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How Can Trump Survive the Fall of Mike Flynn?

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned Monday in the midst of what looks on the surface to be a fairly overblown scandal. White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Tuesday told reporters President Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation due in part because of the “evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation.” So what happened?

During the transition period between presidential administrations, the retired Army general met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, on behalf of President-elect Trump. At that time, Flynn was tapped to head the National Security Council but was still considered a private citizen. Under the Logan Act, a federal law passed way back in 1799, no private U.S. citizen can conduct diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government.

Flynn allegedly violated the Logan Act—his accusers say—by discussing with the Russian ambassador certain sanctions the Obama Administration had leveled against Russia over its incursions in Ukraine and Crimea. The meeting was surreptitiously recorded by America’s intelligence services, which they often do whenever Americans meet with foreign persons of interest.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Flynn admits he spoke with the ambassador. The trouble is, he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the details. First Flynn reportedly denied that sanctions had come up in the discussion. Later, after the story made the front page of the Washington Post, Flynn said sanctions might have been mentioned.  But the vice president had already put both his personal reputation and that of his office on the line by publicly defending Flynn when the concerns over his meeting with the Russian ambassador surfaced. The general’s misjudgment threatened to engulf the entire three-week-old administration in scandal.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye. John Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst, reported in The Observer that unnamed elements of the U.S. intelligence community were revolting against Flynn. The reason had less to do with verifiable intelligence on Flynn and more to do with a disparity in worldviews and the fact that Flynn tends to rub people the wrong way.

“Widely disliked in Washington for his brash personality and preference for conspiracy-theorizing over intelligence facts,” Schindler wrote, “Flynn was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for managerial incompetence and poor judgment—flaws he has brought to the far more powerful and political NSC.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another side of the story: when Flynn was in charge of the DIA under President Barack Obama, he instituted a series of highly unpopular administrative reforms. He clashed with the Central Intelligence Agency and his management style was disliked by many within the bureaucracy. He also left the Obama Administration under a cloud of suspicion because of strange ties with Russia, as well as a litany of public comments that ran counter to the Obama Administration’s preferred narrative for national counter-terrorism policy.

In terms of personality: Flynn was an abrasive, brash, and very blunt military man. (Is it any wonder why Trump liked him?) He was not a member of the political or military establishment. He fought his way from the bottom up. Flynn became a strong leader and a key member of the U.S. intelligence community. But, his public pronouncements on Islam and other critical foreign policy issues alienated him from many of his co-workers and Leftist political bosses.While being an outsider has its obvious advantages, it also comes with the constant threat of being beset by enemies. This is precisely what took down Flynn.

With all of these factors in play, Flynn fell on his sword and resigned. In so doing, he likely spared President Trump a long, drawn-out ordeal that would have tested the fledgling administration’s already-constrained ability to govern.

Evidently, word of Flynn’s questionable conversation with the Russian ambassador was shared between the Department of Justice and the White House about a month ago. The Justice Department fretted over the fact that Flynn was open to blackmail from Russia. But, the investigation was conducted under Obama Administration official Sally Yates (the former DOJ official who also declined to enforce the president’s travel moratorium). That strongly suggests it was a partisan endeavor.

Keep in mind, too, that the FBI has stated that no specific sanctions were discussed (and therefore Flynn never violated the Logan Act) in the conversations they recorded between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

There is no proof that anything nefarious happened. What has happened is that a devoted public servant (who shares a controversial worldview with Donald Trump on national security issues) has removed himself from the president’s circle. He did so, it would seem, to quell the controversy and allow President Trump to do what the people put him in the White House to do.

Now the Left has a their scalp just a few weeks into a rocky new administration. They’ll want more—and soon. On Tuesday morning, the New York Times reported that Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, was also expected to leave her post.

Since the news broke of Flynn’s resignation, CNN contributors have stepped up their criticism of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway for “misleading” the press. Also under fire is long-time Trump adviser, Stephen Miller and Michael Anton, the writer of the brilliant “Flight 93 Essay, who is the National Security Council’s communications chief. Anton is viewed by Trump’s Leftist opposition as the leading intellectual for “Trump’s authoritarianism.” Of course, there is also the hatred of Stephen K. Bannon, a man who the Left has transmogrified into the Svengali of the Trump Administration (or, rather, the Trump Administration’s version of Dick Cheney).

The Left is targeting these individuals because they are the most effective leaders in the Trump White House and the ones who promise to change the way things are now done.

For now, retired Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, Jr. has been named to replace Flynn as acting National Security Adviser. General Kellogg has served the country with distinction, serving in the Vietnam War, where he earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” device, and the Air Medal with “V” device. Kellogg also served as the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1997 to 1998 and ended his career as Director of the Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Directorate under the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kellogg is a fine man and will do his job well. He is but a placeholder until a permanent replacement can be found.

Another name floating around is retired Army General and former Obama CIA Director David Petraeus. Indeed, he is slated to meet with the President today to lobby for the position. Petraeus has the distinction of having saved the U.S. in Iraq (at least until the Obama Administration ruined it). With the desire of President Trump to surge further into Afghanistan, Petraeus’ previous experience in Afghanistan during the Obama Administration would be helpful to the Trump Administration in securing that goal.

Despite the Petraeus record of fine service to his country, his elevation to this position would be a terrible choice.

There is no skating around the fact that Petraeus compromised national security when he shared privileged information with his mistress. If the argument is that General Flynn opened himself up to blackmail by the Russians because of comments he may or may not have made to the Russian ambassador, then it is difficult to see how Petraeus would be a better fit since he almost certainly made himself susceptible to blackmail by having an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Plus, the image of placing Petraeus (a man who wantonly compromised state secrets) as National Security Adviser would send the wrong message. After a contentious election in which President Trump lambasted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not securing state secrets during her tenure at the State Department, it would be nearly impossible to justify Petraeus’ role. After all, he is guilty of the same kind of carelessness as Clinton.

Some other names that have been mentioned are those of retired Navy Admiral Robert S. Harward, Jr. and former NATO chief, retired Navy Admiral James Starvridis. In the case of Starvridis, you have someone who was ardently anti-Trump. Had Hillary Clinton won the election, he was apparently on her shortlist for a cabinet position. Starvridis recently went ballistic over the Trump Administration’s 90-day temporary travel moratorium from seven countries where ISIS is operating. Therefore, his nomination as National Security Adviser would simply be untenable.

Harward, on the other hand, is a retired Navy SEAL and former deputy commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM). He has extensive combat experience and a deep retinue of experiences in combating terrorism. His experience as a Navy SEAL is likely to endear him to the President in the same way that Trump nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke’s did.

Harward is low-key and well-liked by many people. His nomination would likely defuse a tense situation and would certainly change the narrative. Additionally, his years of experience fighting terrorism would play well into the Trump Administration’s overall goal of destroying ISIS and defeating jihadist terrorism globally.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of these people will, in fact, be considered as Flynn’s replacement. But, one thing is certain: Mike Flynn has fallen. His resignation is the first major victory that the Left (and most of the GOP-establishment) can claim since Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency in 2015. It still remains unclear as to whether or not Flynn actually broke the law or lied to the vice president.

What is clear is that he felt that he needed to resign to save the Trump Administration from controversy and distraction over the long haul. It was likely a noble move on his part. Unfortunately, it does not negate the damage that has been done. Since the president was aware of the Justice Department’s concerns about Flynn for a month, the press and hostile members of Congress will demand answers to “what did the president know and when did he know it?”

If the White House is going to move past this, the president needs to nominate a replacement who both shares his tough view on foreign policy but who also doesn’t attract the level of controversy that Flynn did.

The path forward will be difficult. Trump must select a fellow traveler to run the embattled National Security Council. He would do well, however, to select someone who is far more low key than Flynn was. The next days will be crucial.

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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.

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Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation Struggle Offers a Lesson in Civic Mis-Education

Americans say they care about public education, but they haven’t the slightest idea how public education works in this country. That’s the only way to explain the overblown opposition to Betsy DeVos’s confirmation this week as U.S. secretary of education.

Judging from my Facebook and Twitter feeds, an awful lot of people seem to think DeVos will be “in charge of our nation’s children.” Others bemoaned that DeVos now will be “the head of all our educators” and “running the largest school system in the world.”

Happily, DeVos will be none of those things. She merely will be head of the U.S. Department of Education, one of the least powerful Cabinet agencies in the federal government and one arguably that shouldn’t even exist.

Fact is, the federal government accounts for about 9 percent of total public education funding across the country. The rest of the money—and authority—rests with state and local governments. As it should.

This widespread misunderstanding of DeVos’ role is, at the very least, a profound failure of civic education. It’s also a kind of triumph for the administrative state and its hangers-on: the teachers unions (obviously), the professional associations and left-leaning activist groups that never met a government program or agency that wasn’t worth expanding.

You could hear it throughout DeVos’ admittedly lackluster confirmation hearing last month.

Read the rest at the Sacramento Bee.

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Kristol Joins Forces With the Left in Nazi Smear of Trump Aide

american greatness flight 93 election michael anton

The Weekly Standard last week revealed the name of the anonymous author of the highly influential “Flight 93 Election” essay as Michael Anton. He was a senior editor of American Greatness until he left to join the White House as communications director of the National Security Council. The progressive Left wasted no time in turning its fire on Anton. Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine, called Anton “America’s leading authoritarian intellectual.” In Salon he was called a “dystopian prophet.” And described him as a “shadowy, far right figure.”

But leave it to Trump critics on the Right to go where even Leftist commentators wouldn’t. It was The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol who insinuated Anton was akin to a Nazi in a tweet analogizing him with Carl Schmitt, a German political theorist who wrote a defense of Hitler’s political assassinations after the Night of the Long Knives. None of Kristol’s colleagues at The Weekly Standard registered any dissent from Kristol’s descent into the reductio ad Hitlerum—the tendency to call your political opponents Nazis to undermine their legitimacy and shame them into silence. In this, Kristol has taken up the vile tactics of the Left with the reactionary zeal of the scorned.

Kristol dug himself into a hole with his fundamentalist NeverTrump crusade, but continues his campaign of public self-marginalization with remarkable diligence. The only public figure in recent memory to have such a public meltdown is Al Gore whose behavior in the years following his narrow defeat in the 2000 election can only be described as bizarre. Progressive billionaires cooperated to make Al Gore a cult figure on the Left and remarkably wealthy in the process. Such an outcome is unlikely for Kristol, who is not only a vocal opponent of a recently elected president who was supported by 92 percent of Republicans but who sinks to calling respected conservative intellectuals Nazis because they don’t share his neoconservative policy preferences.

Those preferences led to the foreign policy misadventures of the Clinton and Bush Administrations that cost the nation dearly in blood and treasure. They led to a bipartisan open borders fiasco that has seen the federal government refuse to enforce it’s own immigration laws and the predictable breakdown in respect for the rule of law. After all, if some people don’t have to obey the law, why should anyone? That, combined with globalist trade policy led to the deindustrialization of America, real wage stagnation, and declining prospects for young people. What’s left if you can’t come to terms with the fact that your ideas have failed in practice and were repudiated by voters? Lash out.

Neoconservatism is a fringe offshoot of mainstream conservatism that enjoyed outsized influence during and after the Bush years as its intellectuals flooded into the administration and then out and into the the archipelago of journals and think tanks known as Conservatism, Inc. when Bush left office. But its manifest failures have left its high priests discredited and powerless. It’s a new era, Kristol is in the wilderness, and he doesn’t like it.

He knows perfectly well that Schmitt was a brilliant thinker who helped Leo Strauss obtain the grant necessary to publish his first book. He knows, too, that Strauss respected Schmitt’s book, The Concept of the Political, though he noted its serious shortcomings. But when Kristol compared Anton to Schmitt in public, he was offering no esoteric praise. He just meant to suggest that Anton is like a Nazi stooge and President Trump, therefore, is like Hitler. What happened to the Bill Kristol of the ’90s who worked overtime to stop Hillarycare?

Compared to Kristol, the slanders from the Left look measured. Still, they are unwarranted and are, in fact, a supreme act of projection. When Jonathan Chait called Anton an authoritarian, he gave away the game. If we use the Wiki definition, “authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms”—that sounds more like the administrative state than anything Trump has proposed. The dirty little secret of American conservatism is that neoconservatives and reformicons have made their peace with the administrative state—that unelected and largely unaccountable arm of government—and don’t share much in common with historic American constitutionalism or the principles of the American Founding. This election brought that to light.

The realization is painful because Republican voters retain a higher view of the fundamental principles upon which this country is based than do many D.C. conservatives. In light of President Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, let’s recall that during the campaign Bill Kristol said that he could live with Clinton’s nominees. Think how different the country would be if Clinton won the election and secured a solid hard-left majority on the Court that would ratify the expansion of the administrative state’s power and limitations on political and religious speech that the Left deems “hate speech”—a code for thought crimes against prevailing Progressive orthodoxy. That’s authoritarianism and that’s specifically what Anton argued for working to prevent in his famous Flight 93 essay. The essay bears re-reading by admirers and detractors alike. Far from being a defense of authoritarian government of the kind penned by Schmitt in the 1930s, it sounds an alarm against the statism of the Left and serves as an indictment of certain conservative institutions that have become the fellow travellers of these statists. These “conservatives” most consistent response to the Left’s relentless campaign to hand over the sovereignty of the American people to judges and bureaucrats is not “No” but “Not yet.” That form of conservatism is one of style and temperament, not principle, and ill-suits a free people who wish to defend constitutional government.

Decius’ overriding concern—and ours here at American Greatness—was and remains the restoration of the political: the reassertion of the ability of the people to control the government. The fear was that a Hillary win would have prevented that forever. As you see the massive freakout in the wake of the election over common sense reform that fear appears to have been a sensible one. President Trump’s executive order that has inflamed the radical Left and their media enablers has the support of 57 percent of voters and 82 percent of Republicans, according to Rasmussen. To listen to the media meltdown over the EO one would assume that the country is a state of uproar. But that reaction is limited to certain groups of people who are disproportionately represented in politics and the media. Common sense may be common, but it’s not evenly distributed.

The administrative state and its supporters view any deviation from their agenda as inherently illegitimate. This, too, is projection. It is the usurpation of the people’s sovereignty as described in the Constitution that is, in fact, illegitimate. That’s why they start a panic over a sensible, limited, and temporary provision to protect American citizens. It is this core issue that motivated Anton more than any: the desire to provide an affirmative defense of a system of constitutional government created to defend the natural rights of its sovereign citizens. That a Progressive like Chait would call that authoritarian and a conservative like Kristol would call Anton a Nazi is proof positive that the warnings he sounded were more timely and more necessary than his detractors would like to admit.

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Farewell Decius and Safe Landing

Regular readers of American Greatness know that among the names on our masthead is Publius Decius Mus. “Decius,” as he is generally known around here, has been a contributing editor at AG and has worked with us since we conceived the idea, early last spring, of reviving a place for sharing the kinds of arguments he and his compatriots once shared at the (now defunct) Journal of American Greatness.  

Decius seized upon that opportunity, and he delighted many of our readers with his fearless ability to take-down movement conservatism’s assumptions that now serve more as thoughtless pieties than as serious principles, as well as his disinclination to spare the rod for the unchallenged heroes of Conservatism, Inc. You can read Decius’s many contributions to revive the truly American character of American conservatism here.

But today we come not to bury Decius—as we hope and trust that his work will be appearing in our pixels once again—but to wish him well in his new endeavor serving as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council. We are, of course, delighted with his selection, though his presence here will be sorely missed.

As we explained in our founding editorial statement, “although American Greatness owes an intellectual debt and its inspiration to the Journal of American Greatness . . . and to some of its contributors, we are not the re-emergence of that much-admired effort.” We aim to promote and build upon those intellectual arguments, but we are also aiming to reach a larger audience of Americans than just intellectuals. We hope to inspire a new movement of Americans dedicated to recovering the best of what is in our past and applying it to what will be an even better future.

With that, we give you once again, the essay that started all the fuss, “The Flight 93 Election.” Safe landing, Michael. We are grateful beyond measure for your piloting thus far.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Donald Trump • The Leviathian State • Trump White House

How Trump Saved this Union

Trump, like Grant, is a man of action. He is one who, like most Americans, understands America’s principles in his bones and acts to defend them.

Like many couples, Suzanne and I had political differences when we married. While I never thought of Obama as an agent for positive political change, Suzanne determined to vote for him in the hope that our country might soon turn a corner on the matter of race by electing a man with black heritage. Once he was elected, however, I chose to cling alongside her to that one minor hope—only to see it dashed by the divisiveness of the Obama Administration.

