2016 Election • America • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • Hillary Clinton • Republicans • Trump White House

One Month Later, I Can’t Stop Rehashing the Night We Got a Reprieve from Hell

The polls said it would be close, but she would win. So I decided to skip election results—I’d find out the bad news the next morning. Instead, I fidgeted all day long and into the evening. It was like knowing I’d be executed: Did I want to wait through my last doomed hours, or did I want it all to be over with right now?

Fortunately, my chorus rehearses on Tuesday nights. On the Metro a young woman got on carrying two signs: “I’m With Her” and “Clinton/Kaine.” Standing in the crowded car, she slumped over her phone with the Hillary signs propped up at her feet. I watched her as she busily texted. I usually pride myself on my ability to read people and their body language like books, but on that nervous evening my spidey sense abandoned me. I read into her frantic texting a kind of triumphalism: gloating on the phone with her gal-pals. I didn’t realize that the slump was already signaling desperation.

My chorus, like all arty groups, is likely 100 percent liberal, but they are all nice, polite people who don’t talk politics. And it was a relief just to focus on lines of music. During the break, they were all saying, “It’s really close,” and again, I couldn’t read them, or I would have seen on their faces what was already happening. The gal sitting next to me thumbed her phone whenever she wasn’t singing, and I glanced over just once. The phone said, “Trump, 44.” I thought that meant he’d gotten 44 percent of the vote somewhere—oh hell. What it was really saying, I later realized, was that he’d gotten 44 more electoral votes.

When I got home, I had a glass of wine with my husband. Then I said, “I guess I’ll go upstairs and find out what happened.” It was just after 11 p.m. I decided not to click onto Drudge or Breitbart, which I thought would simply be putting a good face onto very bad news. So I clicked onto the “cruelly neutral” Ann Althouse whom I trusted to tell the blunt truth. There on the screen was a post. It said something on the order of “NYT gives Trump 94 percent Chance of Winning.” There was a screen-grab of a New York Times graphic of a dial with the needle at 94 percent. So I clicked onto the NYT site, where the dial was oscillating as the millions of votes poured in. It went “94 percent, 93 percent, 91 percent, 95 percent.” Another oscillating dial tabulated electoral votes: “304, 305, 301, 303.” What??? So I shouted to my husband, “Come and look at this!” Then I clicked onto Drudge. His headlines were on the order of “Pennsylvania: Trump. Florida: Trump. Ohio: Trump. Wisconsin: Trump.”

Then I sent an e-mail to Diana West, the only other Trump fan in my conservative women’s group: “Is this for real? I don’t believe it—but oh, joy!” Then I went to bed. I woke up at 2:30 and clicked onto Drudge again. His headline now said something on the order of: “AP Calls It: Trump Wins the Presidency.” I woke up my husband: “He won, baby—he won!”

The next morning I got an e-mail back from Diana: “Thank you, America!”

Thank you, America.

Cross-posted at Stupid Girl

America • China • Donald Trump • Trade • Trump White House

The Art of Economic Warfare: China Gains the Upper Hand by Playing a Different Game

Since the end of the Cold War, the world has witnessed a blurring of lines that were once seen as separate and distinct. Today, civilians and enemy combatants are virtually indistinguishable. Everything that can be weaponized has been—from jet airliners to your personal computer. “National security” and “economics” are no longer separate policy arenas. They now overlap.

The Chinese were among the first states to recognize this trend and capitalize on it. Many other American trading partners did as well. Yet, American leaders—either through ignorance or through stubborn indifference—failed to see this happening.

For 20 years or more, “We, The People,” have paid the price for our leaders’ ignorance and indifference.

The concept of economic statecraft, as Benn Steil and Robert E. Litan outline in Financial Statecraft: The Role of Financial Markets in American Foreign Policy, “encompasses efforts by governments to influence other actors in the international system, relying primarily on resources that have ‘a reasonable semblance of a market price in terms of money.’” Economic statecraft has been a vital tool in the conduct of foreign policy for most states since the beginning of time. Indeed, until the end of the Cold War, it was a fundamental component of American grand strategy. Since the end of the Cold War, however, America’s ability to conduct economic statecraft has eroded. Even worse, as America separated its security and economic policies, states like China fused them together.

In 1996, just as Taiwan was set to elect its most pro-independence government in decades, the Chinese decided to use military brinksmanship in order to dissuade them from independence. China fired several missile volleys across the Taiwan Strait in a blatant attempt to intimidate what former Nixon aide Bruce Herschensohn dubbed the “threatened democracy.”

It didn’t work. Not only did Taiwan’s elections go on as planned, the Clinton Administration—in a rare instance of demonstrating military resolve—sailed two aircraft carrier battle groups through the Strait, in order to affirm America’s continued support of the fledgling democracy.

Following America’s decisive show of force, the Chinese immediately stood down. But they did not forget—or forgive—the humiliating American military maneuvers in the very thin strip of water separating Mainland China from Taiwan. During and after the Taiwan Strait Crisis, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted a series of military drills in which they gamed out what a war with the United States over Taiwan would look like. Needless to say, the results were quite disheartening for the standing members of China’s Politburo. Realizing that no amount of military modernization would turn the PLA into an equal rival of the United States’ military, the Chinese began seeking alternative forms of resistance.

During the 1996 exercises, two PLA colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, compiled their thoughts on alternative strategies for defeating the United States outside of a military-to-military conflict. Their book, Unrestricted Warfare, was the apotheosis of that undertaking. Since its publication in 1998, Unrestricted Warfare has become a foundational text of Chinese grand strategy. This book (which is based largely on Sun Tzu’s concepts of deception in war) outlines key areas where China could debilitate the United States on the strategic level. These methods of asymmetrical warfare represent the blurring together of previously thought separate, non-military areas, into one, seamless concept of total warfare.

Terrorism, cyber warfare, and, yes, economic warfare are all key components of China’s asymmetric approach. Look at the last 20 years of economic dealings between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. It should be obvious that China has waged unremitting warfare against the very backbone of America’s military strength: our economy.

Over the last two decades, China has become the largest economy in terms of its purchasing power parity. In terms of GDP, China has displaced Japan as the second-largest economy in the world and is set to displace America as the largest economy in the near-future. The United States imports significantly more of its goods from China, which has created a trade imbalance, in everything other than financial services (go figure). U.S. manufacturing capabilities have been seriously degraded. Meanwhile, China’s manufacturing capacity has surged ahead. This has allowed the Chinese to mass-produce weapons systems that will eventually challenge the technologically superior, but numerically inferior U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific.

Just look at Detroit, the once-mighty hub of American manufacturing and compare it to, say, Guangzhou. Yes, Guangzhou is a smoggy, overpopulated city in southeastern China. But, unlike Detroit today, Guangzhou is also one of the most prosperous manufacturing hubs, not just in China, but also in the world. Although I hate parroting Thomas Friedman and Michael E. Mandelbaum, they are right: that used to be us! But the reason it isn’t us any longer is due to  the mindless globalization policies advanced past two decades by the likes of Friedman and Mandelbaum!

China has rightly assessed that economics, like all other avenues of human life, has a strategic value. The Chinese  have honed their economic statecraft and married it to their overall revanchist goals in the Asia-Pacific. Even as they do this, even as they violate U.S. copyright laws, dispossess Americans of economic opportunity, and continue to damage the U.S. national interest, how have we responded? With the Trans-Pacific Partnership! A deal that was purportedly aimed at stunting China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific, by surrendering more of America’s sovereignty to even more Developing States (who disproportionately benefit from the deal)! Some deal.

Free trade dogmatism is mistaken: economics is not always a positive-sum game—at least not when it comes to international affairs. States such as China have proven that economics is yet another domain where the nation-state can and will compete for strategic advantage over other states. Donald Trump is the first U.S. leader in a very long time to realize this fact. He has begun tailoring a foreign policy that effectively synthesizes the all-powerful traditional forms of statecraft (i.e., military power) with the much-ballyhooed, yet little-understood tools of nonviolent statecraft (of which, there are many). In much the same way that China has combined all of the available tools of statecraft to create a cogent and productive foreign policy, so will Trump begin the important work of reminding Americans of the many and long-neglected tools of statecraft.

American Conservatism • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • First Amendment • Immigration • The Constitution • The Courts • Trump White House

Sanctuary Cities and Marquess of Queensberry Rules

cane3In a controversial 1992 free-speech case, Justice Antonin Scalia famously proclaimed that the government may not “license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow Marquess of Queensberry rules.”

That is exactly what 21st-century political discourse looks like: One side is fighting freestyle—punching below the belt, biting, doing anything to win—and the other side is lying on the canvas, bruised and bludgeoned, but still holding up the rule-book as a moral triumph of punctilious compliance.

