Michael Walsh joined American Greatness Publisher Chris Buskirk to discuss his latest feature, “With Dignity, Trump Crosses the Delaware,” on President Trump’s first major legislative win: tax reform. Listen to the audio and read the transcript.
Chris Buskirk: I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. This is the Seth and Chris Show. We’re joined by Michael Walsh. He is a friend of the show, a friend of ours, and a frequent guest. Michael is a journalist, author, screenwriter, and can do a pretty good soft shoe, if I’m not mistaken, Michael.
Michael Walsh: Hey, how are you guys?
Chris Buskirk: I’m good. How are you? Michael, you wrote a great piece for us at American Greatness today. I like it. “With Dignity, Trump Crosses the Delaware”. I’ve just got to read the first paragraph so everybody gets a flavor for where you’re coming from.
You said, “The tax cut bill is the beginning of the end of the cult of victimization. With its passage, the Republican majority in Congress, however tenuous, has scored its first and only major legislative victory, handing President Trump and the American people an early Christmas present. That it was passed without a single opposition party vote in either house should tell you all you need to know about the socialist ethos that has seized control of the criminal organization masquerading as a political party known as the Democrats.” Where do you go from there?
Michael Walsh: Well, really, I mean do you have any objection to that so far?
Chris Buskirk: I had a few amens and hallelujahs, but that was about as far as I got.
Michael Walsh: Yeah. Well, of course, that phrase comes from something I wrote as David Kahane for National Review years ago, when I called the Democrats a criminal organization masquerading as a political party, and that somehow caught on. I don’t know how, but it did, and here we here.
So it’s become a kind of tagline, but it’s also true, so I think what you see is that the Democrats want to steal your money, and the Republicans don’t want them to. That was the one moral lesson that we learned from the vote and the way the vote went, heading into what will be a very big economic year in the United States next year.
Chris Buskirk: Michael, I’m interested, the only place where there was any—I don’t even know if I want to use the term “controversy”—but there was some conflict on the Republican side with regards to the tax reform bill, is on eliminating—everything’s an acronym now—what they called SALT, state and local tax deduction. I think that’s good policy. I’ll be honest with you, when they first were talking about doing it I was a little skeptical, but it didn’t last. As I thought through, I thought you know what, I follow the logic on this, and this I think is policy that actually is tied to principle. There’s no reason for the federal government to use their power to make the citizens of, for instance, Arizona, a low income tax state, subsidize the profligacy and the confiscatory tax policies of our neighboring California, a high income tax state, or New York or Illinois or Connecticut. Let them deal with it on their own.
Michael Walsh: Or Connecticut, where I am. So that’s easy for you to say, buddy. I’m going to take it in the chops here. Maybe, maybe not. Probably not. Actually, this whole thing’s overblown, but I’m so old I think “SALT” means Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.
Chris Buskirk: We were joking about that yesterday. I said something about SALT to Seth … or actually no, it was two days ago. We had … I think you know this person, Ryan Williams, president of the Claremont Institute.
Michael Walsh: Oh yeah. Yes, I do.
Chris Buskirk: Ryan was in the studio with us, and I was saying something to Ryan about SALT, and Seth said, “The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks? Is that back?”
Michael Walsh: Right. Who knew? Well, I guess we’re back at war with Russia again, so we need SALT talks. You mentioned the moral component of this, and I agree that the state income tax . . . The state should have to let their citizens choose. I was on talk radio here in Connecticut today, and I said, “No doubt half the state, the ones who live in Greenwich and the rich towns down in the southern part of the state are all looking at real estate in Florida effective immediately.” But the states need to be punished and penalized for the fact that they’ve been punishing and penalizing the working class and the upper working class at the expense of everybody else.
So I think that’s good, but the main point I wanted to make in this piece today, Chris, was that there’s a moral component to this tax reform, which is, first of all, the government has no right to steal your income. I think the 16th Amendment was just absolutely dreadful, and we’ve crippled ourselves with it for a century now, adhering to it, and it needs to be ditched. But more importantly, the fewer people we have on the dole, which is effectively what the earned income tax credit is, and Medicaid and all the other welfare programs, and the more people are working, then the government can no longer strip them of the dignity of work.
