The FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago last week offers the latest evidence that we live in a post-normative political era. While the Biden campaign promised a return to civility and respect for long-established norms of American democracy, the Biden Administration has delivered neither, and has only accelerated their further erosion.
While prior periods in American history have witnessed extreme polarization—the country did fight a Civil War in which approximately 750,000 people, or 2.5 percent of the population, perished—perhaps never before have we been so opposed to one another over so little, as we face no proximate external threat, contest no significant moral issue like slavery or civil rights, and arguably remain the wealthiest and most powerful country in human history.
Both major political parties are broken in their own way, and yet we are effectively a 50/50 nation. Upon gaining power, the Democratic and Republican parties both use the slightest of majorities to advance policy agendas incapable of earning the other side’s support—nor is such cooperation even sought. A period of one-party primacy—the stuff of real mandates, not contrived ones following narrow electoral victories—will be necessary to transcend this stagnant era of insalubrious stalemate.
One Party Must Die
I am by no means alone in calling for a realigning breakthrough by one of the major parties—akin to William McKinley’s Republican victory in 1900, or that of FDR’s Democratic victory in 1932—but most of the mainstream punditocracy desiring this has (unsurprisingly) called for the Democrats to be that party. To quote The Economist, “The Republican Party may be unreformable (even without Donald Trump).” Francis Fukuyama, of The End of History fame (which incidentally never seems to arrive), recently said that conservatives in America today represent “an existential threat to American liberal democracy.”
Forgive me if I beg to differ. Notwithstanding the predilections of the institutional Left, political dynamism rooted in public policy designed to actually improve people’s lives currently resides within only one of the two major parties, and it’s not the party of Johnny Reb, Jim Crow, and World War II internment camps.
The Democrats, under a current spell of authoritarianism cloaked as progressivism, are too steeped in illiberal dogma—comprised of a suddenly inevitable green “energy transition,” woke corporatism, anti-racism, open borders, and defunding the police, among myriad other idiocies—to offer a serious policy platform. The only consistent threads in this dog’s breakfast of a governing philosophy are a religious devotion to collectivism, a love for humanity coincident with a distaste for actual people, and a commitment to national suicide. The Democratic Party’s sordid political history and baleful present makes it deserving of nothing so much as an ignominious and painful demise.
I’d prefer to focus my energies on the party actually having something worth saving, the Republican Party. Its way forward combines both “old” and “new” conservatism, invigorated by policies developed in the national interest, and tactics devised to win elections and govern effectively.
I term it a “post-MAGA” agenda primarily because it’s not “about” Trump per se, although he certainly and credibly has adopted much of the platform detailed below, with one critical exception. The policy agenda detailed here is theoretically available to anyone, including a third party (Forward?) or even a political movement animated by centrist Democrats (who are not to be confused with today’s Democratic Party). “Post-MAGA” also signifies a degree of seriousness which jettisons the sloganeering and meme-based takes the “New Right” has woefully imported from the online Left, which substitute bumper-sticker sentiments for critical thinking and compelling policy.
This blueprint has five primary tenets:
Affirm bedrock, traditional Republican positions. On reducing taxes and the size of government, reining in the administrative and regulatory state, maintaining American military dominance, appointing originalist jurists, and prioritizing public safety and the rule of law, conventional Republican policies should continue to command overwhelming support within the Republican base and attract centrist and independent voters who have become all-too-familiar with the catastrophic results of contrary policies (Chesa Boudin, call your office).
Augment orthodox Republican policies with a deeper commitment to certain populist/nationalist positions adopted by the MAGA movement. The electoral tide that won Donald Trump the 2016 Republican nomination and presidential election did not represent a repudiation of traditional Republican policies, nor did it even really supplement them. Rather, a heightened focus on border enforcement, fair trade, equal application of the law, affirmation of civic culture, educational policies focused on actual learning, and a commitment to 10th Amendment federalism and powers proper to the states, advanced positions supported by the right-of-center electorate but only half-heartedly advocated by Republican candidates, and actually sought to implement them.
Reject cults of personality. I didn’t care for it with President Obama, and I don’t much like it with President (and potential future candidate) Trump, either.Even the most inspiring and effective leaders are fallible, and parties that adapt their convictions to the caprice of a popular leader risk supporting nothing beyond that individual’s self-aggrandizement.
Engage the culture. The greatest error of the Republican Party in my lifetime is its increasingly attenuated relationship with the culture. Taking the position that a consumerist and relativistic society is anathema to the “traditional values” championed by Republican candidates and officeholders and cherished by its base, successive generations of party leaders have disengaged from a cultural milieu they perceive as debased. Having done so, they’ve ceded ground to and largely abandoned the institutions of actual American life—schools, sports, entertainment, the media, and so on. Don’t take your ball and go home—make your case.
Compete like the New England Patriots, not the Washington Generals. A consistent theme in polls asking Republican voters why they supported Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 (and may yet again) was encapsulated in two simple words: he fights. The success of the Democrats in the 20th century is attributable to their success in defining effective governance as a function of how much government does, as opposed to what it actually delivers. Having failed to understand that, the Republicans countered with “more responsible,” “us too, only less” policies that conceded the definition of progress to the other side. A confident, ideas-laden party must learn to hang fire and take the incoming flak while confidently advancing its agenda.
Not only is this blueprint good policy, it’s good politics. Polling over at least the last year suggests many demographics tantalizingly within reach—including Latinos and African American men—are repulsed by the manifold failures of the Biden Administration, and are open-minded about a policy agenda that prioritizes their well-being and not that of special interests or faraway elites. The Biden interregnum has been a demonstration project for all voters as to what occurs when unbound progressive fantasies are actually implemented. The early returns are in, and they’re not good.
Moreover, this complement of policies presents the opportunity to manifest this citizen’s long-held vision of a multiethnic (not a multicultural) democratic republic, in service of all and invigorated by both American-born and immigrant citizens—many of whom have fled countries promoting the soul-destroying collectivism now ascendant on the American Left.
Not only will a post-MAGA platform offer a tangible opportunity for electoral success, the coherence of its governing philosophy—perhaps most appropriately characterized as classical liberalism mugged by reality—is essential to fortify our national project, and protect it from enemies both foreign and domestic in an increasingly dangerous world.