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The Benedict Predicament

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At least half of Americans sense that their country has been taken from them. In 2016, they voted for Donald Trump despite obvious reasons not to: churchgoers, despite his lack of religiosity; women, despite his womanizing, small business people, despite his big business identity; advocates of civility, despite his plain incivilities, and so on. They voted for protection against government, big business, the media, the educational and even the religious establishments, which wage a cold civil war to push them and their “deplorable” way of life to society’s margins.

But the election’s aftermath confirmed fears that mere voting cannot reestablish traditional American priorities. It has done and can do little to lessen the ruling class’s relentless pressures on how we live our lives. How to save a way of life while avoiding surrender, or a hot civil war, is the subject of anguish, and much debate.

In principle, the solution is simple, sufficient, and deeply rooted in American history: what some call “subsidiarity,” previously practiced in America as federalism. As culturally diverse people sort themselves out over a vast land, only despotism can force each part to live in ways repugnant to its majority. Hence, I suggested in 2017 that just as people on the Right should be content with the majority of Californians’ decision to be a “sanctuary” from national immigration laws, those on the Left should be just as tolerant of Texans or North Dakotans deciding to make their states “sanctuaries” from Federal Court decisions concerning abortion or a bunch of other things.

But avoiding civil war on this basis is inconceivable now because the Left believes it has the right, duty, and power to force universal adherence to its dictates’ utmost details. Nor can surrender purchase peace, because the Left’s dictates do not and cannot have a final form. Endlessly evolving, they are less about what is being imposed on America than about inflicting righteous punishment on inferiors—the appetite and power for which increase with every success.

That is why the prescriptions of “conservative reformers”—for example, Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republicdeny reality. They suppose that economics, ever the ground of compromise, is the dividing line between Right and Left. Hence they posit that the American Left is amenable to retreat from confrontation, to live-and-let-live.

But money has never been the point. America’s Left already has the bulk of the nation’s wealth. Residents of places such as Weston, Massachusetts, the suburbs of D.C. and of Silicon Valley, vote for the nation’s farthest-Left candidates with higher percentages than do those of zip-codes along the country’s Martin Luther King avenues. Power is what the Left wants, endlessly to replace the insufficiently faithful with the more faithful in ever more positions of power, from whence they ensure its causes’ triumph and its foes’ abasement. For Americans whose main concern is money—e.g., Wall Street—coming to terms with the Left amounts to playing the same game—just with different rules—pleasing different people by . . . pleasing them.

For Americans for whom money is a means rather than an end, the Left’s hegemony over American society’s commanding heights is an existential problem. Over the past two decades, increasingly, we have begun to learn to live defensively in a world controlled by people who hate us, and whose ways we do not want ourselves or our families to imitate.

In this regard, Rod Dreher’s 2017 book, The Benedict Option, is valuable. The book’s title is its primary problem for us. At the turn of the sixth century A.D., the young nobleman Benedict of Nursia chose retreat to monastic life less as an intrinsically desirable option than as a way of dealing with Rome’s rot. The degree of rot around him imposed the degree and modalities of retreat. We, along with Dreher, have all too little trouble envisaging the persecution of Christians that our ruling class may inflict on us.

Judicious retreat is not an option, but a rational reaction to our predicament. We have already learned that with rare exceptions, the higher reaches of life in the corporate world, the media, academe, the major bureaucracies are now inaccessible to Christians—or, indeed to anyone who does not celebrate the ruling class’s cause du jour, or who voices sympathy with “mere Christianity.”

As time has passed, silence and tact are ceasing to afford protection.We are learning to make life plans accordingly. The spread of homeschooling, the lines to get into charter schools, the sacrifices made for private education, the increasing popularity of alternatives to meaningless, expensive college degrees, attest to Americans’ coming to grips with our educational system’s top-to-bottom rot. The booming market for guns is neither more nor less than a gauge of decreasing confidence in the authorities’ capacity to keep us safe. Rarely, nowadays, do marriages or even “relationships” occur between people on opposite sides of society’s divide over abortion. Thus has conservative America already taken the biggest step to separate its most intimate redoubt from ruling class influence.

No one doubts that more such adjustments will happen—not so much by choice as by necessity. Recent experiences in totalitarian countries leave no doubt about the difficulties and odds arrayed against trying to raise families and living in counter-cultural mode. The smaller the enclave, the harder it is to do that.

