Martin Ford’s book, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, is unsettling, and unsettling in just the right way for anyone who is serious about Making America Great Again. Indeed, Ford makes a convincing case that advancements in information technology,–simply put, automation–have already and will continue to have a profoundly disruptive impact on economic, social, and political life.
Ford’s account of how information technology has transformed the relationship between capital and labor is especially relevant to the development of the bleak economic conditions that President-elect Trump intends to address. For example, in the post-war “Golden Age” (late 1940s to early ’70s when America was great) the effect of technological advancement, say, in the auto factory, was an increase in the productivity of the laborer and hence the value of the laborer’s work, which translated into higher wages and high employment. In stark contrast to this auspicious scenario, Ford shows how automation in IT dramatically increases the capability and productive capacity of many industries, but does so in a way that effectively renders many workers obsolete—just look at the incredibly market values, for instance, of major tech companies compared to the meager number of employees.
In one sense, the rapidly accelerating automation of the work force (and not only low-skilled) underscores the tremendous importance of Trump’s positions on immigration and trade, especially outsourcing. It is simply absurd that we have been importing unskilled immigrants precisely during a period of rapid automation of unskilled jobs, for instance. In another sense, however, the challenges posed by automation suggest sobering limits to the degree to which sound and patriotic trade and immigration policies alone can fix things. Such policies are absolutely necessary, but not sufficient, and will serve to buy us time as a country to address the challenges of automation with the big and bold thinking that Trump has exemplified, and which, more than any specific policies (which are all great, by the way), will prove the indispensable ingredient in Making America Great Again.
Darren Beattie is visiting assistant professor of political science at Duke University.
Remember, Christmas in the Orthodox tradition runs through January 6, so you still have plenty of time to bestow your friends and loved ones with the Gift of the #MAGA.
If the gift is a somewhat better understanding of the Greatness Agenda—a strong border, economic nationalism, and an America-first foreign policy—then until Publius Decius Mus or any number of American Greatness writers publish their books in the next year, we’re left with what the market already has to offer.
On immigration, one of the best books to frame the question in terms of consent of the governed is Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity by Peter H. Schuck and Rogers M. Smith. The book is more than 30 years old and hopelessly out of print, but you can still find used copies on Amazon for a reasonable sum. Schuck and Smith make the rather unremarkable claim that “permitting a democratic community the power to shape its own destiny by granting or refusing its consent to new members is essential.” That their view is at once neglected and yet controversial today tells us much about the paltry state of our politics. But their argument is also the one we need to have right now.
On economic nationalism, we’re really talking about the Republican Party’s painful re-thinking of free trade. Here I would suggest two books to get the discussion started: The Myth of Free Trade by Dr. Ravi Batra and American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness, by Dan DiMicco. Batra’s book is a little more than 20 years old now, but it distinguishes itself as a fairly straightforward case against the bogus global “free trade” regime that has steadily hollowed out our middle class. DiMicco is the former CEO of Nucor and was the Trump campaign’s advisor on trade, so if you want to understand where Trump is coming from, DiMicco is a good place to start.
Finally, a brief word about “America First,” which is a much-maligned term in our politics today. For a lively history of the idea and the political movement in the United States, check out Bill Kauffman’s America First!. Kauffman is an unapologetic isolationist, but if you read his book with open eyes and a charitable mind, you might come to see why the term shouldn’t be such a term of abuse. (Feel free to skip the lame and tendentious introduction by Gore Vidal, however.)
Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness.
If we’re to pick a book that explained the election, then Peter Schweizer’s take-down of the dragon lady of the Clinton Cash machine was the book of the year. But as it is almost too obvious a choice, let me mention a lesser-known book that spoke to an issue quite as important as public corruption, the manner in which our Judeo-Christian heritage has shaped our Western political traditions. Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism shows how our democratic institutions and ideas about personal rights derive not from Locke but from our religious beliefs that we all have souls and that salvation is individual. The Voltairien who seeks to efface this reveals his ignorance of our history and culture, and today’s progressive epigones have shown how easily Godless liberalism can descend into oppression and illiberalism. Those raised in a religious tradition will understand this, and when Solicitor General Verriilli told Justice Alito that a college which opposed same-sex marriage might lose government funding, he revealed for all to see the threat to religious liberty. In the end, the greatest of swing blocks, Catholic voters, broke plus 2 for Trump and plus 10 for white Catholics. Let me spell it out for you: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan.
