The American Mind: Terms of Servitude

The editors of The American Mind write about the chilling of online political speech in Terms of Servitude.

After January’s explosive drama, the battle for digital control of American life is now proceeding quietly, by soft degrees. The shock of 1/6 has morphed into a pretext for something still more consequential: a new phase of national crisis wherein corporations with strategic control over Americans’ communications enforce a creeping line of censorship against critics of the sitting regime. While online platforms claim only to be applying their terms of service in neutral fashion, those terms themselves stink of delegitimization. Once this shadow falls upon you and your account, you are as good as deactivated. You know this; you know they know this; they know you know they know it. Forced de facto to impose a precautionary principle on yourself, you “voluntarily” recoil well from the fuzzy line of unofficial censorship that advances far beyond the bright official line.

Already in March of 2020, Google had erased heterodox research on COVID-19. But things escalated rapidly when election season came in earnest. The New York Post was locked out of Twitter for breaking a story about Hunter Biden’s Chinese business ventures. The sitting president had his social media accounts shut down entirely. Twitter competitor Parler was removed from Amazon’s servers for hosting discussions among Trumpists about the unfolding events. And YouTube banned even the allegation of widespread election fraud. Americans realized—or should have—that they had suddenly been herded into a communications control system unlike any ever imposed—or even conceived—in America.

Not merely a handful of fringe cranks, but a full half of the country, is being pre-screened out of the kinds of political discourse fundamental to American citizenship. Yet this radical change is setting in with unnerving ease and rapidity. Day by day, Americans are losing faith that there is anything they can do about it. Day by day, they are getting used to it. Ryan T. Anderson’s fair and sensible interrogation of transgenderism was stripped off of Amazon; Shelby Steele had to fight tooth and nail before his documentary on race relations would stream on Prime, which also axed Michael Pack’s Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in his Own Words (which even PBS was open-minded enough to air) during black history month. Though all these turns of events got some press in the predictable places, each new act of censorship goes down a little easier with the general public. This “reset”—this revolution—is just the way things are now.

This week, The American Mind experienced the new “normal” firsthand. A recent piece of content entitled “The Ruling Class Strikes Back” was removed from YouTube “due to a violation” of what YouTube calls its Community Guidelines, specifically the prohibition regarding “spam, deceptive practices, and scams.” Our colleagues pressed YouTube’s support team on the claims and discovered that the video was flagged for “advancing false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches changed the outcome of the U.S. 2020 presidential election.”

This action is much more than the online equivalent of a moving violation. It is a permanent warning, which flags not just one’s challenged content but one’s entire account. In this way, any finding of another infraction between now and eternity results in a suspension and, in effect, a blacklisting. Officially, it’s three strikes you’re out. Unofficially, and no doubt deliberately, after just one transgression against the political speech code, the only reasonable reaction is to bend over backwards to silence yourself—not just on the original matter, but on any matter that might cause the Eye of Sauron to swivel your way again.

In our case, we suspect the offending verbiage concerns the election-season wave of court suits and legislation deployed to strengthen the prospects of the Left: “Its lawfare had the effect of making vote fraud on a mass scale far easier, and harder to trace, than ever before. If nothing else, this had the effect of irrevocably undermining American confidence in our elections.” In other words, it is “deceptive practice” to suggest that the 2020 election was anything other than perfectly regular and beyond reproach in every regard. Though the podcast is still accessible on our Apple Podcasts feed, the black mark will remain on our record with YouTube—making us vulnerable to a complete account wipe down the line should we “misstep” again.

None of this is illegal. We recognize that. We understand the argument, repeated somewhat tiresomely, that private companies are free to host speech or not, and to do business or not, as they wish. But Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Facebook are more than private companies. They are now powerful quasi-government entities, with no precedent or constitutionally established role in our government, which, by their own admission, have a profound national effect on American politics. (That’s how Twitter justifies the need for its “Civic Integrity policy” in the first place.) Clinton voter Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, found in 2018 that “no company in the history of the world has had the ability to shift votes and opinions to the extent and on the scale that Google has.” These companies are not just doing business: they are reshaping our regime. At the very least, we should have a say in how this goes down. But on just this question of the ruling class transforming our form of government against our will and without our participation, the noose of suppression tightens, and Americans slip into silence.

As a governing logic for our national culture, as a regular dynamic of public life, this creeping censorship is inescapably un-American. Our colleague Michael Anton pointed out to Tucker Carlson that the way to settle concerns about election integrity in a free society is not to punish them but to answer them, with open discussion in the public square. Instead, even a conscientious objection to proclaiming affirmatively what the ruling class demands is being denied.

And what is good for the goose of the 2020 election is good for the gander of whatever the regime chooses to officialize, from the politics of transgender activism to those surrounding coronavirus lockdowns. To make the broadcast of one set of views all but mandatory, and to keep those who disagree from organizing, having their say, and engaging on their merits, is flatly inconsistent with our most fundamental habits and mores, our way of life, and, ultimately, our form of government.

We will continue sharing our frank assessments of this and subsidiary issues at the heart of the political crisis forced on our country by its current revolutionary regime. We will not stick to the pre-approved script of a powerful minority or sing from the hymnal of policed opinion. For Americans’ concerns to be answered honestly and resolved legitimately, we must protect their digital communications from the command and control of ruling-class authoritarians. Technologized censorship cannot coexist with the American way of life. It is an irrepressible conflict. And we know which one has to go.

The American Mind: America Must Replace Its Failed Elites

From The American Mind comes America Must Replace Its Failed Elites.

Conservatism, Inc. will say anything to avoid revitalizing our movement. We’re here to do it anyway.

Ed Note: The young founders of American Moment are committed to making vital changes in the conservative movement and injecting new energy into our coalition. We at The American Mind agree this must be done—and fast. Unfortunately, National Review, once a crucible for the best conservative thought, has become so  defensive of its own position that it attacks any organization (including ours) which threatens to overturn the failed Republican leadership class. We are glad to host American Moment’s response to National Review’s ill-informed hit piece against them.

The old order that has dominated the Right for at least the last three decades is desperate to force its agenda on the country: endless foreign wars, cultural weakness, porous borders, corporate solicitude, and general apathy in the face of civilizational crises.

Fortunately, many are pushing back. Like many of our fellow citizens, we are determined not to go back to the failed consensus. That’s why we launched American Moment. Its mission is to forge a cadre of aligned and dedicated young people to serve in government and public-policy organizations to support strong families, a sovereign nation, and prosperity for all.

We are seeking to complete the long-overdue realignment of the conservative movement that President Trump jumpstarted. Unlike the multinational corporations that have captured the Right, we are striving to champion the legitimate interests of the American people.

An editor at National Review is not impressed with—and is apparently confused by—our effort. He writes: “the founders [of American Moment] do not disdain the idea of a Swampy elite, nor do they reject the predicates of the administrative state on which such an elite depends. Their main resentment seems to be that they are not the ones on top.”

In any presidential administration, there are thousands of appointed positions across the federal bureaucracy. Often collectively referred to as “the Swamp,” these officials wield enormous power over public policy of national import, including immigration, economics, trade, and foreign affairs. The constellation of advisors that surround a president and cabinet officials set the policy agenda of any new administration.

Even if the Administrative State were decimated tomorrow, restoring the constitutional order of the founders’ design, the majority of presidentially-appointed positions would remain intact. The question then remains: who will fill these thousands of positions? Ideally, young people who understand the great challenges of our time and are prepared to meet them. Making sure this happens is our primary goal at American Moment.

That is why we are launching initiatives like our Fellowship Program, which empowers young people without “connections” or rich parents—as well as those who do not have a college degree—to serve their communities and their country. An influential class of leaders, policymakers, and staffers is an inevitable reality of modern politics. We must fill these roles with engaged, committed people whose allegiance is with the majority of the American people and the preservation of the republic.

If we don’t act, the hawks who took us to ruinous war in Iraq, the free-trade absolutists who gutted our manufacturing base, and the utopians who continue to push for open borders will all waltz into the next Republican White House by boasting the “credentials” and “expertise” to lead. It is a shame that National Review seems so averse to new energy, so dedicated to disparaging and delegitimizing any initiative to revitalize the conservative movement.

The same National Review editor, in another piece, attacks New York Post Opinion Editor Sohrab Ahmari:

Whatever legitimate grievances of which Ahmari speaks, actually doing something about them cannot merely be a matter of wish-casting and fan service. It must be a patient, persistent matter of mind-changing, coalition-building, and policy-enacting—in other words, politics, in which the prospect of winning “decisively” is elusive at best.

We reject this characterization of Ahmari’s project, but we agree that patience and persistence are necessary in order to create the conditions for substantive change. Our incumbent ruling class has substantially destroyed American society. Now we must build anew.

We won’t achieve our goals overnight. Identifying, educating, and credentialing young leaders will take time. But we are persistent. With the hundreds of prospects that we’ve already identified, we can start to create a new cohort constantly fed by new talent—that is eager to serve our nation and serve it well. If that means throwing an occasional social event for them, so be it. The biggest problem with Georgetown cocktail parties has never been the cocktail parties themselves. It’s the indifference and unwillingness of most attendees to take responsibility for how they have failed the American nation.

Who will replace them? President Trump was a prominent outsider. That was key to his success. Now we need an entire cadre of young Americans motivated by the same values he represented to rise to the occasion and lead. Our mission is to build and equip this movement, and we will remain focused on it regardless of the old order’s circular firing squad.

The American Mind: Once Upon a Presidency

 

Once Upon a Presidency is written by Joshua Hochschild, Professor of Philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University, for The American Mind.

