America • American Conservatism • Democrats • Donald Trump • Great America • Post • The Left

The War on The Obvious

When was the last time you were called racist? If a supporter of President Trump, it’s a safe bet the gross epithet is regularly seared upon your forehead. Always, by those who self-anoint as progressive.

Such a charge, once preserved for the truly primitive of mind, is now stamped and singed on anyone who dares to disagree with anything issuing from the left side of the political aisle.

To point out the obvious is “racist.” This week, President Trump’s blistering comments on Baltimore’s cadaverous state invited the familiar threadbare cries. Perhaps, because that city is majority-black. Or perhaps because that term is the only resort of those defending the indefensible.

Because Baltimore is indefensible. And its denizens deserve better.

President Trump’s greatest gift is his penchant for forcing his foes to defend the indefensible. Baltimore, like many Fishtowns across post-industrial America, is Hell, for the forgotten majority, at least.

Baltimore condemns its citizens with the country’s worst schools and mops up more murders than El Salvador. Its poverty rate is nearly twice the national average.

This scandal, of course, has nothing to do with a congressman’s melanin density. In the 1950s, city residents, buoyed by chrome, copper, and steel industry jobs, enjoyed a 7 percent pay bump on the average American. The number earning middle-class wages was one-fifth higher, poverty one-fifth lower than average America.

Of course, what ails Baltimore ails Youngstown, Ohio, and the burgeoning roll-call of desolate swathes that used to matter. Back when people mattered. And not just the welfare of big business and moneyed interests.

What ails Baltimore is what put Donald Trump in the White House. It is what pushed a majority of Britons to vote to leave the European Union—the economic treachery of self-serving elites who’ve run the show since the 1980s.

Which is why the comments from one man were so disappointing to read. David Simon, writer of the acclaimed TV drama “The Wire,” has nothing but contempt for the president, and spent the weekend tweet-scorching.

If one has actually watched “The Wire,” however, you would think the creator harbored (or should harbor) Trumpian sympathies.

During its glorious five-season run on HBO from 2002 to 2008, “The Wire” was a weekly pastiche of crumbling American institutions. The perils of one-party rule, the decline of newspapers, the soft bigotry of educational decline, the corrosive effects of deindustrialization, and the hopelessness of reforming a system bought and sold by the deepest of pockets.

In the third season, centered upon the tribulations of dockworkers condemned to terminal decline, union man Frank Subotka, today’s Trump Democrat, laments the loss of what once enabled the American Dream: “You know what the trouble is, Brucey? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.”

Soon after, the docks go under. And a Democratic mayor sells off the real estate to developers of upscale, yuppie apartments.

The theme is obvious. And Trumpian. And not just within Simon’s fiction.

In an essay in his book, The Wire: Truth Be Told, Simon wrote a screed presaging Tucker Carlson’s famous monologue:

Unemployed and under-employed, idle at a west Baltimore soup kitchen or dead-ended at some strip-mall cash register—these are the excess Americans. The economy staggers along without them, and without anyone in this society truly or sincerely regarding their desperation.

Ex-steelworkers and ex-longshoremen, street dealers and street addicts, and an army of young men hired to chase and jail the dealers and addicts, whores and johns and men to run the whores and coerce the johns—and all of them unnecessary and apart from the new millennium economic model that long ago declared them irrelevant.

This is the world of “The Wire,” the America left behind.

The spirit of that extract would be at home within the burgeoning circles of national conservatism. I’d imagine this journal would happily publish such work.

But for President Trump to point out Baltimore’s problems invites the charge of racism. Bernie Sanders once referred to parts of impoverished Baltimore as “a third-world country.”

Obviously, Bernie is a progressive lodestar, so his comment didn’t register among the Chatterati for whom President Trump’s mere existence tinders a Pavlovian public contempt.

And such public contempt might animate the Democratic base. But it won’t win elections. What will win is the pointing out of obvious problems, combined with the gumption actually to do something about them. President Trump hasn’t read Debrett’s on manners. So what? His voters know that.

Truth is, this why Democrats are so virulently opposed to the president. Without those seemingly intractable problems ensuring legions of lifelong Democratic voters, they have little else to offer. Their record in Baltimore says it all. And Trump-era conservatives aren’t afraid to point out the obvious.

Photo Credit: Cheryl Diaz Meyer for The Washington Post via Getty Images

American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Harry Jaffa • Post

Nationalism Is Not Enough

President Trump’s furious admonition to four extreme leftist members of Congress to educate themselves in the miseries of their ancestral homelands was met with spiteful indignation. In the media version, innocent ingenues defended their honor and their rights against a predatory, racist president.

In truth this fight is about American nationalism or patriotism versus Third World nationalism or identity politics. In brief remarks at the recent conference on National Conservatism, I asserted that a key book for understanding the issue of identity politics is The Rediscovery of America: Essays by Harry V Jaffa on the New Birth of Politics, which I co-edited with Edward J. Erler. In the words of a recent, insightful book about the late Claremont Institute political philosopher, Steven Hayward argues that Jaffa’s conservative worldview might be summarized as “patriotism is not enough. 

But that necessary condition for successful politics—patriotism—requires in addition the sufficient condition for national greatness, the most interesting part of Jaffa’s thought, that America was founded as the best possible political order, as foreshadowed in the Declaration of Independence. As Erler puts it, “Jaffa never tired of repeating, the theology of the Declaration was one of reason and revelation.”

But Jaffa was not advocating blind worship of anything. The centrality of the inquisitiveness of both philosophy and religion as key elements of this sufficient condition are presented in a thoughtful review of Rediscovery of America by David Tucker, a Jaffa student and a colleague of mine at Ashland University’s Ashbrook Center. His argument about Jaffa both complements and clashes with Erler’s and mine and is, with David Bahr’s review, a welcome addition to figuring out both the major themes and subtleties of Jaffa’s teaching.

For Tucker, the question to ask about this extraordinary thinker is “Why did Harry Jaffa change his mind?” This is no splenetic academic food-fight. At stake is how we understand our patriotism and our nationalism, and our minds and hearts.

Here’s the problem: Jaffa’s earlier book on Lincoln, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1959) was hailed by leading Civil War historians and political theorists as a dazzling achievement of scholarship and analysis. This was followed, over 40 years later, by the long-promised A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, a book that was hailed by many scholars but with less enthusiasm than the first one. 

Tucker summarizes the gap between the two books: Jaffa’s earlier Lincoln “gave the nation a new birth of freedom by creatively interpreting the claim that all men are created equal as a noble, transcendent idea of justice . . . . Whereas Crisis presented Lincoln as overcoming Jefferson, New Birth presented Lincoln as Jefferson’s greatest student.” The “transcendent morality” and, in Lincoln’s words, “sacred principle” of the Declaration of Independence made free self-government possible. The great strength of Tucker’s review is his clear explanation of this change in Jaffa’s thinking. I will, however, emphasize certain points.

In Jaffa’s later view, Lincoln was not fighting Jefferson’s modernity—that is, his political reliance on low self-interest—but rather he was preserving the “noble, transcendent,” original understanding of Jefferson and the other founders.

Here I need to dissent from Tucker’s further characterization of our collection. Contrary to what Jaffa himself wrote, Tucker argues that his last book, Crisis of the Strauss Divided: Essays on Leo Strauss and Straussianism, East and West “provides his own explanation” of his change. This book of quirky and self-referential title emphasizes the theme of reason and revelation in the thought of his teacher Leo Strauss and Jaffa’s disputes with other students of Strauss. Along with his other two books it is indispensable for understanding Jaffa. In brief, Jaffa wanted to prevent the American Founding from being mischaracterized as an anticipation of radical modernity—Madison giving way to Rousseau, Franklin to Nietzsche, and so on. Whatever shortcomings some of their abstract arguments may have had, their superior prudence or political judgment makes them our heroes today.

Jaffa’s observation from the first essay in Rediscovery shows how he dealt with Tucker’s objection: “That the Founding, which Lincoln inherited, was dominated by an Aristotelian Locke—or a Lockean Aristotle—has been a conspicuous theme of my writing since 1987.”

Our book includes major Jaffa essays that focus on this “conspicuous theme.” The Declaration itself speaks of “‘Safety and happiness,’ the alpha and omega of political life in Aristotle’s Politics.” Happiness was not some happy hour of pleasure but the pursuit of virtue. The American founding, in essence, was Aristotelian, not Hobbesian or “modern.” Its aims were those of the classical best regime and, moreover, took into account the radical change brought about by Christianity.

Thus, “Law for an ancient city and for a modern state . . . must of necessity be very different. It must be very different as to the ways and means by which it is formed, yet altogether the same for the human ends it must serve.” The prevention of tyranny (and the preservation of freedom) required recognition of the change from the gods of the ancient city to Christian monotheism: “Each individual is a citizen, actual or potential, of the City of God, before being a citizen of his own particular country.”

Oddly, Tucker finds an anti-Jefferson spirit in even the cover of the book “which features the faces of Lincoln and Washington” but also, he neglects to mention, the beginning of the Declaration, which is central and foundational. Americans, after all, are right to embrace Jefferson’s Declaration while at the same time being more selective about some of his modern philosophical tendencies, on display in his Notes on the State of Virginia, subject of a careful exposition by Tucker.

Jaffa could argue, Tucker summarizes, that “America was the best regime because for the first time in western civilization a political order did equal justice to the ‘two irrefutable and irreducible principles of human life,’ reason and revelation,” philosophy and biblical religion. Tucker’s own description rings true: “When he wrote Crisis, he was under the spell of his great books education acquired with Strauss but had not studied politics enough . . . . Jaffa thus escaped the Strauss school, while others did not. This explains Jaffa’s criticism of mere book learning and his remark to [Harvey] Mansfield that he (Mansfield) had to attend to political thought not just the history of philosophy.” Here, Tucker refers to a previously unpublished exchange in 1996 between Jaffa and Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield, a 120-page section titled “The Decline and Fall of the American Idea: Reflections on the Failure of American Conservatism.”

This failure could be seen in the political trajectory of what initially appeared to be an affirmation of Jaffa’s early Crisis of the House Divided argument for equality in the civil rights revolution.

The Civil Rights Movement’s plea for equality of rights soon turned against its natural rights foundation. And it became clear that the feminism that appropriated the civil rights revolution overthrew the authority of the Declaration, in the following way: “if public opinion no longer held that gender (sic) differences were natural, then it could no longer hold that any distinctions were natural.” This also explains why “Jaffa stoutly resisted such arguments [e.g., “for the acceptance of homosexuality”], referring to homosexuals as sodomites.” Thus, he saw that a moral revolution he initially favored and advanced as an affirmation of “equality” actually rejected equality as the foundation for political legitimacy and instead came to undermine “the authority of both reason and revelation, eroding the ground of civic friendship.”

This realization explains why Jaffa came to treat old friends and benefactors as enemies. In New Birth of Freedom, the opponents are conservative thinkers and jurists, not only the liberal historian villains of Crisis of the House Divided. Tucker incisively explains:

Jaffa came to see that Strauss’s thinking was turning into a school. This meant that political philosophy, rediscovered by Strauss, might disappear again. To preserve both the country and political philosophy, Jaffa returned to the beginning, reinterpreting the founding to emphasize its Biblical but, he now argued, no less rational morality.

Jaffa’s great purposes were patriotic, philosophic, and pious—he wanted it all. He wanted to be a good human being, which meant he also had to be a good citizen in the best regime, even as its founder in speech. He was a true friend of America, offering it unity in the bonds of mutual affection for the highest purposes.

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American Conservatism • Conservatives • Harry Jaffa • Post

What Mona Charen Will Never Know

A few years ago while living at the homeless shelter and working next door at Jimmy John’s, I got an email from this development VP at my alma mater, Claremont McKenna College in California. She was swinging through Atlanta raising money and asked if I wanted to meet. I didn’t. Obviously. But she persisted, so I thought, “Why not? At least this will be amusing.” So we met.

At the end of a very unprofitable lunch (she paid for her sandwich, mine was comped by my manager) and after patiently sitting through my long story of struggle and hopeful redemption—“So yeah, at three months, I’m praying this time . . . recovery will stick”—she smiled at me and said, “You’re so Claremont.”

It was probably the kindest thing anyone had said to me in years. It brought me to tears hours later during my shift. That even as I worked a minimum-wage shift . . . at Jimmy John’s . . . at 38 . . . in suburban Atlanta . . . while living in a homeless shelter . . . with just three months distance from a crazy sad, 10-year battle over alcohol and meth . . . she could still see it. In me. The Claremont.

I see it in Jack Posobiec.

See, Claremont isn’t Stanford, and it’s definitely not Harvard or Yale. The school where the Claremont Institute’s founders studied in the 1970s was founded, ad hoc and jerry rigged, to give returning GI’s a solid education after World War II. And it succeeded. Wildly. But differently than the New England Gothic of the Ivy League. The men, then men and women, didn’t go there for pedigree. We came to Claremont because Claremont was the California Dream.

The hustle.

In the best way. A hustle that launched Goldwater and then Reagan. A hustle that built what became the modern Conservative movement. “So what if we smash religious freaks, the Orange County industrialist, and these Jewish intellectuals into one party?”

Harry Jaffa himself was a hustler. He, too, was widely scorned by the elites of his day—which is why he found himself at Claremont. And this is why his students had to start the Claremont Institute. In Claremont. They didn’t bitch and moan about who was being allowed in the building. They built their own and hoped it would be popular. It was a very good hustle. It was very Claremont.

Mona Charen doesn’t know Claremont. She’s not a hustler. She can’t see the value of the hustle. She doesn’t even know the history of the hustle that enabled her own career as a pundit. And what has Mona built? Where has she failed and tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed? A paint-by-the-numbers “conservative,” her career is respectable, well-received in the appropriate circles and utterly useless. Derivative. Of long ago hustles she can’t see. She can’t imagine. She has no idea.

But Jack does. Hustle. A lot. The guy is always in motion. Moving the ball forward in a dozen different ways. He writes, he performs, he talks to a lot of people, he moves around the country meeting even more people. He builds relationships and produces the content that Gen Z and Boomers want. He shifts opinion. He creates. He forges uncomfortable bridges with unconventional allies. He’s a traditionalist but not nostalgic. He does stuff beyond the endless talk-talk of yesterday’s Right. He doesn’t just look at the camera to opine on the way things ought to be.

His hustle doesn’t always pan out. But he doesn’t moan. He does not bitch. He’s excited because conservatism is exciting, not a brittle little tragedy. Which makes him the right here, right now of the Right. He’s the good guy.

And Jack is so Claremont.

America • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • Post • Republicans

Jilted Again! The NeverTrump-Left Alliance Crumbles

The political misfits known as NeverTrumpers are begging for allies ahead of next year’s presidential election—and, as usual, they aren’t looking to the Right.

This collection of failed magazine editors, Iraq War propagandists, washed-up columnists, Russian collusion pimps, and losing campaign consultants have dogged Donald Trump and his supporters for three years. While some anti-Trump “conservatives” who contributed to National Review’s infamous “Against Trump” issue in early 2016 have become supporters of the president, others cannot let go—but their obstinance is less about principle and more about grift: Acting as the useful conservative idiot for the Washington Post or MSNBC has breathed new life into once stale careers and burned reputations.

Despite making repeated threats and floating the names of several potential candidates, they have failed to produce a legitimate primary challenger to Trump. (Bill Kristol, the de facto head of NeverTrump Inc., last year claimed he was building a “war machine” to take on Trump in 2020, making this yet another war Kristol waged from the sidelines and lost.)

NeverTrumpers also failed to help Democrats run Trump out of the Oval Office, whether it was by promoting the egregious special counsel investigation into imaginary Russian collusion or supporting any and all empty calls for impeachment. They have not produced a detailed policy agenda to offer an alternative to Trumpism, only bromides about vague “principles.”

Now, armed with the same unjustified hubris and political fecklessness that turned once-influential conservatives into a punchline, NeverTrumpers are warning Democrats that they need to find some imaginary center so they can join forces to Dump Trump in 2020.

A slew of groveling NeverTrumpers have published columns proffering advice that no one asked for to people who don’t want it. And in the process, they’ve proved correct those of us who’ve been critical of the motives and alleged “principles” these high-minded has-beens claim to possess over deplorable Trumpkins.

Mona Charen, once a conservative stalwart, admitted in a July 9 column for Politico not only that she voted Democratic in 2018—subsequently empowering the likes of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the contemptible Ilham Omar (D-Minn.)—but that her vote is available again in 2020, with a few caveats.

After detailing the leftist impulses of nearly every Democratic presidential candidate, Charen coaches the cadre of would-be authoritarians: “Do what you think is right—propose legislation to fix Obamacare or spend more on basic research of climate change or whatever—but in the constitutional way,” Charen advised candidates who have demonstrated nothing but contempt and hostility toward the U.S. Constitution. “As a lifelong conservative, I think your policy ideas are ill-advised. But this cycle, other Trump-disgusted Republicans and I can contemplate voting Democrat.”

Claiming for the millionth time without evidence that Trump poses an “existential threat to the United States,” author Tom Nichols criticized the Democratic Party’s lurch to the Left. (Nichols voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has twice renounced his membership in the GOP.) Democrats should temper their socialist policy goals, Nichols argued in a July 1 column for USA Today, and focus only on Trump.