F.H. Buckley is a law professor at George Mason University. His most recent book, The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America (Encounter) explains the urgent need for legal immigration reform.
When Whittaker Chambers published Witness in 1952 it became an instant best-seller and a foundational book for the incipient conservative movement that would give birth to National Review three years later. The book was immediately understood to be a classic and it became a guiding light for generations of American conservatives. It is also the book that my father made my mother read during their engagement in mid-60s so that she could better understand him and how he understood the world.
But that seems wholly appropriate—because Witness is as much a personal spiritual reflection as it is a commentary on the state and fate of Western Civilization. Chambers, for those not familiar with the story, was an American communist and a spy for the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. His spiritual and political move from Left to Right began in 1936 when Stalin’s purges revealed to him the truth about communism: it is oppressive, soul-crushing, murderous, and inhumane in all its forms.
Chambers begins the book with a letter to his children. Over the years I have told people that if they don’t want to read the whole book, they should at least read the introductory letter. Not one who read the letter did not go on to devour the whole book. Such is the power of Chambers’ writing to tell the story of humanity through the experiences of one man.
Much of the book is devoted to what Chambers describes as “The Great Case”—the espionage trial of Alger Hiss. Hiss was a Harvard trained lawyer and a member of what we would call today the Beltway Elite. He was also a communist spy. After Harvard he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. before joining white-shoe law firms in Boston and New York. He then held a number of positions in FDR’s alphabet soup New Deal agencies before becoming an adviser to Secretary of State Cordell Hull and attending the Yalta Conference near the end of World War II. It was at this conference that Roosevelt agreed to accept Soviet hegemony in eastern Europe. (This then became the subject of a classic expose by Chambers in Time Magazine called The Ghosts on the Roof.)
Yet Witness is much more than a book about Cold War spying. The spy story becomes Chambers’ lens for an examination of human nature in all its glory and tragedy. He explained it this way and I can do no better:
For it was more than human tragedy. Much more than Alger Hiss or Whittaker Chambers was on trial in the trials of Alger Hiss. Two faiths were on trial. Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies. At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it. At issue was the question whether this man’s faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another. At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts.
At heart, the Great Case was this critical conflict of faiths; that is why it was a great case…
Chris Buskirk is the publisher of American Greatness and the co-host of the Seth & Chris Show, heard daily on 960am/KKNT in Phoenix.
In the introduction to Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future he lays out a scenario where the reader imagines himself in a face-to-face in an interview where he is pressed with the question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” No matter what settled opinions the reader believed before opening the book Thiel’s line of questioning will force him into a contrarian mindset right from the start. This masterfully primes the reader to receive what many might consider Theil’s own “contrarian truths.”
These contrarian truths include many assaults on conventional thinking. For example, monopolies he explains, are “not just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better.” Similarly, while the general consensus holds that competition is good, Thiel shows that competition can lead to eating profits, detracts from future research and development, and creates the ruthless people of the sort most assume would be more likely to be found as heads of monopolies. Thiel argues, further, that globalization is not only to be frowned upon (a sentiment embraced by more and more people these days), but is dwarfed by intensive progress (or 0 to 1 progress) pushed by technological advancement. Vertical progress (doing new things) will always beat horizontal progress (copying things that work).
It is in the middle of the book, however, where the most important aspect for a successful startup is revealed: discovering and keeping secrets. Thiel points out that secrets still exist out there and the next startups not only have to find them, but they also need to keep them secret while surrounding themselves with people who can learn and keep those secrets and who have the same drive the founders.
2016 has been a year that challenged our collective conventional thinking. History has not been kind to those who want to maintain the unthinking status quo and people should read Thiel’s Zero to One if they want to understand the driving force behind the events across the globe. Bookstores are filled with books about entrepreneurship, business, being successful, but not many can be considered a true union of philosophy, business, politics, and history. To understand the man devoting tremendous amounts of money for fellowships to encourage kids to skip college, read Zero to One and see how a disruptive contrarian plans to make American businesses great again.
RJ Caster is a former Congressional staffer and current digital campaign strategist.
