The conservative case for civil disobedience rests on an appeal to a God-given law higher than written law. But to what does liberalism’s case for it appeal? Not to a law higher than written law but to a drive lower than it, the willfulness of human beings, which moves the ground of civil disobedience into the realm of relativism and turns acts done in its name into anarchy. The left glorifies anarchy in the language of the “living constitution” and other noble-sounding rhetoric, but it all amounts to the rejection of the rule of law in favor of the rule of men, who feel free to disobey every decree, save their own.
Hence, the left can go from cheering Hillary’s pious lecture at the third presidential debate on respecting election results to trashing those results. It can go from denouncing Kim Davis to lionizing judges and Justice Department officials who defy lawful orders. It can go from pooh-poohing peaceful Tea Party rallies to applauding riots. Its most ostensibly “responsible” figures, such as former presidents, tweet out their solidarity with Starbucks-smashing protesters. “Progressive” mayors endorse silencing speakers, and professors attack the police for stopping mobs.
Hillary was “horrified” by the prospect of one side refusing to accept election results, until, of course, her side lost. Now she sends out messages encouraging the protesters in their infantile petulance and reassures divisive feminists that the “future is female.”
Meanwhile, bureaucrats and school administrators don protest hats, pols call for impeachment (for nothing more than policies they dislike or for Trump’s refusal to stop Putin from invading “Korea,” to quote Maxine Waters), and former Democratic Cabinet secretaries like Robert Reich to traffic in raw conspiracy theories. So much for the ruling class’s claimed monopoly on “temperament” in public life. It is difficult to imagine a more pitifully immature and unruly response to an election than the one the ruling class has sanctioned in the wake of Trump’s victory.
In this anarchic atmosphere, a judge, James Robart, was bound to find in the penumbras of the Constitution a new right: the right of foreigners residing in terror hot spots to sue the American government for entry. Naturally, the very people applauding this anarchy reserve the right to monitor the manners of Donald Trump, whose tweet about the “so-called judge” inspired sanctimonious editorials about the importance of respecting the “system.” But what else do you call a judge who behaves like a politician? Robart is Exhibit A of an activist and imperial judiciary, blatantly violating the constitutional separation of powers for the sake of advancing trendy liberalism. And where was the ruling class’s respect for the “system” a week or so ago when an acting attorney general defied a lawful executive order? Some of the liberal mandarins of Washington called Sally Yates a “hero,” with Democrats introducing resolutions in the House commending her.
The ruling class’s sense of propriety, in its ideological panic, grows ever more elastic. It could defend Hillary’s classified chit-chat with out-of-government partisan hack Sidney Blumenthal but now revolts at the thought of White House employee Steve Bannon in a National Security Council meeting. It lectures Trump on inflammatory rhetoric, then casually compares one of his aides, Michael Anton, to a Nazi theorist. It celebrates judges who invent rights out of thin air, then deems “dangerous” a judge like Gorsuch who calls for a modest and limited judiciary.
In a way, the ruling class is just returning to its roots. Many of its members are 1960s protesters who marched through the institutions, gained power, lost power, and now find themselves back where they started: on the outside, clawing for power again. In positions of authority, they self-protectively demanded “respect for the rule of law”; out of those positions, they countenance violations of it. Their anti-Trump powwows almost resemble the Students for a Democratic Society meetings they once chaired.
In the subversive tweets and mixed-messages to the rioters, in the cheerleading for defiant judges and bureaucrats, in the award-show antics, even in its childish delight in cheap SNL parodies, the ruling class is rekindling its lawless youth. The difference between Robert Reich the professor and Robert Reich the protester is one of degree, not kind. None of these supposed luminaries — whether it is Hillary Clinton who worked for a communist law firm in Oakland, former CIA director John Brennan who voted for Gus Hall, Barack Obama who launched his political career in the living room of Bill Ayers — have changed all that much. They remain radicals at heart, longing not for relief from tyranny but a return to their own.