That is the dilemma that so-called sanctuary cities present for the president-elect: Do conservatives choose to follow principles of federalism and permit these cities the sovereignty to flout federal law? Or do conservatives push against sanctuary cities, abridging one of their most sacred constitutional principles in the process?

Socrates’ decision to drink hemlock or flee Athens may have been easier.

As some leading conservative and libertarian scholars recently have pointed out, the Constitution limits how the Trump Administration may go after sanctuary cities, and this illustrates how federalism actually helps to protect vulnerable minorities from majoritarianism. Many progressives are joining the chorus, explaining that while they generally detest federalism, it should be preserved when state and local governments are using their sovereignty to protect ethnic minorities from what they perceive to be federal discrimination and persecution.

This suggests to some conservatives that progressives are now going to join them in following Marquess of Queensberry rules, even when it hurts them. These conservative scholars are the nerds of high school, rejoicing that the most attractive cheerleader asked for help with her homework. “Maybe she finally sees something special in me?”

Not a chance, pal.

Sanctuary Cities and Constitutional Doctrine

Limiting the Trump Administration’s authority over sanctuary cities are two sets of Supreme Court doctrines: (1) the court’s spending power cases limiting the federal government’s authority to impose conditions on federal grants, and (2) the court’s 10th Amendment cases limiting the federal government’s authority to compel state execution of federal programs.

As for the spending power, the court has interpreted this to mean that if the federal government imposes conditions on how state or local governments use federal funding, those conditions must be, among other things, clearly defined, relevant to the purpose of the funding, and non-coercive.

All of these factors would be at issue if the Trump Administration sought to withdraw all federal funding from sanctuary cities, because most federal grants are not clearly conditioned on compliance with federal immigration law. Also, such compliance is not relevant to the purpose of most federal funding. Finally, the threat of a significant withdrawal of funding would likely be deemed coercive, tantamount to the proverbial “gun to the head” bargain.

Although the administration could certainly condition some federal grants on enforcement of immigration law, this would likely not amount to a sufficient loss of funding to induce compliance in many major sanctuary cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. To induce full compliance in these cities, the administration would likely need to withdraw a hefty amount of federal funding. And the court’s precedents pose a substantial obstacle to that course of action.

Likewise, the court’s interpretations of the 10th Amendment bar the administration from requiring state and local officials to report undocumented immigrants. The so-called “commandeering doctrine” prohibits the federal government from enlisting state and local agents to perform the handiwork of the federal government.

These are of course salutary Rehnquist court doctrines, beloved by conservatives, but despised by progressives, who generally loathe federalism and decentralization. The question is whether the Trump Administration should meekly follow these doctrines now, when such a fundamental policy issue is at stake and despite the fact that the other party would never constrain itself in pursuing its own policy goals.

Do you start free-styling or do you continue to follow Marquess of Queensberry rules?

Progressive Inconsistency

In a normal polity, in normal times, where political parties and competing ideologies disagree on particular policies but fundamentally agree on the legitimacy of the rules of combat (i.e., the Constitution), this would be an easy question: conservatives, in that case, would and should honor these spending power and 10th Amendment doctrines.

But this is not a normal polity, and these are not normal times. This a polity where, after a significant number of people claimed to be “literally terrified” that the Republican nominee would not accept defeat, those very people then turned around and refused to accept defeat themselves. These are times when the people who have complained endlessly about federalism now conspire to secede from the union and wage a coup.

This is a polity where fears of white nationalism run rampant, partly because a Jewish man and an Asian pornographic actress made an obscene racist gesture out of a desperate need for attention, apparent mental disability, and an obviously demented sense of humor. And because of this obscene gesture performed privately in a room far from Trump’s cognizance, the president-elect was somehow painted as responsible and compelled to disavow people he doesn’t know and clearly has no interest in ever knowing. Yet when the other party considers making an outspoken black nationalist and anti-Semite its chairman, there is no such outcry.

It has come to this: A lack of a connection with white nationalism requires condemnation and disavowal, but a direct connection with black nationalism and anti-Semitism warrants praise. Got it. Freestyle, meet Marquess of Queensberry.

This is a polity where an actor harangues the vice president-elect and his children for graciously attending the actor’s overpriced, propaganda filled rap-musical. And not only that, but the actor did so condescendingly on behalf of the entirely non-white cast (except for the actor playing the English tyrant, George III) that he introduced to the vice president-elect as “the diverse America” (apparently, “diverse” means “non-white”). Vice President-elect Mike Pence, after years of playing by Marquess of Queensberry rules, claimed he “wasn’t offended,” because apparently condescension and self-entitlement are, in Pence’s words, “what freedom sounds like.”

Freedom also apparently was ringing when this particular actor, this ambassador of diverse America, tweeted that St. Patrick’s Day (a celebration of the patron saint of Ireland) was a sort of Merry Christmas (a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ) for “black dudes” who enjoy assaulting drunk white women (how is that for cultural appropriation?). This culturally sensitive actor who urged Pence “to uphold our American values” also approvingly had tweeted a call for sexual violence against white mothers as retribution for the tragic death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of an Hispanic male. Again, no outcry from the party of progress, and no apology from the author of these violent and deplorable statements.

Secession, coups, ethno-states, race-and gender-based violence. This is the Democratic Party of 1861. And it is, apparently, still a feature rather than a bug of the Democratic Party of 2016. Another day, another non-disavowal.

But this is not yet another “liberals contradict their own liberal principles” piece. Liberals have been doing that for decades. And conservatives keep pointing it out. And no one cares.

Don’t get me wrong—it is supremely satisfying to point out inconsistency. That is largely what makes watching Fox News so pleasurable for conservatives. You go after those hypocrites Tucker Carlson!

Despite being satisfying, however, nothing is accomplished from such finger-pointing, other than further subjecting conservatism to the constraints of progressivism. Indeed, when conservatives do this, they are implicitly seeking the praise of their opponents—to prove to progressives that they can serve their constituencies better than they can, because conservatives, after all, are the real progressives.

Wait, what? If conservatives are truly progressives, then who are the conservatives? That’s exactly why the current crisis of ideological identity has emerged.

So long as conservatives defend principles such as federalism on decidedly non-principled grounds—for example, by claiming that federalism is really about benefiting Democratic voters—conservatives will lose. And progressives will win because they have no interest in doing this in reverse. Just imagine House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defending her party’s various positions on the ground they would benefit rural Republican voters. (Once you stop laughing, please continue reading.)

My overriding concern, as a legal scholar and political scientist, is not with the question of which side wins or loses, but with what will happen to American political and legal discourse in the long-run if the only way that conservatives make arguments is by appealing to how their principles favor progressive outcomes. Indeed, there were precious few appeals to federalism when the Obama Administration sought to regulate, for example, public school bathrooms, community residential demographics, and local school disciplinary policies. But some conservatives are now eager to burden themselves with federalism constraints in the arena of sanctuary cities to prove just how much federalism favors progressives. Again, these are nerds offering to do homework for cheerleaders, with the hope it will score them a prom date.

This pattern, I worry, will lead the next generation of conservatives to give up on Marquess of Queensberry rules. Which would not only be a shame for the cause of civility, but a disaster for civilization itself. Is there a way out of this conundrum?

Three Steps to Get Back to Marquess of Queensberry Rules

This problem may very well be too far gone to resolve with easy solutions, but taking the following three steps may go a long way toward rehabilitating our crumbling discourse.

First, stop playing the progressive “find the racist” shell game. Because of the way our cultural landscape is currently configured—in terms of media, entertainment, and academia—there is no way conservatives will win this game. So stop playing it. Calling Keith Ellison a litany of names will do nothing to protect Jeff Sessions. It is foolish to think it will.

At the same time, conservatives should feel less obligated to renounce and disavow every person upon command. Of course, any reasonable and good person should condemn hateful statements and sentiments, but that is different from being at the moral mercy of your opponents, especially when playing that game serves to entrench and institutionalize rules that hurt only conservatives.

Second, conservatives should consider accepting federalism limitations for sanctuary cities, so long as doing so corresponds with empowering states like Arizona and Texas to impose stricter immigration requirements than federal law mandates. Federalism must go both ways. Progressives often advocate federalism only when it favors strengthening civil liberties for particular minority groups. But federalism does not work when it is so narrowly tailored to particular ideological causes.

Rather, federalism works to diffuse intense political polarization only when it permits a broad range of regional disagreement, in both conservative and progressive directions. This means that the Trump Administration should make it a priority to overrule cases like Arizona v. United States (2012), which denied the states the authority to impose stricter immigration requirements than federal law requires. If sanctuary cities can exist, so can Sheriff Joe.

