Conservatism Needs a Reformation

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 November 1, 2017|
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s start of what became known as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was launched and gained traction because of a belief that an institution, long beloved and promising salvation to its believers, had grown remote, confused, corrupt, and ineffective. Today another institution is facing a similar challenge: the conservative movement.

Virtually every charge laid at the feet of movement conservatism has its parallel in the Reformation. An insular and self-selecting group that proclaims the right to set intellectual orthodoxy and dogma for all its flock? Check. A collection of leaders who proclaim fidelity to one set of beliefs while doing little to bring them to fruition? Check. Accumulation of wealth and power in one city garnered from contributions from a widespread set of believers who are promised heavenly or political salvation for a donation? Check. Or should I say, checks?

The churches in Rome are beautiful, as are the ever more gorgeous and large homes of Washington’s most prestigious conservative think tanks and political action groups. But many outside the Beltway are left with the nagging sense that the people who populate those edifices care more about their wealth, status, and access than about helping their followers obtain what they seek.

This is surely unfair to many institutions and those who work there, much as many of Luther’s charges were unfair to the vast majority of priests, nuns, and bishops laboring on behalf of the Catholic Church. But smoke grows from fire, not thin air, and when millions of conservatives and populists sense that Washington, D.C. conservatism is the Whore of Babylon, attention must be paid.

Truth be told, conservatism is in a crisis. It is not one of personal corruption, although all of us here in the swamp along the Potomac know our movement is populated with its share of charlatans, scam artists, and those whose principles are ever changing just as their dances shift with the tune of the day. Instead the crisis is one of principle itself. Conservatism once knew what it was for as well as what it was against. Our crisis flows precisely from the fact this is no longer true.

Is it conservative to favor balanced budgets at the expense of tax cuts? It once was, but today it is not, although many conservatives outside of Washington still believe it is. Is it conservative to favor a large standing military and constant involvement in wars big and small across the globe? It once was not, but now it is even though many conservatives outside of Washington think the Soviet Union’s fall removes the necessity that sanctioned the large growth of our national security apparatus. Must one be a believing and practicing Christian to be a conservative? Conservatism did not have a religious test until it de facto did, even though millions of people who neither believe in nor practice any recognizable form of Christianity still consider themselves part of the brethren.

The list can go on, but every person remotely involved with conservatism intuitively knows that these dogmatic disputes are at the root of our internal conflicts and the inability of a conservative-dominated federal government to get anything done.

It is a good thing when so many people want to worship at your church that you have to expand the building to fit them all in. American conservatism has gone from a persecuted sect to a movement that millions seek to claim as their own. Our problem stems from the fact that millions within this church disagree about the nature of the tenets they worship, and many of those views are deemed heretical without debate or a sense of what Protestantism calls “the priesthood of all believers.”

As chance or Providence dictates, today is the anniversary of the conclusion of the Council of Chalcedon. This event in 451 brought leaders of the Christian Church from around the globe together to decide the fundamental tenets of orthodox belief. Thirteen centuries later, this council’s determinations remain accepted by Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and a host of other Protestant and Christian denominations that nonetheless disagree sharply about other matters. Is this not a better approach to resolving our differences than conflict and war?

The Reformation ushered in a period of intra-Christian warfare known today as the Religious Wars. Between 1517 and 1648, millions of people died as one sect after another sought to impose its definition of orthodoxy on what they termed nonbelievers. The result was the seemingly permanent division of the Body of Christ into ever more numerous and smaller groups. These wars, more than anything else, gave impetus to the rise of secular alternatives to belief, ideologies that ultimately gave birth to both some of the best (freedom of religion and speech) and some of the worst (Communism, Nazism, authoritarian socialism) impulses present in the world today. Today’s inter-denominational dialogues are a tacit admission that all Christian belief suffered by the Reformation-era failure to approach difference in the conciliar fashion of the Church fathers.

Ronald Reagan practiced this conciliar approach in creating what he hoped would become “The New Republican Party.” He never wavered in preaching his ideals, but he always welcomed those with whom total agreement was not yet possible. Disaffected Democrats, libertarians, social conservatives, and traditional Republicans all found something of their beliefs in his creed. United, all Reagan’s conciliar conservatism did was save America and the world.  