As the Obama mask slipped, however, the clarity drove us closer together politically and made us reassess the foundations of the Republican Party that, it seemed, had abandoned us both.

We discovered that we did not have much disagreement over McCain and Romney. Both were statists in many ways and slavish to the Davos status quo. Even if they had been elected, one could expect from them many of the same policies Bush advocated and advanced, and these policies have led to our diminished patriotic spiritedness, and a weakened military.

So while we may have diverged on the importance of Obama—at least initially—we agreed that what we both wanted was a United States still rooted in the American Founding and in the natural equality of all human beings. Further, we wanted a firm acknowledgment that the equal status of all Americans as citizens was the source of their sovereignty.

So as we awakened on Inauguration Day 2017, we were both quite happy—even giddy—to turn the corner on the fecklessness of the last eight years. It was a stark reminder too, that we have much to dig out from underneath after so many years of poor management, poor political choices, oligarchic trends, and the soft despotism of an ever growing administrative state.

Moreover the Trumps looked like adults returning us to a certain kind of manner and style. They seemed to have ushered in a sense of class in demeanor and dress that we have not seen in decades. During the inaugural, Trump looked like he meant business. As he spoke, it became clear he would not say things just to please unnamed elites in government or in the press who would like him to conform to their understanding of how things ought to be. In the battle between them and ordinary Americans, he throws in with the latter, even though there seems to be nothing ordinary (apart, perhaps, from a crude sense of humor) about him.

In that, Trump has more in common with Ulysses S. Grant than any president since the 19th century.

Like Grant, Trump is not an ideologue.

Like Grant, Trump is not an ideologue. He seems to have an innate sense that ideas matter, and that America’s idea is worthy of defense. But he is a doer. He acts. He defends himself, but he is much less self-referential in his speeches than was Obama; a man who seemed to thrive on surpassing all reasonable expectations about the number of “I”s a president could use in any given speech. Grant, like Trump, is a man who is little understood. Most scholars find it difficult to reconcile the various disparities in Grant’s thought and career.

Like Trump, Grant was also at one time a Democrat. But the changes in the country and in the Democratic Party’s failure to offer a platform to save the Union pushed Grant into the arms of the Republican Party and closer to Lincoln, whom Grant admired deeply. He was a fastidious believer in the equality of all human beings. This was the prime motivating factor for Grant in acting to move the country toward the political and social equality of the races.

Grant believed in equal justice for all Americans. In a famous exchange with Otto von Bismark after Grant retired from public service, Bismark observed that Grant had to fight to save the Union. Grant countered: “Not only save the Union, but destroy slavery.” This is the kind of resolve we saw in Trump on January 20: He is the same man as president as he was in his campaign. How refreshing.

In his inaugural speech, Trump flayed over 100 years of progressive thought by remembering the forgotten man. This was the real forgotten man, not the convenient creation served up by FDR to justify his welfare state and paper over his European style progressivism in American fashions. FDR’s forgotten man was degraded not only by the patronizing control of many of FDR’s policies, but even more by the flagrant violation of his consent that those policies assured. The forgotten of the 1930s were expected to pay for the largess of their betters as Amity Shlaes aptly points out. Progressives believe in taking power from the people, but Trump believes in its return: “[T]oday we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another,” said Trump, “or from one party to another—but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.”

Trump reiterated in a few short paragraphs that the business of America is business, meaning, that the government should provide a free space to live and work without faceless unelected bureaucrats imposing s soft despotism on its citizenry. This cold heart of the administrative state has had the effect of driving business from our shores through regulation, and it has allowed crime and the education politburo to infect our cities.

In response, Trump sounded the return to an ancient faith of respect for the enlightened consent of the people: “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.” Trump speaks to all Americans in a language that seeks understanding from citizens rather than accolades from the literati. He does this because he respects public opinion and seeks to address it where it actually is. He does not criticize them or try to elevate himself above them with words they may regard as polished but meaningless.  America saw enough of that in the the constant barrage of sermons emanating from the Obama White House and the Democrat Party under him. Trump actually likes Americans as they are, while Obama and the Democrat Party have made it abundantly clear (using words like “deplorable” to describe us) that they do not. Instead, they think Americans are only “potentially” worthy of admiration and respect—worthy only by becoming more like progressives in our habits and opinions. Suzanne and I concluded more than a year ago that we could not vote for someone who despises us or our country, and why should we?

Trump believes in this country, and he spoke to our love of it when he said,

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

We have always believed there was something special about this country in spite of its blemishes and faults. The difference between this country and others is the standard by which we judge governments and personal action. The natural rights of mankind are unchangeable and no government that does not seek to secure them for its people is legitimate or worthy of its people’s respect. This idea, which Trump wholeheartedly endorses, is the antithesis of despotism. He invoked liberty and equality when he uttered these now famous words: “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” In this sentence, he reflected on the goodness that is the American Idea. It is not patriotism per se that Trump is saying is good, it is the fact that America is rooted in good that makes American patriotism good. Believing in America’s goodness and in its ideas as expressed in our Declaration of Independence, eradicates prejudice. Being a good American makes you a better person.

As we watched the inaugural and marveled at his speech, we were struck by his rejection of the progressive ideals that so infect both parties. Trump claimed that America should pursue its interests. For too long, we have watched America pursue the interests of other nations while forgoing our own. This policy has made a hash of our budgets and our military. Circumspection now is the standard, not a reflexive militarily interventionism along with a one sided sellout of our economy in the name of supposed free markets, which are really not free.

Donald Trump helped us both to rediscover the almost forgotten, but forever worthy and admirable, Republican party after Lincoln and before Hoover. After Lincoln we had Grant, and in between Grant and Reagan, we had McKinley and Coolidge—these men were anti-progressive and adapted the American Idea to their times.

Trump is no different. Trump is a clarifier and a uniter—so much so that he politically united our family.

When we met, Suzanne informed me that her family was related to Ulysses S. Grant. She thought I was joking when I proposed immediately, but I was quite serious. Now she knows why.


America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • Government Reform • Libertarians • Neil Gorsuch • Republicans • The Constitution • The Courts • The Leviathian State • Trump White House

With Gorsuch, Trump Picked the One Man Who Would Check His Power

The day after a Supreme Court nomination announcement is like Christmas morning for court watchers. It’s even more special, really, because we only get a Supreme Court nomination every five years or so. We spend the day analyzing the nominee from every imaginable perspective—contemplating what his academic credentials, legal experience, judicial record, or even biographical information can tell us about the jurisprudence the nominee is likely to display on the High Court.

We also while away the hours asking silly questions like: What can we tell from the fact that President Trump’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy back in the 1980s? Does that mean the 10th Circuit judge also favors a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? How about the fact that Gorsuch has a British wife? Is he therefore in favor of unrestricted immigration? And he is an Episcopalian. Does that mean he will take a middle-ground position between precedent and text?

While that can be a fun way to spend the day, asking such questions is largely a futile endeavor. Nominees change once they’re safely on the court. The issues change, too, pushing justices in directions that even they could not have foreseen.

For example, when President Reagan nominated Kennedy in 1987 and the Senate confirmed him in 1988, no one would have expected that he would become the court’s leading voice on gay rights issues. That was something that became part of Kennedy’s legacy as a result of a unique confluence of his own evolving views on government authority and sexual identity.

That said, when something really sticks out in a nominee’s record, there is reason to be more confident that this issue will become a major part of the nominee’s legacy if appointed to the Supreme Court. With Scalia, it was his commitment to originalism that defined his legacy. Indeed, Scalia’s views on many issues evolved during his 30-year tenure, but throughout that time he was consistently the most outspoken and committed originalist on the court.

What is likely to be the issue for Gorsuch? What sticks out most in his record is his willingness to reconsider the Chevron doctrine—the 1984 Supreme Court decision calling for extreme deference to administrative agency discretion, thus opening the path for virtually unlimited executive authority. Yesterday, I compared the doctrine to the Hydra of Lerna and mentioned how Gorsuch, more than any other federal judge to my knowledge, has demonstrated an eagerness to lop off a few of the heads on that judicial doctrine he once described as a “behemoth.”

This part of Gorsuch’s record will no doubt be picked up by the mainstream media, but I can guarantee what will not be picked up—and that is what this says about President Trump. Of the 22 candidates Trump considered, Gorsuch is unmistakably the most hostile toward executive discretion and overreach. No one would mistake Trump for a constitutional scholar, but it is clear that the president was acutely aware that skepticism of agency power is central to Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy. Put more starkly: Trump chose the one judge most likely to limit his executive authority.

That is remarkable. Past presidents have selected nominees, primarily, for the purpose of advancing their particular agendas. There is indeed substantial evidence that President George W. Bush passed over many highly qualified jurists because they seemed insufficiently deferential to his view of the commander-in-chief authority as it applied to the War on Terrorism. Likewise, President Obama clearly selected Elena Kagan in part because of her outspoken support of gay rights at Harvard and Sonia Sotomayor for her commitment to racial justice, an issue that has been at the core of her jurisprudence on the Supreme Court.

So what does Gorsuch tell us about President Trump? This chief executive whom scholars and pundits deride as a “fascist” and “tyrant” appears committed to choosing a jurist who will limit executive discretion, which suggests that Trump’s call to “drain the swamp” will be a critical part of his Supreme Court legacy. It may behoove some of us today to spend less time thinking about what trivial details from Gorsuch’s personal life can tell us about Gorsuch, and more time considering what Gorsuch can tell us about Trump.

2016 Election • America • Conservatives • Cultural Marxism • Democrats • Donald Trump • History • Obama • The Constitution • The Leviathian State

Obama Limps into History

Most non-Millennials know the history. Facing a sure defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1812, the Russians retreated. As they retreated, they burned crops, destroyed bridges and successfully weakened and slowed the advancing French army. In the end, the demoralized and depleted French endured a brutal Russian winter without supplies only to face ultimate defeat.

At first glance it would seem that, taking his lesson from history, Barack Obama is attempting exactly such a tactic in the face of the overwhelming electoral condemnation his party and policies suffered in the most recent elections. The New York Times, and other papers have reported Obama’s last minute executive actions in this light. But upon closer inspection, this myth of utilitarian heroism falls away and we’re left with nothing more than a vanity-driven attempt to create a virtue-signal based political legacy.

Democrats emerged from November’s elections even more broken than they were going in, with humiliating losses in the states, a clear failure to recapture either house of Congress, and, of course, the loss of the presidency. So what does President Obama do? He has used the lamest part of his lame-duck presidency in an attempt both to cement his “legacy” and place obstacles in the path of his successor. He allowed the United Nations to condemn Israel; “permanently” banned drilling off the Atlantic coast; protected federal funding of Planned Parenthood; and condemned and sanctioned Russia for allegedly “hacking” the presidential election.

Obama’s 11th-hour executive actions and institutional directives might be seen to serve the utilitarian purpose of forcing Trump and the Republican congress to waste political capital on their revocation thus making the Republicans’ major agenda items, repeal of Obamacare, immigration and taxes that much more difficult. But, like most of the things he has done via pen and phone, many of these are relatively easily reversed by “pen and phone,” making them, for the most part, a house of cards built as a tornado approaches.

Russia has already responded to his effete sanctions with a round of deserved mockery and, with the exception of the U.N. resolution, each one of the directives can be rescinded fairly easily by the next administration whose party controls both chambers of Congress. As to the drilling ban, the Washington Post reports:

President-elect Donald Trump could counter Obama’s plan with his own five-year plan, but even so it would be years before drilling could start.

The president-elect’s authority to undo a permanent prohibition is unclear. But Congress, controlled by Republicans, could move to rescind the withdrawal of federal lands from oil and gas exploration.”

Similarly, regarding the Planned Parenthood rule, the New York Times notes:

According to the department [of Health and Human Services], repealing the rule would require a new rule-making process, or a joint resolution of disapproval by the House and Senate, with concurrence by the new president.”

Constitutional scholar Barack Obama knows all this. We are left with the conclusion that he enacted these changes with full knowledge that they would be reversed in no time at all.

None of these actions is designed to be permanent but rather to serve as the ultimate in political virtue signalling. If these agenda items were important to him he’d have spent considerably more political capital on them. He’s had eight years, two of which effectively saw him enjoying a supermajority, in which to try to enact and cement these policies legislatively. Instead, he is choosing the last hours of his presidency to “act.” Yet these actions are not intended to be permanent. They serve only to make Obama look good in the eyes of his fans as he leaves office—and, of course, to make Trump look the monster when he repeals them on Day One. Obama understands that these actions are not only symbolic, but doomed. None of that seems to matter to him, so long as the history books record that he tried.

And there lies the heart of it: the history books. The same man who won a Nobel Peace Prize for winning an election is now trying to be viewed as an environmental protector, Palestinian freedom fighter, and the Shining Knight of women’s health using a thin broth consisting of last minute abstentions and executive actions.

What may lie at the core of his actions is his belief—some would say knowledge—that he has the academy and the writers of history (or at least Buzzfeed Top 10 lists) on his side. Obama issues these proclamations secure in the knowledge that the politically Manichean culture he has buoyed during his eight years in the White House will have him painted as hero by a large and impassioned swath of the electorate. Romantic readings of his last-minute actions as grand moments in a storied movement are already underway. And since, like any good social organizer, Obama understands that it is the past that keeps changing, he is comfortable being known as the president of “what might have been.” To that end, he continues governing by intention rather than looking toward any real results.

These are not the noble actions of a retreating general using scorched earth effectively to stall an oncoming force. Instead, they are akin to an attempt by a slumlord or real-estate developer to spackle over cracks in the walls and put Bondo in holes of a crumbling building he’s trying to sell as a luxury property. If and when Trump and Congress use those same tools of pen and phone to undo many of Obama’s ersatz accomplishments, the dudgeon no doubt will be high. Not merely because of policy reversal but because they will be viewed as destroying the legacy of a would-be perfect president. His base and the mythologized history written about his presidency will mourn the future that could have been.

If only, if only.


America • Democrats • Second Amendment • The Courts • The Left • The Leviathian State

Why California’s New Gun Laws Deserve Contempt

The arrival in 2017 of a raft of new gun control laws in California won’t amount to much, except more hassles for gun dealers and the law-abiding few.

Yes, “few.” When buying a handgun, rifle or shotgun, the vast majority of people naturally will follow the law. The cost of noncompliance is too high, and the inconvenience is too great. Unless your next-door neighbor happens to traffic in illegal weapons, odds are you will go to the gun store, fill out the paperwork, endure the waiting period and get on with your life.

But many otherwise law-abiding gun owners simply will not comply with the new rules on ammunition purchases and the ban on high-capacity magazines.

And why should they? The state lacks effective means of enforcing the new laws, which now ban the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

After July 1, you will have just three legal options for disposing of these magazines: remove them from the state, sell them to a licensed dealer or turn them in to the police.

Or you will keep your mouth shut and keep your magazines stashed…

Read the rest at the Sacramento Bee.
2016 Election • America • Democrats • Donald Trump • Hillary Clinton • The Leviathian State

Making Sense of the FBI Email Distraction


FBI Director James Comey’s announcement on Sunday that the FBI has concluded its review of the emails found on the Anthony Weiner electronic devices seems reasonable. I actually had a bad cold two weeks ago and, as many of my friends know, I was off my computer and email for several days. Between my life as a rabbi, a law professor, an attorney, and a political commentator, I get a ton of new emails in my inbox every day. So, having been away from the computer for four days, I returned to find a backlog of—what was it?—something like 650,000 emails. And I can vouch, first-hand, that it really can take as long as 10 days to read carefully through 650,000 emails.

Let’s talk about a few realities. 

I don’t use the term “rigged”; I use the term “corrupt.” The whole thing is corrupt and has been corrupt from Day One. Any honest litigator will confirm that the FBI found enough evidence during the first round to recommend convening a grand jury. In the expression “law and order,” the FBI are the police—the “order.” The Justice Department is the “law.” It is for the FBI to recommend and for the Justice Department to decide whether to follow. But here the entire process was corrupted. That meeting of Attorney-General Loretta Lynch with Bill Clinton, alone and isolated, in that plane on the Arizona tarmac, could not have been more outside the parameters of the law. It is absolutely forbidden for a person on the justice side to meet ex parte with an interested party under investigation. Indeed, the meeting was so clandestine that no one ever would have known they had met, except that a single reporter saw them. When they were caught, they added insult to injury by fabricating an explanation that they had been talking about grandchildren and golf. Even the least sophisticated political consumer would not believe that. Nor would a moron. So the process has been corrupt all along.