Rather than counseling retreat for its own sake, Dreher urges such involvement in the public square as may continue to be possible, always keeping in mind that the goal is not to reform any other community, much less of the United States of America. Regrettably, that has ceased to be in our power as much as it had ceased to be in Benedict of Nursia’s power to save Rome. Rather the purpose of political activity must be to save what can be saved of one’s own family and community’s commitment to the good life as orthodox Christians and (and orthodox Jews) have always understood it.

Judicious retreat may not be enough to avoid a civil war, never mind to deal with the other crises that sweep away nations. If war comes, it must be fought. Whether or when a time might come when such part of the American regime as may have survived could leaven something new and worthy, is not for us to know.

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95 replies
  1. Joel Mathis
    Joel Mathis says:

    I’m curious if Mr. Codevilla would advocate the federalism be extended to, say, letting blue states take a much more restrictive view of gun rights?

    I’m not against this idea. I suspect such a *deep* federalism may be required. I do wonder, however, what then binds us together as a nation? Is it merely common defense and a single monetary unit? Or something grander?

      • Joel Mathis
        Joel Mathis says:

        Mr.Codevilla’s abortion sanctuaries would do the same for 45 years of precedent. It’s obviously thinking outside our current boxes.

    • TboneAgain
      TboneAgain says:

      I wonder what your reaction might be if I were to suggest that red states be permitted to “take a much more restrictive view” of abortion rights.

      • Joel Mathis
        Joel Mathis says:

        That’s the thing, isn’t it? For the kind of federalism that Codevilla appears to suggest, people on both sides would have to say that their neighbors in some states won’t get full access to the full range of what many on both sides consider to be rights. I’m not sure that either side would be willing to give ground.

        • TboneAgain
          TboneAgain says:

          It could be too that there are fundamental differences when it comes to the various “rights” claimed by one side or the other. For example, the Second Amendment pretty clearly describes the rights the Founders believed to exist in terms of gun ownership at the time of the founding. But abortion “rights” took nearly two centuries to appear essentially out of nowhere. Roe v. Wade was vastly more shocking in 1973 than Obergefell v. Hodges was just three years ago.

          It isn’t really arguable that we live in a time of vastly expanding social “rights,” meaning essentially privileges based on class that have managed to gain the acceptance — and enforcement — of the federal government. To compare the right to wed someone of your own sex, or to abort the life of an unborn child, with the right of free men (and women) to bear arms — especially against their oppressors in government — seems kinda silly to me. Next we’ll have a government-guaranteed right to toilet paper that feeds off the top of the roll, rather than the bottom.

          • Joel Mathis
            Joel Mathis says:

            I understand what you’re saying. I think the point of Mr. Codevilla’s suggestion is that we’d have to agree to live in a country where some of our fellow citizens not only understood rights differently, but were governed by those separate understandings.

            You want abortion and no guns? Go live in Massachusetts. You want guns and no abortion? Come join me in Kansas.

            I think probably this doesn’t work because rights are rights, after all, and a political tradeoff by the powers that be doesn’t take away that entitlement. If we were splitting into separate countries, maybe, just adopting a very state-oriented sort of federalism? Probably won’t work. It didn’t the first time around.

          • TboneAgain
            TboneAgain says:

            Ah, could it only be thus! There are four Planned Parenthood “clinics” in metro KC and another one in Wichita. The Grim Aborter has the backing of the US Supreme Court and (by force) the US taxpayer, not just individual statehouses. That’s exactly why the Left goes there so often. Federalism, no matter the flavor, is not their dish. They pretend to abhor nationalism while embracing it at every turn; they squeal about their love for diversity of thought while taking every possible step to kill it root and branch.

          • Brendan Doran
            Brendan Doran says:

            Peaceful Federalism requires that states and localities be allowed to rule themselves.
            Now it is simply not in the nature of those in DC to allow subsidiary – Federalist – government.

            Nor I daresay give their inferiors any peace.
            This is about POWER. DC has an Empire with most of the world bowing….but it’s own people do not kneel.
            That’s intolerable. Deplorable.

    • gleion
      gleion says:

      It would seem that Mr. Codevilla’s claim regarding federalism in this article is that–as it relates to at least one issue (state-sanctioned negation of American immigration law)–it is already a fait accompli.