From populist to dissident

Let’s say you’ve long been disaffected with political parties. You don’t trust them. You care about politics, but you don’t see much promise in the standard candidates.

Let’s even say you have suspicions the two parties are more interested in their own power than in helping the country.

Occasionally you see promising people come forward, challenging the conventions. Maybe your interest is piqued by an Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard, a Marianne Williamson or Bernie Sanders. Or perhaps by a Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ron Paul, or Herman Cain.

Whoever they are, interesting people with interesting ideas show up, and somehow they speak to you. They seem to share some of your interests. But they never get a foothold in the game of national politics.

Maybe you don’t understand politics, and these candidates always lose fairly on the merits. But you suspect the deck is stacked against them. They criticize Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, corruption in politics. You’ve heard them called “populists,” but they always end up getting labeled something like “fascist” or “socialist,” and cast aside.

Or maybe you do understand politics. You long for an outsider, populist candidate, not because you are naïve, but because you are well-read. You’ve studied history and political theory. You don’t care much for pundits or journalists; you read thoughtful, literate writers who provide historical and philosophical perspective—thinkers most pundits and journalists have never heard of and wouldn’t understand.

Or maybe you are a sincerely religious person and you know your beliefs are not, will never be, embodied in a political party. You know all politics is compromise. But you also feel an obligation to help improve the world through politics, and this only makes you all the more frustrated at the narrow range of options presented by the two parties.

For whatever reason—naïve disaffection, intellectual aloofness, religious detachment—you don’t feel at home in mainstream partisan politics, and you suspect that the system, the two parties themselves, are stacked against you.

There are economic and political explanations of why they might be stacked against you. Whether you are aware of these explanations or not, the evidence is clear: candidates who challenge them, candidates who are too “populist,” are always marginalized, ridiculed, suppressed.

Then along comes Trump.

The Renegade

Is his candidacy a joke? Is he worth paying attention to? Is this a publicity stunt?

He says things that seem to make sense to you, and moreover he says them effectively. He inspires followers. He beats opponents. He doesn’t put up with establishment bullshit. You don’t like him—almost everybody says this—but he shows an attractive charisma, a fighting spirit. Even his imperfections—“incivility,” strange mannerisms, shamelessness, a less than respectable past—seem to be part of his energy, his dynamism.

And his actual policies? The things he says he wants to do? Well, maybe you don’t agree with every single one, but there is actually a coherence to them, a sense of priority and pragmatism. Energy independence. Non-interventionism. Revitalizing manufacturing. In substance, as well as style, he seems, well, populist.

Sure he’s rich (maybe) and a celebrity (certainly), and so not what you expect as a populist. But unlike a lot of rich people, he’s not owned. He doesn’t seem to defer to anybody or anything. He doesn’t owe anything to anyone, least of all to the party whose nomination he seeks or the powerful interests that seem to pull the strings in Washington.

So you find yourself one of tens of millions willing to give him a chance. What’s the worst that can happen?

You notice he’s usually attacked not for his policies, but for his style. They say he is “dark.” They say he is “scary.” They say he’s a racist and misogynist. They even say he doesn’t have a sense of humor, or that he’s psychologically ill. You don’t see any of this—but you do see who is saying these things: his enemies in the two parties who would be threatened by his success. You don’t think the charges are fair—but even if they are, it’s what he’d do in office, not his style or his tweets, that matters.

Maybe you see a rally on TV, or maybe you attend one yourself. It doesn’t seem “dark.” The tone is cheerful, patriotic. He’s funny, and also substantive. And the crowd—it’s diverse and friendly. Normal people. Truckers and plumbers and builders. Lawyers and dentists and accountants. Teachers and engineers, restaurant owners and waitresses, moms and grandmothers, people who haven’t been inspired by politics before, all sorts.

The Unthinkable

And then: Trump wins.

Everybody is surprised. Some people even seem genuinely scared. You wonder if the media emphasis on how “scary” he is might be harming people’s mental health.

The opponents obviously overplay their hands. They are hearing “dog whistles” that aren’t there (and they would only signal “dogs” if they were there, anyway). Maybe some of your friends call you a racist for supporting Trump, but you know you aren’t a racist, and you don’t think he is either.

The racism charge is so common and people are so scared that a few smart liberals who opposed Trump beg for people not to lose perspective, to give him a chance, and to stop “crying wolf” about his racism.

You wonder, “Why aren’t people more interested in understanding why Trump won?” They assume that since Trump is “dark,” his widespread support must be “dark.” Trump is a racist, they say, so his supporters must be racist. Or his supporters are brainwashed, the victims of manipulation. Or maybe there was foreign interference. Maybe the election was rigged.

If you haven’t given up on the biggest media outlets by now, perhaps you find some traditional journalists that avoid this cheap, simplistic narrative—journalists doing serious work to explain the political landscape. Perhaps you find one of the honest, anti-Trump journalists, like Tim Carney or John Miller or Chris Arnade, covering Trump’s actual populist appeal, seeking to understand the kinds of people who voted for him, the real civic and economic conditions that Trump appealed to.

But these hardworking, gumshoe journalists seem the exception, not the rule. And their stories, the ones that have a ring of truth to you, are subtle, complicated, and under-the-radar. They don’t play well on social media. They don’t make good memes. It’s outrage that sells. People who are afraid don’t want to be told not to be afraid. They want to be told they have good reasons for their fear.

So cooler heads do not prevail. Trump is never given a chance. Though he evidently wants to work with Democrats—on major issues, like immigration, health care, and tax reform—the Democrats refuse to work with him.

Then, at one point, there is supposedly proof that Trump is a racist. In the wake of tragedy in Charlottesville, he said that white nationalists, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis were “fine people.” Shocking. Smoking gun.

But it’s not. You see it’s a lie, a lie started and propagated by journalists. Clever editing, willful misreadings, bad faith, outright dishonesty. You read the transcript, you watch the video, and it’s obvious: Trump said there were “fine people” on both sides of the debate about statues, but he clearly, unequivocally, and multiple times condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The “smoking gun”…isn’t.

The Lies

Half the country never heard about this though. They fell for a hoax. They believed they really had “evidence” that Trump was an unashamed racist. Crazy, huh? Why? Why would this hoax be perpetuated? Political gain? Outrage clicks? Have the journalists convinced themselves? Who knows the motive: in any case, it proved a useful myth for politicians, an easy talking point. Joe Biden believed the “fine people” lie (or claimed to). Eventually, he identifies it as the basis of his campaign against Trump.

Meanwhile, Trump’s very legitimacy as president has been challenged from the beginning. His opponents accused him of stealing the election. Foreign interference. “Russian collusion.”

These charges are leveled for years. No evidence. Just allegation. Conspiracy mongering. No proof. For years, they say the election was rigged, illegitimate. But no evidence.

Eventually the evidence that does come out is that the whole thing was made up. It’s not just a false allegation, but a contrived hoax, a political con-job. People high up in the FBI lied about it, fabricated evidence, entrapped people on false charges, testified falsely in Congress, hid evidence, and coordinated with the press to leak false information. It was an egregious abuse of surveillance powers. Maybe you see a popular documentary about it, or maybe you were able to put enough pieces together after seeing it argued about and dissected all over social media.

You’ve long known that the media manipulates and lies, and you’ve seen it exacerbated on social media. The media has become masterful at manipulating narrative, framing things, hiding things. Maybe you also watched a documentary about that too (one of the top documentaries of the year, even after being suppressed by Amazon).

You know your disaffection with “the establishment” isn’t partisan: Democrats and Republicans seem corrupt, liberals and conservatives are fed up with “the system.” The media seems systematically dishonest. These are basic civic and human rights you care about: the right to the rule of law, the right to a free press, the right to free and fair elections, the right not to be manipulated.

Big journalism itself seems to be part of the problem, coordinating with the established interests in the two parties to push their narrative. Did they help dispel the “Fine People” hoax? No, they magnified it. Did they properly cover the collusion allegation? No. Did any evidence ever emerge that Trump stole the election? No. But it made for clickable headlines for four years.

“Trump stole the election”: it was literally a conspiracy theory, but it had traction because, of course, we all know about corruption and fraud in politics. We expect it. Heck, Kennedy’s theft of the election from Nixon was a plot-point in Mad Men.

Perhaps you’ve also done a little digging and you know that there are questions about voting machines and how trustworthy they are. This was even a major Democratic complaint following the 2004 election. You’ve always wondered how those machines worked, how they could be secure. Potential for fraud has been widely recognized. Maybe you saw one of numerous stories, or even caught the HBO documentary, about how these machines are not only vulnerable, but suspiciously, intentionally vulnerable.

You’ve also noticed that social media plays a role in manipulating people—not only bad actors on social media, but the social media companies themselves: they tweak their algorithms to manipulate your behavior. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature—it’s the business model…(continues)

The American Mind: What Is “Our” Democracy?

Seth Barron at The American Mind writes about a phrase that is being used increasingly frequently as of late in What Is “Our” Democracy?

When the Left claims something is theirs, they mean it.

A curious turn of phrase has slipped into discourse over the last few years. References to “our democracy” turn up all the time lately, and even though a computer search shows that the phrase has popped up now and then since at least the 1920s, its usage has increased a lot recently.

It’s something that many people probably haven’t noticed, and it’s certainly innocuous enough. “Our democracy” hardly seems fraught with controversy. After all, we all have a stake in the political system, and it sounds like a nice way to describe the republic—the “common thing”—we share.