Steven F. Hayward
I have no idea whether Harry Jaffa or Walter Berns would have approved of Donald Trump. I can easily imagine them splitting on this question as they did on so many others. Jaffa, early to see the importance of Barry Goldwater in 1964, would likely have approved of Trump because of his potential to disrupt the complacency of the Republican establishment just as Goldwater did, while I think Berns would have thought Trump to be an irredeemable demagogue. In his very first book, Freedom, Virtue, and the First Amendment (published in 1957), Berns worried about the demagogue “who plays on the vilest passions of citizens in order to win political power.”
But I am not certain of these guesses. I can easily see Berns looking past the crude and demagogic aspects of Trump to see the potential of Trump’s patriotic populism, even if this involves understanding Trump better than he understands himself. The Berns book most appropriate to the present moment is his last book, Making Patriots. Here Berns argued that patriotism “is not natural, but has to be taught, or inculcated, or somehow acquired.” And while Berns dwells on the necessary intellectual sources of patriotism, he also understands the project requires a certain amount of willfulness, which only Trump seemed to convey in adequate measure in the course of the long campaign. At the end of Making Patriots Berns worried about the powerful and menacing anti-American strains of thought within our intellectual class, which begs for an assertive resistance—more assertive than was currently being offered. If nothing else, Trump’s victory represents the necessary first step of repudiating our intellectual class. Berns would surely have enjoyed the collective liberal freak out over Trump.
Abraham Lincoln was the point of intersection between Jaffa and Berns, and you can make out the echo of Jaffa’s great insights about Lincoln in Berns’s lyrical chapter on Lincoln in Making Patriots. If Trump represents for Berns the prospect of demagoguery, Lincoln represents the prospect of what the American founding makes possible and even demands of us. This is the tighter focus of Jaffa’s work in his two greatest books, Crisis of the House Divided and A New Birth of Freedom. The contrast between Jaffa and Berns on this issue corresponds to the difference between Hobbes and Locke (at least as Jaffa understood them). Berns’s worry about the demagogue is rooted in his fear of Hobbesian civil disorder. Jaffa seldom worried about the demagogue in his writing, instead orienting our view toward the rigors of statesmanship, which is a higher thing than philosophy. William Allen asked Jaffa not long before Jaffa died if a philosopher can be a hero in the same way as a statesman. Jaffa said the answer was “No”; the statesman pursues honor, while the philosopher pursues wisdom. It is precisely Trump’s plain sense of honor—both his own and the nation’s—that would incline Jaffa to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he would feel more confident still if Trump would read Crisis of the House Divided and Making Patriots.
Steven F. Hayward is Senior Resident Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley, and author of the forthcoming Patriotism Is Not Enough: Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, and the Arguments that Redefined American Conservatism.
The philosopher James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: The Definitive Analysis of the Pathology of Liberalism, first published in 1964, was long out of print when a new edition was brought out in 2014. In some ways, the book is a period piece. A product of the Cold War, written by an ardent Cold Warrior, many of its examples are dated. But in its core message it is as relevant today as ever. At the center of the “pathology” Burnham anatomizes is an awful failure of understanding which is also a failure of nerve, a failure of “the will to survive.” “Suicide” and “pathology” may seem like hyperbolic terms, Burnham admits. But it is part of the pathology he anatomizes that such objections are “most often made most hotly by Westerners who hate their own civilization.” In his view, the primary function of liberalism was to “permit Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution,” to view weakness, failure, even collapse as not as a defeat but “as the transition to a new and higher order in which Mankind as a whole joins in a universal civilization.” Sound familiar? Burnham excoriated “that jellyfish brand of contemporary liberalism—pious, guilt-ridden, do-goody—which uses the curious dogma of ‘some truth on both sides’ as its principal sales line.” He was, one admirer noted, “the living embodiment of what would later come to be known as political incorrectness.” I am sorry James Burnham is not with us today. An ardent champion of “the absolute value of the single human person,” he would be celebrating the extraordinary opportunity we have been vouchsafed, at the last possible moment, to make America great again.
In The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World (1941), James Burnham explains the economic and intellectual history of the new “managerial” society that supplanted entrepreneurial capitalism over the course of the twentieth century. Closely connected with this economic transition is the shift from parliamentary and constitutional government toward administrative bureaucracy. Any work of this type will contain some anachronisms and mistaken predictions, but many of Burnham’s insights may seem more relevant now than at the time of writing, as the trends that he identified have only accelerated since then.
