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Alea Iacta Est

Alea Iacta Est

Dear Reader — 

In January of 49 BC, Julius Caesar led his forces across the Rubicon river, thus precipitating a civil war that broke the back of Rome’s patrician class — as well as the republic — and ushered in a new political order that was welcomed by the people. According to the Roman historian known as Suetonius, upon crossing the river Caesar quoted the Greek dramatist Menander: Alea iacta est (“The die is cast”). Rome had reached a point of no return.

Two thousand sixty-six years later, our politics has crossed another — albeit less violent — Rubicon. And it is no less difficult to discern what lies beyond it.

We have never elected a man to our nation’s highest office who lacks both military and political experience — a genuine outsider to the political (if not the economic) elite. Time will tell whether his business acumen and media savvy are sufficient to enact his political agenda or unite our fractured nation. 

What is more, Trump embodies a political philosophy that has had no national platform in our politics for a long time, if ever before. That philosophy is embodied, in part, by two lines from today’s inaugural address

“Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” With this, Trump expresses an economic philosophy that owes more to the old Left or the old Right than to Keynes or Hayek. But Trump is also conservative in an important, contemporary sense. In repudiating redistributionist taxation and seeking to roll back the regulatory state, he has common cause with libertarians, constitutionalist conservatives, and classical liberals. 

“We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” Here the new president not only takes a jab at “political correctness;” he also harkens back to an old-fashioned liberalism that embraces both free speech and social solidarity.

Trump would wield the libertarian’s hammer not to break us up into atomized individuals, but to build a cohesive whole. Thus Trump bypasses the opposition of today’s rival elites. 

To make good on the first proposition — prosperity through protection — President Trump must successfully bring contraries into harmony, expanding domestic programs while cutting taxes and slashing regulations, expanding economic freedom while restricting the free flow of goods and labor. To make good on the second — solidarity — President Trump must heal the wounds of partisan, class, and ethnic divisions, something his predecessor apparently failed to do.

Will President Trump be like Caesar and crown himself dictator in perpetuo, driving the nail into the coffin of our republic, as many on the Left fear? Or will he be a champion of the people who gives voice to the voiceless, as many on the Right hope? Or, perhaps, something in between? Alea iacta est.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy 


Jonathan Chait and the Failure of Grown Up Liberalism. In The New Republic, Timothy Shenk critiques the type of “pragmatic liberalism” that Jonathan Chait sees embodied in Barack Obama.

Democrats Are Unprepared for the Trump Era. The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle argues that the Left does not yet have an “effective opposition” to Trump.

Liberals Are Drunk on a Poison Called Intersectionality. In The Week, Damon Linker argues that by “doubling down” on identity politics the Left risks “shattering” the Democratic Party into “squabbling factions.”

Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom. In Washington Monthly, Barry C. Lynn contends that by embracing an anti-monopoly message, the Democratic Party can defeat Trumpism and “reinvigorate American liberty.”

The Democrats in Opposition. Writing in The American Prospect last year, Harold Meyerson presciently urges Democrats to “become the party of working Americans” or else lose to Republicans.

The Disruption of American Institutions and Political Systems. On The Federalist Radio Hour, Ben Domenech and Jonathan Rauch discuss the fate of political institutions in light of Trump’s rise.

A Revolution in Administrative Law. In Defining Ideas, Richard A. Epstein examines two bills that could “fundamentally alter the structure of American administrative law for years to come.”

States Can Help Trump Make Federalism Great Again. For National Review, Josh Blackman outlines how states can work with the new Congress and administration to weaken executive authority and strengthen that of the states. 

Obama's Legacy: Planting Seeds for Progressives to Cultivate. Also in National Review, Henry Olsen suggests how progressives might regroup and reclaim power “if Donald Trump and the Republican Congress don’t govern wisely.” 

Does Congress Want to Govern? In our own pages, Lee Drutman and Kevin R. Kosar consider what Congress could do to reclaim legislative power from the executive branch. 

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