America’s Brilliant Political Orphans

For the millions of Americans who over the years have been impressed with Tulsi Gabbard’s courage and authenticity, even if not in agreement with all of her positions on some important issues, her decision to denounce the Democratic Party was a welcome development.

What’s not to like in this statement?

I can no longer remain in today’s Democratic Party that is now under the complete control of an elitist cabal of warmongers driven by cowardly wokeness, who divide us by racializing every issue and stoke anti-white racism, actively work to undermine our God-given freedoms, are hostile to people of faith and spirituality, demonize the police and protect criminals at the expense of law-abiding Americans, believe in open borders, weaponize the national security state to go after political opponents, and above all, are dragging us ever closer to nuclear war.

Gabbard characterized the Democratic Party as standing for “a government of, by, and for the powerful elite.” Gabbard is now a political orphan, and she’s not alone.

An emerging group of politicians and public intellectuals agree on key economic and social issues, yet cannot find a home in either major political party. Their ideology, while embracing a kind of libertarian ideal of limited government, stops short of embracing the Libertarian Party as an alternative.

Another example of a rising politician and well-established intellectual who fits this profile is Michael Shellenberger, a Californian who has twice run for governor and is the author of two important books. Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never, published in 2020, makes a strong case that there is not a climate “crisis,” and that policies supposedly designed to mitigate it are doing more harm than good. San Fransicko, published a year later, indicts progressive politicians for choosing policies that have only aggravated the homeless crisis.

Shellenberger offers comprehensive research and commentary on both woke politics and climate politics. He reports on the growing catastrophe caused by systematic divestment out of conventional energy—natural gas, oil, and nuclear—at the same time as he has produced valuable investigations into the destructive impact of homeless policies that don’t recognize and treat pervasive mental illness but instead sink billions of dollars into providing expensive housing with no behavioral conditions for occupancy.

One of Shellenberger’s most recent essays, published at Substack, is called “The Quiet Desperation of Woke Fanatics.” It is a convincing and unflattering description of the psychology of climate activists and woke activists. Citing Eric Hoffer’s 1951 classic The True Believer, Shellenberger describes the mentality of the woke and the climate activists:

They are frustrated, needy, and lonely. They are in the grip of nihilism and wounded, narcissistically. They are spiritual seekers and creative failures. They have both a strong need to feel special, and powerful, but also to lose themselves in the group. They are people who desperately want to get away from having to deal with themselves and the confrontation with inner demons required for personal growth.

These emotionally unstable fanatics are the people being opportunistically used to drive the agenda of Democrats and Republicans alike. This alienated minority has been mainstreamed and legitimized by every established American institution to further the agenda of what Gabbard so aptly describes as “a government of, by, and for the powerful elite.” Catering to their intricate demands requires new laws and regulations which cause small businesses to fail, enable corporate consolidation, raise the cost of living, and undermine social cohesion. No wonder so many people have lost trust in American institutions. No wonder we have so many political orphans.

Another political orphan is Joel Kotkin, a prolific writer who has quietly leveraged his expertise on urban geography and demographics to become a respected analyst covering global political and economic trends. Kotkin, who like Shellenberger and Gabbard was once a Democrat, claims that “our society is being reduced to a feudal state.” In his 2020 book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, he warns “the middle-class is becoming one of property-less serfs, while the ‘expert’ class of the clerisy and the tech oligarchs take over.”

While Kotkin was one of the first to describe what’s coming as “feudal,” a critical differentiating issue for him concerns urban planning. Kotkin, along with economist Randal O’Toole (the “Anti-Planner”), correctly identifies environmentalist inspired “urban containment,” where “greenbelts” or “urban service boundaries” are imposed to limit the expansion of cities, as a primary reason for a housing shortage and unaffordable homes.

America’s Kaleidoscopic, Multiethnic Political Orphanage

Ruy Teixeira is an American political scientist who made a name for himself in 2002 with a book he co-wrote with John B. Judis called The Emerging Democratic Majority. An accurate summary of Teixeira’s argument reduces to this: Republicans are racist against nonwhites, who are demographically destined to become a voting majority, therefore Democrats inevitably will become the dominant political party in America. Twenty years later, Democrats cling to Teixeira’s theory more than ever, which is why, according to Gabbard (herself of Samoan descent), they “racialize every issue and stoke anti-white racism.”

A dazzling repudiation of Teixeria’s condescending prediction is found in Vivek Ramaswamy, a 37-year-old Ohio native of Indian descent who has made a fortune as founder of several successful technology and biotech companies. Turning to politics, Ramaswamy’s two most recent books have self-explanatory titles: Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, published in 2021, and Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence, published this year.

