America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Congress • Conservatives • Economy • political philosophy • Post • Republicans

Up the Populist!

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I listened the other day to Tucker Carlson’s populist dirge on what’s ailing America. Then I perused some rejections, critiques, and commendations of it. Then I shrugged.

To be charitable, it certainly wasn’t their fault. It’s the fruit of our communication revolution, wherein the head rush from new media’s immediacy renders antiquated the sober digestion of more lengthy philosophical debates. Small wonder, then, one so frequently searches for abiding comfort in these trying times by, again, turning back the dog-eared pages written by Burke, Kirk, Buckley, Röpke, and Nisbet, among so many other titans of conservative thought.

But I digress . . .  

Or do I?

In what does the current debate instruct us that aforementioned works haven’t already? The predatory economy Carlson describes is not market capitalism; it is the “business-government model” of crony capitalism long ago defined and decried by Belloc and Chesterton.

Its remedy was found in the “German Miracle” outlined in Röpke’s A Humane Economy. One would also know from Burke, Kirk, and Buckley that, since the French Revolution, it is not greed but ideology—the Enemies of the Permanent Things lust to desecrate all you hold dear in order to remold humanity according to their own insidious whims—that has caused most suffering and consumed the most innocent lives.

From Nisbet we learned how The Quest for Community that is based upon faith, family, community, and country has been impaired and imperiled by unrestrained government’s willful, deliberate, and premeditated destruction of mediating social institutions. What more could you demand or deserve from your elected public servants than that they follow the doctrine of subsidiarity and emulate the qualities of President Ronald Reagan that were highlighted by Kirk in his 1988 article, “The Popular Conservatives”?

There is a fundamental failure to recognize a rather elementary fact about contemporary populism. Traditionally, populism has demanded the government control private institutions that have an unfair, largely unaccountable power over the public. Today, however, while the traditional strain for government control remains in the progressive/democratic-socialist wing of the Democratic Party, a new strain emerged in its embryonic state back in 2008: the Tea Party.

Jump started by the Wall Street bailout and revved up by Obamacare, these new populists were essentially different from traditional populists in that the Tea Party’s goal was not to have government start doing things for them, but rather to have government stop doing things to them. Simply, it’s the difference between “Occupy Wall Street!” and “Don’t Tread on Me!”

Moreover, a conservative populism does not look to the government for “meaning” or “happiness.” Why? Because a conservative populism knows politicians are not our leaders; politicians are our servants.

As Lincoln affirmed, “Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better, or equal, hope in this world?” Agreeing, conservative populism seeks a more limited government for a new birth of freedom for all Americans so that she can continue to inspire the world with what a free people can achieve.

So there it is, right stinking there, Tucker, Ben, David, Kyle, and everybody, the essence of conservative populism: “Leave me alone, you bum, and for the love of God don’t make things worse.” It might not be as catchy as “Peace, Land, and Bread,” but the results are better and nobody gets reeducated or capped.  

And lastly, in gratitude to all you cats for taking your licks while riffing in the conservative groove, I leave you with these words of eternal, inarguable wisdom from Kirk: “The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He [or she] believes, instead, that the object of life is Love.”

No, government can’t give it to you; and, true, love isn’t always “happiness”; but it’s always all you need.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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American Conservatism • Conservatives • GOPe • Post • Republicans

The Trans-Right Tantrum

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In a now familiar scenario, a man with a cherished sense of identity, understanding himself to be something that he’s not, threw a tantrum because someone else refused to play along.

It’s true that the experience of “playing pretend” can be diminished, when someone else refuses to be part of your fantasy world. Most of us learn to cope with this crushing kind of disappointment around age four. Indeed, we might often extend the courtesy of playing along with 4-year-olds, for that reason. Grownups, however, need to keep that sort of hobby within a circle of fellow enthusiasts—like Civil War reenactors. In everyday life, the rest of us have no obligation to suspend disbelief for them.

Which brings me to that tantrum. The tantrum I have in mind, was thrown by a prominent member of that increasingly-besieged group, the Trans-Right.

Now, the Trans-Right blend with conservatives; they dress, speak, behave like and sometimes vote with conservatives; they think of themselves, adamantly, as conservatives. And it’s important to them—dreadfully important!—that the rest of us “play along.” They become angry if we refuse.

Near as I can tell, this is the psychology of the Trans-Right: they have no visceral conservatism. There’s no deep attachment to things the Right seeks to accomplish and, more dangerously, no genuine objection to the progressive agenda beyond its timing. But the man of the Trans-Right is in love with the image of himself as a conservative. He is, after all, a very dignified and important conservative. One might even say he is “severely conservative.” And the very apex of that self-perception, the consummation he has always desired, is the making of a statesmanlike compromise with the progressives.

To have something from which to begin the process of his precious compromise, he has to assert a conservative agenda, but it’s only for fantasy purposes—building up to the great moment of blissful collusion. A Trans-Right activist lives to strut and fret upon our national stage and to be celebrated for his “courage”, a “courage” which consists mostly of seeking media approval.

A conservative legislator woos the grassroots voters of the Right ardently, and learns to regard the media with suspicion at the best of times. A Trans-Right legislator woos the media ardently, and the grassroots only grudgingly and inter-MITT-ently. Indeed, the Trans-Right seems to exhibit a certain masochism where the media is concerned.

But of course, the media plays along enthusiastically with the self-identification of any Trans-Right figure, using all of his preferred self-descriptive adjectives. They never question the authenticity of his self-identification as conservative, the way rude voters might. That the media might be playing along for its own ulterior motives either does not occur, or does not  matter to the Trans-Right. Mutual satisfaction is always assured when the media and Trans-Right get together.

The current president, however, has shaken the Trans-Right to its foundations. He doesn’t value the conventions of the kabuki stage which is their playground; he doesn’t prize the dignity to which they aspire. It’s gotten to the point that the Trans-Right may be wondering whether they’re still welcome in the same cloakroom as the Cis-Right. After investing so much time, effort, and money in emulating the appearance of the Right, that must be hard to bear.

Gilbert and Sullivan notwithstanding, however, it’s possible that Left and Right are not biologically determined, and that with a bit of therapy and serious reflection on his own priorities, a Trans-Right person may successfully transition—without surgery! For such formerly-troubled souls, victories may eventually become as satisfying as preemptively submissive “compromises” once were.

You can do it, Trans-Right. We’re your support group. We’re here for you, and we’ll be here for you whenever you need the tough love that will get you through.

And we’re getting awfully good at interventions.

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

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2016 Election • Administrative State • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • GOPe • Post • the Presidency

The Character That Matters

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A few days ago, American Greatness published some thoughts of mine about Jonah Goldberg’s contention that “President Trump is not a man of good character” and that, consequently, his administration “will end poorly.”

“Character,” Jonah says, “is destiny.” Trump’s character is bad. Therefore his destiny is grim.

While acknowledging that the president is an imperfect man (but at whom can that criticism not be leveled?), I also defended Trump’s character. Quoting Cardinal Newman, I noted that character was a multifaceted attribute. A man, said Newman, “may be great in one aspect of his character, and little-minded in another. . . . A good man may make a bad king; profligates have been great statesmen, or magnanimous political leaders.” I believe President Trump has been astonishingly successful during his first two years. I believe further that his success is a testament to the strength of his character.

Jonah disagrees with me absolutely about Trump’s character and, in a more qualified way, about my assessment of Trump’s successes. I am pleased that his explanation of those disagreements provides me an opportunity to expand on and clarify a couple of points.

To start with a clarification. Jonah says that in my earlier column I seemed determined “to minimize, dispute, divert, and debunk the contention that Donald Trump is a person of bad character, while never actually denying it. The goal seems to be less to rebut my argument than to confuse the issue.”

I apologize for my lack of clarity. Let me rectify that by stating baldly that I do believe Donald Trump is, in the ways that matter for a president, a man of good character.

I hasten to acknowledge that Jonah takes me and other supporters of the president to task for qualifications like “in the ways that matter for a president.” He thinks that all such admissions are obfuscating rhetorical window dressing designed to conceal “a new and wholly instrumental definition of good character. Not only is Trump doing things conservatives want, but because Trump is doing what conservatives want, he clears a definition of good character.”

I would answer that, first, the idea of character I have in mind is not a new one. One might trace it back to James Madison’s thoughts, in Federalist 51, about the relationship between private imperfection and the public good. Indeed, one might trace it back to Aristotle’s discussion of the good at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics.

I think it is also worth pondering the work that Jonah wants the adverb “wholly” to do in the deflationary phrase “wholly instrumental.” Any meaningful definition of good character has to involve an instrumental element. Otherwise the character in question would be impotent. This is part of what Aristotle meant, I think, when he observed that “it is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil.” In dismissing the connection between character and potency as “wholly instrumental” Jonah flirts with an idea of character that is unanchored to the realities of life.

In a related criticism, Jonah complains that some of the president’s supporters defend him by comparing his behavior to the behavior of other politicians. This he calls “Whataboutism.” Donald Trump is alleged to have had an extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels. OK, but Bill Clinton did icky things with Monica Lewinsky. (I am not sure the cases are really comparable, but you see the strategy.)

Tu quoque objections are generally unconvincing and are certainly not, as your mother will have told you, exculpatory. But Jonah misses the larger point here. Many people were surprised when Peter Thiel declared his support for Donald Trump. He was just about the only Silicon Valley entrepreneur who did. One interlocutor, citing something unpalatable that Trump had done or said, asked Thiel how he could support Trump given his outré behavior. I don’t support him because of the things he does that I don’t like, Thiel said, but because of things that he does that I do like.

I think that is a mature and politically enlightened attitude. And it brings me to the two elephants that loiter about the room whenever the discussion turns to Trump’s character and fitness for office. The first elephant is named Hillary Clinton. Jonah has been a staunch critic of Hillary Clinton. Bravo for that. But I believe I am correct in saying that confronted with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump he abstained from voting for either. To me, although I too live in a place where Republican votes do not count, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was an existential, a moral choice—a choice, if you like, that turned upon the character of the two candidates.

I submit that anyone possessed of even a smidgen of what Henry James called “the imagination of disaster” will shudder at the prospect of what a Clinton presidency would have entailed. Who knows whom she would have nominated to the Supreme Court and other federal courts, what she would have done about taxes, about energy, about the plague of political correctness on college campuses, about military spending, about border security, about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, about religious freedom, about militant Islamism, about American manufacturing, about the size of government and the burdens of the regulatory state. And who knows what she would not have done, such as prime the economy to ensure near record peacetime employment and strong economic growth—which are moral acts in themselves given the millions whose lives have already been changed for the better.

I say “Who knows,” but of course we all know. Hillary Clinton was the most corrupt serious candidate for the presidency in history, and her corruption was evident not merely in her lying to Congress and the the FBI, her pay-to-play schemes while secretary of state, and her handling of the Benghazi attack. It was evident, too, in her fealty to the dictates of the administrative state, to the unaccountable elite that 63 million voters elected Donald Trump to combat.

Which brings me to the other pachyderm in the vicinity. The most important pro-Trump essay to have been published on the run-up to the 2016 election undoubtedly was “The Flight 93 Election” by Michael Anton (writing then under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus). The most famous bit of that essay—an essay Jonah took to task when it appeared—is the arresting comparison of the election to the doomed United Flight 93. The airliner was commandeered by murderous al-Qaeda fanatics. The only chance the passengers had was to storm the cockpit and try to retake control of the plane. The United States, Anton argued, faced an analogous peril. Its controls had been commandeered by people who would ruin us unless stopped. There was no guarantee that storming the “cockpit” of government by electing Donald Trump would save us. But it was our only hope.

That idea, as I say, was the most famous part of Anton’s essay. But perhaps even more telling in the context of this discussion about character was what he had to say about the conservative establishment.

If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.

Alas, as Anton goes on to observe, “it’s quite obvious that conservatives don’t believe any such thing, that they feel no such sense of urgency, of an immediate necessity to change course and avoid the cliff.” The status quo is the nutrient jelly in which they live. They may criticize it. But they would not dream of changing it.

It is in this context—the context of Hillary Clinton as the only alternative to Donald Trump and the existential peril that Anton outlined—that we must place any meaningful discussion of Trump’s character. James Piereson makes an illuminating point about this aspect of the issue. “The problem with Trump,” he writes, “is that it is hard to say what his character is, or where his unusual style ends and his character begins, or whether or not the various things he does actually reveal his character.”

If Trump’s character is his destiny, then it is hard to understand how he managed to come as far as he has through the ups and downs of a business career and now election to the highest office in the land. If we take his critics at their word, then Trump’s bad character should have taken him out of the business world and certainly out of the presidential race a long time ago. Bad character leads to a bad ending. His success up until now, far surpassing the achievements of most mortals, contradicts the proposition that “character is destiny,” unless one is prepared to say that there are important aspects of Trump’s character that produced his success—a proposition that is worth pondering.

And this brings me to another thing that has struck me about much anti-Trump rhetoric: its astringent but unidirectional moralism. By “unidirectional” I mean directed exclusively at Donald Trump when there are many other suitable objects of moral obloquy parading about. Just yesterday, Bill Kristol, primus inter pares of the NeverTrump fraternity, provided a good example of the sort of moralism I have in mind. “Trump,” Kristol wrote on Twitter, “is in fact losing to the left and destroying a decent and elevated conservatism as he does so.”

What is this “decent and elevated conservatism” of which Kristol speaks? It is, of course, the conservatism that he and his friends represent—the conservatism Michael Anton anatomized in his remarkable essay, a conservatism, alas, that may have the right opinion about morality but is too feckless actually to choose it.

