litmus test for Republicans who have to decide if they’re with Trump or with the Constitution, and Max Boot in The Washington Post argues that Trump’s emergency declaration is an affront to everything Republicans and conservatives have claimed to believe in:

Trump’s action is an affront to all that Republicans stand for. They claim to be pro-military, but Trump’s action would take money away from the defense budget. They claim to be pro-property rights, but Trump’s action would result in the taking of private property along the border. And they claim to be constitutional conservatives, but Trump’s action is an obvious violation of Article I of the Constitution: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Republicans condemned President Barack Obama’s use of executive authority as, in the words ofRep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.)‚ “an unprecedented executive power grab” and an “end-run around Congress” that would “undermine the Constitution and threaten our democracy.” They called him a “king,” “emperor” and “tyrant.” They were particularly exercised that Obama used executive authority on the issue of — oh, the irony — immigration. In 2014, Trump condemned Obama’s executive order to stop deportations of undocumented parents of children born in the United States as “a very, very dangerous thing that should be overwritten easily by the Supreme Court.”

>Now Trump is traducing the Constitution in ways that Obama would never have dared. This is only the second time since the passage of the 1976 National Emergencies Act that a president has used his emergency powers to take military action — in this case to divert defense funds to build a border wall. The only previous time was after 9/11. And never before has a president employed emergency powers to fund a project that Congress refused to appropriate.

Many Republicans understand what a dangerous precedent this sets. “The whole idea that presidents — whether it’s President Trump, President Warren or President Sanders — can declare an emergency and somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress being involved, is a serious constitutional question,” Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) told CNN in early February.

Now Republicans have a chance to vote their consciences, if they have any left. The House will vote Tuesday on a resolution to repeal the state of emergency. The Senate will have its opportunity soon. This is the most important vote that Republicans will make in their lives. And there is every indication that almost all of them will make the wrong choice.

Only one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, has co-sponsored the House resolution of disapproval. Almost all Republicans will likely do what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did: He warned against the emergency declaration before it was issued but supported it after Trump ignored his advice.

If Republicans support this unconstitutional power grab, they will have completed their transformation from the party of Reagan — a party devoted to conservative principles — to the party of Trump — a party devoted to no principle other than a desperate desire to propitiate a 2qacapricious would-be tyrant in the White House. They might as well get rid of the elephant and make their party symbol a curved yellow fruit, because they will have become banana republicans. I am worried about the Democrats’ drift to the left, but I can never imagine voting again for a Republican Party that represents a clear and present danger to democracy in the United States.

And Matt Lewis is even more emphatic in another piece posted yesterday:

[I]t is entirely possible that enough Republicans will end up joining Senate Democrats to “disapprove” Trump’s emergency order. This will allow many Republicans to go on record as opposing executive overreach (which will come in handy when a Democratic president co-opts this idea on gun control or climate change).

Disapproving of the emergency order won’t do anything practical to stop the president (it will instead demonstrate their impotence), unless a two-thirds majority in both houses rises to the occasion and overrides Trump’s veto.

And that is exactly what must happen.

The constitutional crisis is upon us, folks. Members of Congress can’t just pass the buck to the courts to handle it. It’s time to take a stand.

Any Republican who votes for this emergency order and (should the situation arise) does not support overturning Trump’s veto has crossed the red line. They’re dead to me, and they should be to you, too.

The words of the Times Editors, Lewis and Boot are well-taken, but it seems fairly clear that for the most part, that their warnings, as well as those of other pundits who have spoken out against this power grab by the President, will largely go unheeded. As noted, in the House the resolution of disapproval that the Democrats have filed has been co-sponsored by only one Republican, Justin Amash of Michigan who is largely an anomaly in the House Republican Caucus. No other Republican member of the “people’s house” has been even the slightest bit critical of what the President is doing here, notwithstanding the fact that he has admitted that he doesn’t really need to do it. For example, the leader of the so-called “House Freedom Caucus.” Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio has come out in favor of the emergency declaration and,  by all accounts, the majority of his caucus supports his position. Things aren’t much better in the Senate, with most estimates showing that, at best, there are five Republican Senators who seem as if they could be among those who would cross the aisle and vote with the Democrats. While this would be enough to send the resolution to the President, it would not be nearly enough to override an expected Presidential veto.

