A president, even a very unpopular one like #45, always possesses a great deal of power to initiate events. He is already trying hard to distract us from the indictments coming his way. Trump is not cool, calm, and collected; nor does he have any respect for our constitutional republic, or for liberty, or for limited government, or for checks and balances. He may have the complicity of Republican politicians and big-money donors, and I am not counting on Trump to show any restraint this week as he reacts to Mueller. But his power of initiative should not and won’t go unanswered. I do expect protests in the streets of Washington if he starts firing people in the Justice Department to get at Mueller. Protests need to remain pro-, not just anti-, and that can happen if we all remember what is worth defending: the freedoms promised by the Bill of Rights. They need defending again. That’s pro-liberty. Liberty has been a big talking point of the political and religious right wing, but it needs to be the focus of those who cannot abide what this government is doing now. Facts and science matter; freedom is the precondition that matters even more. The fight against what many now see as Trump’s thuggish agitprop is a fight for liberty and freedom. There are many non-liberal, non-progressive people who are offended by Trump and who may be willing to protest for freedom and liberty. This is not the time for progressive, liberal-minded people to pick fights with them unless there is a compelling reason. I am not expecting to see Jeff Sessions or Mitt Romney or Chris Christie marching against the president, but let’s keep the door open for people like them, take a positive approach, and persuade people with positive arguments.
Democrats have seized quite a lot of moral high ground this year. But they could set a higher bar for themselves in the home stretch. This year is an unusually opportune moment to seize back the high ground from Republicans on liberty and freedom. The GOP has owned this issue for too long, and this year’s Republican presidential nominee does not show any sign of caring a fig for freedom–on the contrary, “I alone can fix it.” So much for limited government and ordered liberty!
Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic convention this summer, for example, was all about ordered liberty, but the freedom theme got submerged (for both pro-Hillary and pro-Trump people) in the back-and-forth about whether or not he should or shouldn’t be immune from criticism because Mr. Khan and his wife are Gold Star parents. There is a strong case that Trump was a fool, politically, to attack the Khans, but the substance of Mr. Khan’s message in defense of constitutional freedoms could and should be lifted up more by Democrats.
Democrats could and should say more about freedom as equal opportunity, equal economic opportunity, as described by FDR in his “Second Bill of Rights” speech of 1944. The freedom to be left alone is part of freedom, but not all of it by any means. Most of us are not living on the open range, however powerful the fantasy may be. Most of us really do not want government to mess with our Social Security and Medicare benefits–which nobody has a right to look down on as “entitlements” when we spent decades paying in. Allowing Paul Ryan or the so-called Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to get away with entitlement-shaming is political malpractice, not to mention wrong.
This year is a golden opportunity to reframe and reimagine freedom in ways that actually reflect our experience now. Not sure how many undecided voters are really left (or needed) in this year’s presidential election, but seizing the high ground on freedom will have far-reaching, long-lasting positive effects. As FDR said, “necessitous men are not free.” Lifting up that theme is the royal road to reaching swing voters–and beyond.
Not strong at all. I thought it was a sign of weakness and derangement when Trump disrespected John McCain for becoming a war prisoner. I expected stronger pushback from actual conservative Republicans running against him over Trump’s ignorance of the Constitution and complete lack of interest in liberty or freedom or limited government. That was then. Now Trump has gone full “Siberian candidate,” (hat tip Paul Krugman) and Hillary Clinton is the only obstacle left to a Trump presidency. There are no Republican elites with enough national constituency or credibility to oppose Trump. That leaves the donor class and the owners of Fox, CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, the AP and NYT to get over their bothsiderism and show some news judgment about where the threat to democracy lies.
Freedom and liberty may not mean enough to Hillary Clinton, but they mean diddley squat to Donald Trump.