The Malevolence of the People’s Will
Brad Johnson, Politics Contributor
Eight years ago an ever present, though relatively dormant, phenomena awoke from its slumber. The election of Barack Obama ushered in a new era of populism. His was a version akin to that of Perónian Argentina. Juan Perón ushered in a wave of socialistic policies in which redistribution of wealth and state sponsored programs were the foundation. Obama’s movement, whatever you prefer to call it, promoted a more universalized healthcare system (in fact, this became the bedrock of his political career), increased “rights” allotted to the populace, and a tax system even more progressive than the current one. Young people took to the ballot box like flies to honey, while visions of hope and change danced in their heads.
Then candidate Obama, drove young people to the polls with an effectiveness rarely seen before. It helped that he had a very unpopular incumbent President, and an incompetent opponent, to run against. However, it was not just the youth component that propelled Obama to a historic victory. Obama claimed to be committed to the “will of the people.” He undoubtedly saw this as an asset that helped him attain the highest office in the land. But let us reflect on the results of a Presidency supplemented almost entirely by the people’s will. The last eight years we have overhauled our issue-laden healthcare system of old, into the largely imploding one of today. As Dan McLaughlin of the National Review notes, any given health care system can accomplish two of three things; universality, affordability, and high quality. Under the ACA, we have opted for the first two. Need some proof of the ACA’s forecast? Look to our northern neighbors and their median health care wait time of 20 weeks. That’s the path the will of the people has set us on. In fact, we are already darn close to it, as illustrated in this PragerU video.
More recently, the election of 2016 saw citation of the “silent majority.” This, Trump’s campaign explained, was the driving force behind his campaign. As they claim, it consists of everyday Americans that are sick of the status quo in the nation’s capital. A large part of this silent majority was the desire for more protectionist trade policies. Then candidate Trump, made this a central theme to his platform. Jobs were leaving the country at an alarming rate, and this meant that America was getting a raw deal from its trade partnerships…or so the line of reasoning asserts. Once in office, President Trump almost immediately withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This, like his predecessor’s affinity for socialized medicine, was goaded by basal desire to right a supposed wrong. In each instance, the people’s will for the specific approach to policy was driven by a total misunderstanding of healthcare policy in the former, and trade strategy in the latter. The people, especially en masse, act as a siphon separating an issue’s central idea from its intricacies.
The “will of the people” does not always result in a net-negative. This past fall, the voters of the United Kingdom opted to leave the European Union. This was a step away from internationalism, in the governmental sense, and towards self-governance. The vote to leave also allows the UK more sovereignty in its trade pursuits, and Marine Le Pen of France is advocating for the same thing. It is no longer tied to the regulatory body of the EU. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and popular opinion tends to serve as a generally terrible guiding force for policy. That is why the Founders of our country designed a Constitution largely resistant to the abrasions of popular will. However, even the soundest structure cannot withstand attacks forever.
As fate would have it, as I began writing this piece, Turkey succumbed to the will of their people’s majority and voted to do away with their constitution. Just as the Roman Republic tossed aside their separation of powers and invested most authority in Julius Caesar, the Turks did the same in their deference of power to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The people wanted to do away with checks and balances in the name of getting things done. It’s too bad Erdogan has no resemblance to the “Philosopher King” Plato envisioned. Instead, he is wholly human and is thus hungry for power. The Turkish people just invested all power in a tyrant, and the timeless quote “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” has yet another case study in which to prove its accuracy.
Ever since Andrew Jackson, populism has plagued our Constitutional Republic. Whether it’s Jackson’s somewhat Trumpian approach to the American Indians, Wilson’s self-proclaimed progressive “mandate” as justification for the atrocities that are the 16th and 17th Amendments, or FDR’s New Deal programs that prolonged the Great Depression. Populism is driven by the falsehood that the desires of the populace as a whole, dogged by its shortsightedness, should serve as the guide for all policy decisions. As history shows, more often than not, this approach to policy results in plans led astray.
If a certain approach to an issue is the correct avenue to take, it will be true regardless of what the populace believes. Policy decisions must be made based on the merit and effectiveness of the given proposal. Unfortunately, politicians prefer to put their reelection ahead of the virtue inherent within the given policy. The People’s Will should not trump merit in the political decision making process. Populism must be expelled from the club and prohibited from re-entry and we should remove the oft cited justification for action that is “the will of the people.”
Follow this author on Twitter: @bradjCincy
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