No one gives five people immunity the way that the FBI handed out these “Stay Out of Jail Free” cards. That is not how it works. The way it works in real life is this: The investigator takes two people who are in big trouble and privately tells each one that, if that person is willing to turn on the other, the investigator will give that person immunity. At the same time, the investigator adds that the other targeted person is now being visited in another room and being offered the same deal—and the first one who agrees to turn on the other will get the immunity deal. That is how and when immunity is conferred in the real world where the goal is justice, not politics. Only the Three Stooges or Marx Brothers would give both—or all five—immunity. It would be a comedy, satirizing the process for laughs. So the process was corrupt that way.

Comey’s assertion previously that no reasonable prosecutor would press the case forward with a grand jury was never believable. Hillary Clinton set up a secret server. She did it to hide official communications from the required official government channels. We can only guess as to why she did something so flagrantly illegal. Possible theories include but are not limited to these:

  • President Obama wanted Sidney Blumenthal kept permanently out of the picture because Blumenthal had launched the rumor that Obama had not been born in America. But Hillary wanted to keep Blumenthal around. This way she could do so without Obama ever knowing.
  • She is a psychologically troubled person and has a pathologically paranoid fear of people knowing what she is doing.
  • She did not want errors of judgment, which all people inevitably make, to be documented and recorded for posterity.
  • She was using the State Department in double-dealing to enrich herself through the Clinton Foundation, as she went from “flat broke” to becoming one of the richest people in the world, and she wanted to hide the activity and its extent from outside scrutiny.
  • G-d knows what else.

Regardless of motive, her acts were a federal crime because the law does not turn on motive. I offer this insight as an historian. In addition to my rabbinic degree and law degree, I have an advanced degree in American history. As part of my graduate work, I did historical research into several areas of interest including but not limited to the failure of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration to help Jews in Germany and Poland during the 1930s and early 1940s, and I studied the efforts of President William Howard Taft to cancel all trade with czarist Russia until the Russians released a Jew they imprisoned who had American citizenship.

In both cases, I spent days in the library of the Columbia University School of International Affairs, where they house the complete collection of the communications of the United States State Department. As I recall, these communications, including the most top-secret exchanges between American ambassadors overseas and the State Department in Washington, get declassified after 25 or 50 years. These documents are a treasure trove for historians. And we historians believe that our field not only fascinates but also can help teach future generations lessons to be learned from past foibles and successes.

Understandably, American law requires all such State Department communications to be officially archived for such subsequent release. Hillary Clinton broke federal law by hiding such communications. In addition, every litigator knows that once documents are subpoenaed, the subpoenaed party has to turn them over, except for communications entailing attorney-client privilege, attorney work product, and proprietary corporate information (like a Coca-Cola formula or a Microsoft algorithm). Even those last types might have to be turned over, in part, depending on whether a court grants a protective order or a motion to compel production.

Consequently, once Clinton’s emails were subpoenaed, it violated fundamental laws of civil procedure in every American state and federal jurisdiction to destroy the subpoenaed emails unilaterally, not to mention 33,000 of them—even if they really were about yoga and Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. Indeed, if some emails regarding Chelsea’s wedding revealed that the Clinton Foundation was paying for the affair, in whole or in part, those mass deletions made that spoliation of evidence even more criminal. Martha Stewart and so many others have gone to prison for spoliation far less severe than that.

Moreover, the manner by which the Clinton emails were deleted adds to the apparent criminality. Experienced litigators know that deleted emails always can be recovered. The “deletion” does not really expunge or eviscerate the email but merely hides it within the computer’s memory from standard recovery.

However, experts know how to find deleted emails, and an entire forensic industry exists for just such purpose. Clinton’s team did something extraordinary that rarely occurs in the real world: they “bleached” the emails. No one does that unless they have extraordinary things to hide. No one bleaches emails regarding yoga classes or wedding plans—again, unless those plans reveal that money raised from hoodwinked charitable donors to help the poor of Haiti instead went to pay for such things as flowers, liquor, caterers, guest travel, orchestras, and photographers at Chelsea’s wedding. We do not know what was bleached or why, but we now know definitively from other sources that there was concern in the Clinton camp that there would be investigations into the use of Clinton Foundation funds for paying costs of Chelsea’s wedding and living expenses for 10 years.

So Comey’s original claim—that no reasonable prosecutor would convene a grand jury—was patently false. The only question was: Why would a person of such once-esteemed reputation take such a position?

  • Had Comey been promised another four years in a Clinton Administration?
  • Had Comey been promised a raise, a promotion?
  • Had Comey been told that he would be fired if he did not play along?

And what was Loretta Lynch’s hand?

  • Did she feel obliged to protect the Clintons because Bill had launched her career by naming her to a U.S. attorney position?
  • Was she promised reappointment for four more years as attorney general under a Hillary administration?
  • Was she promised appointment to become a lifetime Article III federal judge if Clinton would be elected?

In the abstract, none of this otherwise makes sense because, under any neutral legal principle, a grand jury should have been convened, shown evidence, and asked to determine whether an indictment is warranted. Instead, most or all key witnesses were granted immunity from prosecution, and the FBI head recommended that Lynch drop the case. The way Round One ended never has made sense.

When Round Two erupted during the late Anthony Weiner investigation, everything reeked of Comey trying to mollify those in rebellion and suffering demoralization within his agency over the initial Clinton Whitewash. By “reopening the investigation,” he seemed to demonstrate fairness and neutrality. However, he now came under withering criticism and attack from the Clinton side and the media who had praised him only weeks earlier.

The sudden announcement on Sunday that the FBI had completed its review of 650,000 emails in 10 days and arrived at a sophisticated legal determination reflects that Comey felt he had given everyone something, had angered everyone just enough, had demonstrated just enough neutrality, and he now needed to get out of the election crosshairs during the final 48 hours.

It is certain that Comey’s Sunday announcement will not impact the voting. There is not enough time—and he is sophisticated enough to know it—for either side to build momentum for a backlash.

For Hillary People, they already believe she is innocent, going back to Bernie Sanders’s politically suicidal gift to her: “I am sick of hearing about your damned emails.” They now simply feel validated.

For Trump People, they already believe the system is rigged or corrupt. They, too, now simply feel validated. For Millennials on the college campuses, they still don’t know the names “James Comey” or “Loretta Lynch.” Or as they might say: LOL.

The only real impact of the FBI’s brief resuscitation of the email investigation has been to staunch a politically perilous period when Donald Trump’s standing was declining in the aftermath of the terrible video. Thereafter, amid skyrocketing Obamacare premium increases, Trump’s strong third debate performance, and a last-minute return home by the Republican base, Comey’s brief resuscitation of the email probe made it easier for Trump’s team to change the narrative, for Trump to get locked on message, put Team Clinton on the defensive, and it changed the face of election polling in several purple and blue battleground states. Now, with fewer than 48 hours left to the election, it really is going down to the wire.

A week after the most exciting World Series closing night in decades, Comey has gifted Americans with a thrilling finish to the 2016 presidential election. And the only things required to make this dramatic excitement happen were: (1) severely tarnishing the reputation of the FBI, (2) revealing the extent of gross dishonesty and political corruption existing within the Justice Department, and (3) demonstrating to the American people that, despite everything we have been taught since elementary-school civics classes, our country really has two tiers of laws and justice: one set of rules for most of us, and a special platinum-tier of winks and exceptions for the powerful and elite, headed by the teflon Clintons who are above all laws.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Democrats • Donald Trump • Greatness Agenda • Immigration • The Culture • The Left • The Leviathian State • Uncategorized

The Bankruptcy of Conservative Intellectuals


Writing—no matter how many times you say the same thing, no matter how often—inevitably entails being misunderstood. In general, the causes are, first, obscurity from the writer and, second, ignorance, sloppiness, laziness, or willfulness in the reader. I like to think my writing is reasonably clear, but I leave that to others to judge. In any case, whether it’s my fault or his, Carl Eric Scott’s comment on my latest shows that he did not understand what I said. And certain of his remarks lead me to believe that no small measure of willfulness was involved.

A warning to the reader: Scott wrote a mere 1,200 words in response to a prior piece of mine, and I have responded with … well, a lot more. I offer two justifications. First, Scott’s comment is extraordinary for the number and density of its errors, misrepresentations, and straw-men. It really does take a lot of words to unpack all he got wrong. Second, Scott’s points may be taken as representative of the state of thinking on the “Right.” So in responding to Scott, I am really talking about the whole sorry enterprise.

The Art of Careful Reading

If I were to read Scott the way he reads me, I would put a willfully ungenerous spin on his opening chirp about the “fog of [my] Trumpism.” From the beginning, I have defined Trumpism as secure borders, economic nationalism, and an America-first foreign policy. Or if that two-word phrase distresses him, replace it with “interests-based” or “American interests-based.” What, specifically, in that short summary does Scott find “foggy”? To what does he object? Plenty of other “conservatives” object to all of it. They want more immigration, more trade, and more war. Does Scott? If he doesn’t, then what is so “foggy” about my Trumpism? Or, for that matter, Trump’s?

Then the flat-out errors begin. Scott writes:

In earlier pieces, [Decius] suggested that the “Whose Caesar (if Caesarism)?” question justified and partly explained a vote for Trump. i.e, he was willing to imply that Trump might serve as “our” Caesar.

This is just dead wrong. I have repeatedly said that I think Trump is not Caesar. I justified a vote for Trump in part as a way to avoid Caesar. The way—or one way—to avoid Caesar is to reassert popular control of the government, i.e., the consent of the governed. Which I think a Trump administration might do. I place “might” in italics for the exoteric purpose of stressing that this caveat is really important to my meaning. There’s no reason an Internet writer should expect to be read as carefully as (say) a major intellectual, much less a genuine political philosopher. But is basic accuracy too much to ask for?

Scott then lays on the snark: “That made hash of his seriousness regarding Caesarism.” No, it makes a hash of Scott’s reading comprehension. More:

(I say that earlier, what he argued for, without ever spelling it out as such, was the merely metaphorical application of the term “Caesarism” to Trumpism, in that Trump was likely to be bad-ass—and thus Caesar-like—in terms of certain executive power abuses, and in terms of unprecedented presidential employment of gutter rhetoric. Neither of these come close to amounting to real Caesarism, of course. The whole thing was to set-up a rhetorical choice of “our Caesar” v. “theirs.” I.e., our rules-abuser, or theirs.)

I am sorry to quote so much, but to avoid doing to Scott what he did to me, I want to make my case as methodically as possible.

As I wrote in the piece on which Scott comments:

But to [discuss Caesarism] is not merely to invite, it is to guarantee that one will be charged with calling for and even welcoming—wishing for—Caesarism. The dishonesty and vacuity of the modern intelligentsia is now absolute.

Right on cue, here comes Scott to say … that I am calling for Caesarism! I challenge Scott—I dare him, I double-dare him, I triple-dog-dare him—to show how I have equated “Caesarism” with Trumpism, or praised Trump as “our bad-ass” or welcomed executive abuse from his White House or praised his “gutter rhetoric.”

To make his case even the least bit plausible, Scott will have to quote me at least as extensively as I am quoting him. He can try to say that I made my supposed case between the lines. But had I been making an esoteric argument, I above all would know it, and I here (again) exoterically deny it. Scott’s  paragraph is—there’s no other way to say this—a lie. This is how one knows that the misunderstanding has a more troubling cause than mere laziness. Scott descends below the level of the Left: the character assassination begins in the second paragraph. Jeet Heer and Conor Friedersdorf waited longer than that.

Trumpism is Not Caesarism

Regarding Caesarism, what I have said—and here repeat, as clearly as possible, in language I believe Scott is intelligent enough to understand but fear he will continue to choose not to—is that I think the republic is in a bad way. I have identified the three principal causes as mass immigration, radical late modernity, and the cycle of regimes. The first two are entirely the product of human choice. The latter two undermine the virtue of the people that is necessary to sustain republican government. All three are corrosive to unity.

All republics eventually fall. They will fail with or without mankind’s misguided help in making them fail faster. The U.S.A.’s republican regime would have failed eventually, but bad philosophy and very stupid policies are making it fail sooner than it otherwise would have from inexorable necessity.

When republics fail, they either fall outright, are conquered, or become something else—i.e., not republics. One way that republics become something else is by falling under the rule of one man. That can take the form of tyranny or Caesarism. While the two appear similar, they are distinguishable. Tyranny, strictly speaking, is illegitimate usurpation. The secondary meaning—arbitrary, cruel, self-interested misrule—derives from the first, fundamental meaning. A legitimate ruler—whether monarch, aristocracy, or republican people—rules in the interests of the common good. There’s admittedly a bit of a chicken-egg problem here: if and to the extent that such governments begin to rule in the interest of some private good, does that make them tyrannical? But we don’t have to settle that question now to understand the reason for the classical identification of usurpation with misrule: no tyrant usurps for the common good. He usurps for his own (perceived) private good. (I add “perceived” in due acknowledgement of the argument of the Gorgias.) It is very difficult, if not impossible, to convince a tyrant to rule for the common good, or even to move in that direction. This is one meaning of Xenophon’s Hiero.

A Caesar may or may not be a usurper. But even if he is, he does so to become the caretaker of a republic that can no longer govern itself. In such a circumstance, One-man rule is necessary and thus at least partly legitimized by that necessity. Caesars may also rule in their personal interest. But many rule in the interest of the common good in ways that no tyrant ever does. The litany of Roman emperors contains as many, if not more, “good” Caesars than bad. Plus, over time Caesarism can morph into legitimate monarchy, mitigating some of the initial defects. There are no guarantees: you can still get crazy Caesars, as history shows. But Caesarism is preferable to tyranny, except when and where it tends toward tyranny.

Scott then continues that one of my earlier arguments was a “set-up” for a distinction I later made, namely that between “our” and “their” Caesar. But he gets even this wrong. He characterizes the argument as “our rules-abuser, or theirs,” indicating that he still doesn’t understand what Caesarism is. Caesarism is possible only when there are no longer any rules to abuse, when the rules have finally broken down irretrievably. Hence “our rules-abuser, or theirs” is a false dichotomy. Though our Caeser versus theirs is not.  Scott feigns shock at the introduction of this consideration, but of course it’s inherent in the very concept of Caesarism. All politics involves partisan conflict. What does Scott think would happen? A republic that could no longer govern itself in a republican manner would somehow coalesce around a consensus Caesar?

Nor was my argument in any way a “set-up,” except in the mundane sense that certain points logically follow from others and that it’s a widely accepted rhetorical practice to state premises before conclusions. If the state is to become ungovernable as a republic, then Caesarism is one potential outcome, and one of the more important considerations of that outcome will be: who is Caesar?

It’s really that simple. I thought I said it clearly the last time. Why Scott is treating this as some major, inadvertent revelation of my nefarious intent, I can only speculate. Perhaps, should things come to it, he finds the choice of fighting for his Caesar or laying down for their Caesar so distasteful that he would rather ridicule anyone for suggesting he may someday face that choice. I could understand that. Since Scott can’t even bring himself to vote for Trump, there’s no reason whatsoever to expect him to take his own side should a much graver crisis arise.

Violent Mis-charaterizations

And it keeps getting worse.

In earlier pieces, [Decius] suggested that we have solid reason to believe that the election of Trump would be our last (non-violent?) chance to revive republicanism and save the Constitution.

I was about to call this the last (only?) honest sentence in his comment, but the parenthetical makes that impossible. When did I suggest that violence could save the Constitution? At the very end of his comment, Scott interprets me (accurately, for once) as saying that Sulla could not save the Roman constitution through violence. But here he suggests that I am hinting at the desirability of violence. I can’t tell if Scott is being malicious or just dumb.

I assume, by “violent,” Scott means my speculation that, if the Left consolidates power, they won’t be able to hold it forever, and one eventual possibility would be the rise of a secessionist movement. Does Scott dispute that such is even possible? If not, does he think it grossly irresponsible even to discuss that possibility? Or does he equate such a discussion with advocacy, as he did with my discussion of Caesarism? At least in this case, Scott leaves off at merely insinuating that I am calling for revolutionary violence and I thank him for this small bit of moderation.

