Over the past 19 months, we have all heard a lot about Bill Barr’s misuse of the office of attorney general and the resources of the Justice Department to do the personal bidding of President Donald Trump, to undermine the evenhanded rule of law, and to work in countless other ways to put the president in a position of nearly autocratic power. What first came to our attention as surprising accounts of specific actions out of sync with the way attorneys general are supposed to act has become a systematic torrent of actions building on one another to feed a rising crescendo of public alarm.
This unprecedented pattern of conduct by the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer has brought a question to the minds of many people: Why does Bill Barr do the things he does?
To help us find answers to that question, Barr has left an extensive paper trail that goes back more than 30 years. Or rather, he has left two paper trails that run parallel to each other. The most familiar of these concerns executive power, the other the religious and moral health of the American people. As divergent as those subjects sound, Barr’s ideas on both follow a common course and structure.
On both subjects, Barr posits a set of views that he ascribes to the Founders, and that, he believes, were absolutely essential to the success of the great experiment that is America. Those views also happen to be his own. In both cases, according to Barr, the Founders’ vision was firmly instituted, leading to the great advances and dominant role America came to play during most of two centuries. But, also in both cases, starting at around the same time—the 1960s and ’70s—the nation wandered away from the sacred path defined by its Founders. On account of that apostasy, the country now finds itself in dire straits. For Barr, the only remedy is drastic action to restore the nation to the Founders’ vision. Fortunately, he is making himself available to lead that restoration.
Barr’s better-known views relating to executive power posit that the Founders intended to create an all-powerful president, and he sees that vision as thriving until the late 20th century, when it was undermined by interference from Congress and the courts. To Barr, the role of religion in our public life has followed a similar trajectory. The Founders, according to Barr, believed that national success depended on America remaining a pious Christian nation, in which the worst inclinations of the citizenry would be constrained by obedience to God-given eternal values. That reality, he tells us, also substantially persisted until the late 20th century, when a combination of forces conspired to severely undermine it. [Continue reading…]