How Did The Man Who Wrote The Book Fail To Make The Deal?

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State
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In the aftermath of the GOP’s failed attempt to overhaul Obamacare, it appears that the man who literally ‘wrote the book’ on deal-making failed to make a deal. The headline of one article I read portrayed it as “the biggest broken promise in political history.”  Be that as it may, the predictable spectacle of excuses and mutual recrimination is not lacking.  President Trump wagged his twitter finger at the Republican House Freedom Caucus.  He also struck an almost professorial pose, speaking like an academic observer—detached, above the fray:

“We learned a lot. We learned a lot about loyalty,” Mr. Trump said. “We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in obviously both the Senate and the House. …I like speaker Ryan. He’s got a lot of factions, and there’s been a long history of liking and disliking even within the Republican Party, long before I got here.”

But in an article defending the caucus, activist/pundit Star Parker makes good sense when she writes:

Let’s first appreciate that deal-making in business and deal-making in politics and governing are not the same thing. Business deals are about one thing – money. A businessman determines his bottom line. If the deal he constructs doesn’t meet it, he walks.

Although certainly there are critical economic implications to a political deal, these considerations don’t define the essence of the exercise. The essence of the political deal is about the nature and meaning of the society in which we live.

President Trump scored good success for himself in his business ventures. He ably took advantage of the media-led degradation of America’s political discussions to win the GOP nomination. But as Star Parker implies, this doesn’t guarantee automatic success when it comes to the complexities of constitutional government.  Another imperative is at work, one that requires an appreciation for the moral foundation of America’s political life. It also requires the capacity to evoke the sense of just purpose that foundation entails, in order to refresh the national unity that purpose inspires, thereby promoting mutual understanding in the context of otherwise divisive issues.

Donald Trump knows how to unite people when they are already united by their ambition for money and power.  He knows how to unite people on one side against the other, to serve his own political aims.  But, so far, he shows little or no sense of the moral premises and purpose that are capable of uniting the American people when right and liberty are at stake. This is not a deficiency peculiar to him.  It is now characteristic of almost all the leading politicians in both so-called “major” Parties, as well as most of the leading figures in America’s public life.

Tragically, Mr. Trump now appears to be counting on the collapse of Obamacare, just as Senator Phil Graham recently suggested he should.  But, counting on disaster to pave the way for his success involves sacrificing the good of the country and its people in order to serve his own ambition.  A business tycoon may think this an acceptable way to deal with the collapse of a deal-making effort, even if it leaves others holding the bag.  But the President of the United States is sworn to uphold the purposes of the Constitution, which include things like union, justice and the general welfare of the nation—all of them aspects of or our common good, crucial to the liberty with which the Constitution aims to bless our future.

The President’s first and chief priority ought to be safeguarding the good of the people of the United States. He should never be content to leave the nation holding the smelly bag while the government moves on to ventures better suited to serve the political ambitions of its political caretakers, and those who back them. Until they are formally repealed, the provisions of Obamacare remain the supreme law of the land. Simply letting them collapse over the heads of people who are obliged to obey them, brings the Constitution and the laws made pursuant thereto, into contempt.  It pushes our Constitution toward the sort of cynical decrepitude that characterized Germany’s Weimar Republic in the period that spawned Hitler’s rise to power.

An element of seduction (i.e., winning indulgence by catering to some strong passion) predominates in business negotiation.  Intimidation may be involved. But intimidation predominates mainly in criminal business dealings, or those so ruthlessly pursued that they verge on being criminal.  Of course, political and governmental affairs may also turn on seduction and intimidation.  The first is the active principle at work in oligarchic governments; the second in despotic government, empowered by fear of suffering, loss, or violent death.

But in establishing government in the United States, the American people followed the conviction that they should adopt a constitution predicated on the predominance of deliberation and persuasion.  These human activities rely on the faculties of reasoning and conscience. By these faculties human beings come to see the constraints government imposes in terms of goods all people may commonly possess, if they have the good will to do so. Such are peace, justice (fair play) and respect for life itself; as well as the liberty, (i.e., freedom employed in accordance with good conscience) to do what preserves them.

For most of our contemporary politicians, these goods appear to be nothing but convenient fantasies.  They think them useful for cleverly manipulating people whom they regard as childish enough to believe in them—even to the point of getting them to risk and sacrifice material goods and even life itself. Pretentious ideologies or their personal experience of success, have convinced much of our elite that these moral ideas are really of no worth.  If it is true, as Churchill observed, that public speakers cannot convince their audience to feel what they do not truly feel themselves, it’s easy to understand why it is difficult for so many of our public figures to evoke ideas of right and justice convincingly. Not to mention respect for human life.

That’s why they are quick to cast issues in materialistic terms.  But where constitutional, lawful liberty is to govern, the common sense of right and justice is necessary, to open the people’s eyes to the way of life they have in common; and to open their hearts to the fact that preserving that way of life is a purpose worthy of service, compromise, and sacrifice, though it be at the risk of life itself.

If Donald Trump were the leader candidate Trump pretended to be, he would see in an issue like health care the chance to appeal our nation’s common heart.  For it is an issue that arises in the conjunction of faith and practical liberty where we Americans have always produced our finest results—in health care and in every other vital endeavor. This is what the GOP platform envisages.  It’s a tragic shame that no political party exists to pursue that vision.  I used to think this was what the Republican Party was all about. I still think that it is what America is all about. Do you?