Michael Walsh on the Decline of California

Author and American Greatness contributor Michael Walsh joined Publisher Chris Buskirk on the radio this week to discuss his latest article, “Sacramento Democrats Fire on Fort Sumter,” which explores how Jerry Brown and other “Resistance” politicians in California are defying the federal government and the U.S. Constitution. (And don’t forget to order Walsh’s forthcoming book, “The Fiery Angel: Art, Culture, Sex, Politics, and the Struggle for the Soul of the West.”) Listen to the interview and read the transcript.

Chris Buskirk: I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. Welcome back to the Seth and Chris Show. We are on a busy news day. But we always have time for somebody who can help us make sense of it. And that man today is Michael Walsh. He is a contributor, a columnist at American Greatness. He is also the author of a number of books and screenplays, most recently “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace”, but the sequel of which is scheduled to appear in a couple of months called “The Fiery Angel.” Michael, how are you?

Michael Walsh: Hey, I’m great guys. Thank you.

Chris Buskirk: Happy New Year.

Michael Walsh: Happy New Year to you, too. We’re having a good old-fashioned New England blizzard today so I’m just buried under about a foot plus of snow. Other than that, everything’s great.

Chris Buskirk: Well, I was out front for a walk this morning in my shorts and tee shirt.

Michael Walsh: Yeah, but you see that doesn’t matter to us because we made our peace with the climate. We are green. We are one with the universe. And, yeah, so I think—

Chris Buskirk: This is the line I use on people in the summer in Phoenix when they wonder why I’m here and it’s 114.

Michael Walsh: Well, that’s the point. Yeah, 120 degrees is not any fun, let me tell you. So, yeah.

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, neither is, according to your latest piece at American Greatness, neither is living in California under the Democrat socialist regime. Yeah, I love the title, “Sacramento Democrats Fire on Fort Sumter.”

Michael Walsh: Yeah, it’s really true, isn’t it?

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, it certainly is, right? The Democrats were the ones firing on Fort Sumter the first time around and here they are at it again.

Michael Walsh: Well, they never quit. I mean, you know, as I like to say on Twitter, they never stop, they never quit, they never sleep. So they just keep at it and this is the same Democrat party that fired on Fort Sumter and wanted to keep black Americans in slavery, and did their best to do so right up to the 1960s. And now they are attacking federal laws, not just on immigration but on marijuana and pot use, which I was very pleased to see Jeff Sessions push back a little bit on today.

Chris Buskirk: Mm-hmm.

Michael Walsh: And what more do you need to know about these people? I mean, to what extent, what part of the Constitution do they like? I guess that’s my question.

Chris Buskirk: The backside. You turn it over and it’s a blank piece of paper. They like that part.

Michael Walsh: Yes. Yeah, I think you’re right. And I think we have to push back against federal nullification because we settled this and it cost, what, 650,000 American lives in 1861 to ’65. And now they’re back again and they’re saying, well, this law I don’t want to do and this law I don’t want to observe. And, you know, they actually took their lead from Bill Clinton. If you recall, at one point during his lamentable presidency he said, “Well, I don’t like that law. I’m not going to enforce that law. I’m just not going to do that law.”

And then Obama did the same thing with the Defense of Marriage Act and instructed his so-called ha-ha Justice Department to not defend the law in court. So at some point, you know, the other team gets its at-bats and now we’ve got ours and this is what they’ve asked for. Now they’re getting it. Good and hard, as the old saying goes.

Chris Buskirk: But you write this, you say, “Now California Democrats, as radical a group of anti-Americans as you will find in this country, whether legal or undocumented, have again fired on Fort Sumter. And once again, don’t kid yourselves. The goal is defacto and later de jour secession from the United States of America as part of the Aztlan inspired Reconquista of what Hispanic radicals consider lost territory.”

Michael Walsh: Right.

Chris Buskirk: Can you explain that for people maybe who are new to this?

Michael Walsh: Well, originally California … You know, Chris, it’s so hard to even talk about these things to the current crop of ignoramuses who think the state of California has somehow existed forever. You know, but way back when, back before their grandparents were even born, there was something called New Spain which was the Spanish territory in the Americas. And part of that was Texas and California and where you guys are in Arizona and New Mexico. Hence the name New Mexico.

And then gradually those states became part of the United States, whether they were ceded by treaty, whether they were taken by force, whether the Texans fought a war of independence. All of these things happened and it evolved the ways it’s evolved. And now certain groups of Hispanic radicals want to take back what they consider their birthright as part of this Aztlan movement which actually refers to the Indian side, the American Indian, the Aztec side of the Mexican gene pool and not so much the Spanish side.