For the record, I do not think that violence could today restore the American Constitution any more than it could restore the Roman in Sulla’s time. It seems to me that a good half the country, or close to it, does not want to live under constitutional norms as I understand them. Some are actively hostile to the Constitution, others merely indifferent, but would become hostile once they perceive that a serious attempt to restore constitutional norms were underway. If the restoration is to occur, it will have to occur politically. Any attempt to use violence, it seems to me, would simply widen the already enormous divisions in the country and hasten dissolution.

Scott continues by asserting that I have somehow walked back the “Flight 93” thesis. I deny doing so. I still expect that a Democratic victory in 2016 would lead to A) mass amnesty; B) higher net immigration; and C) massive refugee inflows, all of which will be carefully steered to purple states to tip them blue and further cement the Democrats’ overwhelming electoral advantage. And that’s to say nothing about all the other ways I expect the Democrats to expand and harden Progressivism and undermine what’s left of constitutional norms. I’ve explained all that elsewhere.

I further maintain that if the Dems win now, they’ll win next time, and very likely the time after that, and in a very short time so transform the electoral map that the only “Republican” with any chance will be one who swallows whole the advice of the post-2012 defeat Republican “autopsy”: move left and compete with the Dems for “minority” votes. I put “minority” in quotes because if present trends continue, there won’t be a majority for long! The country will be a blue state and the “Republican” Party will just be the New York or California GOP on a national scale: able to “win” occasionally, perhaps, but unable to accomplish anything remotely conservative. America will be in effect a one-party state, governed by the Left, with leftist means, for leftist ends. Neither Scott nor anyone else has attempted to refute this thesis beyond a curt “Nah.”

But by all means, if Scott thinks a Hillary victory will not consummate the fundamental transformation of the electorate, let him say so, preferably with an accompanying argument. Or if he admits that it will, but is insouciant about that outcome because he thinks he has found some way to convince blacks, Hispanics and immigrants to give half their votes (or close) to Republicans; if he thinks he’s found a way to do that without simply turning the Republican Party into Dem-Lite (to the extent that it isn’t already), then let him explain how. Karl Rove, Marco Rubio, and the editors of Commentary would be delighted! Even I would have to tip my hat: here would be an achievement on the order of inventing a perpetual motion machine.

Scott says that the “tone”—though not the actual words—of what I wrote indicates that I believe “that other chances might exist later.” He cites as “evidence” of that “new tone” my claim that what I identified as “possibility 1” might be able to hang on for quite some time. But let’s recall how I defined “possibility 1”: “the indefinite continuance of the bipartisan/uniparty Davoisie managerial oligarchy.” This is what Scott allows to get his hopes up. Whereas to me that will mean that we’ve already lost. Scott and I see the world so differently that it’s no wonder his misinterpretations compound with every fresh sentence.

The Threat to Freedom of Thought

Scott scoffs at my concern about freedom of thought after first misstating what it is. Actually, Scott does not mention “freedom of thought,” which is what I wrote. He instead refers to “persecution,” a word I did not use. Though, again for the record, I do expect the Left to be emboldened by victory and to intensify such persecution as they already employ, e.g., ginning up phony controversies to get dissenters fired and make them unemployable. Scott’s casual denial that future persecution is any threat whatsoever suggests that he denies the persecution going on now. Does he recognize as persecution any measure short of a gulag?

But as noted, my point was about freedom of thought, which I believe today to be constrained by leftist orthodoxy and political correctness. Am I to take it that, for Scott, this is just another of those overblown concerns that silly people to his right worry about? I did not, contra Scott’s indication, say that this danger threatens only NeverTrumpers and East Coast Straussians. I believe it threatens to chill, constrain and suppress all forms of dissent, particularly but not exclusively on the Right. I believe it is already doing so and will intensify with a Hillary victory and leftist ascendancy. The point about the East Coast Straussians was that their absolute prioritization of philosophy over politics combined with their strident NeverTrumpism enables, however unwittingly, a grave threat to the one thing they claim to care most about. Which is—to be redundant but clear, so that Scott doesn’t lose the thread—freedom of thought, not persecution. While the two are not unrelated, it’s possible to curtail freedom of thought without resorting to persecution, though (as noted) I believe both are in play today, with persecution admittedly being (for now) the junior partner.


Apparently, despite what the rhetorician Decius once said, this election is NOT like a plane diving toward the ground … If Trump loses, there remain non-Caesarist and non-secessionist options in real play, and for a period of time that may—no-one can say for certain—be a fairly “long term” one.

I don’t know how I could have been more clear. If the “plane” is multi-party constitutionalism in the United States, then yes, if Trump loses, I expect it to crash. Note also that in the passage of mine here under discussion, I did not refer to “options.” The word I used was “possibility.” Possibilities precede, and to some extent determine, options. There are indeed possibilities other than Caesarism or secession should the republic fail. But there aren’t that many other options—eventualities men could work toward or try to steer. The one option that I did discuss is relevant more on an individual or familial rather than the political level: go underground and wait it out. Another option—the one Scott advocates—is to keep trying to work within the system for renewal and reform. I don’t expect this to work, except to the extent that Scott and all the other “conservatives” “adapt” to the new circumstances by going left and taking credit for leftist victories that would have happened anyway. That’s an “option” but a pointless one, in my view. If and when I know I’ve lost, I’m going to Tatooine.

Scott raises another option: a “Constitution-restoring dictatorship.” He doesn’t say he’s for it; in fact, he hints that he isn’t. He brings it up only to chide me for not bringing it up. But isn’t that what he insinuated I was calling for when he interpreted me as saying that Trump was our last chance to save the Constitution without violence? Did he forget that in the course of writing his comment, or did he count on others forgetting what he had said only two paragraphs prior? Whichever, I see no reasons to amend my prior remarks on this subject.

Scott repeats his claim that I am calling for Trump to utilize “anti-constitutional measures.” I once again defy him to quote any words of mine in support of this false assertion. Deepening the slander, Scott assumes that if I were to assert that Trump supports “anti-constitutional measures,” I would mean that as praise. When all along, I have been arguing—and here repeat for the eleventy-first time—that I hope we can restore constitutionalism by the supremely constitutional act of voting. To be as clear as I can on this point, I urge Trump, if elected, to take no un- or anti-constitutional action. I also hope, that if Trump were to try, Congress would rouse itself to use its enumerated powers—up to and including impeachment—to stop him. A Congress that reasserted its fundamental role in constitutional government, including full exercise of the power of the purse and its oversight powers, to check the executive would in my view be a fundamentally good thing for the constitutional order. That will not happen if Hillary is president but could well if Trump is.

The Demos or the Davos

Scott next refers to the “demos,” as if the American people were still one people with a few and a many, a rich and a poor. Allow me to quote myself once again, from the very piece on which Scott comments:

If we recall the historical example from which Caesarism takes its name, this question [of whose side Caesar is on] animated a century of conflict, from the Gracchi to Augustus. There were then, as today, two parties. And, as today, one party broadly aligned with the elites and one with the people. The parallel is not exact, however, in that our optimati ally with the lower orders and press a left-wing agenda, whereas our “conservative” party has negligible elite or hoi polloi support. In our situation, the populare are the broad middle, which is more conservative than the elites.

In other words, strictly speaking, there is no demos. There are two parties, but also three “strata” of society: the high, the low and the middle. The high and the low team up against the middle. If there is anything like a demos, it is that neglected middle. Except of course that a demos proper would encompass the economically disadvantaged en masse. But our economically disadvantaged are sharply divided along partisan lines. To the extent that the demos is the historic American nation minus the blue city managerial class, then Trump has already won them to his side. To the extent that the demos also includes working-class blacks, Hispanics and immigrants, we’ll see. I don’t expect a landslide for Trump among these demographic groups. But Trump could still outperform the Republicans’ typically dismal showing. Much more to the point, if he wins, even without their support, his policies could materially improve their lives, building a basis for future support.

This is what conservatives like Scott have always said they wanted: a Republican Party that appeals to more than a negligible share of the non-white electorate. But the only ways they try to achieve that are to underbid Democrats on immigration and identity politics while promoting policies that enrich plutocrats and gut the working class. Non-citizen guest workers and tax cuts for the rich! Soft left on style, rapacious-right on substance. I wonder why that hasn’t worked! Trump is flipping that script. He’s offering policies that have a real chance to put money in the working class’s pockets while he refuses to sing from the left-wing hymnal and mercilessly mocks leftist pieties. Center-left on substance, proud-right on style. And the conservatives faint. Mass immigration and free trade are just too important to sacrifice for a Republican Party that might actually do something for the working class.

Scott brings up ethics. Does he really think that’s a winning point? That Trump’s vices—even if everything alleged is true, which I do not grant—come close to what’s been proved about the Clintons? Is this yet another area in which we see the world so differently that we may as well not be contemplating the same object?

Scott makes repeated reference to Trump’s “demagoguery” without giving examples or even trying to define what that slur means today. This, I fear, is explainable by simple laziness. It’s what everyone who doesn’t like Trump is saying; what’s more, Scott is a high-minded type and Trump appears to him low, so “demagogue” sounds about right. But what does it mean? It used to mean someone who appeals to the base or low or uninformed impulses of the demos (them again!) to secure power, which he intends to use for his own ends. Is that Trump? Because it seems to me that he’s appealing to the perfectly rational and justifiable interests of those (perhaps a majority; we’ll see!) who don’t want more mass immigration, more trade giveaways, or more war. I understand why those on the Left slander Trump as a demagogue: they want more of all these things—and more!—and they will say anything to keep getting them. I don’t understand why “conservatives” aid and abet them.

Scott’s concern about appealing to “the majority” seems to skip over the fact that the country is divided as it never has been. Yes, I include the Civil War in that calculus, on the following ground (which I have covered before): ultimately, only one issue divided the American people in 1861, and it was an issue, not a matter of tribalism or patriotism for a homeland left behind. The insanely destructive mass immigration that “conservatives” have excused, encouraged and celebrated has done more to disunify this country that anything in our history.

There is no longer one people. There are two, or perhaps three. There is the core American nation. There are the various tribal groups—immigrants current and recent, mostly—who at best are more stirred by nostalgia for ancestral home than by any patriotic stirrings for America. And then there are the blue city left-wingers who either disdain patriotism altogether (“Hitler was patriotic!!!”) or who can only muster a weak facsimile when they contemplate what America might become given a few more decades of progressive “fundamental transformation.” To these latter two groups, the actual country as it actually exists is still hopelessly “racist” and its past positively evil.

There are only three ways to build a “majority” in this morass. The first is to do it the way the Democrats do it: stoke the resentments of the latter two groups against the first. That’s not a real majority the way Scott wants to define it, but experience shows that it can produce more than enough votes to win elections. Is that good enough for Scott?

It’s good enough for the entire left and most “conservatives.” As I’ve pointed out several times in recent months, “conservatism” has degenerated into simple majoritarianism. Except when it comes to the second way of building a majority, which is to boost turnout among the first group, still a numeric majority in the country. Oh, no, you can’t do that! That’s racist! Elections won on the strength of the white vote are ipso facto illegitimate! Sure, one man, one vote and all that—but, but … we just know that non-white votes have more moral value than white votes. Because Rawls. Or something,

What if We Were One People Again?

That leaves the third way, which is to appeal to the entire citizenry as one people, on the basis of shared interests. Which is what Trump is trying to do. Scott would no doubt say, along with the Left, that this claim is preposterous given what Trump has said about immigration. We could litigate every word Trump has spoken on this issue—I’m sure I find much more of it defensible than Scott does—but let’s instead move to the core point. Talking about immigration restriction will inevitably offend majorities of groups two and three. The third will in fact seize on any restrictionist comment and use it to whip up resentments among the second, even those in the working classes who know that more immigration is bad for their wages, communities, kids’ schools, etc. The tribal tug of ancestry is strong, though, and can easily override considerations of near- and even long-term interest. The left understands that. Despite at least 50 years of being lashed with this tactic, and losing pints of blood with every stroke, “conservatives” still don’t.

Scott opposes Trump. I presume he would say that he does not oppose appealing to the citizenry as a whole, however. He just thinks Trump is a uniquely awful vehicle for doing so. I find Trump flawed myself. However, I recognize—which Scott cannot—that Trump and Trump alone in the last generation of candidates has broken through on the most important issues.

I don’t know Scott’s position on immigration—he doesn’t say—but if, as is the case with so many “conservatives,” it’s basically no different than Rubio’s or Jeb Bush’s, no wonder Scott hates Trump! Every “conservative” who’s for open borders, the Gang of Eight, and “comprehensive reform” hates Trump! If so, Scott should join the side he’s on—the uniparty. Meanwhile, the rest of us who still identify as conservative, in the sense of wishing to conserve the actual America, should recognize Scott as just another false flag operator, a concern troll, little different than Russell Moore, with a slightly better grasp of political philosophy but without (presumably) Soros’ money. Keep those borders open or minorities will hate you and you’ll never win again!

Is that what we’re dealing with here? If so, I tip my hat to Scott’s goading me into wasting two days writing 7,100 words in response to a troll. Fool me once!

But let’s assume that Scott’s position is closer to Trump’s—that Scott recognizes that continued mass immigration is bad not just for the Republican Party and conservatism, but also for the existing citizenry. Presumably, then, what Scott wants to see is some well-spoken, morally pure candidate come along who can talk sensibly about immigration and stir the electorate even more than Trump has. The fact that those few who have tried have all been pilloried as “racist” and slunk away defeated, their reputations destroyed, does not factor into Scott’s analysis. He seems to think that opposition to Trump can be attributed solely to the man’s vulgarity, political inexperience, ignorance of detail, and (real and alleged) past immorality. I find that risible.

The furious assault on Trump is, I contend, at least 90 percent owing to his message. He opposes everything the uniparty—including its “conservative” wing—favors. I don’t doubt that the attacks on Trump’s character are in part genuine, but also believe that they serve as a convenient mask for the real source of opposition. We want nothing important to change. This man threatens to bring real change in a way that no candidate has in more than 30 years. He must be destroyed. The idea that some stolid solon could run on the same issues, but stated in stentorian tones that Scott could admire, and not be subject to the same furious attacks, and energize the electorate as well as or better than Trump, strikes me as preposterous. Does Scott believe otherwise? If so, here is yet more evidence that we have nothing in common.

Obstacles to Unity

In the most recent cover story in National Review, the magazine for which Scott writes, Tim Alberta contemplates how to accommodate the coming blue demographic wave that’s sweeping over the nation. What, you mean the wave that many in the conservative movement—including many in National Review—began warning about 30 years ago? And who were cruelly purged from the magazine and the movement for their troubles? In many cases, destroying their careers, and in some cases even their lives? Without even the slightest attempt to, you know, rebut them, I might add. You mean that wave?

The piece is actually a powerful support to my main argument, which Scott rejects: demographic change is inexorably dragging the country left and will doom conservatism and the Republican Party—or at least the Republican Party as it is now (more on that in a moment). When I say this, Scott snarks at me. I await a similar treatment of Alberta.

But that won’t be coming, because Alberta is on the correct side. He carefully sidesteps making any recommendations, instead positing a Harry Potter vs. Voldermort death struggle for the party between Trump and Paul Ryan. Guess whose side Alberta takes?

Alberta makes the same assertion Scott does against me: some other (Scott actually says any other) Republican would have done better than Trump in this election. Neither tries to back this claim with an argument. Neither names names, but it’s clear where the logic of their position leads. The Republicans, says Alberta, would have done better with “a leader who could appeal to” the traditional Republican base, plus blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, and upscale whites; i.e., the Democratic coalition. How is our Harry to pull off that magic trick? Neither Alberta nor Scott say. No one in Conservatism, Inc. has ever been able to say, beyond enterprise zones and charter schools, a demonstrably failed approach that Alberta nonetheless implicitly endorses with his enthusiastic praise of Paul Ryan. Though in the context of the 2016 primary field, it’s clear that both have Rubio in mind. Their position on immigration is not so obscure after all!

Alberta continues—as if to leave no doubt that National Review is much more out-of-touch than even its harshest 2016 critics have alleged—that Trump “implicitly denies the demographic changes that make his candidacy such an electoral challenge.” What? WHAT?!? Could that possibly have been written seriously? Trump denies demographic change? His whole message is about the effects of demographic change! In return he’s called Hitler every day—by “conservatives.” Trump seeks to prevent further demographic change by pursuing immigration policies that National Review has long said it supports. But also long attacked its ostensible allies for supporting, you know, a little too enthusiastically. All this tight border stuff is a feint to mollify the base, people! Read more carefully! Now we have National Review charging Trump with denying the very issue that’s animating his campaign. Can the gaslighting get any more brazen?