It is correct to say, as the articles linked above do, that the upcoming vote on the House Democrat’s disapproval resolution is a litmus test for the Republican Party. If, as seems likely, Republicans choose to sit on the sidelines and allow this illegal and unconstitutional Presidential power grab to go unchallenged then their transformation from what they might have been in the past into the Trump Party will be complete. This isn’t surprising, of course. As I’ve said before, Trump is really just the endpoint of a process that began inside the GOP and the conservative movement in the 1990s. Some people will point to Newt Gingrich and the 1994 election, and there’s certainly evidence for that, but one could also make the case that the real impetus for the what has happened to conservatism over the past 25 or more years began with Pat Buchanan’s “Culture War” speech at the 1992 Republican nomination, or perhaps with the rise of the so-called “religious right” in the 1980’s something that Barry Goldwater himself warned Republicans about to no avail.

Wherever it started, though, the transformation picked up its pace in the 1990s with the victory in the `94 election, the rise of conservative talk radio, and, ultimately, the rise of Fox News Channel, which has in recent years become nothing but a propaganda network spewing right-wing talking points and Trump Administration propaganda. The Internet also helped to the extent that it led to the shattering of what had been something of a media monopoly. In and of itself that’s a good thing, of course, but it has also led to the creation of media bubbles that people can create that shield them from opposing points of view. While there are plenty of people on the left who wrap themselves in these bubbles, it seems to be a far more common thing on the right, where the idea of the “biased media” continues to maintain a hold notwithstanding the fact that their go-to news source is, in fact, the most biased news network on cable television.

The transformation of the GOP and conservatism that began in the 90s became complete after the election of Barack Obama with the rise of the so-called Tea Party. While this movement may have started out as something resembling what it’s name — “Tea” as in “Taxed Enough Already” — stood for, it quickly became the means by which various right-wing organizations mobilized the grassroots into protesting things that had nothing to do with taxes, most prominently including the Affordable Care Act but also eventually immigration and dozens of other seemingly unrelated issues. From the Tea Party, of course, we got politicians such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain. Allen West, Louie Gohmert, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and of course Sarah Palin. More importantly, the influence of the Tea Party was the key factor in the process that pushed Republicans on Capitol Hill, and especially in the House of Representatives, further and further to right. Additionally, the party and the movement became far more populist in a poisonous way that appealed not to broadly popular policy, but on the red meat that satisfies the base. These forces taken all together are what prepared the ground for a Trump-like figure, so when he came along it’s not surprising in retrospect that he was able to roll over opponents who failed to recognize the monster many of them had helped to create.

Because of all of this, it’s pretty clear where Republicans are going to come down this week when they face the test over Trump’s illegitimate declaration of a national emergency. While there will be a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate who will recognize this power grab for what it is and vote accordingly, far too many of them will stand behind this President. At that point, the transformation of the GOP into the Party of Trump will be complete.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, National Security, Politicians, U.S. Constitution, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    It started in the mid seventies. IIRC Hacker and Pierson say that’s when, in response to OSHA and the EPA, corporations started getting heavily involved in politics. A lot of charted history shows a divergence around that time, e.g. productivity and real wages. It’s the end of Picketty’s Les Trente Glorieuses, when capital began to regain primacy.

  2. Kathy says:

    You’ve heard of the banality of evil? One thing that strikes me when studying history is the sheer amount of banality involved in almost everything.

    Here the question really is: Will Republicans support the Constitution or pander to their party’s most active and vocal base?

    The answer is relatively simple to determine. The Constitution does not vote.

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  3. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Wrong headline, Doug. Should be “Do they support the constitution and their oath of office or are they traitors?”

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  4. Teve says:

    I wonder if some democratic operatives somewhere are coming up with a list of things they can do via national emergency, when they get the chance. Background check loophole? Climate change? Unions?

  5. al Ameda says:

    The Editors at The New York Times argue that Republicans have a choice between their supposed loyalty to the Constitution and their devotion to the cult of Donald Trump

    This is like asking Republicans if a product is a Dessert Topping or a Floor Wax, that’s how seriously base Republicans take this ‘Constitution’ stuff.

