It was James Madison who was the great champion of separation of powers, that is, an active and robust separation, so that each branch of government with its several well-defined assigned powers is itself always potent, equally so compared to the others, so the overall result is a state of active equipoise. Madison saw a danger in any form of the concentration of power (hence as well in the ceding of power from any holder of it, from one branch to another, or from the states to the federal government, and vice versa). In the same way, and as always, an effective, possibly triumphal, liberal thrust to the laws that guarantee our freedoms and our common weal must be tempered and equilibrated when those laws are made and debated before passage by an equally healthy conservative contemplation of every conceivable and foreseeable effect they would have, on the economy, on the general welfare, and on the projected values of our country to the rest of the world.
As much as he is considered an icon of the liberal underpinnings of our democracy, Madison is, as well, endorsed and heeded as an avatar of certain core conservative values as part of the framework of maintaining adequate governmental oversight and protections of basic rights for all citizens, without infringing on the liberty of any individual.[cf: Federalist, Number 51]
American conservatives starting at a position of less than zero
I would say that conservatives have a harder task ahead of them than the liberals. It’s harder because the status quo is the result of the forced expulsion of conservative values, principles, and philosophy as one of the major strains of thought shaping policy for the party currently in power.
Nominally, it’s the GOP, but in fact, the party is now the party of Trump, and as Peter Wehner says in The Atlantic today (link appears below), in a review of George Will’s newest book and the embedded encomium to Will and his steadfast embrace of life-long principles, “Trump knows almost nothing about conservatism, yet because of his political success, his fate is now intertwined with those of conservatism and of America’s civic and political culture.” Indeed, as Wehner also points out, Trump is a populist, and as Will defines it, populism is “the obverse of conservatism.” Which is to endow populism with an undeserved dignity.
It is in the ongoing act of preserving what conservatism interprets as the founding principles of our country that it’s the conservatives’ job, above all, to shepherd the thinking of all to a reconsideration of those principles. That is, it will be, if and when we find ourselves in the position of recovering in a post-Trump reality. It will be the job of all, and conservatives in particular (because of their self-mandate), to assess both the extent to which we have strayed that much further from them – because of the impact of so-called “Trumpism” on our ongoing sensibilities as a people – and a realistic estimate of how and in what altered form we can realistically expect to return to them.
As is demonstrated virtually every day, in terms of meat-and-potatoes politics in our country, there is nothing anyone anywhere on the left can say or do that will alter the thinking (if thinking is the operative motivating power) of those who identify as Republicans at present. Conservatives, now in full retreat, will be the ones best suited to find the means to right a listing vessel. It’s not a task I envy them.
The questions will be, when Trump no longer can affect us in the immediate way that he does now, what the lasting, effectively the permanent, ways our character, our behavior, and our values as a nation have been altered, and to what extent we wish to try to return to some semblance of previous conditions and, simultaneously and alternatively, how we wish to chart a new course for ourselves as a nation.
Liberals and progressives already have mapped out such a prospective course—this is the mission behind the articulation of a Green New Deal and of a much broader socialist mandate for all in the form of universal programs for health care and education. They don’t need assistance – despite the progressive-liberal belief that their vision and strategy has been stymied, if not, in fact, paralyzed. Rather, what will be necessary is what I am ill-disposed to call a corrective, so much as a countervailing, set of objectives and programs that seek similar results for the entirety of the population, but by other means, and through a different interpretation of the shape of political economy.
The great dialog, the struggle, that characterizes the seemingly opposing economic philosophies of socialism vs. capitalism must be revived as a vital debate, rather than a contest of ill-defined shibboleths. At present, the prospects for a forceful argument for implementation of truly new initiatives are unclear, and at present lop-sided in perspective. These not only will be, but must be not merely corrective, not merely ameliorative, not merely generative of more equitable universal conditions for all, and not merely belong entirely to the liberal-progressive forces that have been, if anything, revived and energized by the incumbency of Trump and his supporters. When and if he is gone, but especially if he is re-installed for the furtherance of his rudderless program of governance by whim we are at risk of finding ourselves eventually with no program and no real vision with any substance. With him, we will continue to see the deconstruction of long-established systems and programs that were the stable apparatus of government – however flawed, insufficient, unfair, and economically inefficient. Worse, even the vision of a greener future in every sense, as held out by certain liberal-progressive factions, will be extinguished, because the means of achievement in some unattainable future state of rehabilitation will also have been dismantled.
Before we can assess the damage, so far uncontained, and certainly before we can assess the responsibility for how to recover, never mind undo it, we must, conservatives and other, mainly alternative countervailing, factions together seek the final abdication of his office, and not settle for a perpetual renunciation, an act that will outlive his tenure, however long, and doubtless will outlive him. An eternal invidious legacy.