For many Republicans, the presidency of Barack Obama felt like a Babylonian exile. America was in ruins, and Donald Trump surveyed them—seeing, as he said in his inaugural address, “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” as evidence of a broader “American carnage.”
Archives for February 2017
Sometimes I think following politics is just crazy. It is as if one is being manipulated by someone for their own purposes, except I’m not quite sure who that person is. Take the recent controversy over the pausing of Syrian refugees. The conventional understanding has been that Obama allowed a significant number of Syrian refugees into the country and that Trump wants to reduce or eliminate those refugees. But this account, while not entirely false, is extremely misleading. According to David French at National Review, supported by the State Department website, here are the number of Syrian refugees admitted in the…
Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is by virtually every account a stellar jurist. His writings are now being mined, by supporters and opponents alike, for evidence of his commitment to judicial restraint and the separation of powers.
That evidence is not hard to find. In an address delivered on April 27, 2016, Gorsuch spoke of “the great project of Justice Scalia’s career,” namely to expound “the differences between judges and legislators.”
Civic norms in our nation seem to be unraveling. Some citizens and legislators made a concerted effort to delegitimize President Obama by making frivolous claims about his place of birth. Today, other citizens and legislators attempt to delegitimize President Trump by making frivolous claims that his failure to win the popular vote or Russia’s hacking somehow reverses the legal verdict of a presidential election.
The refusal of the holdover Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, is another troubling step in our the dissolution of our norms. It is a sad matter when citizens and legislators flout them. But it may be of greater concern when executive branch officials do so, particularly when they run the Department of Justice as holdovers in the delicate transition period.
The Department of Justice defends legislation and presidential actions if there is a reasonable basis in law to do so. No Attorney General has ever taken the position that he will defend such actions only if he is confident that they are legal and only if he believes they are just. For good reason.
Mark L. Movesian’s post on the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786 brought to mind Patrick Henry’s failed 1784 proposal, A Bill Establishing A Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion.
Henry styled the bill as serving practical, even worldly, purposes. Nothing about the duties of persons to God or about the truth of Christianity. Instead Henry asserted that civil benefits flow from Christian teaching. He argued “the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society.”
We like to consider totalitarianism a thing of the past, at least in Western countries, but its temptations are permanent and its justifications never very far away. Since no man is an island, no human action concerns only the actor himself. John Stuart Mill’s famous principle in On Liberty (1859) that the only good reason to interfere with someone’s freedom is to prevent him from doing harm to others is therefore as effective a barrier against totalitarianism as tissue paper against a tsunami. Potential harm to others can be alleged in practically any human action.
There is much to criticize about President Trump’s executive order on immigration, particularly the slapdash way the Administration drafted the order and announced it to the agencies responsible for implementing it. The Administration apparently bypassed the normal interagency review process, which checks orders for legality and advises on possible consequences. No doubt the Administration calculated that it couldn’t trust Obama holdovers not to create obstacles—a calculation that seems to have been correct in some cases. But lawyers do help sometimes, and it’s wise to listen even to bureaucrats on occasion. The normal interagency review could have avoided much of the confusion at airports over the weekend, which benefited no one, and which created a sense of disorder which will not help the Administration in the future. It would have been much better for the Administration to wait until its new team was fully in place, including its Attorney General, before taking legal action bound to inflame many people.