So, you know, we’re involved in identity politics, we’re involved in a land grab, we’re involved in a lot of things. The fact is that the Mexicans never settled this part of the country in any meaningful way. Which was the same mistake the French made, by the way, with their colonies, that they sent administrators but not colonists whereas the British sent colonists. And those people came to stay, not came to administer and then leave. And that was one of the distinctive differences between the French approach to colonialism and the British approach. And the same was true of the Spanish approach. They left it very sparsely populated and as a result they lost all their colonies.

Chris Buskirk: You know, you’re right and I can remember the time just after the time you write about here. You say, “When I was a boy growing up in San Diego in the ’50s and early ’60s, the governor of the state, then at its apogee, was Pat Brown, an affable Irish Catholic Democrat who governed at first within the consensus of California political sentiment at the time, building infrastructure and raising the profile and quality of the University of California. Politically, Brown leaned to the left, to be sure, but was otherwise unremarkable, having followed the Republican Goodwin Knight into office. It was only after his second term, after he’d radicalized and the state had begun to deteriorate, that he was defeated by Ronald Reagan.”

Yeah, for people who know the history of California, I can remember California in the ’70s. It was a different place than it is now. Today it has become, we hope, not the leading edge of where this country is headed. But it is certainly a cautionary tale.

Michael Walsh:  Yeah, I don’t think it’s … You can’t make the point too strongly that California in the ’50s was probably the greatest place in the world. So I had a very blessed boyhood, having spent the years from ’54 to ’62 there. It was at its apogee, as I say in this piece. You know, again depending on your point of view. If you’re obviously a member of Aztlan or some other radical organization, you’re going to think it was a white, male, colonialist, you know, blah, blah, blah.

But it was the place where . . . First of all it was Republican. Second of all, moderate Republican. Sort of Rockefeller Republican. It was very strong on defense. San Francisco, believe it or not, was one of our major naval bases. San Diego had the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, where my father was at first stationed. And the Naval Air Station in Coronado. Los Angeles was huge in the aerospace and defense industries. So it was as solid and an all-American place as you can get.

And since then, now that’s what, 50 plus, 60 years, it’s changed completely. And it actually shows you the death wish of liberalism, that once you start to give in to the liberalizing forces. You know, why don’t you do it this way? Why do we have to do that? Why, why, why? It’s something I covered in “Devil’s Pleasure Palace.” Once you start to give in to that, you lose it. And California has lost it steadily over the years, and now it’s basically gone. And it’s a shame because it should be the best place in the world.

Chris Buskirk: It really should. I can remember, as I say, I can remember California in the ’70s and then I was in college and in graduate school there in the ’80s. In the ’80s it was sort of the last gasp, I think, of the Golden State. You still had Pete Wilson following George Deukmejian and his governor. There was a reason everybody wanted to go to California. It really was, I think you’re right. In the last 20th century, California was at its apogee. It was the best place on the planet and now it has been overrun with leftist radicals, with illegal immigrants, and it shows us what not to do.

And yet here they are leading this idea. You call it firing on Fort Sumter. But it’s an old idea, nullifying federal law. Trying to be inside the union but not having to follow the laws you don’t want to.

Michael Walsh: Right. It’s very strange. Like when I was a boy in California, first Goodwin Knight was the governor and then Pat Brown was the governor. So then I left. I came back to California in 1977 and Jerry Brown was the governor. And then I left and I went to New York, and then I came back to start working in Hollywood. And Jerry Brown was the governor again. So it’s like I can’t escape the Brown family, which are, you know, your crazy Irish-Catholic Jesuit relatives that you’d hope not to run into at Thanksgiving. And yet here they are. They’ve stalked me my entire life in the Golden State.

But as a semi-native Californian, I really regret and bemoan what’s happened to a place that should just be wonderful for everybody.

Chris Buskirk:  Flowing with milk and honey.

Michael Walsh: Yeah. Well, they’ve just decided to wreck it for everybody, essentially. And then you have people on the left side of LA and in the Bay area who vote their insulated principles ’cause they’re not subject to any of the consequences, as Victor Hanson has pointed out time and again. Where Victor lives in the Central Valley, they have to see the results of these policies. The people who live west of the 405 in Santa Monica and in Pacific Heights, my old neighborhood in San Francisco, they don’t have to have any consequences for their actions.

Chris Buskirk:  I took a picture when I was in San Francisco a month or two ago. I thought this summed it up nicely. There was a vagrant sleeping in the doorway of the Gucci store in Union Square in San Francisco.