    Many Republican senators are afraid of Trump voters. I’d be shocked if they voted to override Trump’s veto.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    If Republicans support this unconstitutional power grab, they will have completed their transformation from the party of Reagan — a party devoted to conservative principles — to the party of Trump

    The transformation of the Republican Party was completed long, long ago, probably with the election of Gingrich to speaker and the celebration of Rush Limbaugh in the Chamber. It was certainly begun when the principled Republicans were unable to put a stop to the early 60’s Southern Strategy.

    But I think you have this wrong anyway. The Republican Party hasn’t transformed into the Party of Trump. Rather, Trump is the inevitable outcome of what the Party has become.

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  7. Pete S says:

    Support Trump or country? That is hilarious. The question should be a no-brainer and with this group of Republicans it is, although in the wrong direction.

    The Democrats should have called this bill “Establishing a Precedent to Prevent Future Democratic Presidents from Overriding Congress to Fund a Pet Project Act”, with language in the bill itself applying it now to Trump. Then let the Republicans vote against it.

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  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This really is a tipping point.
    In the next couple days we will see who in Washington really cares about the country.
    This really isn’t a question with gray area. No one has ever tried this. It will set a terrible precedent if allowed to stand.
    You are either with the Country and it’s Constitution, or you are with Cult 45.

  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    Do They Support The Constitution, Or Trump?

    As I’ve pointed out a number of times, the practice of referring to someone as an X-ist is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of human psychology.

    People are not generally loyal to abstract philosophical concepts; they’re loyal to other people.

  10. Teve says:

    Martin longman at WashMo:

    As I wrote previously, the Republicans welcomed this emergency declaration because it gave them a way to avoid overriding a presidential veto so that they could reopen the government. But that only delayed their day of reckoning. What they’re going to do now is the absolute worst of all worlds. First they’re going to rebuke the president and then they’re going to fail to override his veto and hand him control of their pursestrings. They won’t avoid one of the toughest votes they’ll ever face, and they won’t defend their own power and prerogatives. They won’t stand with Trump, but they’ll still defer to him. And then they’ll hope that the courts side with them against Trump, thereby defeating Trump’s efforts to build a wall on the border with Mexico with American tax dollars.

    They deserve this fate, but they also deserve the contempt they will get from every single quarter for their cowardice and lack of principle.

    Stupid people with shitty values.

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  11. Teve says:

    It was certainly begun when the principled Republicans were unable to put a stop to the early 60’s Southern Strategy.

    the Religious Right initially formed to protect segregation, of course, so the shittiness of the movement was baked into the cake.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    We know the answer. Republicans have never given a single fck about the constitution, it’s never been anything to them but an excuse to buy guns for the race war they so desperately want. @Teve has it exactly right: stupid people with shitty values.

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  13. Teve says:

    By the way if you want to keep up with political journalists, there’s really no better way than Twitter. Another great reason to be on Twitter is to watch historians like Kevin Kruse beat up on idiots like Dinesh D’Souza. He’s dunked on Dinesh so many times that other people have asked him to list other historians who have also gone after d’souza’s lies, and Cruz just tweeted a list of 36 professional historians who have talked shit about D’Souza, and it’s hilarious.

    https://twitter.com/KevinMKruse/status/1100188891569704960?s=20

  14. Scott F. says:

    @Teve:

    “Stupid people with shitty values” and just enough structural voting power to drag the whole country into the cesspool with them.

  15. reid says:

    @MarkedMan: Yes indeed. Sarah Palin was an earlier but similarly disturbing incarnation. The problem is the party and its members.

  16. Teve says:

    @Scott F.: which is why I expect the last bits of the Senate filibuster will fall in the next few years. It’s fine (inevitable) to have some stupid, shitty people, but when there are serious problems you can’t have a functioning government or society where you give a handful of them veto power over everything indefinitely. It’ll come to a crisis point and have to change.

  17. Joe says:

    Some Republicans are toying with the idea of voting against the resolution but then introducing new legislation to reform the underlying National Emergencies Act.