Yes! Alberta continues that Trump “indulges the fantasy of returning to an America that no longer exists.” Let’s get this straight. National Review—and nearly all of Conservatism, Inc.—has been, throughout this cycle and well before, denouncing anyone who notices demographic change and brings it up for the wrong reason. If you’re on the left and you write a book called The Emerging Democratic Majority, that’s OK, because you’re saying the change is good. If you’re on the “right” and your book is called The New Americans, that’s OK, because—again—you’re saying that the change is good. But if you argue that the change is bad, at least for those already here, that’s unacceptable. And it’s not merely unacceptable to call the change bad. It’s unacceptable—for you—even to acknowledge the change at all. It proves you are racist. As such, you must lose your senior fellowship and contributing editorship and never be allowed to work in this town again. That’s the way it’s been in Conservatism, Inc. for at least 30 years.

Until now. Now we’re told that the thing we were forbidden from voicing public concern about—the thing that was never anything to worry about—has already happened. What’s more, the conservative happytalk about how it will all work out if we formulate the right “message,” Hispanics are “natural conservatives” and so on—well, that turns out to have been bunk too. “Demographic change” really does turn red states blue and it’s too late to do anything about it. You have to admire the way they turn on a dime, don’t you!

“Conservatives” in 1996: “Don’t worry, immigration is not going to change the country.  Only racists care and if you keep talking about it, you’re fired.”

“Conservatives” in 2016: Haven’t you noticed that immigration has fundamentally changed the country?  Time to get with the program, move left and pander!

It’s worth noting as well that recent Wikileaks revelations show clearly that the Left and the Dems have understood this all along and have explicitly worked for policies that demographically benefit their side. Meanwhile, they have demonized any on the right who’ve sounded warnings.

Dems: “Demographic transformation will tip America permanently left. Yay!”

Ambient culture: “You are so right, and it’s about time. Embrace the future!”

Dissident Right: “Hey, demographic change risks tipping the country permanently left.”

Left, Dems and ambient culture: “You are Hitler, how dare you say that!”

Dissident Right (to fellow “conservatives”): “Yeah, well, maybe we should get serious about border enforcement to avoid that.”

Conservatives: “How dare you, you are Hitler!”

Alberta, as noted, stops short of making any actual proposals for how to deal with this trend, but since he implicitly admits that traditional conservative appeals aren’t going to work, the logic of his position inevitably leads to: implement the “autopsy.” Which in practice amounts to: accept permanent minority status and endless defeat for conservative policies.

You may ask (those of you who are still with me): what does this have to do with Carl Eric Scott? A lot! Remember, Scott’s big criticism of Trump (and me) is that neither Trump nor his message appeals to a “majority.” There is no longer—I think we can now safely say, confirmed by National Review’s authority—any possibility of building an electoral majority around conservative ideas as National Review defines them. There used to be, but then the left came up with the idea of demographic transformation to win elections and the “right” foolishly went along. Actually, more than went along; it actively persecuted those ostensibly on its own side who pointed out that collaboration on this issue is folly.

So now the only way to achieve Scott’s majority is—by his own implicit admission, or at least the inherent logic of his position—to appeal to non-conservative voters with a non-conservative message and non-conservative policies. The Republicans have only been able to do this sporadically, and even when it “works” it doesn’t. They can (sometimes) win elections on this basis, but they never do anything conservative with those victories. So what’s the point? What the Republicans have never been able to do—anywhere—is appeal to non-conservatives with conservative policies, or convert non-conservatives into conservatives in sufficient numbers to win elections. Yet this is Scott’s strategy. Note that he doesn’t say that. Perhaps he understands how silly it sounds. Like Alberta—like all of today’s professional “conservatives”—Scott does not address any of the numerous, detailed objections that I and others have offered to this “plan.” He just asserts that a way must be found and declines even to sketch what that way might be.

  1. Pander to minorities
  2. ????
  3. Win!!

Here you have the state of conservative intellectualism today: a 1998 South Park joke.

Then Scott says something truly extraordinary: “four years of HRC’s awfulness may do us more good in the long-term than a prez Trump.” Oh, really. Really? Do I need to repeat, yet again, the entirely litany of evils that are sure to befall the country—and especially conservatism—in a Hillary administration? Don’t worry; I’m not going to. I and others—including a few National Review writers—have spelled it all out so many times that if Scott hasn’t understood it by now he never will. He certainly makes no attempt to refute any of it, nor any to support his own claim.

I struggled to come with any plausible scenario in which Hillary would be better for conservatism than Trump and could think of only two. The first is that Hillary will enter office so wounded by scandal that she will be able to accomplish nothing. But I don’t find this credible. Every commanding institution of American life has revealed itself—to the extent that it hadn’t already—to be thoroughly corrupt. The FBI obviously does not want to interfere with Hillary’s ascendancy and so overlooks everything. If it finds something, it pretends it hasn’t. If forced to admit that it found something, it says it’s irrelevant. If it can’t do that, it says that “no reasonable prosecutor” would proceed. The Justice Department is even more corrupt and politicized. There is nothing that Hillary Clinton has done or could do that would cause any organ of the federal government to rise up and say “Too far!” The media will cover up and spin everything. She’s already skated on obvious crimes that have felled—and continue to fell—all manner of little people. That won’t change. Nothing to see here, move along, will be the mantra of the government and the media alike. And Scott’s sanctified “majority” will go along, conferring an ersatz legitimacy on the whole sordid spectacle.

Meanwhile, every organ of the bureaucracy—without central instruction, because they don’t need it—will press ahead, stronger than ever, with the whole progressive-left agenda, rightly confident that they have the backing of the home office.

The second scenario is the old Leninist saw: “worse is better.” She’ll screw things up so badly that people will be begging for our kind of change! Yet as one looks out over the proven failures—the wreckage—of leftism around the world, one does not see this dynamic at work anywhere, except perhaps in Eastern Europe (whose countries I note are still ethno-nationally homogenous and whose governments are vigorously resisting—in face of fierce demonization—the broader EU open borders orthodoxy). Is there a bigger failure on the planet today than Venezuela? The tragedy unfolded just as certain conservatives predicted it would. But where is the clamoring for conservatism? We are not Venezuela, Scott will say. But we become more like it every day, thanks to policies he favors. Even if we never sink quite that low, it surely is extraordinary for a “conservative” who bases so much of his objection to Trump on prudential and temperamental grounds to effectually support the election of an administration whose policies he knows will be destructive. We who support Trump are reckless, you see, but welcoming the damage from Hillary is the height of caution!

And that’s to say nothing of Scott’s casual reference to “four years.” We’ll win the next one! Really? After amnesty, refugee flows, and executive orders. But I’ve said all that, repeatedly. It’s inconvenient to Scott’s claim so he just ignores it. Just trust him, folks, it will only be four, the damage will be repairable and we can build a lasting majority around conservative ideas.

Of course, if Scott is wrong about this—as I think he plainly is—one effect will be to increase, significantly, the chances of Caesarism or secession (or something else). Has he reckoned with that possibility? In one of his myriad insults masked as a back-handed compliment, Scott “praises” my more recent tone and claims to find a contradiction between it and my prior “wild” rhetoric. He cites this as evidence of my “confusion.”

Once again, I find myself having to explain elementary things. The wild rhetoric to which Scott objects is the claim that if Hillary wins, a restoration of constitutional republicanism will almost certainly be impossible. The new “tone” is, he says, reflected by my circumspection about when Caesarism or a secessionary movement or some other possibility might emerge. I see no contradiction here at all. If Hillary wins, managerial liberalism might go on for a very long time. Yes, we will be past the point of no return to constitutionalism in the currently constituted United States, and I do not consider it “wild” to say so. But the country with its territory, government, economy, institutions, and so on might still continue for a very long time.

As bad as that might be for a lot of people—including, one would think, self-identified conservatives, though they don’t seem all that worried—it might be a great deal better than any alternative, at least for a while. “[A]ll experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” We—or those of us who can foresee a future together in common cause—will still have time to think through what might come next and what best to do. How much time, I could not say. This does not seem that complicated to me.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • The Left • The Leviathian State

Clarence Thomas’s Constitutional Mentor

John Marini

In a recent interview with Bill Kristol and in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Justice Clarence Thomas twice mentioned his first mentors on the American Constitution—John Marini and me.

We worked for Thomas back in the late 1980s, when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Given Justice Thomas’s celebration of 25-years on the Supreme Court and widespread (and deserved) recognition as the most steadfast and principled conservative on the Supreme Court, it might be useful for those concerned about constitutionalism and the Court to better understand why Thomas might have emphasized two obscure academics, neither lawyers, as his first mentors on the Constitution. In talks about his autobiography he explained that instead of speechwriters he hired political theorists.

While a sampling of my occasional pieces on politics and law (and on Trump) may be found here and via Google, Marini’s body of work has received widespread recognition in Washington circles but rarely with his name attached. He is the principal advocate of the notion that the “administrative state” has usurped Congress and the presidency and upset the separation of powers. In sum, the 20th-century Congress has surrendered its powers to an executive branch and been satisfied to pass hollow legislation that confers the real law-making powers to the unelected bureaucracy and judiciary. These are, not accidentally, populated by products of the liberal academy, its law schools, and policy programs.

Marini, now a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, first articulated this radical notion at Claremont Graduate School in the1970s and has continued to develop it, in particular concerning the Trump campaign. But not only has his concept been pushed without acknowledgement of Marini, but more important, those who use the term underestimate its significance and fail to take it to its logical, political implications.

As a representative of this conservative viewpoint, columnist George Will understood two years ago Thomas’s objection to the administrative state to lie in issues such as delegation of congressional powers to the executive—important issues but not Thomas’s or Marini’s ultimate concern. Neither Will nor others, such as U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), seem to accept that the administrative state represents a change of regime, an actual overthrow of the Constitution of 1787, and therefore requires a candidate of the order of Donald Trump who comes from outside the system created by the administrative state. (Justice Thomas, of course, is not offering a 2016 partisan endorsement by recalling his experiences of some 30 years ago.)

Marini came to then-Chairman Thomas’s attention, when he asked me to recommend some others who might also serve as special assistants. I forwarded him a copy of a Marini paper on the administrative state’s overthrow of Congress’s constitutional functions. He returned it to me with bold writing on top: “I must see Marini!!”

Never having worked in Washington, Marini deduced his notion of an unconstitutional counter-state from diverse intellectual sources establishing the notion of constitutional government and the rule of law, such as Aristotle, The Federalist, Tocqueville, and Lincoln and their interpreters such as Leo Strauss and his students, principally Harry Jaffa. He took account of the radical assaults on constitutional government demanded by Rousseau and above all Hegel. Their American Progressive progeny included otherwise obscure Progressive Era-political scientists and journalists, the most famous of whom is Woodrow Wilson. By working through their thinking plus some recent political scientists he concluded in theory what Thomas, who had worked in the Senate and bureaucracy, had learned through painful practice: republican government and the rule of law are under attack from current political arrangements. (Obviously Justice Thomas doesn’t necessarily share the more recent political conclusions from work he admired some 30 years ago.)

Marini presents the foundation of his argument in three books, The Politics of Budget Control, whose bland title masks the revolutionary argument it makes, a co-edited and mistitled book, The Imperial Congress, and his book on Progressivism (co-edited with me) The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science: Transforming the American Regime.

His more recent articles appear on the website of the Claremont Institute, where he is a senior fellow, and include the revealing “Donald Trump and the American Crisis.” Also on the site are a rich array of thoughts ranging from American western movies and western civilization and Richard Nixon as protector of the Constitution.

These and other articles on the meaning of Trump will eventually find their way into a book, but perhaps the most direct discussion of the meaning of Trump for American constitutional politics was his September 2016 Hillsdale College Constitution Day talk and exchange with Trump critic Jonah Goldberg.

As of yet, no transcript is available, but the presentation is brief and the exchanges bracing. Here Marini is not focused on Trump’s policies, strategy, or personality but rather on what the success of such an outsider means for understanding our current crisis. The elite knowledge class—a non-and bipartisan group controlling our political and moral vocabulary through government, the academy, and media—has prevented serious political focus on the common good (or justice) and instead catered to the needs of various interest groups, reflected by demographic status. That knowledge class’s politically correct speech makes it difficult for these deliberately balkanized groups to have a common good as Americans. But those who do not benefit from this balkanization that serves the interests of the knowledge class revolt from its strictures. That is the separation Trump has focused on.

The last few minutes of Marini’s presentation in September condense his defense of a dying constitutionalism against the Washington and global elites and note Trump’s role in defending the old order by his actions. He said:

If the people are to understand themselves as sovereign, they must re-establish the political authority of the Constitution in a manner that makes it possible to restore the moral ground of civil and religious liberty. A government that does not recognize the sovereignty of the people, cannot defend the rights of individuals in a constitutional manner. A Constitution is a compact of the people, and the government is created on its behalf. The people grant it power, but only the Constitution can established limits on the power of government. In the modern administrative state, the power of government is unlimited, and the rights of citizens, and the rule of law, itself rests on a precarious ground. For if the government alone creates and confers rights, the constitution can no longer limit the power of government, nor can it protect the civil and religious liberty of its citizens.

Trump has established his candidacy on the basis of an implicit understanding that America is the midst of a crisis. Those who oppose him deny the seriousness of the crisis and see Trump himself as the greatest danger. And here again, Trump’s success will likely depend upon his ability to articulate the ground of a common good that is still rooted in the past—a common good established by a government that protects the rights of its citizens in a constitutional manner and establishes limits on the authority of government by demanding that the rule of law replace that of political privilege and bureaucratic patronage.

Trump may or may not succeed in becoming president of the United States. All of those who have a stake in preserving Washington as it now exists are his enemies, and the public that is drawn to him is fickle. Much will depend upon the ability of the established order, which has authority and respectability on its side, to erode the trust that Trump has built with the constituency he has created. In any case, the need that brought Trump to the fore will not disappear with Trump’s demise. His success thus far has revealed the need to restore the political rule of the people as a whole. To do so, American public opinion must be reflected in the creation and mobilization of national political majorities. Constitutional government is not possible in the absence of the mobilization of such majorities. They are indispensable for establishing the legitimacy of law in a manner compatible with the rule of law and the common good. That requires revitalizing the meaning of citizenship and reaffirming the sovereignty of the people and the nation. It also requires the necessity of restoring the link between the people and the political branches of the government, so that both can become the defenders of the Constitution, as well as the country that has made it essential to its political existence.

This makes sense of Trump’s political strategy, his assault on the elites of both parties and the media, his disdain for experts and preference for successful practitioners, his mannerisms, and his appeal to a new majority. And it puts his immigration, trade, and national security policies in a new light. A politics of citizenship may not yet be dead.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Hillary Clinton • Immigration • Republicans • The Left • The Leviathian State

Sanctimony as a Conservative Principle

Reposted with permission from the Claremont Review of Books.


Michael Gerson

I admit to a bit of disappointment at the reaction to my two prior articles. I went into the agora with the hope of getting flayed by good arguments. Instead I got ankle-bitten on Twitter. What is it with conservatives and Twitter anyway? The enstupification of the movement long predates that platform, but it hasn’t helped. Conservatives who lament declining intellectual standards and lack of seriousness can’t peel themselves away from their iPhones to write anything longer than 140 characters. Even people who run their own magazines or write for prestige platforms just couldn’t be bothered.

Some might be tempted to rejoin that the silence of a wise man is evidence of his disapproval or judgment of the subject’s irrelevance. Except the heavy hitters of the movement were not silent. They just didn’t have anything to say.

Ross Douthat—who knows how to make a serious argument when he wants to—Tweeted that I am calling for tyranny. One suspects that he felt he had to say something, because silence might be interpreted as weakness (or worse, acceptance), and of course that something had to be negative, and this was the best he could do on the fly.

Here is his actual attempt to summarize my argument: “The republic died with Woodrow Wilson, so now we need a tyrant to refound it.” It is wrong in every respect, but cleverly wrong, in a way calculated to mislead and slander while broadcasting Douthat’s moral superiority. Not only is he against tyranny, he is courageous enough to call out those who are!

Now, I did not mention Wilson even once. However, as Douthat apparently knows (from a summer fellowship?), Wilson and the Progressives began the process of building the administrative state, which I did discuss at length. Note: “began.” Because I also did not say that the republic died with Wilson or even that it is dead now. I did say that I expect it to die if Hillary is elected in 2016.