One of Ramaswamy’s biggest targets of late is the ESG criteria (environmental, social, governance) that is impelling corporations to incorporate woke ideology and climate activism into their products, their marketing, and their investments. Critical of everything from internal “racial equity audits” to external divestment in combustible fuels, Ramaswamy maintains that the ESG movement is the opposite of the “free market” it purports to merely harness, and sees it instead as an authoritarian power grab.

Recently, Teixeira published a new essay titled “A Three Point Plan To Fix the Democrats and Their Coalition.” Perhaps finally recognizing that even industrial scale race baiting isn’t turning out to be enough to turn America into a one-party state, Teixeira’s three points are 1) move to the center on cultural issues, 2) promote an abundance agenda, and 3) embrace patriotism and liberal nationalism. These are good suggestions, but the Democrats will never be able to fulfill them in ways that voters will find meaningful.

Consider the most prohibitively difficult of Teixeira’s three points, to “promote an abundance agenda.” It is impossible to achieve that goal without recognizing that “renewables” are at least 50 years away from replacing coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear power. To reiterate a cold fact that never loses its potency, if everyone on earth consumed half as much energy, per capita, as Americans consume, global energy production would have to more than double. Wind and solar power today provides less than three percent of total energy produced worldwide. So-called renewable energy production cannot be expanded quickly enough to meet the legitimate demands of nations around the world whose citizens aspire to prosperity, and even if it ever could achieve the necessary scale, it would cause environmental havoc.

A proponent of fossil fuel, who just published a book aptly named Fossil Future, is writer and philosopher Alex Epstein. Beginning with the premise that fossil fuels are a nonnegotiable necessity, Epstein argues that fossil fuels have provided the abundant and affordable energy that has enabled civilization to thrive, and that more fossil fuel development is necessary to ensure “human flourishing” into the future.

Epstein is right. Along with a growing number of climate and energy realists—Judith Curry, Kenneth Haapala, Bjorn Lomborg, Steve Milloy, Jo NovaAnthony Watts, Gregory Wrightstone, to name a few—Epstein argues that “the media’s designated experts have made wildly wrong predictions about fossil fuels, climate, and renewables for the last fifty years,” and “the benefits of fossil fuels will continue to far outweigh their side effects—including climate impacts—for generations to come.”

These noteworthy individuals, along with thousands of other politicians and intellectuals, and millions of American voters, have become alienated from the Democratic Party. But what about the Republicans? Couldn’t the GOP offer these people a home?

The answer is, unfortunately, not yet. First, the Republican Party has to be purged of RINOs like Mitt Romney. Matt Taibbi, an investigative journalist of extraordinary integrity who has evolved, like Shellenberger, from a progressive idealist to a political orphan, aptly described Romney in his 2012 expose for Rolling Stone titled “Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.” If the story of the Democrats is how they moved from a center-left party of the working man to a party controlled by neolibs and neocons, the story of the Romney Republicans is that they have been neolibs and neocons all along.

Mitt Romney, and every other Republican politician of his ilk, never saw an ESG rule they didn’t like, nor a climate emergency mandate they didn’t support. Until the Romney Republicans are either gone or are reduced to a compliant minority in a party that has decisively overcome these anti-human, corporatist creeds, that are written and enforced to benefit a powerful elite, RINO Republicans will only create more political orphans, not attract them.

Which brings us to Trump, and Trumpism, or MAGA, a phenomenon bigger than Trump himself. Tom Klingenstein, chairman of the Claremont Institute, delivered a speech in August titled “Trump’s Virtues.” In his remarks, he states, “you cannot fight a war until you know you are in one,” and gives Trump credit for making that clear to Americans.

Klingenstein’s speech defending Trump deserves careful scrutiny by any political orphan afraid of America’s drift towards authoritarianism camouflaged with woke and climate emergency rhetoric. The civil war in the Republican Party between the Romney RINOs and the MAGA movement is one in which both contenders may alienate America’s brilliant political orphans, but it is not something for them to watch with indifference. The premises of the MAGA movement share too much with the premises they also support to be dismissed.

The very recent ascendancy of political orphans like Gabbard, Shellenberger, Kotkin, Ramaswamy, and Epstein, is something to be encouraged. They are speaking for what is indeed a silent majority of Americans, silenced by the media, by their professors and teachers, by a saturation bombardment of woke corporate messaging, and by politicians that are either completely in the grip of woke ideology and climate activism, or too cowardly to resist. These rising stars and countless others who will join them will not be silenced, and they will channel the sentiments and answer the prayers of Americans who have had no voice and no champions.

How America’s movement of political orphans grows, what shape it will take, and who or what it will align itself with, shall be most interesting. If they coalesce into a united movement, it will inevitably grow to rival America’s ruling elites in political power.

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).

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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