    Here’s the Republican trick. Fail to override the veto. Amend the Act in some immaterial way. And when some Democratic president tries to use the authority, point to the amendment as a basis for a different vote.

  18. Jen says:

    @Teve: Thanks for sharing that, epic thread–good for Kruse.

  19. Scott F. says:

    @Teve:

    I don’t think changes to the filibuster rules will carry nearly enough oomph to change the trajectory of our political dysfunction. Our democracy could use a lot more democracy. The structural advantages allowing for minority rule have to be addressed.

    I believe meaningful political change will only come through campaign finance reform to mitigate the disproportionate influence of the 1% and electoral reform to correct for imbalance in power between the high and low population states that plays into the Senate and Electoral College.

    How to bring these changes about is beyond me – things will probably have to get worse before they get better – but they are the change we need.

  20. Teve says:

    Oh I don’t think changing the filibuster rules will emtirely solve it, I just think they’ll be necessary just to keep the country functioning at some point. The Constitution has left us with a serious distortion where twelve buffalo and a pile of rocks in North and South Dakota together matter twice as much in the Senate as the 40 million people in California. When a minority of the least educated and most hateful people (to be clear I mean Republicans, not Dakotans) have veto power over the whole system, it’s just a matter of time.

  21. charon says:

    @Teve:

    And then they’ll hope that the courts side with them against Trump,

    Wonder how judges feel about being asked to fight on behalf of people too cowardly to defend themselves.

  22. charon says:

    @charon:

    I mean, seriously, where to judges get off denying Congress the power to willingly abandon and surrender Congress’ prerogatives?

  23. Mister Bluster says:

    The House of Representatives has passed the resolution of disapproval.

  24. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    And McConnell graciously predicted the Senate would vote on it before the next recess, scheduled for March 18th.

    No s***t! He has 18 days by law. He has to vote on march 16th at the latest.

    He’s not even funny.

  25. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The transformation of the Republican Party was completed long, long ago, probably with the election of Gingrich to speaker and the celebration of Rush Limbaugh in the Chamber. It was certainly begun when the principled Republicans were unable to put a stop to the early 60’s Southern Strategy.

    I think this is correct. I smile when I hear or read conservatives talking about how, say, even just 10 years ago the Republican Party was so much more “intellectual” and conservative-y.

  26. Gustopher says:

    Republicans Face A Choice: Do They Support The Constitution, Or Trump?

    Is this actually unconstitutional? What part?

    Too quickly people use the word “unconstitutional” to mean “it violates what I think the constitution should allow”. I would tend to think that Dug does this less than someone without a law degree but nw I really want to know, what part is unconstitutional?

    Is the National Emergencies Act itself an unconstitutional ceding of legislative powers to the executive?

    Is it the redirecting of funds? Has this never been done before? Or are many of our previous national emergencies unconstitutional?

    It’s a gross violation of norms, and I am perfectly willing to believe that declaring a nonemergency to be an emergency may be illegal (of the high crimes and misdemeanors level when willful, as this was), but what is the unconstitutional part, and why are previous emergencies constitutional?

  27. Eric Florack says:
  28. Eric Florack says:

    Mmm

    As House Democrats vote Tuesday to stop President Trump’s emergency declaration on the southern border, congressional Republicans should ask themselves: Why is it that every other president is permitted by courts to exercise “executive discretion,” and yet Trump isn’t?

    A New York Times report on Monday set up the scene for weak-willed Senate Republicans, writing that, “The [Democrat-controlled] House’s vote on a declaration of disapproval will force Republicans to choose between the congressional prerogative over federal spending established in the Constitution and a president determined to go around the legislative branch to secure funds for a border wall that Congress has refused to grant.”

    This is, on its face, a false choice, though some in the GOP are stupidly buying into it.

    Would Trump’s national emergency really be an “emergency”?

    Trump’s emergency declaration earlier this month does nothing more than free up little bits of money already allocated to the executive branch so that he can build more wall barriers on the border, stunting the overwhelming flood of illegal immigration from Latin America.

    It’s every bit of a crisis today as it was when former President Barack Obama called it that in 2014, and the media happily played along. Trump’s official declaration only means he’s using his last option to address the issue.

