Democrats wake up to the dangers of illiberalism -- finally

And now, in the wake of Trump’s victory? La Résistance is en vogue once again, and the specter of tyranny is divined in each presidential design. Writing during the 2013 federal shutdown, the New York Times’ Charles Blow approvingly cited a Brookings Institution scholar who “described our current Congress as a greater danger to national security than Al Qaeda.” The day after Trump’s election, Blow invited his readers to consider him “among the resistance,” urged the Democratic party to put the new president “under unrelenting pressure,” and presented his maxim du jour: “Power must be challenged, constantly.” What could possibly have changed?

Barack Obama was no Adolf Hitler. He wasn’t even a Woodrow Wilson. But he played with abandon on the slopes that Trump now inherits, and, in so doing, he set precedents that are liable to be abused. When, as seems inevitable, President Trump complains publicly that the Supreme Court has declined to rubber-stamp his agenda, his defenders will point to Obama’s dressing down of Justice Alito during the 2011 State of the Union, and to the bully-pulpit speeches he staged on the Court’s steps, as prologue. When, as he has already in proposing Nigel Farage as the U.K.’s ambassador to the U.S., Trump violates centuries of diplomatic protocol, his cavilers will be reminded that Obama was against Brexit. If Trump attempts to dominate Congress and to usurp its legislative functions, his acolytes will show videos of Obama’s “We can’t wait.” If Trump undermines due process, we will be reminded of the Democrats’ support for restricting the Second Amendment based on the government’s “terror watch” list, and of the kangaroo courts that have been set up on college campuses across the land.

Throughout, the Brendan Nyhans of the world will ask, “How could this happen?” And the answer will be elementary: It happened because process was subordinated to partisanship and because ends became mistaken for means. It happened because men are forgetful and myopic and prone to drawing straight lines. It happened because even the best among us are tempted by expedience.