America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Greatness Agenda • The Editors

American Greatness: Year One

Today marks the first anniversary of American Greatness. Birthdays, naturally, should be celebratory occasions. As an upstart publication that arrived in the midst of a contentious presidential election fight with no money, few personnel, and little more than a strong conviction that readers would appreciate what we had to say—well, we have plenty to celebrate today.

Early last Spring, we saw that no other publication on the American Right was responding to, much less recognizing, the people’s demand that our government respect their sovereignty.

It was clear that the older, established media—Left and Right—had lost their way. They treated Donald Trump either as a joke or as an enemy of “conservative principles,” in part, we think, because the policies he advocated were deemed “incorrect” by those who have come to see themselves as arbiters of supposedly right thinking.

We believed then, and now, that Trump presents an unusual opportunity—maybe the last opportunity in our lifetimes or in the very life of the country—to revitalize American politics.

A tall order? Sure. That was the point of Michael Anton’s bracing, electrifying “Flight 93 Election,” which became the must-read of the 2016 election.

“Charge the cockpit or you die,” Anton wrote. “You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain.”

At the very least, we saw a chance to question and challenge the staid and intellectually bankrupt dogmas of Conservative Inc. We asked: “who cares about conservatism”? Then we declared our independence. It’s worth briefly revisiting that original editorial statement:

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

A year on, that effort remains very much a work in progress—much as the Trump Administration is in still finding its way in the face of unprecedented hostility from Congress, the press, and the cultural Left.

In that same declaration, we laid out the broad outlines of a “Greatness Agenda” consisting of strong borders, prudent trade agreements that do not sacrifice national economic interests to global ones, and a foreign policy broadly defined as “America First.” It’s fair to say that agenda has quite a long way to go in terms of policy success. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

At the same time, we’ve exceeded our own expectations for the publication in surprising ways. When this site launched exactly one year ago, we had three regular contributors and little more than a few thousand visitors during our first week. Today, we’ve attracted the talent of writers whose names you probably know (Victor Davis Hanson, Roger Kimball, the Hon. Thaddeus McCotter, Andrew C. McCarthy, Conrad Black) and many more that you don’t—but soon will. We’re striving to cultivate new and original talent that will help shape the way readers think about and understand America.

Our work is read by senior White House staff and members of Congress. We’re linked regularly from RealClearPolitics, Lucianne, Instapundit, PowerLine, National Review, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. (Even Matt Drudge has taken notice.) The attention is gratifying—and inspiring. We have so much more to do.

“Build it, and they will come,” the adage goes. And you have. Thank you for reading. We hope you’ll stick with us for the next year, and for many more years to come.

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Decius Out of the Darkness: A Q&A with Michael Anton

Michael Anton takes questions from reporters in the West Wing.

The Huffington Post on Thursday published a story by foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg highlighting the work of Michael Anton, also known as Publius Decius Mus. Headlined “Trump Aide Derided Islam, Immigration And Diversity, Embraced An Anti-Semitic Past,” Schulberg’s story examines Anton’s older writings and make some shocking claims about his view of the world, breathlessly reporting how he “promoted Trump’s anti-Islam, anti-immigration platform on fringe websites.” (Ahem.)

Then on Sunday, The Intercept published a piece by Peter Maass titled, “Dark Essays By White House Are the Intellectual Source Code of Trumpism.”

“Nobody in the administration has drawn up a real-time ideological blueprint to explain the intentional chaos of what’s happening under Trump,” writes Maass, “except, as it now turns out, Michael Anton, whose radical theories have been compared to those of a German philosopher named Carl Schmitt, who helped lay the legal foundations of the Nazi Party.”

Are these stories’ claims true? We asked our friend Michael, who was a senior contributing editor of American Greatness before taking a post with the National Security Council, to shed some light on the matter.

HuffPo and The Intercept basically say you’re an anti-semite, or something close to it. What do you say to that?

It’s completely outrageous but sadly typical of the slander culture perfected by the modern Left. They can’t debate ideas anymore and don’t even want to try. They just look for any way to connect their enemies—that’s what I am to them, an enemy—to some scurrilous person or outlook. Once that taint is on you, they then work to make it impossible to scrub out.

