George, I agree entirely. Senator Johnson’s remark about change is also anti-conservative. Burke wrote that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Rather than the Burkean model of changing in order to preserve—the difference between reform and revolution, and the sense in which the Civil War amendments animated the unfulfilled principles of the American regime—Johnson’s standard would freeze the status quo at any moment in time. But which moment in time? The onset of the New Deal? The last day of the Obama presidency? Trump was elected as a change candidate. Does he hate America?
I wanted to focus, though, on another illustrative Johnson remark, as paraphrased in the Bulwark piece: that Johnson isn’t worried about Trump’s assault on the election because the institutions of American democracy are strong enough to withstand it. That is true if the temporary fiduciaries of those institutions, like Johnson, actually utilize them rather than describing them as a Platonic form that exists to be contemplated outside the cave. These abstract appeals to the Constitution by public officials unwilling to use the concrete authority it provides are as problematic as Trump’s explicit assault.
This is happening all over, even among those participating in the assault. Several dozen Republican legislators in Pennsylvania just asked Congress not to count the state’s electoral votes. They hold a majority in the state legislature. Constitutionally, they have the power to act on this desire. What they want is the have-it-both-ways option of demanding it without doing it.
The Madisonian regime is not an abstraction. It depends on the active use of power. Johnson can’t rely on generic institutions of democracy as his own passivity contributes to their corrosion.