“Let those of you without sin cast the first stone.” As conservatism prepares for yet another round of religious war (we call these conflicts “primaries”), let us recall the teachings of the Reformation and the councils. Reagan told his followers that any differences among Republicans paled in comparison to how they disagreed with Democrats. A healthy conservative reformation must start with the recognition that unity is the precondition to victory, and that such unity must come from the consent of the governed rather than be achieved through battle or the dictates of an unelected few in what Reagan called “the puzzle palaces on the Potomac.”

Some may disagree, but here I stand. I can do no other.

 

About the Author:

Henry Olsen
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank in Washington D.C. He is also an editor at UnHerd.com where he writes about populism and politics around the world. He is the co-author, with Dante Scala, of The Four Faces of the Republican Party (Palgrave, 2015) and is the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism (HarperCollins, 2017).
Loading...

26 Comments

  1. Monsieur Voltaire✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ November 1, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Wonderful article. It reminds me of how the self-styled heirs of William F. Buckley pine for his ability to impose his brand of “Conservative Orthodoxy” and to excommunicate from the movement anyone whose political “table manners” he disliked. It’s the Right’s version of leftists pining for the days when ABC, CBS and NBC were it as far as the news, and when the so-called Fairness Doctrine muzzled broadcasted speech the POTB didn’t like.

    Take the squishes at NRO: to paraphrase a common bromide, Trump could solve the eternal problems of poverty and world hunger, and they would still consider him unfit to be dog-catcher. Meanwhile, Ryan and McConnell could do no wrong, as couldn’t McCain, Romney and the other professional isle-crossers in the GOPe.

  2. ek ErilaR November 1, 2017 at 11:36 am

    “Reagan told his followers that any differences among Republicans paled in comparison to how they disagreed with Democrats.”

    Between 1628-48, the same was true of the English Parliamentarians with respect to the Steuart monarchists. However, as soon as the monarchists were finally defeated in the Summer of 1648, the alliance between the republican Independents and the proto-Whig Presbyterians collapsed.

    The current conservative/populist division in the GOP reflects the same division that existed between the Parliamentarians in the 1640s. At an axiomatic level, Olsen’s “conservatives,” like the Presbyterians, believe that the institutions of government are sovereign and the Trump-Bannon “populists,” like the Independents, believe those being governed are sovereign.

    The divisions between the “conservatives” and the “populists” are as fundamental as were the divisions between the Presbyterians and the Independents.

  3. Severn November 1, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    The fact that our “Republican” Congress refuses to recess – which would allow Trump to fill many open spots with recess appointments – gives the game away. We’re used to seeing Republican Congresses behave like this with Dem presidents, and Dem Congresses act like this with Republican Presidents, but there’s no precedent which I can recall for the party in power working so hard to prevent its own President from getting his own people in place.

    Much of the Republican Party leadership, perhaps the majority of them in DC, are functionally identical to the Left which they nominally oppose,.

    “Reagan told his followers that any differences among Republicans paled in comparison to how they disagreed with Democrats.”

    That may have been true, back then. It’s hard to argue that it is true today.

  4. Anne Miller November 1, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Can we agree going forward that no conservative will accuse another solid conservative of being the son of JFK’s assassin?

    • Landslide Hillary November 1, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      What we should agree on is we will always need a candidate who is willing to go scorched Earth on the sh!tlib media.
      Trump has damaged the sh!tlib media very badly … almost terminally. Cruz would have cucked under.

      • Anne Miller November 2, 2017 at 11:40 am

        You are the problem. A moral degenerate with a “end justifies the means” philosophy. Except you are not capable of a philosophy. And you shoot your own people. You are surely a cuck, whatever that is.

        • Steven Giles November 2, 2017 at 12:45 pm

          Here is a little more help with your education:
          https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cuck
          Have a nice day!

        • Landslide Hillary November 2, 2017 at 5:38 pm

          I’m going to kill you by slowly removing the skin from your spine with a sander.
          And you’re not a cuck … you’re a c^nt.

  5. Landslide Hillary November 1, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Here’s the reformation we really need:
    Liberalism is a derivative of Marxism and all Marxism is terrorism.
    You don’t debate terrorists. You kill them. By the tens of millions if necessary.
    Once the goal posts have been reset, the cucks can go back to their bow-ties and debating clubs.