What’s especially risible about this is that I’m a Straussian. It’s metaphysically impossible to be an anti-Semitic Straussian. My great teacher, Harry Jaffa—a man I revere more than any other I’ve ever known—was Jewish. I will go to my grave with my two greatest intellectual influences, the two people who more than any others formed my mind, being Jewish. Anti-semite? Give me a break.

But that’s the modern Left for you. They will turn that around and say, “Oh that’s just the old ‘some of my best friends are Jewish’ line.” Which in my case, happens to be true. The point is, nothing you can say is considered a valid defense. Once they have the chance to smear you, they will do it and continue the smear because it serves their interests. The human damage that they cause, the destruction of reputations—they don’t care about that. Actually, they do care, but they see it as a positive. Enemies are to be destroyed by any means necessary.

Has your position on Iraq changed over the years and if so how and why?

It’s just plain that the 2003 invasion was a mistake. Not a crime. And no, I don’t believe the Bush administration lied about it. I was there and I supported it at the time, and I can say with absolute certainty that all of us, from the president on down, believed every word we said. It’s just insane to think that any president would knowingly invade a country, knowing that his claims for why the action would be necessary would be discredited by that very action! That would be like Geraldo Rivera knowing in advance there was nothing in Al Capone’s secret vault and still broadcasting the opening live anyway.

But the plain fact is that the action was a mistake. Given the aftermath and the outcome, I don’t see how it’s possible to argue otherwise. That said, I stand by prior arguments that I’ve made, that the surge was both the right thing to do and a strategic victory for the United States, and that the 2011 bugout was a colossal strategic mistake.

Please clarify what mean when you wrote the America First Committee had been “unfairly maligned.”

President Trump often used the phrase “America First” on the campaign trail and still uses it as president, including in his inaugural. For him, it obviously means something so simple and uncontroversial it’s almost tautological: the purpose of the American government is to serve the American people. Not foreign people, not the world’s people, the American people. That is the purpose of any and every government: to serve the people who enact and consent to that government.

Trump’s enemies try to make this into a big scandal because the phrase “America First” was the name of a famous committee in the late 1930s and early 1940s that wanted to keep the United States out of World War II. It was primarily an isolationist movement, but there were anti-semitic elements that supported it. What the Left has tried to do—with much success, unfortunately—is retcon the committee as primarily an anti-Jewish group when that’s not what it was. It’s classic guilt by association: here is this group that a lot of anti-semites supported, therefore the group was anti-semitic and anyone who says anything good about it is an anti-semite.

Now, I disagree with the America First committee’s isolationist stance. But that’s easy for me to do in hindsight. However, to the average American in 1940, it was not obvious why the United States should get involved in another European war. It took great strategic vision and foresight to see that clearly, and most just didn’t see it. FDR, who did see it, was very constrained in what he could do for the Allies before Pearl Harbor. Even after Pearl Harbor, absent Hitler’s mystifyingly idiotic declaration of war on the United States, public opinion probably would not have supported U.S. operations in Europe. In fact, in fighting the war, FDR prioritized the European theater over the Pacific against U.S. public opinion, and had to downplay the fact that he was doing so.

The point here is, the wish to stay out of World War II was the animating cause of the America First Committee and that wish was perfectly respectable and reasonable, if ultimately wrong-headed. That’s why I say it was unfairly maligned.

So what does “America First” mean in the current context?

It means prioritizing American interests in our foreign policy and the American people in our domestic policy. Which is what every state—at least every government that is acting as it should—tries to do.

This is such a “well, duh” statement and idea that the fact it would be super controversial shows how corrupt our intellectual discourse has become.

But there’s another layer here, too. There is now, and has been for some time, a broad consensus from the center-right all the way to the far left that America’s only legitimate role is to be a kind of savior of and refuge for the world. It’s not a country with citizens and a government that serves those citizens. It belongs to everyone. Everyone has a right to come here, work here, live here, reap America’s bounty. We have no legitimate parochial interests. Rather America exists for others. This standard does not seem to be held to any other country, although one sees it increasingly rising in Europe.

