Today marks the second anniversary of the launch of American Greatness. In the heat of the election of 2016, it was clear that there was a need for a journal to make sense of events in our current political moment. The old categories and the old labels were inadequate to explain what was happening in our politics.
The founding editors reflect on what they’ve learned so far and what challenges and opportunities might lie ahead.
What We’re Fighting For: A Restoration of Real Politics
Two years ago, when I—along with my colleagues Ben Boychuk and Chris Buskirk—founded American Greatness, we had every expectation that it would be a success. My optimism on behalf of our effort was grounded in the dearth of commentary on the right that took seriously the nature of our conflict with the Left as one of competing understandings of the nature of free government.
The disagreements between Right and Left are not merely disputes about policy—though differences in policy are to be expected when people disagree about the fundamentals of just and free government. Instead, we are now confronted with a situation wherein a substantial portion of our fellow citizens refuses to abide by the form of government to which Americans, through their solemn ratified consent, remain bound.
Of course, citizens can be forgiven for confusing polity disputes with policy disputes (and even for equating them) when those they elect to represent their opinions and interests have outsourced the work of legislating and instead have opted to exploit our policy differences for the purpose of clinging to the sinecures and perks of office, to say nothing of the imagined prestige that office bestows. When real political power and responsibility is eschewed for “fake” political preening and basking in the limelight, the possibility for real politics is nearly gone.
At least, that’s how it seemed until 2016 when the great American political disruption came. And though it took a man of Donald Trump’s chutzpah to tap into that movement of the people and encourage it to flow, Trump did not create it. It was there beneath the surface for at least 20 years, waiting to be mobilized.
I did not predict that Trump could be the one to do it. Nor did I appreciate him and see what he was doing when he first began his efforts. Neither did I necessarily trust him once I saw what he was doing. But at some point during those primaries, it became clear to me that he was the only candidate who was willing to try and that therefore, he was all we had. That was argument enough to support him. And in the last two years, my appreciation for his efforts has only increased. He is not perfect. But he is better, perhaps, than we had any reason to hope or expect.
With that great disruption of 2016 came confusion and opportunity; and making sense of that confusion and the most of our collective political opportunity has been the work of this journal. We believe America now has a chance to restore real politics and deliberation to our national life. We are eager, not only to expound on the policies and procedures we think would best promote the nation’s safety and happiness, but to listen to the wants and needs of its sovereign people. We want to restore deliberation to the political process. No one class of people has a monopoly on understanding what is best for the American people.
In removing politics from the hands of the American people, the Left and its elite enablers on the right, have been engaged in an attack on the people’s sovereignty and, therefore, on the legitimacy of their own designs to rule. There is no just government without the consent of the governed and Americans can, and must, be a self-governing people. When we elevate policy concerns (which, after all, are mere reflections of opinion and interest) to the level of these fundamental questions upon which we stake America’s legitimacy, we end up instead negating it. Americans are allowed to decide what kinds of laws they want governing them, even if self-appointed experts think the people choose wrong.
Though it pains these poobahs to accept it, there is no legitimate shortcut to political power. They have to persuade a majority that they are right if they want to get their way.
We hope that in reading this journal, perhaps some of our political adversaries (and former friends) will remember how to do that and come around to join us. We do not have to agree about which policies are best in all circumstances in order to agree about the most important thing: who gets to decide which policies carry the day.
—Julie Ponzi, Senior Editor
Disruption Isn’t “Conservative”—But It’s What America Needs
Although we’re often described as a “Trumpist” journal (don’t call us a blog!) and we have been lambasted from time to time as water-carriers for the current administration, the truth is American Greatness has never been about Donald Trump first and foremost.
We viewed Trump as an opportunity—a means to an end. Trump’s unlikely candidacy and victory was an opportunity to shake up an ossified political movement, to ask awkward questions, to unsettle settled assumptions, and to revitalize politics.
In short, Trump represented a much-needed disruption of the bipartisan status quo.
With Trump, the ground shifted. But many “professional conservatives” either didn’t see it or refused to believe what they were seeing. Two years later, they’re still as blinkered as ever.
We saw it, though. (Some of us saw it earlier than others.) We saw it and were thrilled at the possibilities. Read our “Declaration of Independence from the Conservative Movement,” published a week after we launched quietly (on my birthday, as it happened). What we wrote in the summer of 2016 remains true today:
The soil of the conservative movement is exhausted. It needs fertilization, re-sowing, and diligent cultivation if it is to thrive again. And while we will always owe a debt to the giants of the movement who have gone before us, we cannot slavishly attempt to relive the politics of 40 years ago.