  6. Neo Conscious November 1, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Martin Luther unleashed the greatest populist movement in history, but also realized the challenge of containing the movement he started.
    We still follow the spirit of his ideas, but that makes us our own worst enemies, for all of us believe in rational argument, stating the obvious despite public outrage, and most importantly openly contesting arguments even on our own side, for that is where our principles collide with realities.
    Liberals on the other hand virtually never cross that line of openly disagreeing with or condemning other liberals. Their coalition is that of strange bedfellows with a similar anti-American theme uniting widely disparate viewpoints and cultures.
    To the outside observer, their’s seems the prudent path to success. However, it is our understanding that open and rational debate supersedes obeisances and protestations of personal offense, for open logical argument is the key to the progress of ideas.

  7. Party of Lincoln November 2, 2017 at 10:18 am

    No reconciliation between so-called populists and conservatives is possible. Just today we’ve seen a Trumpian tax bill that hits the middle class hard to fund repeal of the estate tax for estates over $11 million. Genuine populists should be outraged at the idea that billionaires will be able, if this bill goes through as proposed, to bequeath their billions to their children, the costs of which will have to paid for by the middle class — but of course they won’t be. We’ll see if the conservatives in Congress have their spine to stand up to Trump on this one, but bet against it. We already know that because Trump demands it, his adoring sycophants will unquestioningly embrace it. And there’s no point in bothering with mentioning the tweaks to the personal income tax brackets, whose benefits are heavily weighted to $500k to $1m filers and does very little for $20-50k filers. By all means, let those $50k filers cheer the tax breaks for the $500k filers and billionaires, who are more than happy to give the rest of us crumbs.

    Voters in 2018 will butcher the Republicans, Trump will decline to run for a second term in 2020 and what’s been called “conservatism” (but never really was) under Trump will be discredited for years to come.

    • hamburgertoday2017 November 2, 2017 at 2:03 pm

      The benefits are heavily weighted towards high income earners because the earners already pay a larger share of their income in taxes than lower income earners. You point out the ‘populist’ contradictions with tax cuts, but what about the ‘conservative’ contradictions? Quite a few conservatives support both debt-reduction and tax cuts. These activities can only be non-contradictory if either (a) tax cuts increase tax revenue (Laffer) or (b) the reduction in revenue is compensated by a reduction in spending. But the big ‘conservative’ tax cut bill never seems to make it to the floor.

      As a populist (‘genuine’ or not), I want to see the People as sovereign. The People includes both the rich and and the not-so-rich, there’s no way getting around that fact. To change the power dynamic within our political economy from the minority wealthy overclass to the majority not-so-wealthy working class will take time. There is a saying that I feel is apropos to our moment in time — I was told it comes from the Bedoin — ‘If someone is selling power, pawn your family jewels to buy it. You can always take the jewels back later’.

      All politics is about power. Whether that is the power of communication and persuasion (as Mr. Olsen urges), or the ballot box or threat of violence or the seemingly endlessly hypnotic power of money or offers of status, it all comes back to power. So, today, the well-to-do get to keep a little more money and maybe the working stiffs keep less. In the long run, money is only one form of power, and, possibly, not the most important one going forward.

      I’ll finish with one last quote, attributed to Victor Hugo: Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

      • Party of Lincoln November 2, 2017 at 9:25 pm

        There is no “idea” within the Trump populist universe. The only unifying gravitational force is slavish adherence to whatever Trump demands. The man who was a lifelong, pro-choice Democrat (who arranged for his mistresses’ abortions and boasted of his sexual depravity) now has the unquestioning support of millions of former conservatives who abandon their so-called principles at the next presidential tweet.

        The “evangelicals” are a special hoot. In days past they could credibly claim to be pr-family. Conservatism is not exempt from legitimate criticism, but it is not exposed to the charge of hypocrisy of the fake populism funded and exploited by billionaires.

        The next two elections are not going to be pleasant for right-wing populists. Best to loot and plunder the middle class and the next few generations of taxpayers now before Trump’s supporters figure out they’ve being exploited for his private gain.

        • hamburgertoday2017 November 2, 2017 at 9:42 pm

          Well, then. There are ideas in the populist universe, Trumpian or not. Check out American Affairs. It would not surprise me that some folks seek to exploit populism for their own gain. However, to think that because a cause is exploitable means that it is not worthy seems to me to make unworthy virtually every cause in history.

          You make quite a few strong claims, but do not provide evidence to support them. You seem to think that ‘populism’ is being exploited by billionaires. The problem with certain strands of ‘conservatism’ is that it cannot be exploited by billionaires, because conservative positions are a reflection of their wishlist.

