American Conservatism • Conservatives • Greatness Agenda

The Neoconservative Way: A Primer

Last night this publication was the subject of a drive-by tweeting at the hands of Eliot A. Cohen.  Cohen is currently a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  During the Bush (43) Administration he served as Counselor to the Department of State.  Cohen is an intelligent and accomplished man – someone from whom I would have expected better.  But such are the depredations of late-stage Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Cohen took it upon himself to tweet that we at American Greatness are cowards hiding behind a shield of anonymity.  On that score, I would make a few obvious points.  The first is that we are not anonymous, but more on that later.  Even if we were, anonymity does not diminish the power of a rational argument.  The authors of The Federalist Papers wrote as Publius.  Were they cowards?  Did it undermine the force of their argument in favor of ratifying the Constitution?  Did it make their insights into human nature and republican government untrue?  In addition to this bit of history, I would point Professor Cohen to Leo Strauss’ Persecution and the Art of Writing.  Political writing can be costly.  This sad fact has been noted in every society since before Socrates was forced to drink hemlock.  The fact that some people reasonably believe they must conceal their identities when they write if they wish to pursue employment in this nation’s elite institutions underscores the viciousness of our current politics.

To that I would underscore one final and very important point with regard to Professor Cohen’s jabs at our honor: We are not anonymous and our editors names are available on the site.  That Cohen chose that line of attack tells me he did not take the time to look at the site, let alone engage the ideas presented here.  Instead what we got was smug preening based on a false but easily verifiable premise.

 

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Our courage having been called into question, we replied to Professor Cohen, pointing out that he had erred when he said we “lack the civic courage to reveal (our) real names.”  Clearly not happy, Cohen replied with more bluster: “Three staffies (sic) are all I see. Definitely not greatness, rather sly toadying to an orange haired authoritarian hoodlum.”  We replied in kind, encouraging the former Counselor to the Department of State to address the substance of our arguments rather than offering up juvenile flings about Donald Trump’s skin tone.

Having been caught not doing his homework and being called out on it, Professor Cohen summoned up all of his civic courage and blocked us from following him on Twitter.  A portrait in courage.

To recap, Cohen started the scrap with a careless swipe about our non-existent anonymity, called us cowards, said we are Donald Trump’s toadies (some of us are not even Trump supporters, by the way), and when caught ran away and hid his Twitter account.

And the D.C. establishment wonders why people think they are feckless?

 

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Post Script:

I happened upon a short essay called, “How Neocons Are Still Winning“while reading The National Interest this morning and still puzzling over our encounter with Professor Cohen.   It contained an interesting definition of neoconservatism that helps explain the Twitter exchange and sheds some light on the current divide on the American Right.

 

“What defines neoconservatism is a largely unchallenged belief that the United States is a virtuous nation with a moral entitlement to superior power for the global good.”

 

Neoconservatives believe that this moral entitlement to superior power extends to them or perhaps that it is most fully manifested in them.  Thus the outrage directed at Donald Trump and, not just Trump, but anyone who challenges neoconservative orthodoxy.  What should be a political disagreement between fellow citizens becomes a zealous defense of the one true faith – a faith that bestows moral entitlement on its adherents and will brook no contradictions.  Disagreement therefore becomes heresy.

It’s a shame.  We’d prefer an honest debate.  But neoconservatives believe that the debate is over and they won – and apparently are still winning if The National Interest can be believed.   Yet just when you think history has come to an end, human nature has a funny way of reasserting itself.  And today’s globalist orthodoxy is being challenged throughout the Western world as people wake up to find that the sovereignty they took for granted has been slowly ceded into the hands of a meritocratic and anti-republican elite.

 

America • American Conservatism • Greatness Agenda • The Editors

Why Conservative Intellectuals Support Trump – A Reply To Peter Beinart

 

Peter Beinart is a bit late to the party in excoriating “Trump’s intellectuals.” It’s not just that the theme has been done to death, months ago. It’s also that, in order to conjure up a hook for his piece, Beinart makes the preposterous claim that “more than a year after Trump announced his presidential bid, his support among intellectuals has grown.” The article never gets around to citing any evidence. Nonetheless, the hook baited, Beinart boldly plows ahead with his real point, which is that any support for Trump is ipso facto bad.

The first paragraph of his screed alone is a model of intellectually fatuous analysis. Here are the worst Trump sins Beinart could conjure—not even seven, and none of them deadly!

 

  • “He has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States”—actually, he has modified that to “countries compromised by terror,” but either way, it’s perfectly reasonable, and given the aggressively illiberal behavior of Muslims in the West, it’s a proposal that the exquisitely liberal Beinart ought to at least give a fair hearing. But we long ago realized that for the modern liberal, anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism trump (if you’ll pardon the pun) all. So the more Muslims the better and any objection is Hitlerism or, at the very least, “not who we are.”
  • “incited violence against protesters at his rallies”—Trump’s record here is mixed. At times he has merely pointed out the double standard that lefties like Beinart trumpet—disrupting the right with violence=noble civil disobedience; the right responding with 10% intensity=the return of Ernst Rohm. But at other times (FWIW, not in several months), Trump has crossed the line to incitement, and we have a problem with that, and so find some common ground with Beinart here.
  • “responded to The Washington Post’s critical coverage by warning that its owner is ‘getting away with murder’ on his taxes and ‘we can’t let him get away with it’—OK. Are Jeff Bezos’ taxes a mess of questionable legality or aren’t they? It should be rather simple to ascertain. At least it’s a factual issue that is theoretically amenable to proof or disproof. The left used to get quite upset about tax breaks and corporate welfare. Does it no longer care so long as the beneficiaries are tech oligarchs who own liberal newspapers?
  • “declared a federal judge biased because he’s Mexican American”—Trump phrased this one badly, but if Beinart actually read the original Journal of American Greatness as he claims to have done, he would at least be familiar with the argument made there that Trump was simply restating the left’s three-decade-old identity politics mantra, which the left considers sacrosanct, from a point of view that—to say the least—the left does not consider sacrosanct. And that’s before we even get to “La Raza,” another thing liberals excoriate conservatives for merely mentioning. If you’re on the left, join a movement called “the race” and white liberals will lionize you. If you’re on the right, and you merely say “Hey, that’s called ‘the race’; isn’t that not who we are? What about race-blind equal treatment?’”—then liberals will call you Hitler.
  • “and twice revealed his unfamiliarity with the term nuclear triad.”  Quelle horreur! Trump is unfamiliar with a geeky piece of Cold War vintage Washington wonk lingo!

 

Yes, that’s really the best Beinart can do

Back to the core “argument.” Beinart wants to say that intellectual support for Trump has grown. But  most of the names he names are people who oppose Trump. He makes the valid point that many political hacks and other job-seeking apparatchiks have cozied up to Trump, but—aside from not naming names here, either—he leaves it to the reader to figure out that, by definition, these people are not intellectuals. Did Beinart think we wouldn’t notice?

Then we get more guilt-by-association. Weren’t liberals once opposed to that, too? Not anymore apparently. At any rate, it’s hilarious that he has to go all the way to Poland to find examples of intellectuals who “came to embrace Stalinism.” Couldn’t find any examples closer to home, Peter? Hmmmm. Why do you suppose that is?

But Beinart admits that “Trumpism is not Marxism.” Generous of him! Then Beinart really sticks in the shiv with this: “Even fascism—which grew out of social Darwinism—had a richer intellectual lineage than Trumpism does.” The mendacity here is fathomless. On the one hand, Trump and his supporters are fascists, and that is very bad. On the other hand, even the fascists were smarter than Trump! If only Trump had his Schmitt or Gentile! This is one of the cheapest, oldest tricks in the leftist playbook. “You don’t even measure up to your forebears—whom, by the way, we used to denounce as the worst people in the history of the world. But now that they are useful as a cudgel with which to bash you, well—any weapon at hand!” Why does anyone fall for this? We wish we could answer that. All we can say with confidence is: we don’t.

You know what Trumpism sounds like to us? Confident, mid-20th century American liberalism. Unabashedly pro-American, even “nationalistic” (get Peter his smelling salts!). Pro-manufacturing, pro-middle class, pro-worker. Pro-safety net. Pro-citizen. In other words, most of the Democratic agenda from FDR to Humphrey. Beinart’s casually slick association of Trump and his supporters with “authoritarian movements” dooms the entire Mt. Olympus of the 20th Century Democratic and liberal pantheon to the same Hades.

He moves on to trash Peggy Noonan. We think we are not being uncharitable to her to say that it’s a stretch to call her an intellectual. Not that Beinart does that, exactly. He’s just slippery enough not to. But in a piece about Trump’s intellectuals that so far has not named names, it’s fair to assume that he intends her as one—or else can’t think of any and so shoehorns her in as a “proof point” that proves nothing. In any case, he ought to keep up with her column. Did he read the recent one in which she all but gave up on Trump as a serious agent of reform?

Beinart’s mendacity only gets deeper from there. He notes that Noonan excoriates—rightly, in our view—the conservative movement’s failure to be upset by “two unwon wars, the great recession, and the refusal of Republican and Democratic administrations to stop illegal immigration” all while managing, instead, to rouse itself into a fury over Trump’s objections to all of the above.

 

This makes no sense. Even if conservative elites were undisturbed by illegal immigration, the financial crisis, and the Iraq and Afghan Wars (as Noonan asserts but makes no effort to prove), why does it follow that they should accede to a presidential candidate who demands torture, a religious test for entry into the United States, and the removal of judges because of their ethnicity ? What Noonan is really suggesting is that established politicians and commentators lack the moral standing to oppose Trump, because he can’t be any worse than they are.

 

Really? Let’s take a look at Beinart’s litany of charges here.

What proof does Beinart require that conservative elites were undisturbed by the policies advanced by liberals like him on immigration, the economy, and (eventually) the war? Conservative elites pushed amnesty seven times since 2001; started, continued and deepened both wars; contributed to the housing bubble; and created TARP.  While it is amusing to see a liberal like Beinart provide cover for conservative elites against the wrath of Peggy Noonan (or for any reason), we admit to ourselves that the reason in this case is because he agrees with every one of those policies.

The only thing close to a factual point that Beinart has in his accusatory description of Trump is when he calls Trump out on torture. Though, to his credit, Trump has walked that point back after taking thoughtful criticism. Beyond that, Trump is, if not exactly anti-war, at least the “less war” candidate.” Hillary’s policy of endless war and endless Muslim immigration will require, if not torture, at least surveillance and mass interrogation of American citizens forever. Beinart’s charge about a religious test is either lazy or dishonest, as we showed above and, finally, he ends his tirade on a flat out lie regarding Judge Curiel.  The most one could say is that Trump implied, but didn’t even state, that one judge ought to be recused from one case.  He said absolutely nothing about removing him from the bench.

In her column, Peggy Noonan points out the total bankruptcy of 2016 elites and further the argument saying that at least Trump has identified and campaigned on the issues that matter most to those most left behind by the agenda of the bipartisan Davos oligarchy. The plain fact is, that by any objective measure, conservatives and Republicans who have embraced Trump have done so by moving left—at least according to the old right-left dichotomy. They (we) are more liberal on a whole host of economic and social issues (though not the “social issues” that count right now; more on that in a moment). We not only get no credit for that from Beinart and the rest of the left, we get smeared.

Case in point: Beinart finally gets around to naming names on those dastardly Trump intellectuals. Except he can’t, really, because the name he wants to name were pseudonymous and their blog lasted (as Beinart admits) only four months. The authors safely out of the arena, Beinart feels comfortable farcically, and maliciously, misrepresenting their message. Our predecessor, the Journal of American Greatness, he writes, “made a highbrow case for overthrowing America’s existing political order—”

The only just conclusions one can draw are either that 1) Beinart never read the blog; 2) he “read” it the way Otto read Nietzsche; 3) he’s lying. Nowhere did JAG argue any such thing. In fact, it argued precisely the opposite. It consistently voiced support—nay, a longing reverence for—America’s Constitutional order. It also voiced a profound sadness about the deterioration, the subversion, the imminent passing of that Constitutional order.

And who is most responsible for that deterioration, that subversion, that imminent passing? Why, of course—liberals like Beinart! Liberals have been complaining about Constitutional restraints since at least the dawn of the Progressive Era more than 100 years ago. They’ve openly complained that the Constitution entails the perpetual rule of “dead white males” (slave owners to boot) and that we in the present should not be bound by the past. They’ve excoriated conservatives for their (our) adherence to originalism, equating that with “states’ rights” which they further equate with racism.

So which is it, Peter? Are we racist adherents to a racist, outdated Constitution? Or are we dangerous radicals out to overthrow the sacred Constitution? We can’t help but be reminded of the recent Democratic Convention when, for the first time since 1968, Democrats wrapped themselves in the flag, swore allegiance to the Constitution, pledged themselves unalterably opposed to Russian hegemony, and promised to outdo the Republicans in the vigorous prosecution of foreign wars. Any weapon at hand.

Let us make this even more clear. Since the Wilson administration at least, it has been the stated goal of American liberals to gut the U.S. Constitution like a fish, spill its entrails onto the dock, and twist them in your hands like ancient Roman augers. It is therefore a bit rich for Beinart to accuse Trump supporting conservatives, simply for being witnesses to and mourners of your crime—for catching you with the knife in your left hand and blood on your right—of being the “real killer.” If you don’t know you’re lying, we can only conclude that you’re insane.

This is also false: “—and replacing it with the raw, dynamic, intoxicating energy of Donald Trump.” Once again, if you’d read JAG, you’d know it was ambivalent about, and critical of, Trump himself from the beginning until the end. Trump is not the vehicle any thoughtful American, mindful of America’s problems, would have wished for. He’s got problems—which JAG was not shy about acknowledging. We at American Greatness are also cognizant of Trump’s shortcomings – just as we were of prior Republican candidates –  but they pale in comparison of with those of his opponent who has a four decade record of corruption and statism.