On the other hand, it’s striking to notice who uses the phrase. It is said, almost exclusively, by Democrats. Reflecting on the January 6 riot in The Atlantic, Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote, “As I sat in my Capitol Hill office two weeks ago, watching a violent mob storm the symbol and seat of our democracy, I was reminded of my distant past.”

Omar, of course, was born and grew up in Somalia, and she is comparing the raucous events in Washington that afternoon to a full-scale civil war that killed half a million people, and displaced a million more, over the course of a decade. This hyperbole may just be rhetorical license, but it’s notable that she repeats “our democracy” six times in one short essay. She concludes, “Violent clashes and threats to our democracy are bound to repeat if we do not address the structural inequities underlying them.”

The phrase gained contemporary traction around the time of the 2016 presidential election, when the Hillary Clinton campaign laid the groundwork for contesting Trump’s victory by insisting that Russian meddling with the electoral system had compromised the integrity of the vote. President Obama, in his January 11 “farewell speech,” cautioned his anxious followers, “It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy.”

The idea that “our democracy” had been hijacked by foreign elements on behalf of their stooge and puppet Donald Trump animated the so-called “Resistance,” which set about undermining Trump’s presidency even before the election. Appeals to protect and defend “our democracy” from the threat of authoritarian, autocratic rule led to years of protest and fury, dominated media coverage, and resulted in legislative paralysis as the government submitted to a lengthy investigation into Trump’s alleged collusion with a plot that turned out never to have existed.

So after all that grousing, it’s hard to hear the words “our democracy” without noticing the stress on the possessive. Democrats seem not to be so worried about American democracy in general so much as their version of it, which is centered around an agenda of “equity”—meaning careful allocation of all society’s plums to favored demographic categories—open borders, the erasure of sex differences, and a globalized economy that subsidizes subsistence-level handouts for the dispossessed.

Consider a recent article in Time magazine that explains how a “shadow campaign saved the 2020 election.” According to the major piece, which was written with the cooperation of the organizers of the shadow campaign, “a loosely organized coalition of operatives scrambled to shore up America’s institutions as they came under simultaneous attack from a remorseless pandemic and an autocratically inclined President.” These plotters, according to reporter Molly Ball, included corporate executives, “non-partisan” civil society groups like Protect Democracy, and Norm Eisen, the former Obama administration official who umpired the first Trump impeachment.

Ball writes,

That’s why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.

“Democracy,” in this sense, where a handful of extremely wealthy and powerful insiders “change rules and laws,” and “control the flow of information,” may not resemble the democracy that you learned about in civics class but is a term of art reflecting uniparty control from above. “Democracy” is a system owned by the people who run the country’s major institutions—it’s not a playground for outsiders.

When we hear “our democracy,” then, we should hear it as a description of possession. They aren’t saying that it belongs to all of us. It is theirs, and they will do anything they can to defend it.

The American Mind: True Populism is Pro-Family

The following article comes from Helen Roy at The American Mind – True Populism is Pro-Family.

Things are looking up for the Hungarian people.

Over the past ten years, the country has adopted a body of policies to promote a traditional conception of family life, relieve the economic pressures on young families, and boost national fertility. These include a litany of generous tax exemptions and family-first stipend and loan programs, including subsidies for minivans and home renovations, a family allowance for grandma, three years of maternity leave, as well as interest-free marriage loans of $36,000 for young couples to be cancelled once they have three children.

Though it could always be too soon to tell, vital rates point in a promising direction. Minister for Families Katalin Novák tweeted just last week that the period between 2010-2020 was a decade of demographic explosion for Hungary, during which the country’s fertility rate increased by 24% and the number of marriages nearly doubled.

Last year, Novák offered commentary on the reason behind the country’s radical choices: “The recent demographic figures speak for themselves. The number of marriages is at its 40-year high, [and] the fertility rate at its 20-year high, while the divorces haven’t been as low as last year in the last six decades.” She explicitly juxtaposed Hungary’s position on family policy with that of other European countries, highlighting that the Hungarian government favors family policies that grow the country’s population without relying on mass migration.

“The Hungarian point of view is that we have to rely on our internal resources, namely supporting families and enabling young couples to have children. The other approach says that there is overpopulation in one half of the world, while there is a population decline in the other, so let’s just simply balance the difference,” Novák said. “[We] are lectured and stigmatized simply because we took a path that is different from the mainstream…[and] exposed to continuous attacks for years, but facts are facts, our results are clear, and we also enjoy the support of the Hungarian people.”

Unshrinking cultural, political, and economic support of traditional family life has earned Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz (“Hungarian Civic Alliance”) Party the enduring support of the Hungarian people. One wonders if such a thing might be possible in America.

American Anti-Natalism

Alas, a toxic combination of conservative austerity and liberal feminism together have produced a situation in this country that, in comparison, bodes very poorly for young families.

In June of last year, Lyman Stone and Bradford Wilcox of American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies published an article in Newsweek entitled “Empty Cradles Mean a Bleaker Future.” They write:

Financial, educational and housing-related factors are major reasons why people don’t marry and have children in the United States today. That’s why we have written, testified and argued extensively in favor of practical proposals to provide reasonable financial support to families, remove obstacles to marriage and create a more family-friendly society. Birthrates are not too low because the economy or the public budget needs more babies—they are too low because people want more babies, but are prevented from having them by financial and policy obstacles that can and should be addressed.

In America, bootstraps break under the dream-crushing weight of hospital bills, housing, and student loans. Each of these is an opportunity area for legislators. Over the past decade, the story of family policy in this country has been, basically, an overproduced kabuki theatre show wherein the Left makes a show of leaning into paid parental leave, the Right dutifully winks at geriatric donors while flinching at anything that resembles “socialism,” and the issue goes no further.

The Trump moment offered a brief reprieve for the people against the tired consensus. There was some action by Ivanka Trump to mandate parental leave for federal workers and provide universal state daycare for the rest. But, as I wrote in September, her logic was basically more of the same. Providing universal state daycare so that women can remain a clean 50% of the American workforce sounds like it was dreamt up in a Biden cabinet. The position ignores the fact that most women would rather be moms than girlbosses because, in fact, most women have jobs, not careers. Many moms, also, are rightfully mistrustful of day care. Of course, there is much more to family life than two breadwinners keeping their one point five children passively fed and entertained until they turn eighteen.

But our elites don’t believe this. American technocrats see people and all of their most essential roles, from parent to citizen, as fungible. The most important thing that everyone fails to offer American families is a clear vision for what family is, and what role it and its members play in the broader political picture. Contrary to neoliberal consensus, it is not a training ground for the workforce.

A Populism Worthy of the Name

Hungary’s approach is multidisciplinary, but policy is undergirded by an explicit proclamation of what family is, most essentially: the most important source of joy and meaning in a person’s life, and the spiritual foundation of man. The official Hungarian public diplomacy About Hungary site states: “The focus of policy is not just on reversing population decline, now an EU imperative. It’s not about ‘natalism’. It’s an expression of a deeper political and moral philosophy that seeks to enable women and young couples, if they wish, to marry and enjoy the experience of rearing their family.”

Under this umbrella, policymakers then enjoy the freedom and creativity that a clear expression of purpose affords. Their policies are effective to the extent that they dovetail with one another toward unified ends, and, ultimately, because Novák and her peers do not regard the country as a petri dish for utopian social experimentation nor as an economy arbitrarily circumscribed by porous entrypoints for future workers. Instead, their family policy is designed to address the real needs of their own people— political theatre be damned.

Self-identified American populists must prioritize the amelioration of economic pressure on young middle- and working-class families. Otherwise their self-identification is fraudulent. This probably means a near-moratorium on immigration, a reexamination of more generous fiscal policies for family, including but not limited to tax breaks, family allowances, and at the very least, some form of subsidized parental leave.

But what if, beyond the practical help, it were perceived as the most honorable thing a person could do to have children and raise them well? What if we held women who sacrifice their salary to raise their own children in higher regard than those who outsource motherhood to keep their career? What if families, aside from financial concerns, also did not have to worry about being sneered at for their fertility? What if parents didn’t have to worry about predatory gender ideology or critical race theory robbing their children of sanity through public school?

These what-ifs aren’t idle dreams. They’re realities treasured in the secret hearts of embattled, nearly abandoned citizens. Words alone don’t solve problems, but if our politicians made bold statements in support of a more wholesome way of life, they would rally millions and millions in support of even bolder policies.

The Hungarian government amended the Constitution last year to include the provision of “an education [for children] based on the values of the Christian culture of Hungary and guarantee the undisturbed development of the child according to their gender at birth.” The proposal states: “Hungary protects the right of children to self-identify according to their gender of birth and ensures education according to the values ​​based on the constitutional identity and Christian culture of our country.” It also explicitly specifies that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.”

American “conservatives” would never. And the fact that they would never reflects our facile neoliberal attitude toward family that will guarantee its demise. A multifront approach to the war on family has worked for our enemies, and in Hungary, it appears to be working in favor of our friends. Will the American Right ever have the temerity? Or will it wave away our despair and decay as just another “blessing of liberty”?

The American Mind: America Isn’t Make-Believe

President of the National Association of Scholars Peter Wood writes about what makes a nation and tells us that contrary to modern conceit America Isn’t Make-Believe. This is a little bit of a longer entry, so I’ve left here early on Saturday morning for your weekend perusal.

What is a nation? The no-sooner-established-by-President-Trump-than-abolished-by-Presidient-Biden “President’s Advisory 1776 Commission” understandably by-passed this question in its initial report. The report deals with a particular nation—our own—and had enough to do without entering the deeper thicket. But what is a nation?