          Populism existed before Donald Trump and it will exist long after Donald Trump has passed from the scene. So far as I can tell, President Trump asks nothing more of those who support the MAGA agenda than any other politician has asked of their followers.

          • Party of Lincoln November 3, 2017 at 10:09 am

            Allow me to give you an example of how billionaires have exploited populists for their own gain: the proposed repeal of the estate tax.

            https://waysandmeans.house.gov/taxreform/

            The bill is in PDF form but plain English summaries all agree that the bill as proposed would repeal the estate tax. Let’s quote Fox Business so that there can be no claim of left-wing bias:

            The new House Republican tax reform plan released on Thursday calls for changes to the estate tax, otherwise known as the “death tax,” including its elimination after a period of six years.

            Currently, single taxpayers can leave up to $5.49 million tax-free to their heirs, while married couples can leave up to nearly $11 million. Any amount above those figures means beneficiaries would be faced with a 40% federal estate tax.

            http://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/2017/11/02/gop-tax-plan-to-eliminate-estate-tax-by-2024.html

            Now that we’ve established that the tax cut legislation includes a 100% increase in the cap that exempts an estate from taxation and in 2024 eliminates it altogether, the serious question is whether this proposal is in any way consistent with populism, which of course I agree was a force in American politics long before Trump’s election.

            There is no economy theory that event attempts to explain how a complete repeal of the inheritance tax benefits workers earning $40,000 or even $120,000 annually. The sole beneficiaries under this proposal are individuals who will inherit estates greater than $11,000,000, which by any definition excludes more ordinary income earners earning a modest income. Sure, it’s conceivable that dad could have a tens of millions in his estate while his son is working in a coal mine, but that hardly seems likely. In truth, it’s the sons and daughters of the Trump family, the Steyer family and the Soros family who stand to gain from this proposal, if enacted.

            If the argument that the current $11m is too low — the family farm argument — we can absolutely have a conversation about lifting that amount that exempted from any estate tax up to $20m or $30m, but that would do nothing at all for the heirs to the Trump, Steyer and Soros fortunes. So of course the proposal on the table, and as far as anyone can tell this is non-negotiable, it’s an all-out repeal.

            Hardly the stuff of “populism”.

          • hamburgertoday2017 November 3, 2017 at 10:37 am

            I agree, the estate/’death’ tax aspect is not populist. But, eliminating this tax is not a specific exploitation of populism. Certain parts of the Republican Party have been trying to repeal this tax for decades. It should come as no surprise that this particular tax has been included in the proposal from a Republican majority in Congress.

            As you have indicated, only a very small number of Americans are affected by this tax, though the dollars involved are pretty large, my guess is they are fairly small in the grand scheme of tax revenues. My view is that, if the populist movement continues to build inside the Republican Party, repeal of the estate tax may be the last hurrah of the Chamber of Commerce wing.

            In my view, the current version of American populism is about changing the power dynamic between ‘the elites’ — economic and/or political — and the working class. Since power relations are relative relations, it isn’t really necessary to ‘take down’ the rich in order for the working class to achieve more power.

          • Party of Lincoln November 3, 2017 at 10:53 am

            First, I’d like to thank you for the respectful tone of this conversation.

            I completely agree that the repeal of the estate tax has been on the wish list for traditional “conservative” Republicans for a long time. Traditional “conservatives” have long counted Wall Street benefactors as among their most deep-pocketed supporters. In other words, “The Establishment”.

            But it may fairly be said of Trump that he purports to act in the name of ordinary Americans who have been forgotten by The Establishment. He came to DC to “drain the swamp”, to bring back coal and manufacturing jobs that were sent abroad.

            In an economy which by every conceivable measure is booming t record levels — look at GDP and employment numbers as well as the equities markets — the Trump-endorsed tax plan’s primary beneficiaries are individuals who do not suffer in the industrial midwest but are thriving in NYC, DC, LA and SF. The carried interest loophole wasn’t touched, let alone repealed, and the estate tax is set for complete repeal — there is no possible argument that these decisions benefit the self-proclaimed populists in the industrial midwest scraping a living on $40k or $80k a year.

