New Rules? Trump’s Epic Struggle with the Left

It is evident that the left, with the active cooperation of the news media, wishes to drive Trump from office. Nothing will sate the left or get them to calm down into a recognizably responsible opposition force.

And why shouldn’t the left think this can succeed? It has worked before. They bagged two presidents in succession back in the 1960s and 1970s—Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. “In a sense,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote of Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run again in 1968, “he was the first American President to be toppled by a mob. No matter that it was a mob of college professors, millionaires, flower children, and Radcliffe girls.” The night Johnson announced his decision, leftists took to the streets to sing “We have overcome.”

Now the leftist mob is larger and even more ferocious. The risk for Trump is that, like Nixon, he will commit some dreadful blunder that, as Nixon put it himself later, hands the left a sword that they can run right through him.

It needs to be kept in mind that the rise of the left and its particular role in bringing down Johnson and Nixon represented a fundamental change in the rules of American political practice. Nixon wondered, “What’s the big deal about bugging? Kennedy did it to me in 1960; Johnson did it to Goldwater in 1964,” etc. Nixon didn’t realize, as Michael Barone put it, that the rules had changed. Likewise, in 1960 there was no concern over how John F. Kennedy’s presidency might benefit the financial interests of his father’s vast financial empire, which, adjusted for inflation, might be comparable to Trump’s reported net worth—there was no demand to see JFK’s tax returns. But the rules today are different.

This is one reason to take stock of Trump and recognize that he isn’t just resisting the new rules (such as refusing to release his tax returns), but appears intent on writing a new set of political rules himself. His widely derided use of Twitter represents a new way of communicating directly with Americans through a new media in a manner similar to how Franklin Roosevelt used the new media of radio to reach the American people more directly through his fireside chats. The breathtaking speed of his executive action shows that he is determined to drive events, and not become the passive matrix upon which events control him.

Of course it is delicious to savor how liberals are rediscovering the separation of powers and limited government. If you think Trump—or Obama before him—tested the bounds of executive power, let’s recall just how far back this impulse goes. Let’s take in the close of FDR’s first inaugural address:

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.

But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisisbroad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe. . .

Much of the legislative history ever since then has consisted of Congress delegating broad powers to the executive, like the immigration statute that Trump used for his executive order that has the left going out of its mind.

Then there’s this from the very end of FDR’s speech:

The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.

Sounds just like Trump doesn’t it? No wonder the left is freaking out. He’s using the playbook they wrote, but adding a new chapter of his own in all caps and boldface type. Sad! for the left.

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