While rising “populism” receives significant attention today, our understanding of the composition and interests of the so-called “elite” is severely lacking. On one hand, “Conservatives” typically denounce the “adversary culture” and “postmodernism/relativism” of today’s intellectual elite, yet too often remain blind to the economic realities behind political and social transformations. “Progressives,” by contrast, protest rising inequality, yet ignore important differences between today’s elite and that of prior periods, specifically the separation between ownership and control that prevails in managerial arrangements and distinguishes them from classical notions of capitalism.
This failure to understand the nature of the current political and economic “elite” explains why so many politicians and intellectuals of the left and right have failed to understand voters’ dissatisfaction with the status quo. Reading Burnham is essential to correcting this misunderstanding and for developing better responses to present policy problems.
Julius Krein is the editor of American Affairs, a forthcoming quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.
The saying “the book was better than the movie” is now more than commonplace. But what does one say about a book that is better than its multiple reviews—all of them highly positive? Whatever that is, the book is Tevi Troy’s Shall We Wake the President?: Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office. The subject of a great many reviews now, all positive, none of them quite do it justice. Best I can add is to tie this symposium’s question to Troy’s book: In contemplating the Greatness Agenda, we were asked “What book should one read if one wants to get smart about the things we need to do in order to make America great again.” This one.
Troy, a cultural and presidential historian, is also a veteran of the DC think-tank community and several domestic-policy offices under former President George W. Bush. He has turned all his learning toward an easy-to-read (and fun) manual not only for future presidents, government officials, and administrators in both the private and public sector, but for “we the people,” citizens as well. Whether dealing with acts of God or with acts of man, no country can be great when it is unprepared in the face of disaster and, as we become more and more susceptible to those disasters (as Troy demonstrates we are), we need to pay more attention to what we can do to be prepared—in every sense of the word—for such events.
In Shall We Wake the President?, Troy marshals history, Hollywood, politics, anecdotes, statistics, and advice in a book that could just as easily be titled Semper Paratus: How To Keep America and Americans Safe. If that theme and Troy’s advice don’t inform the greatness agenda, nothing else will.
Seth Leibsohn is a contributing editor at American Greatness and the co-host of the Seth & Chris Show, heard daily on 960am/KKNT in Phoenix.
One of the best ways I can recommend spending the Christmas Break is drinking a glass of eggnog, doused with a heavy shot of bourbon, while reading Professor George Hawley’s Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism.
Published nearly a year ago as a diagnosis of the fractured conservative movement, the book now reads more like a prognosis of the future of American conservatism, forecasting what will emerge from the crumble. I read the book shortly after my Christmas Break last year, in an effort to understand what was happening to the Republican Party. As a constitutional scholar and legal theorist, I was apprehensive about spending so much time reading a work so far outside my specialty. But my apprehension was soon assuaged by Professor Hawley’s stunningly lucid prose.
You will find in this book an incredibly erudite and even-handed coverage of a dizzying array of intellectuals – radical libertarians, paleoconservatives, and dissident right thinkers – all of whom have been purged by a conservative movement that has become increasingly preoccupied with currying favor with the Left, so as to adjust to a changing America and be on “the right side of history.”
Reading this book after the election, you will now see in this book not only an explanation for the Trump phenomenon but also the intellectual infrastructure for the Trump platform. Indeed, Professor Hawley’s timing could not have been better, as he has been interviewed over the last couple of months by various media outlets seeking to understand the election.
Moreover, you will see in this book precisely why America has been losing its greatness: A political system, in which the two major parties converge on issues on which millions of Americans diverge (e.g., trade and immigration), and in which the party of conservation mimics the party of progress, cannot secure greatness. Greatness requires representatives tethered to the electorate, bound by and with the root and anchor of the nation’s heritage.
I could think of few better ways to prepare for the coming gift of Making America Great Again than by ruminating with Hawley’s compendium of conservative critics about what American conservatism should look like in the 21st century.
Jesse Merriam, Ph.D., J.D., is assistant professor and pre-law Advisor at Loyola University, Maryland.
Conservatives should read more classics, it often (and rightly) has been preached. These great books would be lifetime companions, trans-political and thereby more authoritative in their political teaching.