The reason I am happy to say that Donald Trump, despite his imperfections, is a man of good character is that he has again and again shown himself to be willing to storm the cockpit of our corrupt, sclerotic, and increasingly unaccountable governmental apparatus. He has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and by implication (and it was part of his genius to make this connection) on behalf of people everywhere. He understands that his job is to put America first, but that by so doing he benefits everyone with whom we deal. Those things, I think, are marks of good character.

One codicil. I have deliberately avoided engaging with most of the particulars of Jonah’s indictment of president, mostly because many of the items he mentions are subject to vastly different interpretations. For example, he cites “Trump’s inability to hold onto cabinet secretaries of quality” as a reflection of his bad character, but has Trump been unable to hold onto “cabinet secretaries of quality”? I can imagine someone arguing that Trump’s cabinet, that his team in general, is stronger now than it ever was. But I understand that opinions differ.

I did, however, want to say a word about Jonah’s comment about the president’s attitude toward the First Amendment. In my original column, I responded to Jonah’s earlier criticism of the president’s “rants against the First Amendment” by saying that I couldn’t recall any such rants. Jonah responded to this by observing that

on numerous occasions the president has talked about “opening up” libel laws and revoking FCC licenses of certain news outlets, endorsed physical assaults on protestors, wanted to ban adherents of an entire religion from entering the country, celebrated the physical assault of a reporter, said (while in Canada) that it is “frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write,” and so on. I don’t think his rants about “fake news,” “the enemy of the people,” etc. are necessarily anti-First Amendment. But given the larger context of his views, I think it’s reasonable to see them that way.

I will pass over the more contentious items in this list. I do not think, for example, that it is accurate to say that the president “wanted to ban adherents of an entire religion from entering the country.” But I did want to comment on Jonah’s point about “opening up” libel laws. The case in question was the landmark 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which made it almost impossible for any “public figure” to win a libel action. The press loved this decision. But, as the legal scholar Glenn Reynolds noted in The Judiciary’s Class War, the decision was in effect “a subsidy to media companies, whose libel risks (and insurance premiums) were drastically reduced. It also meant that juries . . . had far less power in libel cases. Perhaps coincidentally (but perhaps not), trust in the press has fallen steadily since the Sullivan ruling freed media organizations from previously existing legal accountability.”

This was a point that the lawyer Gregory J. Sullivan dilated on in Jonah’s magazine, National Review, on the 50th anniversary of the decision in 2014. Although the press celebrated the anniversary as a triumph for free speech, Sullivan wrote, for “those committed to the text and history of the Constitution, and a judiciary tethered to them, there is nothing at all to celebrate.”

Even by the imperial-judiciary standards of the Warren Court, this case stands out as something of a classic effusion in that Court’s project of remaking American society to conform with its far-Left preferences. There is no question that the case is a watershed: Before New York Times v. Sullivan, the first amendment protected a free press that was responsible in law for its errors; after and because of this case, the press has anything-goes immunity from almost any mistakes, no matter how damaging. As a policy matter, this may or may not be a prudent development. Constitutionally, the decision is an infamous failure and a disgrace to the judicial role.

When one surveys the extraordinarily vituperative, monolithic, and unfair coverage under which the president and anyone associated him struggle it is easy to see why Donald Trump castigates “fake news” and thinks about revisiting decisions like New York Times v. Sullivan. Far from being an assault on the First Amendment, I’d say it was an effort to protect it by limiting its abuse.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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America • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Congress • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Elections • Post • Republicans • statesmanship

Stuck in the Middle with Mitt

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If there’s one thing about Donald Trump all right-thinking folks can wholeheartedly celebrate, it’s the way he’s made the masks slip on so many alleged conservatives. First to go were the #NeverTrumpumpkins (no names, please!), as their magazines foundered and their reputations declined along with the quality of their shticks. Also out the door are many, if not most, of the “neocons” (Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, et al.) who have abandoned their alliance of convenience with the post-9/11 War Department and have returned to their progressive roots.

Finally, there are the elder statesmen of the Republican Party, men much maligned by the Democrats during their active political careers—especially when running against Bill Clinton or Barack Obama for president—and then embraced as the very models of the kind of Republicans a leftist might think about voting for (sane, sober, judicious, dignified, honorable, and brimming with bipartisanship) if a leftist ever thought about voting for a Republican, which no one ever has.

Not coincidentally, these judgments generally are delivered after the demise of the Republican in question (John McCain, George H.W. Bush); in life, of course, they were vilified as sadistic plutocrats who happily caused the deaths of millions of women, children, minorities, and other living things, while marveling in privileged wonder at checkout scanners and having putative affairs with lobbyists not their wives.  

Failing death, the next best path to rehabilitation and redemption is to take a shot at the man who accomplished what you failed to do twice—win the White House. And that is the path that the ineffable, “severely conservative” Willard Mitt Romney has chosen as he takes his Senate seat from Michigan Massachusetts New Hampshire California Utah this week.

You remember Mitt: the man who a) courageously decided not to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts because he knew he would lose, b) lost the GOP nomination in 2008 to the left-for-dead candidate John McCain, and c) lost the 2012 election to Obama after winning the first debate and refusing to challenge the obvious electoral hinkiness in Ohio that still has Karl Rove scratching his head.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the recrudescent Romney blasted the man he once begged to nominate him for secretary of state as he publicly announced his candidacy for the office of the Media’s Shadow President. That unpleasantness about the dog on the roof, or bullying the gay kid in prep school? All forgotten now!

It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office. 

That’s Mitt front and center, holding the mantle of his office. And this from the guy who wanted Trump to give him a job in order to (as Bill Clinton famously said) “maintain [his] political viability within the system.” Mitt’s willingness to cozy up to Trump even had some completely disinterested reporters fretting: “The statesmanlike version of Mitt Romney has left the building, and the self-proclaimed ‘severely conservative’ one has returned,” wrote Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post last March after Mitt took a “harsh” line on illegal immigration.

But once rebuffed, Mitt pivoted, ran for the U.S. Senate, won, and now stands ready to inherit the mantle of Bob Corker and Jeff Flake as the only living Republicans the media will quote with approval. That both of their political careers ended thanks to their opposition to Trump doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.

Romney peppers his piece with his own policy positions (as if they mattered), offering us a window into how he sees the world. Unsurprisingly, it’s a place of comity and stability, ruled over simultaneously by the spirits of the gracious Bush I and the bellicose McCain: an interventionist fist in a velvet glove. He cites Lincoln’s appeal to the better angels of our nature, offers a high-minded interpretation of foreign policy that would have appealed equally to Jimmy Carter and Bush II, but says we must evidence “leadership” by confronting Russia and China lest we suffer “less prosperity, less freedom, less peace.” And to that end, says Romney, leadership begins at home:

To reassume our leadership in world politics, we must repair failings in our politics at home. That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us. It includes political parties promoting policies that strengthen us rather than promote tribalism by exploiting fear and resentment. Our leaders must defend our vital institutions despite their inevitable failings: a free press, the rule of law, strong churches, and responsible corporations and unions.

The bien-pensant boilerplate is strong in this one, as is the hypocrisy of a guy whose vulture capitalist firm strip-mined corporations, sold them off for parts, fired their workers, and told us it was for the good of the shareholders while Romney and his colleagues grew rich.

But now that Mitt’s mask has slipped, the good news is, it’s gone for good. No doubt he harbors thoughts of challenging Trump for the nomination in 2020—although he denies it—and God knows, there are exiled GOP political consultants and “strategists” across the country more than willing to encourage him for the price of their media buys. But if Mitt runs, he’ll run as a 1990s Democrat—nationalized health care and all—not only in opposition to the ogre Trump but against the Bernie Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez Democrats as well. And what a campaign that will be. I can hear the campaign song now:

Clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right, here we are, stuck in the middle with Mitt.

Perhaps “Won’t Get Fooled Again” might be an even better choice. But then, fooling people has always been what Willard’s about, and he’s got the masks to prove it.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

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America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Defense of the West • political philosophy • Post

Permanent Things: Russell Kirk’s Centenary

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Mark the uncanny hand of coincidence. When I began thinking about putting together a conference about the legacy of Russell Kirk last spring, I knew that we were in the middle of his centenary. We wanted to take advantage of that milestone, so we determined to hold the conference sometime in the autumn. After various deliberations and inspections of the calendar and other obligations, we settled, as if by accident, on October 19. I had no idea, when we proffered our invitations to the participants, that October 19 happened to be Kirk’s birthday.

In his charming book about coincidences, Father George Rutler notes that “odious” though “the superstitious misuse of coincidence is,” that perversion is “only slightly less offensive [than] the underestimation of the significance of some” coincidences. The serendipity, if not the capital-P Providence, of the date of our discussion of Russell Kirk seemed appropriate for a sage who was so conspicuously attuned to the eldritch, the inexplicable, the uncanny. After all, Kirk has always been one of those figures whose example is an admonition against the ontological poverty with which we saddle ourselves in our surrender to the beguiling superficialities of a thoroughly disenchanted secular materialism.

It was no accident, as the Marxists like to say, that Kirk’s biggest sales by far were in the demotic realm of ghost stories . . . If ghosts and other non-quotidian manifestations loom large in Russell Kirk’s spiritual geography, it is partly because he was not beholden to the exiguous dogmas of a self-declared age of enlightenment whose defining prejudice is, in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s phrase, a prejudice against prejudice.

Indeed, one of Kirk’s chief attractions is the amplitude of his worldview. He did not quite approve of Walt Whitman. But there was a largeness about Kirk’s view of the universe that was Whitmanian in its insouciance regarding logical niceties, which can seem sterile when counterpoised against the rude pulse of living tradition. I do not say that Kirk, as Whitman boasted, contradicted himself. But he assuredly “contained multitudes.” Regarding ghosts, I believe that Kirk would have appreciated, with a twinkle, what Margot Asquith said. Asked whether she believed in ghosts, the elegant wife of the Prime Minister replied that “appearances are in their favor.”

Kirk, in short, was a thinker who coaxed us to enlarge, not diminish, the existential furniture of our world…

Read the rest at The New Criterion.

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America • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Post • The Culture • the family • The Media

The Beauty of Bre Payton

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It would have been easy to resent Bre Payton.

Blessed with rare natural beauty—she was even more stunning in person than she was in photos or on television—Bre seemed unaware or unaffected by her own physical gifts. I know this because when she sat next to me the first time I met her nearly a year ago at CPAC, I said something along the lines of wanting to put a bag over my head. (I also was surrounded by other young, beautiful, and smart Federalist writers.)

She laughed but looked at me like she wasn’t sure why I had said that. I was shocked to find out she was half my age, not just because she already was earning an impressive name for herself in the harsh, hypercompetitive world of political journalism, but because she possessed a poise and authentic charm lacking in most of her mid-20s contemporaries. She was warm and engaging, talked about missing her family back in California, and bragged about her boyfriend, Ryan, who was seated next to her, and his work on behalf of his pro-life clientele.

Surely I, of all people, could find a flaw in her. Something, anything, to offset all this loveliness? Alas, it was an effort in futility. I found none—and my flaw-finding is legendary. It would have been easy to resent her, except there was no way she would let you. She was the whole package.

We met up again in late September when she interviewed me for The Federalist podcast. It was the day before the Capitol Hill showdown between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, and to say Washington was hit by a political tempest would be an understatement. We covered a range of issues, from the attacks on Kavanaugh to the FISA warrant on Carter Page to the resignation of Scott Pruitt; she was prepared to discuss all of it in detail.

At the end of the interview, Bre wanted to talk about organic food, a topic I used to cover extensively, because she and her mom would often debate about whether organic was better for you. (Bre, wisely, was a no.) Her mom had started shipping her boxes of fresh produce from local growers to make sure she was eating healthy food. “She’s been sending that to me, which is really sweet because I do less grocery shopping now,” she told me. (You can listen at the 45-minute mark to get a sense of how close she was with her family and begin to remotely grasp the unimaginable, crushing pain they are now suffering.)

I left with a hug and, like everyone else, never thought it would be the last time I would see her.

Bre Payton, who died Thursday after a sudden and brief illness, could have done anything. A talented writer and hard worker, Bre would have succeeded in any industry; companies would have fought to hire her. She could have stayed home in California near the safety of her family and avoided the brutality of engaging in national politics during the Trump era.

But she instead entered the fray, to crib a line from Ben Domenech, co-founder of The Federalist. Even though she made what she did look easy, it is not. Being an outspoken Christian and defender of the unborn are not exactly popular positions among her contemporaries, let alone her elders in the political commentary class.

And, yes, she was a rising star with an influential and profitable career ahead of her. I didn’t know her well, but I got the sense that her greatest ambition for the future was to be a wife and mother—and it is that unfilled dream which is the most painful, I’m sure, for those who loved her to bear.

We at American Greatness send our prayers and deepest sympathies to Bre’s heartbroken parents, siblings, friends, and colleagues at The Federalist and Fox News. We grieve not just the loss of a thoughtful, courageous and spirited voice on the Right, but a truly decent human being—a beautiful soul inside and out—at a time when they are in short supply.

Rest in peace, Bre Payton. It is a colder, less kind, and less colorful place without you.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit: The Federalist

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America • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Donald Trump • political philosophy • Post • The Culture • The Resistance (Snicker)

Why (Most) Right-Wing Intellectuals Hate Trump

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More than two years into President Trump’s historic presidency, it behooves us to think more deeply about a persistent sticking point in the political life of the nation: Why do (most) right-wing intellectuals loathe him? This kind of nearly unified opposition cries out for explanation.

After all, it is not simply that all left-wing intellectuals oppose him; that is baked into the political cake, a totally banal reality. (Is water wet?) What is more interesting is why most right-wing intellectuals despise him, wish for his failure, derive such glee from “dunking” on him on social media and in their think pieces, and the like.