Yet America has had the same problems, more or less, for 25 years—and Trump is the only political figure of either party to take them on squarely. Some over here have addressed this one, and some over there that one. But only within the confines of the ossified party system. So you might get a Richard Gephardt who challenges trade orthodoxy, but can’t bring himself to question the rest. Or a Ron Paul who questions the national security state but shills for open borders. Or a Tom Tancredo who understands immigration but is too trusting of the national security state’s insistence on endless war.

Trump alone, of either party, has put the whole package together and shown how the pieces fit. Has he done so imperfectly? Yes.  Does he understand it himself to the extent that (say) Lincoln understood the Civil War? No. So what? If these issues do in fact constitute the crisis of our time—as we believe they do—and if Trump is the only major political figure who has put them altogether—as we believe he is—then what is the compelling reason to reject Trump?

The answer seems to come down to “temperament.” Beinart, though, does not bother to make that case. Instead, he assumes that his readers all already agree on that score, so there is no need to put forth evidence. About this, he is surely right. We would however ask: Why is Trump’s rather open, plain-spoken temperament so obviously inferior to Hillary’s icy, closed, deceitful temperament? Remember when liberals were hell-bent on bringing down EPA-wage-and-price-control Nixon over temperament? Between Trump and Hillary, whose temperament really looks more Nixonian? The one who shoots his mouth off three times a day and tweets 10 times more often than that? Or the one who deleted 33,000 emails and hasn’t had a press conference in 254 days?

Beinart dismisses JAG’s pessimism as “hyperbole,” but then faux-agrees:

Obviously, the United States is not a model liberal democracy. America is less democratic than it might be because the preferences of the ultra-wealthy often outweigh the preferences of everyone else, and because many states make voting hard. America is less liberal than it might be—it does not effectively guarantee individual rights or restrain executive power—because its national-security bureaucracy operates largely in secret, without strong judicial or congressional oversight.

We agree.  But American republicanism – which Beinart conflates with “liberal democracy” – has been under a century long assault from the Progressive Left, many of whose goals have been accepted if not adopted by Republican elites.  The rise of the administrative state, a central feature of Progressivism, has done much harm by systematically removing issue after issue from the reach of politics, creating a powerful, but unaccountable shadow government and alienating the people from whom government gains its legitimacy.  And while it is certainly true that that the preferences of the ultra-wealthy often outweigh the preferences of everyone else, this is most often in the service of political ends supported by Beinart and his friends on the Left – especially open borders and Davos-style globalism.  Sure voting is hard for illegal immigrants maybe, but for us that’s a feature, while for Beinart it’s the worst bug imaginable.

But is his last point a joke? Obama has done more in the name of “executive power” than any president in history—including George W. Bush, who was an object of Beinart’s hatred but merely repudiated and disdained by us. Obama has intensified every executive power claim that Beinart denounced Bush for and added several of his own. And Hillary promises to do even more than Obama.

The deeper argument, which Beinart wholly missed, is that all good things must come to an end. And that includes American Constitutionalism. Or does Beinart believe that the US Constitution, unique among the governments in world history, can last forever? We don’t. To acknowledge the coming or at least the inevitability of that end is not to welcome or to celebrate it—something, we repeat, liberals have been doing for 100 years. It is certainly not the same thing as being an instrument in that end. But only now, in a supreme act of projection, do Leftists like Beinart dare accuse and denounce their conservative opponents for wanting and willing into existence the exact thing that they have always longed for and we have always opposed.

Beinart further misrepresents JAG’s argument about Caesarism. Beinart’s fellow New Republic alum Andrew Sullivan wrote a long piece claiming that Trump is a tyrant and represents an “extinction level event” for American democracy. That’s nonsense, and JAG said so. Trump is no tyrant and is not even a Caesar (we give Beinart credit for at least getting the distinction right, but only because he uses direct quotes rather than paraphrasing). But he takes this line out of context: “Have we not degenerated to the point that we are ready for Caesar?” Here’s the context: if Sullivan, Beinart, and all the liberal (and conservative) critics are right about the state of an America that would elect Trump, then what does that say about us? About the American electorate? Beinart, Sullivan et al want to have it both ways: to condemn as irredeemable proto-fascists people who would even entertain voting for Trump, but also to condemn as proto-fascists anyone who suggests that the American body politic must be in in ill-health if one of its major parties could nominate Trump. Considering how anti-Trump Beinart and his fellow liberals are, you’d think they’d have some sympathy for the latter position. But you’d be wrong. Stopping Trump is paramount. Any weapon at hand.

What accounts for this implacable opposition? We can only speculate. We’ve noted above that Trump’s departures from conservative orthodoxy—an orthodoxy Beinart and his friends have spent their entire careers opposing—all tend in the liberal-left direction. Shouldn’t they therefore like or at least not hate Trump?

Think of it this way. In the past two decades, there have been four mass protest movements: anti-WTO/globalization; anti-Middle East war; Occupy Wall Street; and Black Lives Matter. On three out of four of those, Trump is nominally on the “left” side and Hillary on the “right.” But today’s “liberals”—Beinart emphatically included—hate Trump and love Hillary. Why is that?

Beinart and friends have emerged as among the staunchest defenders of “conservatism” circa 2002—open borders, endless war, and endless trade giveaways. It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that there’s nothing conservative about this agenda. Perhaps that’s why he—along with so many of his fellow liberals—supported it at the time and still support it now. That’s their real objection to Trump. Not that he’s not conservative, but because he is.

2016 Election • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Donald Trump

Donald Trump & The Conservative Cause

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[Editor’s Note: Reprinted with permission from the Claremont Review of Books. The reply by Dr. John Marini should be read as well.]

A political party that allows 17 candidates to compete for its presidential nomination is not a serious political party. A political party that allows its would-be presidents to debate one another silly—and I mean that in every sense of the term—is failing in its job, too. Happily, the number of GOP debates was down from 2012 (when there were 27 of one kind or another); but the number of candidates was up. You may recall that in the early exchanges they answered and evaded questions in flying squads of ten and seven, no existing stage being able to hold them all at once.

Despite the Republican Party’s fatuous and grueling process, however, the voters learned some valuable things. The vast field contained many accomplished politicians, few truly distinguished ones; the senators (Cruz, Graham, Paul, Rubio, Santorum) were young or implausible, the governors (Bush, Christie, Jindal, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Pataki, Perry, Walker) successful but too numerous, stale, or busy for their own good. There was not the man of “continental character” that the framers had hoped would stand out. That left the “outsiders” or amateur politicians (Carson, Fiorina, Trump).

The governors, with their records of domestic reform, dominated the early betting. As foreign policy issues (Russia, China, and the Middle East) flared up and the primaries began, the senators (except Rand Paul) enjoyed a surge. Only Kasich made it out of the governors’ group; only Cruz and Rubio emerged from the senators; and the outsiders set the tone for the whole cycle. Dr. Ben Carson and businessman Donald J. Trump sat atop the polls for months. Carson’s support finally melted away, leaving Cruz and Rubio (ignoring Kasich, as non-Ohio voters tended to do) to battle for the honor of saving the party from Trump.

Cruz outlasted Rubio, but in the end the man he had patronized for months as “my friend Donald” defeated him handily. Trump defeated them all handily.

Conservative Minds

What, if anything, can conservatives learn from Trump and from this episode? What, if anything, could he learn from us for the fights ahead…always assuming that he is willing to learn? To find out, conservatives will have to engage him. The Never Trump movement may be an understandable, even honorable reaction to the startling victory of a Johnny-come-lately Republican who never enjoyed a deep allegiance to the conservative movement. But it is hardly an adequate one. Conservatives care too much about the party and the country to wash our hands of this election. A third-party bid would be quixotic. That leaves taking the measure of Trump, and offering advice and help, whether or not he has the sense to take it. Conservatives’ duty, in the last case, includes taking precautions, too, to the extent possible, against the possibilities of betrayal or failure that cannot be ruled out in any untested presidential office-holder and especially in this one.

To abstain in 2016, in hopes of stimulating a recovery of full-throated conservatism in 2020, is sheer desperation, ignoring the weaknesses in the multiple forms of doctrinaire conservatism on offer in this cycle: libertarianism (Paul), social conservatism (Huckabee, Santorum, Carson, Jindal), compassionate conservatism (Bush, Kasich), “reform” (Rubio), neoconservative foreign policy (Graham), self-styled “true” conservatism (Cruz). None succeeded in capturing the Republican imagination.

Trump helped to expose some of the problems latent in the current conservative movement and its agenda—without necessarily solving any of them. Aging baby-boomer conservatives are not that interested in sweeping reforms of Social Security, despite Chris Christie’s admirable plan; and the candidates’ evasiveness on how they would “replace” Obamacare, while hardly noble, is entirely understandable, given how difficult it will be just to keep the promises made by the pre-Obama welfare state, much less those added by a post-Obama one. (Trump finessed the problem by simply declaring Social Security and Medicare off limits to cuts, and pledging to unleash an American economy dynamic enough to grow us out of the problem.)

Ted Cruz’s proposal to abolish the Internal Revenue Service fit the pattern: face large and intractable problems like the cost of government and the national debt by proposing a large and utopian solution to a different problem. No one expected Cruz’s plan to be enacted, of course. It was a symbolic affirmation of “true” conservatism, just like the government shutdown. In general, many conservative “solutions” floated untethered from any political strategy that could have gathered sufficient popular and legislative support to enact them. It is always tempting for politicians to will the ends without willing the means. Only in our age do we call this idealism, however, or, in Cruz’s favorite formulation, devotion to principle.

His case is perhaps the most interesting. It was Cruz, more than any other Republican, who throughout 2014 and 2015 led the populist revolt against the party leadership, exhorting the conservative rank-and-file to distrust, despise, and depose the party’s grandees. It must be admitted that the leaders were of considerable help to him. Still, in 2014 the GOP won historic victories in the Senate, in the House, and especially in state governorships and legislative seats. These wins could have been interpreted, with a little moderation and a few tactical victories, as downpayment, as preparation for the coup de grâce to be administered to the Democrats in 2016. Instead, expectations soared and crashed, embittering relations within the party and leading to a kind of crisis of legitimacy. This, in turn, prepared the way for an outsider, who turned out to be not Cruz but Trump.

Cruz Control

Cruz helped to breed his own nemesis. And what does he have to show for it? Is his style of “true” conservatism now the more popular, the more compelling, the better understood? For someone so intelligent and so renowned as a debater, it’s hard to remember any of Cruz’s arguments. Admittedly, he was debating legions of opponents—a case where party leaders really did let the good candidates down, as mentioned above. Partly, however, his fluent arguments lacked a center, a focus.

He had two rhetorical modes—the preacher and the debater. One was earnest and revivalist, summoning ultimate appeals to right and wrong, salvation and damnation; the other was ceremonial, lawyerly, and dazzling, full of cut-and-thrust and aiming at applause and victory. Neither was presidential, strictly speaking, because the president doesn’t preach and never has to debate anyone, at least officially. Cruz needed a third style, more deliberative and suited to fellow citizens. He needed to unite the principles of right and wrong with calm, deliberative judgments about what is advantageous for Americans to do here and now. In that way he—and the conservative movement—could help to cultivate what Abraham Lincoln called a “philosophical public opinion.” Instead, Cruz let his forensic victories demarcate the boundaries of true conservatism—a string of positions each slightly to the right of his main competitors.

Like Marco Rubio, Cruz entered national politics as a champion of the Tea Party. He shared the Tea Party’s longing to return American politics to some constitutional limits, an important and altogether laudable principle. But neither he nor Rubio (nor, needless to say, any of the party elders) turned that vague longing into a compelling political case for an essential agenda. If the Constitution actually were imperiled, wouldn’t you expect this to be the highest and probably most urgent message to voters? Yet restoring the Constitution remained a series of talking points (more elaborate in Cruz’s speeches than in anyone else’s, granted) rather than an organizing cause around which the conservative movement might reinterpret and realign itself. Doubtless, Rubio and Cruz would have picked federal judges with the Tea Party’s concerns in mind. But decades of experience have proved that it takes more than one branch to halt, much less reverse, the constitutional decay, and that the judiciary needs support, pressure, and direction from public opinion and the political branches in order to do its part under these circumstances.

This failure to take seriously the Tea Party’s warning that corruption had eaten deeply into constitutional foundations, and that government was slipping beyond the control of the governed, left conservatives and Republicans searching, as usual, for a purpose. The sense of a dead end was reinforced by Chief Justice John Roberts’s tortuous decisions saving Obamacare, twice, in 2012 and 2015.

If relimiting the government by constitutional means was not an option, said, in effect, a lot of indignant Republican and independent voters, then what is left but to use the system as it is, and try placing a strong leader, one of our own, someone who can get something done in our interest, at the head of it? After the Tea Party, the next stop on the populist train was Trump Tower.

The Trump Business

There is no shortage of reasons to object to Donald Trump. They range from the aesthetic (that hair!) to the moral, political, and intellectual. But there’s no reason to exaggerate. He is not a Caesar figure, though some conservatives sincerely fear that in him. Caesar’s soul was ruled, said Cicero, by libido dominandi, the lust for mastery or domination. Trump wants to make great deals, build beautiful buildings, and shine in the public eye as a kind of benefactor. You might say he is interested in magnificence, not magnanimity. For good or ill, he lacks the deeply political soul. In a 1990 interview,Playboy asked him about his role models from history. “I could say Winston Churchill,” he said, “but…I’ve always thought that Louis B. Mayer led the ultimate life, that Flo Ziegfeld led the ultimate life, that men like Darryl Zanuck and Harry Cohn did some creative and beautiful things. The ultimate job for me would have been running MGM in the ’30s and ’40s—pre-television.”

Trump is a very American character, a very New York character, the businessman who understands the world: the sophos who could bring efficiency, toughness (his favorite quality), and common sense to politics, if only he were listened to. In most of the world, populism is associated with distrust of business, with hatred of capitalism. In the U.S., it’s more common to find populism linked to an admiration for the farmer and small businessman, for the entrepreneur who has pioneered new products and markets, or for the independent businessman who has fairly earned his own fortune. That’s why Trump plays to a familiar Republican fantasy: the business leader who with cost control and double-entry bookkeeping could set government right.