My argument was simple. Every year the electorate becomes more Democratic, both in absolute numbers and in the Electoral College math. The Democrats understand this and their immigration policy is designed to accelerate the trend. The chance of defeating an incumbent Democrat in 2020 will be significantly smaller than that of winning in 2016, hence the Republicans’ next opportunity will be 2024—after eight more years of unfavorable (to them) demographic change, fueled by amnesty, no border enforcement, and refugee inflows stoked by deliberate Democratic and administrative state action (and inaction). The idea that an antediluvian conservative like Ted Cruz can win with that transformed electorate is preposterous. The only “Republican” who might have a shot would be one virtually indistinguishable from a Democrat. I forgot who said it (and Google failed me), but it’s indisputable that “Republicans need to change their position on immigration or change their positions on everything else.”

The deeper danger is that one-party rule will spell the final triumph of the administrative state—“final,” that is, for as long as that system could last. While it does last, there will still be elections, but they will determine only which Democrat or (every 24-36 years perhaps) RINO gets which office and rides in which limo. The fundamental direction and behavior of the government will not change. Except to become larger, bossier, more intrusive, expensive, and expansive, and less competent. Neither Douthat nor anyone else even attempted to refute this argument. Maybe they just lacked the space?

I would not call the above scenario “republicanism.” Perhaps Douthat would. But in my view, if it comes to pass, then yes, the republic will have died. It is my hope that this does not happen. For that, Douthat calls me an advocate for tyranny.

The identification of “tyrant” with “founder” originates with Machiavelli. It’s an intriguing argument with great explanatory power over much of history. But not the current circumstance. The question on the table today is not founding or re-founding. It is whether, through the supremely republican act of voting, we can reassert some semblance of control over our government and make it serve the interests of the whole people rather than the administrative state, the transnational managerial class, and foreigners. To assert that I have in any way called for tyranny is so off-the-charts wrong that one must call it dishonest.

Michael Gerson, by contrast, roused himself to write a whole column. Perhaps conservative thymos is not completely dead after all. The column is useful as a crystalized example of a certain strain of “conservatism,” which we might call “compassionate” or “bleeding heart” or “Kempist.” This strain remains important and influential, not merely in the person of the Speaker of the House, but also among the alumni of the last Republican administration—which it dominated—who hope to regain office someday, and among those think-tankers and columnists whom the mainstream media and the left hold out as “good” or “acceptable” conservatives, in contrast to the rest of us trogs. Gerson, with the authority that comes from experience as a high-level White House aide and a column of ten-year’s standing in the Washington Post, may well be this strain’s most important spokesman. It is tempting to call Gerson’s brain ground zero for “conservative” sanctimony, except that there’s nothing whatever conservative about any of his positions or arguments, and from what I can tell, there never has been. For Gerson, moral posturing trumps (heh) political philosophy every time. To the extent that he has the latter, it is distinguishable from managerial liberalism only by the layer of ostentatious pseudo-Christianity that he trowels on to show that all his sneers, smears, and straw-mannings arise from the purest motives.

It takes Gerson four paragraphs to arrive at any substance and his objection amounts to: things are not that bad, and even if they were, Trump cannot fix any of them. Gerson gives an accurate list of the ills that I laid out without making any attempt to affirm or deny whether he thinks things are as bad as I implied they are. I say “implied” here in order to be precise, which Gerson is not. The argument that Gerson cites was phrased as a conditional: if the things conservatives claim to believe are true, then mustn’t they admit not only that things are bad but also that they and their project have failed?

For the record, I actually do think things are pretty bad—outside of the tonier parts of the blue cities and suburbs. A 40 percent illegitimacy rate—which conservatives have been telling me to worry about for at least 20 years (National Review has called it “a disaster”)—seems very bad to me. Declining employment and spiking opium addiction in the heartland also seem worrisome. As do decades of wage stagnation. And so on.

Is Gerson worried about any of this? He doesn’t say either way, but we can assume he is because he offers a cure, something one typically doesn’t do for a body one does not consider sick. What’s his cure? Why, “civic renewal”—which Gerson falsely claims I reject—and “incremental policy changes.” To repeat for the record: to the extent that “civic renewal” is more than a slogan, I’m all for it. Let’s do it! But how? What I said—which Gerson ignores—is that conservatives have no credible plan for achieving civic renewal and, besides, have been in charge of selling and implementing their non-credible plan for a generation to little effect. The “civic” has not only not been “renewed” under conservative leadership; it has deteriorated. Conservatism has failed at the task it set for itself.

As for “incremental policy changes,” one must wonder if Gerson means that seriously. Conservatives haven’t been able to enact any of their incremental policy changes in years, certainly won’t be able to in a second Clinton Administration, and—if the scenario I laid out above comes to pass—never will again. But Gerson is nonetheless vehemently anti-Trump. On some subconscious level, does he believe that “incremental policy changes” just aren’t going to cut it? Is he thinking: what difference, at this point, does it make?

I guess I am just more optimistic than Gerson. Let me try to cheer him up. I actually see value in many of the “incremental policy changes” he and his friends in the so-called “reformicon” movement have cooked up. I’d like to see them implemented and believe they could help. But for that to happen, first we’ve got to do two things: elect Trump and enact the big, non-incremental policy changes—build that wall!—that are much more urgently needed than the incremental ones. Ironically, then, a bright future for the reformicon agenda requires the total rejection of reformicon political advice.

Gerson resorts to the rather lazy and commonplace strawman that I see Trump as a “savior.” No. What I said is that Trump offers us the opportunity to save ourselves. We the People still have to do the real work.

Gerson further accuses me of “a despairing contempt for our country.” As noted, I am worried, but the worry arises from love, not contempt. I don’t want to see the country die—or be “fundamentally transformed” any more than it already has. Gerson apparently has no problem with the latter, which is why he is not worried about the former. He declares himself “a traditionalist with a healthy respect for the achievements of modernity.” He defines modernity not in the philosophic-historical sense of a movement to reground political legitimacy in “the laws of nature of and of nature’s God” but in the liberalizing impulses of the recent past. The only praise Gerson can muster for the actual America is his horror at imagining himself “in the position of a woman, a gay person or a minority 50 years ago” and his thankfulness for how far we have progressed beyond that dark age. Leaving aside any possible tension between Gerson’s alleged Christianity and his announced affinity for the gay-left agenda, this is almost the textbook definition of modern liberalism. America was bad until 1964, when it began to redeem itself, not by ending injustice and securing natural rights equally, but by launching the ever-accelerating process of redefining justice in terms of how well it delivers preferential treatment for the favored and exacts retribution on their past oppressors. Gerson—like so many of his contemporary “conservative” brethren—accepts this interpretation wholesale and tries to appropriate it as a “conservative” achievement. But the liberals aren’t buying and never have, while the genuine conservatives—those few who can still think—are understandably skeptical.

I am reminded of an exchange between the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan and David Dinkins. When the former gave his famous “defining deviancy down” speech, the mayor was in the audience and became irate. Crime may have been lower in the past, Dinkins pouted, but life for blacks was still worse because they had to sit at the back of the bus. Of course, no New Yorker of any color ever had to sit at the back of any bus—unless all the seats up front were taken. But the larger point is: what is the necessary connection between the two? Couldn’t we have had freedom of seating without higher crime? I pose a similar question to Gerson, whose logic is the same. Couldn’t we have corrected the genuine injustices in place before the annus mirabilis 1964 without the crime wave, orgy, intellectual rot, governmental overreach, and societal decay that followed? Or is Gerson saying that would have been impossible and the only moral choice was to accept the bad with the good? Personally, I think we could have done better at implementing the good while preventing the bad but, as noted, I am more optimistic than he is.

On most things. Gerson can be touchingly Pollyanna-ish when he really puts his mind to it. Case in point:

I fully expect the next generation to be a source of renewal, because I am confident that certain core ideals and institutions best fit human beings and allow them to flourish. I believe that our children and grandchildren will be brave, free and daring in pursuit of ageless ideals—and that teaching them to despair would be the true source of national ruin.

Aren’t those the lyrics to a Whitney Houston song? I know writing a column is a grind, but come on. Anyway, if we unpack those words a little, we see Gerson again acknowledging that things are not quite hunky dory. Why else would “renewal” be necessary? He does not say why he expects this renewal. He just does. Like all the conservative Hegelians, he implicitly accepts rational historicism: history has a direction, which is “forward.” The future will be better than the past and truly tragic outcomes are all behind us. All the #NeverTrump “conservatives” who denounced Francis Fukuyama back in 1990 and continued to use him as a punching bag for years after owe him an apology.

As for my alleged counsel of despair, I said precisely the opposite. I offered an exhortation to do something: vote for a man who promises to protect the interests of the lower, working and middle classes, and reassert control over our government so that republicanism may live.

Note also the reference to “ageless ideals”—something I also favor, if they are the right ideals properly interpreted—but no reference at all to the particular circumstances in which those ideals can flourish. Here, again, is “conservative” idealism in all its rootless abstraction. Trump and his voters have risen to defend the actual, physical America and its actual, physical people. This is anathema to the managerial class for which Gerson is a spokesman.

Hence his next move is to play the race card, the ground for which he prepares via his denunciation of “the nostalgia of conservative white men.” From his photo, Gerson looks like a white man and he calls himself a “conservative” (though I wouldn’t). He must then exempt himself from this charge by not being “nostalgic.” I admit to being a little nostalgic. My defense is that I prefer the good to the bad and America is in many respects worse today than it was in the past. It also appears to be in decline. I would like to see that reversed, and I believe it is possible to do so, by making the right political decisions through proper Constitutional means.

Gerson “wish[es] the critique could end here,” to intimate that the really scurrilous charges which follow are said more in sorrow than in anger. I don’t want to call Decius a racist, but he forced me to! The rest of that paragraph consists of quotes without context, explanation or attempts at refutation. Except one, which is not a quote at all. Gerson nonetheless puts the German word “volk”—which I did not use—in quotes to make the subtle point that my arguments are indistinguishable from Hitler’s. Christian charity in action.

Gerson points and sputters at my objection to foolish immigration policies that undercut wages, undermine cohesion, and spread violence. I would call it ironic that I wrote this response on a day during which there occurred three separate terror attacks, in three separate states. Except that in the annus horribilis 2016 such attacks are all too frequent. They don’t seem to bother Gerson much. If they do, he must think they are a necessary price we must pay for endlessly more “diversity.” He doesn’t say why all this diversity is good or why the inevitable downside is necessary. Apparently he considers those points self-evident. If you are a moral person like him, you don’t need to have them explained to you, and if you don’t understand or—worse!—reject them, you are ipso facto bad.

If this is “conservative” then it should be well beyond obvious that conservatism is dead. Not dead in the epistemological sense. Truth is true. Conservatism’s genuine insights will live on, no matter what shallow, false ideology appropriates its name. You can call gravity a force of repulsion rather than attraction, but naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. But it’s dead as a currently constituted intellectual and political force—for certain. That Gerson claims to speak in conservatism’s name is proof enough. His whole oeuvre is nothing but Davoisie managerial liberalism: open borders, free trade, lift foreigners out of poverty (whatever happens to Americans is acceptable collateral damage) and democratize the world by force.

Conservatism as we have known it is over. The battle for its future has begun. I relish the coming debate. I hope to learn something. I expect to have my errors corrected, or at least be given things to think hard about, and to be dragged a little bit in the other side’s direction. This debate will not be free of acrimony (though I’ll do my best to be as polite as possible). Feelings are going to get hurt and passions will occasionally run high. For myself, I’ll try to be magnanimous in victory and honest in defeat.

Personally, to the extent that errant current-cons move in my direction, I’m eager to rejoin forces. But in the final analysis, there is going to be a line. Some will be on one side, some on the other. If we must use today’s terminology because tomorrow’s has not yet been invented, then people like Gerson are going to be on the “liberal” side—which, let’s face it, he already is. There can be no accommodation with him and his like. As fellow citizens, yes, but as political or intellectual compatriots, no.

For everyone else, it will be time to join the side you’re on.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Greatness Agenda • The Left • The Leviathian State • Uncategorized

Not ‘Reactionary’ But Right: Decius Responds to Damon Linker

ag-inkwell-pen-colorIf I were to try to correct every misinterpretation of what I’ve written, I’d never do anything else. But some are worth addressing because they present an opportunity to explore larger questions or drill deeper into ones already on the table.

Damon Linker offers a case in point. In two columns at The Week, he claims I am a “reactionary,” which he defines as “someone who identifies a past golden age, posits a moment of historical rupture that led to steep decline, and looks for some agent to serve as a redemptive force to enact a new rupture that will restore history to its rightful course.”

If that is what a reactionary is, then I am not a reactionary. I do identify “a past golden age”; only not just one, but many, in different times and places. That just seems to me obviously correct. Periclean Athens was a Golden Age compared to Athens under the Thirty Tyrants or Roman domination. Britain in 1855 was—for all its faults and failures—stronger than Britain in 1955. Other examples abound, but you get the point. I don’t think even Linker would deny it.

The reason that there are Golden—and also Silver, Bronze,  Iron, and Tin—Ages is that all things of men are in motion and cannot stay steady; they must rise or fall. In classical political philosophy, this thesis is called the “cycle of regimes.” Linker—whom I know read the Journal of American Greatness, because he devoted an entire earlier column to insinuating a connection between us and the Nazis—should remember this point from that blog. I prattled on about it incessantly. I’m not saying he learned about the cycle from me—he presumably learned it in his studies—but he should have known from JAG that my argument is not, as he claims, Biblical: Eden, bad decision, expulsion, longing, redemption. It is, rather, cyclical.

“History” does not have a “rightful course.” There is rather a pattern or “cycle” that explains much of the observable rising and falling. The cycle can be guided and manipulated by statesmen and citizens but it can’t be completely overcome, despite philosophic attempts to do so, or to deny that the cycle even exists. It is still with us, which means that every regime—including constitutionalism in the United States—will eventually fall. The only questions are “When?” “How?” and “What comes after?”

Now, as a matter of personal preference, yes, I would prefer to live in a “Golden Age” or at least in a rising one—the upswing on the sine curve of the cycle. But that’s just me. Linker is of course entitled to his own preferences. In any event, as Gandalf wisely said, it is not for us to choose the times we live in, only to decide what to do with the times that are given us.

I believe these are corrupt times and that America is on the downslope of the cycle. I don’t think the situation is yet irredeemable. But it soon may be. Furthermore, even if everything that I hope for happens, I don’t think a new Golden Age will dawn. But things will get better, and that’s good enough—really, the most one can hope for in any situation. A Golden Age will come again eventually because human nature remains more or less the same and the cycle still operates. I couldn’t say when or where it will come, but the chances that I will live to see it are small. I say that not to be pessimistic, only mindful of the length of the periodicity of the cycle.

Now to some of Linker’s specifics. He accuses me of not “consider[ing] the American political system … generally sound.” Note the sleight-of-hand here. What he means by “American political system,” but does not exactly say, is the way the machinery of government works now, after a century of “fundamental transformation” by liberalism and Progressivism.

In Linker’s view, all non-reactionary minds “whether liberal or conservative” accept that system as “sound.” Opposition is delegitimized and demonized in a few short sentences with nary an argument. Linker reinforces a point I made in my restatement: the definition of acceptable conservatism shifts ever leftward. If you have a problem with any of the Progressive or liberal changes to the American regime, you are a “reactionary.” The only role Linker allows for conservatives is to conserve liberalism’s mistakes. Except when Chesterton said that, he meant it as an insult. Linker means it as an exhortation.

Linker runs through a list of things that all sound people are supposed to agree upon but which don’t get to the fundamental regime questions I raised in my essay. I will, however, once again note that of the items in Linker’s soft-left litany (e.g., there should be “rules to protect individuals and groups from harm by market actors”), Trump basically supports of all of them. While I—the self-described conservative—support most of them, or at least oppose attacking them, in the current circumstances. But Trump and I remain dangerous and “radical.” (Does that make Trump a “reactionary,” too?) I don’t see how moving toward the center on economic policy and the role of government makes me (or Trump) “illiberal” and Linker doesn’t explain.

Instead, he makes a serious mistake, accusing me of “want[ing] to eliminate the modern administrative and regulatory state entirely.” I’m quite sure I didn’t say that and pretty sure I don’t believe it. Even if I did, the prospect of that actually taking place is precisely zero, so what difference would such an unrealistic wish make?