            The point is that the ruse of Trump’s populism is being used as cover to conceal a tax bill that heavily weights its benefits toward those who wear pinstripes, not overalls, to work. All else — the bluster over Confederate statutes, decorum during the national anthem, tweets about Hillary’s crimes — are completely irrelevant. His base is being taken advantage of while they raise their fist in anger over the fate of statues of Robert E. Lee and whether NFL footballers are forced to stand during the national anthem, C-Suite executives are laughing all the way to the bank.

            This is not populism. This is plunder.

          • hamburgertoday2017 November 3, 2017 at 12:20 pm

            I thank you as well for your thoughtful and respectful responses.

            While I share your concerns and criticism, I’m just not that surprised. At any given point in time, there is an upper limit to what is politically achievable. Maybe there was a better deal to be had, but, then again, we are talking about a Republican majority Congress with a Democratic minority that is adamant in not even working with the Republicans in order to deny this President any kind of legislative ‘win’.

            I am not sure how ‘populism’ could be a ‘cover’ for this tax bill (as currently configured). In my view most of the populist support for Donald Trump is sometimes described as ‘center-right’ (I don’t like that terminology, but its commonly used). In my view, ‘center-right’ populists are not against the rich being rich or even getting richer as long as things improve for working Americans.

            Would some American populists prefer a bigger tax cut for themselves? Absolutely. Are they going to be terribly concerned that the rich get a tax cut as well? We’ll see. But, if I had to guess, I think not so much.

            My view is that Republican Congress and White House would have proffered tax legislation very similar, if not identical, to this one no matter who the Republican President was. It benefits the President’s image to elevate the ‘populist’ components of the bill, but those components would have been their no matter what because they conform to the overall ‘lower taxes’ approach of the Republican Party.

            My view is that, in general, populists are not going to put up much of a stink about a tax proposal the lowers taxes for the working class, even if the rich make out like bandits in the deal. I don’t see it as a ‘betrayal’ of ‘populism’ because, in this current iteration of the populist political expression, the ‘hot button’ issue is jobs and wages, in the form immigration and international trade deals.

            As for Confederate status, national anthem, etc, these are all part of a ‘culture war’ that has been an element of our political landscape for some time, at least since the 1980s. Activity around these ‘culture’ issues would have been part of the political environment independent of Trump’s populist appeal.

          • Party of Lincoln November 3, 2017 at 4:32 pm

            As we stand here today, November 3, 2017, nothing should surprise us any longer. Just today, the President of the United States called for the imprisonment of his political opponent in 2016. Shocking of course, but not much of a surprise.

            As for populists and what they want, it should be clear that what they expected when they supported Trump was that he would genuinely “take on The Establishment”. What exactly that means is debatable, but it certainly could not have meant in the minds of his populist base of supporters that Trump would endorse policies that would strengthen and enrich The Establishment, which is clearly what the repeal of the estate tax (and repeal of the alternative minimum tax, which deserves its own discussion) objectively and undeniably does.

            It is absolutely correct to argue that “Establishment Republicans” have called for the repeal of the estate tax for years. But the populist revolt in 2016 was, allegedly, supposed to end the plunder of the lower middle class by The Establishment, was it not?

            To distract his base from this plunder Trump goes back to the populist well on meaningless issues as whether Confederate statutes should be protected, whether NFL players should stand during the national anthem, the fate of Bergdahl and the like. That’s the red meat the base craves but while those issues suck the political oxygen out of the room The Establishment feasts at their expense.

            Populism, for Trump, is the convenient means by which to achieve Establishment ends. It’s a sdad commentary that our highly educated scholars here on AG cannot, or more likely choose not to, see the obvious.

          • hamburgertoday2017 November 3, 2017 at 5:07 pm

            A ‘populist revolt’ is not a populist revolution. The Great Work of transforming American politics (God willing) — beginning with the Republican Party — is really just getting started. But, even so, the Republican Party is unlikely to become a ‘tax’em ’til the drop’ organization, even if populists are in charge of the GOP.

            Center-right populism doesn’t hate ‘the rich’ just because they’re rich. While the Robert and Rebekah Mercer’s of the world are fewer than the Bill Gates, their wealth is helping to fuel the populist movement. It’s a ‘take the good with the bad’ scenario.

            In practical terms, my view is that there only so much support for the MAGA agenda in the corridors of Congress and that the ‘bad’ parts of the tax proposal are part of any compromise to get the ‘good’ parts passed. You may be right that the ‘bad’ parts outweigh the good, but tax ‘reform’ is only one part of a larger MAGA agenda and perhaps not even the most important part.

