By Victor Davis Hanson
December 22, 2015
How will the country wake up from its coma in 2016 to reality in 2017?
In the next 12 months, the lame-duck, legacy-starved Obama administration will double down on its executive orders, bureaucratic fiats, and circumvention of the law. Obama will seek to fundamentally transform America, contrary to law, effecting change in ways he was not able to by adhering to the law.
The media, as it has the past seven years, will not only ignore the illegality, but also rationalize and commend it.
Then comes 2017.
If a Republican is elected president, what will the media and its liberal sympathizers do should the next chief executive decides to follow the Obama modus operandi?
Consider a number of issues, starting with immigration.
Obama, when facing midterm and general elections, warned that executive-order amnesty and non-enforcement of immigration laws were simply out of bounds for a constitutionally elected president. Then he pursued both, and became exactly the constitutional monster that he had warned us about.
The media kept silent, happy that the noble end of open borders justified any means necessary to achieve it. In 2017, we will have a precedent that any American president can simply build a wall, close the border, and deport whomever he finds in violation of federal law.
In January 2017, the new president might announce a cut-off of all federal funds for sanctuary cities found in violation of federal law.
Or, also taking his cue from Obama, he might allow individual municipalities to nullify federal laws as they see fit: The Endangered Species Act null and avoid inside Salt Lake City? Gay marriage illegal within the city limits of Mobile? Gun control mandates too much of a hassle for those living in Laramie? Texas towns free to burn coal as they please?
The media will object, but they will sound shrill and empty given their prior sanction of Obama’s illegal precedents. Apparently, from now on the president alone will set immigration laws, enforcing statutes he finds useful, ignoring those he doesn’t—and all without credible censure from the media.
How about the Affordable Care Act? Before the 2012 election, Obama once again unilaterally decided not to enforce provisions of his own statutes. Few in the media said a word.
On that same Obama principle, the next president could repeal Obamacare simply by doing nothing, and ending all enforcement of its provisions—in the manner of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was rendered irrelevant by non-enforcement.
If rednecks storm the voting booths in Biloxi and are prosecuted for voter intimidation, will the next president simply drop the case and claim the Obama administration’s record on voting rights was too politicized to have been taken seriously?
The media snoozed while the EPA was found to have acted illegally by the GAO for employing “covert propaganda” in pushing new water regulations. So what would it do if the next EPA director used public funds to run an ad campaign ridiculing the idea of man-caused global warming?
Should politics and religion affect federal bureaucracies? Perhaps the next NASA chief can decide the space agency’s “foremost” mission to be Christian outreach, to remind demonized Christian evangelicals that their faith has had a wonderful record of scientific achievement.
If that is more important than resurrecting American rocketry, then once again there is a precedent for it.
Intervention abroad? Obama set another precedent that should the next president wish to attack a sovereign nation, he need not, as did the two Bushes, go to Congress to authorize the use of force, but simply unilaterally bomb away without either a congressional or UN mandate (in the case of Libya, the UN authorized only no-fly zones and humanitarian aid, but not close ground support).
Transparency? What will the press do in 2017 if the next president taps the communications of journalists as happened with the Associated Press reporters? What if the next Secretary of State decides to use private emails and an off-the-record server, while erasing past communications, among them top-secret correspondence?
What if the war on terror fails in 2017 with a spectacular strike on our embassy in Jordan? Will the media go along with a presidential narrative alleging that a left-wing video maker caused the violence rather than al Qaeda?
Cannot the next president use the bully pulpit to remind the poor that it is high time for them to decide to make some money? Or to admonish them to at least build something on their own? Would that be labeled class-driven divisiveness?
If in 2017 the IRS inordinately targets left-wing non-profits, will the media talk of a “culture of corruption”?
On matters of race and gender, if the administration can redefine sexual assault on campus by more or less doing away with due process and free speech, would the next president issue an executive order ending affirmative action, in order to follow rather than to undermine constitutional protections?
If we get hit again by a major terrorist attack, will the media stay silent if the next president cites the task of disproving climate change as our number-one challenge?
What if the reckless Donald Trump were president? Thank Obama for Trump, because long ago the president ended altogether the idea of extreme language in politics. Obama has said anything and everything with implicit media sanction. And we are already harvesting with Trump what Obama and the media have sown.
Would an Anti-Semitic Trump confidant, in Al Sharpton style, be an incessant visitor to the White House? Would the foreign-born Mrs. Trump complain that the U.S. was a downright mean country of which she had never until now been proud?
Would a reporter from National Review praise Trump’s pant crease, or a Weekly Standard writer declare him the smartest president in history, or a Fox journalist wax on about his tingling leg as Trump spoke?
Trump is said to “know nothing.” Perhaps. Do you think he is confused whether Austrians speak German, or believes corpsman is pronounced corpse-man, or thinks there are 57 states in the Union? Would Trump label the Falklands the Maldives?
Would Donald Trump dare go to the UN to deplore an average bloody and lawless weekend in Chicago, reminding the world that a tribal U.S. has a long way to go? Or at an Islamic prayer breakfast, would Trump remind Moslems not to get on their religious high horses given the outrages of the Caliphate?
If Trump were to take selfies, claim he was always the most interesting guy in the room, set a new presidential record for golf outings, and pick the Final Four on live TV, would we still dub him narcissistic, distracted, and buffoonish?
Would he go to a NASCAR rally and urge his supporters to “punish our enemies”— or write off the inner cities by reminding his base that people who live there “cling to their guns” and their eccentric Rev. Wright-like churches? Would that be over the top?
Or perhaps Trump would go to a NRA convention to urge members to get “in their faces” of those who don’t like him and to be sure to take their plentiful guns to a knife fight? Would the media find that incendiary?
Or perhaps Trump would announce that his personal references in his past books were not factual, but “composites” that he had made up to convey the real truth about his past?
The media in 2017 has a stark choice between its continued irrelevance and utter hypocrisy. I think starting in 2017, journalists will prefer to be called hypocrites to toadies, and so demand of the president what was never demanded of Obama.
Former President Obama too will face his own dilemma. He will either proclaim that he had to resort to extralegal measures for extraordinary challenges like none other in U.S. history—and that such lawlessness could never again be justified in normal times by any other president.
Or he can confess that his activist successor is simply polarizing the country and ignoring the law in the manner that he did too. So no big deal.
2017 will be a rare moment of truth-telling—one way or the other.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals. This article, “What If the Next President Behaves Like Obama?” first appeared at To The Point News.