So Donald Trump’s forthright stance against that, insisting that this country is ours, belongs to us, and demands that we prioritize our own interests, sounds like the most horrible blasphemy against this universalist consensus. I think that explains so much of the freakout against his presidency and the travel executive order, for instance. People ask, “How can he do that? Doesn’t he realize that America belongs to the whole world?” And Trump’s response is: “Don’t be silly, of course it doesn’t. It’s ours and we must do what’s best for us.” No prominent leader has said that or acted on that in ages. So the reassertion of basic common sense sounds shocking.

What about the broad charge of “white nationalism”?

Just another lie/smear. Though I cop to “nationalism,” but I do wonder what is the difference between nationalism and patriotism? I am open to being educated on that point if someone wants to make a case why “nationalism” is so awful but “patriotism” is OK. If I am a nationalist, I am an American nationalist. I am also an American patriot and I don’t see the difference.

As for the “white” part, where do people get that? It’s just a convenient way to destroy and smear and not have to deal with the argument.

Actually, one of my great hopes for a Trump Administration and Trump economic policy is that he will build class solidarity among the working classes of all races. I think that would be good for the country and put salutary pressure on the political system. That sounds sort of Marxist of me, but I can live with that.

I know there are people who call themselves “white nationalists” but they strike me as a fringe. I don’t think “white nationalism” per se is actually possible or viable. The root of “nationalism” is “nation.” A race is not a nation. Nations come together and cohere in various ways. There is the French nation, the Chinese nation, the Navajo nation and so on. Nationalism exists on that basis, of “peoplehood” for lack of a better term. This goes back to the ancient distinction between friend and enemy, citizen and foreigner. This is the way humanity organizes itself and always has. Individual nations do not exist by nature but the impulse to form nations is natural. There will always be nations, but it has never been done on a racial basis—that is, by trying to unite an entire race into one nation—and I don’t think ever could be.

In any event, American nationalism is transracial because the American people are multiracial.

Do you really argue, as Schulberg asserts, that “immigration inevitably hurts the U.S.”?

Of course not. Immigration, like most policies, is contextual, tactical. There times and circumstances when it benefits the country and times when it doesn’t. Machiavelli lays out the case that early republican Rome could not have survived without massive immigration. But that also later, massive immigration into the empire was very bad for Rome.

The same is true in the United States. There have been times when immigration was an enormous net positive for the American people—that is, the people already here. And there have been times when it was not. My view is that we long ago passed the point of diminishing returns and high immigration is no longer a net benefit to the existing American citizenry.

What’s happened in the meantime is that immigration became something of an absolute for that center-right-to-far-left consensus. Immigration is good—full stop. It’s “who we are.” How dare you question that! Racist! And so forth.

The fact is that America benefited enormously from the Ellis Island wave—my ancestors were part of that—but also benefitted from the post World War I restrictions, which vastly aided and speeded assimilation and forged a coherent national identity out of these recent arrivals. Doing that again would do enormous good in my view.

What is the proper basis for this country—or any country—to decide its immigration policy?

The proper basis is what is best for the existing citizenry—period, full stop. It’s also important to note that the existing citizenry is entitled to base its judgement on whatever considerations it wants. That is to say, the existing citizenry is free to be “wrong” in the eyes of expert or elite opinion.

Expert and elite opinion definitely wants high immigration and views opposition as “inaccurate” or “in error” and therefore illegitimate. This is true not just of immigration but of a whole range of policies that a majority of ordinary citizens don’t want but that the elites want. The elites then make an elaborate case for why their preferences are “correct” and any opposition is based on simple ignorance, not a legitimate, political difference. This is a much larger topic, that I explored in my previous writings, but that’s the heart of administrative state rule. Your wishes don’t count. Right and wrong are replaced by correct and incorrect and political government by the people is replaced by administrative rule by experts.

Did the analogy of “The Flight 93 Election” mean to imply that Hillary Clinton was a terrorist, as Schulberg seems to think, or that continuing the policies of the progressive Left would continue to undermine self-government, that the country had reached a tipping point?

The latter, of course. I really don’t know how I could have made that any clearer. The country was on a bad course, in my view. Administrative state control was growing and the speed of that growth was accelerating. There is massive bipartisan support for administrative state rule. The major exception in the last generation was the Trump candidacy.

Now, my judgement may have been wrong that 2016 was the last chance to turn things around. Obviously I don’t think it was wrong or else I wouldn’t have written that but one can’t rule it out.

