One of my best friends has a life story the new President of the United States has been adamant we should be on guard against. Born in Mexico, early in life my friend had to cross the border in what might be charitably described as less than documented. Now legally and successfully a permanent resident, he has become Americanized as well, and is studying the underpinnings of American civics as he is seeking to be a citizen of the United States. At the very moment he is about to secure the rights of citizenship, he is faced with a leader dually elected who would prefer he not have gotten here the way he did. Needless to say he’s not exactly thrilled about a President Trump. Yet the very requirement of familiarity with the nation’s foundational documents as part of the his pathway to attain citizenship has brought him to a significantly more prescient understanding regarding the recent elevation of Trump compared to many Americans. The civic lesson of this election he states, is that “in a successful democracy, a citizen must be a participant and better pay attention.”
Pay attention indeed.
The smug assumption that Mr.Trump had during the campaign promoted raw ideas simply to stir sufficient emotional response necessary to win, and would, upon gaining the job, revert to the usual model of backtracking on promises to gain “acceptance” of the establishment, has been obliterated in one week. Executive orders to reverse Obamacare? Check. Extreme vetting of immigrants from the unstable Middle East? Check. Forge ahead with “building the wall”? Check. Restore the “special relationship” with Great Britain? Check. Withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership? Check. Restore the approval of the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines? Check. Prepare to restore the conservative majority on the nation’s Supreme Court?
If you were not paying attention, you are paying attention now. Like the antimatter superhero from the alternative universe, President Trump, using the exact same tactics of his predecessor Obama, has slashed deep gashes into the supposed fundamental transformation the previous chief executive crowed about. The bureaucrats of the EU in Brussels, the President of Mexico, the stunned establishment media, and the angry victimhood clingers that make up the majority of the Democrat Party are all on their heels, and are surely paying attention now. It seems to be that the ‘conviction-less’ candidate assumed by establishment observers, has more convictions then you can shake a stick at.
The larger question is not whether President Trump learned from his successor’s success in using the executive order to effect change, but rather whether he learned from Obama’s failure in his willful discarding of the democratic institutions of the country, and the compromise necessary in a democracy to turn transient executive actions into permanent law. Obama achieved only one legislative triumph, the Accountable Care Act of 2010, which rose out of the legislature through sleight of hand and a complete lack of engagement of the opposition, then never again returned to the concept of enacting laws for fear he would have to negotiate his vision of the world with representatives of the deplorable caste. President Trump will have to face the exact same challenges if he is determined to see his vision come to full fruition, and there will have to be compromises galore. There is no indication yet that the ‘fun’ of being President and simply declaring actions, will be set aside for the gritty sweat and tough hours of negotiations and compromises with others necessary to effect real change. We shall see.
The beauty of this version of democracy, as Ramparts has trumpeted since its inception, is the ingenious set of checks and balances envisioned by the founders, that prevents any one power group or transient notion from being immune to the influences and adjustments required by all other competing opinions. James Madison described this in Federalist #10:
“…the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[.]” (No. 10)
We have lost the appreciation of this careful structure as citizens. The ever growing government that sought to determine through regulation every facet of our lives and represent a singular “truth”, managed to sever the average person’s conviction that they could effect change in their own lives, and they grew increasingly detached from holding the monster bureaucracy accountable. Like a thunderclap from an approaching storm, the November election of Trump asserted the original framers intentions are not yet dead, and Trump’s first week has restore the sense that elections do matter after all.
The key issue that will determine the future of representative democracy in the limited government ideal put forth by our founders, is not whether the new president will govern from the middle. He is under no obligation to do so. No, the key will be if this president will allow the middle to govern, in the way this whole magnificent experiment of freedom was built to function. A President Trump who achieves his election mandate through the prism of careful democratic vetting and review, will have restored this country back on to the stable footing of personal freedom and civic responsibility that is the envy of every other land.
Like him or not, we are all paying attention again. On that alone, President Trump has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.