Saturday, May 07, 2016

Trump and Trust

Stephen Griffin

The key theme of my book Broken Trust (look over to the right!) is the importance of political trust to the maintenance of the constitutional order.  I agree with Jack of course re Sibelius and I think Orin Kerr's diagnosis is on the mark.  Before developing the trust point a little further I just want to observe that since the 1970s I've seen several distinct upsurges of interest in libertarianism. Somehow, however, the libertarian moment in American politics never seems to truly arrive.  There are some hard truths in Trump's ascendancy for those inclined to take libertarianism seriously.

The issue of trust is critical to understanding Trump's success.  Especially over the last four years, Republicans hollowed out their own party by promising too much and then never delivering.  This undermined the credibility of every elected Republican and so opened the door to a radical outsider. No one could argue against Trump effectively because their credibility had already been destroyed. This is how I interpret Orin's argument and he develops it very effectively.

There are some longer term aspects to the decline of trust, however, that I would like to highlight here that pose issues for both parties.  In general, it is not a good idea for both parties to tell the American people there is a critically important issue facing the country and then either not to do anything about it or to address it ineffectively.  Vietnam would be an older example in this context.  Although there have been a few stories comparing Ross Perot's 1992 candidacy to Trump's, I don't think there has been enough attention to exactly why Perot received a substantial percentage of the popular vote. Perot's signature issue was the budget deficit, something both parties had tried to address without success.  Perot in effect agreed with both parties and then one-upped them.  Perot was not a good candidate and would have made a terrible president in my opinion, but he scored high with many voters frustrated at the inability of the political system to deliver.

The 21st century has unfortunately seen quite a few issues where both parties have struck out.  Both parties endorsed the Iraq War, telling the American people it was a good idea.  In this election cycle, the only candidate who seemed to still think this was true was Jeb Bush.  Both parties (for perhaps different reasons) endorsed immigration reform and then failed to deliver.  Both parties wanted more free trade, especially with China, and didn't pay enough attention to the downside.  Both parties voted for TARP and then ran for the hills, in effect refusing to explain to the American people why extraordinary actions were necessary to combat the fall 2008 financial crisis.  Both parties were responsible at different times for slowing work in Congress to a crawl.  And both parties are complicit in different ways in running the system that finances politics in ways that look irredeemably corrupt to the American people.  The list of both-party failures is really pretty long.  Democrats need the same wake-up call that Republicans just received!  And because parties are key elements of our constitutional order, their continuous malfunction puts the legitimacy of that order into serious question.

As Sandy Levinson has argued on this blog for a number of years, I think sometimes we tend to concentrate on the battles between the parties, on which party is at fault for what mess rather than looking at the broader picture of systemic failure.  Which is the picture that Trump's voters (and Bernie Sander's voters) are looking at.  We ignore that picture at our peril.

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