It didn’t work out so well for Herbert Hoover, Wendell Willkie, Ross Perot, Mitt Romney, Meg Whitman, or the many others who tried it at the national or state level, however, because politics is actually quite different from business. For instance, there is hardly anyone to whom the president of the United States can say, “You’re fired.” He is pretty much stuck with the millions of federal employees already hired and protected by civil service, not to mention the judges and elected legislators.

Plus a businessman’s instinct is to want to measure government’s effectiveness by some single, or at any rate straightforward, standard, as a corporation can be measured by profitability, or a stock by earnings per share. But there is no comparable metric for politics that is so revealing and useful. The different branches have distinct powers and qualities (energy, deliberation, judiciousness, etc.), and the qualified independence that comes with them, for a reason. The temptation to be a political Louis B. Mayer, to produce the whole political show and insist on having control over all aspects of it, can lead only to a very frustrated presidency.

Cultural Decline

Of course, Trump’s own business record is indistinguishable from his career as a celebrity. He stubbornly defends his crudity, anger, and egotism as integral to the Trump brand, which he promotes incessantly, and as in touch with the working class voters he covets. To conservatives enamored of the gentlemanly manners of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, this indecency offends.

Yet it hasn’t disqualified Trump as a candidate, because it helps to certify him as a non-politician, a truth-speaker, and an entertainer. Trump seems to know the contemporary working class well, its hardships, moral dislocations, and resentments. Readers familiar with the new working class described by Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 19602010 (reviewed in the Summer 2012 CRB) will have a roadmap to the America that Trump sees and rallies to his side. As the Obama team got a jump on its rivals by exploiting new campaign software and technology in the 2008 race, so Trump got a cultural jump on his rivals in the 2016 primaries. He saw that the older, politer, less straitened America was fading among the working and lower middle classes. Downward mobility, broken families, disability and other forms of welfare support—these were increasingly the new reality for them.

This left them lots of time for TV (as Murray shows), especially for reality TV shows. Trump was more in touch with these developments, and also with the anxieties of the working part of the working class who feared falling into this slough of despond, than any of the other candidates. To put it in business speak, as the New York Times did, Trump “understood the Republican Party’s customers better than its leaders did.” It didn’t help that much of the rank-and-file had lost confidence in those leaders. Trump ran rings around them, and employed new media to do it. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, described that part of the achievement in an email to the Times that had the odd rhythm of one of its subject’s tweets. “Trump leveraged a perfect storm. A combo of social media (big following), brand (celebrity figure), creativity (pithy tweets), speed/timeliness (dominating news cycles).”

Every republic eventually faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable? America is not there yet, though when 40% of children are born out of wedlock it is not too early to wonder. What about when Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president? Many conservatives think that’s also sufficient reason to worry the end is near.

I understand the question, but the surer sign of comprehensive decline is not Trump’s success but the conservative candidates’ failure, one by one, all 16 of them. Trump himself has formidable, late-blooming political talents, and his vices have been exhaustively condemned but never examined in comparative perspective. Do obscenities fall from his lips more readily than they did from Lyndon Johnson’s or Richard Nixon’s? Are the circumstances of his three marriages more shameful than the circumstances of John F. Kennedy’s pathologically unfaithful one—or for that matter, Bill Clinton’s humiliatingly unfaithful one? Have any of his egotistical excesses rivaled Andrew Jackson’s killing a man in a duel over a horse racing bet and an insult to Jackson’s wife? The point is not to extenuate Trump’s faults but to understand how millions of voters see him. They know he is damaged goods, just as the Clintons are—and were, even in 1992—but they apparently regard him as more trustworthy or at least more faithful to their interests than any of his GOP competitors.

One difference is that Johnson’s, Nixon’s, and Kennedy’s sins were mostly kept behind closed doors. The culture in those days was intolerant of such vices (Nelson Rockefeller is the exception that proves the rule); our culture, not so much. Trump is not the first to benefit from our lower religious and moral standards—that would be the Clintons—and though his excesses shouldn’t be condoned, most voters (so far) don’t regard them, as Trump himself might say, as deal-breakers.

President Trump

The worst thing about the Trump phenomenon is that he does not spend his days and nights conscientiously preparing for a job for which everyone—everyone—agrees he is conspicuously unready. People seem to be hoping, praying (more, please) that he is a quick learner. After the initial exhilaration of office, he will probably be bewildered, frustrated, and unhappy; bored, in time. It’s hard to say, of course, because he has never held elective office of any sort. Perhaps his inner statesman will emerge. Judging from the sweeping things that in his speeches and interviews he asserts a president can do, however, incipient statesmanship does not seem to be in the cards.

Separation of powers, federalism, and the numerous other formal and informal folkways of American government seem likely to constrain a President Trump in ways that will surprise him (while delighting others) and to which, all signs indicate, he has given very little thought. In his emphasis ongetting things done by negotiating great deals between the branches, he sounds a little like Richard Neustadt, the political scientist who found the essence of presidential power not in the official powers and duties vested by the Constitution but in the president’s personal ability to persuade. Although Neustadt, a Harvard professor, meant persuade in a more high-minded way than Trump does (The Art of the Deal says it all), Trump’s raw understanding of the presidency appears nevertheless to lie much closer to the liberal tradition stemming ultimately from Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt than to the conservative or constitutionalist one. Wilson, not Trump, said this:

The President is at liberty…to be as big a man as he can. His capacity will set the limit; and if Congress be overborne by him, it will be no fault of the makers of the Constitution—it will be from no lack of constitutional powers on its part, but only because the President has the nation behind him, and Congress has not.

Though Wilson reassured his readers that “the reprobation of all good men will always overwhelm [immoral or dishonest] influence,” he stressed at the same time that “the personal force of the President is perfectly constitutional to any extent which he chooses to exercise it.” “Personal force”—not far from Trump’s praise of high energy, toughness, and strength in the ideal chief executive.

The big difference between Wilson’s theory and Trump’s reality, however, arises from the role of the political party. Wilson assumed that to be an effective leader of the nation, the president would first have to be a spirited leader of his own political party, organized around his own dominating vision. Trump has plenty of vision, but in all likelihood his political party, or at least a large segment of it, will be estranged from him. He may come close to being a president caught between two parties, each suspicious of him and hostile to him to varying degrees. This is the recipe for a weak presidency, like Andrew Johnson’s after the Civil War, as James Ceaser and Oliver Ward pointed out recently in theWeekly Standard. Bluster is no substitute for a party platform, personal predilections for a well-developed administration agenda.

Again, it is not the overbearing executive so much as the haphazard one, adrift much of the time, that is the risk. The two are not as opposed as they seem, inasmuch as it is the erratic, unsteady leader who is often tempted to lash out to try to rescue the situation. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, or Jesse “the Body” Ventura in Minnesota. (Trump had his own involvement with WWE for a while through his New Jersey casinos.) Though perhaps more serious about his politics than these two, Trump is likely to prove less involved than Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, also a billionaire media personality with a brand. Berlusconi was deeply anti-Communist, a four-time prime minister, and the founder of two political parties (Forza Italia and The People of Freedom). Trump thinks of himself as a man above party, or outside of party. His favorite metaphors come from boxing—not a team sport.

How will these divergent vectors resolve themselves into a coherent presidency? There is no guarantee they will, but to the extent he could find a model to suit him, the best might be his fellow New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt. Keep your eyes open for a T.R. boomlet in Trump’s future.

Political Correctness

It’s no coincidence that the two loudest, most consequential socio-political forces in America right now are Political Correctness and Donald Trump. One is at home on college campuses, the other in the world of working people. Yet they are already beginning to collide. At Emory University recently, someone scrawled “Trump 2016” in chalk on steps and sidewalks around the campus. About 50 students swiftly assembled to protest the outrage, shouting, “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!” Aghast at “the chalkings,” the university president complied.

At Scripps College, just a few weeks ago, a Mexican-American student awoke to find “#trump2016” written on the whiteboard on her door. The student body president, in a mass email, quickly condemned the “racist incident” and denounced Trump’s hashtag as a symbol of violence and a “testament that racism continues to be an undeniable problem and alarming threat on our campuses.” The student body’s response, apparently, was underwhelming. Shortly the dean of students weighed in with an email of her own, upbraiding students who thought the student body president’s email had been, oh, an overreaction. The dean noted that although Scripps of course respects its students’ First Amendment rights, in this case the “circumstances here are unique.” Note to dean: the circumstances are always unique.

The brave student journalist from whose account I take the Scripps story, Sophie Mann (who, incidentally, has taken two courses with me), closed her post in the Weekly Standard with this eye-opening statement: “In any event, I am hoping that this dies down before finals, because last semester, in the face of radical student agitation over minority victimization here, the student-run coffee shop was declared a ‘safe space’ for minority students. That was hard on those of us who need caffeine to study.’” Translation: the coffee shop was closed for several days to white students, who were officially forbidden its use, so that “students of color” could enjoy it safe from “white privilege” and oppression.

When P.C. world and Trump world collide, as these preliminary incidents show, there will be blood, or at least chalkings and coffee deprivation. In all seriousness, it’s likely that the campuses will erupt this fall in political disturbances of a sort not seen since the early 1980s—not out of affection for Hillary Clinton but out of fear and loathing of Trump. If he is elected, the next four years may be one long demonstration, perhaps rivaling the ’60s.

But the troubles won’t be confined to the campuses. The Left has gotten used to the way it runs the universities—by a powerful, ideological majority so dominant that there isn’t usually any effective opposition, or any opposition at all. What else can you expect when, as a study of 11 California colleges found, among sociology professors Democrats outnumber Republicans 44 to 1? In most other departments (except, e.g., economics), Republicans are outnumbered by ratios ranging from 5-16 to 1. Republicans are much rarer than any of the groups usually singled out for affirmative action or other special admissions attention. Except for Jonathan Haidt and a handful of others, when did liberals ever complain about this imbalance?

The truth is they enjoy it; they regard it as natural, advantageous for students, and, increasingly, as a model for how the rest of the world should be run. What’s worse is what they routinely do with their extraordinary power: they distribute benefits and rights by race, sex, gender, politics, and ethnicity, as the coffee house example illustrates. On campus, the shock troops, victims, counselors, and administrators are introduced to their roles and prepared to fulfill their functions inside and outsidethe university: to order atonement and punishment, distribute rights and duties, assign equality and inequality, police the boundaries of speech, decide who may be offended and by whom and for how long and why.

This is political correctness, and it is now the first of the Left’s political institutions. It marks a new, ugly stage in liberalism, a new ensemble of required moral attitudes, as even a few sensitive liberals (e.g., Jonathan Chait) have begun to recognize and criticize.

Political correctness is a serious and totalist politics, aspiring to open the equivalent of a vast reeducation camp for the millions of defective Americans who are products of racism, sexism, classism, and so forth. This is most conveniently accomplished on college campuses, where few people expect toleration or civil equality these days; but it can also take place in police departments, coal mines, the human resources divisions of major corporations, on social media, and in political campaigns.

It’s the basso profundo under the Left’s anti-Trump argument. Hillary’s criticism that he is “a loose cannon” arouses many fears—foreign policy blunders, the nuclear keys—but running underneath them, sostenuto, is the fear and outrage that he is always prepared to say things that offend a group that must not be offended. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, got to the heart of the matter when she tweeted, “Trump’s racism knows no bounds,” where “racism” is the Left’s all-purpose condemnation for political incorrectness.

P.C. is the hard edge, the business end of what Emmett Rensin, on Vox.com, has called “the smug style” in American liberalism. Ever since the Democrats lost the working class, he argues, they signed their souls over to “the educated, the coastal, and the professional” classes. These overlords invented the smug style to answer the question, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” as Thomas Frank titled his 2004 book, or more generally, How could the working class vote against its own obvious (to a liberal) economic interest? The answer: “Stupid hicks don’t know what’s good for them.” In this view, conservatism is not an attractive set of arguments or principles but a form of stupidity, of unknowing. Liberalism, by contrast, is a form of shared “knowing,” based not on knowledge, exactly, but on the presumption of knowledge. Hence the smug “knowingness” of the contemporary Left, most apparent and irritating in its smug contempt for working people who have rejected it.

Though his is a relatively mild case, President Obama cannot hide his smugness. As you may have noticed, the American people often disappoint him, clinging to their God and guns instead of cheering for his policies. No previous president except Woodrow Wilson suffered from this brand of arrogance. Consider, for example, how quickly and shamelessly Obama switched from opposing to supporting gay marriage. The only thing like it was how blithely the liberals on the Supreme Court pulled their switcheroo, assuring us that only bigotry—not a shred of common sense or natural-law humanism—could ever have justified a prohibition on same-sex marriages. Obama almost winked at the American public: you knew all along I really wasn’t against it, didn’t you?

Incorrect, and Proud of It

It’s the spirited way Donald Trump has defied the P.C. mavens, I think, that’s been the key to his success so far. On the policy questions he has taken a few conspicuous stands—immigration, trade, ISIS and the Muslims, foreign alliances—that he has more or less stuck to, though even on these he has advertised his flexibility. The “beautiful wall” he’s going to build on the Mexican border will also have “beautiful doors” for good Mexicans to stroll through into the U.S., for instance. On close analysis his tough stands appear strikingly tactical, which is why those commentators who have mistaken him for a Truman Democrat or an old-fashioned liberal Republican (especially on entitlements) are not entirely wrong. Unlike Cruz, Bush, and his other competitors, Trump has seemed to treat the content of his policies as a second-order question, which is why they have been so undetailed so far. The crucial thing for him, at least at this stage of the campaign, is to stake out a tough position in tough terms, to be as politically incorrect as possible on his selected issues.