To understand this phenomenon, the late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick’s essay, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” is a veritable treasure trove of insight. Nozick’s 1998 explanation of intellectuals’ opposition to capitalism is remarkably relevant and can be transplanted with only minor cosmetic changes to understand why the vast majority of right-wing intellectuals oppose Trump.

Nozick begins by explaining what he means by “intellectuals,” describing them as “those who, in their vocation, deal with ideas as expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive. These wordsmiths include poets, novelists, literary critics, newspaper and magazine journalists, and many professors.” We can certainly add “think tank scholars” and “pundits” to that list.

Nozick goes on to define his project’s scope carefully, noting that he will “identify a factor which tilts intellectuals toward anti-capitalist attitudes but does not guarantee it in any particular case.” I will do likewise, for it is self-evident that not all right-wing intellectuals oppose Trump. American Greatness writers, many scholars at the Claremont Institute, and other dispersed intellectuals are quite bullish on his presidency, or at least what it might represent as a political philosophy or art of governing: “Trumpism,” for lack of a better term. We are concerned here, however, with the vast majority of right-wing intellectuals who do strenuously oppose him, just as Nozick was concerned with capitalism-hating intellectuals.

Nozick’s basic contention is that the education system teaches future anti-capitalist intellectuals “the principle of reward in accordance with (intellectual) merit.” And in school—which future anti-capitalist intellectuals expect the broader world to imitate since as an institution it is second only to the family in shaping their attitudes and worldviews—“the smartest constituted the upper class.” Therefore, “[t]he intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated.” That is understandable, as a psychological matter.

In the case of the anti-Trump right-wing intellectual, however, the genealogy of their disgust is slightly different. Rather than being possessed of the silly notion that the world will be just like school, they are possessed of a different, but no less silly, notion: that politics is just their insular conferences played out in public and backed by law, or their white papers given teeth—but that, in the final analysis, there’s no substantive difference between statesmanship and academia.

This is obviously nonsense. The real world requires compromise and (sometimes) snap decisions. Very often, ideas cooked up in the ivory tower disintegrate on contact with reality, leaving massive casualties in their wake (e.g., Marxism). “Nation-building,” “globalism,” “unfettered free trade,” and “amnesty” also spring to mind as rotten ideas that (perhaps) look good on paper but are deeply, dangerously inimical to America’s interests in today’s world.

But where does this resentment come from? What about the education system causes this opposition to capitalism? Why do intellectuals feel entitled to rule or to have “the most prestige and power” or to be the “most highly valued people in a society”?

Because in the Information Age, knowledge is in many respects the key that opens the doors to the halls of power and prestige in a way that it wasn’t in ages past. Further, a capitalist society such as ours is

peculiar in that it seems to announce that it is open and responsive only to talent, individual initiative, personal merit. … Despite the created expectation, a capitalist society rewards people only insofar as they serve the market-expressed desires of others; it rewards in accordance with economic contribution, not in accordance with personal value.

So anti-capitalist intellectuals are “resentful” when they are not society’s top dogs because school has taught them  “they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution ‘to each according to his merit or value.’” Rather, it rewards those who best satisfy “the perceived market-expressed demands of others.” The anti-capitalist intellectual compares himself to wildly successful entrepreneurs and bristles with anger at a system that seems to “bait and switch” the metric of success.

Similarly, the anti-Trump right-wing intellectual bristles at a political system that does not “appropriately” value their “expertise” and “superior” knowledge and which, consequently, elevates a “buffoon” like Trump to the presidency—and on the shoulders of millions of those “deplorables,” no less. Anti-Trump right-wing intellectuals traffic in information, the gold standard in today’s world, something upon which we are ever-more reliant. Yet, in this arena, the American electorate defied them and their harebrained “proposals,” offered coercively, not through persuasion. Brazenly so. Thus, they resent the man who smashed their pretensions of politics-as-white-paper-drafting-session and roundly repudiated their perceived “right to rule.”

No wonder they hate him!

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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American Conservatism • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • GOPe • Identity Politics • Post • The Left

The Republicans’ Turning Points

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In this Age of Trump, we are told, the Republican Party has changed its spots. As evidence, Democrats and the #Resisters point to the many GOP candidates who campaigned with the President this year and the rank-and-file who overwhelmingly support his policies. The claim, in other words, is that it is Trump that is the moving force in the Republicans’ pivot to a more aggressive stance on the Greatness Agenda.

Undoubtedly, many Republicans are following their political leader, a development that is neither unique nor even noteworthy. But to assign the credit or blame to Trump for the widespread anger among Republicans ignores the many other factors that have led to it.

Things, for instance, like the despicable conduct of the neocons and NeverTrumpers in showing contempt for the base; the Democratic Party’s full-throated embrace of the theory and practice of identity politics; the wholesale abandonment of journalistic objectivity by the MSM; and the disturbing practice and example of major corporations and many of the ultra-wealthy.

Neocons and NeverTrumpers. Many years ago I spent a brief amount of time in New York with Irving Kristol as he was putting together a fund intended to support neoconservative intellectuals. I didn’t particularly like him but I thought he would be useful and successful in the scheme he was hatching. For many years thereafter I was a supporter of neocons, including their “nation building” agenda.

That began to change for me in 2009, when I saw a wire service photo of a dying U.S. Marine, lying in the dirt with his legs blown off, in Helmand, Afghanistan. The soldier’s name was Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, a 21 year old, home-schooled boy from a small town in Maine. And when I saw this photo I thought of  how many years U.S. forces had been in Afghanistan by then, and I questioned if his death would mean anything to the neocons.

Flash ahead to 2016-18, and neocons like Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, David Frum, and NeverTrumper George Will have reinvented themselves as the Guardians of True Conservatism, a burden that obliged them (as they would have the credulous believe) to support the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and obliges them still and regularly to sing from the progressive hymnal on news channels like CNN and MSNBC.

So while most of the GOP’s turning points reflect the action of outside forces, the widespread anger and disgust felt by Republicans for neocons and NeverTrumpers is strictly an internal affair, diminished only slightly by the welcome news of the folding of the neocons’ charter magazine, The Weekly Standard.

Democratic officials. The Republicans recently formed fear and loathing of Democratic Party officials is less an internal matter and more of a public awakening. Though it’s been clear for a number of years that Democrats were comfortable with the growing identity politics movement on college campuses and elsewhere, it wasn’t until the Brett Kavanaugh hearings that it became crystal clear that they are spear carriers in that army themselves.

Though it’s only been a short while since Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, even now those hearings recall  a frightening and surreal atmosphere. Did it actually happen that every Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee argued that Christine Ford’s allegations should be believed because she was a woman? Is there anything more deeply unconstitutional, not to say bizarre, than this argument? To plainly suggest the suspension of due process, particularly in a case where the accuser’s story is not only uncorroborated but positively contradicted, and lacking in even the most basic details, is to put everyone on notice that the Democratic Party is dangerously and deplorably wed to identity politics. And Republicans noticed.

The media. The legacy media in this country are now, and have been for decades, dominated by editors and reporters who favor, in the things they publish and broadcast, liberalism and Democrats over conservatives and Republicans. But until 2016 the most prominent of them, the Washington Post and the New York Times, gave at least lip service to the idea of journalistic objectivity. No more. These days, both papers’ breaking news and feature stories read like pieces run on their editorial pages, filled with opinion and transparent malice against Trump, conservatives, and Republicans. And what’s true of the leaders is even worse when it comes to the second string at places like The New Yorker, Huffington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

Then, of course, there are MSNBC and CNN, the former a progressive opinion network owned by those wonderful people at Comcast, and the latter an ersatz news channel headed and staffed by the shallow and malevolent. Consider a recent comment by CNN host Chris Cuomo. Reflecting on a much-publicized White House meeting in October, he had this to say; “Trump looked like he was thinking racist thoughts while talking to Kanye West.”

Never mind the adolescent absurdity of Cuomo claiming to know, by looking, what the President was thinking—what about the sheer malevolence of his comment? Who can imagine a statement like that uttered by a reporter on a national news network that was neither censured nor retracted say, 10 or even 5 years ago? If, during the previous administration, any reporter said something equally malign about Obama, that reporter would these days no longer be practicing journalism. And once again, the Republicans noticed.

Large corporations and the ultra-wealthy. For years the canard has been that the GOP is the party of the wealthy, and perhaps it was back in the day when a person’s wealth was measured in the millions. But today’s mega-rich count their assets in the billions of dollars, and judging by their political activities many of the richest are not Republicans.

Take, for instance, Messrs. Bezos, Steyer, Buffett, Soros, Bloomberg, Eychaner, Zuckerberg, Cook, and Hastings. None of these billionaires are Republicans; indeed several of them munificently fund Democratic and progressive politicians and nonprofit organizations. Of course there are some on the right too; people like the Mercers, Adelsons, and the Koch brothers.

Large corporations too have had the support of Republicans for many years. Indeed, many of those corporations were and still are headed by registered Republicans. But as with ultra-wealthy individuals, Wall Street corporations are coming to be seen in a bad light as they pursue trade and tax deals that advance their own business interests over those of Main Street companies, to say nothing of citizens, and surrender without a fight, and sometimes with alacrity, to the shakedown protests of all manner of speech police, “investigative journalists,” and left-wing activists.

Quite apart from the political dimension of the GOP’s growing dismay with the ultra-wealthy and Wall Street, there grows in some quarters, and probably many, a disgust with the whole idea of the ultra-rich. There is a difference between making a billion dollars and holding it. Making it often redounds to the benefit of others, like employees and pensioners. But what motivates anyone to keep it? Do they see their personal acquisitions and investments as a magnet for attracting the envy of others? Or are they just unconcerned about the growing inequality in the country and the struggle of the middle class? Either way, an answer is coming soon—and it likely will be an answer the billionaires do not like.

There’s no gainsaying that Trump has raised the political temper of the times, but Republican anger has been motivated by the actions of people and organizations like those mentioned above.

Photo Credit: L.E. Baskow/AFP/Getty Images

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America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Cultural Marxism • Democrats • Donald Trump • Greatness Agenda • Post • The Left

Normal Americans Get Militant

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Kurt Schlichter is funny. Really funny. Unlike so many commentators on the Right—especially those staid NeverTrump harpies—Schlichter has a wry, cutting sense of humor that animates his radio and television interviews, his Townhall columns, and his latest book, Militant Normals.

The book expands on what Schlichter—a retired Army colonel and California-based trial attorney—has been saying about the Trump era for more than three years: The election of Donald Trump was as much about an uprising by the “normals” against the ruling elite as it was about the man himself. In Trump, millions of Americans found a leader who, for the first time in years, actually spoke to their deep concerns about the current condition of the country they fiercely love. “The Normals chose Trump. And it was not okay with the Smart Set.”

While Republicans and Democrats spent the past decade jockeying for props on global issues like climate change and peddling the myth of unbounded “free trade” between nations, working-class voters became increasingly nervous about the rise of illegal immigration; the unseen and ignored toll of international trade agreements; a deadly tide of illicit drugs; a fixation on unwinnable foreign conflicts; and the breakdown of trusted institutions from trade unions to academia to the Catholic Church.

Then along came a brash billionaire from Manhattan who could speak to soybean farmers and masonry workers in Des Moines better than anyone. “The Elite did not just fail to do its job running our institutions and providing us a stable society and economy, though it has failed to do those things,” Schlichter writes. “The Elite has decided to declare war on the people who make up the backbone of this country because it just cannot live knowing the Normals are out there living free and uncontrolled. And in doing so, the Elite ignored the conflict we are living through today.”

Like me, Schlichter was not an early Trump supporter. His epiphany occurred exactly three years ago this week during an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon. (You can watch the clip here.) Lemon became agitated when Schlichter refused to condemn Trump for using the word, “schlonged.”

“This is why I hate the media because you make me defend Donald Trump,” Schlichter told Lemon, a familiar phrase lots of us still use to this day. When Schlichter reminded Lemon about a “president who turned his intern into a humidor,” Lemon became irate and cut off Schlichter’s feed.

A Militant Normal was born.

That kind of fearless and droll imagery is found throughout Militant Normals. Schlichter is a powerful story-teller: He creates two characters—one raised in a community long forgotten by the Elite and one raised in Elite privilege—who illustrate the current chasm between the Normals and the ruling class. “Kaden” is a spot-on version of a typical Millennial who conforms to every expectation of the Left and the fussy establishment Right, who attended private schools, had a Spanish-speaking nanny and was taught to believe America-loving, church-going, gun-owning normals were stupid, ignorant and racist. His whole life revolved around getting accepted into a proper Ivy League university: “After obtaining explicit consent, Kaden hugged his girlfriend. Being attracted to women was a burden—he was bummed that he identified as cisgender straight, no matter how hard he tried to change that. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, just like his.”

Schlichter must be particularly jolly this holiday season because he was an accomplice in the so-called murder of the Weekly Standard. He mercilessly has thrashed its now-defunct editor, Bill Kristol, mocking him on social media with his cruise ship emoji. The Weekly Standard, Schlichter wrote, was part of “Conservative, Inc.,” the cabal of Bush-era politicians, opinion outlets, and swamp-dwelling influencers who lined up against Trump in 2016.

“The Weekly Standard was a particularly interesting example of the Conservative, Inc. syndrome. Bill Kristol founded it. His father was a well-known conservative intellectual. Bill got a gig as chief of staff to Dan Quayle, so winning is in his blood, and then bopped around riding the conserva-cash wave until he started the magazine as a sort of hipper, more practical National Review. It used to brag about being the idea factory for the conservative movement. It was, but many of them were terrible, terrible ideas.”

Chief among them, Schlichter reminds us, was his cheerleading for the Iraq War—which of course involved sending off the children of the Normals to fight in a hellhole while Conservative, Inc. boasted about its courage and bravery.

