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The only useful populism is constitutional populism

Conservative Review

Donald Trump kicked off his speech in high gear and went straight to the point with his signature penchant for bluntness:

For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

That all changes starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment.

These fighting words echo what so many of us have felt for years watching the establishment in both parties harness policies that hurt the very people they claimed to champion. However, they are also words, that if not qualified with a specific affirmative direction have also been uttered by leftists like Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (F, 17%). Both politicians on the Left and the Right have attempted to channel populism and sell themselves as men of the people as opposed to the well-connected elites. Nevertheless, the only way to truly return power to the people is to return to constitutional governance, shrink the size of the federal government in domestic affairs, devolve power to the states and the people, and let the free market — not lobbyists and politicians —handle economic affairs.

The reason why the political establishment is so powerful and the people are so weak is not because of the bad personnel we have in government, although we have certainly had bad leaders in recent years. It is the result of unconstitutional governance whereby the federal government in involved in every area of our lives and economy. Getting more “competent” people to centrally plan our financial system, health care, and infrastructure from Washington will result in the same establishment protecting itself to the detriment of the people. Only a systemic return to liberty, federalism, private property rights, and free markets in domestic policy will actualize Trump’s words in deed.

Strong national sovereignty mixed with liberty and federalism at home is the only recipe for success

Turning to foreign affairs and national sovereignty, Trump’s message of “America first” is a welcome departure from the apologetic America-last view we’ve seen from past leaders since Reagan. Constitutional governance calls for strong leadership to protect America’s borders and America’s interests from enemies abroad. In other words, not limited government across the board, but a limited federal government as it relates to domestic affairs and economic liberties. However, that same robust expression of American nationalism on issues pertaining to sovereignty and security must be parried against an expression of humility to champion liberty and small government on the domestic front — if that self-expressed populist message is to succeed.

Nobody expressed constitutional populism better than James Madison in Federalist #45. That the powers of the federal government shall be “few and defined,” applied “principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.” State powers, on the other hand, were to be “numerous and indefinite,” extending “to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” Madison was also quite clear which one would be most dominant in people’s lives:

The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government.

If Trump wants to restore the power to the people, he should boldly keep his campaign promise to secure our borders and crush Islamic terrorism without getting us involved in nation building. But at the same time, on the domestic front, he should devolve power back to the people and end the corruption of the elites by shrinking, not expanding, the size of the federal government and its imprint on issues of internal order.

Many commentators are comparing Trump to Andrew Jackson’s brand of populism. But let us not forget that Jackson rigorously opposed the national infrastructure agenda and was the strongest proponent of federalism of his time.

All talk, no action 

Trump concluded his speech with a message that reflects what likely resonated most with the electorate that made him the 45th president of the United States:

We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action – constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.

The time for empty talk is over.

Now arrives the hour of action.

The action Americans are calling for is to get government out of our lives, our health care, our businesses. Everywhere you turn, federal interventions stand at the source of the problem with job loss, wage stagnation, and crushing burdens on consumers. Past leaders, under the guise of populist expression, have saddled us with taxation, regulation, and subsidization that has perpetuated the very system Trump inveighed against today. Nowhere is this more evident than with Obamacare.

Republicans made a promise to roll back these harmful policies, most prominently Obamacare. Now is the time for action. People are sick of the empty promises. Republican leaders are giving the same false excuses for not taking action now that they have the power to actually act, but as Trump admonished, “Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

If we are truly committed to transferring power back to the people, ending the monopoly of the government/corporate complex, embarking on a new direction, and actually backing our words with action, there is no better place to start than freeing Americans from Obamacare and our broken health care system. Nothing short of full repeal of Obamacare and restoration of one sixth of our economy to the people and the private sector will suffice to fulfill that promise.

Moreover, by getting government out of our lives and returning to localism, self-governance, and respect for free markets — all united under the same national flag, sovereignty, and patriotism — we will heal the divide of identity politics. As Trump so eloquently said, “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

The opportunity is yours, Mr. President. The time is now. The people are with you. Use the Constitution to which you swore your oath and the Holy Bible on which you placed your hand as your guide for being a true servant of We the People.

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