Donald Trump has, in a stunner, been elected president. The man whose candidacy seemed like a joke at the beginning, who was written off as a crank, a hack and, most often, a bigot, defeated Hillary Clinton, one of the most experienced, best funded and most corrupt presidential candidates in American history.
Trump’s election has seismically shifted the American political landscape. Democrats expected to wake up this morning with the White House securely in hand for another four years. They had even held out hope of recapturing the Senate and substantially narrowing the gap in the House of Representatives. Those hopes were ground to dust last night under the churning wheels of the Trump Train.
Republicans, too, have been surprised by the outcome. The dissension that Trump’s presidency caused within Republican ranks, combined with his tendency to give his opponents plenty of fodder, gave very few Republicans an honest expectation of victory. Having won not only the White House, but having also retained both houses of Congress, these Republicans now find themselves in the unexpected position of controlling Washington for at least the next two years.
Buried in the news and analysis of what happened yesterday, and why, are lessons and challenges that confront both liberals and conservatives as they navigate the next four years.
The lesson for liberals: don’t feed the beast
Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, liberals have been, to put it charitably, insufferable. They’ve interpreted the popularity of Obama, a charismatic fellow, as widespread support for his administration’s leftist policies. In their perspective, the opinions that Obama and his administration held on issues ranging from gay marriage to universal health care were the dominant opinions of Americans. The truth of that sentiment seemed to be confirmed by Obama’s two electoral victories.
Because they misinterpreted Obama’s popularity for the widespread support for their ideas, they fell in love with the thought that those ideas could be forced down by the federal government upon the few remaining recalcitrant folks in flyover country. They especially liked the idea of their beloved Obama dictating policy via executive orders.
Liberals now find themselves gobsmacked by the realization that the hated Donald Trump now wields the power that they worked so strenuously to give to Obama. The sword that Obama swung in a most beneficent and benign manner will now be held by a madman who wants to destroy them all. At least that’s what liberals think.
Regardless of whether or not the left’s fears of Trump are warranted (and clearly they’re not), the lesson that they should take away from the election is this: don’t argue in favor of giving your guy powers that you don’t want the guy on the other side to have.
It was, in retrospect, a very poor strategy for liberals to have argued for the strengthening of presidential prerogative on the assumption that Obama or some other sufficiently trustworthy person (read: a Democrat) would be the only person who would have that power. It was especially shortsighted since liberals spent the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency criticizing him for exercising that very same prerogative.
If liberals are as worried and fearful over Trump’s election as they pretend to be, then they need to take a hard look at their political philosophy and ask themselves whether or not they should continue to argue for more presidential control of national policy, or whether they should be working to curtail the amount of damage that one individual within the government can do.
For Republicans, it’s put up or shut up time
Conservatives also have challenges to face, because having won the election means that the Republicans can no longer make a plea for votes based on what they could do if they’re only given the chance.
For years conservatives have talked about restoring the federal government to its constitutional limits, of repealing Obamacare and allowing the free market to correct the health care industry’s lingering problems. Conservatives have wrung their hands over religious freedom and gun rights. Above all, conservatives have pined for the return of Republican power to Washington to end, once and for all, the horrific practice of abortion.
All of these goals will be the report card by which the Trump Administration will be measured. Republicans have pleaded for one more chance to fix things, and conservatives have given it to them. Failure now will cut the last remaining thread of credibility that the Republican Party has.
This is particularly true on the abortion issue, for that is the one issue that Republicans can consistently rely on to drive conservative voters into their ranks. Indeed, many conservatives who made arguments for Trump based them primarily on the abortion issue.
If 2020 rolls around without substantial progress being made on the issue, conservatives can safely conclude that the party has no real plans to change the status quo and, as a result, those conservatives can confidently look elsewhere when casting their votes.
Additionally, conservatives must now guard against falling into the very same trap that liberals did in the Obama years – of shoveling buckets full of new executive powers into the Trump White House – which is exactly what they did during George W. Bush’s presidency. If conservatives want to be consistent in their opposition to the tyranny they felt under Obama, they must not advocate an increase in the amount of power of the office that Obama held, and that some future tyrannical Democrat will hold.
A curmudgeon’s conclusion
I am, admittedly, a pessimist when it comes to politics, particularly democratic (note the small “d”) politics. I hold out no hope that liberals will learn their lesson. More likely, they will criticize Trump at every possible moment while biding their time until they can regain control of the dictator’s chair.
I also do not hold out hope that this Republican victory will result in more liberty and less government. Nor do I believe that any substantial progress will be made on abortion, or even that much will be attempted. Obamacare will likely be repealed, but it will also likely be replaced with a similarly awful alternative to the free market. Most of all, I fully expect conservatives to pick up where they left off in 2008 and resume their defense of the president’s freedom to rule as he pleases.
My reason for this pessimism is that throughout this entire election, neither side has stopped to question whether or not the election of a president should cause this much angst and happiness, should demand this much emotion and attention. At no point has even a small percentage of conservatives or liberals considered whether or not the problems that confront America can effectively be solved by the state.
Because the underlying issues have not been addressed, the problems that they feed will only continue to grow. People will continue to look to the government, and especially the president, to solve their problems and to ensure that their views of society are made mandatory and non-negotiable.
Americans will continue to want a strongman, and will continue to be mortified if that strongman is not of their own choosing.