    This isn’t an choice between fidelity to the Constitution or blind loyalty to a president; though I’ll note the executive branch is part of that newly appreciated document, and Congress has already given the president the authority to do exactly what Trump is pursuing. This is a choice about relinquishing authority to Democrats to set immigration policy even while a Republican president is in office.

    Obama made up his own law in 2012 that said nearly 1 million eligible illegal immigrants in the U.S. would not only be overlooked by law enforcement but could come out, declare themselves to the public, and receive indefinite legal protection.

    Take for granted that the program was created out of compassion — plus Obama’s upcoming re-election — for young immigrants who may only know the U.S. as their home, but it should then also be taken for granted that if one president can dictate immigration policy within the authority Congress has given them, the same right belongs to every other president. Or, at the very least, every other president should be able to exercise power in moving to limit the influx of foreigners by erecting limited structures on the border.

    Who with a straight face could argue that it’s acceptable “executive discretion” for one president to carve out an exception for up to 1 million people not legally entitled residence in the U.S. but that it’s unconstitutional for another duly elected executive to eliminate that same exception?

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/why-is-obama-allowed-executive-discretion-on-immigration-but-trump-isnt

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  29. Perhaps the beginning was in the late 1950s, with The Conservative Mind of Russell Kirk and the National Review? In the sense thatt his was the beginning of the transformation of the american conservatism from a kind of classical liberalism (and who rarely called itself “conservatism”, being this more an insult that progressive “liberals” called to small-government liberals) to something similar to European throne-and-altar conservatism (and with big participation of traditional Catholics and European emigrées)?

    Remembering two old articles:

    Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics. Until the rise of socialism its opposite was liberalism. There is nothing corresponding to this conflict in the history of the United States, because what in Europe was called “liberalism” was here the common tradition on which the American polity had been built: thus the defender of the American tradition was a liberal in the European sense. This already existing confusion was made worse by the recent attempt to transplant to America the European type of conservatism, which, being alien to the American tradition, has acquired a somewhat odd character.

    (Hayek,; Why I am not a Conservative, 1960, bold mine).

    Evidence of the right-wing subordination of all its other goals and principles to nuclear war against communists is overwhelming, and at every hand. It lies at the root of the obscene eagerness with which the Right hurries to embrace every dictator, no matter how fascistic or bloodstained, who affirms his “anticommunism.”

    William F. Buckley’s “libertarian” apologia for the fascist regime of South Africa in the pages of National Review is a case in point. So is the enormous enthusiasm for Chiang-kai-Shek, for Franco, for Syngman Rhee, and — most recently — for Mme. Nhu. It is not simply that these dictators are welcomed reluctantly, for expediency’s sake in the “war against communism.” The Right has proceeded, in its war hysteria, far beyond that point.

    For now these dictators are better, since their policy is evidently far “harder” on communists and suspected communists than the policy of the democracies. Mme. Nhu, as a Catholic as well as a totalitarian, has touched the heart of every right-wing publicist. There can be nothing “harder” on one’s subjects than repressing a religious majority and herding the peasants of the country into concentration camps in order to stave off “communism.” The fact that this is hardly a better policy than communism itself makes no imprint whatever on a right wing that often likes to boast of itself as a “conservative-libertarian” movement.

    It is tragically ironic and almost incredible that a movement which began, not too many years ago, in a passionate commitment to human liberty, should end as the cheering squad for a Mme. Nhu. Is it really too impolite to wonder how the right wing would now regard the man who was, in his day, the “hardest” and the “toughest” anticommunist of them all: Adolf Hitler? (…)

    Coterminous with the political transformation of the American Right has come a philosophical transformation, and I do not believe that the two are unconnected. The latter greatly bolsters and perpetuates the former. The positive positions of the various conservative thinkers vary greatly; but they all unite in determined opposition to human reason, to individual liberty, to separation of church and state, to all the things that characterized the classical liberal position and its modern extension.

    There is, unfortunately, no space here for a full discussion of the current conservative position: but basically it is a return to the essential principles of early 19th-century conservatism. We must realize that the great fact of modern history was the classical liberal revolution against the old order, a “revolution” that expressed itself in many forms: laissez-faire economics, individual liberty, separation of church and state, free trade and international peace, opposition to statism and militarism.