Finally, stop framing federalism and liberty arguments in narrow egalitarian terms. Over the past 25 years, the Republican Party has become preoccupied with framing its agenda to appeal to Democratic voters—for example, in making school vouchers for urban low-income residents the core of its education policy.

But what about school choice for middle-class residents, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, and who are chased out of cities into suburban school districts because they are not eligible for voucher programs and cannot afford the fancy private schools that cater to progressive urban elites? Part of making American cities great again involves diversifying them, ideologically and economically, so that they do not simply represent the Democrats’ barbell electorate, consisting of extreme wealth and poverty. This means framing federalism and liberty arguments in terms of many different causes. Conservatives should fight for tax incentives for homeschooling and private education with the same intensity as they have been fighting for voucher programs over the last 25 years.

I cannot say for sure whether these approaches will resuscitate political civility and ideological fairness. But at least it will mean not lying on the canvas, bruised and bludgeoned, clutching your precious rules in defeat.

American Conservatism • China • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Great Reads • Greatness Agenda • Immigration • Trump White House

Great Reads for Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016


Back by popular demand, “Great Reads” henceforth will appear on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Forty-four days until the inauguration.

Only on American Greatness: Julie Ponzi lauds Anthony Esolen’s fight against the “cult of diversity” at Providence College.

Senior editor Seth Leibsohn praises Phoenix Suns Coach Earl Watson’s excellent example in the fight against drugs: “This is how coaches should talk.”

American Greatness Publisher Chris Buskirk argued in The Hill on Monday that President-elect Trump’s call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was very much in America’s interest.

Top up your coffee or pour yourself a glass of something a little stronger, sit back, and get ready for today’s great reads . . .

On America-First Foreign Policy

Speaking of China, our chattering classes are trying to figure out whether the president-elect is crazy or stupid. (Does it have to be either-or? Could it be “neither”?)

The Washington Post reports: “Donald Trump’s protocol-breaking telephone call with Taiwan’s leader was an intentionally provocative move that establishes the incoming president as a break with the past, according to interviews with people involved in the planning.”

Turns out, China flew some “nuclear-capable” bombers around the island just ahead of the call, according to NBC News.

The Commentary guys are vexed.  “The Trump administration is winging it,” writes Noah Rothman.

Protocol-schmotocol. Marc A. Thiessen, who was no Trump supporter during the election, has a pretty level-headed take in the Washington Post:

Trump knew precisely what he was doing in taking the call. He was serving notice on Beijing that it is dealing with a different kind of president — an outsider who will not be encumbered by the same Lilliputian diplomatic threads that tied down previous administrations. The message, as John Bolton correctly put it, was that ‘the president of the United States [will] talk to whomever he wants if he thinks it’s in the interest of the United States, and nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.’”
. . .
And if that message was lost on Beijing, Trump underscored it on Sunday, tweeting: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” He does not need Beijing’s permission to speak to anyone. No more kowtowing in a Trump administration.

Geopolitical Futures’ George Friedman says the game is altered: “By making the call Trump signaled to China that he is prepared to act unilaterally if the Chinese are not prepared to renegotiate the relationship, and everything is on the table. Trump selected a high-visibility, low-content issue – Taiwan – to demonstrate his indifference to prior understandings. Critics say Trump attacked the foundations of U.S.-Chinese relations. It’s true in a way, but Trump had pledged to change the foundations of that relationship.”

Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute writes, “[t]he ambiguity surrounding Taiwan’s international position cannot last forever. Yet while the moral case for supporting Taiwan has never been stronger, a precipitous challenge to the decades-long status quo has enormous risks the farther down the road it goes. America needs to show it can play a long game in Asia, too, and Trump should figure out a way to gradually increase support for Taiwan without causing a reaction that might make such a policy impossible to achieve.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) also argues at The Hill that “it takes a Trump to stand up to China.” 

“The President-elect’s phone call with President Tsai is a shot-across-the-bow that signals to Beijing that aggression in Asia will no longer be tolerated or rewarded,” Chabot writes. “The likely result will not be a spiral of costly conflict between the world’s two leading powers. Instead, the incoming administration is paving the way for an increasingly stable architecture of peace in the world’s wealthiest region.”

On Immigration and Border Security

My column at the Sacramento Bee last week addressed why California is wrong to defend sanctuary cities.

Well, the Los Angeles Times reports that California’s new legislative session began Monday with the message: “We’re ready to fight Trump.”  From the story:

Democratic leaders were harshly critical of Trump and sounded a combative tone in their opening comments, vowing to work aggressively as a “check” against the president-elect when his policies conflict with those adopted in California regarding the 3 million immigrants in the state illegally.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) called Trump’s agenda “cynical, short-sighted and reactionary” and criticized his appointments, saying that “white nationalists and anti-Semites have no business working in the White House.” He said California needs to strongly counter what is happening in Washington.

“Californians do not need healing. We need to fight,” Rendon told his colleagues.

If only California had an opposition party of its own.

Assembly GOP Leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley said he was saddened by the bellicosity of Rendon’s speech.

“Some of the rhetoric that I heard today, I felt like I was watching a speech from Trump, to be honest,” Mayes said. “It was fear mongering. There was demagoguery.”

Although the U.S. Constitution clearly makes immigration and naturalization policy the sole province of the federal government, California Democrats have introduced three bills they think will matter.

One would require a public vote on any border wall costing more than $1 billion. Which is cute.

Another would bar state agencies from “providing information to the federal government on a person’s religious affiliation if it is to be used for the purposes of compiling a database of individuals based solely on religious affiliation.”

The third is actually a retread of a bill Governor Jerry Brown vetoed this year. According to the Times, “The measure would prohibit local governments from contracting with private, for-profit companies to detain immigrants, and will require detention facilities to meet the minimum health and safety standards set by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Meantime, immigration advocacy groups are asking California Attorney General Kamala Harris to block the feds from accessing a database containing names of gang members, Yvette Cabrera reports at the Voice of OC.  The fear is that Trump might accidentally want to deport some people on the list who might not really be gangbangers.

“Among other things,” Cabrera writes, “auditors found that in some cases law enforcement agencies put individuals in the database without adequate evidence, failed to purge CalGang records that had not been updated within five years, and poorly implemented a state law requiring that juveniles and their parents are notified before the minor is placed in the database.”

On Economic Nationalism

President-elect Trump tweeted over the weekend he thinks U.S. corporations that leave the country, build new factories abroad, put Americans out of work and then want to sell their products back to the country “without consequence” should face a 35 percent tariff. Naturally, that’s sparked a row on the right.

Jennifer Steinhauer: “House G.O.P. Signals Break With Trump Over Tariff Threat” (New York Times):

House Republican leaders signaled on Monday that they would not support President-elect Donald J. Trump’s threat to impose a heavy tax on companies that move jobs overseas, the first significant confrontation over the conservative economic orthodoxy that Mr. Trump relishes trampling.

“I don’t want to get into some kind of trade war,” Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and majority leader, told reporters in response to Mr. Trump’s threats over the weekend to seek a 35 percent import tariff on goods sold by United States companies that move jobs overseas and displace American workers.

Peter High: “Reasons Why The U.S. Will Dominate The World Economy For The Foreseeable Future” (Forbes

Andrew Ross Sorkin: “Want to Bring Back Jobs, Mr. President-Elect? Call Elon Musk” (New York Times): 

In the last decade, Mr. Musk has created nearly 35,000 jobs among his various enterprises — and most of those jobs are classic manufacturing ones. His Tesla Gigafactory, a 5.5-million-square-foot battery factory under construction outside Reno, Nev., is expected to employ 6,500 people in manufacturing jobs by 2020.

Infrastructure is going to be the big topic of discussion for job creation in the new year. Here are three recent must-read stories.

Robin Wigglesworth: “Stock markets look forward to Trump infrastructure boost” (Financial Times): 

The day after Donald Trump’s shock presidential victory, William Sandbrook, the chief executive of US Concrete, woke up to see his company’s shares rocket more than 12 per cent in the first three minutes of frenzied trading.

“It was interesting,” he deadpans. Mr Sandbrook had stayed up late to see futures markets initially shudder at the prospects of President Trump, and then become comfortable with the idea after an unexpectedly magnanimous acceptance speech. But the ferocity of the rally was a surprise. “I thought we’d have a good day, but I didn’t anticipate this,” he admits.

After the initial flash of panic, Mr Trump’s unlikely victory has electrified the US stock market, where investors are eagerly anticipating corporate tax cuts, regulatory loosening and an infrastructure spending spree. Companies such as US Concrete — which gets about 15 per cent of its revenue from infrastructure projects — were among the biggest winners. The Texan company’s shares are up almost a quarter since the election.