In his 1983 book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, the political scientist and historian Benedict Anderson proposed what has become the most popular answer among social scientists. A “nation,” in Anderson’s view, is a kind of myth. People imagine a community, larger than any actual community, and imagine themselves part of it.

This doesn’t happen by accident, says Anderson. Their imaginations are stirred by people who have something to gain by persuading people that a large collective “we” exists, where in reality people are truly connected by networks and small face-to-face social units. The folks who manipulate us into believing in nations were once the revolutionaries who were intent on overthrowing the kings. But in time, scheming capitalists saw the advantages of creating larger markets by manufacturing national identity.

Anderson’s idea has built-in appeal to post-modern intellectuals who see the purchase in brand positioning as “citizens of the world” rather than as citizens rooted in a particular nation. It also has a magnetic charm to those whom we might call “post-Americans,” who wander around as deracinated individuals and who define themselves by likes and dislikes instead of any core set of commitments.

If America is just an “imagined community,” we can choose to imagine it any way we want to, or even not at all. We could, for example, imagine it as a 400-year-old system of racial supremacy. That’s the narrative that Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times have put on sale in the 1619 Project. That the historical claims in that Project are preposterously false is not an obstacle. It may even be an asset—a way of liberating believers from the tyranny of facts. The imagined community need only stir the willingness to believe. It need not rest on foundations of actual fact. Sophisticated people know, or at least “know,” that history itself is just story-telling, replete with events that never really happened.

The 1619 Story

Hannah-Jones does not mention the “imagined community” conceit, but she deploys it by describing the ideals of America as “false when they were written.” That is, America’s founders hoodwinked people into believing they were a nation because their real intent was to establish a durable race-based tyranny.

Whether Hannah-Jones sees her own history-telling (which she has now demoted to “a narrative”) as laying the foundation for a different “imagined community” is a perplexing question. She has sometimes written strident assertions that her account is based on real facts, but she has also played fast and loose with well-established facts and altered her own account as convenient. At one point she claimed on PBS that “our fact checkers went back to panels of historians and had them go through every single argument and every single fact that is in here…. So it’s really not something that you can dispute with facts.” This is demonstrably false. One of those fact checkers, Northwestern University history professor Leslie M. Harris came forward in March 2020 to explain that she had informed The Times in advance of publication that Hannah-Jones’s assertion about the cause of the American Revolution was flatly false, and Hannah-Jones and The Times declined to correct it.

In short, Hannah-Jones granted herself the license to tell the stories she believed to be useful, including the story that her assertions had passed rigorous inspection. This is the inevitable destination of all imaginers of community. They offer stories that are meant to sound plausible even if they are wholly or mostly fictions, because those kinds of stories give them a shortcut to power.

What’s What

Anderson’s idea, despite its popularity with the intellectual Left, is flimsy. Real communities often have charter myths, but such myths buttress underlying commonalities, interests, and ideals. Romulus and Remus play their part in imagining the origins of the ancient city of Rome, but Romans from the earliest days of the republic had a well-developed civic identity rooted in concrete practices and particular mores. (Many centuries later, the citizens of Rome would have to work harder to conceive what gave the sprawling Roman Empire, surfeit with subgroups, a cohesive identity. Even still, an answer was at hand: Roman law.)

Nations, like almost any human social unit—tribes or clans, for example—defy easy and neat definition. So too with ethnicity. Consider the idea of a “tribe.” What counts as a “tribe” in Madagascar differs considerably from what counts as a tribe in the Amazon. Tribe, after all, derives from a Latin word that itself acknowledges the multiplicity (at least tres) of people living near Rome (Latins, Volsci, Hernici, etc.). It certainly does not denote some form of social organization that happened to apply to the rest of humanity. If we ask how communities actually organized themselves, the answers are bewilderingly diverse. Tribe is no more than a convenient placeholder word for a bunch of people whose sense of themselves and whose manner of governance is a blank until we get down to details.

Likewise with “ethnicity,” “nationhood,” and other such concepts. We need to examine not just what makes them distinct from one another right now, but how they originally realized and built upon the possibilities of some kind of unity or commonality. For example, many nations trace themselves to a conquest or a series of conquests, with a founding king. France, England, and Spain offer origin stories of this sort. The United States, by contrast, frames itself as a unity achieved by a revolution against a king.

This might seem too obvious to warrant my emphasis, but it is apparently not obvious enough to prevent many modern Americans from stumbling over its implications. After all, our rebellion against a kingly power was our common liberation from a vast reservoir of culture and custom. We began not with a Romulus and Remus, or a Norman invasion, or a war to expel the Saracens, but with a decision to break with a good portion of the history of civilization—a history that frowned on self-governing republics.

This is where the United States, We the People, came in. We collectively defined ourselves in opposition not just to a British king (and more generally the divine right of kings), but to a whole social order. America was born from recognition of an emerging collective identity—and out of “self-evident truths” that were not yet self-evident to much of the rest of the world. Smart as Thomas Jefferson and the other founders were, they were hardly able to sell the inhabitants of the thirteen English colonies in North America on a self-evident lie, i.e., imagining themselves into a unity that had no basis in fact. Imagination counts for something, but it must discover and work with what is real.

Jefferson fully owned this when he wrote to Henry Lee in 1825 that the object of the Declaration of Independence was not “originality of principle or sentiment,” but to find an “expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All it’s [sic] authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & c.”

Stirring the imaginations of Americans to recognize and act on the facts of common interest and shared identity was the work of the Revolution, but the “American mind” had already been formed by common experience.

Cancelling 1776

The 1776 Report, issued by President Trump’s 1776 Commission on January 18, reflects this fact-based understanding of history. The report, however, was not long for this world. Two days after its issuance, on the day of President Biden’s inauguration, Biden abolished the Commission and de-commissioned the report from the White House website. It has been archived in the documents of the former administration and re-posted in several places (including the website of my own organization, the National Association of Scholars), so it has not simply disappeared.

I understand that the Commission intends to carry on its work in the private sector, perhaps under a modified name. Its forty-page report, after all, is more a preface to the work at hand than a final statement. It begins by saying that the Commission’s “first responsibility” is to summarize “the principles of the American founding, and how those principles have shaped our country.” And so it does, in spare, lucid, and only lightly argumentative prose. Three appendices, on faith, identity politics, and teaching are presented in a more disputatious tone, but the document as whole speaks with quiet confidence about what America is and where it came from.

One might not know that from reading accounts in the press. Kevin Kruse, writing for MSNBC, opined that “The Trump administration’s thinly-veiled rebuke of ‘The 1619 Project’ is a sloppy, racist mess.” Slate declared, “Trump’s ‘1776 Report’ Would Be Funny if It Weren’t so Dangerous.” The Daily Beast headlined, “Trump Admin Compares Racial Justice Activists to Slavery Apologists.” CNN wailed, “Trump Administration Issues Racist School Curriculum Report on MLK Day.”

One New York Times headline, by contrast, sounded almost sober: “The Ideas in Trump’s 1776 Commission Report Have Long Circulated on the Right.” But the first sentence in the article castigates the report for lacking “input of any professional historians of the United States” and for eschewing a bibliography. This is no doubt the Times winking at readers who remember that its 1619 Project lacked both professional historians and a bibliography.

It is a comparison the Times would be well-advised to avoid. The 1776 Commission included eminent scholars such as Larry Arnn, Victor Davis Hanson, and Charles Kesler, and its named sources include Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Cicero, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Karl Marx, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Frederick Douglass, and Ronald Reagan, among others. This report was written primarily by political scientists. It does not pretend to be history, as does 1619, or anthropology. It might be criticized for the paucity of the latter.

Various left-leaning historians joined in savaging the report. A roundup of their jibes can be found on Wikipedia, which is a fitting repository for them. A sample:

James Grossman, the executive director of the AHA, criticized Trump’s push for so-called “patriotic education,” writing that genuinely patriotic history is a rigorous effort to study the past honestly and acknowledge complexity, rather than “cheerleading”; “nationalist propaganda”; or “simplistic and inaccurate narrative of unique virtue and perpetual progress.” Grossman described the 1776 Commission’s report as “a hack job” that was “not a work of history,” but of “cynical politics.” Grossman said, “This report skillfully weaves together myths, distortions, deliberate silences, and both blatant and subtle misreading of evidence to create a narrative and an argument that few respectable professional historians, even across a wide interpretive spectrum, would consider plausible, never mind convincing.”

Let me seize Grossman’s inadvertent compliment, “skillfully weaves.” It is something to ponder that a “hack job” is also an act of skillful weaving. But it is hard to extract much from the eructation of people like Grossman, who as executive director of the American Historical Association has remained steadfastly mum about the historical validity of the 1619 Project—which of course has had vastly more publicity and reach than the 1776 Commission’s report.

I will let the critics in the popular media and in the stagnant ponds of academe rest where they are. The report itself, however, deserves some attention, both for what it says and what it doesn’t say.

The True Report

The 1776 Report runs twenty pages and has four appendices that add another 20. In view of its brevity, I would have thought a summary unnecessary. But clearly some readers, including some highly educated ones, have struggled with the text. So here is the extra-condensed version. The report notes that Americans today are “deeply divided about the meaning of their country, its history, and how it should be governed.” But “the facts of our founding are not partisan.” Read the actual record and you will discover Americans have “ever pursued freedom and justice.” Of course we have made mistakes along the way. True American history is “the story of this ennobling struggle.”