“But the key here is that I have just stated my only requirement for an opposition candidate: the ability to get to 270 electoral votes. This election is a referendum on Donald Trump, and nothing else should even come close as the central issue,” the allegedly “principled conservative” warned.

Nichols is really saying that voters should disregard the dangerous policies and hardline tactics of every single Democratic candidate to satisfy his vain need to oust Trump. The candidate’s leftist plans to  upend our political system and our economy don’t matter, only his or her ability to win 270 electoral votes and deny them to Donald Trump.

That, dear reader, is an actual existential threat to our country.

Over at The Bulwark, the refuge of Weekly Standard rejects and leftist billionaire shills, Sarah Longwell frets that a break-up between the Democrats and NeverTrumpers is imminent. But that didn’t stop her from writing a “can’t we try one more time?” letter to the field of Democratic presidential candidates who, like most recipients of a “can’t we try one more time?” letter, will likely pity then ignore the sad little plea from a spurned suitor.

“It seems to me that our differences are reconcilable,” Longwell suggests. “Because ultimately, NeverTrumpers and Democrats want the same thing. And like staying together for the kids, we should stay together for the country. We can fight over marginal tax rates later, after America has restored its basic political norms.”

How can this estranged pair stay together? They will, Longwell teases, if Democrats get behind an  allegedly moderate agenda of “access to abortion in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, action to address climate change, permanent status for DACA recipients, a pathway to citizenship for people who came to the U.S. illegally, modest reforms on guns, and universal access to healthcare,” rather than the Democrats’ more extreme version. This from the outlet that purports to be “conserving conservatism.”

Of course, pivoting on issues that once defined the Right in order to suck up to the Left has been an animating feature of NeverTrump. Many NeverTrumpers have reversed their previous views on climate change, gun control, and illegal immigration to please their new Trump-hating allies on the Left—Kristol admitted in 2017 that the Trump era was bringing out his “inner” socialist, feminist and liberal.”

Other NeverTrumpers including Megan McArdle, Bret Stephens, and David Brooks have made similar entreaties to Democrats.

But like the fat person who gives dietary advice, these political losers are being dismissed, even mocked, by the Left.

“Never Trump conservatives like David Brooks are an interesting intellectual curiosity and often worth reading for their critiques of the Republican Party. But as political advisers they’ve had their day,” wrote Jeet Heer in The Nation last month. “Democrats don’t need their votes.”

For three years, NeverTrumpers have refused to criticize Democrats for anything, with the possible exception of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation debacle. They’ve played the role of the dummy to their leftist puppet masters, aiming all political fire at the president, his administration and his supporters. When NeverTrump was saying on CNN and MSNBC and in the New York Times exactly what the Left wanted to hear, Democrats were eager listeners.

Now that NeverTrump is blasting Democrats for their unwinnable agenda of open borders, free healthcare for illegal immigrants, the Green New Deal, and college debt forgiveness, the Democrats have no interest in their opinions. NeverTrump has been used by the Left and they’ll face another political No Man’s Land in 2020.

Couldn’t happen to a more deserving group.

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American Conservatism • Conservatives • GOPe • Post • Republicans • The Left

Conservatives, Re-Think Your Giving

The resurgence of the Right in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan was a sight to behold. The country had just been through a demoralizing period under Carter (no need to re-recite the record) and from those depths emerged opportunity for visionary ideas long espoused by Reagan, Jack Kemp, and others to finally get a true public hearing.

Complementing these men were conservative think tanks who believed in economic prosperity, personal liberty, and a strong national defense. They held glitzy conferences, began their own media entities, delivered sanguine speeches on the doctrine and developed mailing lists to cultivate and stay in contact with their followers and donors. In time, many millions flowed into their coffers from enthusiastic donors large and small.

Fast forward 30 years. By 2010, the country had elected Bill Clinton twice—in large part because of George H.W. Bush’s refusal to carry the Reagan torch—and then President Obama, which could largely be attributed to the wild spending, wandering presidency of George W. Bush. Digging further into the conservative movement as a whole, it had become clear that through the decades its think tanks had devolved into patterns of holding forums that patronized donors but which few paid attention to, writing white papers no one read, chasing five-minute TV appearances that made them feel like someone in Washington, jetting around to self-celebratory conferences at lavish resorts, and basically living high on the cause with little impact and no accountability.

In other words, they weren’t effective. And today they aren’t effective.

If they were effective, they would be attacked relentlessly by the Left and, given their timid posture, all but destroyed. Yet their presidents are regularly paid a salary of $1 million and up, excluding travel budget. They have annual gala dinners with popular cable news pundits to raise the overhead budget, five staffers keep cushy jobs, and the Left continues marching us toward socialism like we aren’t even there.

At a lunch recently, I said to a colleague that if 60 percent of the conservative think tanks in the country disbanded, no one would care. He replied without missing a beat: “No one would notice.”

Exacerbating this ever more glaring fact was the election of President Trump, who has shown the country that politicians and think tank figures who have postured for 30 years about moving mountains for the public on issues of high moment are, for the most part, inept subversives. They weren’t terribly needed and weren’t pioneers at all; they simply glommed on to the success of others who had vision and vigor.

After two recent congressional cycles of Republican consultants scamming donors for millions and conservative thinktanks demonstrating they could do nothing but talk about issues with no means or desire to enact them, Trump became the solution for exasperated donors and voters. This has reduced certain exposed entities to holding what amounts to hustler cruises to help stay afloat, with mutual admiration society “luminaries” no one cares about “starring.” Some, thankfully, have folded.

Compounding these issues are those who run the conservative grantmaking foundations. Some of the Right’s major funders have selected obedient gatekeepers who are maybe 32 years old and quietly can’t believe their own luck having stumbled into such a role. They travel to nice resorts and shake hands but their job is to keep their job. Nothing innovative that might intimidate or make them look bad ever gets upstairs.

Beyond this, there is a certain clique that decides who gets what grant money—even if the money was wasted by an entity the previous year. This is often because there are consultants who specialize in securing this money who have deep relationships with the grantors, and that ox cannot be gored. Is this effective or impacting? Does it help the movement or the goals of the funders? Nyet. But that doesn’t matter. And precious few people know this, especially funders. If some conservative donors knew where a lot of their money went in the think tank world, they would be storming D.C. with pitchforks.

Donors on the Right who came of age in the Reagan era—and future donors—should consider these points as they assess their annual giving, their wills, and the people and projects to whom they give their hard-earned dollars.

“Is my money funding a lawsuit against a corrupt union or 20 spa dates?”

“Are we really moving the ball here or talking as we are overrun by the only people who seem to know we are in a war?”

“Is simply being right on ideas enough anymore?” (No).

There is often a comfort as a funder in giving to what we have become familiar with over the years, especially those where we have fond memories. Case in point would be Reagan-era donors who give lavishly to their alma maters because those years were some of the best of their lives; they do this despite the fact that their old university stomping grounds are now Marxist factories that should be defunded completely.

Some of my friends have stopped giving significant dollars to the University of Southern California given the school’s leadership. It is long past time for conservative funders to do the same with its think tanks and start demanding action and results for their money. Either stop giving or redirect their funds to groups that are taking the fight to the enemy. If Republicans don’t win back the House and there is a moderate Senate after 2020, this will become even more obvious. By 2024, after Trump is gone, those 60 percent of think tanks will be on their way to extinction.

In this age of war and survival, they won’t be missed. Their shopworn appeals will go out to tired donors saying “Help us fight the liberals.” And the donors will finally, wisely respond, “You can’t. Get a job.”

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American Conservatism • Conservatives • Post • Republicans • The Left

Sohrab Ahmari Is Right: Politics Is War

There are multiple levels to the David French-Sohrab Ahmari debate. One could discuss whether, as Ahmari implies, it is wise and just to seek control of the administrative state to restore moral order. Or one could discuss whether classical liberalism and Christianity are really so opposed as Ahmari suggests.

A simple take away from the debate is this distinction: Ahmari recognizes that politics is war. David French does not and, as Ahmari observes, the consequences of this blinkered understanding have put conservatism in a losing position for a long time.

At the end of his piece, Ahmari went to a place that makes liberals scream “theocrat!”:

Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.

A little harsh? Perhaps. Strategically, Catholic integralists could do with some Straussian discretion. But Ahmari’s message is one that the American Right should heed.

Sohrab’s Critics Miss the Point
One does not need to be a Catholic integralist, or even Catholic, or even Christian, to find Ahmari’s approach better than French’s. On the issue of drag queen story hour, French finds the “freedom of association” that underwrites such an event more palatable than its prohibition:

Does re-ordering the common good mean using the power of the state to prohibit that form of freedom of association? And if the state assumes for itself the power to stop such an event and perhaps fire the librarian who organized it, why does anyone think that the forces of Christian statism will continue to prevail and prevent, say, a radical member of a President Kamala Harris administration from wielding the same power against a public reading of The Screwtape Letters?

Ahmari offers no answers to these questions, French says. But he does. French summarily misses Ahmari’s point. How do you stop President Kamala Harris from instituting a “woke theocracy”? By fighting to make sure it never happens, that’s how.

The conservatism that Ahmari gestures towards says, “conservatives are already under attack. Start fighting.” David French-ism says, in effect, “Why try to win when you might lose? Better to make peace with drag queen story hour.”

David French-ism frets that reaching for the levers of power may backfire. You can’t just ban things that are immoral and bad for society. What if our opponents try to do the same thing?

There is no need to worry about some hypothetical persecution of Christians by a progressive administrative state—it’s already happening in dribs and drabs and lawsuits and edicts and legislation. What French and like-minded conservatives don’t seem to understand is that conservatives have enemies whether they like it or not, and meekly submitting to them is a recipe for certain defeat.

Conservatives have been losing, badly. Partly this is due to a lack of strategy, but more importantly it is from an inability to see that strategy is even necessary.

The Left understands that politics is war and acts accordingly. But classical liberals of David French’s type insist on winning “rationally” and “decently,” on winning over an immovable and vicious enemy in “debate.” One might attribute this to naïveté, or one can be more cynical and say that a wider kinship keeps classical liberals away from the battle.

Ahmari recognizes the Left is uncivil and, for all its vaunted tolerance, keenly illiberal. This much is obvious. But, Ahmari adds, “conservative liberals” actually support their own marginalization by tacitly sharing in the Left’s illiberal project.

Ahmari argues that liberalism cannibalizes moral order. Classical liberalism is just progressivism in slow motion; both, by maximizing individual autonomy, act as a social solvent. David French-ism, then, being only yesterday’s progressivism, has little recourse than hand-wringing about unfair treatment by an enemy that sees civility and decency as tools to enforce their values which, after all, are not so different anyway.

It’s Later Than You Think
French insists upon classical liberalism as the first principle of politics, declaring, there is no “political ‘emergency’ that justifies abandoning classical liberalism, and there will never be a temporal emergency that justifies rejecting the eternal truth.”

No political emergency? Not even a push to make infanticide the norm? I’m no theologian, but I would think bearing witness to the eternal truth means fighting to keep those who reject that truth out of power, not professing the eternal truth in an ever-shrinking “neutral” space.

French falls back on a defense of classical liberalism as the greatest means not only to preserve everyone’s rights, but to stop the corrosive advance of progressivism as well: “but the Valyrian steel that stops the cultural white walker is pluralism buttressed by classical liberalism, not a kind of Christian statism of undetermined nature, strength, power, or endurance.”

Is that so? How has that been working out so far?

Against Depoliticizing Politics
Not only does classical liberalism not prevent progressivism’s advance, it accelerates it.

While the Left seeks to enforce its values at any cost, French’s form of conservatism fights to maintain a “neutral” space that, by design, ensures that the Right will be squeezed out of the public square.

In David French-ism, it is more important that conservatives “preserve a space for all American voices” in the miraculous “marketplace of ideas” than that conservatives actually succeed.

The “marketplace” of ideas is an interesting term. Is morality mere merchandise, something to be sold to a persuaded public? What intellectual merit can late-term abortion possibly have?

Classical liberals insist on the higher value of preserving “neutral spaces” for everyone to market their ideological wares. But the public square is never really “neutral,” if only because its parameters are defined by liberalism and its values. Under liberalism, this group may win today, that group may win tomorrow. But liberalism will always win, and when it does, culture and tradition lose.

Perhaps this is why, as Ahmari writes, French-ism “depoliticizes” politics. Rather than advise that conservatives take political action, French-ism looks to the mysterious intervention of a deceptively neutral “culture” to solve political problems created by liberalism.

The basic commitments of liberalism are already baked into the hardware of our political operating system; what need then is there for political consciousness, or for that matter, political action?

When push comes to shove, David French conservatism refuses to see politics as a type of warfare, and therefore it has no strategy, because it shares the Left’s basic commitment to restless individualism.

Matters of “Decency”
French cites examples in which he persuaded leftist institutions to “turn back from repressive illiberalism and recommit to religious pluralism.” But there’s the rub: already, religion is consigned to the option of one among many. The true “religion” of “pluralism” is the liberalism in the interstices.

As Ahmari puts it, “Autonomy-maximizing liberalism is normative, in its own twisted way.” Looking beyond this, Ahmari seeks “to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”

Classical liberals reject this political realism as vulgar and a betrayal of higher principles of tolerance and pluralism. But this is no wonder: of course liberals define liberalism as the only decent worldview.

Liberals see any expression of intolerance or rectitude as uncouth and “theocratic.” But nobody is really against decency and civility. They are corollaries to the reigning ideology of any given historical time.

Today, it is more indecent to oppose abortion than to support it. This has been true of virtually every progressive advancement: each leftist victory in the culture war is defined by the elites as the new “decent” thing to believe.

The summum bonum of liberalism is the unbounded individual will. Working from this basis, classical liberals of French’s type, and similar figures in the wider fold of the center-right and so-called Intellectual Dark Web, draw a sharp line between “moral order,” from which they invariably shrink as some kind of theocracy, and “decency,” by which they mean tolerance.

Liberalism recoils in horror from talk of a “highest good,” let alone an ordered public. But what is decency without moral order?

The decency of liberalism is the right to be left alone by one’s neighbor, and vice versa, and not much more. All manner of evils are welcomed by liberalism’s project; the sole indecent thing is intolerance of some lifestyle or culture.

When push comes to shove, French-ism seeks the “decency” of tolerating the vulgar and evil over moral order, in the name of the individual will. Enforcing morality is authoritarian and therefore beyond the pale. Government should seek the common good, but it must be careful not to get too zealous about it. As French puts it:

While governments should of course seek the “common good,” they do not and should not have the brute coercive force to “re-order” the public square to achieve that good as they define it.

Well, what is the point of seeking the common good then?

Has it ever occurred to David that the state can just as well enforce classical liberalism at the end of a gun? In practice, this has been the project of the state in progressivism all along: to destroy traditions and unleash the individual from the shackles of culture.

Correcting Course
America has never been a Catholic empire, and those who envision such an end have their work cut out for them (to put it charitably). But surely there is some middle ground between complete individual freedom and a hypothetical Christian imperium. America has always hovered between the two, weaving liberalism and Christianity together.

But the West has gone so far in the direction of liberalism now that a Christian theocracy is hardly in the plotline of any course correction. One does not need to share the long-shot ambitions of Catholic integralists to find their concern for moral order more persuasive than the need to ensure that “drag queen story hour” is protected.

In the marginal sense that French thinks strategically, he warns that going down a path of scorched earth political warfare will alienate potential allies. This is no small consideration. Certainly, conservatives should do whatever possible to persuade like-minded people to join them.

But the enemy does not appear to be open to persuasion. French-ism’s concern about converting Americans to conservatism is worthless against its wider retreat from the battle.

This is especially so given French-ism’s criticism of “Trumpism” (for want of a better term). It is true that Trumpism, like Trump himself, is something of a mess. In its present state, it lacks cohesion. Its messenger is a polarizing figure without much in the way of a cogent ideology.

Perhaps Trump is not an effective coalition builder. If he has done one thing, though, it was this: he destroyed the old, comfortable consensus that wasn’t working, the consensus that French-ism defends.

French dings Ahmari for crediting Trump with instinctively understanding what has been missing from American conservatism and nudging things in that direction. But French-ism does not even attempt to move beyond the stale fusionist consensus.

If nothing else, Trumpism is a starting point, the inchoate first step towards a more capacious, stronger American conservatism. What makes Trump polarizing is not just his personality, but the ideas that Trump, however inarticulately, expresses.

Those ideas may be unpopular, and that is a problem to be solved by strategists and culture warriors. The answer is not to plead with the enemy for admission to the future.

French finds Trump’s outreach wanting. But before Trump, the American Right was barely fighting. Trump may not be a thinker, and he may not be a particularly effective brawler in the end, either. But Trump and Ahmari both get something that French does not: politics is war. French’s refusal or inability to see this summarizes the mentality of the dead weight on the American Right.

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American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Post • Republicans

What David French Gets Wrong About David French

The dust-up between New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari and National Review author David French has offered an enlightening view into the chasm between Trump supporters and his detractors on the Right. For the past week, opinionists on both sides have weighed in on the broader and at times pedantic points of the dispute.