    Its great embodiments were the three great revolutions of the late 18th century: the Industrial Revolution, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. Each, in its way, was part of the general classical-liberal revolution against the old order.

    Conservatism emerged, in France, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe, as a conscious, reactionary attempt to smash this revolution and to restore the old order even more systematically than it had been installed before. The essence of that order may be summed up in the famous phrase “Throne and Altar.” In short, the old order consisted of a ruling oligarchy of despotic king and royal bureaucracy, aided by feudal landlords and a state church, Anglican or Gallican.

    It was an order, as explicated by conservatives, that stressed the overriding importance of “community” — as embodied in the state, of theocratic union of church and state, of the virtues of nationalism and war, of coerced “morality” and of the denigration of the individual subject. And philosophically, reason was derided in behalf of pure faith in ruling tradition.

    At first it might seem that this old conservatism is irrelevant to American conservatism today, but I do not believe this to be true. It is true that an American conservative has difficulty finding a legitimate monarch in America. But he does the best he can; the current American right wing is, for one thing, highly enamored of European monarchy, and there is much enthusiasm for restoration of the Hapsburgs.

    One leading proto-Catholic conservative still toasts “the King over the water,” and Frederick Wilhelmsen apparently regards the Crown of St. Stephen as the summit of Western civilization. Russell Kirk, in turn, seems to prefer the Tory squirearchy of Anglican England. At every hand, Metternich, the Stuarts, and the later Burke have replaced libertarians as historical heroes.

    But a king for the United States is, of course, a bit difficult, and conservatives have had to content themselves with makeshifts: with the restoration to historiographical favor, for example, of such statists as Alexander Hamilton, and of solicitude for the peculiar institution of slavery in the South. Willmoore Kendall has found in Congress the apotheosis of conservatism, and asserts not only the right, but the duty of the Greek community to preserve itself from the irritating probing of Socrates.

    Everywhere on the Right the “open society” is condemned, and a coerced morality affirmed. God is supposed to be put back into government. Free speech is treated with suspicion and distrust, and the military are hailed as the greatest patriots, and conscription strongly upheld. Western imperialism is trumpeted as the proper way to deal with backward peoples, and pilgrimages are made to Franco’s Spain for inspiration in governmental forms. And, at every side, reason is denigrated, and faith in tradition and custom held up as the proper path for man.

    It is true that most modern conservatives do not, like their forebears, wish to destroy the industrial system and revert to small farms and happy handicraftsmen — although there is a strong strain of even this idea in contemporary conservatism. But, basically, the current conservatives are supremely indifferent to a free-market economy; they do not blanch at the vast economic distortions imposed by arms contracts or at crippling restrictions on foreign trade, and they could not tolerate a budget cut that would reduce America’s military posture in the world.

    In fact, such leading conservatives as Ernest van den Haag and Willmoore Kendall have been frankly Keynesian in economics. In the end, all must be subordinated to the state; as William F. Buckley has affirmed: “Where reconciliation of an individual’s and the government’s interests cannot be achieved, the interests of the government shall be given exclusive consideration.” One observer of the conservative movement has commented, “How’s that for laissez-faire?” Indeed. Above all, the modern conservative program reduces to dragooning the American people, under the control of the current American version of Throne and Altar, into lockstep uniformity and a closed society dedicated to the overriding end of destroying communism, even at the expense of nuclear annihilation.

    (Murray Rothbard, Transformation of the American Right, 1964)

    My point – even since the begining of the 1960s, there were people complaining (or at least noticing) that american conservatism is changing from a small-government movement to a, authoritarian/clericalist/militaristic/etc. movement – almost since there was a self-designated conservative movement (curiously Rothbard ended is days as a fellow traveler of paleoconservatism, probably the wing of american conservatism that more explicitly rejects classical liberalism)

  30. flat earth luddite says:

    why does anyone think they’ll do anything except roll over on their bellies and support Herr Trump? Living up to the oath of office they all swore, their responsibilities,and their position, would require that they actually have spines, and be willing to stand for something besides staying elected. Nah, they’ll line up behind Mitch, and paint themselves orange to keep in office.