That logic’s essence, expressed variously by Herbert Croly and Woodrow Wilson, FDR’s brains trust, intellectuals of both the old and the new Left, choked back and blurted out by progressive politicians, is this: America’s constitutional republic had given the American people too much latitude to be who they are, that is: religiously and socially reactionary, ignorant, even pathological, barriers to Progress. Thankfully, an enlightened minority exists with the expertise and the duty to disperse the religious obscurantism, the hypocritical talk of piety, freedom, and equality, which excuses Americans’ racism, sexism, greed, and rape of the environment. As we progressives take up our proper responsibilities, Americans will no longer live politically according to their prejudices; they will be ruled administratively according to scientific knowledge.
Progressivism’s programs have changed over time. But its disdain for how other Americans live and think has remained fundamental. More than any commitment to principles, programs, or way of life, this is its paramount feature. The media reacted to Hillary Clinton’s remark that “half of Trump’s supporters could be put into a ‘basket of deplorables’” as if these sentiments were novel and peculiar to her. In fact, these are unremarkable restatements of our ruling class’s perennial creed.--September 27, 2016 Angelo M. Codevilla "After the Republic" @Claremont Review
This is the second in a series after Trump's victory (recall here; but don't forget this post and this one). Codevilla's starting point is that the American Republic is doomed and that the choice between Trump and Clinton merely represents the choice between the nature of empire. In the essay, Codevilla traces this decline over "the past half century," that is, the period of Great Society, the Voting Rights act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which is treated with particular scorn by Codevilla--his silence on the racial injustices it corrected reminds us that all supporters of federalism and constitutionalism find it difficult to confront the problem of racism with forthrightness);* but as the passage above suggests, the ideas precede it and can be traced to the Progressive movement's faith in managerialism. Alongside it, there has been a growing tendency of presidents to rule "not by enforcing laws but increasingly through agencies that write their own rules, interpret them, and punish unaccountably—the administrative state." Even if we disagree over that 'unaccountably' (generally one has recourse to courts), the administrative state has grown because of the needs of the (imperial) military-industrial-welfare-finance-state.
One may respond, with the experience of Republican obstructionism toward the Obama administration in mind, that President turned to executive orders and administrative rule because the Congress had no interest in working with him. But this does not address Codevilla's point because it is pretty clear that the (let's call it Madisonian) constitution was designed to generate considerable status quo bias. To a considerable extent this status quo bias was maintained in the settlement after the Civil War. So, from this vantage point the last century has been an unmitigated disaster from the perspective of constitutionalism.
One may then wonder, what makes 2016 so different from earlier elections? Here then one must recognize the disappointment of the Reagan years; while critics from the Left treat Reaganism (and Thatcherism) as the successful arrival of neoliberalism, from the Right it is seen as a solidification of the New Deal and Great Society--one that is made official in the compassionate conservatism of Bush the younger. (It is notable that Clinton's The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was the only major cut in the welfare state.) One reason why Trump is welcomed, then, is that he offers an alternative to status quo consensus among Democrats and Republicans.
One may then find it peculiar that a constitutional-republican would welcome Trump because -- like European new right politicians who combine nationalism with welfare-statism -- he actually campaigned on defending and extending the welfare state in various ways. In traditional terms, some of his attacks on Clinton were from the Left. But Trump is not being welcomed because he promises us to return back to a constitutional order (first best); he is being welcomed because he would signal the de facto regime change.
Before I note a final peculiarity in Codevilla's argument, it is worth mentioning that I agree with elements of his criticism of managerial Progressivism, As I noted when criticizing Jason Brennan's attempts to promote more technocracy,** "across the western world, government today is the province of the educated...epistemocratic elites have created a two-tier polity: the credentialed are protected by the state and have lots of economic and judicial privileges; the uneducated are, well, left to fend for themselves harassed by law enforcement and technocracy. Brennan notes that "all across the West, we’re seeing the rise of rise of angry, resentful, nationalist, xenophobic and racist movements, movements made up mostly of low-information voters." What he fails to recognize is that these are the effects of a political culture and institutions that are already highly epistocratic. Why prescribe a double dosage of a medicine that has nearly killed the patient?"
Codevilla's main argument in favor of Trump is a lesser-evil argument. Yet, it is peculiar that part of his positive argument for Trump is the following: "The character of an eventual Trump Administration is unpredictable because speculating about Trump’s mind is futile." Indeed, I agree with this as a psychological fact (or fact about character). Early signs suggests that many of Trump appointments will continue the rent-seeking (and worse) that Codevilla decries. But what is peculiar here is that somebody with fondness for classical republicanism and constitutional order would embrace (guaranteed?) unpredictability. For such a theorist the rule of law is justified as a means to reduce uncertainty and, simultaneously, create reasonable expectations. (Of course, there are better and worse versions of the rule of law.) But by marrying the (imperial) military-industrial-welfare-finance-state to unpredictability one gets the worst of both even if Trump turns out to be merely pragmatic and not tyrannical.
Codevilla recognizes this point, and like traditional Marxists, suggests that "Continuing pretty much on the current trajectory under the same class will further fuel revolutionary sentiments in the land all by itself. Inevitable disappointment with Trump is sure to add to them." That is to say, if we listen carefully, the most insightful and eloquent defenders of Trump foresee a bad and bloody ending to his rule. Let's pray they are wrong.
*It is not sufficient to say that the Act removed "restraints on government;" it also removed restraints by state-governments. It is easy to say that "Republican candidates" had "to reset the Civil Rights movement on sound constitutional roots," its much harder to see (a) how to do so in principle, and (b) and in practice given the considerable local, racist majorities who used restraints by state governments to secure their privileges.
**Jason Brennan would not interpret himself as a Progressive. But his particular species of libertarianism belongs to the same stream.