Conservative Victory Requires Overcoming Popular Fantasies

It will take more than a disastrous performance by Joe Biden for conservatives to win back control of the U.S. House and Senate in 2022, and retake the presidency in 2024. For conservatives to get their country back, they will have to build a coalition that brings together NeverTrumpers, libertarians, social conservatives, economic nationalists, millions of independents, and moderate Democrats.

Defining an agenda that ought to appeal to all of these groups is actually the easier part. It just requires courage combined with tact. Reject, with Reaganesque grace rather than Trumpian bluster, all the nihilistic absurdities of left-wing Democrats. Reject them categorically.

For example: We will not enforce quotas based on race or gender. Anywhere. We will not tolerate curricula that teach K-12 students that America is inherently oppressive. We will take back our city streets and, if necessary, conscript homeless, willfully unemployed, able-bodied substance abusers into a national service. We will control our borders and protect American jobs. We will have realistic energy policies that embrace an all-of-the-above strategy, recognizing that fossil fuel and nuclear power are essential to our economic health.

These pivotal issues involve a clear-eyed approach to the twin pillars of leftist thought: Fighting oppression and fighting climate change. They are both tools to cause further centralization of wealth and power, they are both massive exaggerations of facts, and both exploit primal emotions of envy, resentment, and fear. The challenge for conservatives is to unite to expose identity politics and extreme environmentalism as frauds, and replace them with common sense.

This is a tough challenge. RINOs, opportunists, and well-meaning but thoroughly indoctrinated people of all ideologies will have to be painstakingly convinced. But it isn’t the biggest challenge conservatives face. That would be the meaning of nationalism, and how nationalism should inform our understanding of the size and role of the federal government.

Envying the Chinese Model

Nationalism, patriotism, and even liberty are words the Left has attempted, with some success, to taint as anachronistic if not downright evil. This is the first hurdle: Should nations exist in the 21st century? According to the corporate leftist establishment, the answer is no. Their goal is a global community, run by a globalist oligarchy, with supra-national institutions managing and allocating resources. Responding effectively to the vision of corporate globalism is subtle. Corporate globalism, for all its pretensions of transnationalism, is actually just a variant of explicitly Western values and traditions, with roots that go back centuries.

The phenomenon of oligarchy and rule by elites is a defining feature of Western nations, including the United States, for most of its history. The conflict between individualism and collectivism, even as expressed in modern terms, goes back at least 200 years. The clash of values between imperial ambition and a philanthropic sense of obligation was well established and ongoing throughout the Pax Britannica. Globalism today, functionally understood, is the American Empire. It is nationalism writ large.

Conservatives who want to attract a majority of the American electorate have to confront this reality. The American Left, to the chagrin of its more idealistic and savvy observers, has become the prime instrument of the global American empire. Their electoral majority, however dubious, is their claim to legitimacy. Their commitment to fighting race and gender oppression, paired with their commitment to eliminating use of fossil fuel, are, respectively, their international weapons of cultural and economic imperialism. So what alternatives can conservatives offer?

In answering this, another unavoidable reality must be faced: the rise of a rival superpower, China, ruled by a regime that is as implacably committed to world domination as it is prepared to take centuries to achieve that goal. There is a clash of civilizations in the world, and the prevailing antagonists are the United States and China. This may seem counterintuitive. If the United States and China are in conflict, why is America’s corporate leftist establishment selling their souls to China?

As Lee Smith eloquently and accurately observed in his recent essay “The Thirty Tyrants,” American globalists envy the Chinese model. The fascist ease with which China can command its economy and its people appeals to the American ruling class. And getting access to the Chinese market while attracting Chinese investment in the United States is a lucrative game. But it won’t last. China and the United States are on a collision course.

Conservatives who think it will not matter if China gradually replaces the United States as the economic and military hegemon in the world have not thought it through. The idea that America would survive in a world where China controlled every supply chain ought to have been demolished when the COVID-19 pandemic exposed our dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. What about semiconductors and quantum computers? What about cobalt from West Africa, lithium from Bolivia, copper from Papua New Guinea, or dozens of other strategic minerals? America is a trading nation; a maritime power. Without access to foreign raw materials and manufactured goods, America cannot defend itself.