    • mabele
      mabele says:

      Ask yourself whether most of the posters on this page would be willing to sacrifice their lives to defend a family of Massachusetts liberals being hypothetically attacked by a horde of fanatical ISIS supporters. I think the answer, and the conclusion one would necessarily draw from it in response to your last question, is obvious. Sadly, for a good number of us there’s no longer anything at all binding us together.

      • armst
        armst says:

        No. As I have posted about a lib in DC who bemoaned the fact that no one on a DC Metro car came to his aid when he was attacked by a black thug mob. My point was you failed to take actions to protect yourself but demand that I place myself at risk to protect you. Not happening. Embrace the suck.

        • mabele
          mabele says:

          Give me a break. The reason you wouldn’t do it isn’t because of some theoretical payback, it’s because you hate me. And half the country. You guys are delirious with hatred at this point. One tiny push, one guy with a mustache, and you’ll be torching houses.

          • armst
            armst says:

            Nope. You are the control freaks and the ones that want to kill people who disagree with you. My role is to cleanse the gene pool of your type before your mindless hate and murdering instincts get too out of hand. Welcome to block too asshat.

          • mabele
            mabele says:

            Classic example of the kind of projection seen widely on the far right nowadays. “All the Democrats want to kill us so we’ll just have to kill them first.”

            Like I said, all it’s going to take is one guy with a mustache…

          • mabele
            mabele says:

            I’m not entirely sure why so many of you so viciously hate huge numbers of people – half the country, effectively – whom you’ve never met or even corresponded with in most cases, to the point where you mumble about “civil war” and fantasize about burning down the cities and massacring or starving out the “urban elites” (and their kids). Please enlighten me. I sense you’re going to come with all sorts of excuses that have no basis whatsoever in reality – i.e., the taxi driver who votes Democrat in NYC actually hates you personally and spends his days plotting to take away your guns and prevent you from being allowed to go to church – but let’s be honest, the real reasons have got to be something different.

  2. ek ErilaR
    ek ErilaR says:

    Dreher’s Benedict Option is no option at all since it will further divide us into ever smaller communities that will be more easily extirpated seriatim as the occasion arises. Further, Dreher never misses an opportunity to pour scorn on any non-orthodox expression faith or community. At heart, he is one of the globalist neo-liberals who has only a few qualms about its excesses.

    Since the Senate and the Judiciary are controlled by the globalists, all we are left with are the House and the Executive. Since the House’s only great power under the Constitution is that all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House, we must see to it that the funding for the Maoist humanities departments in the universities and funding for the empire are strangled.

    The empire and the republic cannot coexist.

    • D8532110
      D8532110 says:

      On the contrary, the republic is “an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world”. You ought to understand this given your familiarity with American and British history.

          • ek ErilaR
            ek ErilaR says:

            Of course. I think the Federalist Papers are nothing more that Hamiltonian propaganda.

            I think it is trivial to presume that the 13 colonial assemblies west of the Proclamation Line of 1763 that then aggravated themselves into a federal republic of sovereign states in 1789 amount to an empire.

            That’reminds me of Henry VIII’s insistence he was an emperor in 1533 because he controlled Wales and was the Lord of Ireland.

            On this point, the US was an empire in 1788 in the same sense that the Swiss or Dutch Republics were empires; which is to say they were not empires at all.

          • D8532110
            D8532110 says:

            The ruling class of the USA ca. 1787 was self-consciously aware of several startling facts. First, an alliance of upstarts had detached a huge piece of territory from a royalist empire. Second, the Treaty of Paris (1783) further recognized the breakaway faction’s claim upon wild lands far to the west of the Appalachian Mtns, where the British empire had had very few settlers before the civil war and seccession. Third, the population of the new states, while mostly European and enslaved west Africans, was hardly a model of cultural homegeneity. This diversity had been crucial in making the civil war in the Carolinas exceptionally brutal.

            As you say, the Federalist papers are propaganda.There were, nonetheless, facts on the gound which made Hamilton’s imperial rhetoric more than just hot air and wishful thinking.

            It’s by the way that the colonial assemblies you mentioned were to the east, not the west, of the proclamation line of 1763.