The classic work that best explains Trump is Aristotle’s “philosophy of human affairs,” as described in his Politics (Sachs translation) and Nicomachean Ethics (Bartlett translation). The middle books (3-6) of the Politics inspired both Madison (see Federalist 10) and Jefferson (his praise of farmers) and advise how to create middle-class republics as not only the most stable but also the most just political communities. But unless these political communities produce virtuous citizens who are also good human beings they fall short of being good republics.
While the entirety of the Politics and Ethics describes the fostering of good human beings, the peak of this noble enterprise is Book 9 of the Ethics, in its description of the best republic and the highest and rarest friendships, those of virtue, that is, human excellence. These are the citizens Lincoln eulogized in the Gettysburg Address, whose sacrifice links our time with that of the founding fathers. When Trump speaks of “government of the [virtuous] people,” as he did at Gettysburg, he means restoration of this classical horizon to our consciousness and action. It will not sound fantastic once you (re-)read Aristotle.
Ken Masugi has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members and for Clarence Thomas, when he was Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, James Madison College of Michigan State University, the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University, and Princeton University.
The United States has been blessed throughout its history to have avoided the sort of civil-military crises that have afflicted many other states during both war and peace. The main reason for this record is the universal acceptance of the principle of civilian control of the military. This doesn’t mean that U.S. civil-military relations have always been healthy. But the country has been spared from coups or military domination of domestic politics. Today, however, another potential problem has arisen: the gap between the very small minority of citizens who serve in the military and American society at large.
Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military, edited by Kori Schake and Jim Mattis, examines this gap and its consequences by exploring the attitudes of Americans toward their military. On the one hand, the military is the most respected institution in the United States. On the other, most Americans have little or no knowledge of the military and often do not know anyone who is serving.
The contributors to Warriors and Citizens attempt to ascertain the depth of this societal civilian-military gap and the implications for future civil-military relations and military professionalism. Can policy address the current civilian-military gap and if so, what policies are most likely to enhance healthy civil-military relations?
Mackubin Owens is dean of academics for the Institute of World Politics in Washington DC, a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, and editor of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal. Dr. Owens is also a Marine Corps veteran and a recipient of the Silver Star.
Gladden J. Pappin
“If we do not succeed in tightening the dangerously loosening bonds in the Western world between human communities and the political action of their governments,” writes Pierre Manent in the headline essay of Democracy Without Nations?: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, “the divorce between the nation and democracy will be no less dangerous for democracy than for the nation.” For many years, Americans who admired Manent’s criticism of the burgeoning European superstate had the luxury of adopting those criticisms from afar. But the prying apart of human communities and political action has been proceeding steadily in the U.S. as well.
American federalism, it is true, has allowed the preservation of state and local self-government alongside the construction of a national government. Yet the effects of our trade and immigration policies have been disparate across different American communities—distributional effects which have been largely ignored.
When trade and immigration policy are presented as matters of economic rationality rather than political action, their ties to democratic decision-making become weakened (e.g., through the president’s trade promotion authority). Since the European Union proceeded more quickly down this road than the United States has done, the problems described in Manent’s essays may have seemed further from our own when they were published in English in 2007. But the trends described by Manent are global, and their domestic stakes are clearer than before. The time for reading Democracy without Nations? is now.
Gladden J. Pappin is research assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, and political theory fellow of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. He is the associate editor of American Affairs, a forthcoming quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.
While I have long understood the revolutionary character (or should I say the counter-revolutionary character?) of Progressivism—that system of thought imported from Europe to supplant America’s original and truly revolutionary central idea as articulated in the Declaration of Independence—it was only during the last year that I came to understand the necessity of pushing back against it in such a way as to lend it zero legitimacy. I came to that realization as a result of reading Michael Walsh’s seminal work, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West as well as his earlier work (published under the pen name, David Kahane), Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at its Own Game to Take Back America. Prior to reading these books and the emergence of Donald Trump with his forceful rejection of leftist tropes, I was attached to the quaint (and very unreasonable) opinion that one could fight the unreasonable Left with reason alone and still win.
The divisions on the Right during the last election cycle have convinced me that there is a real lack of understanding about the nature of the opposition we face. Principles of reason and good-faith when applied to debate with the Left, while well-intentioned, are often misguided because they are honored only by one side. Contrary to received opinion about the nobility of remaining “above the fray,” in political (as opposed to intellectual) combat, this posture does not make us admirable martyrs to the truth. It makes us gullible, naive, and worse—it makes us guilty of shirking our duty to the next generation of American patriots.