This is a phrase that I know growing up Catholic you heard all the time, the dignity of work, and it’s part of church doctrine that everyone who works has dignity, whether you’re digging a ditch or whether you’re on Wall Street . . . well, of course, they don’t have dignity … but you know, whether you have a real job, whatever. And you respect the very doing of the work. And so I said we need to bring back terms like “layabout,” “bum,” “derelict,” “do-nothing,” because these were terms with opprobrium—
Chris Buskirk: “Shiftless.”
Michael Walsh: Yes, “shiftless”, correctly applied to people who would not work. Cannot work is one thing, but that’s been so grossly defined and over-defined, but who will not work, and they deserve the moral opprobrium they used to get, and they deserve it again, and the more people that you have working and paying even a little bit of tax . . . I’m in favor of a flat tax, say 10 percent. You earned a dollar for the year, you pay 10 cents. That’s it, but you’ve got skin in the game. If the Democrats try to roll this back, they’ll be taking that dignity away from people, and once they get it back, they’re not going to want to give it up anymore. I think this is really the hidden message of this tax bill today.
Chris Buskirk: I think that’s right, Michael, and I’m glad to hear you talk about the opprobrium for laziness and bringing back the appropriate terms, “bum,” “hobo,” “shiftless,” “lazy,” these things. You know, this is something that I have been actually just in my personal life been very keen to make sure that my kids understood from day one. I just don’t like the euphemisms for bums. I remember . . . what was it, probably in the late ’80s . . . when the term “homeless” started to come. That’s when that started to come into currency, and I can remember in my family, it was, “What do you mean, homeless? Like they had a home and all of a sudden they drove to their address one day and it was no longer there?”
Michael Walsh: Right, burned to the ground.
Chris Buskirk: No, it was just a euphemism for being a bum.
Michael Walsh: Right, for “don’t want to work.” What we have to do is . . . And also the word “entitlement.” You’re not entitled to anything, period. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that’s what you’re entitled to, but you’re not entitled to my money or your money or Seth’s money or anybody’s money. You’re not entitled. That’s it. [crosstalk 00:07:16].
Chris Buskirk: There’s a misunderstanding even on the Right, isn’t there, about the difference between equality of opportunity and equality before the law?
Michael Walsh: Yeah, of course, there is.
Chris Buskirk: Equality of opportunity requires that the government intervene in private transactions on behalf of people they think didn’t have the right opportunity. We don’t want that. We don’t want that. We want a society that has opportunity available to people, but it’s up to them to do something with it or not. What we just want is for the law to be blind, the law to treat everybody the same.
Michael Walsh: Pretty much. I’m not a total libertarian on this, because I think there obviously were laws, if not actual law laws then customs, that prevented some people from having opportunity. But we sorted that out in the 1960s, and that, of course, was the leftists claimed this great triumph. But it’s now gone beyond ridiculous to the point of the gay wedding cake and the baker case, which will get sorted out by the Supreme Court, probably in favor of the baker, this year.
Chris Buskirk: Are you making a prediction there?
Michael Walsh: Oh, I think so, yeah. I don’t see how the court can rule against the baker, even though Tony Kennedy, who’s emerged as the most gay-philic justice in the history of gay-philic justices, is going to have to face up to the fact that he’s opened a Pandora’s Box of crazy, and this is his last chance to shut it down. So I think that will get shut down, but the notion that you’re entitled to things really rubs me the wrong way, and I think more Americans should understand that. So if someone came back and said, “What about Social Security?” Well, as someone who is currently collecting Social Security, because I’m old enough to, I also paid into it. Now, did I pay enough? Am I getting enough for my money? These are all legitimate questions, but it’s not like I’m getting an earned income tax credit on money I didn’t even earn. That’s a welfare program. That’s an entitlement.
Chris Buskirk: Yeah, an entitlement, right. Again with the euphemisms, right? An earned income tax credit, it’s just welfare that is done through your tax return versus through the local welfare office.
Michael Walsh: Yeah, it’s basically, “Hey, everyone else is getting a refund, why shouldn’t these poor people?” Well, everyone else paid in. Actually they overpaid, and P.S., they don’t get any interest on that money that they overpaid, but you underpay the IRS by one penny and oh brother, will you get socked with interest and penalties that compound daily. Yeah, so it’s a one-way street when it comes to that, but then the notion was you got a refund, as if somehow they owed you that money, when you didn’t owe it to them in the first place. So you have to play a guessing game with the IRS to come out exactly right on your taxes each year or suffer a penalty. Great system.