Here are some crib notes: Ahmari thoughtfully, and I think, accurately, argues that French is temperamentally and ideologically ill-equipped to effectively challenge the Left in this current scorched-earth climate of American politics and culture.

In what he defines as “David French-ism,” Ahmari essentially claims that French’s trust in traditional institutions, the good faith of the other side, and belief in neutral territory where everyone is respected not only is naïve but misguided to the extent of being destructive of the things conservatives believe are essential to a just society.

Further, French’s objections to fighting the Left’s winning rampage by deploying the same weapons they wield—power in the form of the law—is a prescription for continued defeat. French’s hollow tropes offer little in the way of a legitimate battle plan to ultimately prevail over the well-moneyed and vengeful interests who seek to irrevocably transform American society. Detailed policies or political tactics to mitigate the harmful outcomes of illegal immigration or Big Tech-imposed censorship or punitive trade deals are replaced with toothless platitudes. Ahmari mocks French’s cheesy bumper-sticker solutions:

How do we counter ideological mono-thought in universities, workplaces, and other institutions? Try promoting better work-life balance, says French. How do we promote the good of the family against the deracinating forces arrayed against it, some of them arising out of the free market (pornography) and others from the logic of maximal autonomy (no-fault divorce)? “We should reverse cultural messages that for too long have denigrated the fundamental place of marriage in public life.” Oh, OK.

Ahmari’s moniker for French—Pastor French—is wholly appropriate. In the Church of NeverTrump, of which French is a major prophet, the president is the devil incarnate; all preaching and proselytizing must be in service of warning the flock that the end times are here at the hands of the hedonistic and unholy Donald Trump.

French’s sermons, which play out in the pages of National Review, The Atlantic and Time magazine, as well as on MSNBC, are filled with fire and brimstone not necessarily for the Left (with the exception of abortion) but to condemn millions of allegedly wayward Americans who support a president French deems immoral and unfit to serve. His NeverTrump cred has earned French a star power he never had before 2016; he’s the latest darling of the left-wing media for his relentless Trump trolling. Business is so good that even French’s wife, Nancy, is getting in on the schtick.

French responded to his critic the next day in a piece for National Review Online titled, “What Sohrab Ahmari gets wrong.” Insisting he’s not a “milquetoast,” French proceeded to attempt to debunk Ahmari’s “misrepresentations” by citing his service as a U.S. Army judge advocate general in the Iraq War and his past court victories for maligned Christian college professors. (Commendable, of course, but hardly dispositive.)

But then French misrepresents himself in the piece. He portrays himself as “walking humbly,” careful “not [to] fan the flames” of political enmity—but French can be as vituperative, dishonest, and petty as anyone in the public square, especially if his target is Donald Trump, his family, or his supporters. The Mueller report, a political document based on an investigation into a fabricated crime, should “shock our conscience,” he wrote in April. “The lies are simply too much to bear. No Republican should tolerate such dishonesty.”

He often brags about his personal and professional achievements to both assert his moral authority and blunt any criticism of him. He occasionally injects his adopted black daughter into political battles, using anecdotal evidence to accuse Americans, particularly Trump supporters, of being racists. (As the mother of an adopted Asian daughter, I find this tactic offensive and out-of-bounds.)

French claimed that he did not promote the Russian election collusion hoax, as Ahmari stated in his piece. That is patently and provably false.

Time and again, French legitimized the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign for alleged collusion with the Kremlin, frequently cobbling together a disparate array of “contacts” and meetings as evidence to justify the probe. He downplayed the political origins of the Steele dossier. He repeatedly and willfully omits key details about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, overlooking the fact that the meeting with Don Jr. included Russian lobbyists who were working with Fusion GPS chief Glenn Simpson on behalf of a Russian tycoon at the time.

In March 2017, French detailed all the reasons Americans should be suspicious about collusion and even suggested that “we can never really know” whether the Russians helped elect Trump. French ridiculed the “Conspiracy Theory Right” for believing the collusion scheme was based on false premises manufactured by partisan bureaucrats in the Obama Administration to sabotage Trump. “Who needs [Russia Today] when you have got Sean Hannity?” French joked to MSNBC’s Chuck Todd in May 2018.

French outrageously demanded that Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the then-chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who was exposing the real scandal, resign his post. “If Nunes steps down as chairman, he can quickly transition from part of the problem to part of the solution,” he wrote as Democrats seeded a bogus ethics charge against Nunes.

While he criticized the Nunes memo for failing to make the case (it did) on how the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, French defended a counter memo—now completely discredited—authored by Nunes’ nemesis, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) To date, French has not written or tweeted one critical word about Schiff, despite his egregious lies to the American public and to Congress about proof of Russian collusion.

For more than two years, French aided the Left in promoting the now disproven election collusion hoax in order to damage Donald Trump; to say otherwise is simply untrue. Further, now that Robert Mueller has found no evidence of collusion and Attorney General William Barr has pledged to investigate the corrupt origins of the Trump collusion probe, French has yet to own up to his mistakes and name-calling.

French also incorrectly states that he doesn’t “criticize my fellow believers” for electing and supporting Trump, that he only criticizes the movement’s “leaders.” But he has composed numerous articles and tweets that explicitly shame evangelicals for backing Trump.

“All too many fellow believers have torched their credibility and exposed immense hypocrisy through fear, faithlessness, and ambition,” he wrote in May 2018 in an open letter to evangelicals. “Soon enough, the ‘need’ to defend Trump will pass. He’ll be gone from the American scene. Then, you’ll stand in the wreckage of your own reputation and ask yourself, ‘Was it worth it?’ The answer will be as clear then as it should be clear now. It’s not, and it never was.”

But French’s victory lap on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh could represent his most twisted viewpoint. “We won the Kavanaugh fight, and we didn’t win by insulting or owning the libs but by appealing to classically liberal values such as cross-examination, hard evidence, and the presumption of innocence,” French wrote.

Apparently French believes the unemotional application of the law and not “punch-them-in-the-face populism” (his words) ultimately prevailed in Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

But phones didn’t light up in Senator Susan Collins’ office with people calling to demand that Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford be given something akin to a fair trial. The outrage across the country—even from non-Trump supporters—at the character assassination of Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t rooted in the absence of standard legal procedures. No, the outcry was the result of a visceral reaction to one of the Left’s most contemptible crusades in recent memory, intended not only to torpedo a Supreme Court nomination but also to destroy his reputation, his livelihood, and his even family based on a collection of lies.

To his credit, French wrote extensively about the Kavanaugh travesty, doubting the veracity of Ford’s claims and defending his nomination. However, it’s unlikely his work helped sway the tough votes of Collins or other Republicans senators who confronted unhinged, even dangerous, protestors on Capitol Hill. It’s far more likely that the groundswell of support for Kavanaugh, buoyed by regular Americans who were disgusted and fearful at what was happening to a decent, innocent man, factored into that decision.

The ultimate, and costly, victory was not a win for due process. It was a rare victory for the Right against mob rule by unleashing the same level of anger and the same amount of public protest that the Left uses to intimidate detractors and get its way.

By his misguided interpretation of how the Right ultimately prevailed in the Kavanaugh fight, French proves Ahmari right.

Yes, facts and the law are important persuasive powers. So, too, are political tactics that involve exposing the venality of the other side, not giving them an inch, and not turning on your own side to score points with the Left.

Let’s say “French-ist” Republicans take over the GOP after Trump is gone. Is there any doubt that they would compromise with Democrats on some form of a Green New Deal? Or an expansion of government-paid health care? Or college loan forgiveness? Or higher tax rates on the wealthy? Or laws that impose quotas on private industry to force the hiring of more women, minorities or LGBT workers? Or the continued deplatforming of controversial figures on the Right? Or the requirement to teach a variety of destructive, anti-family, anti-Christian, anti-capitalist garbage in public schools?

Would “French-ist” Republicans have the stones to effectively challenge, and defeat, any of these proposals under a President Kamala Harris or a House Majority Leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

That’s the central question—and I think Ahmari has the correct answer.

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American Conservatism • Donald Trump • GOPe • Post • Republicans

The Problem With Amash

Many Republicans and Trump supporters are furious right now with Representative Justin Amash. The Michigan congressman is the only Republican in either house of Congress to call for President Trump’s impeachment in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The announcement simultaneously made him the most sought-after Republican for interviews, and gave cover for CNN and fellow-travelers to describe the impeachment drive as “bipartisan.”

Matters are only made worse by Amash’s solid voting history on fiscal and civil liberties questions, even when his party has temporized or (in the case of the budget) abandoned reason for expediency. Amash’s adherence to principle on some of these issues serves both to embarrass the party and to make it more difficult to write him off as just another disloyal RINO. (He was a solid NeverTrumper in 2016, however.)

That isn’t to say I don’t have my differences with him, both on policy and politics. He has generally been hostile to Israel, above and beyond what libertarian neo-isolationism would call for. And his exuberant inclusion of Colorado’s Jared Polis in the House Freedom Caucus on the strength of a couple of nice Fourth Amendment votes was ill-advised, to say the least. (Polis is now governor of Colorado.)

But if Amash’s Arab background is the source of his anti-Israel animus, it only discredits his critics who trot it out as a catch-all to dismiss him over Trump and impeachment.

No, the problem with Amash is much simpler. Like many ostentatiously principled elected officials, Amash either fails to recognize or refuses to admit there are many competing principles at work. His choice of what principles matter most have profound political implications.

Let’s assume Amash legitimately believes Trump obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation. Lord knows, Mueller made it clear enough that he thinks so. So it’s not a stretch to assume Amash is acting in good faith. We can agree that obstruction of justice is a serious abuse of executive power, even if we disagree that Trump actually did it.

But there are other potential abuses that Amash chooses to ignore—FISA abuse, spying abuse, manipulating the process through leaks, trying to entrap citizens, politicizing law enforcement and intelligence agencies—abuses that a self-described libertarian should also vociferously oppose. Amash chooses to put those on the back burner to support impeaching the president.

While I can’t speak for how Amash would respond to this, I have seen others respond to the effect that Republicans will have plenty of time and opportunity to air those claims during impeachment hearings.

Such a response is naïve enough to be sincere.

None of those claims has been investigated with anything close to the thoroughness of Mueller’s probe, making it far more difficult for Republicans to raise them effectively. The Justice Department’s inspector general has been looking into certain aspects of those claims, but his scope is limited and he hasn’t the power to compel non-employees to cooperate. John H. Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut assigned to review the origins of the Mueller probe, has a broader portfolio, but not an unlimited one. Certainly, Durham doesn’t have an unlimited budget as Mueller did.

In the meantime, Attorney General William Barr is complaining that he’s got more questions than answers after talking to the Intelligence Community. One would expect a certain amount of institutional loyalty even from Trump appointees, but one would hope that institutional loyalty took the form of concern for institutional integrity. Nevertheless, the various three-letter intel agencies can hide a lot behind classification, making it hard for Barr to know where to pick up the threads and what to declassify.

Finally, there’s a concept of “fruit of a poison tree.” Normally, that’s near and dear to the hearts of civil libertarians. If the whole Mueller probe was a setup, it seriously damages the claim that Trump did anything wrong because he was acting in opposition to a bad-faith investigation. But if Republicans bring up that objection but then can’t make that case, it strengthens the argument for impeachment.

Investigatory neglect also means, with the exception of a few outlets like American Greatness and The Federalist, these facts have been largely neglected or waved off by the press. The public hasn’t been hammered with these details for nearly three years. If anything, these details have been hammered like Hillary Clinton’s old iPhone. Members of the press who weren’t actively complicit in spreading misinformation probably believe it more or less uncritically at this point. Those members of the press who were complicit aren’t going to spend any time uncovering their own malfeasance.

When Nadler brings down the hammer on anyone who dares breathe word outside the very narrow topic of obstruction, for the most part, people won’t know there is another side, and the press won’t be interested in telling them.

Amash ignores all of this by being selectively principled. By doing so, Amash does House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s work for him.

And that’s why Republicans, Trump, and his supporters are right to be upset with Amash.

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American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Libertarians • political philosophy • Post • The Culture • The Left

Sohrab Ahmari and Our Existential Struggle

Perhaps the most amusing intramural intellectual squall on the Right these past few days has centered on “Against David French-ism,” Sohrab Ahmari’s recent polemical reflection on liberalism in First Things.

I did not think that Sohrab had all that much to say directly about the man who provided him with the title of his essay, but then I am not, so to speak, a French man. I have never met Pastor French, rarely read him, and generally feel about him the way C. K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story felt about George Kitteridge, man of the people: “to hardly know him is to know him well.”

The outpouring of indignation, fury, and contempt that greeted Sohrab’s column reminded me that opinions about the Pastor vary widely. I group him with Pete Wehner and some other NeverTrump evangelists as a modern incarnation of the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse, virtue signaling around the clock to the amazement of the world. I know there is disagreement on that score.

As I read it, Sohrab’s essay involved David French only incidentally. There were, I thought, two key passages. The first came near the beginning. “The movement we [conservatives] are up against,” Sohrab writes, “prizes autonomy above all, too; indeed, its ultimate aim is to secure for the individual will the widest possible berth to define what is true and good and beautiful, against the authority of tradition.”

I’ll come to what I think the other key passage is in a moment. First, note what a bold statement Sohrab has made here. Autonomy: aren’t we all for that? Isn’t it the prime Enlightenment virtue? Sapere aude, Kant said: “dare to know!” Priests, superstition, convention, tradition: didn’t the Enlightenment discard all of that for the sake of autonomy? For the sake, that is, of giving the law (nomos) to oneself (autos)?

The Ghost of J. S. Mill
In a word, yes. And it was a project carried on by such Enlightenment heirs as John Stuart Mill, whose On Liberty is a sort of bible of Enlightenment-infused liberalism. I note that Sohrab quotes in passing Mill’s famous line—famous imperative—about the importance of “experiments in living.” “Individual experiments in living,” he writes, “—say, taking your kids to a drag reading hour at the public library—cannot be sustained without some level of moral approval by the community.” Which suggests that the project of autonomy always involves an element of heteronomy: the emancipation from tradition, convention, etc., always seems to yield a new sort of orthodoxy. It was just this tendency, I suspect, that bothered Sohrab.

We see it all around us now. What we call liberalism presents itself not as one view of the world among others but as a neutral (but nevertheless inherently virtuous) state of nature from which no right-thinking (i.e., left-leaning) person could dissent.

The same dynamic was ostentatiously on view in Mill’s radical libertarianism. For anyone interested in understanding the nature of the modern liberal consensus, the extraordinary success of Mill’s rhetoric and the doctrines it advances afford a number of lessons. Above all, it provides an object lesson in the immense seductiveness inherent in a certain type of skeptical moralizing.

Together with Rousseau, Mill supplied nearly all of the arguments and most of the emotional weather—the texture of sentiment—that have gone into defining the liberal vision of the world. His peculiar brand of utilitarianism—a cake of Benthamite hedonism glazed with Wordsworthian sentimentality—accounts for part of Mill’s appeal: it provides a perfect recipe for embellishing programmatic shallowness with a cosmetic patina of spirituality. It is a recipe that has proven to be irresistible to those infatuated with the spectacle of their own virtue.

Mill was exceptionally adroit at appealing to his readers’ moral vanity. When he spoke (as he was always speaking) of “persons of decided mental superiority” he made it seem as though he might actually be speaking about them. Mill said that there was “no reason that all human existence should be constructed on some one or some small number of patterns.” Quite right! Even if persons of genius are always likely to be “a small minority,” still we must “preserve the soil in which they grow.” Consequently, people have a duty to shun custom and nurture their individual “self-development” if they are not to jeopardize “their fair share of happiness” and the “mental, moral, and aesthetic stature of which their nature is capable.”

Mill’s blandishments went even deeper. In On Liberty, Mill presented himself as a prophet of individual liberty. He has often been regarded as such, especially by liberal academics, who of course have been instrumental in propagating the gospel according to Mill. And “gospel” is the mot juste. Like many radical reformers, Mill promised almost boundless freedom, but he arrived bearing an exacting new system of belief. In this sense, as Maurice Cowling argues, On Liberty has been “one of the most influential of modern political tracts,” chiefly because “its purpose has been misunderstood.” Contrary to common opinion, Cowling wrote, Mill’s book was

not so much a plea for individual freedom, as a means of ensuring that Christianity would be superseded by that form of liberal, rationalising utilitarianism which went by the name of the Religion of Humanity. Mill’s liberalism was a dogmatic, religious one, not the soothing night-comforter for which it is sometimes mistaken. Mill’s object was not to free men, but to convert them, and convert them to a peculiarly exclusive, peculiarly insinuating moral doctrine.

This tension in Mill’s work—between Mill the libertarian and Mill the moralistic utilitarian—helps to account for the vertiginous quality that suffuses the liberalism for which On Liberty was a kind of founding scripture.

How Liberalism Corrodes Morality
Mill’s announced enemy can be summed up in words like “custom,” “prejudice,” “established morality.” All his work goes to undermine these qualities—not because the positions they articulate are necessarily in error but simply because, being customary, accepted on trust, established by tradition, they have not been subjected to the acid test of his version of the utilitarian calculus. (Mill elsewhere refers to such calculation as “rational self-conscious scrutiny,” the implication being that anything else is less than completely rational.)

