Guardrails or roadblocks?

The estimable Charles Krauthammer celebrates five instances in which, he says, the “guardrails” of our democracy “held against the careening recklessness of” President Trump. They are: the military “say[ing] no to Trump on the transgender ban”; the Senate “saving” Jeff Sessions; Senate Republicans rejecting Obamacare repeal; the Boy Scouts pushing back against Trump’s speech; and the police chiefs pushing back against Trump’s advocacy of treating suspects roughly.

In my view, there is nothing to celebrate in the generals saying no to President Trump on the transgender ban (a reasonable policy decision by the way). Indeed, far from being a guardrail to democracy, when generals say no to the president they threaten it. After all, generals are not elected by the American people.

Generals veto executive policy decisions in banana republics, not in the United States. The proper response to Trump’s tweet by the military was to say nothing publicly and to await formal instructions. Instead, says Krauthammer, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs effectively told the commander in chief to go jump in a lake. If that’s a fair interpretation, the chairman of the joint chiefs should be fired.

I’m also amazed that Krauthammer celebrates “Senate Republicans rejecting Obamacare repeal.” Actually, three Republican Senators out of 52 rejected repeal, though to be fair, they probably spoke for a few others.

Two of the three rejecting Senators — Murkowski and McCain — campaigned on the promise of supporting repeal of Obamacare. I fail to see how they struck a blow for democracy when they violated their promise to voters.

What the rejecting Senators did was prevent Republicans from trying to develop viable “repeal and replace” legislation for a program that few believe is working well and that nearly all Republicans believe is ill-conceived. Republicans gained control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency in large part because they promised to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Krauthammer says there has been a “sea change in public opinion” over the past seven years. There has been some change, but only enough to induce Republicans to campaign — with great success — on “repeal and replace,” rather than just “repeal.”

Senators Collins, Murkowski, and McCain have prevented the GOP from redeeming this promise to the American people. That’s no victory for democracy.

Of the other three examples Krauthammer cites, only one has anything to do with democracy. It was bad form for Trump to attack his Attorney General publicly and to tout his political success at a Boy Scout jamboree. I’m glad the Senate and the Scouts pushed back. But only Trump’s comment encouraging the police to treat suspects roughly has implications serious enough to warrant talk of “the sinews of our democracy” holding up, and even that’s a reach.

What I see here is something considerably less dramatic than guardrails protecting democracy. I see a president whose personality flaws and lack of experience cause him to commit unforced errors. These errors cause him to lose power and respect, such that people who matter, and who are not his natural opponents, feel increasingly free to tell the president to “go jump in the lake.”

Unless Trump stops shooting himself in the foot, we’ll see more of this — sometimes for better; often for worse.

One more point on guardrails. They exist on only one side of the road. If the Democrats regain power, they will not be in evidence.

They weren’t when Obama imposed the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” on the military. They weren’t when Democrats voted in lockstep to overhaul the health care industry with a monstrosity of a bill hardly any of them had read. Or when they voted for an Iran nuclear deal that many understood was ill-conceived.

Just because President Obama was smooth doesn’t mean he didn’t careen recklessly. He did, which is a major reason why we have President Trump.

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