“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

– Nobel-winning free-market economist Milton Friedman

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher occasionally referred to a political effect she called “the leftward ratchet.”

That was the idea – actually, it was more of an unquestioned assumption by “progressives” – that any program or policy favored by the left might be delayed for a time, but could never be truly reversed or even halted in place.

Based on a philosophy called “historical determinism,” the idea led influential left-wing thinkers and political leaders to proclaim that opponents could not long “stand against history” – as if the tide of events itself were somehow conscious and purposeful, and so powerful that imposing different priorities on it would be impossible. (Conservatives have long disagreed. When William F. Buckley founded National Review magazine back in 1955, he said its mission would be to “Stand athwart history – yelling ‘Stop!'”)

But for many decades, it has seemed as though progressives were right, and even when a conservative president took office or a conservative congressional majority appeared, the ratchet may have paused for a time, but was never truly reversed.


Until a president who was most decidedly not a conservative was elected, and the nation suddenly and unexpectedly found itself at a potentially historic turning point. If and when President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees take office, and he appoints Supreme Court justices who understand and honor the Constitution, the tide of “leftward progress” may not only be halted, it has a surprising chance of being significantly reversed for many policies and programs.

This is not something the progressive movement anticipated (and neither did many of its opponents, who had little faith in Trump’s consistency or his ability to choose good advisers and Cabinet leaders).

So while many conservatives and even centrists are finding themselves relaxing and even breaking out in the occasional happy dance, the progressive movement is coming all unglued. Indeed, its adherents are floundering around, trying everything they can to prevent Trump from taking office next month .

Jill Stein’s Clinton-donor-financed recount ploy failed miserably, rejected by the courts in Michigan and Pennsylvania. In Wisconsin, the one state where it went forward, Trump ended up gaining 131 votes.

So now we have allegations that “the Russians hacked the election in Trump’s favor,” based on anonymous claims from shadowy figures in the CIA. But those claims are disputed by the FBI and many other intelligence agencies.

Nonetheless, the claims (which deal not with any assault on the actual vote, but instead on long-revealed leaks of genuine emails sent by Clinton and her aides) are being used to leverage attempts to get the Electoral College to change its vote from Trump to … Hillary Clinton? Jill Stein? Joe Biden? Tom Brady?


We can all agree it would be horrendous for Vladimir Putin to interfere in the election (and we should indeed investigate these claims.) But if the process should be inviolate, then why is it OK for Democrats to try to subvert the sworn duty of electors to vote for the person who won their states on Nov. 8?

However, since that likely won’t happen, let’s consider the probable fate of progressives’ pet programs under a Trump administration.

Energy and climate? Environmental policy seems headed for a genuine U-turn, not away from clean air and water, but from the bottomless arrogance of know-it-all bureaucrats. Perhaps we could designate Aug. 28, the date in 1859 that Col. Edwin Drake struck oil in his first Pennsylvania well, as “National Hug A Fracker Day”?

Obamacare? Congress and the new president pledge to “repeal and replace” it, but the form the replacement takes is critical. It’s not that there are no ideas to adopt, but that there are so many good ones. Nevertheless, though Republicans have continually failed at this before, the project’s finally under way.

Foreign policy? As the world’s peace continues to crumble, will generals and businessmen do a better job than academics and failed politicians? It’s hard to see how they could do worse.

Education? The time of selling out our children’s future, particularly that of inner-city minorities, to the teachers’ unions may soon end – as may the idea that a vast nation can have goals imposed on it from Washington that directly contradict local priorities and values.


There’s much more, but space has run out. Still, perhaps we finally can prove Professor Friedman wrong, and make the word “temporary” truly accurate when it’s applied to wasteful and harmful government programs.

Indeed, could we actually achieve the dream of eliminating a whole Cabinet department – or more than one? If so, political scientists might someday be documenting “the rightward ratchet.”

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:


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