“Any stocks having to do with infrastructure spending have taken off regardless of underlying fundamentals in the hopes that a large fiscal stimulus plan is coming that will have us rebuilding all roads and bridges,” says Brett Ewing, chief market strategist at First Franklin Financial Services.

Bloomberg Editorial: “How to Make Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Work” (Bloomberg View) 

Adam Chandler: “Infrastructure Is Only Popular Without Concrete Details” (The Atlantic

Robert Verbruggen at the American Conservative finds a “Populist-Conservative Melting Pot” in the nascent Trump Administration. His description of the populist plants of Trump’s platforms overlaps with what we’ve called “the Greatness Agenda.” After discussing immigration and trade, Verbruggen identifies infrastructure projects as a major populist win:

Trump has chosen Steve Bannon, a strong advocate of the president-elect’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, as his chief strategist and senior counselor. And Elaine Chao, Trump’s choice for transportation secretary, has a little-remembered record of supporting rail projects. (Today she’s best known as George W. Bush’s despised-by-unions labor secretary. Incidentally, she’s married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.)

Ideally, boosting infrastructure spending will create construction jobs, stimulate the economy, and facilitate future growth, though some experts have doubts. The plan could merely dole out tax breaks to investors and contractors for projects that would have taken place anyway, or focus on unnecessary new projects without maintaining our current infrastructure, for example.


Molly Worthen: “Can I Go to Great Books Camp?” (New York Times): 

Why have philosophical summer schools become a vibrant subculture on the right, but only a feeble presence on the left? The disparity underscores a divide between conservatives and liberals over the best way to teach young people — and, among liberals, a certain squeamishness about the history of ideas.

Liberals, however, can’t afford to dismiss Great Books as tools of white supremacy, or to disdain ideological training as the sort of unsavory thing that only conservatives and communists do. These are powerful tools for preparing the next generation of activists to succeed in the bewildering ideological landscape of the country that just elected Mr. Trump.

Damon Linker: “How conservatives out-intellectualized progressives” (The Week

Freddie deBoer is an unabashed left-wing professor at Brooklyn College who follows premises to their conclusions. He often wishes other leftists and so-called progressives would, too:

This is a constant condition for me: interacting with liberals and leftists who affect a stance of bored impatience, who insist that the answers to moral and political questions are so obvious that every reasonable person already agrees, who then lack the ability to explain the thinking underlying their answers to those questions in a remotely compelling way. Everything is obvious; all the hard work is done; only an idiot couldn’t see what the right thing to do is. And then you poke a little bit at the foundation and it just collapses. I suppose the condescension and the fragility are related conditions, the bluster a product of the insecurity at the heart of it all. You act like everything is obvious precisely because you can’t articulate your position.

Steve Hayward: “‘Post-Truth’ Media Should Look in the Mirror” (PowerLine): 

Who is it that created this “post-truth” climate? Once again, it was liberalism. And just how vigorously has the mainstream media ever stood against this nihilist undertow? That would be zip, zilch, nada. What Scottie Nell Hughes said on the radio is standard leftist orthodoxy. But like the time an independent counsel was used against a Democrat, liberals hate it when their doctrines are used against them.

To the contrary, speaking of “fake news,” I recall a certain prominent journalist—I’d rather not repeat his name—who trafficked in a wholly fake news story about a president, and whose forged documents were defended as “fake, but accurate.” So the media doesn’t have a lot of standing to complain about “fake news” just now, let alone a “post-truth” world they helped create.

I’ll have more about the Electoral College shenanigans on Friday, but in the meantime: “two Colorado presidential electors Tuesday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a state law that requires them to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote,” the Denver Post reports. (With more at The Hill.)

Can you even? Because these women literally can’t

Last but not least . . .

Stephanie Land, single mother of two, wants you to know that she’s off the market. The reason? Trump. As Land took pains to explain in the Washington Post on Monday :

I’ve lost the desire to attempt the courtship phase. The future is uncertain. I am not the optimistic person I was on the morning of Nov. 8, wearing a T-shirt with “Nasty Woman” written inside a red heart. It makes me want to cry thinking of that. Of seeing my oldest in the shirt I bought her in Washington, D.C., that says “Future President.”

There is no room for dating in this place of grief. Dating means hope. I’ve lost that hope in seeing the words “President-elect Trump.”


Send tips and links to ben-at-amgreatness-dot-com.


2016 Election • America • Donald Trump • Immigration • The Constitution • Trump White House

Why California is Wrong to Defend Sanctuary Cities


Forget #Calexit. We don’t need to wait until 2018 for a silly vote. California has all but decided to secede from the union.

How else to interpret our officials’ lawless course in the coming fight with the Trump administration over illegal immigration?

They’ve laid down their markers. They’ve drawn their lines. Gov. Jerry Brown: “We will protect the precious rights of our people.”

Sacramento Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg: “We are going to make it very clear that Sacramento will continue to be a sanctuary city.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “I like to compare this to conscientious objector status. We are not going to use our resources to enforce what we believe are unjust immigration laws.”

University of California President Janet Napolitano: “All members of our community have the right to work, study, and live safely and without fear at all UC locations.”

This week, Napolitano joined Cal State University chancellor Timothy White and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor-designate of California Community Colleges, in a joint letter to the president-elect, urging him to leave alone an estimated 74,000 undocumented immigrants enrolled in one of the three systems.

“These sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants are as American as any other child across the nation,” they wrote. These students “should be able to pursue their dream of higher education without fear of being arrested, deported or rounded up for just trying to learn.”

First, they aren’t children. Second, they aren’t at risk of arrest and deportation “for just trying to learn.” They’re at risk of arrest and deportation for being in the country illegally.

Read the rest at the Sacramento Bee.


2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Donald Trump • Trump White House

The Conservative Victory in the Trump Administration is Already Here


The exact shape of President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration and cabinet is not yet fully formed or defined but of this there can be no doubt: Whatever its ultimate cast, it will be one of sharp right edges. It is not looking like the most rightward or conservative administration since Ronald Reagan; compared to his first term choices, this is an administration looking more conservative than Reagan’s.

Observing Donald Trump’s early and latest choices conjures up a paraphrase of the old line about Barry Goldwater after he gave his stem-winder at the Cow Palace in 1964: My god, he’s going to govern as Donald Trump!

Elaine Chao, Betsy DeVos, Michael Flynn, Nikki Haley, Steven Mnuchin, Mike Pompeo, Tom Price, Wilbur Ross, Jeff Sessionsthis is a conservative public policy dream-team in the making, and at the most important of public policy positions and campaign commitments.

Read the rest at The Hill.


Defense of the West • Foreign Policy • Trump White House

Why Mattis is right for Secretary of Defense with Dr. Mac Owens



Dr. Mackubin Owens (bio below) joins us to explain why General James Mattis is the right man to head the Department of Defense. Owens, a Marine Corps veteran and national security expert, wrote the definitive essay in support of Mattis (here) explaining that not only does Mattis have the experience and practical wisdom for the job but that he would usher in a better era of civil-military relations. That runs up against the conventional wisdom among Mattis’s critics on the Left. But then, they aren’t so much interested in an argument from fact or experience as they are in a rhetorical bludgeon they can use against Donald Trump and his nominees.

If General Mattis becomes Secretary Mattis he will face a Department of Defense that needs to rebuild the military after several years of sequestration budgets and that has been used as a laboratory for Leftist social engineering. Dr. Owens explains why Mattis can rebuild our military readiness and culture after the depradations it suffered under the Obama Administration.



Dr. Mackubin Owens Bio

Mackubin Thomas Owens is dean of academics for the Institute of World Politics in Washington DC, a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, and editor of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal. He recently retired after 29 years as Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. From 1990 to 1997, Dr. Owens was also Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly defense journal Strategic Review and Adjunct Professor of International Relations at Boston University.

Owens is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Leadership and Democratic Statesmanship in Wartime (2009) and US Civil-Military Relations after 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain (January 2011) and coauthor of US Foreign and Defense Policy: The Rise of an Incidental Superpower (2015) and The Evolution of the Executive and Executive Power in the American Republic (2014).

Before joining the faculty of the War College, Owens served as National Security Adviser to Senator Bob Kasten, Republican of Wisconsin, and Director of Legislative Affairs for the Nuclear Weapons Programs of the Department of Energy during the Reagan Administration. Dr. Owens is also a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, where as an infantry platoon and company commander in 1968-1969, he was wounded twice and awarded the Silver Star medal. He retired as a Colonel in 1994.