Other “NeverTrumpers” are outed in the book, including George Will, David Frum, Jennifer Rubin, and Max Boot.

In the last chapter, Schlichter assesses Trump’s potential Democratic challengers in 2020 and warns about the consequences of a Trump loss: “The danger, the real and scary danger, is if the Elite starts winning. They will not only ignore the problems that made the Normals militant in the first place, but they will focus on both ensuring that the Normals never again have the ability to interfere in the Elite’s affairs while punishing the Normals for their insolence. They will clamp down even as they ensure there is no way for the pressure to vent.”

A scary scenario, indeed. But Schlichter’s book is a good reminder that, despite the Elite’s power, prestige, money, and influence, the Normals can still win.

Photo credit:  Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

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America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Left

Explaining the Left, Part V: Left vs. Right Is Brain vs. Mind

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When I talk to young people, I try to offer them what I was offered when I was their age but is rarely offered today: wisdom. I was given wisdom largely because I went to a religious school—a yeshiva, a traditional Jewish school in which the long day (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) was divided between studying religious subjects (in Hebrew) and secular subjects (in English).

With the increasing secularization of society, less and less wisdom has been conveyed to young people. One particularly obvious example is most secular people, especially on the left, believe human beings are basically good. It is difficult to overstate the foolishness of this belief. And a belief it is: There is no evidence to support it, and there is overwhelming evidence—like virtually all of human history—to refute it. Jewish and Christian kids who study the Bible know how morally flawed human nature is by the age of 10.

Another thing I tell young people—which, if they take seriously, will make them immeasurably wiser, finer, happier and more productive—is life is a daily battle between the brain and the mind. The brain wants an ice cream sundae; the mind knows too many sundaes will make a person overweight and eventually diabetic. Similarly, the brain (especially that of the male) wants sex with anyone it finds attractive; the mind knows the trouble doing so will likely lead to.

The brain is instinctive and feelings-based; the mind is thoughtful and can be reason-based.

Tragically, since the 1960s, the brain—i.e., feelings and instincts—has been valued far more than the mind.

That explains why for 40 years, I have asked high school seniors which they would save first if both were drowning, their dog or a stranger, and only one-third have voted to save the stranger. Their reason? They love their dog, not the stranger. The brain over the mind. Feelings over thought (not to mention transcendent values).

On the most important issue in human life, determining what is right and what is wrong, the brain (feelings) has triumphed over the mind (reason and values). At least two generations of Americans have been raised not with moral instruction but with the question “How do you feel about it?”

Almost every left-right disagreement in American life can be explained by the brain-mind conflict. The brain is led by what feels good, the mind by what does good. And leftist positions feel good.

It feels good to allow anyone who wants to enter America to do so. But if America is worth preserving, the mind understands that the right policy cannot be determined by feelings.

It feels good to keep expanding government so it can provide more and more people with benefits. But the mind recognizes this is a recipe for disaster because people become addicted to benefits and because the government assumes greater and greater debt it will not be able to repay.

It feels good to lower admissions standards to enable more blacks to enter prestigious colleges. But the mind knows it doesn’t help blacks — on the contrary, it hurts the many of them (as it does students of any ethnicity and race) who are not prepared for the academic demands of prestigious colleges.

One of the oldest and most fundamental Jewish teachings is that every human being has two competing impulses—the “yetzer ha-tov,” the impulse to do good, and the “yetzer ha-ra,” the impulse to do bad. When I was a young man, one of the leading rabbis of the last generation, Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, told me something that changed my life. “Dennis,” he said, “I have become pretty good at keeping my yetzer ha-ra in check; it’s my yetzer ha-tov that gets me into trouble.”

Even when propelled to do good, we cannot be guided by feelings.

It’s not only the human being that is driven by the conflict between feelings and reason. So is America.

COPYRIGHT 2018 CREATORS.COM

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • American Conservatism • Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Deep State • Donald Trump • Greatness Agenda • Post

Death of The Weekly Standard Signals Rebirth of the Right

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Neoconservatism is dead, long live American conservatism. That’s what I thought when I learned The Weekly Standard would be shuttered by longtime owner Clarity Media. The Standard was a creature of a particular time and place—the 1990s, the Bush-Clinton ascendancy, and Washington, D.C.’s insular, self-referential political class. As such, it never really fit within the broad flow of historic American conservatism. It was always, and intentionally, something different. So perhaps the magazine’s opposition to Donald Trump, his voters, and the America First agenda should come as no surprise.

Max Boot described the magazine as “a redoubt of neoconservatism” in 2002 and he was right. If the National Review of the 1970s and ’80s was the journal of Reaganism, The Weekly Standard carried the banner of Bushism. But the Bushes never carried the Reagan mantle and were never conservatives. They were always blithely unconstrained by any identifiable political philosophy other than the unwavering belief that they should run the country. They represented nothing so much as the mid-20th-century country club set that was content to see the size and scope of government expand as long as they got a piece of the action. And The Weekly Standard was there every step of the way, advocating so-called big-government conservatism at home and moral imperialism abroad. All of it failed. The Bush Administration was discredited by its failed policies and incompetence so it was just a matter of time before the chief organ of Bushism failed too.

But the life and death of The Weekly Standard is really the story of the death and rebirth of American conservatism, which is nothing more than the modern political expression of America’s founding principles.

As with other more virulent forms of Left-liberal politics, the neoconservatives maintain a sense of aristocratic entitlement to rule despite having killed almost everything they touched. It is their combination of titanic hubris and priggish moralism that is behind their aggressive advocacy of endless foreign wars and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. For The Weekly Standard, it made sense to send thousands of Americans to their deaths defending Iraq’s borders, but they wouldn’t lift a finger to protect our own. As the real world results of their misadventures came home to roost, conservatives realized that The Weekly Standard didn’t represent them.

For years, neoconservatives undermined and discredited the work of conservatives from Lincoln to Reagan who held to a set of common principles and a common sense understanding that America is for Americans and it is the job of government to protect the rights and interests of the American people—and only the American people. But over the past few years, Bill Kristol became more transparent about his real beliefs. For example, he let us know in a tweet that he “Obviously strongly prefer(s) normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state” and in another that, “The GOP tax bill’s bringing out my inner socialist.” The point is that Kristol and the Standard’s attachment to conservative principles was always provisional and transactional. The Republican Party and the conservative movement were a temporary vehicle for their personal and policy agendas. Now, Kristol and others have moved on in search of a new host organism.

That’s because the world of Beltway neoconservatism of which the Standard was the arch example is only partially about ideas, it’s also about power and more especially about privilege—and that means sinecures. That’s a nice way of saying that it’s what people hate about politics, that it often becomes self-serving and careerist rather than about the American ideal of building and maintaining the institutions of government that allow the individual, the family, and the church to thrive.

The reaction from supporters of The Weekly Standard, many of them former writers for the magazine, has been revealing. John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, hyperventilated in a quickly written post that the Standard had been “murdered” and called it’s closing “an intellectual and political crime.” Max Boot also decried, the “murder” of the magazine in the Washington Post describing it as “destructive, stupid, and cruel.” Worse, he infantilizes Phil Anschutz, The Weekly Standard’s longtime owner and one of the most successful American businessmen of his generation saying “there is nothing unusual in a rich owner losing interesting in one of his playthings.”

Get it? In their worldview, Phil Anschutz is a dilettante incapable of rising to their level. But they were plenty happy to take his money while it lasted. By all reports, Anschutz has subsidized many millions of losses at The Weekly Standard to say nothing of the embarrassment of the past few years. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin was the revelation by Julie Kelly that Bill Kristol and his claque of NeverTrump agitators did not have simply a principled difference, but in fact had become fifth columnists financed by left-wing billionaires like Pierre Omidyar.  

Patrons beware: That’s how the Beltway elites view all of you. They’ll take your money and then laugh behind your back. It’s disgusting and it’s wrong.

The final years of The Weekly Standard, and of neoconservatism generally have been a sad coda on what had been an intellectually vibrant political initiative and ensure that its best-known legacy will be cheerleading endless, winless wars in the Middle East and carrying water for #TheResistance. Sometime in 2015, Kristol and the magazine he founded declared war on the American Right and the Republican Party. We just weren’t good enough for them and they never let us forget it. When Americans complained about his wars, about the destruction of the middle class, about mass immigration that upset the balance in their communities, Kristol said, “Look, to be totally honest, if things are so bad as you say with the white working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in?” No Bill, we have a responsibility to try to help our fellow Americans, not replace them. They’re not machines, they’re people. Our people. But things on the political and cultural landscape are changing quickly and the Standard paid a price for treating their fellow Americans like pieces on a board.

After a couple of decades of living like hell, the sclerotic mess known as Conservatism, Inc. is dying, in no small part due to its embrace of neoconservatism. In its youth it was vibrant, quick-witted, and purposeful, like David, ruddy and good-looking. By the 1970s and 1980s American conservatism was in the full flood of its manhood. It was full of ideas to reinvigorate America after its flirtation with statism and ready to face and defeat the existential threat of Communist imperialism. Reagan won the Cold War and kick-started the economy after the Carter malaise, but the leviathan state continued growing.

But the Bushes killed the Reagan legacy and rather than capitalizing on his victories abroad to achieve his goals at home, they instead embraced the social democratic impulse that replaces core human institutions like the family and the church with the government. This was the point at which institutional conservatism lost its way and slowly became a shadow of the progressive Left—following always just a few paces behind wherever it led.

Worse, a new generation of careerists, sycophants, and know-nothings flooded Washington eager to find a Beltway sinecure. The legacy conservative media began to change. Step by step it abandoned historic American principles and ultimately came to despise the American people. Their motto seems to come from Horace, the Roman poet, who wrote, Odi profanum vulgus et arceo (“I hate the common people and avoid them”).

But a new day dawns. The long neoconservative night is over and a renaissance in American constitutionalism is, if not yet at hand, then at least within sight. It is the prime objective of a new political movement on the Right and there are new institutions leading it. American Greatness is one of them.

There is much yet to be done. These new institutions are still young and they must grow and mature. The political movement whose vanguard Donald Trump has led, is still developing a new generation of cultural and political leaders. Leaving the Bushes, Paul Ryan, and The Weekly Standard behind is just part of a natural and felicitous reset.

The Republicans and independents who supported Reagan and now support Trump want their country back. And they’re tired of being lied to and misled by people who claim to speak for them but who don’t know them, don’t care about them, and not so secretly despise them. The struggle with the Left for the future of the country is ongoing, but part of that battle is unifying the Right around a common set of historic American principles.

Neoconservatism discredited itself as a political movement in Iraq just as much as the individuals behind its current incarnation have demonstrated their pride, pettiness, and political and emotional immaturity in the Age of Trump. In short, the people who claimed a natural right to rule, have proven that they can’t be trusted with power. But that knowledge strengthens the American Right and makes a restoration of the liberty and tranquility protected by American constitutionalism more likely.

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America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Post • Trump White House

The ‘Trump Doctrine’ Is the Future of Conservative Foreign Policy

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For the past two years we have seen the emergence of a coherent Trump doctrine in both words and deeds.

Weekend Long Read

There is a remarkable consistency throughout all of President Trump’s speeches, formal documents (such as the National Security Strategy) and actions of the administration.

To understand the Trump doctrine, we must begin with candidate Trump’s first major speech on foreign policy on April 27, 2016 (thus even before the Indiana primary) to the Center for the National Interest at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

All the elements of the Trump doctrine are revealed in this maiden speech. This includes reversing military decline (“We will spend what we need to rebuild our military”); an emphasis on economic strength and “technological superiority” in geo-political competition; confronting the threats from China, North Korea, Iran and radical Islam; opposing nation-building; reversing Obama’s ambivalence with strong support for Israel; ending illegal immigration; and “strengthening and promoting Western Civilization.” Finally, the candidate rejected the “false flag of globalism” and declared, “The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony.”

These core elements were expanded upon in different speeches to the United Nations, the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), in Warsaw, and elsewhere. In articulating his concept of sovereignty, Trump posited democratic sovereignty or popular sovereignty in the sense of self-government. He makes the moral argument that ultimate political authority resides in the people of a nation, not in transnational global elites nor in the always “evolving” notions of international (essentially transnational) law.

Trump notes, however, that sovereign nations have core duties to “respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.” Thus, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela violate the sovereign duties of nation-states.

In Warsaw, President Trump presented a much broader conception of Western Civilization than the framework one often hears from secular elites in the European Union. Trump’s vision of the West encompasses not simply Brussels, Berlin, and Washington D.C. but Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. It includes Christianity and Judaism, as well as the Enlightenment and modernity. It is not the Enlightenment only, but the Enlightenment plus.

Presidential rhetoric is reinforced by the actions of the administration in directly confronting China, Iran, and Russia; in withdrawing from the climate accord, the Iran deal, and the proposed withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INFT) because of Russian cheating. Trump Administration actions also include withdrawing previous cooperation with the International Criminal Court; moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; increasing military funding; and promoting energy independence and closer relations with the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe through the “Three Seas Initiative.”

For the most part, the Trump doctrine is deeply rooted in the historical traditions of American foreign policy. Its emphasis on national interests, strong military and naval power, reciprocity in trade, and the primacy of American sovereignty, were hallmarks of the foreign policy vision of statesmen such as Washington, Hamilton, Clay, Webster, and Lincoln.

Claremont Review of Books editor Charles Kesler declares that Trump’s policies (including foreign policy) are very much in the tradition of the historical Republican party from Lincoln to the New Deal. Trump’s words and actions on the necessity of America’s economic strength, on a reciprocal trade policy with its focus on American workers, on our nation’s manufacturing base, and on the central role of American business in both creating good jobs and in providing a strong material base for national security—echoed the rhetoric and policies of Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, the early Theodore Roosevelt, and Calvin Coolidge; and even to some extent, Ronald Reagan.

