Democracies have, historically, been fragile vessels. Whether in ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, they were torn apart when factionalism erupted into civil war. The question with which America’s Founders wrestled was therefore: Would this happen here? Could our constitution withstand the conflicts inherent in self-governance?
One of the great political advances made by the British during the evolution of their democracy was the invention of the “loyal opposition.” The party system, which is no more than three centuries old, depended upon electoral losers remaining loyal to the government even when ousted from office.
We now talk about peaceful transitions of power and take pride in over two centuries of non-violent changeovers. With the exception of our Civil War, whenever a new party won the presidency, the outgoing one stood back and allowed to newcomers to govern.
This has been so ever since John Adams made way for Thomas Jefferson. These men had become political enemies; nonetheless Adams did not try to subvert his successor. Has this changed? Have American Liberals become so anti-democratic that they are prepared to discard a vital tradition?
The leaders of the Democratic Party tell us that their aim is to “resist” Donald Trump. Although they condemned Republican “opposition” when Obama was in command, they regularly double-down on their hostility to the policies—and person—of our current president.
But is this “loyal opposition”? I submit it is not. It isn’t a spirited defense of competing policies, but an effort to subvert those of their foe. Liberals are, in short, intent on sabotaging a government they do not control. They want to prevent it from operating, rather than to contest its programs.
One of the latest manifestations of this anti-democratic mindset was Leandra English’s refusal to hand over control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to the interim director appointed by Trump. So far as she was concerned, her authority was independent of an elected administration.
The same attitude was revealed in the Senate’s slow-walking of hundreds of administrative appointments. Whether these were judges or the heads of agencies, their approval was delayed so that holdovers from the previous regime could continue to make critical decisions.
Nowadays we have grown accustomed to talking about the “deep state.” In this we are referring to the bureaucratic moles entrenched in government organizations. Instead of carrying out the mandates of higher-ups with whom they disagree, they implement the guidelines of the previous administration.
We have seen this at the IRS, the FBI, the Department of State, and the Justice Department. It is also on display in the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. Many of those who run their day-to-day operations are more loyal to their own ideological commitments than their new bosses.
As for the lock-step resistance of Democratic legislators to the either a tax-cut or ObamaCare deregulation, it is reflexive and spiteful. Instead of seeking compromise, these lawmakers want it all. Their idea of cooperation is to have their opponents capitulate to them.
Indeed, when we hear Democrats warning—in apocalyptic terms—about the consequences of conservative initiatives, they do not fear the dire effects of these programs. To the contrary, they are terrified that they might succeed.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are acutely aware of what happened when Ronald Reagan cut taxes. Not only was he re-elected by a landslide, but his coattails extended to George H.W. Bush. The current Democratic leadership does not want that to happen again and so they have dug in their heels.
This is understandable, but does not make it any less threatening to the integrity of our political system. To the degree that those who have lost elections refuse to abide by the will of the electorate, they destabilize our delicate democratic balance.
So why are they doing this? Why have they decided to abandon principles to which they have hitherto paid allegiance? The answer is that Liberalism has failed and they are in a panic. They know better than anyone that Obama did not deliver “hope and change.”
Their goal is accordingly to make sure the public does not realize this. Were voters to do so, it might be catastrophic for leftwing political fortunes.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University