Making America America Again

If it wasn’t clear to some observers before, President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday should have made plain the meaning of his 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” It doesn’t have quite the same ring, but the efforts of his administration might just as well be understood as “Making America America Again.”

Put slightly differently, what Trump is actually doing, on a much grander (greater?) scale, is what the late Antonin Scalia did for constitutional law and our legal system. Scalia sought to return constitutional law to a traditional, simpler understanding, where judges eschewed the temptation to refashion the rules of law to fit with trendy cultural notions, and left changes in the actual law to the American people themselves. Scalia’s guiding star was the sovereignty of the American people and this is also what motivates our president. Just as Scalia was, at bottom, a traditionalist, so is Donald Trump. Scalia influenced scores of professors, judges and lawyers, but Trump is after something more—the actual restoration of traditional American culture.

The champions of something different (and the enemies of the president) at some level, clearly understand this, and they understand to an even greater extent how this threatens the power of the culture they and their allies in the academy and in the press have gained. The cry of pain from MSNBC’s Joy Reid, expressed in a much-noticed tweet, was perhaps the most characteristic:

Unpacking this somewhat garbled tweet, what galls Reid, really, is Trump’s traditional conception of American normality, a set of values that emphasizes duty to God, to country, to family, and to long-established institutions.

 Indeed, I believe that Reid might even sense that what motivates Trump is what motivates those of us lawyers who supported the candidate in 2016: that he understood the importance of the founding-era creed, expressed succinctly by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase (and endorsed as well by Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and many others), that the American people could not have order without law, could not have law without morality, and could not have morality without religion.

This was understood, by the Constitution’s framers, not as a prescription for oppression, but as the essential basis for a stable, permanent popular government. This was an understanding that flowed from a deep appreciation not only of recent and ancient history, but of the most profound current political thought of the great 17th- and 18th-century philosophers such as Montesquieu, Hume, and Locke—thoughts expressed in the very structure of our Constitution itself.

As readers of the Federalist are aware, our system of separation of powers and dual state and federal sovereignty, was designed to preserve self-government and save us from the overreach of a Leviathan state. Joy Reid, the Obama administration, and the modern Democratic Party in general, represent an ideology that has rejected all of this. Instead, they favor the centralization of power in the federal government, judicial legislation, and governments committed to redistribution rather than to the protection of basic property rights. They prefer to eschew  our traditional values of decentralization of government as well as deference and respect for the military and for law enforcement.

Reid is quite right to pinpoint where the nation went astray: it was the era that followed the 1950s. Beginning in the colleges in the 1960s, and in reaction to the Vietnam War and Watergate, traditional institutions of this country came under withering attack, as the thought of Marx, Marcuse, and Derrida seduced countless undergraduates and their instructors. Identity politics, the psychology of self-actualization, attacks on capitalism itself, and the purported virtues of European socialist state-style redistribution became so dominant that it was difficult to conceive of a return to tradition as anything but a delusion about the nature of reality itself. This culminated in views like those of Reid, and in the notion expressed by no less an authority than Earl Warren, the former chief justice of the United States, that “you can’t turn back the clock.”

Still, as C.S. Lewis once explained, that notion itself is absurdly flawed, as, in fact, you can turn back the clock, and when it is failing to give you the correct time, you should. This is what President Trump has clearly discerned, this is why he was able to win over (geographically speaking, at least) the great mass of the country, and this is why, according to at least some of the polls, 75 percent of the American people who watched responded so well to his State of the Union Address. It is not nostalgia for a bygone era which the president promotes. It is, instead the return to timeless truths.

About Stephen B. Presser

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, and the author of “Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law” (West Academic Publishers, 2017). In the academic year 2018-2019, Professor Presser is a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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24 responses to “Making America America Again

  • MAGA. I am old enough to remember when America was not only great, but America. No “Dreamers,” no PC insanity on college campuses, no jihadists on our shores, no Leftist plutocrats in Silicon Valley, no propaganda posing as news. I yearn for those days.

    • Gℴogle pays every one 97 dollars per/hr to complete few services online .. Work Some few hours daily and live happy greater time with your family … any individual can also join this simple job…on Thursday I got a latest Land Rover Defender after just earning $9908 this four weeks .no doubt it is the easiest job however you can now not forgive yourself if you do not take a look at this.!rw44e:➩➩➩ http://GoogleLegitimateLoveJobsFromHomeJobs/get/hourly ♥l♥♥♥r♥♥z♥♥h♥c♥♥♥k♥♥b♥d♥♥b♥♥j♥f♥♥♥l♥♥z♥o♥♥♥q♥♥♥w♥♥♥i♥♥n♥l♥l♥♥j♥♥♥x♥♥q♥♥e♥♥♥q:::::!nx712p:lnsmks

    • Never existed. You should read some history; sounds like you are blissfully ignorant, at least ignorant.

  • One of the great things about living in God’s reality is that you can try to “fundamentally transform” it all you want, but eventually it’s going to turn around and kick you in the face. As the title of the book by the great supply sider from the 1980s Jude Wanniski put it, it’s “The Way the world Works.” And modern liberalism, and all its cousins (communism, socialism, progressivism) doesn’t work. Well, that’s not true. It works at destroying everything it touches. MAAA!!!

      • While I am in a flattering mood, let me add: rubbish, garbage, trash, malarkey, BS, and blather. Supply siders are relegated to the trash bin: Reagan voodoo economics has departed except among neo-con blockheads. Catch up, you are bordering on dinosaur.

      • My friend, you better stop while you are ahead or you are going to not just make my day, but my weekend, my month, indeed my entire year!

      • Mikey, you must lead a very small life. I am glad to help in my own little way. But I will suggest that you actually get out a bit more and breathe some fresh air. All that trailer exhaust is detrimental.

      • Well, here’s what I do know, you’re a “conservative” Trump supporter and you bought the theme of this pathetic article. So you are+ a 50+, low-functioning, gullible, bigoted, under-employed, angry, white, male slob. About right? Your original comment mentioned “God”, so you a likely a Christialn so I would add hypocritical, insecure, and nasty. All in all, you are quite a package.

      • Nothing more needed. I’ve carried the day. But Wanniski – a pretentious snake oil peddler. But every failed ideology has a few stupid adherents.

      • Mike D’Virgilio, Don’t you find it amazing how leftist ideology infuses people with such hate and loathing? They are some of the most unhappy people I encounter. So many live off the toil of others and in the back of their minds they are always scared that their “free stuff” may be taken away. For many their hate and loathing arises from their fear they can’t / won’t make it in the free enterprise economy. So they attack anyone who even remotely looks like they are for supporting freedom.

        Even though the 20th century is replete with examples, leftists seem incapable of studying history to learn that communism and its close cousin socialism invariably lead to tyranny and misery. They think America is evil because so many were able to build lives of prosperity. Instead of seeing the wonders of this country, all they see are the negatives (but they never seem to leave for that other “great nation”). They don’t believe in our system of government mostly because they are afraid to put their work, talents and brainpower on the line. Instead they want to be coddled and taken care of just as the Obama administration promised in its “Life of Julia”. They’d rather be in the velvet lined prison cell of big government control than living as a free person who must make his or her own way in life with all of the joys and riches it affords. They live in fear and consequently they attack what they fear. You happen to be the current target. (Notice too, they tend to stay anonymous in their names and photos when commenting – as opposed to you and me. Just another example of the fear and cowardice.)

      • ZZZ Sorry, nodded off. That’s a lot of chest thumping cliches to take in all at once.

  • ….and the 18th century legal genius Commentaries from William Blackstone.

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