Amer­i­cans need a respite

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Ge­orge Will Colum­nist

Amer­i­cans stand­ing on scorched earth that is still smol­der­ing need a respite from fu­ri­ous­ness. An­drew Jack­son was, un­til last Tues­day, the only per­son elected pres­i­dent who was de­fined by his anger. He seems to have been con­stantly an­gry af­ter 1780, when at age 13 he car­ried mes­sages for the pa­tri­ots fight­ing the Bri­tish at the Bat­tle of Hang­ing Rock in South Carolina. He was taken prisoner, and a Bri­tish of­fi­cer or­dered him to clean the of­fi­cer’s boots. When Jack­son re­fused, the of­fi­cer swung his sword, gash­ing Jack­son’s head and fingers.

To­day, many Amer­i­cans seem to rel­ish be­ing fu­ri­ous. An in­dig­na­tion in­dus­try has bat­tened on the Repub­li­can Party, feed­ing this ad­dic­tion. This in­dus­try is in­im­i­cal to con­ser­vatism’s health.

A vet­eran base­ball coach once said base­ball is not a game you can play with your teeth clenched. The sport of the long sea­son re­quires emo­tional equipoise, a con­tin­u­ous com­bi­na­tion of con­cen­tra­tion and re­lax­ation. As does demo­cratic pol­i­tics, which is an un­end­ing ex­er­cise in pa­tient per­sua­sion.

Fur­ther­more, in pol­i­tics, style and sub­stance are braided. Many things, and all the most im­por­tant ones, can­not be ef­fec­tively ad­vo­cated at the top of the ad­vo­cates’ lungs. Try to shout a per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment for car­ing about the sepa­ra­tion of pow­ers, or why the ju­di­ciary should be ac­tively en­gaged in coun­ter­ing the ex­cesses of the ma­jori­tar­ian branches.

Crit­ics will re­spond: Most vot­ers do not give a tin­ker’s damn about such mat­ters. This is true, which is pre­cisely why per­sua­sion is nec­es­sary to tem­per the pub­lic’s in­stinc­tive aver­sion to the pa­tience that pol­i­tics re­quires — the pub­lic’s pro­cliv­ity for dis­parag­ing in­sti­tu­tional im­ped­i­ments to im­me­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion. Only con­ser­va­tives will un­der­take such per­sua­sion.

In­deed, mak­ing dif­fi­cult con­sti­tu­tional ar­gu­ments is cen­tral to con­ser­vatism’s rai­son d’etre. This is par­tic­u­larly ur­gent now that con­ser­vatism is iden­ti­fied with the pres­i­den­t­elect, a con­ser­va­tive-of-con­ve­nience who ex­presses his adopted con­vic­tions as though he re­cently pur­chased a Rosetta Stone pro­gram for quick flu­ency in speak­ing con­ser­vatism.

Peo­ple who have been con­ser­va­tive since be­fore 2015 should, in con­sid­er­ing how to re­late to the pres­i­dent-elect, ask them­selves some ques­tions, such as: What are we say­ing if we say we are against free trade? Pro­tec­tion­ism is com­pre­hen­sive gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion in eco­nomic life. It sup­plants com­mer­cial cal­cu­la­tions with po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. Us­ing tar­iffs, which are taxes im­posed at the bor­der, gov­ern­ment im­poses its judg­ment of what Amer­i­cans should be per­mit­ted to pur­chase, in what quan­ti­ties and at what prices.

Pro­gres­sives think — or did un­til last Tues­day evening — as Woodrow Wil­son did about the de­lights of un­con­strained pres­i­den­tial power. In 1887, Pro­fes­sor Wil­son of Bryn Mawr Col­lege re­gret­ted that Amer­ica has ex­ces­sively “stud­ied the art of curb­ing ex­ec­u­tive power to the con­stant ne­glect of the art of per­fect­ing ex­ec­u­tive meth­ods.” It ex­as­per­ated him that Amer­ica “has been more con­cerned to ren­der gov­ern­ment just and mod­er­ate than to make it facile, well-or­dered and ef­fec­tive.” Pro­gres­sives may re­gret Don­ald Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive meth­ods if he em­u­lates Barack Obama’s “just try to stop me” ap­proach to pres­i­den­tial en­force­ment (or non-en­force­ment) and reg­u­la­tory (or dereg­u­la­tory) ac­tions.

Be­fore the elec­tion, Trump’s more thought­ful sup­port­ers con­ceded his com­pre­hen­sive un­fa­mil­iar­ity with gov­er­nance but in­sisted that he would be suf­fi­ciently wise to sur­round him­self with sea­soned peo­ple and suf­fi­ciently hum­ble to heed them. He could make these sup­po­si­tions more plau­si­ble by nom­i­nat­ing Kelly Ay­otte to be at­tor­ney gen­eral.

A for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral of New Hamp­shire, Sen. Ay­otte dis­tanced her­self from Trump dur­ing her un­suc­cess­ful re-elec­tion cam­paign this au­tumn. But the Jus­tice Depart­ment has been po­lit­i­cally tainted by, among other things, its las­si­tude re­gard­ing the IRS’ abuses against con­ser­va­tive ad­vo­cacy groups. It needs a steely but ami­able leader, not some­one with a re­cent record of hys­ter­i­cal par­ti­san­ship (e.g., Rudy Gi­u­liani). By such Cabi­net choices Pres­i­dent-elect Trump can be­gin to present a per­sona more mea­sured and less bel­li­cose than that of can­di­date Trump.

Ge­orge Will’s email ad­dress is georgewill@wash­post.com.

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