The tradition that Mill opposed celebrated custom, prejudice, and established morality precisely because they had prevailed and given good service through the vicissitudes of time and change; their longevity was itself an important token of their worthiness. It was in this sense, for example, that Edmund Burke extolled prejudice, writing that “prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit. . . . Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.”

Mill overturned this traditional view. Indeed, he was instrumental in getting the public to associate “prejudice” indelibly with “bigotry.” For Mill, established morality is suspect first of all because it is established. His liberalism is essentially corrosive of existing societal arrangements, institutions, and morality.

Mill constantly castigated such things as the “magical influence of custom” (“magical” being a negative epithet for Mill), the “despotism of custom [that] is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement,” the “tyranny of opinion” that makes it so difficult for “the progressive principle” to flourish. According to Mill, the “greater part of the world has, properly speaking, no history because the sway of custom has been complete.”

Such passages reveal the core of moral arrogance inhabiting Mill’s liberalism. They also suggest to what extent he remained—despite the various criticisms he made of the master—a faithful heir of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism. And I do not mean only the Bentham who propounded the principle of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number,” but also the Bentham who applauded the proceedings of the Star Chamber, advocated the imprisonment of beggars, defended torture, and devised the “Panopticon”—a machine, he said, for “grinding rogues honest”—to keep miscreants under constant surveillance. Liberty was always on Mill’s lips; a new orthodoxy was ever in his heart. There is an important sense in which the libertarian streak in On Liberty is little more than a prophylactic against the coerciveness that its assumption of virtuous rationality presupposes.

Such “paradoxes” (to put it politely) show themselves wherever the constructive part of Mill’s doctrine is glimpsed through his cheerleading for freedom and eccentricity. Mill’s doctrine of liberty begins with a promise of emancipation. The individual, in order to construct a “life plan” worthy of his nature, must shed the carapace of inherited opinion. He must learn to subject all his former beliefs to rational scrutiny. He must dare to be “eccentric,” “novel,” “original.”

At the same time, Mill notes, not without misgiving, that

As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase; the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being uncontested. The cessation, on one question after another, of serious controversy is one of the necessary incidents of the consolidation of opinion—a consolidation as salutary in the case of true opinions as it is dangerous and noxious when the opinions are erroneous.

In other words, the partisan of Millian liberalism undertakes the destruction of inherited custom and belief in order to construct a bulwark of custom and belief that can be inherited. As Mill put it in his Autobiography:

I looked forward, through the present age of loud disputes but generally weak convictions, to a future . . . [in which] convictions as to what is right and wrong, useful and pernicious, deeply engraven on the feelings by early education and general unanimity of sentiment, and so firmly grounded in reason and in the true exigencies of life, that they shall not, like all former and present creeds, religious, ethical, and political, require to be periodically thrown off and replaced by others.

So: a “unanimity of sentiment” (a.k.a. custom) is all well and good as long as it is grounded in the “true exigencies of life”—as defined, of course, by J. S. Mill.

A New “Theocracy”? Oh, Please
A lot more could be said about Mill’s doctrine and its importance for understanding today’s liberal consensus. But for now, I’ll just say that that I suspect it also informs Sohrab’s criticism of our culture’s habit of elevating autonomy into the highest virtue even if—especially if—it circumscribes the individual’s freedom understood as something that cannot flourish apart from a particular community or outside a particular tradition. Edmund Burke caught an important aspect of this dynamic when he observed, “The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risque congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints.”

Again, more could be said about all of this, but let me move on briefly to what I think is the other key passage of Sohrab’s essay. It comes at the end. “Progressives,” he writes,

understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.

This passage was Exhibit A for Sohrab’s critics. Imagine, consigning civility and decency to the status of “second values”! Praising “enmity,” endorsing our own values and (dread word) “orthodoxy.”

Some of Sohrab’s critics seem to think that such passages indicated that he was advocating a new theocracy. I think he is advocating realism when it comes to our opponents in the culture war. What they want is not tolerance but full-throated approbation, whether the issue is bringing children to public libraries to be indoctrinated by sexual freaks, unlimited abortion, radical environmentalism, or the smorgasbord of toxins populating the ideology of identity politics. What they offer is not tolerance, not debate, but an invitation to submit to their view of the world.

In such situations, dissent cannot succeed if it proceeds piecemeal. It must recognize that what is at stake is, in the deepest sense, an anthropology, a view of what man is. We are living among the fragments of a shattered inheritance, morally and socially as well as politically. The so-called liberals (so-called because no one is more illiberal) are bent on scattering those fragments and trampling underfoot the values they represent.

Sohrab Ahmari’s essay is certainly not the last word in how to respond to this onslaught. But it has the inestimable virtue of understanding that this battle is not fodder for a debating club but an existential struggle.

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American Conservatism • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • Podcast

The Chris Buskirk Show: Episode 8—Will Democrats Impeach or Is This Just Theatre to Raise Money?

Muellers talks, Democrats threaten to impeach. But will they do it? And Sohrab Amahri decries “David French-ism” which is what I call Right-Liberalism. What is it & why it’s unprincipled & bad politics. Tune into The Chris Buskirk Show below for the latest.
Photo Credit: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Administrative State • America • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Post

Notes on the Great Realignment

One of these days, I would like to cadge an invitation to a strategy meeting of #TheResistance. Not the pussy-behatted feminoid Hollywood chapter of #TheResistance. Nothing could be more boring, or more depressing, than that.

But I would like to get a glimpse into the engine room of the more-moral-than-thou rancid-Right confraternity. How are their troops dispatched? Whence do they receive their marching orders? Is it via the internet, or from some even more deliquescent medium of communication, that Pete Wehner and Parson David French and the rest of that fraternity receive the codebook of this week’s virtue signaling? I sometimes imagine Bill Kristol reposed among the debris of his machinations, like Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now,” muttering terrible imprecations to his mesmerized if batty acolytes.

I’ll probably never know, but it’s clear that they do employ some effective means of getting the message out. I was reminded of this over the last couple of days when I noticed that Anne Applebaum, Max Boot, and Gabriel Schoenfeld all showed up with essentially the same homework assignment.

Applebaum, writing for the Orange-Man-Bad Post, weighed in with a column taking the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to task for “overt racism and covert anti-Semitism,” for mounting “an all-out assault on his country’s legal and judicial institutions, on independent media, on academia and on culture,” and for supporting Christianity against “the Muslim hordes (who don’t exist).”

Above all, Applebaum is exercised that Orbán has managed to persuade some “British and American intellectuals to join his war against liberal democracy.” “Intellectuals of the right,” she explains, “are just as susceptible to the lure of exotic ideologies [as are left-wing intellectuals], and equally prone to admire foreign authoritarians who seem to achieve things that democracies, with their [sarcasm alert!] boring coalition politics and their tedious rule of law, cannot.”

Max Boot obviously had the same assignment. Also writing in the Washington Get-Trump, Max told his readers that “It’s bad enough that Trump is fawning over a leader who has destroyed democracy in his country. What’s more alarming is that . . . Trump is trying to emulate Orban’s sinister example.”

“Orbanism,” Boot explains,

is authoritarianism for the media age: Instead of sending jackbooted thugs to haul away his opponents to concentration camps, the Hungarian prime minister uses more subtle measures—he has demonized immigrants, catered to anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim prejudices, corrupted the judiciary, bought off the media, co-opted civil society, harassed and intimidated critics, and rewarded his cronies by allowing them to feed at the government trough. Trump’s actions in the few days since Orban’s visit show how he is attempting to apply Orbanism to the United States.

Really? I hadn’t noticed that, but then Boot thinks that Attorney General William Barr’s effort to get to the bottom of the Obama Administration’s effort to perpetrate a soft coup against Donald Trump is really an insidious effort to cover up “a Russian attack on the U.S. election.” ($100,000 of Russian Facebook ads doesn’t buy much in terms of electoral outcomes, but it does buy Max Boot’s credulousness.)

And a quick reality check on Orbán’s supposed anti-Semitism. What he is undeniably guilty of is anti-Sorosism, as in George Soros, the billionaire enemy of nations and the spirit of conservatism. At the same time, his government has passed a law against Holocaust denial (as Christopher Caldwell points out in an essay I will come to below), established a Holocaust Memorial Day, reopened Jewish cultural sites, and refused to cooperate with Jobbik, the leading opposition party, which had a history of anti-Semitic provocations. In fact, Orbán is anti-Semitic in the same sense that Donald Trump is anti-Semitic, which is to say, he is not anti-Semitic.

Totalitarian Democracy
Then there is “The Illiberal Temptation,” Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay in The American Interest. Schoenfeld, like Applebaum and Boot, is deeply exercised by the spectacle of Viktor Orbán sticking up for Hungary. And like both Applebaum and Boot, he is especially horrified that some conservatives have given aid and succor not only to Orbán but also—imagine!—to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and—horror of horrors—to Donald Trump.

Schoenfeld gets extra credit for perverse hermeneutical ingenuity. “By some strange historical inversion,” he writes, attacks on the political consensus that he, G. Schoenfeld, supports, are coming as much from the Right as from the Left. By way of confirmation, he cites Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed and Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (which I published at Encounter Books). According to Schoenfeld, such writers, by criticizing the failures of the unaccountable, sclerotic but nonetheless all-pervasive bureaucracy into which the liberal consensus (which includes that wholly owned subsidiary, Conservative, Inc.) has devolved—by criticizing this Leviathan, Schoenfeld says, such writers are employing the same argument that the Frankfurt School Marxist Herbert Marcuse deployed when he condemned the “repressive tolerance” afforded by liberal democratic societies. There is “good” tolerance and “bad” tolerance, Marcuse said: “good tolerance” is left-wing “tolerance” (i.e., intolerance), “bad tolerance” is anything from the Right, e.g., the sort of tolerance abroad in the United States circa 1965.

As an exercise in argumentative audacity, Schoenfeld’s argument deserves some sort of award. But the truth is that the guiding spirit of Legutko’s book (and I believe the same can be said for Deneen’s) is not Herbert Marcuse but Alexis de Tocqueville, especially his analysis of “democratic despotism” which flows from what we today would call the “deep state” or the  “administrative state.”

Among the epigraphs that preface his book, Legutko features a famous bit from Democracy in America that outlines this threat.

I think then that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything which ever before existed in the world. I am trying myself to choose an expression which will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it, but in vain . . . I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. . . . Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood; it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.

It is interesting to note that the first part of this passage also serves as an epigraph for Jacob Talmon’s classic The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (out of print, but not, I hope, for long). Talmon makes a critical distinction between liberal and totalitarian democracies. The essential difference between the two, he writes, is in their “different attitudes to politics.” The liberal approach

assumes politics to be a matter of trial and error, and regards political systems as pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity. It also recognizes a variety of levels of personal and collective endeavor, which are altogether outside the sphere of politics.

By contrast, the totalitarian version of democracy is “based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics. It may be called political Messianism in the sense that it postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things, to which men are irresistibly driven, and at which they are bound to arrive.”

Communism was one form of this Messianism. The liberal consensus that Francis Fukuyama described in The End of History is another, kinder, gentler form. And it is precisely that liberalism—the increasingly bureaucratic and illiberal liberalism espoused by the administrative state—that politicians like Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, and Jair Bolsonaro have arisen to challenge.

Talmon was on to something deep, I believe, when he identified “the paradox of freedom” as the recognition that freedom is unfree so long as it is wed to “an exclusive pattern of social existence, even if this pattern aims at the maximum of social justice and security.” The key is this: Do we take “men as they are” and look to politics to work from there? Or do we insist upon treating men “as they were meant to be, and would be, given the proper conditions”?

The former describes the traditional, liberal view of freedom. The latter describes what Talmon describes as “totalitarian democracy.” As Talmon notes, a classic source for the latter view is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In The Social Contract, Rousseau says that anyone who would “dare to undertake the institution of a government must think himself capable, as it were, of changing human nature” (my emphasis). Contrast that hubristic ambition with James Madison’s acknowledgment that different men have different and competing interests and that the “first object” of government is to protect those differences, that “diversity of faculties.”

“Orbanism” Rightly Understood
In The Demon in Democracy, Ryszard Legutko makes a similar distinction by means of a hyphen, delineating the ad hoc, trial-and-error nature of traditional liberal democracy from the the administrative apparatus of “liberal-democracy.” John O’Sullivan, in his forward to the English translation of Legutko’s book, puts it thus:

One of the most crucial differences between these two regimes is openness. Liberal democracy is a set of rules designed to ensure that government rests on the consent of the governed. Except within the broadest limits, it does not inherently dictate what policies should emerge from government or what social arrangements should be tolerated or prohibited. It is open to a wide range of policy outcomes and willing to accept a genuine diversity of social arrangements, including traditional ones. Here the people rule both as voters and as citizens making free choices. Liberal-democracy, however [note the hyphenated form], has policies and prohibitions built into its ideological structure. It is not really open to institutions and policies that run counter to its “liberationist” instincts. It increasingly restricts their freedom to maneuver on anything from parental rights to national sovereignty. It is even hostile to some fundamental values of liberalism such as free speech. Accordingly it sometimes comes up against the wishes of the voters expressed in elections and referenda.

Witness, for example, the resistance to the election of Donald Trump and the embrace of Brexit by the Brits. (It is still, after three years, unclear whether the British people will have their way or whether they will be made to continue in their vassalage by the coterie of transnational progressives, British as well as continental, who run the bureaucracy in Europe.)

In a long and brilliant essay in The Claremont Review of Books, Christopher Caldwell presents a picture of Viktor Orbán that is sharply at odds with the hostile portrait painted by critics like Applebaum, Boot, and Schoenfeld. Caldwell by no means papers over Orbán’s faults—the fact, for example, that he seems to have enriched himself and his friends while in office (a habit, by the way that he shares with many if not most politicians). But he also understands Orbán’s virtues. Writes Caldwell: “Orbán is blessed with almost every political gift—brave, shrewd with his enemies and trustworthy with his friends, detail-oriented, hilarious.”

In the last years of the Cold War, he stuck his neck out further than any young dissident in assailing the Soviet Union. That courage helped land him in the prime minister’s office for the first time in 1998, at age 35. He has a memory for parliamentary minutiae reminiscent of Bill Clinton. At a January press conference, he interrupted a speechifying reporter by saying, “If I’ve counted correctly, that’s six questions,” then answered them in sequence with references to historical per capita income shifts, employment rates, demographic projections, and the like.

His secret weapon, though, is his intellectual curiosity. As Irving Kristol did when he edited the Public Interest in the 1980s, Orbán urges his aides to take one day a week off to devote to their reading and writing. He does so himself.

One fruit of Orbán’s curiosity is his understanding of the existential peril that Hungary faces. Dismembered in the aftermath of World War I, oppressed first by the Nazis, then the Soviets, unsettled more recently by threat of untrammeled immigration, it now faces the transnational progressive threat of an encroaching European Union for which nationalities are atavistic impediments on the road to liberal paradise (at least for the winners in Brussels and Berlin).

As Orbán noted in a speech in 2015, “Hungary must protect its ethnic and cultural composition. I am convinced that Hungary has the right—and every nation has the right—to say that it does not want its country to change.” Caldwell describes this speech as “probably the most important by a Western statesman this century.” Why? Because it bluntly poses two opposing futures for Europe: Europe as a mosaic of distinct sovereign nations versus Europe as a herd of more-or-less progressive colonies defined by the spongy secular complacency of Brussels.

As Caldwell notes, Orbán has changed his mind about many things—“unregulated free markets above all.” The vaunted “level playing field” that free markets were said to provide were not in fact level, nor were the supposedly “neutral” institutions upon which they depended. For one thing they ignored, where they did not actively disparage, the local and particular filiations out of which real communities are wrought. (This is what Max Boot, among others, disparages as “blood and soil” rhetoric.) Then, too, the supposed neutrality is always a sham because, Caldwell points out, “someone must administer this project, and administration, though advertised as neutral, rarely is. Some must administer over others.” Not everyone gets to be Jean-Claude Juncker. Allowed to proceed unchecked, the bureaucratic liberal consensus would destroy Hungary qua Hungary, just as it would eventually destroy all nations qua nations. Viktor Orbán understands that.

So does Donald Trump. Max Boot warns that Trump is “attempting to apply Orbanism to the United States.” What do you suppose that means? Here is a list of a few recent initiatives undertaken by the president:

  • On Tuesday, he gave a speech in Louisiana marking first export shipment of liquified natural gas from a new $10 billion facility.
  • On Wednesday, he spoke in honor of police officers killed in the line of duty, demonstrating his commitment to law enforcement.
  • On Thursday, he delivered a major speech on immigration reform, outlining his ideas for stopping illegal immigration and inaugurating a system of legal immigration based on merit. America welcomes with open arms those immigrants who come with something to contribute to America, including the desire to assimilate and become Americans in spirit as well as mailing address.
  • On Friday, in a speech to national realtors—the country’s largest trade association—he spoke about how America’s economic boom was making it possible for more and more Americans to pursue the “American dream” of home ownership.

If any of these speeches is an instance of Trump’s following Orbán’s “sinister” example (as Boot charged), I for one applaud his course of action.