Julie Ponzi is senior editor of American Greatness.
Publius Decius Mus
In a recent interview about my amateur career as a pro-Trump intellectual, the first question was: what issue was the gateway to your journey away from Beltway “conservatism” and toward Trump?
My unhesitating answer: income inequality. This is not supposed to be of concern to conservatives. In a country where even the poorest have enough on which to live, and often much more, we are told to let unequal talents play out as they may and not worry about the result.
Yet I worry. F.H. Buckley’s The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America explains why, better than I possibly could. First, while not abandoning alarm over inequality, Buckley explains that mobility is actually the more fundamental concern. Mobility is the lubricant of a classless society. Without it, we have patricians and plebs, de facto if not de jure, with all the attendant injustices and costs.
The Way Back was not written as a Trump book; it was completed before Trump even announced his candidacy. Yet it is the indispensable guide to our times. Buckley describes with unfailing accuracy the socio-economic arrangement—top plus bottom versus middle—against which Trump voters rebelled. And he delivers on the promise of his title, showing how to deliver “socialist ends through capitalist means.”
There’s a phrase that once would have made my hair stand on end. Back when I was a “conservative.”
Publius Decius Mus, or “Decius,” is a Contributing Editor of American Greatness
Essential reading for those looking to Make America Great Again is Ann Coulter’s fiery polemic Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. Through an oftentimes hilarious and sometimes shocking investigation, Coulter makes the case why our bipartisan immigration policy has been an utter disaster for the country.
As she argues, rampant illegal immigration and mass legal immigration are slowly eating away at the fabric of our nation, driving down wages and producing rampant crime. Programs intended to bring in the best and the brightest from around the world are now vehicles by which entire generations of families are brought to our shores with little regard for our national interest.
Returning the principle of securing the common good back to the center of our politics—which was the central principle underlying President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign—is the book’s most important theme. Voters have consistently rejected “comprehensive” immigration reform such as the infamous bipartisan Gang of Eight bill, because they know that such schemes benefit political elites at the expense of the public good.
Having read the book “cover to cover,” hopefully Trump follows through with correcting the manifest problems Coulter outlines.
Mike Sabo is a recent graduate of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. He and his wife live in Alexandria, VA
Our basic government textbooks need to be updated. They still teach that there are three branches, separations of powers, checks and balances, and the like. The trouble is that we have, in fact, four branches, and the fourth branch—the Administrative branch, seems to grow more and more powerful by the year. Seizing on decades old language in statutes, this branch regularly produces new laws, disguised as new “regulations” or “interpretations” to meet what members of America’s would-be “ruling class” regard as new threats to the republic.
In Constitutional affairs, the “living constitution” is a way for an elite group to change the Constitution when the people either reject an amendment (as in the ERA) or when no amendment is even in contemplation. More and more our statutes are being used similarly, reworked to meet what our governing class regards as today’s challenges. An honest civic textbook would recognize that.
The trouble with this new mode of governance is that it entails a rejection of the founders’ constitution in its essence. The laws under which we live are no longer passed by the men and women we elect, but are, instead, written by a tenured elite, a kind of post-modern robe nobility. As this fourth branch has grown off the constitutional books, so to speak, it is getting out of hand.
Even more than James Madison, John Adams was, among the founders, Mr. Checks and Balances. Moreover, his analysis of politics suggests that in every society there is, in fact, an elite or aristoi. In a good constitution, they are recognized officially in the constitution as such (Adams believed that the Senate fulfilled this role, creating an order of offices, not of men ) and, with such recognition, kept in check, so that, following a political jujitsu, their ambition serves the republic, rather than their own ambitions. As C. Bradley Thompson notes in his fine study, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty, Adams believed in a “mixed and balanced” constitution, combining the House, Senate, and executive armed with a veto with the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers.
An Adamsian analysis, grounded in his Defence of the Constitutions suggests that the biggest problem facing the republic today is that our would-be aristoi are starting to run free, outside any constitutional mooring. Adams also suggested that when an aristocratic order gets out of hand, the people are inclined to turn to a would-be tyrant as a savoir. To return America to its constitutional moorings, the administrative state must be brought into the scheme of checks and balances.