America is a nation like other nations, but it has some unusual features. First of all, it is a “republic,” which historically is a fragile form of government. Knowing that, our founders took steps to counteract the forces that make republics typically fail. An important and original “step” was the separation of church and state. America is also unusual in having been founded on principles that its founders held to be “applicable to all men and all times”—those being Lincoln’s words. And, unlike most foundings, details of the American founding are well documented. Unlike most countries, our founding is a big part of our national identity.

We can pause here to observe that all the points I have summarized can be and in fact are disputed by the partisan Left. Even the idea that we are “deeply divided” can be shunted aside by sneering at those who dissent from the Left’s preferred narrative as ignorant folks whose views don’t warrant inclusion in the coming “Unity.” Are the facts of the founding nonpartisan? Replies the Left, there are no such things as “facts”; the founding is open to all sorts of interpretations. It could be seen, for example, as yet another effort of highly privileged white men to gain even more privilege. “Freedom and justice” were merely rhetorical flourishes intended to distract people from the real agenda of those oligarchs.

This post-modernist rejection of the founding ideals—the thesis that our received history is mostly myth—is one way of reading the 1619 Project. But given Hannah-Jones’ assertions about her accuracy, it is possible to read the 1619 Project as simply a profoundly mistaken account of our history. The ambiguity is in the original and may well be baked into the criticisms of the 1776 Report as well.

The report does little to defend itself against these sorts of cynical dismissals. That is a wise tactical move. Anticipating and answering the pseudo-sophisticated jibes of Marxists and post-modernists would only have diverted the 1776 Commission from its purpose, “to enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.” The real problem is that a significant number of Americans now simply have no interest in that history, those principles, and a more perfect Union. What do they want? If it’s the 1619 Project, what they want is a newly invented history that rejects the significance of the founding and the republic as fatally flawed constructs, and dreams of a more complete Union imposed from above, by the experts, rather than perfected in the hearts and minds of everyday Americans.

There follow some key points in the report: that the U.S. made Americans citizens, rather than subjects; that the new country had a large share of common ethnicity and religion but chose not to make ethnic identity or religious affiliation central; in other words, that America’s founding was not, unlike that of virtually every other country in the world, based on blood and soil. Rather it was built on a principle—all men are equal—that the founders made into their nation’s core assertion. They built on the established idea that civil law and religious law were separate, still protecting religious freedom; they upheld the “rule of law;” they conceived that the role of federal government should be limited to performing those tasks that only a national government can do. The founders understood they had guard against both the tyranny of the government and the tyranny of the majority of the people. To these ends, they included a series of protections for those in the minority (most notably in the Bill of Rights) and established “separation of powers” achieved by “checks and balances” among the branches of government.

Back to Basics

In other words the 1776 Report offers what not so long ago was a basic primer on the American Founding. It doesn’t say anything that would have challenged the intellect of an average middle school student—which is a point some of its critics, including on the Right, hold against it. They ignore that this average middle school student I conjure would not have been subject to seven or eight years of contemporary dis-education that emphasizes above all the need to combat global warming and to pursue social justice initiatives. For our actual middle school students—indeed, most of our college graduates —this primer might almost have been ancient Greek.

Page ten of the report begins a chapter on “Challenges to America’s Principles”: slavery, progressivism, fascism, Communism, and racial and identity politics. The arguments set forth under these headings are nothing novel. They are crisp and compelling. The last of them bears special emphasis. “Identity politics” is to be seen as a new form of “explicit group privilege,” and is a “stepchild of earlier rejections of the founding.” As a consequence, it makes “racial reconciliation and healing” less likely.

Imagined, Invented, or Recognized?

In drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson drew on a body of learning, including historical, philosophical, and political thought far above the level of most of his countrymen. The educations of the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1776 for the Continental Congress could have set them apart from their compatriots, but the founders chose instead to put their learning in service of the common cause. They were able to put into refined words the prevailing sentiments of ordinary Americans. When the Declaration was written they were counting on the power of these new words to help crystalize America’s national identity out of the shared resentments, beliefs, and aspirations of colonists who were not yet formally a nation.

That is where the idea of “imagined community” comes into play. Were Jefferson and the others just imagining? Or were they molding into political shape a national identity that had already emerged but not fully defined itself? The question is pertinent today because so many post-Americans are busy trying to talk us out of our national identity.

“Nationalism” is now seen as a destructive ideology, next-door to or perhaps cohabitating with “fascism.” Our would-be liberators hold that the Declaration and the Constitution are instruments of tyranny, and that taking them seriously poses a grave threat to the kind of wise, benevolent government that the experts are earnestly trying to “deliver” for us. A nation, after all, has borders and other kinds of boundaries. If it is a republic, it expects its citizens to take responsibility for electing its leaders and helping to shape its laws. These are unquestionable goods in the eyes of those who uphold the teaching of the American Founding, but they are obstacles to progress in the eyes of those who are eager to move us into a new historical epoch.

Patriotism

What that epoch would look like is hard to say. Biden, in his first steps as president, gave us some hints. He abolished the 1776 Commission. He announced steps to open our borders to illegal immigrants and to offer citizenship to 11 million illegals already here. He decided that “transgendered” individuals would have novel legal rights. He cancelled a major oil pipeline project. He said he would re-open America’s participation in the Paris Climate Accord. These may sound like a grab bag of leftist policies, but all of them lean heavily against the sense of American identity. Thus they are all of a piece with the Left’s project to restructure our national identity, our traditional way of life shared by the 74 million or so nationalistic Trump supporters—and, I suspect, many others.

In his September 2020 speech announcing the creation of the 1776 Commission, Trump evoked the need for “patriotic” education. Biden and his fellow travelers believe patriotism works against the Left’s project. The word “patriotic” elicited hoots from leftist intellectuals, but it didn’t go down easily with conservative intellectuals either, who tend to see “patriotism” as too crude a form of nationalist sentiment. It evokes flag-waving and enthusiastic crowds rather than thoughtful essays (like this one!).

But Trump surely hit the right chord. Americans who see themselves as part of the American nation, and not as citizens of the world or as participants in the great post-national flux, do indeed look for spirited patriotism, not just enunciations of an abstract creed. A national identity is felt as much as it is thought. This feeling scares those whose identity rests on feeling themselves to be thinkers. They don’t know how to control those who do have it. And so they resort to thuggish techniques to shut it down.

The new social media censorship, the Nationally Guarded inauguration, the withering scorn visited on anyone who mentions election irregularities are all parts of this anti-patriot agenda. They are also excellent reasons why Americans who do love their country, and are not ashamed to wave a flag now and then should read the 1776 Report carefully. It is subversive literature—the kind of thing that circulated in the years before the revolution that gave the Declaration of Independence an audience, one which understood and welcomed that birthday of Freedom.

The American Mind: In Defense of Stigma

This post from Alex Kaschuta at The American Mind, In Defense of Stigma, talks about degenerating mores in our society. Conservatism and progressivism in society are necessary, competing forces. Though not wholly unrelated, these terms are not synonymous with the political Conservatives and Progressives. Small c conservatives protect that which has shown that it works to protect and extend the existence of the society. Small p progressives test out new ways of doing things to see if they are better ways than the old ways. If the progressive elements find something that works better, then it gets integrated into the society and becomes something that the conservative elements should continue to defend going forward. Going to either extreme leads to societal downfall. Too conservative and the society stagnates and collapses. Too progressive and the society breaks apart and collapses. Stigma is a tool to protect the traditional way of doing things.

We are staring down the barrel of a world without social norms. This summer of riotous unrest has only exacerbated a trend that was hurtling forward to begin with: in the name of unfettered free choice and “destigmatization,” progressives of every stripe have demanded we not only abolish, but positively invert, every social norm.

To mark the conquest, as any victor does, the advocates of unfettered choice have found it necessary to parade the spoils. It is not enough to tear off our former cultural girdles: traditional social norms are not only being defeated, but inverted. Under the banner of diversity and inclusion, new transgressive duties are imposed to replace the old authoritative ones. Now, at a time when the initiation rituals of our culture are essentially “whatever may piss off your dad,” a discussion about what traditional norms mean (or meant) and what they could mean in the future is warranted.

Though collective norms change through the ages, there was never a time when an absence of norms was normative itself. Until now, that is: in the late hours of post-modernity, non-judgmentalism and tolerance are the highest order in our current culture. Arguably, rejecting order is the only true order. And to mark the occasion and make sure we don’t slip into old habits, the culture rallies around giving alternative lifestyles their time in the sun. We’ve replaced local norms—which, stipulated, were often stifling—with a very loose set of global commandments that, to meet the test of the global, need to overcome the parochial.

This drive for openness is understandable. We live in a globalized world where interactions between diverse people need to be smoothed out, to be standardized for global production and consumption. You are a member of the global village first, then, if there’s any local village left, you may be a member of that as well, but only within the bounds of your new supreme law. We need to be tolerant above all, just to make this thing work.

A contemporary stage for this conversation is the problem of sexual norms. Sex-positive feminism, the normalization of sex work, and a constellation of alternative sexual arrangements such as polyamory (polygamy?) have moved into the spotlight. The call is to destigmatize and normalize. The Left and libertarians alike make a powerful argument: “What’s it to you?”

Their point is compelling: people are different, and for some people, traditional arrangements in love and life may not be the best fit. Individual people have distinct personal preferences, and if they so desire, they should be able to exercise choice.

The problem arises at the collective level.

The Sex Worker Society

Societies and communities, if they are to mean anything, are a product of their culture. Culture, beyond its formal, visible artifacts like paintings, music, and corndogs, represents the invisible web of informal knowledge and rules that tie people to each other. These informal bonds are the stories and myths you share with others in your community. They inform you about the perspective on reality that other people have because they mirror your own. I know what you believe because I believe it too. From these myths, tales, and, importantly, taboos, we collectively generate norms.

