Over the years I’ve written—or, more often, ghostwritten—scores of articles published in conservative magazines and websites. Among those sites and magazines is one that calls itself The Federalist. For that misdeed—writing for The Federalist—I now repent.
The Federalist took its name from the documents we now refer to as The Federalist Papers, which three of the nation’s founders—James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay—wrote to persuade New York to join in the ratification of the recently written U.S. Constitution. How ironic, then, that The Federalist has become a chief apologist for the current president, who has done more to trash and tarnish the Constitution than any of his predecessors—perhaps more than all his predecessors combined.
A glaring example of that grotesque irony can be seen in “Why Trump Is Right Not To Cede Power Over The Lockdowns,” written by David Marcus and published in The Federalist April 15. (By the way, I copied and pasted the article title directly from The Federalist’s website. I know that, based on Associated Press guidelines, the preposition To and the article The should be in lowercase. The preposition Over is correctly capitalized because AP guidelines do so for prepositions of four letters or more.)
Anyway, back to Marcus’s shameless defense of Trump’s assertion that “When somebody’s president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s total. It’s total. And the governors know that.” Marcus cravenly claimed in Trump’s defense:
So why at this juncture would Trump concede that he has no authority over the lockdowns? Does he get any advantage from it? Do we even know that it’s true? This is completely uncharted territory. Who knows how interstate commerce plays into a state-by-state national lockdown? Trump can force companies to switch to making medical supplies, but he can’t tell dentists or restaurants to open? Are we sure? Do we have any basis upon which to know with certainty?
We’re in uncharted territory, Marcus asserts. Well, yes, America has never before dealt with a virus as virulent as COVID-19. But the nation has dealt with numerous crises throughout its existence. And, yes, at times, presidents have pushed or even crossed the lines of their authority in dealing with those crises. When they did so in the past, publications like The Federalist called them out for doing so. Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, conservatives turned such protests into a mantra. At the time, citizen Trump was one of the most vocal critics of Obama’s so-called abuse of executive power.
But the facts tell a different story. President Obama issued, on average, 35 executive orders per year. That might sound like a lot, but it’s fewer than any of his predecessors, going all the way back Grover Cleveland, and 10 fewer per year than Trump’s 45 annual average.
Marcus claimed in his Trump defense that, “There has been a little confusion in the corporate media of late. It seems they can’t quite decide if in the face of coronavirus President Trump should be more authoritarian or more deferential to the states.” That claim is bogus. Marcus deceitfully muddied the real dispute. The “corporate media” never called for Trump to force a nationwide shutdown. Trump may not understand the limits of his presidential authority, but any properly educated journalist is acutely aware of such limitations of executive power. Sure, most mainstream media commentators did call for a nationwide shutdown, and they were well aware that an urgent plea from the president would have a profound impact, especially on his slavishly devoted followers.
Trump may not understand the limits of his presidential authority, but any properly educated journalist is acutely aware of such limitations of executive power.
But there’s a vast difference between requesting a presidential plea and advocating a presidential mandate. So Marcus’s assertion that the media are confused about what they want from the president is, as usual, deliberate obfuscation. And that’s what I’ve come to expect from The Federalist. There seems to be no bottom to their barrel of bizarre, baseless Trump defenses. After all, messiahs don’t make mistakes.
The Federalist traffics in these thinly cloaked propaganda pieces because they’re confident that the choir—their readers—tend to be easily led. Trumpists tend to be naïve; discernment regarding much of anything beyond the merits of mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip is beyond their pay grade. If Trump—or The Federalist, or any other Trump-supporting commentator—declares something to be, then it is. Why strain one’s synaptic pathways when it’s so much easier to let Trump lackeys like David Marcus tell their audience what to believe?
So now we have millions of Americans who call themselves conservatives cheering on a president who boasts of his “total authority.” Never mind that, historically, conservatives claimed to be the champions of “states’ rights.”
Fox News Chief Political Anchor Brett Bair—of all people—was absolutely right when he said, “If President Obama had said those words that you heard from President Trump, that the authority is total with the presidency, conservatives’ heads would have exploded across the board.”
But these days, objective consistency is the last thing we should expect from the new “conservatives.” Look to The Federalist—whose lead article back on January 5, 2016, declared, “Obama’s Legacy Will Be Executive Overreach,” but which now says, “President Trump should concede nothing on this issue. Neither he nor the country will gain anything if the executive branch of the federal government raises the white flag in surrender”—for the ultimate example of the dazzling duplicity of Trump’s kowtowing toadies.