Donald Trump is a sort of dynamo. Has any president done more to keep his campaign promises? How much richer, most secure, freer are we today than we were under the watchful eye of Barack Obama? And note that the swamp-like areas of life that remain unfree are those areas still under the jurisdiction of such “progressive” phenomena as Title IX hysteria on college campuses and the spirit of censorship that has disrupted the culture of social media and other “woke” initiatives.

The real battle that has been joined—and it is a battle that is forging a great political realignment—is not between virtuous progressive knights riding the steeds of liberalism, on the one hand, and the atavistic forces of untutored darkness represented by “populism,” on the other.

The real battle is between two views of liberty. One is a parochial view that affirms tradition, local affection, and the subordination of politics to the ordinary business of life. The other is more ambitious but more abstract. It seeks nothing less than to boost us all up to that plane of enlightenment from which all self-interested actions look petty, if not criminal, and through which mankind as a whole (but not alas individual men) may hope for whatever salvation secularism leavened by utilitarianism may provide.

We are still in the opening sallies of the Great Realignment. Many old alliances will be broken, many new ones formed. I expect a lot of heat, and even more smoke. I hope that there will also be at least occasional flashes of light.

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America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Post • The Culture

Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Ben Shapiro

Suffice to say, Ben Shapiro was long overdue for his opportunity to be the one who gets “destroyed” in a debate. And who would’ve guessed that the occasion for his destruction would be in an interview with the septuagenarian Andrew Neil of the BBC?

And here’s the real twist: It was not even Neil who destroyed Shapiro. Rather, Shapiro “destroyed” Shapiro. And that was quite a feat.

From his ridiculous suggestion that Neil—a longtime member of the Conservative Party—is on the Left, to his pompous declaration that he is somehow superior because he is “more popular” than Neil, there is enough in the arrogance he displayed to undo him.

But rather than belabor the question of Shapiro’s childish behavior and what it says about his temper, his inability to debate anyone who’s not a blue-haired college feminist, and his unjustly inflated ego, it would be more useful to examine what Shapiro revealed about his actual ideas, such as they are.

For even in that brief interchange before Shapiro stormed off in a rage, quite a lot was revealed about his political ideas. These are ripe for more careful examination, and that examination will demonstrate the inconsistencies within his own beliefs. In this case, his arrogance—though difficult to miss—should not overshadow how objectively wrong he is on the substance. Nor should it obscure how—in more ways than the damage that comes from such petulant displays—he is not helping the American Right.

False Dichotomies
Shapiro tried to frame the current state of affairs on the American Right as a series of debates between what he considers the “old guard” of conservatism and the rising Trump movement. He characterizes these debates as “Nationalism vs. Patriotism” and “Populism vs. Free Marketeerism” (now that’s a word you’ve probably never heard before).

This is either disingenuous on his part or else he grossly mistaken. In the American context, there is no distinction between nationalism and patriotism. An American nationalist is a patriot and an American patriot is a nationalist. To suggest otherwise shows a clear lack of understanding of one, or the other things and, perhaps, of both.

Patriotism is a generic love of one’s country, whereas nationalism is the belief that one’s country is the greatest country in the world, and therefore superior to all others. Considering that many a conservative—including those from the NeverTrump camp—talk endlessly about America being the greatest country on God’s green earth, they should have no issue with American nationalism.

But because President Trump has used the word “nationalist” and they want very much to dislike and disown him, they will find fault because remember: “Orange man bad.”

In trying to pit populism against “free marketeerism” (whatever that is) Shapiro is being downright absurd, if not simply harmful to crucial and necessary developments on the Right.

First, populism is not an economic theory. It’s a broader political idea that has to do with the consent of the governed, specifically, it refers to the dynamic between the populace and its leaders as their chosen representatives. It is manifested in leaders who repeatedly make appeals to their people and vow to stand for them against an entrenched political elite; a very common thing in politics. And last I checked, socialism is the opposite of “free marketeerism” and capitalism. Not populism. If Shapiro is worried about defending capitalism, perhaps he should be more concerned about the threat coming from socialism and join forces with the populists who are having some success in fighting it.

If we are to do some of the heavy-lifting for Shapiro (and it wouldn’t be the first time), then he is most likely referring to the economically populist ideas that President Trump has introduced into the mainstream and is now utilizing to the fullest with his trade policy, as well as his support for a massive infrastructure spending bill, among other things that bucked the traditional conservative orthodoxy on government measures in the economy. Instead of seeing these as potential methods to fend off socialism by ameliorating the harsher effects of unbridled capitalism, Shapiro is happy to label everything that doesn’t match up to the talking points he memorized in the early 2000s as “socialism.” Shapiro is not a strategic thinker.

Other examples of things Shapiro finds anathema are the broader push for government to step in against Big Tech censorship, or to halt the damage to workers brought on by the alarming rise of automation in many blue-collar industries. Freedom, for Shapiro, isn’t secured by protecting the political rights that are in place to protect the dignity of all American citizens, it’s secured by foolishly genuflecting at the altar of predatory economic enterprises who have weaponized a woke ideology for fun and profit. Forget that these emissaries from the tech industry and other quarters have become the kind of seething factions Madison warned us about in Federalist 10.

As Tucker Carlson explained in his conversation with Shapiro, taking up some of these positions on the Right is not a betrayal of capitalism, nor is it somehow the opposite of free-market thinking. This is how we protect America from the socialists and persuade voters who do not have their interests served by the policies Shapiro advocates.

Such economically populist ideas (which is only to say that they are more popular than the status quo that Shapiro upholds) are simply staking out a middle ground between the hardline, Ayn Rand-worshipping conservatives who think the free market has the powers of a benevolent god, and the socialists who want total government control over everything.

If such a middle ground can be staked out—one that serves the economic interests of the vast majority of the American voting population—it would be the most politically genius move in a generation. It would have the potential for massive crossover appeal for Republicans and make it possible to break the Democrats’ stranglehold on the middle class, and even cut through some of the more intransigent identity politics of our time. Let me be more clear: unless we do this, we will lose our country. There is nothing to be gained from tacking firmly to the right for the sake of a donor class worried primarily about losing its privileges, if it means we risk losing the vast middle class to the socialists.

Apparently, Shapiro didn’t learn a thing from that exchange with Carlson. Not surprising.

Punting the 2020 Issue
Shapiro’s political ignorance was on further display as he gave one of the most basic and elementary takes on the 2020 election, defaulting to the conventional wisdom that Joe Biden is Trump’s biggest threat (yawn). His reasoning is that Biden supposedly has appeal in the Rust Belt, and has a long political career that has established him to much of the American public. This familiarity, he claims, makes Biden a bigger threat than some of the political newcomers who Trump “drags through the mud,” as Shapiro says.

In the first place, familiarity does not automatically equal good press. Sure, people know who Biden is, but how many of those people only know him for his creepy touching of women? Or his numerous and idiotic gaffes? They probably know he was vice president. And?

Secondly, the claim that Trump only does well against political newcomers would come as a surprise to Hillary Clinton (nevermind how ironic that sounds coming from a man who established his career as a slayer of ill-informed undergraduate students). Hillary Clinton is a terrible politician, but she’s no greenhorn.

It’s safe to bet that even Dick Morris could probably produce a more compelling—and accurate—election take.

If nothing else, it was interesting to see Shapiro forced into a corner on the subject of his political loyalties going into the next election. When Neil pressed him on his opposition to Trump in 2016 compared to 2020, he eventually forced Shapiro to admit that he’d vote for Trump over Biden. Let’s all see if he keeps his word on that (but please, don’t hold your breath).

Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee
While skirting the issue of his own brand centering around videos showcasing his alleged ability to “destroy” his opponents, Shapiro tries to put the blame on his fans who make such video compilations of him, rather than on his own videos that also make use of what Neil describes as “coarse” language.

When Neil further presses him about such labeling, Shapiro defaults to platitudes about the First Amendment, saying “I think that people can describe me however they please. It’s a free country.”

This is especially laughable, considering that Shapiro was much less sanguine about being labeled “alt-right”  when The Economist recently so labeled him in one of its articles. But, of course, that label wouldn’t help him sell product.

Shapiro’s response then was to go on an obsessive multi-tweet rant in which he attacked President Trump and Steve Bannon, listed all of the times he has virtue-signaled against the alt-right, and then ended his tirade with a demand that The Economist retract the “pathetically inaccurate and defamatory nonsense” immediately; a demand with which they eventually complied by changing the title.

But if some rambunctious kids can label Shapiro with coarse “bro-language” why can’t The Economist’s label Shapiro as it sees fit? The First Amendment is not a one-way street that only allows people to label you however they please when they are fans of yours, making video compilations that paint you in a way that suits your interest; they also extend to those who oppose you and wish to talk about you in critical terms. This mindset is no different than the one held by the social media giants who endlessly seek to silence one side of the political spectrum, while letting the other side run free.

If it’s a matter of genuine defamation by falsely labeling someone alt-right, then by that same logic, Ben Shapiro is just as guilty as The Economist—or, for that matter, every single leftist who recklessly labels everyone they don’t like as “alt-right.” In August of 2016, he infamously tweeted out an almost entirely erroneous list of “alt-right and alt-right friendly people,” which included such notorious “white supremacists” as Milo Yiannopoulos, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Ron Paul, and… President Donald J. Trump.

When the Destroyer Becomes the Destroyed
Although this is certainly not a medical diagnosis, it might be safe to say that Shapiro suffers from short-term memory loss.

He didn’t remember anything from his debate with Tucker Carlson; he completely forgot about his tirade against The Economist simply exercising its free speech rights against him (which was on top of also forgetting how he, too, has falsely labeled people “alt-right”); he conveniently forgot about all the videos that he himself has posted using the word “destroys” in a reckless manner; and, somehow, he forgot that Donald Trump defeated a career politician to become president of the United States.

Even Shapiro’s excuse for this shoddy interview performance seems to prove this theory. He claimed that he “wasn’t properly prepared” in advance . . . for an interview about a book that he just wrote.

This is only worth mentioning because it further highlights how Shapiro truly only lives in the moment, and couldn’t care less about what happened yesterday or what could happen tomorrow. His entire persona is built on short clips of him “destroying” dumb college kids in rooms filled with hundreds of his fans, eager to offer him blind applause and accolades.

When you’re living in moments like those, it’s all too easy to feel as if you’re on top of the world, God’s gift to the American people, the best debater you’ll ever see, and the absolute greatest conservative commentator to ever exist. With such a devoted following in such carefully-constructed bubbles, everything he says must feel revolutionary, new, bold, and provocative.

But as soon as he steps outside of an auditorium, into a place where no sycophants are in sight to goad him on, and he meets someone who is determined to do his job and ask genuinely tough questions, the entire Hollywood-invented facade crumbles apart in spectacular fashion. Once again, a demigod manufactured by Conservatism, Inc. bleeds; and it could not be more satisfying to see.

Photo Credit: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Politicon 

America • American Conservatism • Democrats • Donald Trump • Political Parties • Post • The Left • the Presidency • Trump White House

How Trump Masterfully Frames the Ilhan Omar Debate

Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to the American Right in a good long while. The second-best thing to happen to the American Right is Ilhan Omar.

If Omar had been elected to Congress under previous Republican administrations, she would stand as yet another example of how Democrats’ hypocrisy regularly flies under the radar as it is dismissed by the mainstream media and Democratic leadership without a second thought.

But in the age of President Trump, the freshman from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District has proven just how effective Republicans can be if they hold their rivals’ feet to the fire over their own bigotry—with the added bonus of forcing the media to talk about it.

Where Republicans Failed

Omar should have been cause for immediate concern the moment she won the nomination to succeed departing congressman and Democratic National Committee deputy chairman Keith Ellison. It was a monumental feat to see a girlfriend-beater, a supporter of Antifa, and a friend of Louis Farrakhan upstaged by his successor in the hate department, but Omar managed to pull it off.

The Somali-born Muslim has been as open as possible about her own anti-Semitism, dating back to a (now-deleted) tweet in 2012 in which she declared that Israel had “hypnotized the world,” and she hoped that Allah would “open the world’s eyes” to the “evil” of Israel.

And who can forget the suggestion that Omar may have married her brother in order to manipulate the American immigration system and gain citizenship; a move that would have made Caligula blush.

And yet even as Omar won her election and was sworn in on the Koran, Republicans in Congress instead chose to focus all their energy on what they do best: attacking one of their own. Rather than go after the real anti-Semite, House Republicans caved to media pressure over veteran Representative Steve King (R-Iowa). King appeared to endorse white nationalism in an interview with the New York Times.

King explained himself later on the House floor. He charged the Times with deliberately taking his words out of context, changing the punctuation to give his words a different meaning. It didn’t matter. Republican leadership could not abandon him fast enough. They worked overtime to bow down to the media and the Left, passed a meaningless resolution basically calling King the devil, and stripped him of all his committee assignments.

And while the media and the GOP engorged themselves in the feeding frenzy over King’s comments, Omar sailed right into Congress, hijab and all.

Where Trump Succeeded

But then, after another round of anti-Semitic comments accusing members of Congress of being paid off by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Omar made a grave mistake that differed from the ones she made in her previous vile comments: She dared to make such a public statement in the age of President Trump.

Trump responded swiftly, not bothering to wade into the mess of semantics and second-guessing. Instead, Trump simply declared that Omar should be removed from her committee assignments and resigned. By doing this, he skipped right over the pointless question of whether her comments were anti-Semitic and turned it into “She’s clearly anti-Semitic; the question is what should be done with her?”

And that’s exactly what happened. For the next month, the national coverage of the story was not focused on whether or not Omar was guilty; it was focused on the deep internal divides that her comments had generated, and the response from both sides in the Democratic Party’s civil war. A similarly pointless resolution was passed condemning anti-Semitism was amended many times over to remove mentions of Omar’s name. Of course, it had to include examples of other forms of bigotry and was largely seen as insincere. Some even turned to the question of whether or not Democrats should support Israel in the first place. The debate also drew clear lines between the Democratic presidential candidates, with some supporting Omar and others criticizing her. Similar divides emerged in the House Democratic caucus.

And just like that, Trump had turned the media narrative away from the oft-repeated lie that Republicans are “the party of Hitler,” and instead forced that same media to discuss the ways in which Democrats are plagued with anti-Semitism.

Exposing Evil

But even after manipulating the news cycle and the national debate surrounding Omar and the Democrats for an entire month, Trump still isn’t finished with the most vile member of Congress. As public opinion shifted further against Omar and manifested in massive protests outside her appearance at an event with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Omar proceeded happily to throw fuel on herself even as she was already burning. Discussing alleged “Islamophobia” in America, she described 9/11 in a terrifyingly casual and dismissive tone—as “some people did something.”

The backlash was swift enough on its own, but then the New York Post issued a blistering cover story, including an image depicting the second plane crash into the World Trade Center, with Omar’s quote as a caption followed by “Here’s your ‘something.’ 2,977 people dead by terrorism.”

It wasn’t long before the divides emerged again, as the helpless Omar ran for cover behind her much louder and more social media-savvy friend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

The socialist poster child immediately responded by calling the Post’s cover “horrifying [and] hateful,” before launching into several absurd tangents in a shoddy effort to defend Omar’s comments; among them were the laughably hollow claim that Omar’s prior co-sponsoring of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (yet another largely symbolic move) somehow excused her comments, a false equivocation claiming that the GOP’s refusal to support socialized healthcare is somehow as bad as neglecting 9/11 families and survivors, and even the perpetuation of the idiotic conspiracy theory that right-wing extremism is on the rise in America (hint: it’s not).

President Trump once again seized this golden opportunity to get ahead of the media and frame the debate himself, posting a gut-wrenching video on Twitter that contrasted Omar’s comments with the horrifying images and sounds of that fateful day.

And once again the floodgates of internal Democratic division were opened, as there was no shortage of prominent Democrats—from the 2020 field to the halls of Congress—who rushed to the defense of someone who literally downplayed the severity of 9/11, just to score political points against Trump. The trap was set, and many a gullible quarry were caught.

All Politics is Local

Trump’s handling of every single stupid comment that Omar makes is twofold. On the national scene, he is shining a spotlight on her bigotry and anti-Americanism in order to keep the Democrats on defense, as they are forced time and again to answer for the vile rhetoric of their most radical member of Congress. This already is a lose-lose for them: They either condemn her and anger their growing far-left base, or they begrudgingly excuse her and lose moderate voters as they expose their true colors.

But his strategy is also effective at the local level too, primarily because of the fact that his target in this latest battle is in the House of Representatives, and thus from a small portion of a larger state. That state, of course, is Minnesota; a state that Trump only narrowly lost in 2016, coming closer to winning it than any Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

As one look at the state’s electoral map will tell you, the vast geographic majority of the state is dominated by rural counties, populated by farmers and other working-class voters, AKA Trump Country. And yet these days, Minnesota is only ever in the news not because of the conditions of the working class or the benefits that Trump’s protectionism have brought about for its population, but because of the stupidity of Ilhan Omar making the state as a whole look bad. There is arguably no greater tactic for really firing up the Trump base in this crucial Rust Belt state going into 2020, with 10 electoral votes at stake.

The importance of local politics as a result of Omar’s latest slurs may even provide the long sought-after silver bullet that could finally take down Ocasio-Cortez, who is the true political threat from the socialist wing of the Left.