What About Trumpism After Trump?
In his April 2016 campaign speech, Trump said his goal is “to establish a foreign policy that will endure for generations.” Whether his influence is long-lasting in conservative foreign policy circles depends upon future circumstances. What will be the shape of the global chessboard as we look 10 or 15 years ahead?

To get a clearer picture, I will examine the following themes: (1) future global challenges to core American interests and values; (2) the shadow of domestic partisan politics and increasing polarization within the American body politic; (3) the conservative interaction with the foreign policy of American liberals; and (4) the internal philosophical and political debate among American conservatives (elites and voters) over what exactly is to be “conserved.”

As the National Security Strategy (NSS) statement declares, the United States is entering a period of increased geopolitical (and in the case of China, also geo-economic) competition with revisionist nation-states, specifically China, Russia, and Iran. There is widespread agreement among conservative elites (and many liberals concur) that China is the most serious competitor (politically and economically) to American national interests and will remain so far into the future.

Besides the geopolitical and geo-economic challenges from revisionist nation-states and the threat of terrorism from radical Islamists in both Iran and the Sunni world—there is, and always has been, global ideological competition. At the broadest level there is the perennial conflict between constitutional democracy and various forms of authoritarianism, including oligarchy, dictatorial one-party rule, and militant jihadism.

The War of Ideas Within the Democratic World
That said, the “war of ideas” goes much deeper. Within the democratic world itself there is a deep division over where ultimate authority (that is to say, sovereignty) resides. Is it with sovereign democratic nation-states or is it with evolving transnational and supranational institutions and rules of global governance (for example, new concepts of customary international law) that nation-states have either delegated authority to or permitted (sometimes encouraged) to expand?

To put it bluntly, there is an argument within the democratic family over the single most important question in politics: who should rule?

American conservatives embrace our democratic sovereignty and the U.S. Constitution as the highest political authority for Americans. Others, including allies such as Germany and many nation-states in the European Union, as well as a considerable number of American progressives, tout the transnational institutions of global governance and the evolving concepts of international law as the final arbiters of legitimate authority above the sovereignty of any nation-state.

This global ideological conflict over core values between what we might call “sovereigntists” and “post-sovereigntists” or, as President Trump puts it, between “patriotism” and “globalism” is perennial. It will continue well into the future and no doubt intensify in the decades to come. It will intensify because “globalism” (what I have labeled “transnational progressivism”) is not a chimera, an apparition, or the moniker for a conspiracy theory. On the contrary, transnational progressivism (globalism for short) is a real actor in world politics complete with a workable ideology, a strongly situated material-social base among global elites, and in some areas, the backing of nation-states.

Globalists dominate major international institutions, including the leadership of the United Nations, the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, international NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc.), the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, CEOs of global corporations, major universities throughout the West, and even organizations such as the American Bar Association which actively promotes the “global rule of law.” Most significantly, globalist ideology is predominate in some European nation-states including the Angela Merkel’s Germany and Emmanuel Macron’s France.

Some label the globalists as the “Davoise.” John Bolton has referred to them as the “High Minded.” In any case, it is clear to most Americans on the Right today (and it will be even clearer in the future) that the worldview advocated by the transnational progressives is diametrically opposed to the interests and principles of those who want to “conserve” our constitutional democracy and way of life. Future political conflict between American conservatives and transnational progressives is inevitable.

Liberal Foreign Policy Becomes More Transnational Progressive
What is the role of our domestic politics and the actions of American liberals in the future of conservative foreign policy? For several reasons, it appears that political polarization at home will increase. American liberals and conservatives increasingly get their news from the parallel television universes of either CNN-MSNBC or Fox News. Further with the “Big Sort” they are physically dividing themselves geographically in more homogenous blue and red enclaves across the country.

Liberal foreign policy has changed from even Bill Clinton’s presidency let alone the days of JFK and LBJ. What traditionally has been called liberal internationalism is steadily morphing into transnational progressivism. A comparison of President Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2016 with President Trump’s UNGA speeches of 2017 and 2018 is revealing. Whereas Trump emphasized sovereignty, Obama focused on global “integration,” which he mentioned at least eight times in his final U.N. speech.

Even more significantly, at the U.N. in 2016, Obama outlined a post-sovereigntist vision that was the mirror opposite of Trump’s worldview. Obama told the General Assembly, “We’ve bound our power to international laws and institutions.” He declared that the “promise” of the United Nations could only be realized “if powerful nations like my own accept constraints . . . . I am convinced that in the long run, giving up freedom of action—not our ability to protect ourselves . . . but binding ourselves to international rules over the long term—enhances our security.”

Obama filled key positions in his foreign policy apparatus with people with strong post-sovereigntist, pro-global governance leanings, such as Anne Marie Slaughter and Harold Koh. Slaughter, who headed the State Department’s office of policy planning, wrote as an academic that nation-states should cede sovereign authority to supranational institutions in cases requiring “global solutions to global problems,” such as the International Criminal Court. In this way, Slaughter argued, global governance networks “can perform many of the functions of a world government—legislation, administration, and adjudication—without the form.” Therefore, a “world order out of horizontal and vertical networks could create a genuine global rule of law . . . .”

Harold Koh was the Obama State Department’s legal adviser, the official who interpreted international law for the U.S. government. As former dean of Yale Law School, Koh is a leading advocate of what he labeled the “transnational legal process.” Koh explains: “Transnational legal process encompasses the interactions of public and private actors─nation states, corporations, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations─in a variety of forums, to make, interpret, enforce, and ultimately internalize rules of international law” in “the domestic law of even resistant nation-states.”  

Obama’s U.N. speech and the writings of Slaughter and Koh are worth remembering because they are prototypes of transnational progressive arguments that conservative foreign policy specialists will encounter more and more in the future. In the formulation of liberal foreign policy, past is prologue, as progressives envision a enlarged role for transnational legalism that goes well beyond what conservatives consider the checks and balances of American constitutional democracy.

Global progressives are quite open in their support for decreased national sovereignty (and, thus, by definition, diminished democratic self-government) and increased transnational authority. One of the leading academic advocates of global governance, Professor G. John Ikenberry, writes: “The liberal international project foresees a future where there will be a fuller realization of universal rights and standards of justice, and the obligations and commitments of national governments will need to be adjusted accordingly. International authority—in the form of courts and collective governance mechanisms—will be expanded . . . and a rule-based order will intensify.”

Ikenberry asks, “how do they [nation-states] reconcile the international liberal vision of increasing authority lodged above the nation-state—where there is a sharing and pooling of sovereignty—with domestic liberal democracy built on popular sovereignty?” He admits “This is the unsolved problem in the liberal international project.”

Ikenberry’s answer appears indirectly buried in several footnotes citing essays authored by Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, and leading to other sources. The core argument is that liberal democracies cannot be relied upon because they disregard the interests of foreign citizens (Keohane specifically mentions the United States and Israel as examples). Given what they perceive as the “limitations” of democratic sovereignty, these transnational progressive theorists posit that the legitimacy of global governance institutions comes from the knowledge and expertise of what they call “external epistemic communities” and “external epistemic actors” (presumed experts on international law, human rights, the environment, gender equity, and the like.)

Domestic and Foreign Policy Will Blur
The future will likely see a great divide between liberal and conservative worldviews on foreign policy and national sovereignty. Despite pious pronouncements from all sides, partisanship will play an outsized role in foreign policy. And just as domestic partisan politics will not “stop at the water’s edge,” neither will the on-going culture war over issues of identity politics, religion, secularism, family, free speech, demographics, abortion, gay rights, immigration, migration, and national and civilizational identity.

We already have a name for this phenomenon. The Germans call it Weltinnenpolitik or “global domestic politics.” Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Germany’s leading philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, have analyzed and advocated global domestic politics since the turn of the century. In a similar vein, former British and EU diplomat Robert Cooper noted that the postmodern states of the EU actively intervene in the domestic affairs of democratic nation-states, including regulations for “beer and sausages.”

In the United States, global domestic politics first began in earnest in the 1990s. Transnationalist NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and others worked with U.N. “rapporteurs” in the United States and at the U.N. Durban Conference to excoriate American domestic policy on race and gender as severe “violations of international human rights.”

During the Yugoslav wars and the post-9/11 Global War on Terror these same NGOs waged continuous “lawfare” against American military and counterterrorist operations. They charged American leaders with “war crimes,” collaborated with foreign elites, and attempted to manipulate international law for the purpose of disrupting American foreign policy.  

From 2009-2016, the tables were turned, as the Obama Administration launched its own version of global domestic politics. Now, the U.S. government was working with transnationalist NGOs (and particularly with the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations) actively to promote progressive social policy, particularly on issues of gender, abortion, LGBT, and identity politics throughout the world.

Not surprisingly, the aggressive policy (e.g., flying the LGBT rainbow flag at U.S. embassies) elicited traditionalist push-back. For example, when Obama’s State Department with Soros’s help began pressuring newly democratic Central and Eastern European countries to endorse LGBT and radical feminist agendas, conservative democrats in places like Slovakia began to envision (falsely, to be sure) their former oppressor, Russia, as an upholder of “family values” and a counterweight to leftist American bullying.

For years, both conservative and liberal foreign policy elites have lauded a “liberal global order” of interlocking international institutions such as NATO and the International Monetary Fund created by the United States as a bulwark of the free world in the global struggle against Communism.

In recent years, the liberal global order (heralded by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher) is slowly, almost imperceptibly, becoming the “progressive global order.” This shift started with the new Obama-Merkel emphasis on global social progressive (and regulatory social democratic) norms replacing the previous Reagan-Thatcher focus on political freedom and democratic capitalism. The once nearly unanimous positive view of the “liberal global order” will likely change with conservative resistance to both social engineering and statist overreach, and, thus, as the entire “liberal global order” concept itself, instead of reflecting the conventional wisdom, becomes “contested.”

What Do Conservative Foreign Policy Elites Want to Conserve?
The emerging Trump doctrine I described at the outset appears to be a pretty good fit for American conservatives as they face the world politics of the future. This future specifically will include twin challenges (one hard power and one soft power) first, from revisionist nation-states that want to undermine American power globally, and second, from Western and American transnationalists who seek to constrain our nation’s democratic sovereignty because they have a fundamentally different answer than conservatives to the vital question of who should govern.

One of the reasons the Trump doctrine fits foreign policy conservatism is that it is philosophically, psychologically and politically “conservative” in the sense that it seeks to “conserve” something realistic (our military superiority, our manufacturing base) and idealistic (our sovereignty and way of life.) This is in sharp contrast to President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address that proclaimed in utopian Wilsonian rhetoric that the policy of the United States encompassed “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” As a practical matter, Trump’s “Principled Realism” appears to have stronger support among conservative voters than Bush’s “freedom agenda.”

We could contrast the conservative foreign policy universe that permits latitude for both the national and the international with the liberal foreign policy continuum that runs from the international to the transnational to the supranational.

Does anyone doubt that the next Democratic administration will be increasingly transnationalist, just as Obama was more transnationalist than Bill Clinton, and Clinton was more transnationalist than Jimmy Carter, and Carter was more transnationalist than Lyndon Johnson? Further, does anyone doubt that the Democratic push towards more transnationalism will trigger a conservative reaction along patriotic sovereigntist lines?

For several decades, a fierce intellectual battle has been waged beneath the surface of our foreign policy debates between American sovereigntists and transnationalists. In the 1990s, American transnationalist NGOs worked with foreign governments to undermine the U.S. government positions at U.N. conferences that created the Landmines treaty and the International Criminal Court. In September 2000, John Bolton warned Americans to take the forces promoting global governance seriously as a threat to American sovereignty. In 2003, law professor Peter Spiro in an important essay in Foreign Affairs analyzed the “New Sovereigntists.”

In 2009, conservatives rallied to oppose the nomination of transnationalist Harold Koh as the State Department’s legal advisor. In 2012, retiring Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) gave a series of speeches outlining the transnationalist challenge to American sovereignty. Also in 2012, John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney in a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) paper, complained that “liberal internationalism” was “increasingly under attack . . . by neoconservatives and new sovereigntists who directly challenge its goals and policies.”

President Trump, to his credit, has, for the first time, thrust the issue of American democratic sovereignty versus transnational governance (“patriotism versus globalism”) directly into the public policy arena. This means conservatives will likely do what liberals have done for years, which is to take the issue of global governance seriously. As conservatives, they will realize that the globalist project is a direct challenge to American constitutional democracy. In the future, conservatives should view world politics through bifocal lenses.

Ultimately, conservatives need to recognize they have two sets of global competitors, the hard competitors of geopolitics and geo-economics and soft competitors—the transnational progressives, the globalists, the post-sovereigntists, whatever one wants to call them. These soft competitors also challenge all that American conservatives hold dear.

Let us posit that American conservatives want to “conserve” the American nation, our constitutional framework, our self-government, our free enterprise economic system, our Judeo-Christian-moderate Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment cultural heritage, and our way of life. The Trump doctrine’s emphasis on American sovereign self-government, military and economic strength, cultural-religious tradition, and the promotion of Western Civilization, along with its recognition of the real threats hard and soft to our democratic republic, should ensure its continuing influence in foreign policy circles (both conservative and non-conservative) well into the future.

A version of this essay first appeared in the Texas National Security Review on November 30, 2018.

Photo credit:  Mikhail MetzelTASS via Getty Images

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American Conservatism • Congress • Conservatives • Cultural Marxism • Democrats • Elections • Identity Politics • Political Parties • Post • The Culture • The Media

Selling Political Canned Tuna to Voters Who Don’t Own Can Openers

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This is not another opinion column picking on Millennials. I promise.