Richard Samuelson is an Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino, and a fellow of the Claremont Institute.
If President Trump could instruct every member of his administration to study (not merely read) one book that explains the crisis he was elected to address, it would be a now out-of-print book, written a quarter century ago: The Politics of Budget Control: Congress, the Presidency and the Growth of the Administrative State by John Marini. (It should be supplemented by Charles Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Future of Liberalism, which shares Marini’s analysis, brings it forward into the Obama presidency, and recognizes the crisis now upon us.)
Marini’s book does no less than establish the groundwork and premises for the popular uprising we can call Trumpism. Given the Constitution’s silence on the word “administration,” Marini takes us through a careful account of the struggle between the Executive and Legislative branches to control the administration of government. The hinge on which American political history turns proves to be the Progressive challenge to the founding principles of America: limited government, separation of powers, federalism, and popular consent. These are political consequences flowing from the Declaration of Independence’s self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal with respect to the natural rights with which they are endowed by “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”
Progressivism, an Americanized version of the German idea of Historicism championed by Woodrow Wilson, held that this nation, disordered by limited and politically divided government, must be made “rational” by science applying administrative rules promulgated by technically trained and tenured experts. Starting with the New Deal, then a second impulse through Johnson’s Great Society, and ending in Obama’s proclaimed transformation of America, Progressives put in place agency after agency to override and substitute for private decision-making by citizens and direct the entire society and economy. The national institutions of education, media and entertainment, finance, business, and law spawned a new elite class of the knowledgeable and wealthy united by politically correct thought patterns and open contempt for working class people. The purposes of centralized government grew more and more radical, beginning with the redistribution of private wealth, extending to the subversion of the traditional family order, and assaulting civil society with bizarre claims of a “diversity” made up of autonomous individual “identities” without “natures,” only constructed “selfs.”
President Nixon was the first to try to halt the Progressive expansion of centralized administration, recognizing that he uniquely spoke for a national popular majority to reduce the size of the administrative state and its exploding budgets. As Marini shows, Nixon’s strategy was faulty and he was prevented from carrying out his project by panicked bureaucrats who enlisted Congress in stopping him cold. As a result, administrative control now moved sharply toward Congress whereas all of Nixon’s successors until Obama knew there was a persistent majority that wanted spending reduced and bureaucracy limited. Yet its decentralized power structure renders Congress incapable of crafting long-term administrative budget plans on its own, resulting in uncontrolled spending under Democrats or Republicans.
Trump’s election can be understood at the deepest level as the majority’s desperate determination to move past the crisis of the administrative state which culminated in such Obama-created measures as Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill, both of which created a myriad of new federal agencies to seize control of the health care, banking, and investments sectors of the nation. Trumpism is nothing less than a profound but prudent conservative movement to reassert majority control over the meritocracy that drives the administrative state and to restore limited government grounded on equal natural rights. President Trump and his administration could do nothing better than to study this book in order fully to grasp the need for, the difficulties, and the nobility of the task to which they have been called: curtailing the administrative state and restoring government by the people.
Dennis Teti has over three decades of political service in Washington, including 11 years at the Department of Housing & Urban Development and 14 years in Congress (including 6 years on House Budget Committee staff under then-Chairman Paul Ryan).
One of the best books ever written on American politics is Daniel Boorstin’s “The Genius of American Politics.” Boorstin, an historian and former Librarian of Congress, understood that American politics were fundamentally different from European politics. According to Boorstin, there is no American political philosophy that could be exported elsewhere and adopted by a nation that lacks our openness, our freedom, and our lack of ethnicity at the root of our national character. This does not mean that America is not great. Boorstin has a deep love of America and explains many aspect of American greatness in the book. Despite our greatness, though, he argued that “our institutions cannot be transplanted to other parts of the world.” Effectively, Boorstin made the case that America was so exceptional that it could not be replicated.
Boorstin’s book is a welcome tonic following an administration that explicitly rejected the notion of American exceptionalism—remember Obama’s “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” At the same time, Boorstin is also a perfect complement to an incoming Trump presidency, which is led by a man who via his best-known slogan demonstrates his belief in the greatness of America, but is also wary of tilting at windmills abroad.
Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. His latest book is Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office.