Chris Buskirk: Good luck with that. Meanwhile, they basically deputize, or I prefer to say dragoon, employers into doing their tax collecting work for them.
Michael Walsh: Yes, Amity Shlaes has written very eloquently about this particular thing. Withholding was the boiling of the frog, and people really need to understand what happens to them when they’re getting withheld.
Chris Buskirk: Michael, you hear the music. We’re going to run to a break. When we come back, I want to pick up on the central theme of your essay, “With Dignity, Trump Crosses the Delaware”, but the dignity of work and how tax reform actually encourages people to work, and that that’s good for the culture. That’s good for individuals, it’s good for families, and it’s good for the country. Michael Walsh is our guest. We’ll be right back.
Michael Walsh is our guest here on the Seth and Chris Show. This song, I don’t know, Michael, could this song be about you? Have you been a rover?
Michael Walsh: I don’t know. I move around a lot, that’s for sure.
Chris Buskirk: I know. I was thinking about that as Frank was coming in on the bumper music. I thought the first time I met you in person, you were driving from L.A. back to Connecticut. You were doing the transcontinental.
Michael Walsh: Yeah, I’ve done that many times. It’s a lot of fun, and I recommend it to every American at least once. I’ve done it about 10 or 20 times in my life.
Chris Buskirk: Have you really? I’ve done it twice. I did it once as a kid, and then I did it once after I got married. I was married in Michigan. We drove back here to Arizona after the wedding. I thought it was fantastic. I would love to do it again.
Michael Walsh: Oh, it’s great, and it’s not that far, really. Once you get used to it, you just tick off the states as they go flying by, and you realize that the minute you cross the Mississippi River going west, you get very happy, and when you cross it going east, you get very unhappy. That’s the two sides of America.
Chris Buskirk: The left and the right, depending on the way you’re thinking about it or facing.
Michael Walsh: Pretty much, yeah.
Chris Buskirk: Michael, your piece today at American Greatness I really like, you make a point that I think is necessary. You make a big point about the dignity of work, about what that does for people, for families, for the country, but you tie that into the tax package. Explain the link there and why you think this is important.
Michael Walsh: Well, the link is partly based on my experience with the communist societies of East Germany and Russia, where I spent quite a bit of time at the end of the Cold War, between ’85 and ’91, and if you wanted to see people who had lost dignity, Russia was your place. It was a country of such spiritual corruption. The monetary corruption that they stared at every day with the empowered nomenklatura and the poor workers of the workers’ paradise was so striking that you knew that the system couldn’t last. When you basically make peons of everyone in your country, you don’t have a country anymore. You have a kind of surly mass of peasants, which is what the Russians had.
Now, they were not able to make a really successful transition to capitalism, although there’s tons of money, and a lot of Russians have made fortunes because they always knew how to play and game the system. A lot of the KGB guys just took off their uniforms and put on a business suit, and now they’re businessmen in Moscow. So okay, that’s that, but East Germany was slightly different, and the East Germans actually tried to believe the system they had been fed. They made it work to the extent that it could ever possibly work, and even then it wasn’t enough. People stole things, gamed the system, traded in the black market, and because East Germany was relatively small, you could get Western television and radio in almost every major city except Dresden, which is interestingly enough where I first encountered Putin in 1985 when he was KGB resident, although actually it turns out he wasn’t a resident. He was a counter-intelligence guy rolling up KGB officers for corruption. All very spy game-y.
Chris Buskirk: Michael, did you meet him?
Michael Walsh: I did not meet him. I saw him, and I was told about him when I was on my way to Dresden, but I didn’t meet him personally. I did run into Honecker, though, on that trip, oddly enough.
Chris Buskirk: Oh, interesting.
Michael Walsh: And I was there when the wall came down, so I got to see the whole show. But you can’t beggar the population and have them be a strong, muscular country. As the United States has fallen under the spell of the Frankfurt School and the cultural Marxists, we’ve elevated victimhood to a positive moral good. I think this is the biggest mistake we have made, to ascribe some characteristic of nobility to victimhood. And I know that’s terribly politically incorrect to say, but it’s also terribly true. Being a victim is either a misfortune or your own fault. It’s never a good thing, never.
