I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but Trump’s Supreme Court pick is the perfect opportunity.  I think to some degree, Trump has too many liberals in hysterics over everything.  As awful has Trump has been– and that’s pretty awful– a fair amount of what he has done– both cabinet nominations and executive orders– would have been entirely predictable from almost any other Republican politician.

I’ve therefore encouraged my students to use the “What Would Mike Pence do?” standard.  Sure, a good liberal will hate the ideology of Trump’s Supreme Court pick, the abortion gag rule, executive orders paving the way for a repeal of the ACA, etc.  Liberals can, and should, complain about these things.  But, this is just normal politics.  Trump is a horrible president, horrible person, and a profound threat to our democracy.  But the truth is, most of what he does will be what any Republican president would do.  It’s counter-productive to the attention demanded on the genuine threats Trump poses by conflating “normal” partisan politics with it.

It’s crazy, scary, and surreal to have to judge a president by the absurdly low bar of, “at least his Supreme Court pick wasn’t totally crazy.”  But there we are.  And Neil Gorsuch is almost a Republican Supreme Court nominee from central casting, so, yeah, actually, I am pleased.  Sure, he’s way conservative, but it least he is clearly smart and thoughtful, too– so not a gimme with Trump doing the nominating).   Excellent Gorsuch explainer from Dylan Matthews.

Jennifer Victor— who’s been a Political Scientist inspiration of late– has a terrific post that conveys a lot of similar ideas:

These actions have been decried by liberals as being regressive and are a clear attempt to roll back some of the progressive policy achievements of the Obama administration. We should expect liberals to oppose such policies, just as we would have expected conservatives to have been vocally opposed to early actions by a Hillary Clinton administration. While further actions of these types may directly and negatively affect segments of the population (i.e., those who will lose health insurance, see taxes raised, or restrict migration with our southern neighbor), they can generally be labeled as being consistent with the conservative ideology the Republican Party has supported for several decades…

On the other hand, another category of Trump administration actions is more pernicious. The second category of actions should be of concern to all Americans. The president of the United States has begun taking a series of actions that have caused government scholars to raise red flags. Many political scientists have expressed grave concern over the health and stability of our government system, based on observations of Trump administration actions. Scholars have expressed particular concern about administration actions that are either inconsistent with our democratic republic or consistent with authoritarian forms of government.

For example, the president had openly questioned the veracity and integrity of the country’s vast professional intelligence community, and expressed greater willingness to believe claims made by foreign adversaries. This raises alarms for government scholars because if the president is unwilling to believe the intelligence he receives from his own agencies, and is more likely to believe conspiracy theories or claims made by foreign non-allied states, it calls into question his ability and willingness to make foreign and military policy choices that are in the best interests of the country…

Making these distinctions is difficult and sometimes ambiguous. This is why, as I have argued previously, it is imperative for scholars of government and politics to be vocal about their observations. Our expertise has perhaps never been more relevant or needed.

Social scientists have a tendency to be reticent to exercise their political voice for fear of appearing partisan — but making clear that some political actions can severely disrupt government, civil society, the national economy, and security is a nonpartisan observation.

Political scientists have important knowledge and skills. Scholars of American politics understand our existing Constitution and political institutions that have held together our democratic republic for nearly 250 years. Scholars of comparative politics understand authoritarianism and regime change and the factors that contribute to state collapse. International relations scholars understand the conditions for peace, international order, and basic human rights…

A doctor, whose primary job is to treat her own patients in her practice, who walks down the street past an injured person and does not stop to offer medical assistance is ethically in the wrong. The doctor who has the skills to prevent a human death has a professional responsibility to come to the aid of the injured person. It is the same for political science. Saving our government is not our mission or our primary job, but it is our ethical professional responsibility to contribute our voice, knowledge, and insight.

The country and world needs assistance in understanding the unprecedented actions of the new American administration. We are professionally trained to provide the appropriate context and evidence about what is happening. Scholars, journalists, and other experts can help distinguish between partisan policy proposals and administrative changes that threaten the constitution and republic. Speak, write, question, post, lecture, comment. The republic is worth it. [emphasis mine]

So, where can I get my WWMPD? bracelets made?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

4 Responses to WWMPD?

  1. rgbact says:

    Good post. I said 2 weeks ago that liberals were likely to go WAY overboard with hysteria over ever more trivial/silly things….which would then make people just tune out. Thats just hard to control. Nice to know other liberals see it coming too. Thats the magic of Trump. He goes low……which makes you go low….and look ever more stupid. See Hillary Clinton’s plummeting approval rates

    Plenty of liberals are hysterical about Pence too. Its that gay cake issue.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Yeah, I have to admit, seeing hysterical liberal conspiracy theories, etc., proliferate drives me nuts. Of course, I’ve never argued that conservatives have a monopoly on these sorts of beliefs, just that they are more prevalent and influential on the rights (which I still believe).

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    I’ve been saying since the election that this is basically a Pence administration with a wild card on foreign affairs. But the overlay of authoritarian language and operating is scary.
    Part of the Trump effect is Senator Hatch’s reference to fellow senators as “idiots”. Coarsening the culture is weakening it, tho this is one of the tamer examples.

  3. itchy says:

    This is exactly what I think about the Gorsuch pick. If Jeb had won — or Rubio or Christie or Kasich — they would have picked someone like Gorsuch. And, yes, they might have chosen several (not all) cabinet members like the ones Trump chose.

    In calibrating my outrage-ometer, I find myself having to examine every Trump move to decide whether it’s a normal Republican action or a crazy, scary Trump action.

    And some of the actions *have* been crazy and scary. But not all.

    Of course, the other guys would have been much more professional — and just plain competent — in taking these actions. I have to get beyond that, too. Even when he makes a typical Republican move, Trump does it in such a chaotic way that it *seems* atypical.

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