My objections to a Hillary Clinton presidency were explained in detail and there’s no need to repeat them here. They did not include any notion that she is a “terrorist.”

Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard on Twitter compared you to Carl Schmitt. Explain the difference between the limited government constitutionalism you have advocated and Carl Schmitt’s defense of the Nazi Party.

Well, on the one hand I’m flattered because Schmitt was a brilliant man who had the respect of Leo Strauss. But, of course, that’s not what Bill meant. He meant to insinuate that I am a Nazi. I’ve known Bill for more than 20 years and always liked and respected him. That was about the lowest blow I’ve ever taken from a “friend,” however, and I don’t know what to make of it.

So, I read Concept of the Political once, in grad school, and that was a long time ago. I also read Heinrich Meier’s great book, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue, which shows how Strauss, in private correspondence, demonstrated to Schmitt the shortcomings of his argument and how Schmitt in response revised the book and made it better.

But in the end, Strauss is still right and Schmitt is still wrong. What Schmitt gets right is the irreducible nature of the friend-enemy distinction in politics. This is the Polemarchus argument in Book I of Plato’s Republic. Remember there are three initial definitions of justice and Socrates refutes them all. But of the three, only the middle one—help friends and harm enemies—survives in any form at all in the elucidation that follows in the rest of the dialogue.

As Strauss notes, the political community as such is closed. There is no possibility of a universal state, or certainly no possibility of one that is not a universal tyranny. He and Schmitt agree on this. Where they disagree is what gives the political—the state—its moral standing. Strauss identifies in Schmitt a kind of implicit indifference to this question. It doesn’t matter what the people agree on so long as they coalesce around something.

For Strauss—and the ancients, and the American founders—this is the vital question. What is the moral basis of the state? Only a government dedicated to just ends, to the good, is truly legitimate. The Declaration of Independence, for instance, refers to the “just powers” of government. Harry Jaffa always pointed students to the vital importance of that qualifier.  The government may not legitimately do anything it wants, for the same reason that the people cannot rightly do anything they want: because right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust exist by nature.  And the proper role of government is promote the good and prevent, resist and mitigate the bad.

Limited, constitutional government is, in the modern context, the best form of government through which a free people can secure the human good. The good is real. It’s not just a preference. It’s higher than our preference. It’s our duty to seek the good. That’s what government properly does. Schmitt, in Strauss’s reading, doesn’t see that and that’s why he could take his core legitimate insight—the centrality of the political—and go so far off into the darkness. On this question, as on so many others, I am with Strauss.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Greatness Agenda • The Editors

We’re Just Getting Started. Help Us Succeed

The election is over. The transition is underway. Barring an extraordinary turn of events between now and January 20, Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Mission accomplished? Crisis averted? Republic saved?

No, no, and emphatically no.

A single election changes nothing. We have a lot of work to do.

First, we mustn’t lose sight of the Greatness Agenda: secure borders, economic nationalism, and an unapologetically America-first foreign policy.

ag-inkwell-pen-colorThe country remains as deeply divided as ever, and perhaps even more divided than it was before November 8. Trump won a decisive victory in the Electoral College but lost the popular tally by at least 2 million votes while still garnering more votes than any other Republican in history. In a republic overly enamored with democracy, the result is that many people are confused and afraid.

Our job isn’t to shill for the president, but rather to provide intellectual ammunition his administration can use in the fight to make America great again.

Because where else are they going to find it? Fact is, the establishment has failed and is flailing. The mainstream press has shed all pretense of objectivity.

What’s more, Conservatism, Inc. stands exposed as intellectually confused and largely unmoored from historic American republicanism.

The legacy conservative media misunderstood Trump and the sentiments of the people he represents from the beginning. National Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, RedState, and others were stalwart in their opposition and demonstrated a contemptuous disregard for the genius of American politics—to say nothing of the American people. And even as many of these pundits come to terms with the outcome of the election, they still do not understand that the very ground beneath their feet has shifted.

Professional conservatives have become too comfortable with government by expertise. They value “intelligence” but eschew wisdom. The idea that people who are not as “smart” as they are would have some say in the direction of the country offended them, much as progressives are offended by ideas they consider hidebound or reactionary (such as the constitutional government of the American Founding). Progressives and many professional conservatives this year made plain their contempt for the necessity of government by consent. They would prefer it if those lacking the credentials valued by coastal elites would sit down and shut up.