Michael Walsh: Yeah.

Chris Buskirk: That’s it. I mean, California has become a plantation state. There’s a tiny, wealthy coastal elite and then there is a vast underclass. And there’s a shrinking middle class.

Michael Walsh: In other words, it’s becoming exactly like Mexico. That’s the whole point. Exactly like Mexico.

Chris Buskirk: Let’s tease that out a little bit. You hear the music, we’re going to run to a break. But let’s tease that out a little bit when we come back, Michael.

Michael Walsh: Great.

Chris Buskirk: I’m Chris Buskirk, he’s Seth Leibsohn. We’ll be right back.

I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. This is the Seth and Chris Show, joined by Michael Walsh. He is the author of a forthcoming book which I’m really looking forward to called “The Fiery Angel.” It is a sequel to … When did the, I guess we’ll call it the prequel now, Michael. What year was that? 2015 or ’16?

Michael Walsh: 2015, yeah.

Chris Buskirk:  ’15. Yeah, do you want to just give a short plug for the new book?

Michael Walsh:  Sure. It’s coming out May 8. It’s essentially a companion volume to “Devil’s Pleasure Palace.” This time it’s on the side of the good guys, the angels. The cover has a beautiful classical portrait of Saint Michael stabbing the dragon. And it’s again a cultural study so a lot about … you know, there’s homework. There’s literature, there’s poetry, there’s classical music. Oh, oh, yep. There’s art, a lot about visual arts. In fact, every chapter opens with a painting and a discussion of that taking precedence in our cultural Western history.

But at root it’s a defense of Western civilization and why we have to go back to our first principles in order to fight off what we have now, is twin enemies. Cultural Marxism and Islam. And they have formed an alliance together and they figure they’ll sort it out when it’s all over. But right now, you know, the enemy of their enemy is their friend. So that’s where they’re at. Anyway, it’s something fun for the whole family, needless to say, I’d say.

Chris Buskirk: Gather around the fire, kids. We’re going to read from “The Fiery Angel.”

Michael Walsh: Yes. Well, you know, I ran into Seb Gorka down on Palm Beach there in November. And Seb turned to his wife and he said, “You know that book I’m listening to on tape in the car? That’s Michael’s book.” And I said, “Oh, thank you very much.” Yes.

Chris Buskirk: Oh, it is for the whole family. At least it’s for the whole Gorka family.

Michael Walsh: Well, the whole Gorka family, Seb and Mrs. Seb and young daughter Seb, so they were all there.

Chris Buskirk: Oh, well, that’s great.

Michael Walsh: It was very nice to have that compliment from such an eminent scholar like Sebastian.

Chris Buskirk: Michael, see, now you’ve got me off on a little bit of a tangent on classical music and on Western culture.

Michael Walsh: Yeah.

Chris Buskirk: Gosh, I want to say between about December 15 and Christmas, I made at first a point to listen once to Handel’s Messiah in its entirety, as I try and do around Christmas every year. I wound up listening to it seven times in its entirety.

Michael Walsh: Interesting. Yeah.

Chris Buskirk: And love it more now than I did three weeks ago. And that’s saying something. I mean, you’re a musician.

Michael Walsh: Yeah.

Chris Buskirk: This is a subject that you know very well. How would you describe the importance of this particular piece of music but of that sort of music in general in the Western cannon and to Western culture?

Michael Walsh: Well, you know, that’s a great question. Let me take it beyond the Messiah. That’s not my favorite piece in the world but, you know, it’s great obviously and it’s Handel at his most approachable. But what I would say is that, as you’ve just discovered when you listened to it seven times, I listened to the Prokofiev opera, “The Fiery Angel”, from which I took my book’s title, probably 50 times. I now know that opera absolutely by heart.

And I was talking with my friend, Peter Gelb, who’s the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and he said, “Hey, we’re going to do Fiery Angel.” And I said, “Well, if your conductor falls down I can step right in for you.” So we’re good. But mostly classical music makes you think differently. It reaches your heart. It inspires you. But it increases your IQ. I am a great believer in the Mozart Effect, playing Mozart for babies. Both my daughters were raised on Mozart and classical music and they both turned out just fine, thank you.

I think it opens up a whole new world and it forces you to think in non-linear and … not non-linear but non-verbal ways. And makes points that cannot be made via any other art form. The movies are as close as you can get in a visual form to do what music does to you, which is act directly on your emotions in the course of telling you a story. So that’s why I recommend it to everybody and I think you just have to bite the bullet and stop thinking you don’t like it till you try it.