In this respect, being anti-P.C. has, from the start, been the central point of his campaign. It proved a brilliant decision. The other Republican contenders might have done the same thing, but they were in thrall to their own versions of conservatism and the attendant policy agendas. They couldn’t see that in 2016 the ascendance of P.C. liberalism raised issues more fundamental, principled, and passionate than the think-tank-approved litanies of tax, spending, and foreign policy reforms. Trump alone was willing, eager even, to embody political incorrectness, to own it, not merely to patronize it. And most politically incorrect of all, he got people to laugh with him as he did it.

This is an election, Trump bet, more like 1968 than like 1980. Like Richard Nixon in ’68—an admirer of Teddy Roosevelt, by the way—Trump felt that this election might test whether the center could hold, whether a silent majority could be mobilized on behalf of the country itself. The issue was not so much a showdown over liberal or conservative policies, but the simpler, more elementary question of whether a majority still wanted America to be great again. Trump is more devisive than Nixon was, but perhaps he thinks the country is in worse shape, and that the majority needs to be angry, not silent.

Reaganism came with a full complement of urgent and intelligent policies. Nixon really had no -ism; he thought the times demanded improvisation in the interest of conserving the nation, the only kind of conservatism he really respected. Trump is closer to Nixon. He is in no hurry to build out Trumpism into a political doctrine.

If there were a core to Trumpism, however, it would be his insistence on “America First,” a phrase with unfortunate connotations, to say the least. To him, though, it seems to mean the legitimacy of preferring one’s own people or country to others. Charity begins at home, in other words. The Declaration of Independence, notably, pays “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” and appeals to “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” but it speaks only “in the name, and by authority of the good people of these Colonies.” The Constitution is designed to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (emphasis added). It is not at all inconsistent with human rights to take care of your own first, and in fact it is a duty to ward off tyranny for one’s own people before attending, to the extent possible, to others. By 1939, of course, farsighted statesmen could see already that the storm of war would almost certainly hit America, second, and soon.

Trump hasn’t fleshed this out, alas, and he rarely mentions the Constitution or America’s founding principles. That is shortsighted and a mistake. Who knows if he will correct it. If he did, he could broaden the discussion from the mores of the Mexicans to the mores of the Americans—“Americanization” being necessary for legal immigrants as well as for the native born—which is the ultimate concern. But his savvy opposition to P.C. implies something like this defense of America, because there is nothing political correctness stands for so much as the denigration of America, its history and principles. P.C. liberalism doesn’t stop there; its hostility extends to the theological, philosophical, literary, and scientific heritage of the West. But freedom, too, begins at home.

It is one thing to oppose so-called political correctness. It is another, and even more important, thing, to specify and defend what is actually politically and morally correct. Incorrectness can in today’s context include anything from simple rudeness to Lincolnian first principles. We know pretty well what Donald Trump is against. He will not have much time to decide what he is for.

American Conservatism • Conservatives • GOPe • Republicans

The Crisis in American Constitutionalism with Dr. Larry Arnn (PODCAST)

 Larry Arnn crisis of american constitutionalism

 

Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, joined me today for the better part of an hour to discuss the crisis unfolding in American politics.  The importance of our constitutional order is too little understood and the sovereignty of the people acting in their constitutional majority too little appreciated.  Few people are as well equipped to explain the origins of the crisis and what action we may take to forestall its terrible consequences than Dr. Arnn.

The entire discussion is worth listening to at least once – probably more than once.  And not because of me.   Dr. Arnn’s knowledge and practical wisdom are in short supply.  I’ve already listened to the interview again.  A few takeaways:

  1. The sovereignty of the people is under assault from a meritocratic elite that believes – sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly – that they have a right to rule or overrule the people.
  2. The signal importance of constitutional government is too little understood.  This is a failure of our education system, but it is also a project of the Left which has believed at least since the Progressive era that a large, powerful state run by “experts” is unreasonably constrained by the Constitution from “doing good.”  Much of the Right has drunk from this well and it has tainted our politics.
  3. Against the administrative state run by “experts” stands the idea of a sovereign people governing themselves through their elected representatives with each legitimate task of government being done by the level of government closest to the people and the problem.  This is the principle of subsidiarity and it has been either ignored or repudiated in the campaign to immanentize the eschaton through the administrative state.
  4. The entire West, not just the United States faces this crisis.  The Brexit vote in the UK was not about trade – it was about sovereignty.
  5. The crisis reorders the post-World War II Right/Left divide in ways that are still developing.

And, yes, we talked Trump a little bit.  How could we not?  Dr. Arnn did an excellent job setting the candidacy of Donald Trump in its proper historical context, offering compelling reasons to support Trump for President and some measure of understanding if no succor for the opposition.

Let us know in the comments below what you think or if there issues or considerations you’d like us to address in subsequent episodes.

 

learning from reagan's statemanship with professor steve hayward

nevertrump evan mcmullin
2016 Election • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Donald Trump • GOPe

Trump’s Unqualified So…Evan McMullin?

nevertrump evan mcmullin

Trump is unqualified. He’s no conservative. He’s a vulgar, know-nothing boob who cannot be allowed to sit on the furniture in the White House.  At least that’s what the smart guys tell us – the guys who know better than the voters, the guys who are “true conservatives” (just ask them).  And now they have offered up their own candidate.  Again.  This time the candidate is Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, David French, Mitt Romney, wait for it…drumroll please…Evan McMullin.

Mr. McMullin, at 40 years old, is the posterboy for everything the neoconservative establishment loves and actual voters hate.  And his resume reads like an Infowars parody of a neocon Manchurian candidate.

  • Wharton School of Business (Trump’s alma mater, so they have that in common)
  • UN Refugee Resettlement Worker processing Middle Eastern refugees for resettlement in third countries.
  • CIA Clandestine Service (It can’t be too clandestine since it’s on his LinkedIn profile)
  • Goldman Sachs (Does he have the transcripts of Hillary’s speeches?)
  • Council on Foreign Relations (member)
  • Various policy positions for House GOP Conference (translation: He worked for Boehner & Ryan)

McMullin is offered for President by people who say Trump is unqualified.  They say Trump is not a conservative and doesn’t know history or policy. But what about their guy?  What does he know?  We know he went to the right school, we know he likes Washington, D.C., and we know that he’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He has credentials – respectable credentials.  And the credentialism of the Davoisie is the stuff of legend.  But what does he actually know?

McMullin did an interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show yesterday to discuss his candidacy and qualifications. Hewitt has a couple of questions he asks every first time guest.  He’s asked the same questions for years.  They’re not trick questions – they’re things that any “true conservative” (especially one aspiring to high office) should be able to answer easily.  And if he couldn’t answer them off the cuff, we would hope that someone in the campaign would do the advance research and get the questions and the answers before showtime.  Again, Hugh has asked new guests the same questions for years.  With all of this build-up you have probably guessed that McMullin couldn’t answer either question.  If so, you’re right.  He cratered.  Not even partial credit for showing his work.  Here’s the transcript:

HH: Let me ask you as well, I always ask first time guests on the Hugh Hewitt, and Evan McMullin, you may be back often in the course of this campaign if you catch fire.

EM: I hope so.

HH: Have you read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?

EM: I haven’t, but I definitely should.

HH: And how about…

EM: It’s on my list.

HH: Yeah, and do you believe, my other second question which is a GPS question, do you believe Alger Hiss was a communist spy?

EM: Oh, I don’t know that I could comment on that either way. I guess these things, if we’re going to keep talking, Hugh, I need to look into these things and I can give you an answer. I can give you an opinion.

 

This is who the #NeverTrumpers put forward as their guy to oppose Donald Trump who, they say, is unqualified. But Evan McMullin undermines that entire argument suggesting that it’s really never been about qualifications, it’s been about power politics.  Trump is not their guy, represents very different interests, and has an independent base of support.  As such he is not beholden to Republican gatekeepers.  And worst of all – from their perspective – he opposes the globalist agenda held dear by the ruling class elite of both parties, what Ace of Spades calls “unchastened neocon foreign adventurism, favors for corporate cronies, and official, explicit Open Borders policy.”

What’s worse is that there is speculation that McMullin was chosen not just because of his ruling class bona fides, but because of his Mormon faith.  The idea is that his candidacy could cost Trump victories in Arizona, Idaho, and Utah – the 3 states with the largest LDS populations.  Of course, this assumes that voters are too dumb to see they are being manipulated. This looks like a campaign consultant’s idea of genius: try and play the Mormons out in the sticks like the Democrats play the black community and it’s repellent.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  Buzzfeed reports that Rick Wilson, the respectable Republican consultant who Tweeted this about Ann Coulter will be involved in the campaign:

rick wilson ann coulter anal

What about the NeverTrump argument that Trump has single-handedly debased our civic and political discourse, bringing it crashing down from Olympus?  Did he hijack Wilson’s Twitter feed?  Does it not apply when it’s their guy?  Or perhaps, it’s never been about principle – just who gets to call the shots.

There’s nothing wrong with competing groups striving for power through elections, that’s politics.  But increasingly the #NeverTrump cabal in the Republican ranks – always a bit fishy – looks and acts like an arm of Clinton, Inc.  After close to a year trying to claim the moral high ground, calling Trump an unqualified candidate, a vulgarian, and a master manipulator of the unwashed masses (maybe with more than a hint of jealousy) they give us Evan McMullin and Rick Wilson.

There are principled people who will not vote for Trump.  They have their reasons.  But they’re not involved in this.  The #NeverTrump faction behind the McMullin candidacy – funded, it would appear by billionaire hedge fund magnate Paul Singer – are not playing it straight with the American people.  (McMullin gave Hugh Hewitt an evasive answer about Singer’s involvement).  In trying to game the system, they have claimed for themselves a status above voters and above politics.

It started with attempts to manipulate delegate selection in states where Trump had won the primary and continued with various theories about how the rules at the RNC could be massaged to deprive Donald Trump of the nomination he had won.  It is now playing out with the McMullin-Wilson campaign.  But, as Cicero asked, Cui bono?  Who profits? One word: Hillary.  It would appear, the current campaign is an effort to trick certain groups of voters and help Hillary win the Presidency.

The American people deserve better, especially from a group that claims conservative principles and therefore should respect the polity and practice that upholds the sovereignty of the people.  America deserves better from its conservatives.  And for once, I find myself agreeing with the New Republic’s Jeet Heer: “By rallying behind an obscure establishment cog for president, anti-Trump Republicans show they don’t understand their own party.”

 

 

American Conservatism • Conservatives • GOPe • Republicans

Learning From Reagan Without Nostalgia with Steve Hayward (PODCAST)

learning from reagan wiith steven hayward

We’ve been talking about the death of Reaganism for a few weeks now –  but we do not lament.  The Reaganism of the 1980s was a principled, political response to the issues of the day by one of the foremost statesman of the 20th Century.  Viewing Reaganism as just a series of campaigns in support of a set of policies or as the policies themselves betrays the principles upon which Reagan himself based his statesmanship.  Unfortunately, much of the Republican political establishment doesn’t see past the policies.

Reagan biographer Professor Steve Hayward of the University of California, Berkeley and the Powerlineblog joins us today on the show.  He rightly advises conservatives – all Americans really – to study Reagan the way we study Lincoln, as a statesman of the first order.  Reagan’s politics were guided by a moral and practical sensibility that made him uniquely effective.  It was Reagan who, against the accepted wisdom of the foreign policy establishment of the day, believed that the West, led by the United States, could defeat the threat of international communism represented by the Soviet Union.  The bipartisan realpolitik crowd counselled a policy of acceptance and coexistence – right up until the time the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.  Sound familiar?  But Reagan believed that the Soviet Union was a moral anomaly – a contradiction that could not stand if challenged.  He was right.

Reagan’s moral clarity was supported by an ability to persuade.  Professor Hayward reminded us that Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger and his Secretary of State George Schultz had opposed him earlier in his career.  But Reagan knew how to win people to his side by the power and clarity of his arguments.

Still, Reagnism was a construct of its time.  It’s gone, but Reagan’s legacy of statesmanship isn’t.  Instead, conservatives should recognize this as an opportunity to move beyond meaningless nostalgia and reassert the people’s right to rule through constitutional means and to put forward a principled political agenda that speaks to the issues of this age –  issues increasingly identified with the rising tide of the administrative state empowered by ruling class disdain for voters viewed as too venal (because they haven’t signed up for the latest Leftist piety) or too stupid (because they didn’t go to the right school) to rule.

Professor Hayward explains how we can learn from Reagan’s statesmanship and practical wisdom rather than just being another Reagan cover band playing the old hits.  We love having Steve on the show – it’s always fun and we always learn something new.

Let us know in the comments below what you think or if there issues or considerations you’d like us to address in subsequent episodes.

 

learning from reagan's statemanship with professor steve hayward

American Conservatism • Donald Trump • GOPe

Hey Bud, Let’s Uniparty!

single fusion party of globalists

I don’t usually write about life hacks but here’s one: If you have a secret, don’t tell Bill Kristol. The Weekly Standard editor and #NeverTrump movementarian told CNN today that despite Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s half-hearted, but still public, endorsement of Donald Trump, he doesn’t really mean it. Kristol echoed President Obama, wondering aloud, “Why is (Ryan) even pretending to support Donald Trump? He doesn’t think Donald Trump should be president.”

Oops. You know how RINOs are Republicans In Name Only, maintaining membership in the Republican Party but always going along with the Leftist agenda—but only after some public fretting and handwringing about prudence, unity, and “our values?” Ryan has taken it a step further and is a Trump endorser in name only. He doesn’t really support Trump and would be just as happy—happier probably—with fellow globalist Hillary Clinton in the White House. That’s why Ryan never misses an opportunity to undercut the Republican nominee. But that’s the D.C. game: say one thing and do another.

Tell the rubes back in the district that you’re an immigration hawk at election time, and then back a massive amnesty bill that they hate when you’re in Washington. No worries; they’ll forget before the next election and in the meantime you can pass a zillion Obamacare repeal bills that you know will die in the Senate. That way you can claim you voted against Obamacare 842 times even though when it really mattered, you voted to fully fund it in a massive spending bill. Aw shucks, we’ll get ’em next time.  Just you wait.  