A norm is not just what you know but also what’s expected of you from the other members of your collective. Norms encode essential information about what it means to be together.

A society is downstream from what its collective myths generate.

Our global and very vocal new collective myths around sexuality optimize for “shame minimization in the individual” and “tolerance of any lifestyle that is not directly a threat to others.” Even if these are noble goals on the level of the individual, on a collective level, this is not what myths are for. Myths, tales, and other memeplexes exist for group coordination.

For any culture, it makes sense for myths to exist to support behavior that focuses on selflessness and the next generation, propagating both its genes and its memes. Among other things, Christianity served as one such memeplex that embedded pro-social norms and, while it conferred sanctity to the individual, nevertheless always framed human life as a part of a collective.

Christianity, like other religions, is a self-propagating myth—this is not to pass judgment on the truths of its history one way or another. It is simply to point out that Christian teaching gives its adherents a way of understanding themselves, and their progeny, as more than merely interchangeable automatons. It tells them a story about who they are, what they must strive for, and why.

Arguably, a hollowed-out shell of Christian principles still acts as a brittle coordination mechanism in the West. How long the scaffolding will hold, even at the current level of rust, is not clear. Its successor, the “choose your own adventure” meme of the late 20th and early 21st century, isn’t a self-propagating myth because it can’t account for the collective. The adventure is, by definition, solo.

The Choiceless Choices of Infinite Freedom

Traditional norms have incorporated millennia of wisdom that an 18-year-old, though technically adult, can’t begin to fathom, both at the collective and individual level. The unguided young adult, born into a world that has been thoroughly de-normed and destigmatized, isn’t a perfect choice machine. The lack of supportive mythology limits her ability to choose her own adventure because it eliminates the wisdom encoded in tradition.

The thing about humans is, where there is more than one person, there are always norms. If societies do not proactively shape them, they will arise from our most base and short-term desires, whose fulfillment becomes a norm in itself. So, in the absence of guiding morality, the young adult will gravitate toward the norms set by her similarly confused peer group, who are still LARP-ing rebellion against 1950s father figures they’ve usually only seen in movies. Tradition was (allegedly) the cage of our ancestors, and the new anti-norms will finally make us, the individuals, free to choose and overcome arbitrary conventions.

So, for the young adult, born into normative normlessness, what does life look like? She (the ideal young adult today is female) is a magpie, gravitating toward every shiny new thing, doing experiments in living, always customizing her experience through ever more varied, but ultimately superficial, choices. She optimizes for individual preferences also because she interfaces first and foremost with the global market—a market that, beyond its admittedly magical powers of wish-fulfillment, can’t see her as a member of a community. She is a producer/consumer with desires that grow ever more sophisticated at the speed at which the market can satiate and then create them anew.

A lack of local norms works well in the global market because the price of admission is agreeing to leave your roots behind, to play well with others, to consume the global goods. The fact that there were no roots to begin with saves the system a few steps.

Every additional step in crushing stuffy tradition is another step toward expanding choice, but only in the narrowest sense. Choice is emergent from the world we live in, from the culture and communities we are a part of, often with millennia of embedded wisdom that doesn’t come with your firmware at 18 years of age. We choose what kind of life to live against a backdrop of what kind of life most people live, and what kind of life our ancestors valued. That’s the only context in which choice has any meaning at all—if there are no norms, choice is all but infinite—and meaningless.

In the strictest sense, the un-civilized and un-cultured individual is limited to choices led by his impulses. He is trapped in the short term because he is deprived of the wisdom that there is a sacredness in the long term, a sacredness in selflessness.

Norms, taboos, reputation, and shame are how societies coordinate informally around collective goals like cohesion, understanding, and, ultimately, survival. If a society not only allows for the destigmatization of its taboos but actively encourages it, or simply doesn’t frown on defectors, that society cannot sustain itself for long. Myths that help coordinate groups of people, religious or secular, are almost indistinguishable from the stigma they entail.

Stigma has no positive connotations today. It is merely a synonym of the dreaded intolerance that needs to be left at the door of the global village. But for norms to mean anything, something must happen when they are violated. In that sense, the stigma is the pro-social meme because it is the enforcer of it. A norm that is 100% carrot, 0% stick is not a norm, especially one that requires tradeoffs for the long-term because it lacks skin in the game.

Paying the Cost

The truth is that stigma can be traumatic for the individual. It can hurt and alienate in myriad ways. But that doesn’t mean that it is disposable at the collective level. The stigma ensures the norms of the world that our 18-year-old wakes up in are guiding her into a direction that makes sense for both her and the group she is embedded in.

The sex-positive world of ubiquitous cam girls and normalized sex work is one that maximizes short-term material gain for the individual. Few will deny this. Yet at the same time, few have romantic notions about aging in the industry and flourishing beyond a few good years without having to veer off into the tricky world of increasingly baroque fetish porn.

Beyond the potential mental health consequences for those pursuing such a course, the adverse effects for the group are immense and cumulative. Yet if the short-term, material benefits of engaging in sex work are high, and they are, then in the absence of a strong moral framework there is no reason this destructive porn spiral can’t become the new normal. The incentives are aligned: potential consumption is maximized, GDP is booming, and, to sweeten the deal for your average global citizen, this is also what would piss off the guiding 1950s dad avatar.

Those who advocate normalizing everything (but what dad says) also often claim that though people may get hurt if we take away our social guard rails, not everyone does—in fact, some people are freed to express their true selves in ways they couldn’t in more traditional societies. There is a caste of the enlightened among us, people rational enough to partake in taboo delights. Why shouldn’t they be able to, if they so choose?

But if that’s the case, isn’t that what the rebels have always done? Haven’t the chosen people always bent rules that were only bendable because they were rules? If there are no such rules, what is even the meaning of those formerly taboo acts? And as long as there’s room for rebels to brave a little social stigma and act how they want, what’s the argument for tearing down our entire civilization just so those few can do things they would already have done?

Normalization is the opposite of bending the rules. It is the demand that we abolish them to comfort those that would rather not be seen as defectors. So, to solve the problem of shame, we make everyone a defector. The stark truth here is that the vast majority of people cannot take it. They are better off sticking with the program, having a guiding light, waking up to a world of useful norms that protect them and the society they live in. Ridding our communities of moral taboos that the enlightened can do without will hurt these people most, as it has already if we look at the desperation left in the wake of the sexual revolution.

So, even if some custom arrangements may be better for some, killing the memes that are best for most is terrible for everyone.

The American Mind: The New Oligarchs Will Not Tolerate Secession

Edward Erler at The American Mind talks about some similarities between problems now and problem pre-The Civil War in The New Oligarchs Will Not Tolerate Secession.

The article, “The Separation: A Proposal for a Renewed America,” was apparently written under the pseudonym “Rebecca,” which the author indicates was taken from a series of letters written by Abraham Lincoln using the same pseudonym.

The author surely knows that Lincoln was challenged to a duel by James Shields, the sitting senator from Illinois, as a result of the “Rebecca letters.” Lincoln accepted the challenge—he chose broadswords as the weapons, and actually took instructions from a military officer in preparation. Shields was an experienced Army man in his own right, considered an expert with the broadsword. But Lincoln designed the proposed combat arena in such a way as to give his size and considerable reach an advantage over the shorter Shields.

Though the matter was amicably settled before the duel could be fought, I invite all readers—including the second “Rebecca”—to ponder Lincoln’s ingenious and highly amusing design. It provokes reflection on the comedy and tragedy of politics.

Dueling was against the law in Illinois, so the plan was to stage the event in Missouri where it was permitted. Planning or conspiring for a duel either by principals or seconds was also illegal, and Lincoln surely broke the law in doing do. Had plans for the duel been carried out, Lincoln’s political career might have ended in 1842.

In any case, Lincoln did not write all of the “Rebecca” letters: some (and the most scandalous) were written by Mary Todd, his fiancée and future wife. Surely “Rebecca” was an odd choice on the part of our pseudonymous author: it wasn’t Lincoln’s finest moment and he never again resorted to the use of a pseudonym. He had learned his lesson!

A Sparring Match

I will not challenge our author to a duel, but I will challenge this holder of “multiple Ivy League degrees” on his understanding of the American regime. Our author rightly notes the deep division that has arisen in the nation between the Red States and the Blue States. He or she proposes, not a divorce, but a trial separation that may eventually lead to a reconciliation of differences.

Throughout the essay, the author makes a mistake that Lincoln never made: Lincoln never forgot that politics is the architectonic art. We have often heard from conservatives that “politics is downstream from culture” and the way to reform political life is first to reform culture. Lincoln never made this foolish error, nor do the progressive ideologues who drive the politics of the Red States. These leftist radicals are deadly serious; politics is their avocation. For them culture, while an important part of political calculus, is eventually determined or shaped by politics because politics is always a contest for rule.

Conservative Republicans who believe that the battle for culture takes precedence over politics will always lose because they don’t know where to drawn the main battle line: they prefer to fight skirmishes. Progressives count on the apolitical character of conservatism, its preference for private life over the political. This is why the leftist radicals saw Trump as such a threat: he was a political man and understood the supremacy of politics.

Lincoln in the 1850s

Our author rightly notes, as many commentators have, that our current situation resembles that of the 1850s and the election of 2020 appears eerily similar to the election of 1860. Lincoln’s great speeches of the 1850s all sought to reconcile the nation by restoring the principles of the Declaration of Independence as the authoritative source of the Constitution’s authority. He tirelessly reiterated that the Constitution, understood in the light of the principles of the Declaration, had put slavery on the “course of ultimate extinction.”