This goes to the heart of both the isolationist strain of America First ideology as well as to the nonaggression principle in libertarian ideology. Both are fatally flawed concepts in the real world. Once one accepts that the world is, and always has been, a Darwinian struggle between tribes, now evolved into nation-states, there is an inescapable conclusion. America will either lead an economic and military alliance that will contain China, or America will not survive as a nation.

A More Formidable Adversary

It shouldn’t be necessary to digress into a discussion of 21st century military technology to make this clear, but to be brief: The entire world is now a tactical battlespace. America is no longer protected by oceans. A single killer satellite, launched in a retrograde orbit, could sweep away every geosynchronous communications platform in about 12 hours. Weapons launched from land, air and space can destroy targets anywhere in the world in minutes. A few massive EMP pulses detonated over North America would fry every unshielded semiconductor. Cars wouldn’t run, power grids would fail, digital communications would be impossible. A genetically engineered, weaponized virus could target select cohorts of Americans, such as only those of European descent, and kill them all within days. And then there are nukes. None of this is fantasy.

During the Cold War, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction deterred a total war of annihilation. But that doctrine was buttressed by tactical military supremacy that prevented nations being dominated one by one, and falling like dominoes. China is a more formidable adversary than Russia ever was, or ever will be. It is easy to scoff at all of this. But to scoff is to indulge in wishful thinking.

Conservatives have to convince their isolationist and libertarian factions that a strong federal government and a strong military are unfortunate necessities. There is no way around it. In this day and age, an armed citizenry has zero chance of repelling invaders, once the federal military has been overwhelmed. They would be destroyed, preemptively, from orbit. You might as well have a pea shooter as an AR-15.

American nationalism in the 21st century, if it is to have any practical relevance, has to come to terms with the fact that the federal government is going to keep on doing things that violate its principles. In foreign policy, Trump coined the phrase “principled realism,” an intentionally ambiguous concept that in practice means to balance idealistic goals with realistic restraints. Its oxymoronic essence is an authentic expression of reality, and underscores the utopian futility of trying to be perpetually consistent. We do the best we can with what we have.

Principled realism is a concept that can be applied to every federal role. In principle, perhaps the federal government should not impose tariffs on unfairly subsidized imports. But in reality, keeping critical manufacturing and resource extraction industries onshore is a strategic necessity. In principle, perhaps the federal government should not award contracts to companies to research quantum computing or breakthrough aerospace technologies. But in reality, America must be preeminent in these and other critical domains.

Equal Opportunity Is the Answer

The most contentious issue of all, at least to some, is the federal spending deficit, and its consequent impact on the status of the U.S. dollar. A discussion of this requires much more than a paragraph, but some basics can be outlined here.

The U.S. dollar will remain the reserve and transaction currency in the world as long as the following conditions exist: America remains the biggest, most diverse economy on Earth, and every competing economy with the requisite critical mass to launch a rival currency has a bigger debt overhang than America does, America maintains the most robust age demographics of any developed nation on Earth, the best technology on Earth, and the best military on Earth. That is the collateral that buttresses the American dollar.

Metal-backed currencies are obsolete, as any cyber currency maven ought to know. As for the “finite” nature of cybercurrency? So what? To paraphrase Josef Stalin, how many divisions does Bitcoin have? Look to India, where cybercurrencies may be outlawed later this year, at the same time as the rupee is to be linked to a federally backed cybercurrency. There is a future for cybercurrencies, but the idea that their future isn’t eventually going to be coöpted and orchestrated by central banks is yet another fantasy.

To build a winning coalition, American conservatives also have to recognize the essentially Western character of the corporate leftist narrative on identity and environment. They have twisted it well beyond healthy proportions, but that shouldn’t obscure its legitimate core ideals. Americans and people all over the world don’t want to live in a society that is oppressive. Fighting against oppression based on race and gender is inherently justifiable. The solution, however, is not enforced “equity” of outcome. The solution can only be to offer equal opportunity.

Similarly, nobody, anywhere, wants to live on a planet that is stripped of wilderness and wildlife. But the solution is not to declare a “climate emergency” and destroy entire industries and delegitimize private property. The solution is to find a moderate balance, and reject unfounded panic.

The good news for conservatives is that so far, Joe Biden is doing everything wrong. By the millions, Biden voters are experiencing buyer’s remorse. But the conservatives have a lot of work to do before they can be assured that what they offer will attract enough support to dethrone the progressives. Facing tough facts would be a good place to start.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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