Although some elections remain to be called, the overall picture is clear. American voters did not clearly repudiate the illiberal, progressive collectivist policies adopted at the state and national levels since March 2020. While the media focuses on the Red Ripple, however, it is important to note that Bidenomics has not been vindicated. The nation remains deeply divided over many key economic and socioeconomic issues.
Some thirty years ago, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman argued that what I call the Great New Deal Reset became constitutional because voters kept FDR and his minions in office over numerous election cycles in the 1930s. I show in a book-in-progress that such a notion is deeply flawed because relative popularity at the polls is insufficient to overturn republican checks and balances.
The converse, however, jibes well with the notion of limited government held by all of the Framers and Founders. When “We the People” proclaim policies abhorrent by exercising our speech and voting rights, policymakers must take heed, at least if democracy is to retain its essential Lincolnian meaning of rule of, for, and by the people.
Polling indicates that most Americans want little to do with policies that privilege the feelings of favored groups over the hallowed rights of individuals. People who feel frightened by a virus can stay at home, but should never again be allowed to impose work, school, and travel restrictions or mask and vaccine mandates on those who believe the virus is less costly than the putative means of its control. People who feel that firearms are too dangerous can avoid them, but should not be allowed to restrict their use by law-abiding citizens who see them as valuable tools.
Americans also generally reject policies that privilege equality of outcome over equality of opportunity. It’s a crying shame that people live in poverty here and abroad, but that doesn’t mean that authorities should allow anyone to break US or state laws with impunity. If America’s immigration and drug laws are too punitive, public officials should change, not flout them. Lawmakers, not members of the executive branch, need to do the hard work of reforming a system that provides no “justice” for criminals or their victims. Amplifying the signal sent in Virginia’s 2021 elections, most parents believe that they at the very least should be able to veto ideological or sexualized “educational” curricular content.
Americans have also expressed concerns about illiberal attempts to change America’s constitutional order. Many realize that mere laws or gimmicks should not be allowed to make Washington DC a state or to end the Electoral College. Mere executive orders should not be sufficient to redistribute billions of dollars from people who did not attend university, or who have paid for it already, to graduates who remain indebted. Operational coal plants and pipelines in progress should not be shut down by fiat on the basis of dubious causal climate claims. Government bureaucrats should not be able to force private companies to restrict speech nor engage in other activities that the government itself cannot do. Most importantly, Americans know that the law must apply to all equally, and that law enforcement agencies should not be weaponized to protect or punish people on the basis of party affiliation or ideology.
Why the disconnect between those views and the election results? Most importantly, perhaps, Americans vote for candidates, not policies. Americans who do not trust candidates to keep their campaign promises tend not to vote at all. While voter turnout has been increasing, four out of ten eligible voters cast no ballots, even in presidential elections. Incumbents tend to win, in part, because they are at least known entities. For some reason, candidates will not credibly commit through a bonding mechanism to support a suite of policies, or to consult their constituents should a new issue arise, as America’s first elected officeholders did.
Unlike the election of 1800, which repudiated the Alien and Sedition Acts and certain other Federalist policies of dubious constitutionality, the election of 2022 did not clearly repudiate lockdowns and mandates, the uncritical educational use of Critical Race Theory, the partisan weaponization of law enforcement, and other illiberal Progressive attempts to radically change America. But it fell far short of endorsing them.
Policy rollbacks in the next two years appear unlikely, but the pace of policy change and new spending may slow considerably, which at least should help the Fed to fight inflation. But America is not yet poised to again unleash its full economic potential by restoring the expectation of high levels of economic freedom.