            But even so, there’s already talk of closing the carried interest ‘loophole’.

          • Party of Lincoln November 3, 2017 at 8:44 pm

            Whatever the MAGA movement is, it’s certainly not a “revolution”, if what we mean by a “revolution” is anything close to what was accomplished in 1789 or 1865. At most, this revolt could result in reform, not revolution. That is, if there were anything serious about the MAGA agenda.

            What form is this reform likely to take and to what end?

            Certainly, the dismantling of The Establishment is not in the cards, if the GOP tax cut bill is any guide. MAGA will not result in any meaningful reformation of the “administrative state”. Agencies such as the FTC, FCC, EPA, SEC, DOJ, HHS will continue to perform its core functions as required by federal law. There has been no attempt by Congress whatsoever to dismantle or even significantly disrupt these agencies. Don’t expect Congress to undertake these efforts in 2018. Or ever.

            No one should expect MAGAers to “hate the rich”, but those who support the MAGA have every right to expect that their interests would be placed ahead of The Establishment. Unfortunately for them, those who believe in MAGA have been fed the scraps of such dog whistles as Confederate statues, decorum during the national anthem and pledges to lock up Hillary, while the real of work of plundering MAGAers for the enrich The Establishment.

            The Establishment is so confident of its triumph with the Trump agenda that we’ve seen an incredible run in the Dow in 2017. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Aetna, Apple and many other blue chip companies have no concerns with the “populist revolt” under Trump.

          • hamburgertoday2017 November 4, 2017 at 8:50 am

            I was making a play on the root-word connection between ‘revolt’ and ‘revolution’ where ‘revolution’ might be understood as ‘revolt fulfilled’. Obviously, this was a distraction.

            I am not a scholar of populism, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest a working definition of ‘populism’ in the American context: ‘Populism’ is a political movement focused on creating the conditions for the ‘ordinary’ person to thrive. I didn’t come up with this on my own. I am following Henry Olsen’s interpretation of Ronald Reagan’s political outlook. As a political principle, ‘creating the conditions for the ordinary person to thrive’ allows for various interpretations in implementation. Left interpretations tend toward more ‘socialist’ solutions (Bernie Sanders) in which the economic ‘floor’ for the ‘ordinary’ is raised by lowering the economic ‘ceiling’ for the ‘exceptional’. Populism in its Trump expression is generally considered a ‘center-right’ populism. In this expression of populism, the approach is raising the ‘floor’ without lowering the ‘ceiling’.

            Any activity or legislation that ‘raises the floor without lowering the ceiling’ furthers the center-right populist agenda. This may help to explain why ‘The Establishment’ seems pleased with some of what Trump and the Republicans are doing (e.g. the tax proposal). The Establishment is getting what it wants from the tax proposal and doesn’t care if ‘ordinary’ people are getting something out of it as well. Given the political and economic forces arrayed against any kind of populist policies — as well as the pragmatic realities of politics in a republic — I did not expect rapid or wide-ranging successes on much of the MAGA agenda coming out of the gate. At this point, I would say the President (and Congress) is looking to craft some piece of legislation that enough political players support to insure passage. Given the turbulence of the last eleven months, the practical considerations are on a ‘win’, no matter how marginal to the MAGA agenda. This is, no doubt, disappointing if you expected more. I didn’t. So I’m not.

            My expectations for Trump and the populist MAGA agenda are not has high as yours seem to be. The fullest expression of the MAGA agenda requires so many things to be changed in so many ways and support for ‘populist’ policies at the federal level — even in the President’s party — is not that strong. Couple this situation with the fact that there are very powerful political and economic interests who wish to either — as you have pointed out — exploit ‘populism’ for their own ‘establishment’ purposes or prevent any ‘populist’ policies being passed in any form, and incremental change is going to be the way things get done in the immediate future. It’s clear that, if Steve Bannon has anything to say about it, the number of supporters for the MAGA agenda in the Republican Party is going increase and this may shift the power dynamic enough that more dramatic elements of the MAGA agenda (immigration, tariffs) may find legislative expression.

            I don’t see the ‘dog whistles’ in the events you describe. The phrase ‘dog whistle’ connotes something covert and the points of contention seem pretty straightforward and out in the open: Different people with different perspectives on different American symbols disputing about the manipulation of those symbols. Disputation at this symbolic level is a big part of the ‘political correctness’ cultural territory on which Donald Trump staked out a claim to do battle. They may seem trivial or distracting, but they are part of the President’s ‘brand’ and many Trump supports do not see them as trivial.