  3. Robert Browning
    Robert Browning says:

    Righteous punishment is a load of crap. The motivation of the enemies of white Christian America is a hatred of Christ, Christians and Christianity. Why was the innocent Christ killed?? You answer that question and then you will understand the hatred in the hearts of the enemies of America.

    • mabele
      mabele says:

      Give me a break. Stop making up excuses for mindlessly hating people you don’t even know. My grandmother was a perfect Christian soul; I haven’t managed to follow in the same religious footsteps but there’s no hatred in my heart for people who live their lives like she did.

      • Robert Browning
        Robert Browning says:

        Why did the Jews kill Christ?? Do you know why?? He didn’t do anything, so why?? Can you answer or do you need a break??

      • Robert Browning
        Robert Browning says:

        Then as now Jews had certain expectations of their messiah. Jews expect their messiah to enslave their enemies. Jews expect their messiah to enslave the non-Jew. Christ preached forgiveness for ones enemies and peace making. This was blasphemy for the Jews so they killed him. Christ was killed because he refused Jew demands to enslave the world for the benefit of the Jews and you Jews hate him and every last Christian on earth because of Christs refusal to meet your demands.

      • Robert Browning
        Robert Browning says:

        You answer me. You answer me you. I want to here from you. You defender of those that murder the innocent. I want to here from you.

          • Robert Browning
            Robert Browning says:

            Why did you kill him Jew?? Was it good?? Wouldn’t you just love to kill him all over again?? Wouldn’t you just love to kill him all over again, Jew?? Come on Jew, don’t be shy.

    • D8532110
      D8532110 says:

      “the innocent Christ” was killed because he premeditated a suicide assisted by Sanhedrin and the Romans. Then he made his way to Jerusalem by way of Jericho to be suicided.

      • Robert Browning
        Robert Browning says:

        Then as now Jews had certain expectations of their messiah. The Jews expected their messiah to enslave their enemies. Jews expected their messiah to enslave the non-Jew. Christ taught and preached forgiveness of ones enemies and peace making. Christ was killed because he refused to enslave the non-Jews for the benefit of the Jews and for no other reason. That is why the Jews killed him. That is why the Jews hate him and that is why the Jews hate every last Christian on this earth to this very day. Christ would not satisfy Jew demands so you Jews killed him. Goddamned you.

  4. QET
    QET says:

    You have to somehow prevent recurrence of the New Hampshire phenomenon. New Hampshire was for a long time a reliable bastion of “red state” (to use the current designator) sensibility. Massachusetts liberals began colonizing southern New Hampshire in search of lower housing prices and zero income taxes. They have turned the State’s Congressional delegation blue and are on the way to doing the same with the state legislature. Texas, too, appears like it might succumb to blue scale. Over at the Law & Liberty site, a professor from Boise State University describes how blue scale has covered that institution. If Idaho isn’t safe, nowhere is.

    • MMinLamesa
      MMinLamesa says:

      Texas is a long way from flipping but none the less, it is definitely heading that way.

      I moved to a solid red CO in 1970. I moved out of a pale blue CO to w Texas in 2014. I’m getting off of as much of the grid as possible for what time I have left.

      • Epaminondas
        Epaminondas says:

        The only thing that’s wet are the policies of the GOP establishment and its handmaidens in the Democrat party. Go shackle yourself to the Bush family and take a trip to political oblivion.

      • Brendan Doran
        Brendan Doran says:

        You will not give us a moment’s peace on anything, anywhere.
        Codevilla is simply moving the inevitable clash with such people as yourselves into the Center.
        Which is where Codevilla actually is…

        And he’s so right that this is about being smug towards your presumed inferiors.
        Tell me: even this moment you are thinking I need to be “educated” …yes?

        • mabele
          mabele says:

          On the contrary, what’s clear to me is that you folks think, and have probably always thought, that you’re the folks who know everything better than everyone else. It’s actually supremely ironic – the folks in flyover country complaining about how the “coastal elites” have been looking down on them for years, now revealing themselves as the True Elites chosen to school (and scold) the rest of us benighted scum and lead us to the Promised Land – i.e., Kansas On Steroids.

          Please don’t pretend you don’t think you’re morally superior to at least 60-70% of your fellow Americans – your own “smugness” is so obvious it practically drips off the metaphorical page.