Owens earned his Ph.D. in Politics from the University of Dallas, a Master of Arts in Economics from Oklahoma University, and his BA from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

2016 Election • America • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Terrorism • Trump White House

Mattis for Defense: Making Civil-Military Relations Great Again

President-elect Donald Trump with General James Mattis, USMC (retired).

President-elect Donald Trump with General James Mattis, USMC (retired).

In 1968, Anton Myrer, a former Marine enlisted man turned writer, published his novel, Once an Eagle. The New York Times bestseller tells the story of two Army officers as they rise in rank from World War I to the beginnings of the American involvement in Southeast Asia. One is Sam Damon, an honorable soldier forged in battle who understands the necessity of completing the mission but who cares for the wellbeing of his soldiers. The other is Courtney Massengale, a man of ambition but devoid of honor or principle. As a study of contrasting command styles, it soon became a fixture on the reading lists of both the Army Chief of Staff and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Damon and Massengale provided the two polar opposite archetypes of military leadership. The former is the “soldier’s soldier,” the one who shares the hardships and dangers of those he would send into combat. The latter is what the late David Hackworth called “the perfumed prince,” who rises by dint of cunning and politics.

I was put in mind of Once an Eagle by news reports indicating that retired Marine General James Mattis is a front-runner for secretary of defense in the Trump administration. This is good news for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that Mattis is the epitome of the Sam Damon “soldier’s soldier.”

I first met General Mattis in the mid-1980s, when he was a major and a student of mine in a seminar at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. His character and intellect were obvious even then. They were also apparent to the late Peter Schramm, as reflected in this short piece.

During his remarkable career, Mattis commanded at all levels. He is probably the finest Marine combat leader since the legendary Chesty Puller. Perhaps as a harbinger of things to come, as a lieutenant colonel, Mattis commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (1/7) during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. This was the same battalion that Puller commanded during the desperate battle for Guadalcanal during World War II.

As a brigadier general, Mattis commanded Task Force 58, executing a bold operation to seize an airfield in Kandahar during the initial phase of the campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. During the “march up” (anabasis) to Baghdad in 2003, then Major General Mattis commanded the storied 1st Marine Division.

In their book, The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division, Bing West and Maj. Gen. Ray “E-tool” Smith, USMC (ret.), did a nice job of chronicling Mattis’s actions during that campaign. Mattis always “led from the front.” He clearly had prepared his command well and it responded to his style of leadership.

His “message to all hands,” issued at the outset of the campaign, contains echoes of Henry V at Agincourt:

“While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression. . . . Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.”

West and Smith wrote:

military theory suggests that the ideal location for the general is one where he can observe the battlefield firsthand, gauge the fighting condition of his troops and the enemy, and still communicate with his key subordinates so that he can exploit what he is observing. . . . By being on scene during this battle, Mattis was employing what theorists call the coup d’oeil, when the commander is able to select and focus on the battle’s key elements. He could see that the Marines, although tired, were continuing to press forward, while the enemy had retreated into the town. He could see with his own eyes that his troops had the initiative. 

On one occasion Mattis offered some water to a tired Marine passing his vehicle. “The Marine refilled his canteens, took a deep gulp, and patted Mattis on the shoulder. ‘Thanks, man,’ he said, trotting off, apparently unaware that he was talking to his division commander.”

Promoted to lieutenant general, Mattis, who is a well-known advocate of the serious study of war, led the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and served as the deputy commandant for combat development. He then commanded the I Marine Expeditionary Force and served as the commander of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command.

In February 2005, Mattis got himself into a bit of pickle. Ignoring the old adage that says “never miss an opportunity to shut up,” he made some Patton-like statements at a meeting of Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in San Diego.

“Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight,” Mattis said. “You know, it’s a hell of a hoot… It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling… You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

Of course, his comments evoked criticism from many of the usual suspects. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on the Pentagon to discipline Mattis for his remarks. CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said, “We do not need generals who treat the grim business of war as a sporting event. These disturbing remarks are indicative of an apparent indifference to the value of human life.”

Those who got the vapors over Mattis’s remarks missed the point: He was not saying it is fun to kill everyone, but only those kinds of people who, as they say in Texas, “need killin’.” We used to understand the distinction. Fortunately for the country, the furor blew over, and we were not deprived of his future service.

Mattis went on to command twice at the four-star level, the second time as commander of U.S. Central Command. Nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in the summer of 2010, Mattis successfully presided over the most volatile region in the world.

Yet in December 2012, just after Obama’s reelection, the Pentagon announced that Mattis would leave his post the following March, well short of what would be expected of a combatant commander who had acquitted himself well in the position. Most observers were stunned. The problem seems to have been that Mattis was doing his job, which he himself described this way during a talk at Johns Hopkins SAIS in late November of 2012: “We military leaders have a right and duty to be heard, to give our best military advice, but we were not elected to office and we have no right to dictate.”

Instead, Obama’s national security advisor, Tom Donilon, was intent on centralizing foreign policy-making in his office with State and Department of Defense as the implementers. He did not welcome Mattis’s tough questions regarding the Iran strategic framework and his insistence on the need to plan not just for what we assumed Iran might do, but also for what Iran was capable of doing. There were other issues as well, including Afghanistan, concerns about Pakistani stability, and response to the Arab spring.

It is noteworthy—especially in light of his firing—that during his time as commander, none of the symptoms of unhealthy civil-military relations such as those that characterized the tenure of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, manifested themselves. There were no leaks to the press over policy disagreements and no reports of “slow rolling” or “foot dragging” in Mattis’s implementation of the president’s policy.

As I noted at the time, “a president has every right to choose the generals he wants, but it is also the case that he usually gets the generals he deserves. By pushing Mattis overboard, the [Obama] administration is sending a message that it doesn’t want smart, independently minded generals who speak candidly to their civilian leaders. The message that generals and admirals may receive that they should go along to get along, which is a bad message for the health of U.S. civil-military relations.”

Of course, this is all well and good for a general. But what would Mattis bring to the job of secretary of defense? Some have argued that tapping a retired general officer as secretary of defense itself violates the principle of civilian control. It has happened only once before: in 1950 when Harry Truman nominated George Marshall to replace the notorious political hack, Louis Johnson.

But Mattis as secretary of defense is no more a threat to civilian control than Dwight Eisenhower as president. Mattis understands that his role as a civilian secretary is different than his role as a general. He will respect the prerogatives of his generals and will expect them to respect his in turn. He will certainly not be overawed by flag officers.

I expect that Mattis would provide sound counsel to President Trump. He adheres to a more traditional view of American power than Trump—he supports NATO, cooperation with other allies, and forward presence and deployment. In addition, as someone who has seen war up close, he will not be inclined to use military force for frivolous reasons. He would pledge loyalty to the president but would expect loyalty in return. But his major contribution as secretary of defense may well be to rejuvenate the martial culture of the Pentagon after eight years of Obama’s social experimentation. I was present when he recently observed that the only reason to make changes to the U.S. military is to “make it more lethal,” suggesting that in his Pentagon, military effectiveness would once again trump “diversity” and political correctness.

He also would be a boon to healthy civil-military relations. It seems clear that American civil-military relations have been healthiest when there is a high level of trust between civilian and military leaders—that is, when there is mutual respect and understanding between them that leads to the exchange of candid views and perspectives between the two parties as part of the decision-making process.

Of course, the military must have a voice in strategy making, while realizing that politics permeates the conduct of war and that civilians have the final say, not only concerning the goals of the war but also how it is conducted. But civilians must understand that to implement effective policy and strategy requires the proper military instrument, which means soldiers must present their views frankly and forcefully throughout the strategy-making and implementation process. This is the key to healthy civil-military relations, upon which a Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will insist.

2016 Election • America • Donald Trump • Electoral College • Republicans • The Constitution • The Courts • Trump White House

Recovering Constitutional Dignity After the Election

Netflix's "The Crown" can teach American viewers about dignity and constitutional government.

Netflix’s “The Crown” can teach American viewers about dignity and constitutional government.

Every day since the election has brought with it a new affront to public civility. By and large, those in leadership have tried to rise to the occasion; signaling, yet again, Americans may be able to manage a peaceful transition of power.

Nevertheless, tensions have been pervasive. College administrators have excused some students from classes for being too emotionally distraught to learn. Social media has been full of denouncements of the character of the President-elect, his advisors, and those who voted for him. In several cities anti-Trump protests have resulted in vandalism, arson, and other acts of violence. Significant ideological and power struggles are transpiring in both the victorious party and the defeated party. At the risk of missing its constitutional functions, people across the country are even proclaiming the irrelevance of the Electoral College in a modern democracy.