This is, rather, an exhortation to Millennials—to all Americans, really—to think hard and think differently about the problems ailing our tarnished republic.

But to think differently about where we’re going as a nation, we need to see clearly where we are right now.

And the stone-cold truth of the matter is we live in a nation where the bulk of the largest single demographic group is entering its 30s apparently without any concept of how to use a can opener.

The Wall Street Journal on Monday revealed this staggering fact in a story about how the big-three canned tuna fish manufacturers—StarKist, BumbleBee, and Chicken of the Sea—are struggling with slumping sales. The market has changed. Customers now prefer fresh or fresh frozen products. But apart from that, as StarKist’s vice president of marketing notes matter-of-factly, “a lot of millennials don’t even own can openers.”

Now, say what you will about canned tuna—it’s disgusting, of course—the cultural and political implications of this revelation are profound. Entire industries, not just the canned tuna people, will be forced to change the way they make and sell their products all because the dominant segment of the marketplace doesn’t own a basic kitchen tool.

Call it creative destruction, or call it laziness. If it doesn’t have a pull-tab or you can’t put it in an easy-open pouch, forget it. You’re good as dead . . .

Read the rest at the Sacramento Bee.

Photo credit: Rick Loomis/Getty Images

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American Conservatism • California • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Political Parties • Post • Republicans

Understanding the Weird World of California Conservatives

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To be conservative in California can be frustrating. Republicans haven’t won a statewide election here in a decade. Conservative policy prescriptions—such as they are—don’t have much of a constituency where most Californians live. And the place is thoroughly, maddeningly, insufferably, sometimes stiflingly “progressive.”

Which, if you think about it, makes those of us on the political right something of a counterculture. Far out!

More than that, California conservatives apparently have an outsize voice in national politics. Vox, the self-styled explanatory journalism website, published a story Monday that attempts to explain how California conservatives came to form the intellectual impetus for Donald Trump’s unlikely political ascent.

Reporter Jane Coaston “traveled the length of the Golden State, stopping at conservative outpost after conservative outpost”—which seems to have spanned from the San Fernando Valley to Claremont, about 50 miles east of L.A.

Never mind the geographical quibbles. What she discovered is a conservatism of defiance, “isolation,” and “powerlessness,” articulated by people “who believe their views will never become the view.” Sounds like a bummer.

Yet somehow, Coaston contends, “California conservatism” has become “simply conservatism writ large.”

That seems to be the thesis anyway. As explanations go, however, it’s puzzling. It doesn’t really work. Here’s why.

Read the rest in the Sacramento Bee.

Photo Credit: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Politicon 

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America • American Conservatism • Congress • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • Political Parties • Post • Republicans

Midterms 2018: It’s Trump’s Party Now

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It could have been worse.

That is, first and foremost, the takeaway from the 2018 midterms. The “blue wave” never materialized, but neither did the hoped-for “red tide.” Yet there is enough on the horizon to feel encouraged. And these good developments all stem from the fact that President Donald Trump has largely taken over the Republican Party.

A Blue Splash
Let’s dispense with the elephant in the room, or should I say the pachyderm that no longer has the same footprint in the room: The House of Representatives.

History informed us that the president’s party would lose House seats in this the midterm. It was to be expected. The question was always whether the Democrats could win enough seats to retake the chamber, and if so by how much. Although they did indeed flip the House, their new majority is nothing like the kind of sweeping victory they were hoping for and predicting.

At just 230 seats, the Democrats’ gain of 30 is a far cry from the landslide of 2010, when Republicans took an astounding 63 seats. With such a narrow majority, there is plenty of room for Republicans to take back the House by targeting some of the Democrats who come from districts that voted for Trump in 2016 and are likely to vote for him again in 2020.

Whether it reaches an impasse regarding such crucial Trump agenda issues as infrastructure or immigration that can be labeled “obstruction,” or if they are faced with internal party clashes about the direction of the party, the Democrats could find themselves dealing with a similarly crippling situation that faced Republicans in their previously narrow Senate majority.

If the Democrats decide to go full throttle on bogus investigations and efforts to impeach the president and God knows who else, they are very likely to find themselves on the latter of these two paths. Members who wish to keep their seats may not appreciate this fool’s errand and it could backfire horribly on them going into 2020 just as it did for Republicans with President Clinton. But memories are short and political expediency often interferes with good sense.

The Party Purge
In a similar vein, there is a very fine silver lining in the GOP’s loss of the House. As the media repeatedly noted, Republican members retired in unusually high numbers—36 Republicans, in fact, either retired or pursued other offices, such as state governor or U.S. senator. Moreover, Democrats made some gains by outright defeating incumbent Republicans, and made gains in open races.

But a common thread connecting many of the retirees and defeated incumbents was that their policy positions and muted support—when it was not open hostility— for President Trump hurt them. Casualties included Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Mia Love (R-Utah), and Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.).

As Larry Schweikart noted on Twitter, the loss of these House seats could be seen as a “purge” of these anti-Trump forces from the party caucus in the lower chamber.

Meanwhile, the night was much better for pro-Trump candidates around the country, including Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), and Mark Harris (R-N.C.). The process could best be described as a trimming of the ideological fat; even if the cost meant becoming the minority party in the House of Representatives for a time. It did, at the very least, assure that the Republican House caucus is much more united behind our president. This alone is a valuable step in the evolution of the GOP into “Trump’s party.”

The Winning Message
As fellow American Greatness contributor Mytheos Holt pointed out on Twitter, there was a very clear dichotomy between the broad campaign messaging of the Republican candidates for the House and Republicans running for the Senate. Republicans in the lower chamber ran primarily on the economy, especially touting last year’s tax cut law. That was not a winning message nationally.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans in the crucial swing states fully embraced President Trump’s agenda, particularly on the key issue of immigration, and made substantial gains in the upper chamber. This proved especially useful as surveys by the Associated Press confirmed that immigration, along with health care, was one of the top two issues for voters in these midterms.

The writing is on the wall going into 2020 and beyond: Trump’s agenda of economic nationalism and stricter immigration is popular, while the old GOP agenda that focused purely on fiscal issues remains uninspiring. This is not the 1990s, when the mantra “it’s the economy, stupid” hung stupidly on every set of lips. Yes, the roaring economy is a strong achievement of the Trump Administration; but in 2018, and it is those sensitive cultural issues that truly fire up the base. They want to be citizens of a country, not just consumers in an economy.

Crucial Victories
Despite losing control of the House, the Republicans still managed to hold most key races. With the Senate pickups in Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, and Florida, gone is the gridlock of that necessitated counting on allegedly “moderate” Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans. There will be no more need to chase down that elusive football, only to see it ripped away at the last minute as Democrats stuck with the party line on crucial votes such as Obamacare, the tax cuts, and Justice Kavanaugh.

With the exception of Joe Manchin in West Virginia (who voted for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court), these Democrats maintaining frustrating electoral majorities in red states were all ousted by solidly pro-Trump Republicans. This will not only solidify the Republican Senate majority but will also break the upper chamber free from the whims of those two or three shaky Republicans.

In addition, Republicans also held crucial governorships in Florida and Ohio. Beyond the importance of preventing those two major swing states from going blue, the Florida election was widely seen as a microcosm for the shifting ideologies of the two main parties. To put it most simply, this was the closest thing we could have gotten to a statewide version of a Trump vs. Bernie race.

Rep. Ron DeSantis ran as the Trump-endorsed populist, strict on immigration and trade, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum ran as the Bernie Sanders-endorsed socialist, advocating for $15 minimum wage, single-payer healthcare, abolishing ICE, and restricting gun rights. Even with the polls heavily favoring Gillum, DeSantis pulled it off and won a hard-fought victory.

Just north of the Sunshine State, Republican Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia. Polling depicted the race with Kemp having the edge, but that wasn’t enough to dissuade the Left’s biggest stars from turning out for Abrams—from Obama to Hillary, from Jimmy Carter to Biden, and even Oprah. But Abrams still lost, and another safe red seat stays red.

Republicans successfully defended all but one of their Senate seats, including in Texas and Tennessee. Although many will point out the shockingly close final margin by which incumbent Ted Cruz defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke, it is also important to note that in the same cycle, incumbent governor Greg Abbott thoroughly decimated his Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez by over 13 points. So the narrow finish in the Senate race is most likely not a broader problem with Texas, but instead a problem with Cruz himself.

Plus, keep in mind that O’Rourke had at his disposal $70 million, the support of the entire Democratic elite, and virtually all of Hollywood trying to make him into a cultural phenomenon. Even then, it all went up in smoke. Were it not for the extreme outside intervention and funding in this race, Cruz most likely would have matched Abbott’s performance with a comfortable win.

In Tennessee, the pro-Trump Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn easily won her race against Democrat Phil Bredesen. And in Arizona, Congresswoman Martha McSally fended off radical Democratic challenger Kyrsten Sinema.

The Losses
Other than the few expected gubernatorial losses in Illinois, Maine, and New Mexico, the Republicans managed to make a pickup in Alaska, and held all other gubernatorial seats with two exceptions: Kansas and Wisconsin.

In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach was thoroughly sabotaged. Even though Kobach enthusiastically was endorsed by President Trump, many Republican state legislators, as well as a former Republican governor and former Republican senator, decided to put their precious “principles” over the well-being of the state, and endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly because they felt Kobach was “too radical,” or something.

In addition, the race between the two nominees was spoiled by independent candidate Greg Orman, who used to be a Republican and was previously the runner-up in the 2014 Senate race against incumbent Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). With Orman receiving over 6 percent of the vote that more than likely would have gone to Kobach, Kelly narrowly won with 48 percent to Kobach’s 43 percent.

As such, Kobach’s loss cannot be counted as a voter-inspired rejection of the Trump Agenda, but an unfortunate testament to the effectiveness of backstabbing RINOs united in purpose against one candidate because they cannot accept that Donald Trump is president.

Although President Trump has said he is open to hiring Kobach back into his administration if he lost the gubernatorial race, this is still a major setback to Kobach’s political future. This win was crucial to set him up as a stronger contender for the 2024 presidential nomination.

In Wisconsin, the clock seems to have finally struck midnight on Scott Walker’s widely successful tenure. After decisive victories in 2010 and 2014, and surviving a historic recall election in 2012, Walker pushed his luck just a little too far in running for a third term this year. Democrat Tony Evers defeated Walker by a little over one percent, or roughly 30,000 votes overall.

Like Kobach, this defeat also dashes any hopes that Walker may have had of running for president again in 2024. But unlike Kobach, Walker most likely would not have fit in as well with the ideological shift that the party is undergoing in the Age of Trump, anyway. On the whole, this loss can be chalked up to yet another case of the old saying “should have quit when he was ahead.” 

The one and only Republican seat that was lost in the Senate was in Nevada, where incumbent Dean Heller was unseated by Democrat Jacky Rosen. This was on top of the Democratic victory in the state’s gubernatorial race, as well as the Democrats successfully holding three of the four congressional districts. This seems to be the latest proof of a shift to the left for the swing state that voted for Hillary Clinton over President Trump by less than 30,000 votes in 2016, and thus one of the few cases of an actual “blue wave” overtaking an entire state in this cycle.

One other extremely close Senate race was in Montana. Although this was ripe for a Republican pickup, and Republican Matt Rosendale was gaining momentum against Democrat Jon Tester, the incumbent managed narrowly to pull it off. This, like Kobach’s loss, was also most likely influenced by the factor of a third-party candidate: Libertarian nominee Rick Breckenridge. Although Breckenridge, to his credit, did withdraw from the race and endorse Rosendale, his name remained on the ballot and it took roughly three percent of the vote. Were it not for Breckenridge, the Republicans most likely would have won this as well.

What it Means
First, this was a very clear rejection of the do-nothing Republican Congress that wasted its majority in President Trump’s first two years, and preferred to focus political energy on boring fiscal issues than draw attention to what they could do for voters on the more meaningful issues that address citizenship, such as immigration. Republicans should have expected to pay a price for that, and they ought to have worked harder to pass more of the president’s agenda. But since they did not, many of the anti-Trump Republicans were run out of office, leaving an almost entirely pro-Trump caucus. This is a necessary pain that will help the party in the long run.

Second, just as the Trump base has thoroughly taken over the Republican Party, the Democratic Party has been taken over by its far left base. Keith Ellison managed to win his election as Minnesota Attorney General despite allegations of assault by his ex-girlfriend. He was succeeded in Congress by a radical Islamic activist who has openly made anti-Semitic remarks on Twitter. Outright Democratic Socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) were also elected after defeating incumbent Democrats in the primaries.

As such, with the House now under the control of socialists who rant about identity politics and impeachment, the insanity of the party’s new status quo will be perhaps the strongest weapon Republicans have against them in 2020. This will further be put to the test when President Trump goes to them with reasonable and moderate policy proposals, such as infrastructure reform, and their rage against him prevents them from working with him. They will pay most dearly in the pro-Trump districts.

Third, even after losing the House, the bolstered Senate majority still gives the GOP almost complete control over the federal judiciary and presidential cabinet nominees. This has continued at a record pace and will continue to do so under McConnell and Grassley’s leadership. Perhaps that too played a role in the dynamics of the Senate victory contrasted with the House loss; McConnell displayed the kind of leadership voters wanted during the Kavanaugh hearings, while outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spent his last few days as speaker counter-signaling the president’s agenda on immigration. One got more seats, while the other lost more. That is also not a coincidence.

Finally, President Trump is ready for war. The Democrats in the House, ignoring the fact that the “Russia” conspiracy theory is already dying as it is finally exposed, will march on ahead with endless pointless investigations into everything the president has ever done. On Twitter the day after the election, Trump pulled no punches in one of his most direct retaliation threats to his opponents, saying that “we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information . . . Two can play that game!”

