Donald Trump Flunks Conservatism 101: Enumerated Powers

Donald Trump either doesn't know or doesn't care about the boundaries of federal power.

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Donald Trump’s concept of the federal government’s proper role ought to make any conservative cringe. Last week, the GOP’s leading candidate answered a question from an Afghanistan veteran named Robert Kitelinger who asked, “In your opinion, what are the top three functions of the United States government?” Trump listed security, healthcare, and education.

He said something a little different in August 2015 when he listed his top priorities as the military, veterans and jobs. These two statements are not necessarily irreconcilable of course. In August 2015 he was speaking about what his own priorities as president would be, while in March 2016 he was responding to a question about what the federal government’s most important functions are. But unless Trump’s priorities are going to diverge from what he believes the federal government should be doing, that circle is not yet squared. Perhaps his priorities shifted over the last eight months? That’s possible however unlikely. A better explanation is that he can’t remember what he pretended to believe yesterday much less what he pretended to believe eight months ago. That was then and this is now. Forget what he said in August, Donald Trump’s priorities du jour are security, healthcare, and education.

Puke. Just puke.

Though I’m not certain the questioner intended to put Trump’s conservatism to the test, he did and Trump flunked. Two of those three issues should have nothing whatsoever to do with the federal government. I’m speaking of healthcare and education, neither of which can be found among the federal government’s enumerated powers. According to the tenth amendment, those powers should be left “to the States respectively; or to the People.”

Security is and should be a federal responsibility. The preamble to the Constitution tells us that one of the federal government’s purposes is to “provide for the common defence.” The Constitution also explicitly provides for an army and a navy. Trump probably had border security in mind as well, which is also a federal responsibility. According to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the federal government has the role of establishing a “uniform Rule of Naturalization” and the power to call upon militias to “execute the Laws of the Union…and repel Invasions.” What’s happening on our southern border can rightfully be called an invasion and no one’s doing anything about it.

So Donald Trump is standing on solid ground with the first of three functions he named. Yet he’s weak even here because there’s reason to believe that he doesn’t mean what he says. Political positions are as disposable to him as wives or that pledge he signed to support the eventual Republican nominee. Nor does Trump strike me as the type of guy who really cares about the tidal wave of third world immigrants—both legal and illegal—crashing on our shores. He is, after all, a member of the employer class which has always sought to reduce the price of labor by increasing its supply. In the past he’s admitted to using illegal aliens from Latin America as landscapers at a golf course he owns in Florida. Trump also contracted out the destruction of an old department store in Manhattan to Kaszycki & Sons Contractors which brought in two hundred illegal aliens from Poland to clear the spot for Trump Tower. Trump denies that he knew anything about Kaszycki & Sons’ hiring practices though at least one FBI informant says that he knew quite well. The workers were reportedly not paid all of their wages; when they complained, Trump subordinates threatened them with deportation.

I suspect Trump’s lying about security, most of all border security, because it’s hard to imagine a man who has benefitted so handsomely from cheap labor actually turning off the immigration spigot. He might do it if only because he will want to be reelected and it will be hard to make people forget the promise he made a thousand times over. But what about the other two functions of the US government Trump identified? This is where Trump goes off the rails.

Let’s start with healthcare. There’s no doubt that there’s something wrong with our healthcare system, namely that it’s outrageously expensive. The so-called “Affordable Care Act” (aka Obamacare) only made it more expensive. What is Donald Trump going to do about it? Clearly he wants the federal government to do something to secure healthcare for its citizens or else he wouldn’t name it as one of the federal government’s primary functions. I couldn’t disagree more. I want the federal government to get its nose out of healthcare and allow me to secure my own just as I buy my own groceries and pay my own electricity bill. Government has got that reverse Midas touch—everything it touches turns to…well, you know what. Healthcare is a mess today because government at all levels has tried to fix it. In the case of the federal government, their meddling isn’t just counterproductive, it’s also unconstitutional because neither regulating nor providing healthcare is among the federal government’s enumerated powers.

Education is another realm that the federal government should steer clear of. American schools are pretty lousy though not because of some dearth of federal “assistance.” Like child predators, the feds seduce local school boards with the lure of free candy—federal funding that absolutely always comes with strings attached.

Another Republican President named George W. Bush made education his first order of business when he proposed the No Child Left Behind Act just three days after his 2001 inauguration. The bill, which was co-authored by Ted Kennedy (eek!), sailed to passage with little opposition. What Bush was attempting to do, I think, was to take the issue of education away from the Democrats who, for reasons unbeknownst to me, are considered the pro-education party. Democrats have actually done great harm to public education. Bush probably thought he could propose a Republican alternative to what had been a Democratic issue—or at least a Democratic gripe.

I’m ashamed to admit that I supported NCLB at the time. I believed that a system of accountability that rewarded schools based on student performance assessed by standardized tests would yield positive results—and for the most part, I still do. I can see now, however, that such a system shouldn’t involve the federal government. It should be planned and implemented a lot closer to home with parents wielding a lot more influence. And while I still support the concept of testing, I now believe that there is such thing as too much of a good thing. This usually happens when students are forced to take both state and federal tests.

It was a mistake for the federal government to involve itself further in education. How embarrassing that a Republican led the way. Republicans should be working to defeat the Democrats’ unconstitutional proposals to enlarge our already bloated federal government—not trying to outdo them with their own. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that I should have been alarmed that President Bush’s highest legislative priority is not among the federal government’s enumerated powers and was therefore unauthorized. Any president who promises to fix local schools from far-away Washington, DC should automatically be suspect. He’s no constitutionalist and therefore no conservative.

No Child Left Behind was a lesson to conservatives—a lesson that Donald Trump clearly didn’t learn. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the defined boundaries of federal power. It’s hard for him to imagine any government being too massive or too powerful as long as he’s at the head of it. That scares me, though not as much as the fact that he’s leading the Republican delegate count with only seventeen states to go. Barring a last-minute attempt by the GOP establishment to jock him at the convention, Trump will probably win the Republican nomination. What does that say about the Party?

To me it says that too many Republicans aren’t really opposed to the concentration of power in Washington. They just don’t like the way the Democrats use that power, which probably isn’t all that different than the way Donald Trump would use it.

With a single remark about the federal government’s proper functions Donald Trump blew whatever cover he had left as a supposed “conservative.” He wants more power in Washington so that the federal government can do more of what it’s not supposed to be doing now. He’ll do it better, I’m sure he would say, but I still can’t vote for a man like that.

Benny Huang is a lonely conservative in the very liberal Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. He strives to make the world a better place through his writing. He is a veteran.