          People like you are just looking for an excuse to start shooting and incarcerating your opponents. Like I said, it’s your wet dream, and your responses just confirm it.

          • Brendan Doran
            Brendan Doran says:

            Madam. We are not pursuing you into cake shops, pizza parlors, bathrooms, attempting to seize our property through taxes and ‘health care’ and all the rest.

            We are not attempting to disarm you but you to disarm us.
            That only ever means you want the other party helpless. Given your natures and your record you can only mean us harm.

            We have not made trade deals and regulations to destroy our nations industries.

            We are not calling all of you rapists.
            We are not pursuing you for your rather rabid anti white racism.
            We are not marching into your churches demanding you marry whatever and whoever you demand.

            We did not open the borders to tens of millions of aliens who are indeed refugees from their own lands because they’re losers not wanted at home either.

            We have not turned the society inside out.

            We are not tearing down your statues and desecrating the graves of your ancestors.

            In summary we have done you no harm but you have done great harm to us.

            As to your conclusions on what we will do next: This is true – WE ARE SICK TO DEATH OF YOU.

            SICK TO DEATH.

            You might try leaving us alone.
            I doubt you can but you can try.

            Live and let live means leave others alone.
            Your faction isn’t capable of leaving others alone – so we’ll see what happens next.

          • Ward Dorrity
            Ward Dorrity says:

            Classic case of projection.

            “Accuse others of what you do…”
            V. I. Lenin

            We’ve asked you nicely – too nicely IMHO – to stop drilling holes in the boat. We’re done asking.

          • mabele
            mabele says:

            It’s not the ordinary Democratic voters in coastal states having discussions on the Internet about how to start a civil war. It’s actually you guys, as demonstrated on this thread. The projectors projecting by accusing everyone else of projection, LOL.

          • Aesop
            Aesop says:

            Our side has most of the hundreds of millions of guns in this country; if we were “just looking for an excuse”, your side would have been exterminated decades ago.
            Yet the two counties where 51% of the murders occur annually in this country aren’t in heavily-armed flyover lands like Kansas, they’re in Chicago and Los Angeles counties, both long-time anti-gun and Democrat controlled strongholds for decades.

            As otherwise noted, the genocide you project only always happens under statist Leftism, since forever, to the tune of over 100M people murdered by their ruling “betters” in just the last century alone.

            So your hack answer is clearly nonsense.

            Take another whack at it this time using actual facts and reason, rather than trying to emote your way to prove the point, and projecting your own fantasies onto those you consider opponents and enemies.
            it didn’t work with “Russian collusion”, and it certainly won’t work this time either.

          • mabele
            mabele says:

            Again, when folks start equating Canada or Western Europe or New Zealand with Maoist China or Soviet Russia, there’s not much likelihood of having a rational conversation.

            The fact remains that in America right now folks like you are dreaming of starting a civil war and killing off the half of the country that doesn’t vote the way you think it should. You’re doing so right now, right here. Despite all your talk about how the left is habitual doing it. My original comment about how it’s your wet dream was absolutely on the money.

        • mabele
          mabele says:

          People who put a country like New Zealand or Norway into the same socioeconomic category as Soviet Russia or Mao’s China are the ones ignorant of history. Young Americans see that and are well on the way to becoming the most “Communist” voting group in the country.

          And of course, they are the future.

      • Aesop
        Aesop says:

        Of the two sides, which one has taken to the streets wanting to hit, beat, burn, and tear down all who oppose them?
        Antifa is your side’s spawn, not the Right’s, and you’ve been throwing a societal hissyfit for 16 months non-stop because you can’t deal with reality.
        If you’re going to start accusing people of wet dreams, start with your own Special Snowflakes.

        • mabele
          mabele says:

          Antifa is like the folks in Charlottesville, a tiny group of far left crazies who have little if any support among the bulk of ordinary Democratic voters, regardless of your persistent desire to believe otherwise.

          You guys are looking for excuses to go after folks who’ve done nothing to you, because it’s really them – the half of the country that leads their own quiet humdrum lives but votes differently than you – who repesent the real long-term threat rather than Antifa.