At the risk of inadvertently making a Russia joke, perhaps that analogy can be the final takeaway from these midterm elections: The Democrats have been poking a sleeping bear for a long time, and may finally have poked it too hard.

Photo credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

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America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Free Speech • Hollywood • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Left • The Media

Explaining the Left, Part IV: Contempt for Middle-Class Values

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When I was in graduate school, I learned a lot about the Left. One lesson was that while most liberals and conservatives abide by society’s rules of order and decency, most leftists do not feel bound to live by these same rules.

I watched the way leftist Vietnam War protesters treated fellow students and professors. I watched left-wing students make “nonnegotiable demands” of college administrations. I saw the Black Panthers engage in violence—including torture and murder—and be financially rewarded by leftists.

Today, we watch leftist mobs scream profanities at professors and deans, and shut down conservative and pro-Israel speakers at colleges. We routinely witness left-wing protesters block highways and bridges; scream in front of the homes of conservative business and political leaders; and surround conservatives’ tables at restaurants while shouting and chanting at them. 

Conservatives don’t do these things. They don’t close highways, yell obscenities at left-wing politicians, work to ban left-wing speakers at colleges, smash the windows of businesses, etc.

Why do leftists feel entitled to do all these things? Because they have thoroughly rejected middle-class, bourgeois and Judeo-Christian religious values. Leftists are the only source of their values. Leftists not only believe they know what is right—conservatives, too, believe they are right—but they also believe they are morally superior to all others. Leftists are Ubermenschen—people on such a high moral plane that they do not consider themselves bound by the normal conventions of civics and decency. Leftists don’t need such guidelines; only the non-Left—the “deplorables”—need them.

Case in Point
In August 2017, University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax wrote a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer in defense of middle-class values. She and her co-author cited a list of behavioral norms that, as Wax, put it, “was almost universally endorsed between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s.” 

They were: “Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”

She later wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The fact that the ‘bourgeois culture’ these norms embodied has broken down since the 1960s largely explains today’s social pathologies—and re-embracing that culture would go a long way toward addressing those pathologies.”

For her left-wing colleagues at Penn Law School, this list was beyond the pale. About half of her fellow professors of law—33 of them—condemned her in an open letter. And Wax wrote in the Journal, “My law school dean recently asked me to take a leave of absence next year and to cease teaching a mandatory first-year course.”

The Pennsylvania chapter of the left-wing National Lawyers Guild condemned her for espousing bourgeois values and questioned “whether it is appropriate for her to continue to teach a required first-year course.”

The Ethic They Would Destroy
As regards traditional Jewish and Christian codes of conduct, just read the Left’s contempt for Vice President Mike Pence’s religiosity. They fear him more than President Trump solely for that reason. One would think that leftists, as sensitive as they are to sexual harassment of women, would admire Pence’s career-long policy of never dining alone with a woman other than his wife. On the contrary, they mock him for it.

With such high self-esteem and no middle-class, bourgeois or Judeo-Christian values to guide them, many leftists are particularly vicious people. 

The opening skit of “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend—Matt Damon’s mockery of Judge Brett Kavanaugh—provided a timely example. It is unimaginable that a prominent conservative group or individual would feature a skit mocking Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. Indeed, Kavanaugh noted his 10-year-old daughter’s prayer for his accuser, and a political cartoonist promptly drew a cartoon with her praying that God forgive her “angry, lying, alcoholic father for sexually assaulting Dr. Ford.”

Is there an equally prominent conservative public figure on the right who has ever said “F— Obama!” on national television just as Robert De Niro shouted, “F— Trump!” at the recent Tony Awards? 

Now, why would De Niro feel he could shout an obscenity at the president of the United States with millions of young people watching him? Because he is not constrained by middle-class or Judeo-Christian moral values. In Nietzsche’s famous words, De Niro, like other leftists, is “beyond good and evil,” as Americans understood those terms until the 1960s.

In 2016, at a Comedy Central roast of actor Rob Lowe, the butt of the jokes was Ann Coulter, not Lowe. They mostly mocked her looks, and if there is something crueler than publicly mocking a woman’s looks, it’s hard to identify. For example, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson said, “Ann Coulter, if you’re here, who’s scaring the crows away from our crops?”

There surely are mean conservatives—witness some of the vile comments by anonymous conservative commenters on the internet. And it is a moral scandal that Ford has received death threats. The difference in left-wing meanness is the meanness of known—not anonymous—people on the Left. They don’t hide behind anonymity because they do not feel bound by traditional notions of civility, for which they have contempt.

Now you can understand why the left hates Mike Pence, a man who has, by all accounts, led a thoroughly honorable life. He—and other evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews—tries to live by a code that is higher than him.

That ethic is what Ubermenschen seek to destroy. 

They are succeeding.

COPYRIGHT 2018 CREATORS.COM

Photo credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

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American Conservatism • Cultural Marxism • Defense of the West • Democrats • Immigration • Post • Religion and Society

The USCCB and the DNC: Strange Bedfellows

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During the long Indian summer of 2018, Roman Catholics in the United States have been awash in a tidal wave of humiliation as a new batch of clerical sexual abuse revelations has emerged.

In late July, news broke that former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was guilty of sexual abuse. The McCarrick scandal was met with the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report in August, revealing grotesque and horrifying sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which was formerly under helm of the current Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald P. Wuerl.

While these revelations in many ways echo the earlier 2002 Boston Spotlight scandal, there are a number of key differences. First, the majority of the cases brought against Cardinal McCarrick, or “Uncle Ted,” as he signed himself in correspondence with those on whom he preyed, were cases of rape, molestation, and sexual harassment of Catholic seminarians by an older man. Thus, the Uncle Ted revelations demonstrated that the crisis of abuse was endemic even in the formation of young priests.

Second, the horrifically elaborate nature of the Pennsylvania abuse scandal revealed that it was not a few “bad apples” in the Church who were causing harm. Rather, there were networks of priests in some dioceses who traded and trafficked young men and boys. Further, the abuse scandal, thanks to a letter written by former Papal Nuncio to the United States, Carlo Maria Viganò, has drawn the ire of Catholics toward the current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, who seems relatively unconcerned with the report, and who, according to the Viganò letter, is complicit in covering up the crimes of McCarrick and others.

What is most curious about the current clerical abuse scandal, however, is the politically motivated virtue-signaling by both the clerical and lay left wing of the Catholic Church in order to divert attention from the crisis.

When asked about the McCarrick revelations and the Viganò letter, Cardinal Blasé Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, historically one of the most important dioceses in the United States, told Chicago’s NBC 5, “The Pope has a bigger agenda. He’s got to get on with other things—of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.”

Cardinal Cupich’s nervous attempt to deflect attention away from the Viganò letter (in which Cupich himself is named) is not very convincing. It further seems both strange and rude toward the victims of the abuse that His Eminence would be so dismissive. Finally, Cupich’s mention of the left wing causes célèbres, climate change and migrants, is downright bizarre.

It is even more bizarre that in the wake of the abuse allegations, Pope Francis explicitly stated that he himself would remain silent on the Viganò letter, and, like his ally Cupich, has also attempted to direct the attention of Catholics toward, you guessed it, climate change and migrants.

As the faithful in the United States reel from the revelations of a network of sexual predators who have functioned in the Catholic hierarchy for decades, Pope Francis has only escalated his endorsement of left wing politics in response.

His Holiness even met recently with aging U2 frontman, Bono, to discuss “the wild beast that is capitalism” and the U.N.’s “Sustainable Development Goals,” which the left wing Catholic publication Crux notes, “focus heavily on areas such as poverty, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, and environmental sustainability.”

Two of the goals include facilitating “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies,” as well as integrating “climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.”

So it seems that Cardinal Cupich was correct that Pope Francis is much more concerned with making sure the flow of migrants to the West continued unabated and that economic and industrial restrictions were placed on Western nations in order to prevent the dreaded “climate change.”

Interestingly, the fifth goal includes ensuring “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.”

“Sexual and reproductive health” is a not-too-subtle euphemism for abortion, which is supposed to be considered a grave sin by the Catholic Church.

Why, during the worse crisis of his papacy, would Pope Francis be meeting with an Irish rock star to discuss the controversial issues of climate change and migration and seeming to be giving his tacit support of abortion?

Perhaps the answer lies back in the United States. The U.S. Catholic Bishops, along with Pope Francis himself, may have less than noble motives for supporting migration and the elimination of “climate change.”

As their own website reports, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2014 received almost $80 million to welcome refugees into the United States. This $80 million was just a drop in the bucket of the much fatter sum of $1.6 billion the U.S. Bishops received from the Obama Administration between 2012 and 2015.

So it seems that the U.S. Bishops and the Vatican under Francis may be motivated by more than pure Christian charity in their support of the left-wing agenda of the Democratic Party, which includes both combating “climate change” as well as welcoming in millions of “migrants” into the United States regardless of whether or not the American people would benefit from this influx of foreigners.

Clearly, in their attacks on President Trump’s immigration policies as well as their weak-kneed support of pro-life issues, left-leaning U.S. bishops may well be thinking more about their pocket books than their Bibles and Catechism.

As an interesting aside, the disgraced Cardinal McCarrick wrote a letter to the Washington Post supporting the Obama Administration’s Iran Deal in 2015.

It seems that one good turn deserves another and the Obama Administration’s cash payouts to the U.S. bishops may have had some strings attached.

Packaging all of this dirty business together, it seems very likely that the protestations of Cardinal Cupich and Pope Francis—as well as a host of other left wing Catholic figures—that “migration” and “climate change” are more important than the abuse crisis in the Church right now was not simply an attempt to distract concerned Catholics.

It is very likely that the left wing of the U.S. Church as well as of the Vatican is signaling for help to their allies in the secular Left during this time of crisis. By protesting their loyalty to the leftist creed of open borders and radical environmentalism, the liberal Catholic leadership is in turn asking the liberal media to run cover for them.

These ties between the DNC as well as the U.N. and the left wing of the Church are signs that, contra Cardinal Cupich, there is a rabbit hole here that needs to be explored.

Photo Credit: Bill O’Leary-Pool/Getty Images

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Administrative State • American Conservatism • Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Deep State • Democrats • political philosophy • Post • self-government • The Constitution • The Courts • The Culture

The Suicidal Sanctimony of Phony Conservatives

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Christine Blasey Ford made scurrilous accusations against Brett Kavanaugh for actions she claims occurred nearly 35 years ago when they were both minors. Both Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, who Ford also claims was present have vehemently and categorically denied her claims. The people who know Kavanaugh, as well as decades of evidence of a life lived with dignity and propriety, support him.

Even one of the people Ford claims was a witness denies her claims. Ford says that Leland Keyser was a friend of hers and was at the party in 1982. But Keyser says she has no recollection of the party. Not only that, she denies knowing or ever being in a social situation with Kavanaugh. Keyser’s statement calls into question whether the party occurred at all, which would make Ford’s claims against Kavanaugh entirely false.

Predictably, however, Ford has been joined by Stormy Daniels’ execrable mouthpiece, Michael Avenatti. Now a Yale classmate is making claims about some nudity at a dorm party, which have been questioned or denied by people who were allegedly there. So why are some self-described conservatives signing up to help this circus along?

What’s Different Now
False accusations and smear campaigns against upstanding Supreme Court nominees are nothing new. Democrats destroyed Robert Bork’s reputation in 1987 with a campaign of lies. Republicans said never again. So when Democrats tried it again on Clarence Thomas in 1991, that effort failed.

Today, however, so-called conservatives are helping Democrats destroy Kavanaugh as they seem to miss the point: Democrats aren’t acting in good faith. There is no search for truth—the campaign to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination is just brass-knuckled power politics. Democrats will do and say anything they think will keep Kavanaugh off the bench.

The longer it goes on, the more claims they will gin up until Republicans just can’t take it anymore and slink off in defeat, leaving Democrats in control of the Supreme Court. Remember when Harry Reid admitted to lying about improprieties in Mitt Romney’s tax returns but justified it by saying he “did what was necessary.” The same ethic is at work here.

National Review’s Jim Geraghty not only thinks that Ford’s claims should bar Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court, but he told Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic, who wrote she believes Ford despite the lack of evidence, that “it’s hard to see how he could remain a federal judge.” David French agreed that the allegations, if proven, should “mar him for life.” National Review Online Editor Charles C. W. Cooke agreed, adding that he doesn’t think that makes him “irrational or a Stalinist.”

Dennis Prager disagreed and made the commonsense argument that people should be judged based on the entirety of their lives and not for things that occurred in their youth, for which there is no evidence, and which the accused has denied. For that, he earned the opprobrium of French’s wife, Nancy, in a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post. French added that she “is no longer a Republican” because Republicans tell her that “character doesn’t matter” and that “people are disposable.”

Yet, these are the people who represent themselves as “true conservatives.” They’re not and it’s time for actual conservatives to realize it and ignore them. What they really are is self-righteous moralizers and anti-social prigs.

Aiding and Abetting Political Enemies
If the Frenches and the Geraghtys of the world kept their opinions to themselves, the country would be better off. Unfortunately, they are members of a very vocal political suicide cult who falsely claim the conservative mantle yet collaborate with political enemies and work to advance the evidence-free smear of Kavanaugh. The only thing these “conservatives” seem genuinely interested in conserving is the platforms they use to reprimand the rest of us for not living up to their preposterous standards.