Chris Buskirk: It’s more difficult, though. Right? I mean, it is not based on, you know, popular music is often based on a rhythm or a beat. That’s not the way classical music is. Popular music also is much shorter. Two, three, four minute songs.

Michael Walsh: Yeah. But don’t—

Chris Buskirk: So there’s some work involved in the way that reading is more, shall I say, challenging or requires more effort than watching television.

Michael Walsh: Yes. No, that’s true. But it wasn’t hard for people in the 18th century. So, I mean, you know, were they any smarter than we are? Yeah, probably. But, you know, they listened to it. I mean, one of the other things I do all day is when I’m working on whatever I’m writing, I come down, I have an 1892 Steinway piano here in my Victorian home in snowbound New England. And I’ve been playing through … I’ve learned four Beethoven sonatas I did not know prior to last year, in 2017. So I made that a project to learn new Beethoven sonatas. First, ’cause I enjoyed playing. Second of all because it opens your mind up and it’s great for your fingers and it’s great for your whole body. So I recommend it. Plus I lost 70 pounds. So there, if you learn Beethoven sonatas you can lose 70 pounds.

Chris Buskirk: You’re saying there’s a causal relationship between that? You may have a diet book on your hands.

Michael Walsh: No, I definitely have a diet book. There’s no question, yeah. The Beethoven Quick Weight Loss diet book. Watch for it next year.

Chris Buskirk: From Encounter Books?

Michael Walsh: Well, if Roger, you know, meets my price, yes, sir.

Chris Buskirk: Michael, I would tell people this maybe. I think this is where people don’t know where to start with classical music.

Michael Walsh: Well, I have a book on that.

Chris Buskirk: If somebody says I believe you, I want to believe you, I’m not sure what to do. What’s the first step? What would you say to listen to and how do they listen to it?

Michael Walsh: Yeah, my book is called “Who’s Afraid of Classical Music?” It tells you all you need to know. It’s the first book I ever published and it’s still in print after all these years. And it is the way in. There’s a companion volume to that too called “Who’s Afraid of Opera?” Which is a higher art form in a way. To me, it’s the greatest art form. But if you take a look at “Who’s Afraid of Classical Music?” That is the easiest way into classical music that I can possibly tell you.

Chris Buskirk: Okay, so—

Michael Walsh: Simple, huh? And a book plug too.

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, I know, a book plug too. So do you mind just giving people a synopsis?

Michael Walsh: Well, it explains what it is and what the narrative thrust of music is. And music is a narrative so that’s why I compare it to movies. A Mozart symphony is a narrative. It takes you on a journey and it has its own syntax. Each piece has usually a unique syntax. And what the composer does with the themes in transforming them, and by the time you get to the end of the first movement, you go, “Wow, I never knew that that theme could turn into that.” And what Beethoven and Mozart especially do is show you the simplest little germ of an idea can turn into this mighty acorn. And Beethoven, Eroica Symphony being a very good example of that.

So I recommend just opening your mind trying to listen. Follow the tunes and listen to it multiple times because that’s terribly, terribly important.

Chris Buskirk: Michael, Beethoven, you mentioned him. Beethoven, some of his music was political. He was at least an early supporter of Bonaparte.

Michael Walsh: Yeah.

Chris Buskirk: Is that common in classical music? We know that there were spiritual motivations behind, say, Bach or others. Handel, of course, with the Messiah. How much classical music has a political motivation in the way some of Beethoven’s work did?

Michael Walsh: Well, I think they all did. I mean, Haydn worked for Princess Esterhazy, one of the Austro-Hungarian princesses. Handel was a capitalist. He left Germany and moved to London where he became the foremost opera composer in England in the mid-19th century. Beethoven was very passionate politically and he fell in love with Napoleon, and then when Napoleon declared himself emperor Beethoven fell out of love, famously, with Napoleon and canceled the dedication to Napoleon and renamed the symphony the Eroica Symphony.

Chris Buskirk: Michael, thanks so much for the time. I appreciate it. We’ve got to pick this up.

Michael Walsh: Yeah.

Chris Buskirk: As I say, we had to take a little break during the holidays but let’s do this again next week. What do you say?

Michael Walsh: Yeah, anytime. I’m sorry I have to run off right now. I’m getting a call from Hungary of all places any minute now.

Chris Buskirk: Say hello to Prime Minister Orban. Michael Walsh has been our guest. Thanks very much.

Michael Walsh: OK.

Chris Buskirk: We’ll be right back with more of the Seth and Chris Show.

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