The aftermath of this election should be of little surprise. The campaign was among the most vitriolic and divisive of recent decades. The debates lacked substantive discussion of policy. The bias of the media also fueled Americans’ anger and resentment. Political pollster Frank Luntz recently observed in an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that mainstream media’s pursuit of ratings and profitability (and even preferred political outcomes) rather than information and knowledge has resulted in a state of affairs in which Americans have increasingly begun “to collect information to affirm themselves rather than to inform themselves.” Americans seem to be turning on one another in ways that reveal a significant loss of their fundamental dignity and respect for one another upon which our constitutional government is ultimately grounded.

How have we come to this? Can we prevent the cutting of the already thin thread that continues to bind us as one nation?

Illumination sometimes comes from surprising places. The Netflix program “The Crown,” which became available for streaming on November 4, serves as a welcome example. The series dramatizes Queen Elizabeth II’s accession and her early years on the British throne and thoughtfully points the viewer to important considerations about the nature of constitutional governance.

Even Americans, who long ago repudiated monarchical government, can profit from considering the constitutional dynamics explored in episode 7, “Scientia Potentia Est” (“Knowledge is Power”). As the episode opens, viewers watch a pre-adolescent Princess Elizabeth taking notes as her private tutor, Henry Marten, vice-provost at Eton College, teaches her the fundamentals of constitutional law. With reference to Walter Bagehot’s classic The English Constitution (1867), he relates that there are two elements of the constitution, the efficient and the dignified. The efficient has the power to make and execute policy and is answerable to the electorate. “What touches all,” he intones, “should be approved by all.”

By contrast, the dignified, with its center in the Crown, gives origin and legitimacy to the efficient and is answerable only to God. The constitution only works—and the young princess is told to underline this—when the efficient (the government) and the dignified (the Crown) trust one another. “The Crown” explores how the young Queen applies this early lesson in learning to perform her constitutional role and invites us to reflect on our own constitutional order.

Significantly, unlike our British cousins, Americans have no Crown that serves as a reservoir for the dignity of our Constitution. Bagehot’s treatment of constitutional government compared the English and American constitutions. “Royalty,” Bagehot wrote, “is a government in which the attention of the nation is concentrated on one person doing interesting actions. A Republic is a government in which that attention is divided between many, who are all doing uninteresting actions. Accordingly, so long as the human heart is strong and the human reason weak, Royalty will be strong because it appeals to diffused feeling, and Republics weak because they appeal to understanding.”

Did the American Founders leave us at a little noticed disadvantage when they bequeathed us a republican form of government with its comparatively weak executive? If Bagehot was onto something here, Americans must deliberately and continually reflect together upon the source of authority behind our Constitution, especially when we transfer executive power. As the real and symbolic power of the presidency has expanded in recent decades, our presidential elections have generated increasing emotional heat and have distorted our constitutional design.

Where do we Americans look to find the functions of dignity within our Constitution—the function that helps sustain allegiance to our government even as leadership changes hands? American historian Forrest McDonald pointed out that the office of the president of the United States combines a ceremonial function with a governing function. The ceremonial function is that which moves the human heart to loyalty and so we are tempted to look to the president for the dignity necessary to inspire our trust. Too often, however, we are sorely disappointed when we do so. While some presidents have been more personally dignified than others, the contentiousness of American politics has long dragged presidents into the fray, diminishing the office as a wellspring of constitutional legitimacy.

If we must not look too much to the presidency to unite us, perhaps we might look to the Supreme Court, where the black robes of the Justices inspire a certain sobriety and dignity. The Judiciary, too, fails the test—especially since we increasingly have come to look to the courts for obiter dicta on policy that go far beyond their limited role of deciding the cases before them. When new rights can be found in penumbras and English words such as “tax” and “marriage” can be reconstrued at will, the Supreme Court shows itself accountable not to higher law and deliberative reason, but to the whims and winds of public opinion. And, finally, Congress, as the lawmaking body, serves as the “efficient” department of government, not the “dignified”—since it is by definition the people’s branch and is accountable most directly to the electorate.

Not in the executive? Not in the judiciary? Not in the legislature? Where does this leave us?

If, as some among us begin to fear, the very legitimacy and authority of our government is withering, where do we find the roots of constitutional dignity to feed and water them? The answer is, of course, right before us in the preamble of our written Constitution. “We the People,” it states, are the source of constitutional legitimacy. The role that the Crown plays in the English constitution was largely democratized in the United States, relocated in the consent of the people as reflected by their representatives during the ratification of the Constitution. That Constitution embodies the solemn will of the American people and it is sustained by our ongoing consent, which demands a measure of affection, but moreso requires us to seek information and understanding.

American constitutional arrangements from the beginning differed from those taught to the young Elizabeth. Americans sought to adopt the long-standing British style of  constitutional separation of powers, but with modifications. Americans eliminated the Crown, replacing it with a republican form of government, one that possessed democratic elements to make real government by consent. Along with monarchy, the founders did away with special birthright political privileges, the aristocracy of birth. In its place Americans embraced an idea of a citizenship that encouraged a new kind of aristocracy—one of talent and virtue where people properly educated and habituated in the responsibilities of their office created the bedrock of the American republic. In some ways those responsibilities were daunting, for the constitutional health of the American experiment depended upon a combination of informed suffrage and the steady engagement in civic good works.

The upshot is that American government is only as sound as the constitutional habits of its people. The dignified element of America is in us, its people, and it sits alongside those parts of us that are merely efficient. Alongside their brashness, working, hustling, vying, trying to make a living and getting things done, our forbears possessed a constitutional sobriety, a capacity for disinterested interest, a jealousy for hard-won freedoms, an eternal vigilance for the rule of law, all of which constitutional habits were brought by the majority of Americans under the guidance of conscience, that is, submitted for accountability to God.

The American constitutional settlement, in other words, called upon its people not only to reason together but also to inform their consciences in light of their faiths and to bring prudence to bear in their daily lives. These habits were to have bearing on both their private commercial and social engagements and their public and political engagements. This complex responsibility of American citizens, always messy in practice, was sustained for a long while on a spiritual and moral capital that has long since diminished under the corrosive effects of the false civil religion of progressive politics, by the misbegotten accretion of power and patronage in Washington, and by an increasingly unaccountable regulatory state. Where citizenship is largely reduced to voting and lobbying a centralized administrative state, the civic habits that renew constitutional discourse and unite us as a people and a polity atrophy. While America was in fact something new in History, it turns out that it does not stand outside History; we are not immune from the quite predictable and human corruptions of power, money and bureaucratic hubris. When the minds of the people become servile, we begin both to desire and to fear the emergence of a despot.

By many lights, neither of our presidential contenders appealed during the campaigns as a potentially unifying president; both seemed to cast shadows in the minds of different constituencies of a coming despotism. Only time will tell whether President-elect Trump and his administration can rise to the demands of restoring constitutional governance. In the meantime, it is up to us, the American people, to step back from the precipice and to reconsider the necessary elements of our Constitution and the ways they should work together. Out of what seems a moment of crisis to many, we also have an opportunity to begin the process of restraining the imperial presidency, restoring the rule of law over that of men within our courts, and demanding more effective lawmaking from Congress.

For these good things to happen “We the People”—in our own hearts, minds, streets, shops, neighborhoods, towns, and cities—are going to have to begin again to listen to and learn from one another. If we can do so; if we can stop shouting to be heard and instead listen for what we might learn; if we can lend a hand to those around us in distress; if we can try to figure out local solutions when we see a local problem rather than looking first to Washington; if we can bow our knees and our heads and reconnect to the dignity that has its source in and is accountable to God, in due course we shall begin to renew those habits needed for reconciling with one another and reweaving the constitutional fabric that has made America a beacon of liberty, prosperity, and hope. To vote is not enough; now comes the task of practicing with dignity the difficult art of self-governance.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • Republicans • The Culture • Trump White House

A Little Common Sense, A Little Patience


For years, conservatives tossed around the Richard Weaver phrase that “ideas have consequences.”  Someone needs to write a book, Elections Have Consequences. Cue, now, the Theodore White story about Barry Goldwater actually running as Barry Goldwater. Surprise: The candidate who ran as a Republican and won is actually putting together a Republican administration.

But, whether it’s our liberal friends who still question and email and text us asking us to justify the latest story about Donald Trump or one of his appointments, actors on Broadway, or professional and paid columnists who seem not to understand the first rule of politics (“Other people may disagree with you”), here’s an apology that may just work to take all these sociology and anthropology majors back to their Introduction to Political Science courses: “I’m sorry, Donald Trump is not a Democrat and I’m sorry the Republican Party is different from the Democratic Party. Welcome to America.”