Still, I’m guessing that Linker and I can find some common ground here. Surely there must be some part of the “administrative and regulatory state” that Linker finds too big, too expensive, too ineffectual or even downright counterproductive, that even he would get rid of or reform if he could. It’s OK to say so, since there’s no danger of it occurring. Or maybe Linker is happy with the whole gargantuan beast exactly the way it is, I don’t know.

Certainly, if political circumstances ever permitted, I would like to see the administrative state reformed, shrunk, and tamed. What rational person would not? In any event, that’s not the root of my argument. We can quibble all day about which departments deserve to exist and which don’t (do we really need 17 spy agencies?), which could safely be shrunk, and which need to be overhauled in order to do their jobs better. The more important question is: Who controls them and how are they controlled?

Case in point: I think we must have a border and it must be enforced. That requires means and personnel, which requires some kind of agency. Therefore, I cannot be anti-agency per se. But I want that agency to do what the people, through legislation enacted by their elected representatives, tell it to do.

Now, what follows is not an attack on our border agents, most of whom are honest patriots trying to do a good job. But it’s undeniable—they would be the first to tell you—that it’s near-impossible to do a good job when the rest of the administrative state, the executive branch, and elite opinion conspire against them. Administrative state auto-pilot is a real problem, not limited to border enforcement by any means, about which I wrote at length and Linker does not address.

Linker goes on to more or less accurately summarize what I said about the administrative state, but gives it a sinister interpretation. What about the more important question: Is it true? Were the original Constitution and regime “fundamentally transformed” by a century of Progressivism and liberalism or weren’t they?

In my view, the answer is undeniable. Linker is welcome to make a case that they weren’t. If he does, I will read it, though I will say in advance that I don’t expect to be convinced. But I don’t expect him to write it because I don’t think he believes it. I think he understands that and how the Constitution and regime have changed and believes those changes to be good. If that’s the case, I wish he would just say so.

I like the original design better. I want to see the branches of government operate the way they are supposed to operate; employing their enumerated powers and refraining from exercising arbitrary or un-enumerated powers. I don’t like it when the judiciary usurps legislative or executive authority. I don’t like it when the executive does whatever it wants under the legal patina of an “order.” And I don’t like it when agencies nominally under the control of the executive do what they want under cover of “regulatory discretion” and “administrative law.” Such actions are anti-democratic and anti-republican. I would be against them even if they were being done for conservative ends because I think they erode respect for law and constitutionalism, and sap the republican spirit of the people, who become more docile and less fit for living freely.

But these usurpations are never committed for conservative ends. Which points to the core reason why (I presume) Linker is untroubled by them: he is a liberal and he knows that the government only acts this way for liberal ends. As a liberal, Linker thinks this is right and just. Never mind that the constitutional political process has proved itself more than capable of rectifying genuine injustices on many occasions. In this view, there are too many in which it has not, or has not quickly enough for his taste, which is why the Constitution had to be circumvented. Linker can therefore respond only with horror to the suggestion that the people may regain control of their government and make this stop. Don’t we realize that “history” has a “rightful course” which is to move leftward? Similar to Islamic imperialism, once liberalism gains ground, revanchism by the other side is never to be legitimized for any reason, ever—including a reassertion of popular sovereignty.

Linker says that because the American people voted for Obama (twice—and he may as well have added all the other liberals), they (we) consented to this, so my complaint about the sovereign people losing control is just a gripe.

Yes—and no. Yes in that we, the American people, surely could (and should) have done a better job in the voting booth of preventing what happened to our republic. We could (and should) have thrown the bums out a long time ago and replaced them with people seriously committed to constitutional government. We didn’t do that, and that’s on us.

Why didn’t we? In part because of the cycle of regimes. The theory predicts that each regime has a principle or “spring” which intensifies and radicalizes over time, undermining the regime. (By the way, when Andrew Sullivan made the same point, referring to Republic VIII, liberals fawned all over him. But when I say it, it’s nuts.) This is the core reason why Linker is wrong to attribute to me an Eden narrative. This was all going to happen eventually. I merely tried to answer why and how it happened when it did.

Which brings me to the “no.” No, it’s not enough to say, with Obama, “I won.” When it comes to the larger question of regime transformation, liberals won in sneaky, underhanded ways. They won in part by changing the rules—above all by importing ringers to vote for them in massive numbers.

The most consequential change—the 1965 Immigration Act—may have been passed in a lawful way, but it was sold dishonestly. “The ethnic mix of this country will not be upset,” Ted Kennedy promised. A whopping lie if ever there was one. It is interesting, for the “how times change” file, to note that 50 years ago, it was considered entirely legitimate even for liberals to be concerned about changing the ethnic balance of America—so much so that the defenders of the law had to deny that any such change would take place. There was a fulsome understanding that protecting the essential “American-ness” of the country was a legitimate and even vital end. Today, people—on both the right and left—simply denounce all who raise the question as “racist.” Similarly, Hubert Humphrey famously said that he would “eat” the 1964 Civil Rights Act if it led to quotas. How’d that work out, again? This is managerial liberalism’s way: get the camel’s nose under the tent by any means necessary, then shove the whole animal in and mobilize the Iron Triangle to fight like hell all attempts to push any part of it back out. Public opinion be damned. Obamacare anyone?

It’s been quite clear since roughly forever that the American people as a whole didn’t want any of this. You can say that their inability to stop it implies consent. But it’s a short ride down from there to saying that any people who does not overthrow a tyranny de facto consents to its rule.

Linker also accuses me of excluding from “the sovereign people” anyone who will not vote for Trump. No. What I said was that here is a chance for the sovereign people to reassert control over their government, including its administrative apparatus, which rightfully ought to be subject to the laws enacted by the legislative branch and administratively controlled, within the scope of those laws, by the executive branch. If they do that, then the whole people—including the ones who don’t vote for Trump—can go on to have a political debate about what and how much we want that administrative apparatus to do. Some—much, in my opinion—of what a Trump administration will direct it to do will be conducive to liberal ends. Others a Trump administration may not want but will have to consent to in a spirit of political compromise.

The point is twofold. Liberalism will survive, and perhaps even thrive, after a Trump victory. But constitutionalism will not survive a Trump defeat. Second, whatever we choose to have the government do—liberal, conservative, centrist, or technocratic—should be a genuinely political choice, enacted through constitutional means, by a genuinely sovereign people.

Or the people can vote the other way, in which case they will be voting to further erode and even surrender their sovereignty to the administrative state. Which, once it’s got it, isn’t going to give it back.

It’s a shame that the stakes in this election are so high. It’s certainly not something I wanted. Liberal design plus conservative fecklessness and accommodation brought us here. Why can’t we be honest about that?

America • Cultural Marxism • The Leviathian State

We’d Never Pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act Today

congress would not pass the civil rights act of 1964 today


Congress would never pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 today. There would be no need. And therein lies the root of the deepening crisis facing the republic.


The Civil Rights Act was a major expansion and clarification of civil rights law in the United States and as such touched on core constitutional issues. It took many years and a groundswell of public support to convince recalcitrant Democrats to pass the legislation. As a result, a strong majority of Americans (58 percent) were persuaded to support the Civil Rights Act when it passed in 1964. Now, more than 50 years later, it enjoys an approval rating topping 80 percent..

But such a campaign to persuade the American people and earn their support would not—does not—happen today. Today, such important matters are diligently kept from the hands of voters and handed over to judges and powerful commissars in places like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. No voter persuasion is required.

As a result, the crisis we face today is not one of policy—though there is certainly much room for improvement on that front—but rather a crisis of polity. And for decades conservatives have been fighting (and sometimes winning) policy battles, only to lose the war for the polity. And, to mix a metaphor, that’s the ballgame. Lose the polity and you lose everything. The combination of inexorable growth in the judicially sanctioned and patently anti-republican administrative state and the increasingly imperial judiciary itself have undermined the sovereignty of the people acting in their constitutional majority.

For every policy victory there has been a much broader and more lasting blow struck against the polity by executive actions or through the courts. When Congress refused to pass cap and trade legislation, Obama used the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to muscle states into joining regional cap and trade scheme. And court cases like Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Roe v. Wade, or King v. Burwell all expanded the power of the executive or the judicial branches at the expense of the legislative – to say nothing of the specific issues decided by the case.

In King v. Burwell, for example, Chief Justice John Roberts justified his decision upholding key provisions of Obamacare on the basis that they represented a use of Congress’ taxing power—despite the fact that the law’s authors and supporters specifically stated that it was not a tax. In doing so he not only rescued the legislation from a well-deserved grave but also undermined the constitutional prerogatives of the legislature that passed it. What the Supreme gives it can also take away. The successful welfare reforms passed in the 1990s, for example, have mostly been undone by a hostile executive branch—to the detriment of welfare recipients and the nation—but Chevron, Roe, and King survive.

Since the early 1980s, conservative think tanks and academics have been busily offering well-conceived, often highly effective policy proposals for specific, identifiable problems facing the country. These have included innovative tax proposals starting with Jack Kemp’s tax reforms in the 1970s, deregulation in the 1980s, and welfare reform in the 1990s. Yet the size and scope of the federal government is larger than ever.

Lest we think all the blame for the growth of the leviathan state lays at the feet of Democrats, we should recall that it was the Republican Senators who rode to victory on Reagan’s coattails in 1980 that killed his initiative to shutter the Department of Education. And it was George W. Bush who expanded that Department’s power over the states when he signed No Child Left Behind in 2002. It was also Bush who gave us the largest expansion of the welfare state between LBJ and Obama when he sponsored the creation of Medicare Part D in 2003. It turns out that “compassionate conservatism” looks, walks, and quacks a lot like a Progressive duck.

After decades of “movement conservatism,” regulations are more burdensome than ever and worse, they are made largely in secret by unaccountable, unelected czars empowered by the administrative state. But here again, we haven’t seen the forest for the trees. The specific rules and regulations promulgated by the alphabet soup of federal agencies that govern our lives matter less than how they are made. Removing lawmaking from the hands of the people and their elected representatives creates poorly conceived, often overbearing rules that are virtually impossible for laymen to know and understand (the federal tax code alone runs over 75,000 pages). When the laws are unknowable the rule of law becomes a farce.

The laws themselves taken individually may offend against our constitutional rights, but even then they are only a symptom. The disease is the process by which they were made. Conservatives have trained their fire on the policies and not the process and all the while the leviathan state has grown steadily larger and more powerful. All of the policy wins have been palliatives – aspirin to cure a headache caused by brain cancer. And while conservatives have been focused on policy, the Left has pursued the same agenda since Woodrow Wilson declared war on the written constitution. Wilson wrote in 1912:

Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. All the progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when “development,” “evolution,” is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle…

Oh how the Constitution has evolved—from the application of the plain language of the document to the divining of emanations and penumbras used in deciding Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965—just one year after the Civil Rights Act. In the 50 years since Griswold the Court has grown more brazen and its attachment to the written constitution more tenuous. The Left has dispensed with the pretense of allegiance to the Constitution or a reliance on the support of the people.

Abortion remains contentious not primarily because it is a significant moral issue involving the taking of life, but because abortion law has been removed from the normal political sphere. It has been taken out of the hands of the legislative branch and seized by a self-aggrandizing judiciary. Removing an issue from the political sphere guarantees conflict. For all the good work done at the state level to pass common sense restrictions on abortion, everyone knows that the final arbiter will be the Supreme Court which is more strident in their defense of abortion rights found nowhere in the text of the constitution than they are of rights explicitly guaranteed like the freedom of speech and the right to keep and bear arms.

The last serious effort to persuade voters on a piece of civil rights legislation was 20 years in California when Ward Connerly put Proposition 209 in front of the people of California in 1996. He bypassed the legislature, but at least he made his case to the people. Still, that was a generation ago, it was in many ways just a reassertion of what was already found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was in that sense not breaking any new ground, and in any event everyone knew that after it passed the Supreme Court would have the final word.

Almost 20 years later It was telling that gay marriage advocates didn’t even mount a serious attempt to pass federal legislation. This was owing in part to the fact that marriage law was left to the states until Obergefell v. Hodges which effectively made the states agents and administrators of federal marriage policy. This follows the pattern of so many other matters once held to be strictly within the sovereign jurisdiction of the several states but where the states have had their rightful powers seized by the federal government. Think of matters ranging from the drinking age (now set by all states at 21 under threat of loss of federal highway funds) to the Common Core education mandates that take authority not just from states but from locally elected school boards.

When the legislature is bypassed it reflects a certain political cynicism, but the lack of outcry against the loss of the people’s power to determine the laws under which they live underscores a lack of appreciation for the importance of constitutional government. That we live under a written constitution accessible and understandable to all citizens is the point of free governmentit is the desired outcome. Within the framework of a constitutional system based upon the power of a sovereign people policies can change. And they do. Often. But the system is an end in itself designed to protect the natural rights of its citizens and promote equal justice under the law and it must remain intact.

It is true that there is an implied hope or even an expectation of a more perfect union embedded within our constitution but it’s the expectation of more perfect, not perfect. The end constantly sought but never fully attained. Part of that end was the constitution itself which formed the best framework within which to seek the good of the American people.

The Founders realized, based on hard experience and a knowledge of human nature, that the best way to secure the blessing of liberty—and more to the point—to promote justice, is through representative constitutional government. If the polity they established is maintained, then the the republic will be more likely to enact more just policies that meet the needs of the people and to self-correct, but always with the consent of the governed. The centrality of first obtaining the consent of the governedthat to govern any other way is itself unjust—has been lost.

Just 50 years ago sweeping legislation was enacted that had profound constitutional implications. But to the credit of the nation, voter support was sought as a first and necessary precondition. Today, the ruling class claims a monopoly on virtue and uses it as a justification to create laws and regulations that do not have broad public support. Not content with justice as a standard, they appeal to a modified and superior (or so we are assured) social justice to silence opposition: “There’s no time to convince voters, social justice delayed is social justice denied!”

But circumventing voters violates a more fundamental principle of justice and one that is the basis for free government. As long as we tolerate interest groups and cynical pols bypassing the legislative branch to enact their policies over the heads of the people we will be empowering a casual totalitarianism masquerading as the rule of law.


Hillary Clinton • The Leviathian State

The Simoniac of the Church of Globalism

simony hillary clinton


Donald Trump continues to recover in the polls (RCP average -3.9 at this wr) from a low following Hillary Clinton’s convention bounce and a series of missteps by the unconventional GOP candidate. The media, which have largely abandoned any pretense of impartiality, have elevated Trump’s defeat over pursuit of the facts. What then explains the growing appeal of this admittedly unusual candidacy?

First, decades of identity politics, political correctness, and national self-loathing—nursed initially in the universities, then fostered in the media and brought to maturity in the government—have come to fruition.

The critique long made of identity politics has proven as true as it is obvious. Identity politics is self-contradictory. It must without any rational basis exempt certain classes from its own claims, otherwise every class is free to adopt any identity and promote it without regard for the welfare of others. The attempt to transcend a universal understanding of human happiness and justice with power and identity—whether by race, gender or class—reduces politics to the interest of the stronger. Identity politics as such is incompatible with self-government, which depends on broad individual participation in political life rooted in public deliberation about a common good.

The reasoning of identity politics is not new. It is scarcely distinguishable from Stephen Douglas’s “popular sovereignty” in 1858. Douglas argued against Lincoln and the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Douglas’s answer to slavery agitation and the expansion of slavery in the territories lay in the people of the territories simply voting slavery up or down. He didn’t care which way they voted, he declared, having no regard for the people who might be enslaved as a result of those votes.

The Democratic identity politics coalition proposes vote for globalism and an administrative state that favors technocratic elites and their identity group allies without regard to the welfare of a large minority. In essence, identity politics is like Douglas’ popular sovereignty. Let globalism, open borders and the welfare state be voted up or down. Identity politics doesn’t care what the excluded classes—the underemployed, the hillbillies and  bitter clingers, or the members of the wrong race—have to suffer for it.

Donald Trump’s candidacy is popular because it shocks people from the daze of bad teaching about identity, power, globalism and the administrative state. It reveals what identity politics actually means—unfettered tribalism. Everyone is equally capable of identifying themselves as having an interest apart from the whole, and all such identifications, whether black or white or rich or poor, are equally repugnant.

Opposed to identity politics is an American nationalism rooted in the Declaration of Independence, and Donald Trump’s candidacy—whether or not perfect—is the vehicle for it. It is not racist but rather a recognition that democratic self-government cannot be a selfish fight for power, but requires a deep love of country. It depends on a patriotic feeling to inspire citizens to participate in politics on the basis of public deliberation about the good of the whole, not one or more groups or classes. The flag waving and, yes, standing for the National Anthem, serves a critical purpose.

