Elsewhere in his speech, Barr exclaimed that Trump critics cannot, when asked, name any constitutional norms the president has broken. This makes one wonder whom the attorney general has been asking. It would be far more challenging to name one instance in which Trump has acted to preserve “over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing.” Where is this governing philosophy at work in the Trumpified Republican Party?
The only way the attorney general’s view can be reconciled with reality is if he believes that Republicans are not conservatives — because, as Barr insists, conservatives are virtuous political warriors focused on promoting long-term social harmony, even at the detriment of their short-term political interests.
Perhaps Barr will be the senior Republican to acknowledge guilt for then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2010 statement that, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Or for the party’s implacable refusal during the last administration to work with Democrats on health-care policy, economic rescue or restoring the nation’s fiscal balance.
Maybe Barr meant to call out Senate Republicans when he decried “the Senate’s unprecedented abuse of the advice-and-consent process.” Republicans’ abhorrent treatment of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland was among the most disgusting political dirty tricks of modern times, in one stroke poisoning relations on Capitol Hill and installing a conservative majority on the high court that will for decades suffer from questions of legitimacy. Though Democrats also played a substantial role in politicizing the judicial selection process, Republicans have done far more on balance, eliminating the filibuster on all judicial nominees, cramming often questionable Trump picks onto the bench and hijacking the Supreme Court.
Or it could be that Barr meant to excoriate Republicans’ unprecedented use of gerrymandering in states such as Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, or the party’s recent moves stripping power from incoming Democratic governors in those same states. Or, for that matter, the Trump administration’s attempt to rig the census to favor Republicans. It was Pennsylvania state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, who in 2012 bragged that the voter-ID law his majority passed would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
And then there is Trump, whose instinct to divide, insult and deride has brought him political advantage — one hopes momentary — but demeans the nation.
Democrats should keep their burn-it-all-down wing in check — and have so far done so. Republicans, meanwhile, have embraced a malign narcissist and a program of populist reaction — and they upend the rules to sideline those who disagree, in hysterical fear of what sharing power in good faith, the cornerstone of a functional democracy, would do to their vision for society. The Republicans are the Jacobins in today’s America, and the attorney general has stoked, rather than suppressed, their destructive zeal.