We reject the left-wing mindset now, apparently, adopted by a fair number of professional conservatives that people should refrain from asking fundamental questions about the nature of their government or demand to be heard when they see that a policy is working against their interests while advancing those of a favored few. We reject the clichés of checklist conservatism. We reject the left-wing mindset that a border enforcement, a high view of American citizenship, and an unapologetic policy of assimilation are expressions of racism and xenophobia. We reject the unquestioning devotion to our respective sides, talking past each other. We believe in asking basic questions and seeking clarity. We believe in the sovereignty of nations and of peoples. People are not created to shut up and do as they’re told.

The system erected by America’s Founders was meant to encourage deliberation. Its slowness was meant to help educate the public and the legislator alike. The people at large are not the only ones capable of acting with a rash disregard for the truth. The ruling class, without political checks and a proper regard for securing political consent, is similarly tempted to serve only the interests of a select few.

The media have no interest in promoting a truly deliberative democracy. It threatens their power. The Democrats don’t want that, either, because—well, because then they lose.

In this social media-soaked age, are we better because of shallow instant opinion generated by push polls, virtue signaling shamers on the Internet, and celebrity-driven fashions? Or do we need something more? And what would the alternative look like? That’s the question. Because the answer could lead to transformation and renewal.

We are answering those questions here at American Greatness. And we hope you will continue to read.

Not only read, but also engage. Like what you see? Share it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest—wherever. And comment, deliberate, investigate, contribute to the discussion.

We also ask that you support this undertaking with your dollars.

American Greatness is a startup media company for the Trump Era. We aspire to be nothing less than a new, independent voice for a revitalized conservative movement. We aim to succeed on our merits. We are actively seeking financial supporters. We know from our traffic over the past four and a half months that we are winning the war of ideas. We have a publication that people want to read and need to see. If you value what you read here, please consider a one-time or ongoing donation.

Please note that your contribution, while important, is not tax deductible. But know that your contribution supports our writers and editors, and will make it possible for us to grow in 2017 and beyond. Thank you for your consideration and support.

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American Conservatism • The Editors

#IAmDecius

decius journal of american greatness flight 93 article

Who is Decius? Who is the author of The Flight 93 Election that has Conservatism, Inc. frowning in consternation?

This is the question of looming importance to the leading lights of Conservatism, Inc.. Their courage, never to be doubted, is now summoned and on full display in the usual places . . . so, Twitter.

Speculation about the “true identity” of Decius abounds and consumes them. Even in the wake of the defeat of 15 supposedly “better” candidates for the GOP nomination (to say nothing of failure to thrive of the many “spoilers” they’ve floated to the bemusement of the GOP electorate), they do not, they will not ask where they have gone wrong. They do not confront the idea that perhaps what they’ve been doing lo these many years, mopping up the policy crumbs for short-lived and mostly insignificant victories, just isn’t working.  They do not answer for failing to address the central issue of our time which is what makes the laws that govern us legitimate? Instead the Emperor asks, “Who is this impertinent child daring to question our nakedness?” And they smear the writer for cowardice in choosing anonymity.

This self-referential affirmation loop demonstrates exactly why anonymity was necessary to advance Decius’s argument. How does one draw attention to the fact that “conservatism” as an enterprise has failed if one is but a mere foot-soldier in a once proud army? Do these generals realize that their army is shrinking?

Perhaps they do. And this explains the anger.

So to all of those asking and those wishing to engage in the brave practice of Twitter war, we have an answer for you to the question of “Who is Decius?” And we provide it, no less, in the form of a hashtag.

Decius is millions of Americans sick of Conservatism Inc’s failures and apologies. #IAmDecius

Feel free to be Decius, too.

 

America • American Conservatism • Greatness Agenda • The Editors

Why Conservative Intellectuals Support Trump – A Reply To Peter Beinart

 

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

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

 

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

 

Yes, that’s really the best Beinart can do

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Conservatism • Greatness Agenda • The Declaration • The Editors

Our Declaration of Independence from the Conservative Movement

american greatness declaration of independence

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

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

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

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

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

What American Greatness Is Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What American Greatness Is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a Greatness Agenda?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—The Editors