Chris Buskirk: No, it’s never a positive good, and yet it has been elevated to that. I have a friend who you may know. We won’t share his name on the air, but he’s got his children, who attend an elite boarding school. He was telling me that in order to get into this school you basically have three groups. You have the very wealthy, donors, that type of thing. You have the super-smart, not merely intelligent but just off-the-charts intelligent. And you have kids who have learned how to game the system and claim victim status. Of course, that third group is the group that anybody can fit into if you learn how to game the system, because victimhood has become a form of nobility.
Michael Walsh: Yeah, I think that’s actually disgraceful, and I think the people who do that are disgraceful, because it’s cheating, fundamentally. But as you know, I’ve always said with the leftists and especially the cultural Marxists, they posit a counterfactual and then they act on it and expect us to act on it, which is really another way of saying they all think they’re Napoleon and they expect us to treat them as if they were Napoleon, when in fact they’re just lunatics. Positing counterfactuals is crazy, and we shouldn’t indulge them in it anymore.
Chris Buskirk: Which leads me to my other question. Michael, you’re the author of “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace,” which the go-to resource for people who want to understand why the Left is the way it is, where did these ideas come from, what is cultural Marxism. You’ve got a sequel coming out to that book, “The Fiery Angel.” It comes out next year, but do you know exactly when, or roughly when, that’s going to be?
Michael Walsh: Yes, May 8, as a matter of fact.
Chris Buskirk: Oh, May 8. Very good. Maybe just give people a kind of a rundown. What’s “The Fiery Angel” all about?
Michael Walsh: Well, “The Fiery Angel” is a sequel in a way. It’s a successor, complementary companion volume to “Devil”, and what it’s about is the heroic narrative, which I posit in “Devil” is the thing that counteracts the Satanic cultural Marxism. Satan uses your best qualities against you and wants you to lose. So the West, uniquely among cultures in the world, has developed something that I refer to as the heroic narrative, where we can each be the heroes of our own movie, sort of the simplest way to present that idea. That all of our tales are not about collectives, but they’re about individuals who stand up against the collective, and yet Marxism has tried to impose a collective mentality on us. We must shake this off.
So again, it’s a cultural study. There’s a lot about painting, music … uh oh, music, not again. Yes. Opera.
Chris Buskirk: Yes, again.
Michael Walsh: Again, even more. Novels, poems. In this case, the main poem that I used in the new book, “Fiery Angel,” is “The Aeneid” by Virgil, which is the story of heroism and love and triumph and tragedy and betrayal, and all the great themes of Western civilization are there, and the lessons that we can learn from them, because that’s what our culture is for, to transmit these lessons. What the Marxists try to do is break us away from our own culture and to de-legitimize it, as you guys know. You see it all the time in what they’re trying to do to the United States and the history of the United States, and I say it’s time to cast off those shackles and reclaim our heritage. A considerable number of works are presented for the reader, and I hope that the readers will go out and read and listen and view these paintings and imbibe the lessons thereof.
Chris Buskirk: Cast off our shackles? Are you trying to say we have nothing to lose but our chains?
Michael Walsh: Yes. Workers of the world, unite. Actually, good people of the world, unite. Let’s get rid of these guys.
Chris Buskirk: And if the tax reform bill has anything to say about it, there will be more workers, which is a good thing.
Michael Walsh: There’s already more workers just today alone. You see, there’ll be money repatriated. Companies will be hiring. The girls will be prettier. The birds will sing. There’s nothing but upside, boy.
Chris Buskirk: The sunlit uplands that we’ve been promised.
Michael Walsh: Happy days are here again, right.
Chris Buskirk: Michael Walsh has been our guest. Michael, thanks so much. We should do this. You write every Wednesday for us at American Greatness. Maybe we should do this every Thursday.
Michael Walsh: Yeah, Thursday’s when it comes out, so I’m happy to, if I’m in the country or even if I’m not, it’s easy to reach me.
Chris Buskirk: Let’s do it. Michael Walsh has been our guest. Thanks a bunch, Michael. Talk to you soon. Merry Christmas.