You can only run the same con campaign so many times before the marks voters get wise. Haven’t these guys seen The Sting?

Nothing changes in Washington because nobody in Washington, be they Democrat or Republican, wants it to change. And why would they? If you’re in government, business is good. The Uniparty likes its perks and mostly agrees on the big things regardless of what they tell the folks back home. Nobody in Washington really wants to enforce our existing immigration laws, with a few notable exceptions like Jeff Sessions and Dave Brat. Why should they? They and their donors benefit from the cheap labor they get by exploiting the helot class of illegal aliens they allow into the country even as their constituents back home pay the price. And the rush of moral superiority from giving a high-minded speech about how immigration is what makes America great and ignoring our laws is “an act of love” (Hi Jeb!) must be amazing.

This is why the leadership in both parties believes Donald Trump must be destroyed.  It’s less for who he is or what he would do as president, than what he represents. In most respects Trump is a moderate Republican, except on the few issues that are  non-negotiable for the Uniparty: immigration, trade, and American greatness.  These are the cornerstones of the globalist worldview which asserts (in its pure form) that labor (this is what economists call people, by the way), capital (also known as money), goods, and services must all move freely around the world. Adam Smith said so in the Wealth of Nations! OK, actually he didn’t, but they think he did and that’s a really big book so who needs to read the whole thing?

What it really means is crony capitalism here and abroad. The well-connected get ahead, the poor get government subsidies, and the middle class gets called nativist rubes by Republicans and “bitter clingers” by Democrats for thinking the American government should put their interests first. It’s tough to fool people faced with the real life consequences of bad policy that idealistic rhetoric from D.C. pols is better than safe streets, good jobs, and a strong, self-confident America.

The problem for the Uniparty is that a significant portion of the American people – even some on the Left – have had it. Republicans gave George W. Bush a lot of leeway, largely because of 9/11, and he squandered it. He gave us a massive Medicare expansion and No Child Left Behind on the domestic front and empowered a generation of neocons who treat American foreign policy like an episode of “Flip This House”: Acquire hostile foreign country, expend American blood and treasure turning it into a Western liberal democracy, put it back on the market. Only it’s not that simple. While they had no problem spending the country’s blood and treasure, the liberal democracies never sprung up. Iraq is still a war zone, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and ISIS controls Syria.

McCain and Romney were just more of the same and both were unwilling and unable to give an account of themselves on the campaign trail, unwilling to actually engage in retail politics. And they both got the shellacking they deserved at the hands of an energetic and visionary—if dangerous and wrong—Barack Obama.

It is against this recent history that Trump emerged to challenge the Uniparty. Whether he really thought he would capture the nomination – or even wanted to – when he announced his candidacy is anyone’s guess. But it quickly became evident that more than anything else, Trump gives voice to a large group of Americans who found out that they’re not the only ones who see through the Uniparty con. They’re not the only ones who love this country for what it is and want their government to take their side for once.

In response, the globalist Uniparty has closed ranks seeking to discredit the ideas and the legitimate grievances of Trump voters by smearing Trump, the man. They do not and will not engage the ideas. It’s the classic Clinton politics of personal destruction and Republican elites are following in lockstep attacking Trump and their own base with a ferocity never used against Clinton or Obama.

The Washington Generals legacy conservative media, if anything, has attacked Trump more savagely. Here is a picture of the lead stories on National Review as I write:

 

conservative media joins liberals bashing trump

Why? Because while they may have quibbles with Hillary, she’s one of their own. She represents business as usual. With Hillary the ruling class know where they belong and they all know they get to eat – maybe not as well as they’d like, but they’ll still get fed. And that’s enough to support either explicitly or implicitly a woman whose entire career has been marked by deceit and corruption. Scandal has surrounded Clinton from the time she was a 27 year old lawyer impressing the Democrats’ chief counsel at the Watergate hearings with her shocking dishonesty, to her uncanny ability to multiply her money trading cattle futures with her friends at Tyson Foods, to the Whitewater land fraud that send virtually everyone involved to prison, to the shady dealings at the Rose Law Firm, to the scandals at the White House travel office in the 1990s.

And it continued while she was a U.S. senator and Secretary of State. She appears to have used the Clinton Foundation—now the subject of an IRS investigation—as a means of selling favors (just as she and Bill did with the Lincoln bedroom in the ’90s but on a much larger scale). As Secretary of State, she illegally deleted more than 30,000 government emails she maintained on her illegal private email servers. The existence of the private email servers exposed classified material to foreign hackers in violation of the law and in so doing endangered the national security, but the FBI declined to recommend prosecution because, well, Hillary is too big to jail. Laws are for other people.  

Because of their involvement with Hillary, virtually the entire senior staff at the DNC has resigned in disgrace after hackers exposed emails proving that the Democrat Party is really an arm of Clinton, Inc. and that the whole primary process with Bernie Sanders was a sham.  As Secretary of State, Clinton lost Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan while ISIS (“the JV team,” remember?) became ascendant in the Middle East. Today, Islamist terror attacks are a near daily occurrence in Europe, and Iran is being paid $150 billion by the U.S. taxpayer and will soon be a nuclear power.

And all of that doesn’t even take into account the judges she’s promised to appoint (think Elena Kagan but more strident) or her oft-stated hostility to the First and Second Amendments. She’s not a huge fan of the Tenth either, but then neither are most Republicans, so why mention it?

But hey, she’s way better than Trump, who keeps going around “saying the unsayable.” And that’s just rude. Hillary doesn’t say such mean things ( her serial lies apparently not being considered “mean.”) Back in America, voters are treated to bread and circuses and then forgotten. The form of free government exists, but the substance is undermined by the shared tastes, interests, and beliefs of our  bipartisan ruling class. And yet again, the Left leads while the housebroken Right, as our own Violet Wister says, stands athwart history whispering, “Wait for me.”

 

 

 

American Conservatism • Conservatives • GOPe

National Review Fluffs A Drug Dealer For President As The Pro-Life Candidate

national review gary johnson

 

Ah, National Review, we thought we knew ye.  But that was before Trump Derangement Syndrome (“TDS”) set in and WordPress logins were handed out to this year’s crop of freshly graduated College Republicans.  Proving that NeverTrump is a gateway drug and that addicts who started off with a little NeverTrump on the weekend with friends for the kicks quickly up the ante and seek out a more powerful high.  In the manic search for their next virtue signalling rush, they have been known to do unspeakable things.  Some have been known to publicly endorse Hillary “Benghazi” Clinton and at least one has said that a Leftist Supreme Court majority  “is not the apocalyptic scenario painted by Trump supporters.”  Eviscerate the First Amendment by overturning Citizens United?  No biggie.   Gut the Second Amendment and deny citizens the right to protect themselves? Meh.  Like every junkie, when they’re feeling sick they’ll do anything to get their next fix.

Some of the kids are experimenting with a popular college party drug called libertarianism.  But it’s not the libertarianism parents remember from their days in college in the 70s and 80s.  It’s not The Road To Serfdom and a straight shot of Atlas Shrugged.  And it sure isn’t the insightful and politically helpful essays from Frank Meyer on Fusionism.  Now it’s just straight up libertinism calling itself libertarian so no one’s parents call the cops.  And in case you think this is something that just happens to kids at state schools, now they are shilling for the drug dealing ex-governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson at National Review, American conservatism’s version of Bushwood Country Club.  And their doing it based upon – wait for it – his pro-life bona fides.  No really.

From a piece titled Why Pro-Life Conservatives Should Vote For Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson and the Libertarian party are generally pro-choice, framing abortion as an individual-liberty issue, but they staunchly support states’ rights as enshrined in the Tenth Amendment. Thus, it is highly unlikely that a Johnson administration would interfere with states’ efforts to restrict abortion within their borders. Abortion is not the only issue that should prompt conservatives to vote for Gary Johnson.

More here.

This is the same Gary Johnson who said that “religious freedom as a category” is a “black hole.”  Sounds great, but hey, at least he’s not a big meany like Donald Trump.  In the same interview he also had this to say about abortion rights:

“The law of the land is Casey v. Planned Parenthood. I have no intention of changing the law, and Casey v. Planned Parenthood says, ‘you, woman, you have the right to have an abortion up to viability of the fetus.’ And the Supreme Court has defined viability of the fetus as being able to sustain the life of the fetus outside of the womb, even by artificial means. That is the law of the land.”

National Review and its writers might want to read up on current events.  I’m sympathetic to appeals to the largely ignored 10th Amendment – it’s the amendment no one talks about but upon which our system of federalism rests.  Unfortunately that knowledge and $3 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.   No refills.  Abortion law has been taken out of the hands of the people and their representatives and put in the hands of judges for over 40 years.

Pro-lifers regularly spend years crafting and passing well thought out bills at the state level only to have them overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as happened in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt just this past June.  The case voided a Texas law that would have restricted abortions by requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  The Court reasoned that this created an undue burden.  Regardless, Johnson plainly states that legalized abortion is the law of the land as mandated by the Supreme Court and that he has no intention of changing it.  End of story.

So much for Gary Johnson as the pro-life candidate.  On a positive note, Governor Johnson did pledge to stop getting high while he’s running for President.  His supporters might want to do the same.

 

 

UPDATE:  A reader pointed me to this ancient interview (last week) conducted by Nick Gillespie at Reason.tv with Gary Johnson and Bill Weld.  Here’s an excerpt on judges and who they think are their kind of people in Congress:

JOHNSON: Really, there are going to be no litmus test. You’re going to appoint good people, and you’re going appoint people that look at the Constitution of original intent.

WELD: Well, I don’t think you have to panic and say it has to be a way lefty or way righty. Steve Breyer has been a good justice. He was appointed by Democrats.

GILLESPIE: A Massachusetts guy, right?

GILLESPIE: You mentioned far-right and far-left people in Congress. Who are current members of the Senate and the House that you think you can work with? Because if you guys come in, obviously you’re not going to have a libertarian Congress.

JOHNSON: I think there is a real opportunity to, not naming names, but just–

GILLESPIE: Name names! Name names.

WELD: Rob Portman, obviously. Kelly Ayotte. Susan Collins, the best of all. Mark Kirk on the Republican side. A guy, he’s a challenger, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. Not saying I’m endorsing him, but he’s obviously a person of substantial ability.

 

Got that principled conservatives for Johnson?

Good judges?  Breyer and Garland.  Not even a tip of the hat to the 3 members of the Court who actually consult the Constitution before rendering an opinion.

And Congress? The Senate’s most liberal Republicans and Feingold who was one of the most liberal Democrats.

Sounds like the pro-life Dream Team.

 

American Conservatism • Conservatives • GOPe • Republicans

What Comes After Reaganism?

what comes after reaganism

 

Reaganism has been the state-religion of the American Right for over 30 years.  And like most official religions it has been diluted and twisted beyond recognition to suit the short-term needs of its political masters.  Last week I wrote a piece called Death of the Reagan Revolution that argued, in part, that invocations of Reagan’s name have become less meaningful even as they have become more common and  that they have in turn undermined Reagan’s real and valuable legacy.

If nothing else, Trump’s candidacy should force conservatives to move past Reagan.  Yes, we honor his work and respect the man and the movement that made him President.  But conservatives have too easily retreated to a posture of nostalgia for a golden age that never really existed. Worse, most Americans don’t care about all of the paeans to Reagan offered by the faithful – they want a political movement that speaks to today’s issues.

Seth and I discuss the question of what’s next after Reaganism?  It’s something that the Right is only now beginning to face nearly 30 years after Reagan left office.  Give it a listen – we had a good discussion and it’s a subject we’ll be returning to frequently.

Let us know in the comments below what you think or if there issues or considerations you’d like us to address in subsequent episodes.

 

what comes after reaganism

American Conservatism • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Greatness Agenda

Death of the Reagan Revolution

090525_reagan_ap_297

What would Ronald Reagan do? That has been the question—actual or implied—on the lips of every Republican for the last 30 years. From the squishiest RINO eager to curry favor with a skeptical base to the conservative stalwarts who can quote Hayek, Chambers, Buckley, and Goldwater from memory, the question has been the same. What would the man Rush Limbaugh calls “Ronaldus Magnus” do? Reagan has been the North Star of Republican politics since the day he left office. George H.W. Bush, never especially popular with the party’s conservative base, rode Reagan’s coattails to the  presidency in 1988—a feat he was unable to repeat four years later.

As memories of the Reagan era have grown more faint and subject to revision, the times and issues have changed and the comparisons have grown more tortured. Yet no Republican has been able to advocate a position, a policy, or his own candidacy without reference to Reagan.

Republicans invoke Reagan’s name as if it alone had the power to make their political dreams come true. The Reagan brand is so essential to the Republican self-image that Republicans speak of Reagan’s legacy just like dead Democrats vote—early and often. There is no issue too small to claim the hallowed Reagan as its patron saint. (Vote for J To mention the name of Reagan is to end debate, it’s the ultimate appeal to authority. Or was.

Appeals to the Reagan name have grown less meaningful and less powerful with repetition. It is a shame that our 40th president’s substantial legacy should have grown shopworn and impotent from hackneyed misuse by ineffectual pols hungry for short-term political gain. There is much that conservatives can learn from Reagan.  But they have largely learned the wrong lessons. They should look to his principles and his style and less to his policies which were, necessarily, the product of the issues and politics of his day.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party and for the country, what became known as the Reagan Revolution has become stale, unthinking, and lifeless—a shadow of its former self with none of the vitality or purpose that it had during its ascendancy. Today, the “Reagan Revolution” is a term of art with no orthodox definition, used more for political posturing than as shorthand for a defined set principles.  That said, Reagan argued for limited, constitutional government as the best means to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”  He paid particular attention throughout his political career to the threat from international communism abroad and creeping socialism at home. Recall that it was Reagan who awarded Whittaker Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in part for his role in exposing State Department official and FDR aide Alger Hiss as a Communist spy.  