Will that do it? Will that calm all the fears about ruined Thanksgivings or satisfy the New York Times columnists who still see a yet-to-be-sworn-in President Trump as ushering in an era of “the beginning of the end,” “a tomorrow that is bleak for anyone who held hope that he could be a different, better man” “a White, Racist, Misogynistic Patriarchy,” “hostile to the interests” of women and minorities?

Will it satisfy soi disant “conservatives” who write that Michael Flynn (co-author of a recent book with respected conservative and foreign policy expert Michael Ledeen) is an “intemperate, loose cannon who lacks the decorum and ethics one expects from someone in high office”? Or that Steve Bannon carries the water for “racist and anti-Semitic musings of white nationalists”?

Of course, and always, the proof against Bannon is the same tired three pieces of evidence every other critic has recycled and has been answered for well over two weeks. Hiring Orthodox Jews, supporting Israel, employing Israelis in Israel, is simply dismissed as not proof of lack of anti-semitism—that would be too inconvenient for the world of facts we are all supposed to now live in, you know, absent “fake news.” Well aware of the distinction and argument over anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, is it too much to ask for the name of one anti-Semite who is pro-Israel and hires Orthodox Jews?

I get the antipathy toward fake news. Of course—news used to mean something. But what of fake opinion—opinion grounded in pure conjecture, absent little if any proof, marshaling tired and long-ago dismissed and disproved evidence?

Perhaps we should all ask for a new Great Relearning where we don’t all have to “start from zero.” What does not starting from zero look like, just now? This, just this: That more than 61 million Americans did not vote for a racist, misogynistic, anti-semitic administration. That those 61 million-plus Americans might simply believe in a country whose illegal immigration policies should follow the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and still be somewhat more liberal than, say, Mexico’s illegal immigration policies. That appeasement of radical Islam needs to end. That taxes and regulations are too high. That Jeff Sessions’ views of civil rights—where one can at once celebrate the work and sacrifice of Rosa Parks and yet think Title VII has become the opposite of its color-blind intentions—are actually consonant with a respectable view of civil rights.

But all of this requires a little common sense and a little patience. Common sense used to be in the mainstream. My prediction is that Donald Trump’s presidency will help usher that back in, just as Ronald Reagan’s did a generation ago. Of course, right or wrong, all of this requires the virtue of just a little time. It also requires the understanding that to a great many people, tens of millions, it was the Obama presidency, and its continuation under Hillary Clinton, that was actually radical. Again, the first rule of politics, please.

I understand that paid writers must write, but it should not be too much for us to ask they help calm our waters rather than put us in a constant state of revolution or re-election. Donald Trump becomes the president in 59 days. He then is entitled to his first 100 days, however long that lasts. For those who still think elections matter, and that there was a reason—or good set of reasons—that a great many Obama voters actually changed their minds to give another view a chance, let’s give them, democracy, and our fellow citizens their due.

Too much to ask? If it is, the conclusion can only be that America is not being poorly governed but that America has become ungovernable. This, we should all refuse to believe.

2016 Election • American Conservatism • Cultural Marxism • Free Speech • Mike Pence • The Culture • Trump White House

‘Hamilton’ Shames Running Mate of Man Who Believes the Same Things as Alexander Hamilton


In what is sure to be one of the most predictable and least encouraging stories about the state of politics in America today, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by the audience while attending a performance of “Hamilton” on Friday. As if this wasn’t enough, several cast members delivered a patronizing monologue about how they represent a diverse America that is afraid of Pence and his running mate.

The whole incident is sophomoric enough to be mistaken for a shaming campaign by college kids. You know, except for the fact that the target was the next vice president of the United States.

But leave aside irony that cast members of an ostensibly civically minded musical disrespected one of the most important figures in American civics. Leave aside also the fact that the battle between president-elect Trump and his erstwhile opponent Hillary Clinton looks like a repeat of the battle Miranda records between Hamilton and Aaron Burr. That is, on one side, you had an abrasive truth-teller who “smells like new money [and] dresses like fake royalty,” and “would rather be divisive than indecisive” (Trump and Hamilton). On the other, you had a conviction-deprived social climber whose duplicitous approach to politics could be summed up as “talk less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for” (Burr and Clinton).

Please ignore all that. The incident deserves to be mocked for a much more important reason:

No modern politician’s views more perfectly resemble those of the historical Alexander Hamilton than those of Donald J. Trump.

Even Miranda’s dramatized  version of Hamilton fails to disguise this fact completely. I defy anyone to listen to, say, Miranda’s “Cabinet Battle #2,” and not hear echoes of Trump’s break with democracy promotion-enamored neoconservatives in Hamilton’s scornful dressing down of Jefferson over his support for the French Revolution:

You must be out of your goddamn mind if you think

The President is gonna bring the nation to the brink

Of meddling in the middle of a military mess,

A game of chess[…]

If we try to fight in every revolution in the world, we never stop,
Where do we draw the line?

One suspects Hamilton would not have been in favor of the Iraq war, based on this.

Moreover, even Miranda himself couldn’t fail to note the similarity between the Reynolds Pamphlet and the “Access Hollywood” tape during his appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” when he rapped “Well, he [Trump] never gonn’ be president now,” an echo of Reynolds Pamphlet-inspired lyrics from the musical.

But, unfortunately, the moments where Miranda’s unmatched lyrical pyrotechnics actually portray the real Hamilton’s beliefs are in the minority. More famous (and liberal) lines from the musical, in particular “immigrants, we get the job done!” would’ve been totally alien to the historical Hamilton.

Why? Well, let’s start by talking about how the musical portrays Hamilton as a bitter opponent of President John Adams. While this is partially true (and useful for dramatic purposes), it also allows Miranda to elide the fact that Hamilton supported one of the most hawkish immigration bills in the history of the United States. I’m referring to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which Adams signed into law.

Far from “immigrants, we get the job done,” the Alien Act makes Donald Trump’s endorsement of “extreme vetting” look like the La Raza platform. They granted the president sweeping new powers to deport immigrants (note: legal immigrants), and banned those immigrants from voting until they’d spent 14 years in the country.

The Sedition Act, meanwhile, went well beyond Trump’s ill-defined call to “open up the libel laws,” or his moments of verbal retaliation against unfriendly lawmakers. It shut off freedom of the press virtually altogether, and even led to the jailing of 20 congressmen.

Again, all of this was generally supported by Hamilton, in response to a perceived foreign threat of seditious behavior from France. In other words, on immigration and the scope of free speech, Hamilton was Trump to the power of 10. While it’s impossible to know what a modern Hamilton would do, on this evidence, it seems likely that he would not only have supported Trump’s ideas, but privately pushed for Trump to make them even more severe.

Then there was trade. Julia Hahn at Breitbart has already laid out the exhaustive similarities between Hamilton’s economies-of-scale focused protectionism, and Trump’s own skepticism of the benefits of unfettered free trade:

Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first Secretary of Treasury, laid out a proposal that followed the “English mercantilist model closely” by calling for high tariffs to protect nascent American industry, supporting agriculture to encourage more exports, promoting “Buy American” policies and allocating federal funds for transit systems to facilitate commerce such as roads, bridges, and harbors.

In other words, Hamilton would’ve been nodding right along to Trump’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club where he threatened tariffs on car companies moving overseas.

But surely, the traumatized “Hamilton” fans are screeching, Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t have liked Trump simply because Trump is a strongman! A tyrant! Anti-American! Oh, woe is them. From Federalist 70, written by Hamilton himself:

Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy. Every man the least conversant in Roman story, knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a single man, under the formidable title of Dictator, as well against the intrigues of ambitious individuals who aspired to the tyranny, and the seditions of whole classes of the community whose conduct threatened the existence of all government, as against the invasions of external enemies who menaced the conquest and destruction of Rome.

Yes, that’s right. Hamilton literally endorsed the original people to whom the phrase “dictator” was applied as proper and necessary statesmen. Not only that, but one of Hamilton’s biggest disagreements with his bete noire Jefferson was on whether democracy was desirable at all. Hamilton was deeply skeptical of the idea, which is partially what led him to conceive of the very thing that gave Donald Trump the presidency: the Electoral College itself.

So if Hamilton were told by his hysterical liberal fans that the United States might have just elected a dictator thanks to his own system, it’s easy to imagine him sighing with relief and saying, “Well, it took long enough!”

In short, the very qualities which the “Hamilton” cast “fears” in Trump—an aversion to dissent, a skepticism of cosmopolitan immigration and trade policy, an authoritarian mindset, and his assumption of power thanks to an anti-democratic system—are qualities that defined the man their musical celebrates.