These speeches—the Peoria Speech in 1854, the Dred Scott Speech in 1857, House Divided (1858), Cooper Union (1860), and the First Inaugural (1861)—were all masterworks of reasoned logic and persuasion. But they were political failures! Why? Simply because the slaveholding states were consumed by their passions and so unable to listen to reason. The First Inaugural, for example, appealed to their self-interest: there would be no interference with slavery in the states where it already existed, Lincoln averred, because there was no constitutional power to do so. If the South left the Union it would lose its representatives and Senators and would therefore be unable to protect its interests in the government.

Secession was folly. It occurred only because the South had refused to listen to reason—reason, in other words, no longer informed public discourse. Today, too, reason has been driven from the public sphere. The era of the sound-byte and media manipulation has replaced reasoned discourse. The election of 2020 has sunk to the lowest level of public discourse in modern times and perhaps in history.

The real reason that no compromise with slavery was possible was that any compromise would have been a rejection of the first principles of the nation announced in the Declaration. Slavery was incompatible with the central principle that “all men are created equal.” Slavery could not be abolished all at once at the founding because compromises were necessary to secure the support of the slaveholding states: if they had formed their own nation, the prospects of ever ending slavery were remote. But as Lincoln noted, those compromises were not the principles of the Constitution: they were the exceptions.

When read in the light of the principles of the Declaration, it was clear that the protections for slavery in the Constitution were merely compromises with those principles, temporary expedients to be observed until political conditions (and public opinion) would accept the abolition of slavery. Read in that manner—in the manner the Founders intended—the Constitution had doomed slavery to eventual extinction.

The public mind had rested with that assurance until the passage of the Missouri Compromise in 1854, which allowed local majorities in the territories to determine whether to have slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the architect of the measure and Lincoln’s main political rival, maintained that it was not a matter of principle but simply of whose interest was served. If a majority of the people found it in their interest to “vote slavery up,” then they should do so. If not, they should vote it down. Lincoln, with his inimitable ability to convey complex matters simply, said it was like two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for lunch—by majority vote!

Lincoln’s response to Douglas revealed the essence of republican government: if natural rights are only a matter of whose interests are served, then no one’s rights are secure. It will always be in someone’s interest to disenfranchise the rights of others—whether it be the interest of a majority, an oligarchy or a tyrant. Douglas’s claim that interest is the only basis for rights put everyone’s rights in danger. If rights are not grounded in “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” then it simply becomes a matter of whose interest is being served. The Missouri Compromise, in Lincoln’s true estimation, repealed the principles of the Declaration.

In the House Divided Speech, Lincoln made it clear that no further compromise on the issue of slavery was possible—or desirable. What would it profit to lose the soul of the nation—its animating principles? The body might live on, but without a soul it would be a nation indifferent to justice, that sine qua non without which no constitutional regime or the rule of law can exist. And in the Cooper Union Speech Lincoln revealed that the South did not want mere tolerance for its “peculiar institution”; it wanted the North to stop condemning the immorality of slavery and even demanded its recognition as a moral good, something that could not happen without repealing the Declaration.

Conflating the Timeless with the Timely

Our author recognizes that “[o]ur times are Lincoln’s.” But Lincoln’s times “attempted to accommodate the ‘peculiar institution’ with individual liberty.” This was an attempt “to reconcile irreconcilable ends…that could not be resolved within the system.” Indeed these were incompatible ends, but the “system” had “resolved” them, by putting slavery on the “course of ultimate extinction.” Read the Constitution in light of the principles of the Declaration and enforce the Constitution: that was the “system” as Lincoln understood it. The slaveholding states no longer wanted the resolution prescribed by “the system”; as Lincoln said over and over again, there was nothing inadequate, as our author seems to think, with “the system” itself.

The author admits that our current problems, however serious and dangerous they are, do not compare to slavery—although, I might add, some kind of tyranny (which amounts to enslavement of the people) might be in prospect. The author is correct that the people are currently deeply divided—“we are two people.” But here is the surprising observation: “The current political system cannot bridge the divide between the two Americas.” “The Constitution is not broken,” we are assured, “rather “the People for whom it was created are broken.” In order to address this problem our author suggests a “separation” that will allow Red and Blue America a “political living space.” This will allow the “people to relax the political bands connecting them.”

We are told that this strategy surely will be productive since “both sides still claim fealty to the Constitution.” This outrageous claim will be examined in short order. If suffices to ask now: Which constitution is our author referring to?

Our author assures us that the founders would not frown upon this innovation, since change was “not an affront” to them: “it was their expectation.” It is true, as our author suggests, that the Constitution was grounded on “timeless principles” which had to “adapt [to] the times.” But our author has done something incredible by changing a “timeless principle.”

We presume that the “timeless principles” to which our author has referred are contained in the Declaration of Independence and its invocation of “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” We remember that the Declaration appeals to those same laws when it says it has become necessary for “one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” Our author treats these “timeless principles” as flexible and adaptable, i.e., as if they were not sacred “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” but merely matters of convention which can be modified at will. Thus they can be reinterpreted to “relax the political bands” of the “one people” instead of becoming a foundation for the principles of a new separate and equal nation dedicated to the “safety and happiness of the people.”

Something is wrong here! The timeless and the timely have been confounded and the Constitution is now bereft of permanent principles. But is this the price that must be paid so the two separate people, Red and Blue, have their “space?” It might be separate, but it certainly will not be equal.

Understanding Regime Politics

Our author, I believe, shows a fundamental misunderstanding about the American regime, beginning with the assertion that the Constitution was “itself a course correction from the Articles of Confederation.” It was indeed a “course correction,” but somewhat more than that: Madison regarded the Constitution as an act of revolution because it not only rested on wholly different principles than the Articles but was ratified by the supreme authority of the people, not the states.

In Federalist #39, Madison wrote that the Constitution must be republican because that was the only form of government consistent with the principles of the Revolution, by which he meant the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Our author says that today our “current system” is inadequate to bridge the divide that separates the people.

Presumably our author believes that the “current system” or some reasonable facsimile is the regime of the founding that both sides of the political divide, Red and Blue, still adhere to. But what evidence does the author have that the Blue States still adhere to the same constitution that the Red States appeal to? The most advanced elements of the Blue states— the ruling elites, composed of the most progressive law professors, academics, the minions of the deep state, media, corporate elites, the tech oligarchy—don’t adhere to the Constitution of the founding; rather, they routinely refer to a post-constitutionalism in which the Constitution of the Founding will be rendered superfluous, having been replaced by the administrative state and bureaucratic rule.

What Would BLM Say?

Our author even seems to agree that the two Americas are operating according to different basic principles: Rebecca calls for a revitalization of the 9th and 10th amendments that might inspire some kind of decentralized federalism to encourage social experimentation in our separation. This can only mean that Red and Blue would be invited to govern themselves in quite different ways.

The 9th amendment’s provision for “unenumerated rights” might help soften the abortion debate that motivates much of our division. It might perhaps provide some new rights to be free from pollution and climate degradation, since climate change seems to be another source of unbridgeable division. Separations can be fruitful times for reimagining all manner of things that could lead to reconciliation. It might prove beneficial in reconciling Black Lives Matter and blue lives matter, for example, although it is difficult to see how any amount of relaxed reimagining might meet the non-negotiable demand of BLM and left-wing progressives—backed by Blue State Democrats—to defund the police.

Blue lives matter seems to be equally resolute and, not surprisingly, to have strong support among non-oligarchic, urban lower-class blacks and Latinos as well as whites and other ethnics. Mirabile dictu! BLM seems to be a part of the ruling oligarchy! A truly helpful reimagining might suggest a defunding the military wing of BLM, but this kind of creative reimagining would undoubtedly be stigmatized as “racist,” for which even the most active imagination seemingly has no defense—even among the “woke” ruling elites who tremble before the slightest charge of racism, real or imagined, conscious or unconscious.

Our author seems to be perplexed that the statement that “all lives matter” has been deemed “racist” by BLM. Doesn’t BLM realize that as a matter of logic “all lives” includes “Black lives?” But here is the rub. Logic and reason are a Western imposition on the world, invented by white supremacists and white imperialists. To say that black lives are included in all lives is demeaning—it pushes black lives into an invisible background. Logic is not life.

The assertion “Black lives matter” is a statement of racial superiority. It cannot be judged by “racist logic.” “All lives matter” is therefore racist—no logic necessary, only reimagination. BLM has considerable responsibility for driving reason out of the public sphere with its claims that Western logic is racist and imperialist. If you think BLM doesn’t have that much influence on elite opinion, I invite you to think again. Mull that one over in your separation and “relax.” Get back to me when you figure out a reconciliation. Do your best: our marriage may depend on it!

Is America Still a Republic?

The fundamental error in our author’s analysis, however, is still more glaring: America has not been a constitutional republic based on the consent of the governed for many years. It has, in fact, been a thinly disguised oligarchy, dominated by ruling class elites in the media, in academia, both political parties in government (where politicians freely make promises to voters but find it easy to evade and ignore), the bureaucracy, the deep state (including the intelligence agencies), corporations, Silicon Valley, and other centers of influence.

Aristotle in the Politics noted the tendency of democracies and republics to become oligarchies. On occasion, he noted, one of the oligarchs appealed to the support of the people to overturn the oligarchic class and return to the old regime. Is this how we are to understand Donald Trump’s rise and fall? He said during his primary campaign that he was a wealthy insider and he saw what was happening to the people, especially how the oligarchy was profiting from China at the expense of the middle and working class. He believed that the people were being defrauded to enrich the wealthy and that this was simply unjust. He wanted to act on behalf of the people to restore the constitutional republic in which they, not the oligarchy, held sovereign power.