In the years leading up to Reagan’s election, the conservative movement and its journals, led by National Review, were vibrant places full of ideas that could (and did) change the country for the better. The best minds were on the Right and they were attracting converts from former radicals like James Burnham and David Horowitz and from disaffected Democrats like Jeanne Kirkpatrick. They were drawn by the power of conservative ideas in the face of the Left’s manifest failures.

But the Reagan Revolution has run its course and in 2016 we saw its last gasp. The world has moved on, but the institutions that underpinned Reaganism haven’t. They have become ossified and out of touch with the common people and the issues that affect their lives. What is more, even though  Reagan won the elections, it was the Bushes that inherited the party and much of its intellectual apparatus.

Latter-day Reaganites rarely got the principles much less the style right. Sure, there have been notable exceptions, who have gotten one or the other but never both. In this cycle we saw Marco Rubio trying hard to emulate Reagan’s sunny style but never quite getting there on policy. He thinks of himself as a Reaganite, but his devotion to the neoconservative foreign policy establishment and his unseemly flirtation with open borders turned off core Reagan voters.

Ted Cruz on the other hand, a much better student, memorized the Reagan policy book and created a stump speech that scratched conservatives where they itched. On the style? Well, not so much. Cruz generally managed to look like the least popular guy at a life insurance convention. Or to quote Peggy Noonan (who generally seems to get these things right): “What a jerk.”

But who cares anyway? Not voters, that’s for sure. Few voters under 40 even remember Reagan. And in any event, voters are looking for the next revolution not the last one. It’s time for Republicans and conservatives to stop trying to be Reagan. There will be no second coming.  The core principles are still there to defend, but they must be framed in terms of the issues of today and tomorrow, not yesterday or 30 years ago.

In First Things, R.R. Reno sums it up nicely saying,

 

[Its] leitmotif was crystal clear: freedom. This has been the Republican brand for a generation. With Reagan, we sought to promote freedom over against communist totalitarianism. We worked to break up a government-controlled, monopolistic economy and unleash capitalism’s potential. We argued that ordinary Americans could and should lead responsible, self-directed lives rather than become ever more dependent on the intrusive ministrations of the Nanny State.

That all made sense in 1980, a great deal of sense. But we’re in 2016 now, and we’re no longer suffering under suffocating collectivism and clotted, complacent capitalism. Most important, ordinary Americans today are much more vulnerable. The politics of freedom is losing its salience.”

 

The issues have changed and so has the country. There is a growing sense that the most important political divide today isn’t between Left and Right, but rather between globalists and nationalists; between people who think of themselves as citizens of the world and people who are proud to be American; between the elite ruling class and everyone else. Many people sense that for all the talk of a freedom agenda, what they got instead was a corrupting libertinism and consumerism.

It’s the result of an unhappy marriage of the Left’s quest for the radical liberation of the self from objective moral principles and a misguided and ill-informed individualism on the Right—a sort of frat boy’s version of Ayn Rand’s self-centered Objectivism. All this, at the expense of political liberty and vibrant, distinctly American civic culture.

Meanwhile the leviathan state has grown larger, more remote, and less accountable. It’s been a bad trade for everyone except the bipartisan ruling class, which  has grown wealthier, more powerful, and more insulated. So while we may mourn  the death of the Reagan Revolution, it died  years ago. We’re just now realizing it’s time to bury it.

But with recognition comes an opportunity to see the world as it really is and recover what the Reagan Revolution was all about. Yes, let’s learn from Reagan. Let’s learn from his statesmanship, his practical wisdom, his love for this country and its people. And let’s shed our illusions and pointless nostalgia. It’s time to stop chasing ghosts and work on tomorrow’s revolution, not reminisce about yesterday’s.

Intellectuals, like generals, are always fighting the last war. They may try and deny it, but there is another revolution underway even now.

It’s worth remembering Leo Strauss’s off the cuff (!) remarks in class at the University of Chicago in 1965 upon learning of the death of Winston Churchill. He used the opportunity to explain to his students why they were there.

 

“We have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students, of political greatness, human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence. For we are supposed to train ourselves and others in seeing things as they are, and this means above all in seeing their greatness and their misery, their excellence and their vileness, their nobility and their triumphs, and therefore never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness.”

 

It’s time that the American people reassert themselves as citizens and sovereigns. The legitimacy of the government relies upon the consent of one American people living under the rule of law.

The Reagan Revolution was about winning the Cold War, defeating global communism, and rolling a overreaching and demoralizing central government. But Reagan left plenty of unfinished business. The government continued to grow. Marginal tax rates may be lower, but the regulatory burden is much higher and the bureaucrats who make and enforce the rules are more powerful and less accountable. The people who run the government are more remote and less responsive. Even some elements of the Left have started to recognize the danger of the leviathan state. The challenge for conservatives—and for all people of good faith—is “in seeing things as they are.” It’s for the next revolution to reestablish the sovereignty of the American people and the accountability of their government.

American Conservatism • Conservatives • Republicans

Why Voting Trump Is Morally Good – Interview With Theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem

wayne grudem voting for trump is morally good

 

Dr. Wayne Grudem is a well known evangelical Christian theologian.  Educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Westminster Seminary, he is currently a professor at Phoenix Seminary and the author of a widely used systematic theology.  Dr. Grudem is also a former support of Marco Rubio and was an adviser to the campaign.

In a powerful, carefully reasoned new essay aimed at concerned or wavering Christians, Dr. Grudem argues that voting for Donald Trump is morally good.  Dr. Grudem joined me today for a discussion of the essay, why he wrote it and a message for Christian voters.

A few choice excerpts from the essay:

Some of my Christian friends tell me they can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump because, when faced with a choice between “the lesser of two evils,” the morally right thing is to choose neither one. They recommend voting for a third-party or write-in candidate.

As a professor who has taught Christian ethics for 39 years, I think their analysis is incorrect. Now that Trump has won the GOP nomination, I think voting for Trump is a morally good choice.

And also this:

I do not think that voting for Donald Trump is a morally evil choice because there is nothing morally wrong with voting for a flawed candidate if you think he will do more good for the nation than his opponent. In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.

And this:

Should Christians even try to influence elections at all? Yes, definitely. The apostle Peter says Christians are “exiles” on this earth (1 Peter 1:1). Therefore I take seriously the prophet Jeremiah’s exhortation to the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon:

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

There is much more in the essay so take the time to read it after you listen to my discussion with Dr. Grudem.

Let us know in the comments below what you think or if there issues or considerations you’d like us to address in subsequent episodes.

 

wayne grudem explaims why voting for trump is morally good

2016 Election • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Greatness Agenda

John Marini explains the American Crisis:  Part 1

the american crisis marini responds to charles kesler
An article at the Claremont Review of Books by John Marini, the scholar who literally wrote the book on the ways the administrative state is destructive to the possibility of self-government, deserves wide attention and careful analysis.  This post will be the first in a series attempting to provide some of that.

john marini on trump and the greatness agendaThe central problem of American politics in the present moment is that:

“Since the end of the Cold War, American leaders have understood their offices in terms of global and administrative rule, rather than political rule on behalf of the American people and the sovereignty of the American nation. “

In other words, the possibility of real politics–the kind where citizens make decisions about has been co-opted by administrative experts.  It has been replaced, instead, with what amount to political bread and circuses.  This realization is only now beginning to crystallize in the minds of an American electorate which has been engaged for decades in proxy wars within the culture and, only at the periphery, within politics.  Whether we were fighting over drugs, the sexual revolution, race, faith in the public square, tax policy, economic justice, or the size of government, they amounted mostly to distractions advanced and litigated by our various factions and interest groups. They pulled our attention away from this central question of legitimacy. As we watched or participated in these groups competing for oxygen in the crowded space of the American media-political complex, few realized that the administrative state was growing more powerful and crowding out the citizen sovereign. We satisfied our political itch but did not do much that properly could be called politics.

This is because increasingly, the lines drawn between the consent of the governed (i.e., American citizens) and the laws that govern us are hazy. Citizens know that their status and identity as Americans is now considered secondary to their more particular identity groupings.  Their membership in interest groups, competing as they do for raw power and a presumed (but elusive) ability to stir the drink, means more to our elites than their status as Americans. Politicians don’t work to serve the common good.  They work to satisfy those who advance their positions of power and influence over us.  So it is that the things that divide us now distinguish us.  And voters are finally beginning to realize that all of their so-called political battles are mainly just a pathetic competition for the scraps of power our betters are willing to throw at us.  As Marini puts it:

“Bureaucratic rule has become so pervasive that it is no longer clear that government is legitimized by the consent of the governed. Rather it is the consent of the various national—and often international—social, economic, political, and cultural interest groups that determine the outcome of elections.”

Our elections now have become a species of reality show or beauty pageant.  Under these conditions, why not have a reality show star and beauty pageant sponsor as a candidate?  We are never more united as Americans, it seems, than in our voracious appetite for consuming this entertainment.

American Conservatism • Conservatives • Greatness Agenda • Republicans

Towards A Better American Conservatism – A Discussion With Ben Boychuk

Conversations american greatness chris buskirk

 

Ben and I started what we hope to make a weekly discussion that we will publish here and on iTunes.  We began with a theme that we will return to often, namely how to build a better American conservatism.  Part of that is a discussion of what has gone wrong – and right – with the conservative movement over the past few decades.

We have made the case before – and will, no doubt make it again – that post-war American conservatism has become the victim of some shortcomings that were present at its inception but that have grown worse over time.  In another sense, it became of victim of its successes in the 1980s and early 1990s.  But since this is a discussion and not an essay, Ben and I were able to cover more ground and have some interesting back and forth.

Let us know in the comments below what you think or if there issues or considerations you’d like us to address in subsequent episodes.

 

republican and democrat primary hbo vinyl

2016 Election • American Conservatism

With Malice Toward None

Abraham_Lincoln_second_inaugural_address

 

Many thanks to Carl Eric Scott at National Review’s “Postmodern Conservative” blog for taking note of our efforts here at American Greatness and for his good wishes. And perhaps greater thanks are in order for including us in the ranks of “genuine conservatives.” We are included in his taxonomy under 4b, as “those who are trying to articulate, without at all waiting for The Donald’s lead, a coherent political platform and philosophy of Trumpism.” Whilst I appreciate and hope to return the bonhomie, I must note that some of us here at American Greatness support Trump while others, and I quote, are “still not gonna vote for the son of a bitch.” As an enterprise, we are electorally uncommitted, with each person free to advocate for or against any policy or candidate.

What unites us is something bigger and more enduring. It is best expressed in our inaugural editorial, “Our Declaration of Independence From The Conservative Movement” but can be summed up as a belief that the natural rights of mankind are best protected by government that is limited, constitutional, and republican. Our project is not just to advance that thesis — the truths, we believe, are self-evident but the implications require education — but to empower a political movement that acts on it.

So “in the spirit of (friendly) rivalry and disagreement among genuine conservatives” that Scott noted, I submit that many conservatives expect too much from our politicians and not enough from our institutions. The particular genius of our Constitution is that it is not dependent on producing successive generations of pols as enlightened, prudent, or selfless as the Founders themselves. Just the opposite. It specifically recognizes how rare a creature is the true statesman (the great souled man described by Aristotle in Book IV of his Nicomachean Ethics) and establishes a form of government in which they are welcome, even encouraged to develop, but unnecessary because power lies with the people who exercise it through constitutionally established institutions that are designed to impede the aggregation of power in any one person or faction. As “small-r” republicans, we believe that our form of government is best because, among other reasons, it recognizes man’s inherent flaws and accounts for them while also allowing — and perhaps  encouraging — the better angels of our nature.

The impediments to the aggregation of power built into our Constitution are intentional and recognize man’s tendency to be venal, short-sighted, and vicious. But they have been a source of frustration and continuing consternation to the Left, which is always in a hurry to use government power to “get things done.” The result has been a general lack of recognition of the Constitutions’s particular genius and a highly successful multi-generational project to replace our written Constitution with a “living Constitution.” The Founders’ Constitution was written in a way that could be apprehended easily by just about anyone. The progressive Constitution is in constant flux, with volumes of case law and regulatory interpretations that  can only be grasped in part and then only by specialist teams of lawyers.

Unfortunately, the regulatory state, empowered as it is by an unchecked judiciary, enjoys broad support from our  bipartisan ruling class. Yet the regulatory state that rules so much of our lives is not limited, constitutional, or republican. With so much power ceded to a mostly unaccountable state within a state, most political arguments are now over style or speed, not principle. The Left is always and everywhere looking to expand state power. The Right, meantime, is generally left  arguing not that the government has grown far beyond its constitutional limits but rather that should grow a little more slowly. (See Paul Ryan’s Omnibus Budget for an example) That is when Republicans are not busy expanding  the state on their own. (See, for example, the Bush Administration’s creation of the Transportation Security Administration  and the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit)

It is worth quoting from Federalist 51 at length:

 

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. (Emphasis added.)

 

The Constitution gives us institutions that are not dependent on a “leader” — a Progressive and anti-republican concept  in any event — let alone a statesman. But for all the invocations of fealty to the Constitution by conservatives, there has been precious little action to back it up in the past few decades. When in control of the White House, Republicans have overlooked constitutional limitations and pursued their own expansions of the state. During President Obama’s tenure in office, congressional Republicans consistently have failed to exercise their constitutional power to check his daily overreach fearing a public backlash if they use the power of the purse or refuse to confirm his appointments. The delay in approving Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court is a rare exception. But make no mistake, confirmation is only delayed unless Donald Trump is elected. If Hillary is elected, Garland or someone just like him will be confirmed after a few weeks of political theater to assure the base that Republicans are “doing something.”

In the present political moment it looks to many Americans — maybe most, given the popularity of Bernie Sanders’ anti-establishment rhetoric — that the bipartisan ruling class itself has become a faction working against the interests of the American people. In any event,  the perception is as good as the reality. We saw a similar sentiment develop and play out in the Brexit vote in Great Britain. A majority of Brits — large majorities outside of London and Scotland — believed that their right to rule themselves through their elected representatives in Westminster had been surrendered to an unaccountable superstate in Brussels for the benefit of a well-heeled, well-connected elite.