Previous Republican efforts to criticize her over such trivial matters as her “three chambers of Congress” gaffe have been remarkably ineffective, and understandably so. But Ocasio-Cortez has made the very grave mistake of focusing more on her own national profile than on representing her own district. Just ask Eric Cantor (R-Va.), or even Ocasio-Cortez’s predecessor Joe Crowley (R-N.Y.), how that worked out.

It goes without saying that New Yorkers can be quite nativist when it comes to their city’s identity being attacked by outsiders; just see the response to Ted Cruz’s “New York values” comments against Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries. And there is no greater subject that can possibly tug at the heartstrings of New Yorkers more than the wounds of 9/11.

And yet here we are, for the first time ever, seeing a member of New York’s congressional delegation unapologetically agreeing with someone who said that 9/11 essentially wasn’t that bad. Ocasio-Cortez, for all her boasting about being “a poor girl from the Bronx” (not really), has proven eager to eschew her supposedly beloved identity as a New Yorker in favor of defending a member of her “squad,” morality and reality be damned. Her potential opponents in 2020, both in the primary and the general election, could not ask for a greater gift with which to really whip up voters into an anti-AOC frenzy.

Trump Takes More Pawns

It is all too clear that in the post-Mueller era of this presidency, President Trump has truly been unchained and is finally free to go entirely on offense against his political opponents, without having to worry about defending himself against a bogus investigation.

As such, we are now frequently treated to the Trump we saw on the campaign trail, uninhibited by conspiracy theories of collusion and with multiple targets around him all ripe for a sniping. The master persuader is back and ready to start framing the latest national debates on his terms, and whether or not Democrats are ready to admit it, this is a battle for which they are not prepared in the slightest.

Whether it’s the latest garbage spewed by Ilhan Omar, or the Democrats’ blindingly fast 180-degree turn on sanctuary cities, Trump is once again ready and able to prove that he will outsmart the Democrats at every political maneuver, taking out their chess pieces one by one as they scramble wildly around the board.

And as the 2020 presidential election draws closer and these battles have a clear impact on the crop of Democratic candidates vying for the nomination, their continued displays of hypocrisy, radicalism, and obnoxiously insincere self-righteousness will further drive moderate voters away from them while also firing up Trump’s base. The subsequent results will leave the Democrats even more humiliated than they were two years ago.

Photo credit:  Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Civilization Wins in ‘The Highwaymen’

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Hollywood’s cultural liberalism is effective not because it lectures us. Indeed, the lecturing, hectoring awards shows have been getting clobbered in ratings precisely because they do that. The movies and TV shows that succeed in moving our culture leftward do so because they tell a story that gets us to sympathize with the hero.

In his fine little book, The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling writes that the three most significant political ideologies in America see political issues in terms of distinct fundamental conflicts. For liberals, it’s the oppressors versus the oppressed; for conservatives, it’s barbarism versus civilization; for libertarians, it’s tyranny versus freedom.

The categories are not mutually exclusive, because the people who hold these ideologies are rarely completely pure. (People with completely pure political ideologies are fanatics, and all fanatics are boring, Pellinore.) The oppressed fight for freedom; tyranny is itself a form of barbarism; real freedom can only flourish in civilization. Still, as basic frameworks, they are both durable and remarkably explanatory.

John Lee Hancock’s new film, “The Highwaymen,” speaks the language of conservatism. The movie—showing in theaters and on Netflix—follows famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and his partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) as they track and ambush Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, bringing an end to one of the most celebrated killing sprees in U.S. history.

Superficially, “The Highwaymen” is a cop-buddy picture, with the stock elements of the genre. More substantially, it’s a compelling consideration of society’s response to evil, civilization’s response to barbarism.

John Fusco’s screenplay serves as a rebuttal to 1967’s unduly honored “Bonnie and Clyde.” If ever there were a movie that spoke the language of liberalism, that was it. In the popular imagination of the Great Depression, Bonnie and Clyde were Robin Hoods, robbing from banks. Director Arthur Penn bought into that myth, weirdly sympathizing with them even as his film graphically displayed their violence. If Bonnie and Clyde were bloody, they at least sided with the oppressed Everyman against the oppressor banks.

Likewise, “Bonnie and Clyde” slandered Frank Hamer as a braggart and a buffoon, motivated not by a sincere desire to enforce the law and protect society but rather by revenge and self-glorification. The Hamer family was so upset by the portrayal that they sought and won a substantial defamation settlement against Warner Brothers.

Hancock and Fusco set out to right that wrong, along the lines of John Boessenecker’s 2016 book, The Epic Life of Frank Hamer.

Rather than a showboat, Hamer is correctly depicted as a serious, experienced lawman, methodically tracking his quarry across the south and Midwest. Bonnie and Clyde knew they were wanted; they didn’t advertise their route or their whereabouts. Hamer and Gault had to understand their targets and anticipate their moves. They also had to disabuse some of the locals of their hero-worship and figure out which local law enforcement officers they could trust.

In reframing the story to be sympathetic to Hamer and Gault, Fusco literally had no choice but to choose the language of conservatism: Hamer as Civilization, confronting the Barbaric Bonnie and Clyde.

Because Bonnie and Clyde were barbarians. They robbed banks. They killed lawmen in cold blood and engaged in any number of petty thefts from the Everyman whose sympathy they exploited. And as true barbarians, they turned civilization’s own ethics against it. Confident that men in 1930s America would be reluctant to shoot a woman, Clyde used that moment’s hesitation to get the drop on those they confronted.

Hancock’s filmmaking here is masterly. He simultaneously emphasizes the inhumanity and violence of Parker’s and Barrow’s crimes, while distancing us from the criminals. They are shown only from a distance, from behind, unclearly, fleetingly. They are the Other, come to terrorize, and we can never empathize with them.

And yet, we are dealing with human beings. If we are to avoid turning civilization’s defenders into tyrants or oppressors, if Hamer is to be something other than the assassin from “Serenity”, we must confront the choice to take life head-on. Conservatism demands that examination of hard truths and hard choices. In two pivotal scenes, Fusco’s screenplay does just that.

Repeatedly, Hamer has to tell people that Bonnie and Clyde aren’t who they think they are. They aren’t Robin Hood and they’re not the nice kids who grew up in Dallas. They are stone-cold killers.

One person Hamer doesn’t have to tell that to is Henry Barrow, Clyde’s father. Yes, they discuss whether Clyde was a bad seed or was pushed to go bad. Instead of ending there in trite fashion, though, the two men agree that it really doesn’t matter. What matters is what Clyde has done. Is it enough to put him past redemption? And if so, what must the response of society be to that evil, whatever its source?

Our distance from Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow works to filmmakers’ advantage in one other scene. The two detectives have located the criminals’ hideout. Harrelson’s Gault holds Parker’s hairbrush, and is reminded that he has been chasing a real person across the country, a woman, and he is preparing to take her life. Because we have also only seen Bonnie and Clyde from a distance, we’re with him.

Once again, Hamer sets the terms: “It’s never easy, and it’s never pretty. And there’s always blood at the end of the road—you know that.” Weakness right now is just going to get more good men killed.

The movie opts not for the easy postmodern moral ambiguity, but instead shows the calm, reasoned self-confidence of men bringing individuals to justice.

Photo credit: Netflix

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Same People Behind Iraq War Lies Pushed Russian Collusion


For more than two years they misled us.

Exploiting fear and confusion after a shocking event, they warned that our country was in imminent danger at the hands of a mad man. They insisted that legitimate intelligence, including a CIA report issued a month before a national election and a dossier produced by reliable sources in the United Kingdom, proved the threat was real. The subject monopolized discussions on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in the press.

They argued that the situation was so dire that it was straining our relationship with strategic allies. Any evidence to the contrary was readily dismissed. And anyone who questioned their agenda was ridiculed as a coward, a dupe, or a conspiracy theorist. The news media dedicated endless air time and column inches to anyone who wanted to repeat the falsehood.

But an investigative report released two years after the propaganda campaign began found no evidence to support their central claim. The CIA report was highly flawed. The official dossier, some concluded, was deceptive and “sexed-up.”

No, I’m not referring here to the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, although the similarities are nearly identical. I’m talking about the period between 2002 and 2004 when many of the very same people who recently peddled collusion fiction also insisted that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction—including material to produce nuclear bombs. On the heels of the horrors of 9/11, the United States and our allies waged war against Iraq in 2003 based primarily on that assurance.

But in 2004, a special advisor to the CIA concluded Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. There were no stockpiles of biological or chemical agents; no plans to develop a nuclear bomb. The main argument for the war had been wholly discredited. But it was too late: The conflict officially raged on for another seven years, including a “surge” of 20,000 more U.S. troops in 2007 at the behest of the late Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). We still have a troop presence in Iraq to this day.

In between the two scandals was more than a decade of recriminations against once-trusted experts on the Right who led our nation into battle. The Iraq war cost the lives of more than 4,400 U.S. troops, maimed tens of thousands more and resulted in an unquantifiable amount of emotional, mental, and physical pain for untold numbers of American military families. Suicide rates for servicemen and veterans have exploded leaving thousands more dead and their families devastated. And it has cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion and counting.

So, these discredited outcasts thought they found in the Trump-Russia collusion farce a way to redeem themselves in the news media and recover their lost prestige, power, and paychecks. After all, it cannot be a mere coincidence that a group of influencers on the Right who convinced Americans 16 years ago that we must invade Iraq based on false pretenses are nearly the identical group of people who tried to convince Americans that Donald Trump conspired with the Russians to rig the 2016 election, an allegation also based on hearsay and specious evidence.

It cannot be an innocent mistake. It cannot be explained away as an example of ignorance in the defense of national security or democracy or human decency. It cannot be justified as a mere miscalculation based on the “best available information at the time” nor should we buy any of the numerous excuses that they offered up to rationalize the war.

In fact, one can draw a straight line between the approach of neoconservative propagandists from the Iraq War travesty and the Trump-Russia collusion hoax. The certainty with which they pronounced their dubious claims, their hyperbolic warnings about pending doom—all eerily similar:

Bill Kristol in 2003: “We look forward to the liberation of our own country and others from the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and to the liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal and sadistic tyrant.”

Bill Kristol in 2018: “It seems to me likely Mueller will find there was collusion between Trump associates and Putin operatives; that Trump knew about it; and that Trump sought to cover it up and obstruct its investigation. What then? Good question.”

John McCain in 2003: “I believe that, obviously, we will remove a threat to America’s national security because we will find there are still massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

John McCain in 2017: “There’s a lot of aspects with this whole relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin that requires further scrutiny. In fact, I think there’s a lot of shoes to drop from this centipede. This whole issue of the relationship with the Russians and who communicated with them and under what circumstances clearly cries out for an investigation.”

David Frum in 2002 (writing for President George W. Bush): “States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.“

David Frum in 2016: “I never envisioned an Axis of Evil of which one of the members was the US National Security Adviser.”

Max Boot in 2003: “I hate to disappoint all the conspiracy-mongers out there, but I think we are going into Iraq for precisely the reasons stated by President Bush: to destroy weapons of mass destruction, to bring down an evil dictator with links to terrorism, and to enforce international law.”

Max Boot in 2019: “If this is what it appears to be, it is the biggest scandal in American history—an assault on the very foundations of our democracy in which the president’s own campaign is deeply complicit. There is no longer any question whether collusion occurred. The only questions that remain are: What did the president know? And when did he know it?”

Those are just a handful of examples from a deep trove of comparisons. Other accomplices on the Right involved in both scandals include former NSA Director Michael Hayden; former Weekly Standard editor Stephen Hayes; MSNBC host and former U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough; neoconservative think tankers Robert Kagan and Eliot Cohen; and former Bush aides Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner.

Even George W. Bush questioned aloud last year whether alleged Russian meddling “affected the outcome of the election.”

And let’s not forget who was in charge of the FBI before, during, and after the Iraq War: Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel hired in May 2017 to find evidence of Russian collusion. In his February 2003 Senate testimony, Mueller confirmed reports that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and expressed concern that Hussein “may supply terrorists with biological, chemical or radiological material.” James Comey, Mueller’s close friend and successor at the FBI, served as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005. Comey, of course, is the man who opened an investigation into the Trump campaign in July 2016 and signed the FISA application in October 2016 to spy on Trump campaign aide, Carter Page. Both, we’ve been assured repeatedly, were Republicans.

A Deficit of Humility and Introspection
So why did they do it? Why did Kristol, McCain, Frum, Boot, et. al., dive headlong and without shame into a domestic political war with just as much thoughtless braggadocio as they brought to the disastrous Iraq war? Clearly, this war did not have the same deadly results as the war in Iraq but, nonetheless, it fueled an unprecedented degree of anger and division among our countrymen and toward our new president. It ensnared innocent people who suffered real-life consequences, their fate grotesquely cheered by these mendacious fraudsters.


If you had the blood of so many young Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis on your hands because you peddled a lie, wouldn’t you be a tad more cautious before repeating that kind of mistake? If you assured Americans that the Iraq war would last just a few months, as Bill Kristol said in 2002, but instead it ended up lasting eight years, wouldn’t you be chastened about making more predictions? If your actions led directly to the election of a Democratic president who launched his winning campaign based on your egregious failures, wouldn’t you hesitate before inserting yourself in another scandal that gave fodder to your political opponents at your expense?

The answer, apparently, is “no.”

It’s unlikely any of these collusion propagandists on the Right truly believed the contents of the Steele dossier. One reason they played along was to exact revenge against the man who won the White House over their objections and called their bluff on the Iraq War: Donald Trump.

When Trump stood on a debate stage in February 2016 and said the Iraq war was a “big, fat mistake,” he didn’t just say it to a random Republican opponent. He said it directly to Jeb Bush, the brother of the president who launched the war. “George Bush made a mistake, we should never have been in Iraq,” Trump seethed. “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none.”

The crowd mostly booed. But Trump didn’t back down. In a post-debate interview on Fox News, Trump reiterated his criticism. “The Iraq war was a disaster. We spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives. What do we have?” he asked Tucker Carlson. “We have nothing, absolutely nothing.” Nothing except a massive bill in blood and treasure borne mostly by the middle and working class.

At the time, Trump’s view was well outside the mainstream of conservative orthodoxy. Republicans were not inclined to admit failure on the battlefield, let alone to doubt the motives of intelligence, military, and political leadership we had trusted and were taught not to question. “Challenging the assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction would draw scorn and mockery,” Adam Mill reminded us in an excellent piece for American Greatness. Further, with near-unanimous consent, House and Senate Republicans voted in 2002 to authorize military force against Iraq.

But Trump laid bare the culpability of the failed war’s Republican architects. He exposed the lingering guilt many rank-and-file Republicans felt about their unflinching support for a war that ultimately was based on a docket of falsehoods and empty promises. A war its promoters were eager to get into but had no plan to win.

Crossing a Red Line
Further, Trump intended to halt the Republican Party’s fealty to the Bush Doctrine. The post-9/11 foreign policy of the neoconservatives running the Bush Administration
centered around preemptive war, regime change, and the spread of democracy in the Middle East.

But 15 years later, Trump called out the doctrine’s failures and faulted those who authored it: “That’s why I have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war,” Trump said in a foreign policy speech in April 2016. “We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing.”

At a campaign rally in May 2016, Trump specifically mocked Kristol. “All the guy [Kristol] wants to do is kill people even though he knows it’s not working although he doesn’t know because he’s not smart enough.”

A red line, so to speak, had been crossed. The candidate likely to win the Republican presidential nomination was taking direct aim at the elite Republican establishment so they responded in kind. Dozens of Republican national security and intelligence experts denounced Trump in an August 2016 public letter, insisting he would be a “dangerous president and put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” Kristol enlisted an independent candidate to run against Trump.

At the very same time, the Obama White House and top Democratic officials in his administration were circulating the Steele dossier and investigating the Trump campaign for possible collusion with the Russians. (After the election, McCain and one of his advisors distributed the phony Steele dossier to the FBI, lawmakers, and reporters.)

The symmetry is impossible to ignore or dismiss as coincidence. The Trump-Russia collusion hoax was a chance for these jilted influencers to get revenge against a president and a party that no longer had any use for them. Trump threatened their long-held grasp of centralized power, so they did everything they could to hold on to it, including siding with the Left to sabotage him. It was a craven act of self-restoration. Excommunicated by the Right, they sought to redeem themselves by sucking up to the Left, which not so long ago accused Iraq war promoters of being criminals.

Utterly Shameless and Undeterred
The question now is, will the Left shun these useful idiots once and for all? Now that their role in pushing the collusion narrative from the anti-Trump Right is over, will they stop booking Kristol on CNN? Will the 
Washington Post stop publishing Boot and Wehner and Hayden? Will Jake Tapper ask them any hard question, such as, “how can you be so wrong twice in 15 years?” Will the anti-war Left remember the human destruction for which they are responsible?

Further, they viewed Robert Mueller as the man who could destroy Trump. Much like their objective in the aftermath of the Iraq war, their end goal was to be proven right that Donald Trump was unfit to lead, not actually to do what was right for the country. It was pure ego.

