02.12.2017
  • United States

Trump: 0. Democrats: 0. The People: 1

  • Corey Robin

Throughout the country, the Trump administration's policies are being met by resistance — no thanks to Democratic elites.

A protest in Philadelphia outside the Republican Congressional Retreat in January. Joe Piette / Flickr

1.

Donald Trump was handed a major defeat a couple nights ago when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate his travel ban. The three-judge panel, which included a George W. Bush appointee, unanimously rejected one of Trump’s key arguments: that when it comes to immigration and national security, the actions of the executive branch are not subject to judicial review.

Although our jurisprudence has long counseled deference to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security, neither the Supreme Court nor our court has ever held that courts lack the authority to review executive action in those arenas for compliance with the Constitution. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that the political branches have unreviewable authority over immigration or are not subject to the Constitution when policymaking in that context.

FDR was handed defeat after defeat by the courts, yet managed to turn their intransigence — which was arrayed against what a clear majority of the nation wanted — into a symbol of the old regime that needed to be gutted and into a source of even greater power for him and his party.

That’s a little hard to do when:

a) you were put into office by a minority of the electorate;

b) your policies are unpopular;

c) you and your voters belong to the party that is both creator and custodian of that old regime; and

d) your proposals are being struck down by judges appointed by your party.

That signifies not an opportunity for you to wrestle that old regime to the ground — since in so many respects you don’t want to touch the old regime — but instead a crisis within the old regime, which you were elected to reform and save, not destroy.

Sad.

2.

It seems as if Trump’s campaign promises about immigration — his rhetoric about Muslims and refugees, his willingness to say what so many people in his party thought but were too polite or smart to say — will continue to come back to haunt him in court. If that overtly racist rhetoric turns out to sink him, or at least these policies, it’ll be another nail in the coffin not just of Trump but of conservatism and the GOP.

Throughout the campaign, I said that Trump’s rhetoric was a sign of the weakening of the conservative cause: a racist or nativist dog whistle used to be enough to mobilize majorities. No more: now the party needs a megaphone, just to mobilize an ever dwindling base. But if it turns out that that megaphone is precisely what sinks the policies the base wants, there’s going to be major turmoil within the party, from top to bottom.

This is the kind of political incoherence that weak parties in weak regimes find themselves in. Again, this is not a symptom of Trump, his erraticness, or his incompetence. This is a symptom of the impasse the Republican Party has found itself as the premises of the Reagan regime start to get shaky.

3.

According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, there’s been a marked shift in public opinion on immigration.

Back in November, Americans were asked:

Do you support or oppose suspending immigration from ‘terror prone’ regions, even if it means turning away refugees from those regions?

At the time, respondents favored suspending immigration by 50-44 percent.

As of two days ago, those numbers have flipped. Now respondents oppose suspending immigration by 50-44 percent. That’s a 12-point flip in public opinion — against the president’s position.

With new presidents, and presidents we think of as politically potent, you expect to see the exact opposite trend line: that is, policies and proposals getting more popular, not less. Yet the opposite seems to be happening with Trump.

What so many on the Left fear about Trump —wrongly, in my view — is his allegedly intuitive feel and appeal to the masses, particularly on these issues of nationalism, immigration, race, and religion. Yet it seems that that is precisely where he is falling down. And not merely because of the incompetence of his administration. But also, critically, because of the opposition and resistance so many people have mounted. Making his policies chaotic, disruptive, and a big hot mess, actually turns people off to those policies because it shows that they (the policies) can’t deliver what most people want: a sense of a calm and stability.

4.

This piece by Marc Tracy about Steve Bannon’s reading habits is really interesting and smart.

Tracy ran into Steve Bannon at an airport. Bannon was reading The Best and the Brightest.

At first glance, that makes sense: Bannon loathes the liberal Ivy League technocrats who populated the Obama administration and whose predecessors got us into Vietnam.

But what defined those Johnson-era technocrats, Tracy shows, is not that they knew what they were talking about; half the time, they hadn’t a clue. They were just part of the smart set, who by virtue of a certain temperament and repertoire of skills and attitudes, were presumed to be the natural leaders of the nation (not unlike the Vox set today, but I digress).

As Tracy argues, though, “Mr. Bannon seems less a repudiation than a reincarnation of the tragic protagonists of The Best and the Brightest.”

Indeed.

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to NPR, and one of Trump’s flunkies, Sebastian Gorka — who has a plummy English accent of the sort that got Dean Acheson into so much trouble with the McCarthyite right; autres temps — was heralding Bannon as a strategic genius who thinks strategically and strategizes like no other strategist. The man needn’t know anything specific; it’s just his cast of mind that matters.

And Trump himself, I would add, is just the CEO version of the best and the brightest, peddling what he allegedly learned from the art of the deal as somehow the Rosetta Stone to governing a nation.

5.

Jonathan Chait thinks Obamacare may survive, and Matt Yglesias itemizes all the ways in which Trump has met defeat thus far.

If they’re right — and I’ve suggested that I think they are — Trump is going to start to look less and less appealing to his base.

It’s hard to overstate how devastating it can be to a president not to be able to win on signature campaign promises. Whatever ideological fervor he can muster, he starts looking weak. Very weak. And that is something that no president — least of all Trump, who has made a fetish of his efficacy and strength — can afford.

6.

Listen to this story from Sunday’s Weekend Edition on NPR.

A California Republican congressman, who was reelected with more than 60 percent of the vote, thought he’d convene a friendly little conversation at a town hall. Hundreds of hostile constituents showed up, and after failing to respond adequately to their concerns, he had to have a police escort on his way out. One woman, who has never been politically active before, is quoted saying something like, “Apparently, this is now what I do on weekends.” And, apparently, these are being organized across the country.

So two takeaways:

First, this is happening in Republican districts. There’s a lot of criticism of the Left — and frankly a lot of self-flagellating criticism on the Left — about how we’re in a bubble, we’re only speaking to ourselves, and so forth. These types of events are happening in Republican districts, sometimes in Republican states. Criticize away, but don’t let your lefty angst blind you to the great organizing that is actually happening in these areas.

Second, also pay attention to all these people who were previously apolitical or not involved who are now getting involved. I’m seeing this everywhere, sometimes with people I know personally. This is not a movement of the usual suspects. People are changing right before our eyes: not because they’re getting lectured to or talked at with the right political line, but because they’re acting, getting out there in the streets, and doing things and learning things while and through they’re doing them. That’s what matters.

7.

Apparently,

Establishment Democrats have been surprised by the longevity and ferocity of grassroots opposition to President Trump . . .

Longevity? The man has been in office for exactly 20 days. I guess neoliberalism has fucked with the time horizon of these people more than I realized.

8.

Back in the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher took stock of her party’s failure at the polls, took a close look at the opposition’s successes, and came to a realization: “The other side have got an ideology. We must have one as well.”

Nancy Pelosi? Not so much.

9.

It still amazes me, when you consider how massive the racial wealth gap is in this country, that Hillary Clinton managed to present herself in the primary as the candidate concerned with racial equality while simultaneously claiming, “Not everything is about an economic theory.”

I hope, the next time we have to fight this fight on the Left, people realize that when a candidate is saying something like that, she’s not signaling an intention to confront racial inequality. She’s actually telling you, in no uncertain terms, that she won’t.

10.

About a month ago, we were hearing a lot about how the problem with democracy is that it mobilizes the masses, who then threaten democracy by making it difficult for elites to preserve liberal principles like the rule of law and the integrity of institutions. Now we’re seeing that it may be those very masses who actually save democracy and those liberal principles.