            Wall Street is, essentially, a casino. Wall Street trading just tells us where the bets are being placed and how much…and that’s it. All of the ‘why’ commentary is just opinion (often crafted to drive the betting process a certain way to the advantage of certain market participants).

            If I had to guess why the market up so dramatically in such a short time, I would say some market participants are looking forward to tax cuts for the wealthy. Some of the money that is freed up is going to go into the market. More money moving into the market will drive up stock prices. Rising stock prices allows corporations to use their stock as collateral to borrow more money at the current zero interest rates. The borrowed money is used to buy back more stock, lowering the supply and — as more money moves into the market — increasing the prices of stock. Rising stock prices make corporate management stock options more valuable which, when cashed in, gets invested into the market, raising stock prices. Everybody sees stock prices rising and ‘gets into’ the market, raising stock prices..repeat until bubble bursts.

          • Party of Lincoln November 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

            Apologies. I just saw the reply in my gmail inbox.

            Trump shrewdly capitalized on the resentments on populists to pursue an undeniable “Establishment” agenda of tax cuts for — you guessed it — the Establishment and that only significantly benefits the Establishment.

            If it took being pro-choice to secure election as potus, he would have remained pro-choice (as he was most of his adult life). If it took stoking racial animus, he was happy to stoke racial animus. Trump is more than happy to drop crumbs to his followers so long as his ultimate objective of maximizing his wealth and fame was achieved.

            No serious observer of the political scene, which excludes most of his supporters in the primaries, actually believes that a 2,000 mile wall will be built along the border with Mexico or that Mexico will “pay for it”. No serious observer believes that he will withdraw the US from NAFTA. No serious observer believes that abortion will be outlawed. Cal will not make a comeback and he cannot force the utilities in the northeast and west to buy coal. Most of his “agenda” is absurd on its face, but what is within his reach is a tax bill that will (until it’s repealed by a future Congress) will save him tens of millions annually in taxes and his heirs over a billion dollars in estate taxes. The tax cut bill currently under consideration does virtually nothing for his low income workers and actually hurts upper-middle income workers and reserves almost all its benefits to filers whose incomes are in excess of $400,000 annually and assets over $11,000,000.

            What Trump has excelled at is giving his supporters false hope that he acts in their interest. No doubt he has sung music to their ears on issues such as abortion, political correctness and Mexican rapists, but whatever songs he may sing on their behalf will do nothing to improve their material or even non-material condition. Trump is the ultimate con man who’s brilliance at his craft has even bamboozled scholars who have have written or lend support to American Greatness, scholars whose leading light, Harry Jaffa, would have been appalled at President Donald J. Trump. The Party of Lincoln is dead. When we see photos of President Trump, the portrait we see behind him is not Abraham Lincoln but Andrew Jackson. This is not by mistake. Lincoln weeps.

          • Eric Johnson November 5, 2017 at 5:49 am

            Republicans have been calling for the repeal/reduction of the Estate Tax since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 and when they fully took control of Congress back in 1994. To claim that “billionaires have exploited populists for their own gain” when talking about something that has been a plank of the Republican Party for the past 37 years and an important principle of Conservatism for a hell of a lot longer is is the same as claiming that Conservatism, whether advocated by Donald Trump or Mitt Romney, is itself FRAUDULENT.

            So, with all due respect, go screw yourself, you dirty rotten commie.

        • Bo Grimes November 3, 2017 at 10:43 am

          There are plenty of ideas. The New Criterion ran an almost year long series in its pages, held a symposium you can watch in two
          parts and has a forthcoming book titled Vox Populi: The Perils and Promises of Populism

          Don’t criticize what you clearly don’t understand.

  8. Bo Grimes November 3, 2017 at 10:33 am

    many of those views are deemed heretical without debate or a sense of what Protestantism calls “the priesthood of all believers.”

    Precisely. In Feb of 2016, before I left Twitter, I saw a bunch of conservative elites for various establishment organs commiserating about the “deplorables” before Hillary ever made the comment. If I recall correctly, Jay Cost, Tom Nichols, and Sean Davis were among them. I suggested to them that they needed to adopt a model proposed by former President of Fuller Theological Seminary, Richard Mouw, of Consulting the Faithful

    They proceeded to block me.

Comments are closed.