Unfortunately, that probably isn’t where the similarities between Russian collusion and the Iraq War will end. The collusion propagandists on the Right will never apologize for supporting the hoax—just like most have not yet apologized for leading the country into a deadly, destructive, and arguably unnecessary war. Even now, after both the Mueller investigation and the House Intelligence committee have found no evidence of collusion, they won’t let up. Kristol is still tweeting Trump-Russian conspiracy theories and both Kristol and Frum are creating new conspiracies about the Mueller report. They know no shame.

In another ironic twist, authors David Corn and Michael Isikoff wrote a book, Hubris, that lamented the lack of accountability for the neoconservative pushers of the Iraq war. “If you look at the media cheerleaders from that time . . . David Brooks, Bill Kristol . . . did they lose one speaking engagement? Did they lose the fee for one column?” Corn asked during a 2013 MSNBC interview. “There was no price to be paid.”

Corn and Isikoff were the two reporters who published Steele dossier-sourced articles prior to the 2016 presidential election. Isikoff’s article was cited extensively in the October 2016 FISA application on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Of course, they won’t pay a price, either.

So, there may not be a short-term price for the Iraq War/Trump-Russia propagandists on the Right to pay. The only consolation, if there is one, is that these con men are unlikely to ever to have a home again in the Republican Party. They will not have any influence; they’ll be political poison for any candidate dumb enough to seek their endorsement.

They can never again initiate a foreign war that costs thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars. Yes, they’ll be played for fools at CNN, MSNBC and in the Washington Post—trotted out as “conservatives” to condemn Republicans who are actually advancing policies that help the country. But they will never be taken seriously by anyone on the Right; to the contrary, they’ll be a collective cautionary tale for future generations of Republican leaders and influencers.

While they are not directly responsible for enormous bloodshed in this instance, like they are for the Iraq War, their deception about Trump-Russia collusion did result in actual harm to hundreds of people victimized by the farce. Every Trump family member and associate has been under a shadow of manufactured suspicion since the election; ditto for every White House aide, cabinet member, and former campaign worker. The amount of money and time wasted on this travesty will never fully be known.

Carter Page, a former U.S. Navy officer, was stalked relentlessly by the media and congressional investigators—and was a recipient of numerous death threats—not to mention spied on by his own government for a year in a fruitless attempt to find collusion between the campaign and the Kremlin. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, still not sentenced more than 18 months after his plea deal for one count of lying to federal officials, is bankrupt. The home of Roger Stone was raided by the FBI at dawn; he, too, is going bankrupt. The civil libertarians and so-called freedom-loving conservatives all have been silent on these political persecutions.

Will the Fraudsters Get Away With It Again?
The country has been divided by hate and rage and unjustified distrust. Legitimate problems—such as illegal immigration, sustained job growth for the middle class, faulty trade agreements, the opioid crisis—have been completely ignored by our ruling class with the exception of President Trump. Calls to retaliate against Russia have been far and wide, while real international threats, such as China, North Korea, and ISIS have been overlooked by the collusion propagandists. This has been their intention all along; with no solutions to offer for any of these issues, the vanquished neoconservatives cling to relevance by spinning fabulist tales all in service of destroying a Republican president.

The goal of the intersectional Iraq War and Trump-Russia collusion fraudsters was clear: Regime change. The playbook is nearly identical—produce flawed intelligence, rally support from the media, portray any opponent as a bad actor, keep creating new crimes. However this time, instead of seeking to depose an Iraqi tyrant, the collusion propagandists within the conservative establishment sought to remove a duly elected U.S. president.

This is unconscionable and likely illegal. It’s the reason why Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) this week is expected to make at least eight criminal referrals to the Justice Department related to the real scandal: The weaponization of the world’s most powerful law enforcement and intelligence apparatus to sabotage a rival presidential campaign and derail an incoming administration.

That’s a necessary start. But those who did not engage in specifically illegal activity but nonetheless bolstered those venal efforts also must be held responsible. They escaped justice and accountability once—they can’t get away with it again. They must be shamed into political oblivion.

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Senate Shouldn’t Nuke Minority Voices: A Reply to Ed Whelan

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Ed Whelan of National Review on Monday published a two-part rebuttal to my argument against the Senate’s effort to nuke their post-cloture 30-hour rule. The Senate is scheduled to start that very process Tuesday afternoon.

Part one of Whelan’s argument focuses exclusively on whether or not the Senate has the right to change its rules, or, as it is about to do, create a precedent in violation of those rules. I refer you to Twitter for the bulk of my rebuttal to part one. Suffice to say, nowhere in my original piece do I dispute the notion that the Constitution grants the Senate affirmative authority over its rules. The issue is not one of constitutionality, but rather, one of prudence.

I assert that it is unwise, for the reasons outlined in my original piece and in the Twitter thread. Whelan seems to suggest that because it is constitutional it, therefore, should be done. He also uses procedural examples from Senate expert Marty Gold, which basically represent an unclear and apples-to-oranges comparison in this case. But again, I refer you to the thread, which remains un-rebutted by Whelan.

But I’d like to focus my rebuttal to Whelan on the second part of his argument, which is closer to the substance of my case.

Whelan and I come at this from two fundamentally different viewpoints. Whelan is concerned with outcomes—in this instance, confirming as many judicial nominations as possible. I am concerned with long-term consequences; chief among them the Senate’s ability to protect the rights of those with minority viewpoints, and to act as a check on an unruly majority and an overly empowered executive.

I will take each of his assertions one at a time.

1. A vote cannot be called during the post-cloture 30 hours because, after speaking, each senator returns the Senate to a quorum call, which prevents the presiding officer from calling a vote.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Senate operates. Quorum calls technically exist to summon senators to the floor to address pending business. Recall the scene in Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” where Senator Jefferson Smith, frustrated that nobody is in the chamber to hear his speech, asks for a quorum call to force all senators to return to the chamber.

The modern Senate uses quorum calls to filibuster action on the Senate floor. To understand how this works, consider there are only three things that happen on the Senate floor: a speech, a quorum call, and a vote. Thus, when senators finish speaking, traditionally they “suggest the absence of a quorum” to return the Senate to stasis. If they did not, and no other senator is seeking recognition, the Senate immediately could move a vote on the pending business. (I’ve written more about quorum calls here.)

As to Whelan’s specific objection, it is easily overcome. The last senator to speak simply does not return the Senate to a quorum call. The majority leader then summons a live quorum to the floor and moves to the vote. (I’ve also written more about how this would work here.)

Moreover, there is the technical point that, post-cloture, only one quorum call is in order. Further quorum calls are considered dilatory. So, Whelan’s point that each senator returning the Senate to a quorum call blocks the Senate moving to a vote is technically incorrect on that point as well.

Hence, when there are no longer any senators seeking recognition, the Leader calls a live quorum. Senators gather. A vote is held.

2. If my argument is that senators are lazy, then I should support the nuclear option to reduce 30 hours of debate to two.

This is only true if a) I am exclusively concerned with outcomes, that is, confirming as many judges as is humanly possible (I’m not; I’m more concerned with consequences) and b) if I thought reducing hours of debate would actually speed up confirmation (I don’t).

Senators are indeed lazy, as I lay out in my original piece. The fact that they’d rather diminish the integrity of the Senate’s rules by nuking them instead of using them is a case in point.

However, the proposed rules change, Senate Resolution 50, would simply gag senators without speeding anything up. Its practical effect will be to codify the Senate’s laziness.

Whelan claims that the Senate resolution would speed up confirmations for “most” nominations by reducing the 30 hours to two hours.

But the proposal leaves the 30 hours in place for Supreme Court nominations, circuit court judges, and nominees to boards like the Federal Reserve. The proposal then divides that time equally between the majority and the minority (each get 15 hours).

Ironically, this actually locks in longer consideration of these nominees than currently exists. Under existing rules, 15 hours of debate takes 15 different senators (and fewer than 15 if not enough senators show up to debate). Under Senate Resolution 50, all 15 hours have to run, regardless of who shows up to debate, assuming the Democrats do not yield back time (and, after the GOP goes nuclear, why would they?).

In other words, existing rules allow the 30 hours to be shortened if properly exercised. The 30 hours under existing rules represent a ceiling. Senate Resolution 50, for the nominations that are exempt from the rules change, actually locks in 30 hours as the floor, meaning they must be run regardless of whether or not they are even used.

There is also the small fact that the Senate still only works 2.5 days a week, and that is unlikely to change, regardless of what the Senate does to its rules. (The 2.5 day work week may be the one de facto rule of the Senate that is untouchable.)

3. Whelan cannot “make heads or tails” of my argument that Trump’s political appointees will not be as easily confirmed.

Senate Resolution 50 shortens the 30 hours for district judges and sub-Cabinet nominations. Most of these confirmations are processed right now in larger packages, by unanimous consent. Last Congress, the Senate confirmed 714 individual nominations (this number excludes military promotions), of which 182 were done by roll call votes. Critically, 532 nominations were confirmed by voice vote or unanimous consent.

That is, the Senate last Congress confirmed most of their nominees via consent.

If the 30-hours are nuked, it seems reasonable to conclude that Democrats will withhold any consent for these nominations, requiring each of them to processed individually on the floor.

As Whelan points out, there are thousands of nominees, particularly at the lower level. Without these giant consent packages, Senate Republicans would need to prioritize nominations for floor time. If given the option between a Trump political appointee who will serve for the next two years, or a judge who will have a lifetime appointment, it seems obvious which one is going to get floor time, and which one is not.

4. Finally, the legislative filibuster. I argue that normalizing nuclear behavior on the judicial filibuster puts the legislative filibuster at risk. Whelan calls this “speculative” and asserts that judicial filibusters and legislative filibusters are totally separate and the state of one does not, and should not, impact the state of the other.

This gets to the crux of our disagreement. Whelan is concerned solely with outcomes—in this case, confirming as many judicial nominees as possible. He does not appear to give any consideration to what happens to minority rights in the Senate as a result.

I would argue that the last point—the state of minority rights in the Senate—is the essential one. This is especially true for conservatives, of which Whelan is one. Conservatives are always in the minority, even when Republicans are in the majority.

The Senate is distinct from the House in that its rules empower a robust minority. Dissent in the Senate—be it from the opposing party, or one or two members who disagree with their majority—is a high bar to overcome in the upper chamber. The Framers designed it that way, as a means of checking a rowdy majority (otherwise known as the House) and standing up against too powerful an executive.

Republicans have used these rights just as much as Democrats. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) withheld consent on Department of Justice nominees to force a conversation with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over marijuana laws. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) used his rights to make a lonely, but ultimately successful, quest to oppose the nomination of Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Under the contemplated rules change, most of Gardner’s nominees would be confirmed after two hours. Lee could have been blocked from speaking on the Chai Feldblum nomination if the majority leader yielded back all time (Senate Resolution 50 allows the leaders to control the post-cloture debate time).

Minority rights are central to the Senate regardless of who is in power. But, for Republicans, minority rights become even more important when they are in the minority. (And again, conservatives are always in the minority.)

Ultimately, the issue we should be concerned with here is less about the judicial or legislative filibuster. It’s more about using nuclear tactics on Senate rules. Once the Senate normalizes going nuclear on its rules as a practice, this will then naturally applied to rules of any kind, including rules that govern legislation.

It’s already happening. This isn’t a perfectly correlated example, but it’s one worth noting. Last month, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) created a new precedent on the War Powers Act to prevent Republican senators from offering amendments. In this particular instance, McConnell used the opening of an ambiguous statute to gag the amendment process. In other words, he created a precedent to further constrain the Senate as it relates to the legislative process.

The more the Senate normalizes a practice of nuking every rule in its path, or creating a precedent to curtail legislative options, it’s only a matter of time before the Senate’s rules become even more meaningless as the Senate descends to a pseudo-majoritarian version of the House. So much for the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

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2016 Election • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Deep State • Donald Trump • Mueller-Russia Witch Hunt • Post • The Left • The Resistance (Snicker)

NeverTrump’s Complicity in Trump-Russia Collusion Hoax

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As the history of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax is being written, one group deserves a vaunted perch atop the proverbial Hall of Shame: NeverTrump “conservatives.”

For nearly three years, these Trump-hating propagandists on the Right have aided the most mendacious forces on the Left in a grievous attempt to take down the Republican president of the United States. While they preened, prattled, and proselytized about how much better they are than deplorable Trumpists, NeverTrumpers en masse abandoned their so-called traditional conservative principles in order to aid a Hillary Clinton-DNC-Obama Administration scheme to destroy the political pariah who won the presidency over their collective objection.

In the process, they tried to rewrite the fundamental tenets of American conservatism.  Behavior that once would’ve sparked outrage in conservative quarters has been normalized, even justified, by self-proclaimed conservatives.

Because Trump is president, now it is “conservative” to present fictional opposition research as legitimate evidence to the most powerful law enforcement officials in the world. Because Trump is president, now it is “conservative” to violate the privacy rights of a U.S. citizen who made the mistake of volunteering for the wrong campaign. Because Trump is president, now it is “conservative” to frame a three-star general and cheer as he loses his reputation and his life savings over a manufactured process crime.

Because Trump is president, now it is “conservative” to defend the weaponization of our most trusted institutions—from the FBI to a secret court created to protect the country from foreign criminals—and disguise those actions as “the right thing to do.” Because Trump is president, now it is “conservative” to promote an untethered investigation run by revenge-seeking partisans and justify their manipulation of every lever of federal authority.

Because Trump is president, now it is “conservative” to appear on left-leaning cable news shows and editorial pages to suggest the president—without evidence—is a Russian shill, agent, stooge, and worse, a traitor, whose days are numbered. Because Trump is president, now it is “conservative” to attack Republican lawmakers attempting to expose how unelected bureaucrats abused their power to target innocent Americans.

Functionally Left-Wing
The emotional restraint and intellectual mooring that once distinguished Beltway conservatives from their counterparts on the Left is gone. Instead, the NeverTrump Russia conspiracy theorists have been as unhinged, gullible, and dishonest as the most craven commentator on MSNBC or in the Washington Post.

This rogue’s gallery includes people who at one time were some of the most trusted influencers in the Republican Party. Bill Kristol, the founder of the now-defunct Weekly Standard, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a left-wing tech billionaire and Trump foe to “defend” the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He was in on the Russian collusion story from the beginning, clearly parroting Fusion GPS talking points in a July 2016 article, “Putin’s Party.”

Kristol, now the editor-at-large of what appears to be a satirical “conservative” blog called The Bulwark, has an obsession with Russian collusion that borders on insanity; in November, he tweeted a remake of a “Fiddler on the Roof” tune to include the word “collusion” several times. Just last month, he posted an article about Paul Manafort’s 2016 meeting with an alleged Russian political operative at a D.C. cigar with a one-word title: “Collusion,” he tweeted. (He has dozens of tweets with the word “collusion.”)

When Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in August 2018, Kristol once again predicted doom for the president. “How do we know it is not Russia?” Kristol warned on MSNBC. “Michael Cohen may well know about the Trump Tower meeting . . . and Cohen was in touch with Trump throughout 2015 and 2016. I don’t really buy the argument that this isn’t important for the Russia side.”

Kristol’s Trump-Russia collusion fixation has been shared by his pals Jonah Goldberg and David French at National Review. Although Goldberg has publicly insisted he is a “collusion skeptic,” he has promoted several collusion plotlines, including the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russian lobbyists and Trump’s campaign team, including the president’s oldest son.

“I think it is collusion,” Goldberg said in August 2018 during a Fox News radio interview, even as the interviewer explained how the meeting was clearly set-up by Fusion GPS chief Glenn Simpson. “I do think Donald Trump Jr. is in trouble . . . if he was led to believe that he was gonna get stuff that was illegally stolen from Hillary Clinton’s server or from the DNC server and that he was looking forward to getting it.” (There is no mention of emails or any server in the exchanges between Don Jr. and the intermediary.)

Goldberg then weirdly claimed, “I understand that [Don Jr.] said some things under oath to Congress about what his state of mind was going into all this.” How did he “understand” this? Was Adam Schiff was leaking private testimony to Goldberg?

Goldberg also mocked the idea that the Obama Justice Department enlisted spies to infiltrate the campaign, and claimed that Carter Page and George Papadopoulos had “expressed an eagerness to work with a foreign power, Russia.” He repeatedly suggested that Trump and his associates were behaving like men with “something to hide” about Russian collusion.

Then this in May 2018: “Meanwhile, the argument that President Trump secretly colluded with the Russians to beat Clinton has more plausibility than those shouting ‘conspiracy theory!’ and ‘witch hunt!’ are willing to entertain,” Goldberg wrote, while dismissing the real evidence about the origins of the Russiagate scandal. “In the New York Times’ telling of the story, the investigations into the Trump campaign were a necessary and good-faith effort to discern whether a foreign power had infiltrated the Trump campaign. For those who subscribe to a Hannitized version of reality, this was a lawless extension of the Deep State’s plot to thwart Trump and protect Clinton.”

Goldberg, for his part, now denies his role in spreading conspiracy theories and redirecting his aim at critics of Mueller. “I watched people on both sides of this beclown themselves with hysteria. I’ve got nothing to apologize for,” he tweeted on Saturday.

An Unforgettable—and Unforgivable—Scandal

David French also has been a Russian collusion propagandist, hysterically insisting that the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was “evidence that senior members of the Trump campaign tried unsuccessfully to facilitate Russian government efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton.” Commenting on Mueller’s list of questions for the president, French claimed that the line of inquiry “stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder if there were material facts we don’t know.” Without irony, French chided the notion that no collusion existed because “it’s totally fine to get oppo research from a hostile foreign power.”