For those of us concerned about practical politics and the future of American republicanism, a constitutionalist majority on the Supreme Court is vital to regaining some notion of responsible self-government. It has been the object of two generations of work by actual conservatives. But these hectoring scolds are actively working to seize defeat from the jaws of victory on the basis of a patently obvious, after the buzzer, bad faith smear campaign designed to destroy a man whose entire life—not to mention the testimony of many contemporaries—contradicts the claim.

If they are successful, we will all pay the price.

These are people who must not be allowed to represent the rank-and-file conservatives who backed Trump (none of these commentators did) and who want to effect a constitutional restoration. If you want to see a fair representation of what right-leaning Americans, including women, are thinking about this situation, watch this:

Geraghty claims that an alleged awkward encounter at the age of 17 should earn a lifetime ban from the federal bench. This sentiment appears to be shared by many of his colleagues and fellow travelers. What other employment does he believe should be off limits? I wonder if he’s thought it out that far or if he’s just emoting. Should it bar someone from all legal practice? What about insurance sales? Real estate? How about Walmart greeter?

And why? What are the rules? And what other purported sins should bar Americans from public service and even employment? Failing to observe the sabbath? Idolatry? Taking home some Post-It notes from the office? Dining and dashing with college friends? I’d say that it quickly becomes absurd, but they past that point long ago. And I can’t help but wonder if this provisional Committee on Public Virtue could say that every action of their own conforms to their quickly evolving standards.

A Cop-Out of a Fig Leaf
These so-called conservatives know no sense of proportion and thus lack basic wisdom. The fact is, they have no standards. Everything is ad hoc, impressionistic, emotional, and most of all driven by a sense of seeking to preserve their own place without regard to the good of others or the country. It is ugly, petty, and graceless.

Their preferred formulation of “if the charges are true, then . . . ” is a way to declare guilt and pronounce a sentence without ever having to seeing a shred of evidence and despite vehement, categorical denials from the accused. It is vulgar and wrong. It is also counter to the standards of French’s own denomination, which teaches that the Ninth Commandment requires the maintaining and promoting of one’s neighbor’s good name. By promoting gossip, smears, and accusations in the most public way he is doing just the opposite, despite his use of the “if . . . then” fig leaf.

Let me show you how this works: “If the Frenches, Charlie Cooke, and Jim Geraghty kick puppies, they should never be allowed to have a dog.” It doesn’t definitively say they kick puppies, but it does leave a distinct odor of wrongdoing and helpfully offers a ready-made punishment.

So let’s try another: “If pundits who claim to be conservatives promote unfounded Democrat smear campaigns, then no one should listen to them.”

Or this one: “If they actively use their platforms to undermine conservative causes, then we should realize they aren’t really conservatives at all and ignore them.”

Pharisaical Pretenses
Remember that these are the very same people—the same “principled conservatives”—who claim to want dignity and propriety in our public officials. But their participation in Kavanaugh’s public defenestration makes it less likely that such people will want to serve. It is a vile spectacle. They are nothing but self-seeking virtue hustlers—the right-wing equivalent of Al Sharpton—who claim virtue while practicing vice.

The real truth is that no one is good enough for them because in their hermetically sealed world, politics isn’t a practical art at all, and it isn’t about improving the country. It’s just a game of fake virtue one-upmanship to see who can be holier than thou. It’s unrealistic, immoral, and dysfunctional. It’s just the flip side of the unrealistic utopian ideology which has made Leftist politics so destructive.

On the Right, we need to reject the hectoring moralizers and two-bit virtue hustlers. Destroying people’s lives and careers without evidence, trafficking in gossip and self-regarding sanctimony should be given no place. Like it or not, the pharisaical pretense of Geraghty, French, and company enables vile bottom feeders like Michael Avenatti who cook up sick conspiracy theories about Brett Kavanaugh in a desperate attempt to keep a constitutionalist off the Supreme Court. Shame on them.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Elections • Greatness Agenda • Immigration • Political Parties • Post • The Media

America 2025: Made Great Again

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Exhausted. Exhilarated. Thankful. And ready to get back to work. Those are some of my feelings after watching President Kobach take the oath of office this morning. But more than anything else, today is a day of contented reflection. The past decade has been one of constant activity. Since the day Donald Trump descended his eponymous tower to announce his candidacy in June 2015, to the election of former Kansas Governor Kris Kobach—a strong, pro-Trump conservative whose 2017 leadership of Trump’s anti-voter fraud commission made him anathema to the Left—to what many are calling Trump’s third term last November. It’s been a decade of sharp conflict, some serious losses, but ultimately, one of victories that have re-established the foundations of the American republic.

What’s more, the concerted efforts of friendly governments across Europe as well as a few around the Pacific Rim, have made the world safer, more peaceful and more prosperous. Brexit was a resounding success for Britain. Once again, she led a coalition of European countries in a fight to retain their national sovereignty and the liberty and prerogatives of their people. And it’s led to an economic boom across Europe that has even seen a modest uptick in the continental birthrates . . .

Read the rest at UnHerd.

Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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2016 Election • American Conservatism • Donald Trump • Elections • First Amendment • Free Speech • Online Censorship • Post

How Social Media Collusion Censors Speech

Whether it is Twitter’s “shadowban,” Facebook’s news-sifting algorithm, or YouTube’s concern for user “safety,” social media gatekeeping is now deployed shamelessly in the service of leftist politics. The latest victim is Alex Jones. While he is bombastic, prone to conspiracy theories, and, um, loud, that’s not why they banned him. He supports President Trump and is a critic of elite conventional wisdom. That’s his crime.

The Establishment Is Trying to Prevent a Repeat of 2016
In the early days of the World Wide Web—almost 20 years ago now—the watchword was freedom, whether freedom from censorship, freedom from local governments’ sales taxes, or freedom from government surveillance. The emerging tech companies then expressed reasonable concern that restrictions from these quarters would cripple the industry, defeating the emerging benefits of the instantaneous, nearly anonymous, and highly connected network that is the internet.

Then the election of 2016 happened. It was a wake up call to the tech world’s emerging establishment. It particularly traumatized those who thought Obama’s election was a permanent elevation of his politics, his style, as well as the “emerging majority” that brought him to power.

As they previously have done in talk radio, on social media the far right has shown acumen and effectiveness. While this may seem merely like preaching to the converted, it also encourages supporters and the uncommitted by undermining the dominant Left’s pretentions of inevitability and unanimity. Twitter in particular was a great equalizer. Whether president or peon, the accounts looked the same. It soon was overrun by a highly motivated army of right-leaning critics and trolls, hilarious anonymous memes, Pepe the Frog, Trump’s Taco Bowl, and, ultimately, their collective efforts contributed to his electoral victory.

Leftist Conventional Wisdom is Fragile
The conventional wisdom, while presented as an average, non-ideological viewpoint commanding near-universal support, turned out to be highly fragile. For starters, it was not that popular. It was also quite fragile. Sustained criticism undermined such dubious mainstream-media narratives as “hands up don’t shoot” or that diversity is our strength.

The power of propaganda depends, in large part, upon suppressing the voices of critics. And, for the insouciant, it depends upon threats of doxing, shaming, and violence. This was all hard to do in the unruly, equalizing, and potentially anonymous environments of YouTube, Twitter, and podcasts. The constant invocation of “Russian Collusion” and the suggestion that Trump supporters were centrally-controlled “bots” was a last ditch effort to undermine what was, in fact, an uncoordinated and spontaneous revolt against the leftist elite and its viewpoint. So now outright censorship has become the tool of choice.

The Alex Jones ban was particularly egregious. On one day, Youtube, Facebook, Apple, and Spotify killed off his Infowars media empire, many years in the making. Clearly they did not all simultaneously discover his (in my opinion, classless) schtick about “crisis actors.” That was a mere pretext. It was a coordinated effort not only to stop him, but to put fear into the hearts of lesser lights on the right, including controversial voices like Vdare, Steve Sailer, or Stefan Molyneaux. The only remarkable thing about the deplatforming of Alex Jones was that Twitter didn’t follow suit immediately, but it soon got with the program. This was coordination, collusion, or, if you will, a conspiracy by monopolies in order to suppress his message. It was justified by the Orwellian concept of policing “hate speech” and of promoting “safety.”

Antitrust Trouble
In the age of internet monopolies, it would be worthwhile to dust off the antitrust laws. These laws were enacted over 100 years ago to stop monopolistic practices that hurt consumers, raised prices, and concentrated power in too few hands. While their chief purpose is to stop the evil of anticompetitive “price fixing,” these laws serve other purposes, including maintaining a competitive environment.

There are many controversies in antitrust law when practices are analyzed in light of economic theory; the one area where there is little debate, however, is price fixing. There is a consensus among experts that price fixing serves no beneficial purpose, because it raises prices, reduces quantity, and transfers money from consumers to the price fixers with no corresponding social benefit. Thus, it is a “per se” violation of the various antitrust laws and regulations, and even the market-oriented Chicago School hazards few defenses.

For conservatives wary of government intervention in the economy, the antitrust laws are some of the least offensive and most surgical of interventions. Adam Smith, whose free market credentials are undeniable, warned that “[p]eople of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Like more general restrictions on fraud found in the common law, these laws serve the broader principle of fostering free market competition and the broader public welfare.

Just as price fixing is illegal, so are collusive agreements to maintain a certain level of quality. In a famous Fair Trade Commission case from the 1960s, macaroni manufactures were punished for responding to a supply shock by agreeing to limit the quality of wheat that went into their products. The application of this principle should not change in the admittedly very different context of social media, where companies today have coordinated their decisions over who can and cannot be heard in the name of “safety” and stopping “hate speech.” After all, the coin of the realm in social media is not money or wheat, but speakers, ideas, and memes.

The harms of such collusion are obvious. In an ordinary competitive environment, any one company’s abandonment of a particular market or audience is a potential gain for his competitors. If one nightclub plays country, its competitor can play rock, and another one still can have reggae. Similarly, on the internet, if YouTube got rid of Alex Jones, Vimeo could pick him up. But when they coordinate, no one can pick up the slack.

While there may be some uncertainty whether any one social media company is so big that its coordination with others is unnecessary—Facebook, Google, and probably Twitter qualify—there is no doubt that their coordinated actions will always restrict the market severely. In such a case, the only option available for the suppressed voices to be heard is a fanciful one: to build their own internet. In other words, with coordinated activity, the social media behemoths can shut out ideas and speakers from being heard and artificially elevate those with which they agree. Because of the coordination, the market is unable to respond.

Conservatism Inc.’s take on all of this is rather weak, fighting the last war as usual. Put simply, it is “I don’t like this kind of censorship, but I like government intervention even less.”

In spite of the mechanical wariness of government action, even Conservatism Inc. would permit certain deviations from free market orthodoxy. Do these free market purists talk this way about civil rights laws? After all, those laws interfere with big business and their “freedom of contract.” What about other consumer protection laws, such as limits on interest rates or mandatory disclosures of product contents? Perhaps, while not liking censorship or government intervention, they like even less to be reminded that their version of conservatism is losing out to the refreshing, common sense nationalism of Donald Trump.

While there is much to debate under the sun, the questions should not be whether a policy is faithful to abstract market principles or whether it involves government intervention. This is a shortcut to real thinking, a rote exercise in matching words to theories. The question is whether a particular intervention serves the public interest.

Markets, Social Media, and the Laws Should Serve the Public Interest
Do we want to live in a society where a cliquish and highly ideological Silicon Valley elite take our money, as well as our data, while also getting together in Davos to decide what we can and cannot listen to? To stop this, there is no need to break new ground; collusion on both price and quality is already a “per se” violation of antitrust laws, and these restrictions have been acknowledged by pro-free-market conservatives for decades as sensible limits on an otherwise free economy.

Part of the MAGA agenda is to jettison the unthinking subservience of the Republican Party to corporate and other special interests. While any notion of the public interest should also be pro-business, business itself should be pro-American.

For a long time, the party and its leadership threw red meat to its base on social issues during campaign season, while spending most of its energies pursuing policies that assisted one part of our society, our large businesses, by reducing labor and other costs. Thus, Republicans promote free trade and open borders with near-religious fervor, even though these policies are both harmful to their other stated goals and unpopular with their base.

Over time, certain corners of corporate America have become positively hostile to the values, goals, and habits of Republican Voters. Look at advertising. Large corporations, particularly in the new economy, have shown little fidelity to free market or conservative principles when the broader leftist social agenda was implicated. They didn’t rally for the Colorado baker, Hobby Lobby, nor against the massive intervention of the TARP bailout. Unlike Jefferson’s yeoman farmers and today’s small business owners, large corporations, as often as not, pursue rent-seeking, regulations that sink the competition, special favors, and now leftist social policies.  Profits and efficiency have become secondary.

Free-market principles have limits. They exist within and should serve the country’s welfare as a whole. There are many sensible limits on unrestrained markets, including wage and hour laws, pollution controls, and limitations on exports to protect national security. Antitrust laws are part of this scheme. They do not permit price-fixing or quality-fixing collusion, haven’t for over 100 years, and no conservative of consequence would defend such behavior.

President Trump and Attorney General Sessions should deploy the tools at their disposal to stop collusive censorship by large social media companies. In doing so, they would be in good company. Ronald Reagan, lest we forget, historically employed the antitrust laws to break up the “Ma Bell” telephone monopoly in 1982. There the issue was technical and related to pricing and market power, not the more important question of who you could listen to and what you could say.

Teddy Roosevelt achieved some of his fame and good reputation from being a “Trust Buster.”  Trump too has rolled into the swamp with the mandate of reform. Without robust protections for free speech from monopolies and cooperating gatekeepers, the fact that these restrictions are done by “private enterprise” will prove irrelevant.  He would find strong support—from all but Conservatism, Inc.—to limit the power of ideologically motivated and arguably illegal cooperation by these companies. Business should stick to making money rather than getting involved in deciding what is or is not permissible speech.

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