          • D8532110
            D8532110 says:

            Suppose that there were a movement to exterminate that “tiny group of far left crazies”. Everyone knows that they deserve it. Yet “the bulk of ordinary Democratic voters” would rush to their rescue anyway, more or less as “ordinary” Cuban leftists aided and abetted Castro’s rise to power by fighting in the west of Cuba before the triumphal journey of Castro and other “far left crazies” to Havanna.

            Let’s admit also that “the half of the country that leads their own quiet humdrum lives” votes their leftist enmity, their leftist malice, and their leftist aggression every two years. So your remark about “folks who’ve done nothing to you” is childish b.s.

            P.S. You must imagine that every atheist in America would stand at your side, or stay out of the fight, during a civil war. That’s a fine fantasy which I encourage you not to abandon.

          • mabele
            mabele says:

            I think your post is childish BS. Yes, most people are relatively non-political and lead their own humdrum lives and do not vote out of “malice”, no matter how much you would love to imagine that they do so that you have a reason to hate them. Maybe you’re the one voting, and posting, out of “malice”, and all that’s going on here is that you’re projecting.

  5. E. +Goldstein
    E. +Goldstein says:

    The left will start a war. It is what leftists do. They can no more help being killers than a coral snake. When they have killed Christians off, they will turn upon each other. Murder and the left always go together. The left is at perpetual war with life, because they hate living. Death is what they seek for others and themselves.

  6. BCML
    BCML says:

    A load of rubbish. America bought a load of BS from a consummate BS chucker from Queens. End of story. Civil war??? Over what??

  7. Jo Jo Cintia
    Jo Jo Cintia says:

    That John Galt is a damn coward. Retreat from an inferior parasite? Ridiculous.
    500,000 White Men rise up and this is OVER IN A WEEK or TEN DAYS.

    • D8532110
      D8532110 says:

      A problem with your idea is the absence of 500k disciplined, organized “White Men”. Military vets hardly count, and the 500k would need to be united by substance greater than churlish commercial interest. Trinitarian cult doesn’t count at all as the needed substance, for its own divisions and incoherency are so extreme that we ought to expect a faction of 500k Trinitarians too unstable to be maintained long enough to achieve decisive victory over the egalitarians, humanists, and communists. Further, any semblance of victory would precipitate another religious war among irreconcilable factions of Trinitarian theocrats.

  8. OkieSteve
    OkieSteve says:

    For some time it’s been evident that a substantial part of the elites of the West hate Western Civilization in general and America in particular. That these are not the poor and downtrodden but the most affluent and educated classes in their respective countries seems seriously weird.
    I believe I can explain it – or rather Abraham Lincoln with help from Francis Bacon and Abraham Maslow have explained it. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nqk7_e5Pv4c&t=30s

  9. Frostyd
    Frostyd says:

    We’ve been running away for decades and if anyone thinks the solution is to run away again.

    Then do it. F’n cowards gave everything away and now want to run away yet again.

  10. David Frisk
    David Frisk says:

    It’s disappointing to see such a clear thinker as Codevilla all but endorsing the Benedict Option.

    • Aesop
      Aesop says:

      He’s not endorsing it, he argues for the opposite, but acknowledges the ultimate futility of engagement, and the overwhelming probability of open conflict on the present course despite our best efforts.
      Civilization requires willing participants, and half the society currently wants to enslave the other half, for enslavement’s own sake.

      That never ends well.

      Put another way, you’re saying “It’s disappointing to see such a clear thinker as Codevilla all but endorsing the idea that the iceberg is dead ahead of the Titanic, that it presents a problem, and it’s too ate to avoid the collision.”
      Knowing that, you still turn the wheel for all you’re worth, but you keep your life vest and a warm coat handy, and an eye on the shortest path to the boats.

  11. Bill in Tennessee
    Bill in Tennessee says:

    When I raise the specter of a second American civil war, my conservative friends (mostly right-of-center and just wanting to get along with their lives) look at me with horror and talk about “conspiracy theories.” Denial helps them not think about what we’re up against. And once I mentioned the possibility to a couple of liberal musicians I occasionally play with, and got the predictable pooh-pooh “that’ll-never-happen” line because… well, just because it’s “unthinkable.” I just keep my powder dry and await what will happen.

  12. GenEarly
    GenEarly says:

    Gonna build a wall around Kalyfornia?????
    Illegals move freely across the country, Duh. So much for “acceptance of Kaly’s Insanity as just letting them “do their thing”.

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