We also asserted that “We hold no brief for any particular candidate or policy prescription . . . We can be neither vindicated nor embarrassed by the personal successes or failures of any candidate or collection of them in this or any other election year.”
That’s also true. Understand: If Trump had lost in 2016, we wouldn’t have closed up shop. We would have kept forging ahead. Why us? Well, why not us? The standard-bearers on the Right and among the Republican establishment would have learned all the wrong lessons. They would have continued to recite from the same old checklist. (As many of them still do.) They would have been utterly impotent, almost entirely ineffective, and altogether insufferable in the face of the crisis—even more so than they are now, if you can imagine it.
We really don’t need those old scolds and finger-waggers lecturing people on cable about civility and “who we are.”
Rather than a rehash of the same tired ideological pieties, we very much need a heaping dose of heresy.
Heresy, to give a basic dictionary definition, is “belief or opinion opposed to a generally accepted view.” Among think-tank conservatives, it’s a generally accepted view that “free trade” is always good and “protectionism” is always bad. It’s a generally accepted view that only illegal aliens will do jobs that Americans won’t. It’s a generally accepted view that the United States is somehow obliged, in John F. Kennedy’s words, to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” In practice, that’s meant open-ended military commitments in dozens of countries around the globe with nary a victory in sight.
If questioning or rejecting those generally accepted views qualify as heresy, then let’s have more of it. Sometimes old conventions need to die. Sometimes what “influencers” consider “normal” is really poisonous to the body politic. And let’s remember, too, in the history of our politics, often what seems unusual or abnormal becomes normal over time.
Let’s face it: Trump is a disruptor and disruption is not a “conservative” principle. But under the circumstances, disruption is exactly what the country needs to secure to ourselves and to our posterity the blessings of liberty. Disruption is the prescription for renewed American greatness.
—Ben Boychuk, Managing Editor
Our Goal Isn’t Just to Yell “Stop”—It’s To Win
Will we govern ourselves based on reflection and choice or will our political constitution depend upon accident and force? It’s the question with which Alexander Hamilton opened his first essay advocating the adoption of the new constitution. It’s the question that is urgently before us again today.
We do not live under the constitutional system ratified in 1787 and we haven’t for many years. Before the New Deal, most major political questions in the United States were framed as constitutional issues. But the Progressives imported disdain for the written constitution, believing that it was an impediment to the broad, sunlit uplands they always see just over the horizon rather than a bulwark against tyranny and a strong defense of our individual and collective liberties.
Since then, latter-day progressives have adopted logical and rhetorical contortions that would make a sophist blush in order to justify running roughshod over the Constitution that was adopted to ensure defense against just such exertions of arbitrary power.
As Ryszard Legutko has written, “There is a belief in the unilateralism of history, leading inevitably and triumphantly to the era of perpetual peace, or, in other terms, to the refinement of commerce and cooperation that humanity will reach due to the victory of freedom over tyranny.”
Progressives and the heirs of the Whig historical tradition on the Right believe this is the case. But human nature and human history conspire to demonstrate it is not. Instead, the defense of human liberty is a constant struggle that is rarely won. Victory is never permanent.
You don’t need an extensive knowledge of history to know that Western civilization generally, and the American constitutional order in particular, have achieved something rare indeed. It has done more good for more people than any country has done before it.
But that order is slipping away. As the Roman Republic was ending, Cicero wrote, “Our age, however, inherited the Republic like some beautiful painting of bygone days, its colors already fading through great age; and not only has our time neglected to freshen the colors of the picture, but we have failed to preserve its form and outlines.” His lament sounds too familiar today.
The pace of decline quickened between Reagan and Trump. Whether that decline has been arrested or merely paused is yet to be decided. It will depend upon what we do now and in the years to come. We aim not only to halt that decline but to rebuild.
It was with that understanding that we started American Greatness in 2016, wanting to add our voices to the chorus that have answered “Yes!”
When the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile in Babylon they rebuilt the city’s walls. The entire third chapter of the book of Nehemiah is given to recording the names of the people who rebuilt the wall in sections. That’s what we’re doing here at American Greatness. We’re rebuilding one section of the wall.
What’s our goal? It’s not just to yell “stop.” It’s to win. And we do that by building. American Greatness is one of a handful of new institutions that will build a better, more durable American future of liberty and prosperity. And we’re enjoying every second of it. Thanks for being a part of it.
—Chris Buskirk, Editor and Publisher
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