WASHINGTON — At dawn Tuesday in West Quoddy Head, Maine, America’s easternmost point, it was certain that by midnight in Cape Wrangell, Alaska, America’s westernmost fringe, there would be a loser who deserved to lose and a winner who did not deserve to win. The surprise is that Barack Obama must have immediately seen his legacy, a compound of stylistic and substantive arrogance, disappearing, as though written on water in ink of vapor.
His health care reform has contributed to three Democratic drubbings. The 2010 and 2014 wave elections, like scythes in a wheat field, decapitated a rising generation of potential party leaders. Then came Tuesday’s earthquake, which followed shocking increases of Obamacare’s prices. This law has been as historic as Obama thinks, but not as he thinks: It might be the last gasp of progressivism’s hubris expressed in continentwide social engineering imposed from the continent’s Eastern edge. Hillary Clinton’s proposed solution to Obamacare’s accelerating unraveling was a “public option”: intensified government manipulation to correct the consequences of government manipulation of health care’s 18 percent of the economy. Her campaign’s other defining proposal, “free” tuition in public higher education, insulted the intelligence of voters aware that “free” means “paid for by others, including you.”
Obama’s foreign policy legacy, aside from mounting chaos worldwide, was the Iran nuclear agreement. By precedent and constitutional norms, this should have been a treaty submitted to the Senate. Instead, disdainfully and characteristically, he produced it as an executive agreement. Because the agreement lacks legitimizing ratification by senators, the president-elect will feel uninhibited concerning his promise to repudiate it.
The simultaneous sickness of both parties surely reveals a crisis of the American regime. The GOP was easily captured, and then quickly normalized, by history’s most unpleasant and unprepared candidate, whose campaign was a Niagara of mendacities. And the world’s oldest party contrived to nominate someone who lost to him.
To an electorate clamoring for disruptive change, Democrats offered a candidate as familiar as faded wallpaper. The party produced no plausible alternative to her joyless, stained embodiment of arrogant entitlement. And she promised to intensify the progressive mentality. “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it”? Actually, you can’t even keep your light bulbs.
Americans perennially complain about Washington gridlock, but for seven decades they have regularly produced gridlock’s prerequisite — divided government. From 1944 through 2016, 22 of 37 elections gave at least one house of Congress to the party not holding the presidency; since 1954, 21 of 32 did; since 1994, eight of 12. Republicans now lack excuses: If 40 Democratic senators block repeal of Obamacare (or Supreme Court nominees), the Republicans’ populist base will demand Democratic behavior — revision of Senate rules to make this body more majoritarian.
For constitutional conservatives, the challenge is exactly what it would have been had Clinton won: to strengthen the rule of law by restoring institutional equilibrium. This requires a Republican Congress to claw back from a Republican executive the legislative powers that Congress has ceded to the administrative state, and to overreaching executives like Obama, whose executive unilateralism the president-elect admires.
From Clinton’s nastiest aspiration, we are now safe. She promised Supreme Court justices who would reverse Citizens United, thereby eviscerating the First Amendment by empowering the political class to regulate the quantity, content and timing of campaign speech about itself. This will never happen.
Demography need not dictate for Republicans a grim destiny but it soon will, unless they act to counter adverse trends. Republicans should absorb Tim Alberta’s data in National Review: Arizona whites have gone from 74 percent to 54 percent of the population in 25 years; minorities will be a majority there by 2022. Texas minorities became a majority in 2004; whites are now 43 percent of the population. Nevada is 52 percent white and projected to be majority-minority in 2020. Georgia is 54 percent white, heading for majority-minority in 2026. Because of inexorably rising minorities, Clinton, an epically untalented candidate, did better than Obama did in 2012 in Georgia, Texas, Arizona and where one in eight Americans lives — California.
The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on, perhaps soon to inscribe this: In 2016, Republicans won a ruinous triumph that convinced them that they can forever prosper by capturing an ever-larger portion of an ever-smaller portion of the electorate.
This kamikaze arithmetic of white nationalism should prompt the president-elect to test his followers’ devotion to him by asking their permission to see the national tapestry as it is and should be.
George Will is a political writer for The Washington Post. His email address is [email protected]