Amer­i­can democ­racy is not so deca­dent af­ter all

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Charles Krautham­mer E-mail Charles Krautham­mer at let­ters@ charleskrautham­

Un­der the dark gray cloud, amid the gen­eral gloom, al­low me to of­fer a ray of sun­shine. The last two months have brought a pleas­ant sur­prise: Turns out the much feared, much pre­dicted with­er­ing of our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions has been grossly ex­ag­ger­ated. The sys­tem lives.

Let me ex­plain. Don­ald Trump’s tri­umph last year was based on a frontal at­tack on the Wash­ing­ton “es­tab­lish­ment,” that all-pow­er­ful, all-see­ing, supremely cyn­i­cal, bi­par­ti­san “car­tel” (as Ted Cruz would have it) that al­legedly runs every­thing. Yet the es­tab­lish­ment proved to be Potemkin empty. In 2016, it folded piti­fully, sur­ren­der­ing with barely a fight to a lightweight out­sider.

At which point, fear of the vaunted be­he­moth turned to con­tempt for its now-ex­posed las­si­tude and deca­dence. Com­pound­ing the con­fu­sion were Trump’s in­ti­ma­tions of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. He de­clared “I alone can fix it” and “I am your voice,” the clas­sic tropes of the dem­a­gogue. He un­abashedly ex­pressed ad­mi­ra­tion for strong­men (most no­tably, Vladimir Putin).

Trump had just cut through the grandees like a hot knife through but­ter. Who would now pre­vent him from tram­pling, caudil­lo­like, over a Wash­ing­ton grown weak and deca­dent? A Wash­ing­ton, more­over, that had de­clined markedly in pub­lic es­teem, as con­fi­dence in our tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tions — from the po­lit­i­cal par­ties to Congress — fell to new lows.

The strong­man cometh, it was feared. Who and what would stop him?

Two months into the Trumpian era, we have our an­swer. Our checks and bal­ances have turned out to be quite vi­brant. Con­sider: 1. The courts. Trump rolls out not one but two im­mi­gra­tion bans, and is stopped dead in his tracks by the courts. How­ever you feel about the mer­its of the pol­icy it­self (in my view, ex­e­crable and use­less but le­gal) or the mer­its of the con­sti­tu­tional rea­son­ing of the 9th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals (em­bar­rass­ingly weak, trans­par­ently po­lit­i­cal), the fact re­mains: The pres­i­dent pro­posed and the courts dis­posed.

Trump’s push­back? A plain­tive tweet or two com­plain­ing about the judges — that his own Supreme Court nom­i­nee de­nounced (if obliquely) as “dis­heart­en­ing” and “de­mor­al­iz­ing.” 2. The states. Fed­er­al­ism lives. The first im­mi­gra­tion chal­lenge to Trump was brought by the at­tor­neys gen­eral of two states (Wash­ing­ton and Min­nesota) pick­ing up on a trend be­gun dur­ing the Barack Obama years when state at­tor­neys gen­eral banded to­gether to kill his im­mi­gra­tion over­reach and the more egre­gious tres­passes of his En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

And be­yond work­ing through the courts, state gov­er­nors — Repub­li­cans, no less — have been ex­ert­ing pres­sure on mem­bers of Congress to op­pose a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture health care re­form. In­sti­tu­tional ex­i­gency still trumps party loy­alty. 3. Congress. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress (House and Se­nate) is putting up epic re­sis­tance to a Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion’s health care re­form. True, that’s be­cause of ide­o­log­i­cal and tac­ti­cal dis­agree­ments rather than any par­tic­u­lar de­sire to hem in Trump. But it does demon­strate that Congress is no rub­ber stamp.

And its in­de­pen­dence ex­tends be­yond the peren­ni­ally di­vi­sive health care co­nun­drums. Trump’s bud­get, for ex­am­ple, was in­stantly de­clared dead on ar­rival in Congress, as it al­most in­vari­ably is re­gard­less of which party is in power. 4. The me­dia. Trump is right. It is the op­po­si­tion party. In­deed, fu­ri­ously so, of­ten in­dulging in ap­palling overkill. It’s some­times em­bar­rass­ing to read the front pages of the ma­jor news­pa­pers, fes­tooned as they are with anti-Trump ed­i­to­ri­al­iz­ing mas­querad­ing as news.

None­the­less, if you take the view from 30,000 feet, bet­ter this than a press ac­qui­esc­ing on bended knee, where it spent most of the Obama years in a slav­ish Pravda-like thrall. Ev­ery democ­racy needs an op­po­si­tion press. We have one now.

Taken to­gether — and sus­pend­ing judg­ment on which side is right on any par­tic­u­lar is­sue — it is deeply en­cour­ag­ing that the sinews of in­sti­tu­tional re­sis­tance to a po­ten­tially threat­en­ing ex­ec­u­tive re­main quite re­silient.

Madi­son’s ge­nius was to un­der­stand that the best bul­wark against tyranny was not virtue — virtue helps, but should never be re­lied upon — but am­bi­tion coun­ter­act­ing am­bi­tion, fac­tion coun­ter­act­ing fac­tion.

You see it even in the con­fir­ma­tion process for Neil Gor­such, Trump’s supremely qual­i­fied and mea­sured Supreme Court nom­i­nee. He’s a slam dunk, yet some fac­tions have scraped to­gether a cam­paign to block him. Their ads are plain­tive and pa­thetic. Yet I find them warmly re­as­sur­ing. What a coun­try — where even the vac­u­ous have a voice.

The anti-Trump op­po­si­tion flat­ters it­self as “the re­sis­tance.” As if this is Vichy France. It’s not. It’s 21st-cen­tury Amer­ica. And the good news is that the checks and bal­ances are work­ing just fine.

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