Perhaps most embarrassing for French was his breathless attempt to legitimize a bogus BuzzFeed report in January 2019 that Donald Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress. Based on innuendo in Cohen’s sentencing memo, French compared the false testimony allegation to those that led to impeachment charges against Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. “It also strongly hints at potential presidential jeopardy for misconduct that has clear echoes in recent presidential scandals,” French wrote. A month later, Cohen denied that Trump told him to lie to Congress.

There are other lesser-known NeverTrumpers who have peddled the collusion hoax over the past two years: Tom Nichols, Jennifer Rubin, Evan McMullin, and Rick Wilson to name a few. None of them appears to be backing down or owning up to their own participation in this seditious plot.

“The president of the United States was helped into his job by clandestine Russian attacks on the American political process,” former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote in The Atlantic over the weekend. “That core truth is surrounded by other disturbing probabilities, such as the likelihood that Putin even now is exerting leverage over Trump in some way.”

What the Trump-Russia collusion hoax has laid bare is that so many of the people who Republicans trusted and respected for two decades were undeserving. They are as fundamentally dishonest and intentionally ignorant as the those on the Left. Their animus for the president and his supporters exceeds that of the most faithful Democratic partisan. Their eager participation in the greatest political scandal in American history—intended to overthrow a Republican president—should never be forgotten. Or forgiven.

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American Conservatism • Democrats • Donald Trump • Elections • Greatness Agenda • Post • Republicans • The Media

Can Trump Win Again in 2020?

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In 2016, Donald Trump overwhelmed 16 qualified Republican primary rivals and became the first major-party presidential nominee without prior political or military experience. Against even greater odds, Trump defeated in the general election a far better funded and politically connected Hillary Clinton.

What are his chances of repeating that surprising victory in 2020?

In 2016, Trump had no record to run on. That blank slate fueled claims that such a political novice could not possibly succeed. It also added an element of mystery and excitement, with the possibility that an outsider could come into town to clean up the mess.

Trump now has a record, not just promises. Of course, his base supporters and furious opponents have widely different views of the Trump economy and foreign policy.

Yet many independents will see successes since 2017, even if some are turned off by Trump’s tweets. Still, if things at home and abroad stay about the same or improve, without a war or recession, Trump will likely win enough swing states to repeat his 2016 Electoral College victory.

If, however, unemployment spikes, inflation returns or we get into a war, he may not.

At about the same time in their respective presidencies, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had approval ratings similar to Trump’s. In Clinton’s first midterms, Democrats lost 14 more House seats than Republicans lost last November. Democrats under Obama lost 23 more seats in his first midterms than Republicans lost under Trump. Democrats lost eight Senate seats in 1994 during Clinton’s first term. They lost six Senate seats in 2010 during Obama’s first term. Republicans actually picked up two Senate seats last fall.

Yet Clinton and Obama handily won re-election over, respectively, Bob Dole and Mitt Romney. In other words, the 2020 election is likely Trump’s to win or lose.

It’s also worth remembering that Trump does not exist in a vacuum. In 2016, many voters preferred Trump because he was not the unpopular Hillary Clinton.

In 2020, there will be an even starker choice. Trump, now an incumbent, will likely run on the premise that he is the only thing standing between voters and socialism.

The power of that warning will depend on whether the Democrats continue their present hard-left trajectory or the eventual Democratic nominee manages to avoid getting tagged with what are as of now extreme progressive talking points.

The Green New Deal, a wealth tax, a top marginal income tax rate of 70 percent, the abolition of ICE, the abolition of the Electoral College, reparations, legal infanticide as abortion, the cancellation of student debt, free college tuition, Medicare for all and the banning of private insurance plans are not winning, 51 percent issues.

If the Democratic nominee embraces most of these fringe advocacies—or is forced by the hard left to run on some of them—he or she will lose. If the Democrats nominate Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), or Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Trump would seem moderate by comparison and have more relative experience at both presidential campaigning and governance.

Also, with a few notable exceptions such as John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, senators do not have a good record of winning the presidency.

If the Democrats nominate a veteran politician such as former Vice President Joe Biden, then the two rivals will be more equally matched in appealing to the middle classes.

Another thing to consider: What will the Mueller investigation and a flurry of House investigations of Trump look like by November 2020?

If Special Counsel Robert Mueller concludes that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, then Trump’s charges of a “witch hunt” will more than likely stick. But if Mueller’s investigation proves that Trump negotiated with the Russians to stop the Clinton campaign, Trump will be in considerable trouble.

At some point, all the progressive obsessions to abort the Trump Administration—the efforts to warp the voting of the Electoral College electors; to invoke the 25th Amendment, the Logan Act and the emoluments clause; and to thwart Trump from the inside, as former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the anonymous New York Times op-ed writer have detailed—have to show results.

If they do not by 2020, then these attempts will be seen more as bitter-end vendettas. And they may work in Trump’s favor, making him appear a victim of an unprecedented and extraconstitutional assault. Then, in Nietzschean terms, anything that did not end Trump will only have made him stronger.

Finally, Trump himself is not static.

For a while, relative calm has returned to the White House. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Attorney General William Barr are more in sync with Trump’s style and message than the previous holders of those positions.

Trump himself often displays more self-deprecation. Like other incumbents, Trump may be becoming savvier about the complexities of the job.

Democrats think 2020 will be an easy win over a controversial and often wounded president. Republicans thought the same thing in 2012.


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American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Post • Republicans • The Media

The Only Option They Had as Pseudo-Conservatives

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It’s been a tough two years if you’re a post-Reagan era, Bush-flunky fake conservative.

Between America winning the Cold War and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the RINO-gravy-train had treated you well. Even if you were a former leftist, the “elite” of New York and Washington were happy to let you make a phony Damascene conversion to the side that won the ideological war of the 20th century, drop your questionable political past down the memory hole, and reinvent yourself as a lifelong Buckleyite.

You believed the rest of your life could consist of your collecting fat honoraria checks from both sides of the uniparty establishment. From AEI to Brookings, from CATO to the Council on Foreign Relations, you also milked a handful of gullible right-wing donors and bloviated your pedestrian “analysis” for the hosts of the cable shows you cared for the most—naturally, on CNN. This despite the fact that America really didn’t seem to care. At least not if we judge by the viewing statistics.

How anyone still talks about CNN at all is a question that continues to mystify me. Even CNN‘s “hottest” shows are mostly ignored by more than 99 percent of the U.S. population. On a good night, Anderson Cooper, can only garner 800,000 real viewers (as opposed to people trapped at an airport waiting to board a plane). That’s 0.25 percent of the population of our republic. Seriously guys, can’t we just ignore them? Back to the fakers.

For decades they planted themselves at publications such as National Review and the Weekly Standard which lost their viability as market products but nevertheless chugged along, read by a smaller and smaller group of believers and fellow-travelers, funded as they were by the same handful of well-meaning but credulous sugar-daddies. You know their names: Bill Kristol, Stephen Hays, Jennifer Rubin, Tom Nichols, to name but a few. Then on November 8, 2016, America fired them all.

When the nation chose Donald Trump, the anti-neoconservative for her 45th president, it sent a politically revolutionary message to the self-anointed coastal elites. In choosing a non-politician who self-identified as conservative but who had absolutely nothing to do with the Establishment GOP, America flipped the bird not only at Hillary and her organized crime cartel on the Left, but it blew a massive raspberry at the pseudo-Right as well.

What was the aftermath?

Well, the Left reinvested in crazy as the unhinged radicals took over the DNC asylum. First, we witnessed all the official Democrat candidates for president signing on AOC’s Green New Scam, a vision that would result in a centralizing of government power never achieved by any Communist state. And, yes, that does include taking your cheeseburgers. Then the almighty Pelosi tried to take on the anti-Semites in her own party but proved too weak and surrendered to the radicals.

The Left has made its decision: Trump won, they are convinced because they weren’t Left enough. But what about the Right?

The Establishment GOP hasn’t changed. We just saw that on Thursday as GOP senators betrayed their president on the signature issue of his campaign: securing the southern U.S. border. Those who really are conservatives and support the will of the people as expressed in the MAGA agenda remain just a handful. You know their names, too: Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Lindsey Graham 2.0, and not many more.

And the NeverTrumpers? Did they leave to fight real fascists like their forefathers in the International Brigades of Spain? Hardly. The soft hands and weak backs of the professional OpEd scribbler would be of little help on a battlefield in Syria or Iraq. So they reinvested in a crazy of their own variety.

They moved from gullible conservative donors to taking money from hardcore left-wing billionaires. They rebranded themselves under a new masthead, and as The Bulwark—sounds manly right?—and decided the best thing is to outdo the Daily Beast and Buzzfeed in anti-Trump sentiment. No more pretending to be the heirs of Kirk and Chambers while enjoying tony parties in Adams Morgan with their MSNBC, NPR, and Obama Administration pals. No, they will rebuild America by giving in to their inner Arianna Huffington and unleashing their hidden Glenn Thrush.

Although I’ve been through the wringer, having lived through the consequences of working in the White House and all that entails in terms of media “coverage,” the results of their targeting have surprised even me.

Whether it’s attacking Salena Zito for not being a “real American” (I guess because her name isn’t WASP-y enough), or mocking the appearance of a veteran conservative commentator who just ended chemotherapy, these people who say—and this isn’t a put on, they actually had this on their masthead—that they are “Conserving Conservatism” have sunk as low as it is possible to go. Or at least that’s what I thought until this week.

I have no idea who Gabriel Schoenfeld is, beyond the fact that his bio says he worked for Mitt Romney. (As sure ticket into the NeverTrumper Club). But the Bulwark was happy to publish a piece in which this person decided he should attack Victor Davis Hanson, the preeminent classicist, strategist, and conservative author of our age. Hanson’s sin? To publish a book called The Case for Trump. Lest you think this was just another beta male attack, like a previous one in which the anti-Orange Man heroes vowed to make green rooms safe for NeverTrumpers, this screed was of another caliber entirely. For how does one justify lumping Hanson in with the intellectuals who excused and facilitated the rise of Adolf Hitler? I guess there is no depth to which a failed RINO won’t sink in order to get just one more honorarium check.

The day after the outrageous calumny was dropped, I attended the launch of the good professor’s book at the D.C. satellite of his professional home, the Hoover Institution. When we met he asked me: “Have you heard? Now I’m a Nazi!” My response: “Well if that’s all they’ve got, you must have them very worried.”

At the end of the superb event, the pieces all fell into place. As I said my goodbyes, the gentle professor turned to me and said: “You know, Trump is the one thing standing between them and America going socialist.”

As if by prophecy, the next article the Bulwark posted was: “Is Socialism Really that Big of a Threat?”

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America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Post • The Courts

The Pernicious Notion of ‘Unenumerated Rights’

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A recent 60 Minutes segment on Juliana v. United States, the lawsuit now pending in an Oregon federal court, in which environmental activists assert a constitutional right to be free from climate change, perfectly illustrated Sen. Josh Hawley’s concern about federal judges who embrace the doctrine of “substantive due process.” Many Americans properly scoff at the idea that there are constitutional rights to things that are not actually set forth in the Constitution, such as the “right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life,” as Judge Ann Aiken, appointed by President Bill Clinton, ruled in Juliana. But once judges free themselves of the constraints of constitutional text, anything is possible: the “right” of a convicted murderer to have a sex-change operation at taxpayer expense, the “right” to same-sex marriage (Obergefell), the “right” to an abortion (Roe v. Wade), and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Perhaps some activist judge in California or another rogue state will rule that the Green New Deal is required by the Constitution. This is not idle speculation. With the encouragement of a progressive professoriate, the body of judge-made constitutional law now abounds with so-called “unenumerated” (or unwritten) rights, a polite way of describing the process of pretending that the Left’s desired policy outcomes are dictated by the Constitution—and therefore enforceable by federal judges—when in fact they are not. Judicial activism—concocting phony constitutional rights—is a serious threat to representative self-government, yet is rarely discussed even though it occurs in plain view on a daily basis in federal courtrooms across America.

The topic of constitutional law tends to become the exclusive domain of lawyers and academics, because it is perceived to be too technical for the informed layman to understand. Unfortunately, the resulting lack of transparency and public engagement has allowed this vitally-important subject to be hijacked by obscurantists with their own objects in mind—aggrandizement of the judiciary and implementation of a leftist political agenda. For decades—beginning during the New Deal, but accelerating dramatically under the Warren Court in the 1960s—the Supreme Court has simply invented many “rights” that do not actually appear in the Constitution, in the process granting the federal government sweeping powers that the Founding Fathers never intended.

The federal courts, comprised of unelected, life-tenured judges often drawn from the progressive ranks of Ivy League law schools, have arrogated to themselves control over many political decisions that once were, and properly should remain, the exclusive province of the states. Invoking a few inapt phrases out of context—especially “due process” and “equal protection”—our black-robed masters have constructed an edifice of constitutional law that bears little resemblance to the document written in Philadelphia in 1787 and ratified by the sovereign American people. A constitutional system whose authority derives from “we the people” has become instead a swollen behemoth—a Leviathan subject to to the interpretations of interested “experts.” The Framers’ vision of a decentralized and self-governing republic has been lost in the fetid swamp of Washington, D.C.

Recall our first principles: The U.S. Constitution is a compact among the states, which existed as separate sovereigns prior to ratification of the Constitution in 1789. The Constitution primarily defines the powers and structure of the federal government, and prior to the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868 had little direct application to the states. The first 10 amendments (usually referred to as the Bill of Rights) were added at the insistence of some states, after the Constitution was written, to protect the states from federal overreach; as originally adopted, the Bill of Rights did not apply to the states. Not until the aftermath of the Civil War, during Reconstruction, was the constitutional structure of dual sovereignty altered to allow the federal government to enforce equal civil and political rights to the newly-freed slaves. This—and nothing else—was the mandate of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

Instead, the Supreme Court has interpreted the 14th Amendment to “incorporate” the Bill of Rights against the states, and in the process banned prayer from the public schools (and religious expression more broadly from the public square), usurped political functions such as legislative apportionment, micro-managed the states’ criminal justice systems from arrest to execution, and generally anointed itself as a national super-legislature with broad authority to overturn state and local laws with which it disagrees. No sphere of activity is free of judicial meddling: public schools, prisons, social services, welfare benefits, the maintenance of public order (such as regulating homelessness and vagrancy), and even elections! At the time of the Founding, the states were widely believed to possess nearly-plenary “police power” over the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of their residents. Now, in the words of famed Judge Learned Hand, the Supreme Court has become a “bevy of Platonic Guardians.”

There is no constitutional warrant for this role. The Supreme Court should enforce the express provisions and structural elements of the Constitution (such as the separation of powers), but it should not “recognize” purported rights that are not contained in the Constitution. “Unenumerated” rights are bogus—a veritable Pandora’s Box of judicial mischief. If a claimed “right” is not clearly evident in the text of the Constitution, it should be rejected as wishful thinking on the part of the proponent. To resist the powerful urge to recognize their own personal predilections as constitutional rights, Supreme Court justices must lash themselves to the mast of constitutional text, in the manner of Odysseus overcoming the lure of the Sirens.

The textual orientation of “originalist” judges typically associated with the conservative legal movement (sometimes referred to as “strict constructionists”) generally predisposes them against judicial activism, but two factors threaten to foil that salutary trend. First, some conservative scholars embrace the notion that “natural law” should play a role in constitutional interpretation, even though “natural law”—like the activists’ imaginary “penumbras, formed by emanations”—is unwritten, intangible, and therefore entirely subjective. “Natural law” is no more corporeal than ghosts, and about as useful to the enterprise of constitutional interpretation. Second, many libertarian legal scholars—falsely posing as originalists—advocate a broad application of unenumerated rights (which they call “judicial engagement”) and seek to resuscitate the “privileges or immunities” clause of the 14th Amendment, which has been a dead letter since the Supreme Court correctly buried it in the Slaughter-House Cases (1873), almost 150 years ago.

Robert Bork deemed the clause “a mystery since its adoption,” yet some academics, like grave-robbers, are eager to exhume its jurisprudential cadaver. A broad reading of that moribund clause—favored by libertarians—would, in the words of the Slaughter-House majority, transform the Court into a “perpetual censor upon all legislation of the States”—the last thing the nation wants or needs. In the “even Homer nods” department, the normally-exemplary Justice Clarence Thomas—recently joined by rookie Justice Neil Gorsuch—occasionally indulges in this quixotic reverie. This is a dire mistake. Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman, a renowned conservative legal scholar, emphatically recommended against revisiting the “privileges or immunities” clause, because it would likely become “a wellspring of new judicially determined rights.”  Bork concurred, arguing that reviving the clause would allow judges to “write their own Constitution.” We ignore this wise counsel at our peril.

Accordingly, Sen. Hawley and his colleagues should be extremely skeptical of judicial nominees who support any version of unenumerated rights, including—in addition to substantive due process—natural law, “judicial engagement,” the “privileges or immunities” clause, or any other constitutional theory that relies on “invisible ink” or encrypted messages that only “enlightened” judges can decipher.