Madison wrote in Federalist 10 that the “causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.” He went on that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” The same might be said of political power. It would not be a stretch to paraphrase Madison and say that “those who hold and those are without political power have ever formed distinct interests in society.”

And today, there is a sense both here and in Europe that a ruling class has formed and is becoming entrenched and that it undermines the sovereignty of the people. James Burnham wrote about this with surprising prescience in both The Managerial Revolution and in his later book, The Machiavellians.

Against this backdrop comes Donald Trump. To many conservative intellectuals, he is a boor and a buffoon; to others a would-be Caesar; and for many he is both at once, cognitive dissonance notwithstanding. But for most Republican voters — recall that Trump received more primary votes than any Republican candidate ever before — he gives voice to issues that their supposed betters have told them either don’t exist or that they’re not allowed to care about.

Some say he is the wrong man with the right message. This is probably the truest critique. For troubled conservatives, the question becomes whether or not to support the wrong man with the right message and to trust in our constitutional institutions and the American people to provide both guidance and a check on that man should he become president. Our Constitution was designed with this moment in mind, in fact believing that it might be more common than not. The better question might be whether the rest of the Republican Party is willing and able to fulfill their own constitutional role.

 

American Conservatism • Greatness Agenda • The Declaration • The Editors

Our Declaration of Independence from the Conservative Movement

american greatness declaration of independence

American Greatness aims to be the leading voice of the next generation of American Conservatism.

Divisions made evident during the 2016 Republican primaries made the need for a new journal of American conservatism undeniable. The soil of the conservative movement is exhausted. It needs fertilization, re-sowing, and diligent cultivation if it is to thrive again. And while we will always owe a debt to the giants of the movement who have gone before us, we cannot slavishly attempt to relive the politics of 40 years ago.

It is not just that other journals have become unmoored from the principles of free government or calcified in their thinking; it is that they were founded on principles that were either insufficient or in conflict with the timeless principles of the American Founding.

As time has passed the errors in their foundings have become more pronounced. They have now culminated in intellectual stagnation and a tiresome policy orthodoxy (passing mindlessly for principles) that does not permit growth within or of the movement. Today, movement conservatism offers the American people not a choice, but an echo of the Left. Because of this, American Greatness is not an alternative to movement conservatism; it is a refounding of a distinctly American conservatism based upon the self-evident principle of human equality and the rights that flow from it. Just government exists to protect and promote these rights and is therefore necessarily limited, constitutional, and republican in its form.

Again: this year’s primary fight is not the cause of conservatism’s divisions or its current crisis. Those causes preceded this political moment and have been clear to the creators of this journal for some time. No candidate or accidental turn of events promises to—or can—bring about the necessary salvation.  Any salvation or redemption that comes to American Constitutional government must come by the virtuous action of the sovereign people of the United States, not from a sophisticated band of policy experts who arrive at answers they unilaterally deem “correct.”

What American Greatness Is Not

We are not political partisans. We hold no brief for any particular  candidate or policy prescription. On electoral matters, the editors are agnostic. We do not exist to tell anyone else how to vote. We can be neither vindicated nor embarrassed by the personal successes or failures of any candidate or collection of them in this or any other election year.

Similarly, American Greatness does not advocate any particular policy orthodoxy. We insist on clear distinctions between principles (permanent and enduring understandings of justice and right) and policy (objects for the realm of debate and politics to be guided by prudence as well as by principle). It is likely, however, that even in our internal discussions, we will have disagreements about where, precisely, the one ends and the other begins. We do not see that as a cause for alarm.

The best policy to advance a principle at any given time is, by its nature, changeable. These are arguments that will play out according to the politics of the moment. But we know that when people become accustomed to doing something in a certain way, even when that way is failing, it is difficult to convince them that it is possible to accomplish the same goals in some other, better way. We think lively and spirited debate about these questions, therefore, is healthy, necessary, and liberating.

Finally, although American Greatness owes an intellectual debt and its inspiration to the Journal of American Greatness (henceforth, JAG) and to some of its contributors, we are not the re-emergence of that much-admired effort.

We regret the passing of that manful but anonymous project, which sought to come to terms with the meaning of our current political moment by considering what may be called  a “Greatness Agenda” for America. (The fact that the contributors to JAG felt that anonymity was necessary speaks to the enormity of the problem of our times.) We intend to pick up where the other journal left off, recapturing some of its arguments and expanding upon them.

But our real object is more comprehensive and our methods aim to be more expansive in their reach. We believe that American conservatism has lost its way and, as a result, it has lost much of its original appeal. The once-vibrant political movement that nominated Barry Goldwater, elected Ronald Reagan, and defeated global communism has become ossified and unthinking to the point that conservative intellectuals act like priests mediating unknowable truth to the masses and administering the sacraments of conservative orthodoxy.  Regular excommunications have sapped the life and urgency from a movement once known for its intellectual vigor.  We intend to offer guidance and clarity to a spent movement by reclaiming the ideas and traditions upon which this country and our system of free government is based.

There are clues to what’s gone wrong in our past, but a slavish attachment to the ideas and policies of the past is not a way to advance or conserve our principles. Indeed, it is–precisely–the problem. We do not, in fact, seek to conserve any principles. They exist regardless of our action or inaction. We can only hope to have intelligent debate about how best to explain and defend those principles and the constitutional regime based upon them.

What American Greatness Is

We hold that America—much like movement conservatism—has lost her way. The nation has succumbed to  division and faction, infected by the insidious and  foreign virus of identity politics which has robbed Americans of our true identity as one people. We’re undermined further by an ever-growing centralized administrative state, which robs us daily of the opportunity to participate in governing our own lives as free and equal citizens under the rule of law.

Government has grown remote, unresponsive, and increasingly unaccountable. While many movement conservatives acknowledge these problems, they have failed to persuade a majority of American voters. What’s more, movement conservatives remain stubbornly unpersuaded by voters’ plain rejection of their solutions.  To their credit, the American people have, through common sense and hard experience, rejected the lie that their opinions about their interests and the laws that govern their lives are irrelevant. Likewise, most rank and file conservatives are unimpressed by the half-measures offered by a conservative movement that is more about conserving itself than conserving the people’s sovereignty.

So we do not condescend to tell our readers for or against whom they should cast their ballots  nor do we collectively contend that we are in possession of some “special expert knowledge” about their interests or some speculative good that is beyond their own poor powers to understand or to reach. We seek a higher level of conversation than that and a readership capable of coming to its own conclusions about how to use its franchise. We seek a revival of real politics.

Our editors, contributors, and writers agree that the staleness of the movement came about as a result of too much focus on the word “conservative” and not enough focus on the word “American.” Conservatives have suffered from a kind of elite insularity that pulled their focus away from broader, more American, interests and instead zeroed them in on the interests of their movement, its leaders, and its financial backers. In essence, it has become a kind of faction and has lost the ability to make an appeal to those who are not born into its concerns. It became a movement of conservative Americans instead of a movement of American conservatives.

Our object is a rediscovery of the American part of conservatism’s efforts. What, in other words, are we trying to conserve? And what are our prospects in this present political moment for conserving it?

As our name suggests, we understand the current dissatisfaction with our political institutions and the political polarization of our times to be a direct result of the failure of both political parties and the intellectual movements that direct them to advance an agenda for American greatness. Moreover, it is a failure to understand why such an agenda is so sorely needed.

A proper care and attention to the principles of America requires a serious effort to discover effective means of advancing, not just of conserving, those principles. America is a nation born in and of revolution. It is a radical appeal to a universal standard of justice and right, but it is also a limited appeal on behalf of one people who exist in this one place. As such, America’s principles have always taken the form of a proposition that needs constant affirmation and defending in every generation.

Americans are born but they must also be made. This means a diligent attention must be paid to the opinions and interests—expressed or implied—of the American people in its totality and as it actually exists.

In understanding that the American people are the rightful and sovereign rulers of their country, we cannot forget,as Lincoln reminded us, that in America “public sentiment is everything.”

“With public sentiment,” said Lincoln, “nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” Molding the beliefs of a free people is necessarily more difficult than dictating from above. It requires education, habituation, and time. But free government cannot be sustained without a healthy public sentiment. So those who would hope to keep it healthy must, above all, actually engage with it and attempt to understand it as it exists and understands itself in reality, not just in the hopes and wishes of the would-be molders.

What is a Greatness Agenda?

When it comes to explaining what a “Greatness Agenda” might look like, we at American Greatness accept the definition of terms as laid out by our predecessors at JAG. The specifics are matters to be determined by real and actual politics that engages the consent of the sovereign people of the United States. But the issues that are paramount at this particular political moment, as we see it, are wrapped up in understanding more fully the American principle of sovereignty and what Harry V. Jaffa called the “conditions of freedom” (in other words, the things that allow us to preserve our sovereignty).  These include, especially, our fitness for liberty and our strength on the international stage.

The sense that we are in danger of losing our sovereignty as a free people is at the heart of the reason why questions of trade, immigration, and foreign policy have become so prominent. American conservatives need to pay closer attention to these issues and to respect (we do not say bow to) the will of the people on them.

Why is movement on these issues necessary? Let’s begin with trade. Conservatives have betrayed a lack of concern with the opinions and interests of significant numbers of their base and borrowed voters (think Reagan Democrats) when it comes to trade. We believe in free trade and free markets in the abstract, but the actual liberty and security of the American people cannot be sacrificed on the altar of a purely notional concept of free trade that rarely exists in the the real world.  

Free trade between free people is a principle of justice. It is why we can accept nothing less than a free market within our borders.  But truly free trade between nations, even when the two nations in question are relatively free and well-disposed toward one another, is more to be hoped for than expected. Freedom goes both ways, and should  serve American interests broadly speaking, not just economically speaking. The government should advance specifically American interests in trade deals with foreign powers. Interests sometimes change. The character of those interests is a matter for politics, not just for experts.

Immigration, too, is wrapped up in the question of the sovereignty of the people who, after all, have something to say about who their friends and neighbors should be. We hold that it is necessary to prioritize the American character of our culture. Obviously, we do not believe that it is impossible for the foreign born to become good Americans. Indeed, there are many instances where a foreign-born person has proven himself an even better, more truly American, citizen than the average native born one. This has nothing to do with ethnicity or race. It has everything to do with character, culture, understanding, and habits.

Importantly, promoting the American character  involves an implicit and cultivated understanding of what Lincoln called our “political religion” which is something we, today, in our collective shame for past sins and imperfections, refuse to understand or appreciate. We no longer effectively assimilate even highly motivated immigrants to the ideas that make freedom a condition we can preserve. Instead, we leave immigrants to adopt the elements of decay and cultural rot that make preserving liberty so much more difficult. An immigrant may come to America thinking that Washington and Lincoln are heroes, only to discover that our schools and our media teach that Washington and Lincoln were irredeemable racists and bigots. Our high levels of immigration are probably not sustainable at all, but they are certainly not sustainable with an education system that undermines the qualities necessary for self-government by encouraging strife among Americans.

Finally, while conservatives can and should be cheerful about positive democratic developments in foreign lands, we need to move away from the idea that seeking to spread democracy is a necessary objective of America’s foreign policy.

Our defense forces and vast national resources shouldn’t be deployed as political missionaries. We have legitimate national interests abroad that need defending, but the first object of any American foreign policy should be to maintain our national strength for our own sake. If, as part of that objective, democracy and good government are spread abroad, so much the better. We cheer it but do not demand or prioritize it over and against American interests.

This brief description of what we are calling the “Greatness Agenda” is not meant to be exhaustive.  It is meant only to introduce the need for debate and consideration about these matters as part of a legitimate and necessary political conversation grounded in truly American concerns for the preservation of liberty. This is exactly the kind of forum we strive to provide.  We will defend the principles of limited, constitutional government based on the consent of the governed and of the American constitutional order as the best means for securing the rights inherent to all mankind.  

—The Editors

American Conservatism • GOPe

But Bill, Why Were They In Babylon?

the trump captivity of the gop

The Republican Party is broken. On that, at least, Bill Kristol and I agree. Kristol published a piece in The Weekly Standard this week that said more about the rupture than he may have intended.  The piece is entitled The Trump Captivity of the GOP evoking Martin Luther’s famous Reformation treatise The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.  Luther contended that the Church, meaning the people, was held captive to the priesthood who were, among other things, withholding the cup in the Lord’s Supper from the laity.  Luther rejected the notion that priests were necessary intermediaries between God and man, arguing that Jesus Christ is the only necessary and all sufficient high priest mediating on behalf of His people.

In alluding to Luther’s work Kristol betrays a worldview that is all too common among conservative intellectuals – and that goes a long to explaining the growing gulf between them and the rest of the country.  It is a view that has often been called elitist, but it is more correctly called priestly, even gnostic.  Kristol and those like him (many if not most conservative writers and intellectuals) have come to believe that they hold a secret knowledge that they must mediate for the people.  It is a view that in the modern era has been most associated with the Left.  It is the Hegelian view expounded by Max Weber and then put into practice by Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives of government by “experts.”  Unfortunately, this noxious and anti-republican idea has infected much of the Right as well.

Just days ago, we wrote the following in our Declaration of Independence From The Conservative Movement:

The once-vibrant political movement that nominated Barry Goldwater, elected Ronald Reagan, and defeated global communism has become ossified and unthinking to the point that conservative intellectuals act like priests mediating unknowable truth to the masses and administering the sacraments of conservative orthodoxy.

And, as if on cue, along comes Kristol proving the point.  He writes:

It was always perhaps the stupider party, the clumsier party, and the stodgier party. But it was also the sounder party, the more constitutional party, and the more responsible party. Now, Donald Trump’s Republican party is stupider than ever, but it is no longer sound or constitutional or responsible.

