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As we roll into the summer of discontent this presidential election year, it seems the stakes have never been higher. We say that every time, don’t we? “This is the most important presidential election of my lifetime. The Supreme Court hangs in the balance!” In these high-stakes moments — when it seems that one more presidential term is all it will take to irreversibly place our nation in a death spiral — we somehow find a way not to rise to the occasion. You might even say that instead of rising to it, we slump to the occasion. Consider the last two presidential elections.
In 2008 with the economy circling the drain and a war-weary nation ready to focus on anything but Iraq, we nominated war hero who was more hawkish than the unpopular incumbent. To run against the least-experienced presidential candidate in modern history, a half-term junior Senator from Illinois who openly talked about making our electric bills skyrocket and bankrupting entire industries, we nominated a man who couldn’t manage to articulate a coherent economic thought and admitted to having a poor grasp of economics. The challenges for our nation were substantial but we slumped to the occasion; John McCain was not the man for the hour.
In 2012 with an unpopular incumbent president who had shoved an increasingly unpopular semi-nationalization of the healthcare industry down the throats of an unwilling population on a party-line vote, it seemed there was a real chance to make President Obama a one-term wonder and to reverse some of his disastrous policies. We responded by nominating the one candidate who could legitimately be called the “father of Obamacare” and consequently could not channel anti-Obamacare sentiment into electoral victory. We are very good at this slumping to the occasion business; Mitt Romney was not the man for the hour.
Now it’s 2016 and once again we are calling this the most consequential election of our lifetimes. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard all of that before. Yet, somehow, it seems more real this time. It rings true that this is the most consequential presidential election of my lifetime, at least on domestic policy issues. The domestic problems facing our nation have never seemed more dire and the need to solve them never more urgent. This is to say nothing of foreign affairs, which are also looking rather dicey at best. To put things in perspective, here is a rundown of a few of the great challenges we face on the home front.
The Supreme Court literally hangs in the balance with a vacancy that will likely be filled by our next President. The vacancy, when filled, will tip the balance of the court one way or the other for a very long time. There will likely be more vacancies of equal consequence in the next presidential term. It seems likely that the ideological makeup of the court will be decided for the next generation by the occupant of the Oval Office between 2017-2021.
As health insurance premiums spike across the country and affordable insurance options dwindle thanks to President Obama’s innovative “Affordable Care Act,” we finally have a Congress willing to repeal that law but we need a President who will sign the bill. If we don’t guard the down-ballot races we may not have such a Congress in 2017 no matter who becomes President.
We have almost no checks and balances in government as Congress has ceded much of its power to the executive and has refused to exercise its constitutional authority to rein in rogue agencies. This may be one of the biggest problems facing our nation and few people spend much time thinking about it. We have a runaway executive branch that makes up its own laws by executive order, the bureaucratic rule-making process, dear colleague letters, and flat out refusing to enforce existing laws as passed by the legislative branch. This is a constitutional crisis and it’s largely flying under the radar.
The legislature has done a masterful job of slumping to the occasion by refusing to pass meaningful legislation to curb the executive, by declining to use the power of the purse in a meaningful way, by conducting showy hearings and investigations that yield no results, render no accountability, remove no corrupt officials from power, and most certainly send no one to prison.
We have out-of-control federal agencies that know full well they are unaccountable to Congress and can generally do whatever they please. They ignore congressional subpoenas to testify before Congress. They withhold and destroy evidence subpoenaed by Congress. They flout the laws of the land, make their own laws, run roughshod over the states, intimidate private businesses, harass property owners, cause environmental disasters they would imprison mere citizens for causing, and allow their corrupt employees to stay on the job and even be promoted. Congress does nothing to stop them.
We have agencies that take away private land for seemingly no other reason than because they can. We have agencies that coerce state and local governments into adopting federal policies by attaching strings to federal funding. We have agencies that raise the cost of vehicles to absurd prices by mandating fuel efficiency levels and useless features that consumers neither want nor need but which must be included and priced into the product. We have agencies that ban useful products and cause people to have to either deal with useless regulatory-compliant products or figure out some workaround to make them work like they did before the government intervened.
We have agencies that are supposed to be apolitical but instead use their power to bully critics of the current administration and advance a partisan political agenda. This may be among the most dangerous aspects of executive overreach because it accelerates the erosion of trust in the institutions of government.
We have a Veterans Administration that seems not to care for veterans, is rife with corruption, uses fake waiting lists to deny healthcare to veterans, and is unwilling or unable to hold those responsible to account. Our veterans deserve better but neither the President, the agency itself, or the Congress seem interested in doing anything more than blow smoke about it.
We have a Department of Education that demands universities deny basic due process rights to students accused of wrongdoing, threatens to withhold funding from public schools that refuse to allow boys to use girls’ locker rooms, and increases the cost of education while decreasing immigrant assimilation by demanding that students be taught in their native language and assisted in maintaining their native culture and customs.
We have a debt crisis that poses a very real threat to the nation. When President Obama took office, the national debt was $10.6 trillion. As of this writing, the debt is $19.2 trillion and analysts project that by the time the president leaves office the debt will surpass $20 trillion — nearly double what it was the day he took office.
In November we will elect an awful, terrible, no good president who will be smaller than this historic moment requires and wholly inadequate to the challenges at hand. We know this because we will either elect Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump and we can be fairly certain neither of them is equal to the task. Once again, we have slumped to the occasion and guaranteed ourselves another President who will do the same.
The question before us is not which candidate would fix these problems if elected, but which would make these problems worse. In an election where both viable candidates are virtually certain to be bad on most or all of the major challenges facing our nation, the choice is about which one would be less bad than the other.
It has been a long time since the situation looked so dire for supporters of limited government, individual liberty, and free markets. The job of Congress for the next four years will be to contain the next President to make sure that he or she does the least damage possible. I believe that Congress will be able to more effectively contain President Trump than President Clinton which is why I cannot join the #NeverTrump team and why I will likely vote for Trump in November. In my next article I will expand on the idea of presidential containment and defend my position that Trump is more containable than Clinton.