Along with American nationalism, Trump brings an outline of policies which are a repudiation of identity politics, although they are frequently interpreted by a biased media as an extension of it.

Immigration enforcement represents a rebuke of majority formation by the importation of new citizens to be groomed to vote according to identity. It also represents, along with an amendment of trade policies, a rejection of the importation of cheap labor and the export of jobs for the benefit of oligarchic interests at the expense of the middle class and poor.

Donald Trump’s superficial simplicity is a rebuke of the administrative state. Our laws should be no more complicated than an average man or woman can understand. Laws that are not widely understood may as well be written where no one can read them. The administrative state and its elites depend on the characterization of every problem as too complex and too nuanced for the average man or woman to understand, and if too complex for them to understand, too complex for public deliberation over the right policies.

This is the essence of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Our legislators did not read it because even they could not understand it. They said so. Their proudly mendacious million-dollar consultants said so. Even the Supreme Court said so. This is the cause of its failure. It is a disgrace of self-government, and Trump is a walking repudiation of it—as is every ordinary, competent man and woman.

Second, while the media portrays Donald Trump as as vulgar, uninformed, incompetent, authoritarian, racist, fascist and a threat to the nation’s survival, the public is well aware of a genuine threat to liberty and the survival of the republic: Hillary Clinton sells offices.

Trump has been in private life his whole career. There is almost no vice that Trump could possess that exceeds Clinton’s known public vices. In light of her history—one that she has created for herself through many poor choices over a long time—it is unreasonable to expect that Clinton will do anything other than sell the office of the presidency. It is not merely a hypothetical risk. The past is full of facts. It is, as the science people like to remind us, a data-based prediction.

The hand-wringers of the #NeverTrump campaign and fair-minded Democrats are obliged to confront this bare reality. There is no reasonable argument that should Clinton become president she would refrain from selling the office. There is no reasonable argument that the sale of the office of the President would not leave lasting, probably irreparable, damage to the United States.

Would Trump would be an even worse steward of the office? The only evidence of the “fact”  is  the distaste of elites for an unconventional candidate whom they say plays to the lowest common denominator. He is insufficiently urbane.

Hillary Clinton is urbane. She has a Yale law degree and has been abreast of or in high offices for more than 40 years. She is a student of Saul Alinsky, a high-priestess of globalism, and dogmatically commited to blurring that which makes nationhood and self-government possible, the distinction of citizen and foreigner. Aside from gender identity politics—her supporters chant the glass ceiling mantra—for what is she best known? There are no legislative or policy achievements on her record. She is known for the sale of offices, not infrequently to foreign concerns.

The American people are asked to choose between two candidates. One is an unconventional candidate, an American nationalist with  common tastes and lowbrow remarks, delivered with energy and without fear of criticism. The other is urbane and conventional, painfully measured and PC, a dogmatic globalist, a gender-identity politician, tired from years of peddling the sacred trust of the American people.

Simony is the sale of ecclesiastical offices. In Dante’s Inferno it is an Eighth Circle sin, punished alongside the grafters. Hillary Clinton is a recidivist grafter and a simoniac of the church of globalism and identity politics. There is no flaw of Donald Trump that compares.

2016 Election • America • Donald Trump • GOPe • Greatness Agenda • Hillary Clinton • Lincoln • Republicans • The Leviathian State

Perpetuation and Moderation: Trump’s Lincolnian Rhetoric



In recent days, a series of particularly cogent and well-delivered Donald Trump speeches prompted media speculation about his “change of course” and the new direction of his campaign. Though they seem more like distillation than departure to me, it is true that the seriousness and the clarity of the speeches is striking and a welcome improvement in performance.  Many Trump supporters and skeptics have worried that his inclination to extemporize was too often taking the campaign off in directions it did not need nor want to go. These speeches set forth his political principles and provide the rationale for his candidacy in clear terms, for skeptics and supporters alike.

Trump’s two speeches focus on law and order (August 16 in Milwaukee)  and on foreign policy (August 15 in Youngstown, Ohio), but they get to something even deeper than these issues which are of such magnitude in the current political moment.  They address the question of who we are as a people and, in that, their resemblance to Abraham Lincoln’s own reflections on the matter is noteworthy. Given those themes and the seriousness with which Trump addressed them in these speeches, it is appropriate to compare them with two of Lincoln’s early speeches, the first on the perpetuation of a nation of laws and the second on the need for moderation or “temperance” in politics.

Both speeches apply Trump’s overarching campaign theme of speaking on behalf of the people versus the special interests.It is time for rule by the people, not rule by special interests” Trump tells his large audiences. Rule “by the people” is a way of returning us to consent, or recognizing the sovereignty of the people. They have to consent to the laws that govern them. This is just another way of saying the “rule of law” or, in moments of disorders such as the assassinations of police, law and order. We cannot be said to be living under the rule of law if chaos rather than law governs us.

To be fully understood, Trump’s understanding of the rule of law demands comparison with the greatest American president, Lincoln.  And Lincoln’s greatest law and order speech is his address on the “Perpetuation of our Political Institutions.”   This was his first notable speech, the themes of which were fleshed out a quarter-century later in his Gettysburg Address.  

Briefly, Lincoln bemoaned a national spate of lawlessness that produced lynchings and acts of brutality against various disfavored groups. This collapse of the rule of law, he argued, would ultimately lead to the rise of a tyrant and the destruction of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as our founding resources. America would thereby lose its greatness and with it “the noblest of causes—establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.”

These themes are at the heart of Trump’s argument about law and order and civil rights. The killings of police and violent crimes against blacks have that common root—the lack of respect for life and property and the freedom to enjoy them. That contempt is demanded by Hillary Clinton’s Progressivism and furthered by her corruption:

“We reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton which panders to and talks down to communities of color and sees them only as votes, not as individual human beings worthy of a better future. She doesn’t care at all about the hurting people of this country, or the suffering she has caused them.”

As just another constituent part of a political coalition, blacks (along with every other group within that coalition, such as union members) have been taken for granted by Democrats. Blacks are not treated as free and equal human beings capable of enjoying full political equality as individuals who think for themselves, but must be content with being patronized as the clients of the Democrats.

Thus, against the twin towers of political corruption in Hillary and Bill Clinton, Trump declares, “I am fighting for REAL change, not just partisan change…. The media-donor-political complex that’s bled this country dry has to be replaced with a new government of, by and for the people.” That is, the Progressive elite has to be replaced by Lincolnian democracy. As citizens, we know there is a real common good not simply a formula for answering the needs and demands of discrete interest groups in sufficient numbers to constitute a majority capable of delivering political victory to the chosen ones. Trump’s rallies, open to all, contrasted with the behavioral science of the micro-targeting and condescension to voters adopted by his failed rivals.

Besides respect for the law and the fundamental principles behind it, citizens and politicians need to display temperance or moderation in persuading fellow citizens. Though the apparent irony of looking to Trump for an example of moderation is not lost on me, moderation need not be reduced to refraining from name-calling as too many conservative critics of Trump would have it. Trump’s apparent lapses in moderation in response to personal attacks, moreover, demonstrate a quality of spiritedness and a will to fight where the absence of such has played to the detriment of Republicans and conservatives confronted by willful Progressives in recent decades.  

Where Trump displays moderation most strikingly, however, is not coincidentally, I think, precisely where it is most needed:  his foreign policy speeches. In parallel ways, Lincoln’s Temperance Address portrayed democratic politics and the political significance of the Temperance Movement.

What both speeches have in common is a condemnation of ideological fanaticism—Lincoln objecting to extremist opponents of alcohol and Trump to the Woodrow Wilson fanaticism of nation-building and surrender of national sovereignty to international bodies. Holding in common a sober view of human nature, both Lincoln and Trump condemn politicians who are drunk on power and the disastrous policies these mad theoreticians have inflicted on peoples abroad and on our own armed forces.

Just as the forces of temperance in Lincoln’s day led people to a kind of mad intemperance, today we something akin to this strange juxtaposition when those who cry the loudest for civility in our politics (moderation as they see it), advocate policies that would lead to outrages against civility. Too often, the loudest cries for civility and moderation are coming from people who are, themselves, most uncivil and immoderate.

Trump’s moderation allows him to unite domestic policy and foreign policy, so both reflect the will of the sovereign American people. Obama, and Clinton following him, attempt to flatter radical Islam to pursue illusory policies abroad, while causing confusion at home. A patriotism of national interest is the best antidote for politically correct discourse that demands open borders and invites terrorists to enter:

“Pride in our institutions, our history and our values should be taught by parents and teachers, and impressed upon all who join our society. Assimilation is not an act of hostility, but an expression of compassion. Our system of government, and our American culture, is the best in the world and will produce the best outcomes for all who adopt it. This approach will not only make us safer, but bring us closer together as a country.”

 For American lives to matter, the American nation itself must truly matter.

“Putting America First” is not some isolationist platitude. Rather, it means looking at America in a different way from the cynicism of the political establishment of both parties. We no longer need their permission to see ourselves as “the best in the world.”

 “Renewing this spirit of Americanism will help heal the divisions in our country. It will do so by emphasizing what we have in common – not what pulls us apart…. I will fight to ensure that every American is treated equally, protected equally, and honored equally.”

The principle of equality is at the heart of the American order.“We will reject bigotry and oppression in all its forms, and seek a new future built on our common culture and values as one American people,” says Trump.

 With Lincoln, right makes might. This is possible because the creed of equality defines us as one people, as Lincoln repeatedly emphasized. That creed in turn produced a “common culture.” But this common culture is under threat of ridicule and condemnation by the elites now governing the universities and it is, at best, abandoned or ignored by the political establishment on the right. Throughout the campaign, Trump has stood for the defense of “our common culture and values as one American people” as no other candidate has, not just in 2016, but for a very long time.


More From American Greatness:


Cultural Marxism • Defense of the West • EU • The Culture • The Leviathian State

Weigel Gets It Right In “God & Brexit”


George Weigel sees a cautionary tale in Europe that Americans would be wise to heed.  Referencing German scholar, Ernst-Friedrich Boeckenfoerde he notes “that the modern liberal-democratic state faced a dilemma: It rested on the foundation of moral-cultural premises—social capital—that it could not itself generate. Put another way, it takes a certain kind of people, formed by a certain kind of culture to live certain virtues, to keep liberal democracy from decaying into new forms of authoritarianism…”

As you would expect from the title – “God & Brexit” – Weigel suspects that the God deficit in Europe led to the EU’s much commented upon democracy deficit against which UKIP and the other Eurosceptic parties are reacting.  Weigel notes that the primary architects of the EU, Adenauer, Gasper, and Schumann were all Roman Catholics and that their vision for Europe involved a bet on European culture:

The wager underlying this project, as these men conceived it, was that there was enough of Christian or biblical culture left in Europe to sustain democratic pluralism in a “union” of sovereign states that would respect national and regional distinctiveness. And that Christian or biblical “remainder” involved the Catholic social-ethical principle of “subsidiarity”: the idea that decision-making should be left at the lowest possible local level (as in classic American federalism, where local governments do some things, state governments do other things, and the national government does things that local and state governments can’t do).

More here.

What Adenauer and his colleagues envisioned was a liberal democratic reboot of the Holy Roman Empire.  Where the Empire was composed of more or less sovereign states (mostly monarchies in one form or another) united by a common faith and electing an Emperor, the new Europe would be a union of liberal democracies united by an inherited Christian culture and working together on certain common problems through a representive body.  What they envisioned as perhaps becoming a federation became instead a union – a union that that European people don’t seem to want.  Where the federation would have respected the rights and cultures of its members, the union demands state-enforced homogeneity.

But the wager hasn’t paid off.  Weigel argues that they lost the wager because there wasn’t enough Christian or biblical culture left to sustain the project, that when what he calls the “Culture of the Self” took root after “biblical religion collapsed, as it manifestly has in most of Old Europe and too much of New Europe after 1989, commitments to subsidiarity and its respect for difference imploded as well.”

Weigel is mostly right though he leaves some big questions unanswered – mostly because they are outside the scope of this short, but excellent essay.  There are questions for both Europe and America – and important questions about the necessary conditions of freedom.  Subsidiarity isn’t just a Roman Catholic notion, the principle is present in Reformed ecclesiology as well and certainly influenced some of the American Founders (Madison was educated by Presbyterian clergymen).   So while the oft-repeated statement that America is a Christian nation begs some thorny social, factual, and theological questions, it is probably not too much to say that America was, largely, a nation of Christians.  Much the same could be said of Europe.

Weigel suggests that free government, what he calls liberal democracies, were possible because of the ethical agreement and social cohesion of Christian societies.  More than that he argues that once biblical religion was replaced with the Culture of the Self – what Harry Jaffa referred to as the Leftist ideal of the “radical liberation of the uninhibited self” – that European societies became progressively less liberal (though more libertine), and their politics became less free.  In short, he argues that the destruction of the Christian consensus in Europe undermined the consensus for liberalism itself.  The big unanswered question for Weigel and for the West, is whether that consensus is a requirement for liberal democracy.


America • Cultural Marxism • Free Speech • The Leviathian State

Feds: “Don’t Tread On Me” May Be Punishable Racial Harassment

Gadsden-flag government may ban don't tread on me


Turning Citizens Against Each Other

Remember free speech?  I do and it was great while it lasted.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is currently reviewing a complaint which may define the Gadsden Flag as a symbol of racial harassment for which employers could be punished.  If the EEOC rules against the flag, employers who display or allow employees to display the flag, say on a hat, t-shirt, or bumper sticker, could be liable for penalties in a hostile workplace lawsuit.

The most recent case, Shelton D. [pseudonym] v. Brennan, 2016 WL 3361228, was decided 2 months ago.  The decision leaves open the door for future claims.


On January 8, 2014, Complainant filed a formal complaint in which he alleged that the Agency subjected him to discrimination on the basis of race (African American) and in reprisal for prior EEO activity when, starting in the fall of 2013, a coworker (C1) repeatedly wore a cap to work with an insignia of the Gadsden Flag, which depicts a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Complainant stated that he found the cap to be racially offensive to African Americans because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a “slave trader & owner of slaves.” Complainant also alleged that he complained about the cap to management; however, although management assured him C1 would be told not to wear the cap, C1 continued to come to work wearing the offensive cap. Additionally, Complainant alleged that on September 2, 2013, a coworker took a picture of him on the work room floor without his consent. In a decision dated January 29, 2014, the Agency dismissed Complainant’s complaint on the basis it failed to state a claim .

Complainant maintains that the Gadsden Flag is a “historical indicator of white resentment against blacks stemming largely from the Tea Party.” He notes that the Vice President of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters cited the Gadsden Flag as the equivalent of the Confederate Battle Flag when he successfully had it removed from a New Haven, Connecticut fire department flagpole…

In light of the ambiguity in the current meaning of this symbol, we find that Complainant’s claim must be investigated to determine the specific context in which C1 displayed the symbol in the workplace. In so finding, we are not prejudging the merits of Complainant’s complaint. Instead, we are precluding a procedural dismissal that would deprive us of evidence that would illuminate the meaning conveyed by C1’s display of the symbol.

The EEOC has already ruled that display of the Confederate Flag constitutes an actionable offense so classifying the Gadsden Flag in the same way is not a stretch.  In fact, there is already precedent for it as cited above in the New Haven incident.

While the EEOC’s ruling would not have the effect of banning the flag outright, that would likely run into First Amendment challenges, it would expose employers (private and government) to civil actions which would likely cost them dearly.  The practical impact of such a ruling is effectively the same as a ban – private, political speech would be limited as a  result of government action.  If the EEOC were to take such action it would certainly pass constitutional muster with the Supreme Court even as it fails the common sense smell-test.  Such is life under the administrative state.

In effect, government empowers private parties to do what it cannot do itself in order to maintain the constitutional form while abandoning the substance.  Doing so is, in some ways, more destructive than direct government action because it turns citizens against each other, changing them slowly from Americans into competing grievance groups.  Such action alienates the American people from one another and in doing so undermines both our politics and our culture.  It is just one more example of the social division that comes from big government and the estrangement of that government from the people upon whose consent it relies for legitimacy.

Still, there is something absurdly comic about this issue coming to the fore over the Gadsden flag.  The irony of an overreaching and increasingly unaccountable government encouraging punishment for displaying the Gadsden Flag will surely be lost on the mandarins at the EEOC.