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Handwringing over Trump

James Huffman

The handwringing is unprecedented. While Democrats have always expressed outsized fears about what Republicans will do when in power, their angst over the 2016 election has now lasted two months and shows no sign of waning. Meryl Streep (a great actress, contrary to Donald Trump’s tweet) spoke and emoted for millions of still-suffering Democrats when she attacked Trump at the Golden Globe Awards.

That a movie star would take the opportunity of a nationally televised Hollywood extravaganza to express her political views is not surprising. Indeed it would have been surprising if none among the illuminati had commented on the impending horrors of a Donald Trump presidency. But it’s not just the self-anointed policy experts of Hollywood who are anticipating the worst.

Two groups — RISE When We Fall and Lawyers for Good Government — are organizing a conference they are calling Rise Above for two days after Trump’s inauguration. Their mission, according to Lawyers for Good Government founder Traci Feit Love, as reported in The Daily Caller, is to create a “pro bono army to be on the front lines protecting our country and our values.”

Dozens of cities and universities have declared themselves sanctuaries from the expected constitutional abuses of the Trump administration. At the swearing-in of the governor of my home state, according to The Oregonian newspaper, Kate Brown “presented Oregon as a refuge from some of the racist and partisan rhetoric stirred by last year’s election.”

Worry about Trump is understandable. He has offered very few specifics of what he intends to do and his Twitter addiction is more than unorthodox. But anticipating a tidal wave of human suffering and rights violations presumes Trump to be truly evil and reflects an extreme lack of confidence in the constitutional structure that has served our nation reasonably well for over two centuries. Few presidents in the nation’s history have not been frustrated by the constraints of the Constitution. Why are so many convinced that Trump will avoid those same frustrations?

But perhaps progressives do have reason to be anxious. To the extent their concerns are legitimate, it has more to do with historic erosions of constitutional constraints than with the incoming occupant of the White House.

Since the New Deal, the powers of the federal government have steadily expanded, as have the powers of the president. Progressives who have relied on expansions of federal authority to achieve most of their policy goals should not be surprised that the vast regulatory regime they created might one day be employed to achieve ends they object to. Power is indifferent to the ambitions of those who wield it.

So it is not surprising that the greatest angst has been in response to the nominees for the departments of Education (Betsy DeVos), Health and Human Services (Tom Price), Labor (Andrew Puzder), Commerce (Wilbur Ross) and the Environmental Protection Agency (Scott Pruitt). These are the agencies that have been doing the progressive’s bidding for decades. Now there is a real risk they will be doing the bidding of those who think differently.

As good an explanation as any for Trump’s surprising victory is that Democrats finally overreached. Now they worry that the powers they created will be used to achieve ends they reject.

Over a century the federal government has grown into a behemoth that even the master of the deal may not be able to undo. Draining the swamp may be a challenge beyond the capacities of mere mortals. If it turns out a lot of damage is done in the effort, progressives will have only themselves to blame. They set us on the path to federal dominance of just about everything.

We should all hope it is not a one-way path — that the swamp can be drained.

James Huffman is dean emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He wrote this for