Of these beliefs, Trump is most likely to embrace an unreconstructed version of Hamilton’s views in the realm of trade. I personally don’t believe or wish that Trump would enact another Alien Act, or another Sedition Act, and I would be horrified if he turned out to be a dictator. But if he did, there is still a Founding Father who I can imagine looking down from heaven and smiling that Trump didn’t throw away his shot.

What’s his name, man?

Alexander Hamilton.


Correction: An earlier version of this article overstated Hamilton’s role in the drafting of the Alien and Sedition Acts.  There is some dispute as to Hamilton’s role in the drafting and in his level of political support for the Acts (particularly with respect to sedition) but his general views on immigration are demonstrably in line with the argument of this article.  

America • Mike Pence • The Culture • Trump White House • Uncategorized

Why Actors Shouldn’t Command Attention When They’re Off Script

27921193202_4321eaaac0_bThat Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed and subjected to an obnoxious harangue last night at a performance of the Broadway production, Hamilton, is by now old news. USA Today and many users of social media, in reporting this, were evidently tripped up by the application of the word “irony” as they sought to suggest that Pence’s decision to attend the highly-acclaimed musical about our nation’s founding fit the meaning:

Social media reacted fiercely to Pence — who is a born-again evangelical Christian that believes marriage should be between a man and a woman — and the irony of his decision to watch the diverse Broadway hit . . .

The content of the harangue from Brandon Victor Dixon, the cast member who plays Aaron Burr in the show, evidenced a complete lack of self-awareness, to say nothing of the concept of irony:

Vice-president elect Mike Pence, we welcome you and truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton American Musical. We sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.

We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds and orientation.

“We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf all of us.” [emphasis added]

As my friend Robert Pondiscio noted today on Facebook:

A show about a Vice President who shoots a rival and gets away with it? Are you sure you *want* him to be inspired by Hamilton?

Touché . . . though I suppose that doesn’t really work, either, when speaking of dueling with pistols.

2016 Election • America • Donald Trump • Greatness Agenda • Trump White House

Reflections on Post-Trumpening Narcissism


“Echo and Narcissus” (detail) by John William Waterhouse (1903).

President-Elect Trump’s new era quickly spawned many written reflections and memes focused on forgotten Americans tired of being told what to do. The long foretold “monster vote” arose, and, by the thinnest of margins, told the forces of globalism to halt their advance. Yet Trump’s opponents seem unwilling or unable to learn from their loss, choosing instead to continue feeding their insatiable narcissism through conspicuous displays of emotion.

Nothing unites the Clintonians so much as arrogance of personal opinion—“we know what’s best for you” is their mantra and constant inner monologue. This approach unites them with 1960s-era radicalism, a sense that our nation’s sinful past must be shunned and our future modernized to help us feel better about ourselves. The Wikileaks-published emails between Podesta, Mook, Abedin, and other DNC co-conspirators revealed within their campaign an unsurprising disdain for the nation, religious believers, Sanders voters, and any journalist unwilling to serve their candidate. Now that Trump’s voters have defeated them, the same proud cabal mourn and weep in the open, with funeral pall and floral sympathy. How can these confident insiders, heroes of their own story, become so seemingly despondent?

Wayne Madsen poses that their prominent grief is part of the kayfabe. Their malignant narcissism prevents them from expressing genuine human emotion, so instead they keep scheming and plotting a “purple revolution.” They still know what’s best for us, so they fabricate the meme that America should be purple (a progressive blend of red, white, and blue). This “purple” meme proposes even more false unity—a hasty derivative of the same “we’re better than this / that’s not who we are any more / wrong side of history” rhetoric that cost them this election.

Her strongest supporters are taking their sorrow to social networks and the streets, making sure everyone can see their rent garments. They are rallying in major cities without goals or purpose. These marchers do not aspire beyond complaining about their loss, though they definitely seek to inspire guilt within and concession from the victors.

Their urge to manipulate the weak cannot be satisfied through mere protest, so they have enlisted children to spread their message. Most examples involve the grooming of children to parrot the political agendas of adults who seek weaker American families, unlimited illegal immigration, and further protections for adult homosexual behavior (“love is love”). In one of the most horrifying examples of this narcissistic manipulation, a mother in Texas filmed herself kicking her elementary school-age son out of the house because he voted for Trump in a mock election (the mother is now under investigation).

Those too forlorn to leave the house for a protest rally have invented a new way to feed their outrage. Their DIY solution: 1) put on a safety pin; 2) establish an imaginary safe space for the “marginalized”; 3) brag about it on social media with a selfie or a profile pic.

safety pinSome of the more grounded, dedicated leftists seem to realize that this sort of safety pin “slacktivism” is all about the wearer, not those who they claim to protect. We must at least respect the commitment of our enemies who can look beyond themselves and focus on their real goal: Making White people feel better.

And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. They’ll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.

Luckily, others urge a less radicalized sense of perspective. When a New York Magazine writer proclaimed, “This is the worst thing that has happened in my life,” a Federalist writer was there to correct him:

Lest I leave myself open to obvious criticism, I will concede that President-Elect Trump himself is a narcissist. Yes, he is certainly a rich and powerful billionaire who waged an effective political campaign partially by urging the media pay undue attention to him. Yes, he had several outbursts during the campaign where he seemed to obsess over his aggrieved pride, punching back against his opponents harder than would become a man seeking executive office. Yet, when I attended his rally in Orlando earlier this year, I was pleasantly shocked to hear such a wealthy man describe his motives for spending his time, money, talent, and emotion on a seemingly impossible campaign filled with hate and attacks:

My whole life has been a life of accumulation, money money money, I want more money, I don’t even know why, it’s just like ‘keep going’, money money, I want to build more buildings . . . And I said sometimes ‘I want to be greedy’ — now, I want to be greedy for the United States of America! . . . we have to be rich before we can be great again!”

Now we behold a 70-year-old Trump who, after attaining the highest office in the land, gave a calm, gracious victory speech. He appeared in a major TV interview with his family, relaxed yet confident, patiently deflecting the questions of a hostile interviewer.

When asked about what will happen to his beloved companies, he humbly retorted, “It’s peanuts compared to what we’re doing. Health care, making people better. It’s unfair what’s happened to the people of our country and we’re going to change it.”

This is a man who no longer needs to feed his narcissism; the title of “President” is all the nutrition any ego would need in a hundred lifetimes. Though I expect him to make mistakes, I think we may have seen the last of a man who continues petty feuds and grudges. His only future jabs will be on behalf of the American nation, to break her free from the grips of a self-serving ideology that has so harmed her people.

For years, we endured a thin-skinned president whose self-obsessed oration and curated cult of personality helped foster division and ram through destructive policies. A greater America is undoubtedly a nation where we are still able to express ourselves without constantly projecting arrogant self-obsession.

Trump White House

Stephen Bannon, Trump’s Presidential Rhetoric & More on NPR’s Morning Edition

white house strategist stephen bannon

I joined David Greene on NPR’s Morning Edition today for 2 segments. The longer segment was a discussion of Stephen Bannon and his appoint as strategist and “equal partner” (according to the press release) with Reince Preibus, the newly minted Chief of Staff. Bannon horrifies many Democrats – and not a few Republicans – because of his previous role at Breitbart.

Their concern is overblown. Bannon is not the deplorable bogeyman described by Trump’s political opponents. He is instead a big picture thinker and an effective political operator focused on promoting and enacting the policies that Donald Trump ran on during the campaign: an immigration policy that prioritizes the interests of American citizens, a pro-worker trade and economic policy, and an interests based foreign policy that is skeptical of foreign military entanglements.


I counsel that those who want to understand the significance of Stephen Bannon to the Trump White House should attempt to understand him as he understands himself. He has said of himself, “I come from a blue collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union, family of Democrats.” It was not so long ago that described the base of the Democratic Party. In this election Trump won the votes of many people with similar sensibilities and similar histories. Ronald Reagan did too and confounded his many critics. Trump and Bannon are doing the same thing.



The earlier segment with David Greene focused on what kind of rhetoric we can expect from President Donald Trump as opposed to what the country heard from Trump the candidate. I argued that we need look no further than the President-Elect’s victory speech the night of the election: gracious in victory, bold in his plans for the country, and yet still more accessible than his predecessors. Witness his opening comment: “Sorry to keep you waiting. Complicated business.” But the short speech was also full of uplifting statements like this: “We will embark upon a project of national growth and renewal. I will harness the creative talents of our people, and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It is going to happen.”

At his best, Donald Trump, embodies the virtue Kipling described as the ability to “walk with kings” yet not “lose the common touch.” This will come as a pleasant surprise to those of his detractors that have ears to hear.