No Blue Wave, Yet Troubles Are Ahead

Last night’s election returns were not a total disaster for people of faith, or for Catholics in particular. Republicans actually increased their majority in the Senate, which means that President Trump’s uniformly textualist judicial nominees will continue to be confirmed. This is very good news regarding the Constitution, and with it for people committed to norms of religious liberty and human life that are deeply embedded in that document and in our traditions. Furthermore, a bare majority of Democrats in one House of Congress will not be capable of producing an outpouring of legislation aimed at undermining limited government in general or the rights of the faithful in particular.

That said, we should not be sanguine about the next two years in American politics and government. Even a small Democratic majority means that the Committee Chairs in the House of Representatives will be taken over by the likes of Maxine Waters and Jerrold Nadler. These ideologues will do everything in their power to further a radical agenda on both social and economic issues, and to undermine and ultimately impeach President Trump. Many observers see this as a good thing because they believe such selfish, extreme tactics will backfire. And they may be right. That said, the result will be even more anger and bitterness in our politics, the possibility of even more political violence and, almost without doubt, legislative gridlock.

There was a time, not long ago, when gridlock was a rather good thing in a republic. When the federal government failed to act, the people were able to act on their own—in their churches, in their state and local governments, and in their various local communities and workplaces. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Increasingly since the 1960s, our country has been building a permanent administrative state devoted to taking over the people’s responsibility for their own safety and well-being. What many today call our “deep state” has no need of elections in order to act, innovate, or legislate when our legislature does nothing. The noise and opposition, not to mention the legislative inaction, that will result from upcoming Congressional hysterics will embolden administrators, already in open revolt against President Trump, to undermine attempts to reform and limit their power.

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Among the great successes of the Trump Administration has been the rolling back of numerous regulations that shackled business, micromanaged local government, and pushed a radical LGBT agenda. Yet anonymous administrators in bureaucracies from the Department of Health and Human Services to the military branches continue to push that agenda under the guise of non-discrimination policy. Distracted by constant investigations, invective, and maneuvering in Congress and the press, the White House will be far less effective in bringing the deep state to heel.

As troubling as these distractions will be, worse is the ideological message sent by the Democrats’ retaking of the House. Increasingly over the last several decades, and at lightning speed during the Obama Administration, the Democratic Party has been moving sharply to the left. With the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others, the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders now has increasingly numerous and radical company in Congress. There has been a small socialist contingent in American politics for well over a hundred years, but we are seeing something new here, in that one of the two major parties is openly embracing radical positions calling into question the traditional American attachment to economic liberty, property rights, and self-rule. These views are highly dangerous to liberty and the principle of subsidiarity. Worse, however, are the positions the new leftism dictates on issues of marriage and the family. The LGBT agenda itself has been radicalized over the last few years, going beyond the suddenly-sacred principle of same-sex “marriage” to demands for subsidized transgender procedures even for children. And we have seen in numerous cases how people of faith are punished by states and localities when they fail to help celebrate the new values and institutions. Courts can only do so much (and for so long) in the face of sustained attacks on religious liberty and the natural family. Already, Catholic adoption service organizations have had to close their doors (in Massachusetts, for example) because state laws demanded they sacrifice their principles, and the children in their care, to LGBT ideology.

Some observers are saying that the Democratic majority leadership will moderate its positions in the interests of governing. There is no reason to believe this will happen. While some new members of Congress ran as moderates, the same was true the last time Democrats gained control of the House. The result was a headlong rush to the radical left. Perhaps this next leftward shift will backfire and Democrats will lose big in 2020—or perhaps not. Either way, the results will be bad for our nation. America needs a two-party system in which both parties recognize certain basic truths about human nature and the social order. America has avoided the pitfalls of European governance, with its radicalized politics and its dying churches, by maintaining a political center in which compromise is possible because both sides accept the central role of faith, family, and freedom. Claims of a rightward shift in recent years merely distract from the fact that one of our major parties has become increasingly secular, hostile toward the natural family, and committed to a radical expansion of the federal government.

Among the troubling signs of this election was the connection between Democratic victories and concern with healthcare. Pundits consistently pointed to Congressional districts where suburban women and poor people both expressed concern over healthcare costs and cast their votes for Democrats. The failure of the Republican Congress, and the Senate, in particular to take decisive action to end Obamacare may well prove permanent. The idea is now out there, with some basis in electoral facts, that a majority of Americans are more attracted by the idea of government-funded healthcare than they are to job creation, local liberties, and the traditional American commitment to voluntary action. This is troubling, not because affordable healthcare is not important, but because societies that seek to provide it for free through government programs undermine crucial religious values. Government programs like healthcare crowd out the more local, subsidiary institutions and associations (charity hospitals, for example—a high percentage of which were once run by Catholic organizations). They make us look to the government instead of to one another in our local institutions for help in time of need. They also bankrupt the nation, and in the process devalue human life. Whether in Great Britain, the Netherlands, or Canada, government-run health services have brought the rationing of care, followed by grisly death panels that decide who should be given treatment and who should be allowed to die, and, coming all too soon, who should be subject to euthanasia.

Yesterday’s elections were far from disastrous. However, they will make it even more difficult to protect a culture of life against those who mistake government programs for true caring. They promise years more of political conflict as radical forces see their chance to “resist” those who oppose inhuman programs. Catholics must prepare themselves for renewed assaults on our culture, both in the streets and in the various agencies of government that control far too much of our lives. We must now look to 2020, and in the meantime oppose radical policies, politicians, and propagandists in the media and on campus.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)


  • Bruce Frohnen

    Bruce Frohnen is Professor of Law at the Ohio Northern University College of Law. He is also a senior fellow at the Russell Kirk Center and author of many books including The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism, and the editor of Rethinking Rights (with Ken Grasso), and The American Republic: Primary Source. His most recent book (with the late George Carey) is Constitutional Morality and the Rise of Quasi-Law (Harvard, 2016).

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