Everything would have been great if only the stupid, clumsy, stodgy voters had listened to The Weekly Standard and nominated Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, David French (?!?), did we mention Mitt Romney?  All approved by the priests of Conservatism, Inc. but not by voters.  And that does not make the priests happy.

70 Years In Babylon

Let’s also remember that the title of Luther’s treatise is a reference to the 70 year captivity of the Israelites after the Babylonians conquered Judah and sacked Jerusalem.  The Babylonian captivity of the Israelites was God’s judgement on them for breaking the covenant and worshiping idols.  Luther was picking up one of the themes of the prophet Jeremiah – that the priests had allowed and in some cases led the people of Judah into idolatry – and arguing for reformation of the church.  Something similar is going on today in Republican politics.

But contra Kristol, the GOP isn’t held captive by Trump.  Rather, the millions of Republicans who voted to elect him as the nominee of the party see Trump more as Luther – the one starting a reformation of the party by breaking the shackles that have held it fast to its priestly class.  It is the conservative priests who led the people astray and departed from principles upon which this country was founded.  It is the priests of Conservatism, Inc. that have held Republicans captive.  Donald Trump did nothing more than give voice to the discontents of people who wanted to take back control of a political movement that lost its way and became alienated from the people it claimed to represent.

There will be a counter-Reformation at some point, sooner if Trump loses, or later if he wins.  The Empire will strike back, if I can mix my metaphors.  But Americans who believe in free, limited, constitutional government, those who believe in the natural rights of man as expressed in the Declaration of Independence would do well to recall how we got here and ask if, going forward, we want a class of conservative priests who alone possess the secret knowledge or if, instead, we believe, as Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration did, that the truth that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights is self-evident to all men and that priests are unnecessary.  Great teachers to educate each generation of Americans?  Yes and lots of them.  But priests, who stand between the people and the truth?  No, that’s what got us here.

 

 

 

American Conservatism • Republicans

Sorry, David Brooks and Others:  You’re Massively Wrong About Globalism Being “Massively Right” 

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At the American InterestJason Willick writes perceptively about Samuel Huntington’s prediction, more than two decades old, that the political order in the West would be turned upside down by a growing gulf between a “global elite” and their more nationalist general populations. The post-war push for an elite cosmopolitanism demanded free trade, open immigration policies, and an internationalist foreign policy in an effort to transcend the baleful effects of an excessive and irrational love of one’s own (the elite shorthand for this is nationalism).  This effort may now be discovering that their push was too hard and Willick’s article is of a piece with a spate of others like it, written by those who are sympathetic to globalist ends, but–if not quite urging for a pull-back–at least insisting on greater clarity about the nature of our present political moment.  In a recent New York Times piece David Brooks also speaks to the question of a coming realignment of the political order in which he rightly argues that Trump has been able to smash the terms of the old right-left divide over small v. big government to one focusing more on the question of our relative “openness” or “closedness” (Brooks’ words).  What Brooks really means is something similar to what Hungtington was talking about in his work and Willick recounts in the article referenced above.

What most of these pieces have in common, however, is not just some newfound clarity about the changing tides of our political discussion.  They also share a cocksure belief that the globalists (or, as we prefer to call them in the spirit of JAG, the Davoisie) are correct in condemning what they see as the close-mindedness and stupidity of the common people in their orthodox assuredness that opening up the doors on trade and immigration is an unqualified good that we should be willing to deploy our resources abroad to maintain and protect.  David Brooks ends his piece by declaring that though the forces of darkness (as he sees them) will be driving the conversation from here on out, the trouble they will have to confront is that the forces of globalism won’t go away (true) and that those forces are “massively right.”  He seems to be urging those “massively right” betters among us to come to some reasoned method of dealing with the rubes.  Since neoconservatism and its drive to spread the goodness of American democracy abroad no longer fits the bill, I guess they figure they need some other way to keep us cheering in the stands and chanting “USA!” since that’s probably all that we need to keep us satisfied while they do the hard work of keeping the globalist/cosmopolitan/Davoisie agenda alive.


So they are prepared to admit that they “pushed too hard” which, I suppose, is big of them since less than a year ago none of this was supposed to be happening. As the writers at JAG once put it,  “Everything was awesome.”

But look, this is more than a simple case of pushing too hard.  In Federalist 10, Publius warns of the problem of faction.  Factions can be born out of interests or opinions or from some combination of both.  Our constitution is set up so that “ambition can counteract ambition” and thus give to government some motivation to keep factions at bay.  The object of our partly federal, partly national system is good government and a more perfect Union that advances what approximates the interests of the whole nation over and against the interests of any particular faction.  But what if there were a faction to which most of the people in government belonged [REGARDLESS OF PARTY] and, by virtue of membership in it, they had more in common with the elite citizens [JUST “ELITES?”] of other nations than they did with the majority of their own fellow citizens?  Could we trust these elite citizens of the world to govern on behalf of America’s best interests or would their perception of those interests necessarily be skewed by their ideas about what leads to the prosperity, happiness and fulfillment of people like them across the globe?

This are the central questions now before us:  How well does our government currently represent its people in their totality?  How well is it understanding or preserving truly American interests at home or abroad? To a very large degree, much of the dispute about the answers to these questions centers around whether representing the opinions and interests of the broad spectrum of Americans actually is representing the national interest.  A great number of those in the elite faction have determined that too many Americans do not think rightly about their own interests and that their opinions, therefore, do not deserve respect.  Such people, the elites seem to say, need their benevolent superiors in government, the media, on Wall Street, and in education to correct their misconceptions about what is happening around them.  I mean, who are they going to believe?  The experts or their lying eyes?

If we are to believe that the objects of globalism are “massively right,” as Brooks asserts, it bears asking “for whom are they massively right?” And it’s worth remembering that they are not equally “right” for everyone. The good effects of globalism flow, pretty heavily and obviously, to the well-educated and the insulated. It’s much less obvious to the working class how imported cheap labor at home and exported cheap labor abroad improves their lot. Oh, that’s right. Cheap entertainment and doo-dads from Wal-Mart will keep them distracted from the difficulties of building meaningful, productive, and virtuous middle class lives in communities that according to some of our betters, “deserve to die.”  It remains unclear to this poor rube how the widespread decay of such communities and the social, economic, and political chaos that will bring with it serves the national interest in any meaningful way, but maybe I’m guilty of believing my lying eyes, too.

2016 Election • American Conservatism • Republicans

Their Essex Man, Our Reagan Democrat

henry olsen

Readers of American Greatness will not want to miss this Powerline Podcast with Steve Hayward interviewing Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Olsen is the premier number-crunching election prognosticator in the business. His track record predicting election outcomes is remarkably clear-eyed and brutally accurate–which explains why, even though he is not a Trump supporter, he could predict as far back as last fall that it was Trump’s race to lose.  There’s no confirmation bias in his predictions, let me assure you.

Olsen’s unique method of analyzing the Republican electorate was to recognize that Republican Party primary voters come in four types (or have “four faces,” in Olsen parlance).  There are the moderate to liberal voters, the somewhat conservative voters, the very conservative evangelical voters, and the very conservative secular voters.  A Republican candidate has to be able to appeal to voters from all four of these categories in order to win the nomination, paying particular attention to the “somewhat conservative” voters who have the distinction of always backing the winner.  In 2016, Trump did exactly that but he also did something more.  In understanding those somewhat conservative voters better than the other candidates did, he also seemed to know, instinctively, that he was appealing to yet another category of voter:  the guys we used to call Reagan Democrats.  Remember those guys who Reagan invited to “come and take a walk with us”?  They are the forgotten men of today’s politics:  They’re not left enough to be Democrats, not impressed enough with globalism to be high-rolling Republicans, and not socially conservative enough to be held hostage.

When I studied Reagan (yes, I remember him too, but I was only 18 when he left office so my memories don’t count for much) it always irritated me that he did not do more to persuade the Reagan Democrats to become Reagan Republicans.  But now I think I see what he was up against, not just with them, but with the members of his own adopted party.  There’s a real element that just does not want these voters or their interests represented in it.  They were happy to use the Reagan Democrat votes on their own terms.  But they didn’t want to actually have to do business with these people.

Well, it turns out that Republicans are going to have to do business with them.  And it’s about time they realize this.  Olsen was warning about it more than half a decade ago.  Reagan Democrats didn’t disappear (or neglect to reproduce), after all. But the rest of the Republican Party was contracting. Though they didn’t disappear, the Reagan Democrats and their children (and probably their children’s children) have not been marking many Rs on their ballots of late.  That is, until now.

One can argue with Trump’s method of appealing to these voters, but one can’t argue with the fact that it worked and that he is making this race competitive in ways we haven’t seen in decades.

One can also argue that these voters aren’t worthy of our attention because they come from places that “deserve to die” and are not as smart as the people writing for National Review.  But now that we have come this far, it’s probably fair to say that’s a stupid argument. Ask the British Remain campaigners how ignoring the Essex Man worked out for them.

American Conservatism • Republicans

Mike Lee’s Dangerous Flirtation

senator mike lee against voters

 

The NeverTrump movement went out with a whimper rather than a bang.  After months of posturing, wrangling, scheming, and way too many public tantrums, the last ditch effort to deny Donald Trump the Republican nomination lost badly in the Rules Committee.   A well-funded effort with the sotto voce backing of Utah Senator Mike Lee to change the rules and retroactively unbind all convention delegates so that they could “vote their conscience” (meaning not vote for Trump) failed when a rule reaffirming delegates obligation to vote according to the rules in their state at the time of the primary passed 87-12.

Unfortunately, Senator Lee became closely affiliated with the dissident group.  Lee has been an able Senator and a reliable conservative vote, but this flirtation betrays a political cynicism and dangerous disregard for voter sovereignty that is troubling in a self-described Constitutional conservative.  The integrity of the electoral process must remain sacrosanct for free government to survive.  And the proposal put forward by Lee’s allies on the Rules Committee, led by Kendal Unruh of Colorado, was an attack on the system itself.

Unruh is a delegate from Colorado described in the press as a school teacher and conservative activist.  Just what conservative principles do Unruh and her confederates believe they are defending?  In a speech described by observers as “impassioned” Unruh said, “The right to conscience is not just something that we’ve decided is a cool idea. It’s something that is the very basis of our nation.  It is why the pilgrims came here and founded our nation. It is a God-given right to why we have the Bill of Rights.”

But Ms. Unruh is confused.  The right of conscience applies to such things as freedom of religion or the citizen’s right to cast a ballot in secret in a free and fair election.  And those free and fair elections to select the Republican nominee already took place, governed by rules Unruh now wants to change after the fact.  The rules of those elections were in place for months and in some cases years prior to the elections.

Just as important, Unruh and the other delegates knew the rules when they put themselves forward as delegates.  Ms. Unruh knew the rules in Colorado and agreed to them in advance.  But when the voters chose Trump, Ms. Unruh made the untimely discovery that her conscience required her preferences override theirs.  A more honorable – and frankly more believable -path for someone facing a moral crisis would have been for her to resign her position as a delegate and have the party replace her with someone who could fulfill the role as a representative of the people in good faith.  She did not.

Instead, in just 1 month Unruh’s group, known as Free the Delegates, raised $3.5 million to fund an effort to change the convention rules and deny Donald Trump the nomination he won at the ballot box.  According to NBC News they allied themselves with another dissident group called Delegates Unbound and rented offices in downtown Cleveland.  The primary goal of Unruh’s group was to change the rules retroactively to allow delegates to vote however they please.  But let’s be clear on what that would have meant: effectively voiding every Republican primary and caucus, actively disenfranchising millions of Republican voters, and handing over the party to a claque of insiders.  That is not an action any conservative should support or secretly applaud.  And Senator Mike Lee did both.

Lee, an outspoken NeverTrumper, played a bit coy with Unruh’s effort, but as one Utah lawmaker put it,  he “is definitely there in mind, body and spirit.”  Even after the effort failed, Lee kept up the sniping, painting himself and his group as brave victims rather than would-be usurpers.

“This problem, this angst, as we will see in a few days, isn’t just going to go away just because we paper over it with rules,” Lee said. “So I say to Mr. Trump and those who’ve aligned with him: Make the case. Make the case to those delegates who want to have a voice. Make a case they should use their voice to support him. Don’t make the case that their voices should be silenced.”

But nothing was papered over. No voices were silenced, least of all the NeverTrumpers.  Don’t we wish – they always seem to find a microphone.  In fact, the only voices that were in danger of being silenced were voters and they at the hands of Lee, Unruh, and the financiers behind Free the Delegates.  And that is cause for concern.

We can, perhaps, forgive Ms. Unruh’s effort as misguided but in good faith.  To the credit of the Rules Committee, it was soundly defeated.  But a United States Senator must be held to a higher standard.  The ease with which Senator Lee – one of the Senate’s most conservative members – was willing to support an effort to overturn election results that did not suit him is cause for concern.  It is further evidence of the degradation of the conservative movement and an example of why we must return to first principles if we hope to regain the Constitutional order that secures our liberty.

 

2016 Election • American Conservatism

Donald Trump is Right About ‘America First’

America FirstFrom my column in Friday’s Sacramento Bee:

“America First” is rooted in the nation’s founding principles. The idea finds its voice and inspiration in no less a figure than George Washington (and his ghostwriter, Alexander Hamilton, who is experiencing a well-deserved popular resurgence of late).

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible,” Washington advised in his 1796 farewell address. “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the world.”

America’s bipartisan ruling class turned its back on Washington’s good counsel a long time ago. They’ve also confused policy with principle.

For example, the founders were pro-trade and pro-growth. Washington and Hamilton would agree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that trade is “beneficial to jobs, growth, opportunity and American competitiveness.”

But they also understood that “free trade” is a policy choice, not a universal principle for all times. Hamilton certainly recognized that any trade agreement that benefits a private corporation at the expense of the American people is a bad deal.

Too many Republicans have failed to see that difference. Trump, of all people, has reminded them that it’s a vital distinction worth making.

Click here to read the whole thing.