Trump didn’t know about Aristotle, or Aristotle’s dictum that it is justice above all which preserves regimes. But he did understand that it takes an insider to understand oligarchy.

Why would Trump betray his own class—the oligarchy? Self-interest is not always the dominant motivating force in some men—sometimes an instinct for justice prevails, or sometimes a reputation for justice might be a primary self-interest. But it took an oligarch—an insider and a traitor to his class. In turn, his class reacted to his effrontery with deadly purpose. How dare he take the side of the people! How dare he invoke justice!

The Oligarchy’s Grand Strategy

The elites, in an out of government, mobilized against Trump with resources that he could not match. The so-called Masters of the Universe dogged him unmercifully, censoring him at crucial moments that had a significant, if not decisive, impact on the election.

Pollsters did not use the wrong methodology in conducting polls; almost certainly they misreported results on purpose to suppress turnout. The media was uniformly against him, suppressing news—which the FBI said was credible but not worth investigating—about Hunter Biden’s corrupt dealings, trading on his father’s connections with Russia, China, and Ukraine. The role of the Dominion Voting system, an easily manipulated system that can change results in real time without a trace, may be revealed in the future. But it is clear that the election was in fact stolen from Trump by the oligarchy he dared oppose. The likelihood that there will ever be another free election in America is remote.

Perhaps most important was the Wuhan virus, which provided an unexpected weapon for the oligarchy not only to consolidate their power but to terrorize the public into accepting oppressive government regulations that will probably extend into the indefinite future. Some of the regulations have been exercises in raw power, having little or no rational basis and little effect on curbing the pandemic.

Most telling, however, is the fact that the pandemic has resulted in the greatest transfer of wealth in history from the lower and middle classes to the wealthy and corporate classes. Whether the pandemic was an accident or not, the massive transfer of wealth was intentional. The reaction to the pandemic was the beginning of the end of President Trump’s attempt to survive the all-out assault mounted against him by combined forces of oligarchy. Without the pandemic, Trump, in all probability, would have won reelection, and would have been better positioned to deal directly with the minions of the deep state, the Masters of the Universe, and those who supported them.

Oligarchy and Regime Change

Oligarchy is not a permanent; it too is subject to regime change. It can become a democracy, or it can become a tyranny if one or a small segment of the oligarchs becomes predominant in wealth and power. In the near future, the latter prospect is most likely. What is clear however is that no “trial separation” will alleviate our situation, even when our highly educated commentator learns to recognize the politics of regime change.

Politics is a contest for rule—the people or the oligarchy in our current situation. It is not helpful to think of the relationship of the Red and Blue State as a marriage that needs a “trial separation.” Even if a separation was secured, I can assure you that the Blue State oligarchs—and for that matter the many Red State oligarchs and politicians who are content to return to status quo ante Trump—would not use it to work on the marriage. And they certainly won’t tolerate a divorce. Like all domineering partners who abuse their consorts, they want to rule.

The American Mind: The Real America Needs a Refounding

The Real America Needs a Refounding comes from Tom Trenchard at The American Mind.

Human life is never quite as stable as we’d like, but we live in uniquely unsettling times. Some of us are angry. Many of us are worried. All of us are anxious about an uncertain future. In these circumstances, the bombastic, triumphal optimism of the pro-Biden crowd—just take a look at CNN for about 10 seconds and you’ll see what I mean—is obviously the product of deep insecurity. Like a 5’8” teenager driving a souped-up F150, it’s clear that the façade of Biden’s popular mandate to govern is masking a dangerously hollow reality.

According to a number of recent polls, overwhelming proportions of Trump supporters and large supermajorities of likely Republican voters as a whole believe that Biden’s election victory was illegitimate. Based on the existing popular vote counts, a good estimate would put the number of American voters who think Biden will be an illegitimate president at around 60 million. That’s the approximate population of Italy, France, or the U.K.

Put this together with the analysis I presented in my “2020 Retrospective” article on the urban/rural divide, and the result is staggering: A population of Americans equal in size to a large European country, occupying a land area about 20 times the size of any of them, currently believes they are facing the prospect of a usurped, illegitimate administration come January 20.

This stark reality of our political and geographical division sits on top of the similarly stark reality of our intellectual and spiritual division. This might not be a problem for Italy, France, or the U.K.—but it is for us. The United States has never been held together by ancestry, national origin, ethnicity, or race. We have always aspired to be a “melting pot,” a nation whose existential glue is not who you are but what you believe. A common creed, not demographics, has always defined American identity.

Today, this common creed has vanished. We are two Americas: Biden’s America and Trump’s America. These two Americas have nothing of importance in common with each other, and no common ground to stand on. There is not a single moral or political principle upon which these two Americas agree. Sure, everybody wants “freedom,” “justice,” “equality,” “democracy,” and a host of other glittering ideals. So have most dictators, Communists, and war criminals in modern history. Lenin, Stalin, and Mao gave stirring speeches in favor of all of them. The reality is that in the United States, we have long since ceased to do anything more than pay lip service to a sham facsimile of our old shared ideals.

What does this mean for us? If we are not held together as a nation by anything except the fact that we live in the same place (and, of course, even this isn’t true of parts of the U.S.), then we are not members of a common political community. Our union is built on what Alexander Hamilton called “accident and force” in the very first Federalist paper. We are subjects, not self-governing citizens.

What should we do about this? When our forebears faced a similar situation in 1776, they took decisive action. “Give me liberty or give me death,” they said. They adopted a Declaration expressing their common moral and political principles, and they affirmed their right to form a political community that would aspire to live according to those principles. It is high time for an American re-founding; not a “secession” or “separation,” but a “perpetuation” of self-evidently true American political principles embodied in a new political Union. This is what the United American Counties could be.

The principles of this new Union would be the principles of the Declaration of Independence, along with certain corollaries to these principles that elaborate its true meaning:

  • Limited and local government is the foundation of a genuine republic.
  • The natural right to religious liberty—of both worship and exercise—exists beyond politics, taking precedence over all rights merely positive, civil, or legal.
  • The natural right to life for all human beings at all ages and stages of development is entitled to recognition, respect, and protection.
  • The natural family begun in marriage between one man and one woman is the cornerstone of society.
  • The right to private property is fundamental, and should only be regulated as absolutely necessary to maintain free markets, equal opportunity, and the fair reward of industry and merit.
  • All citizens should be educated to understand the meaning and importance of American political principles, and equipped to become informed, active participants in our local, regional, and national systems of government.
  • Citizenship in the United American Counties is available to all who understand, profess, and commit to uphold the principles in this Declaration, regardless of national origin, racial or ethnic identity, or religious belief.

The common sense of 1776 dictated the American Revolution. The common sense of 2020 dictates the creation of a new political vehicle for perpetuating the true principles of the Revolution. Biden’s Urban America has already seceded from the United States of America that many of us know and love. Trump’s Counties can be a life raft for the American experiment in its most dire hour of need.

The American Mind: Blue America Needs Red America

From Hillsdale College’s Michael Anton, writing at The American Mind, comes Blue America Needs Red America

In a recent essay in The New Republic, Chris Caldwell predicts the coming crackup of the Blue coalition. Since I argued something very similar in my recent book, The Stakes, I naturally agree with the thrust of his thesis.

Except, I think, with the conclusion. Caldwell notes in the last paragraph that

in the 1860s, three major Western countries—Germany, Italy, and the United States—each fought similar wars of national unification, in which the more dynamic part of the country subjugated the more bucolic (or backward) part. In our time, Democrats are the party of relatively greater technological and demographic dynamism, Republicans the party of relatively less. This is not the same type of relationship as the one that obtained until half a century ago, when Republicans were (roughly speaking) the party of capital, and Democrats the party of labor. Capital and labor need each other in a way that dynamism and tradition do not. One fears the present conflict will differ accordingly.

The point about the three great examples of the advanced part of a nation subjugating the backward part is insightful and chilling. I do believe that is what Blue America intends for Red.

But Caldwell further says that dynamism does not need tradition in the same way that labor needs capital and vice versa. I suppose the qualification “in the same way” makes that statement true, but Caldwell’s implication seems to be that they don’t need each other at all. Is that really true?

I doubt it, for a number of reasons. In our specific context, “dynamism” is not what it was in the 1860s, when “dynamism” was quite materially, physically productive. Contemporary “dynamism” is productive on paper but not in the physical world. Blue elites have bet their entire project, and all their status and wealth, on the proposition that this distinction doesn’t matter. No, even more: they’re entirely convinced that “knowledge” productivity is inherently superior to physical productivity. But what if that bet doesn’t pay off? What if physical productivity is inherently more valuable economically, socially and politically, more conducive to civic life? What if virtual productivity depends decisively on its physical counterpart?

To what extent, also, is our paper productivity simply fake? I’m no expert on high finance, but our whole economy seems to me to be jury-rigged, smoke-and-mirrors—dependent as it is on debt, fiat currency, etc.

The Blue Economy

Mass financialization seriously drives the Blue economy. This seems to be based on a few factors, all of which are inherently unstable. The first is a reliance on monetary policy, which is mostly chicanery—zero interest rates for more than a decade now?—and which depends on the dollar’s status as a reserve currency, on the willingness of foreigners to lend us money, and on our ability not necessarily to pay them back (we almost certainly can’t, and even more certainly won’t) but to meet the interest payments.

All of these are interconnected and will go on until they don’t, or can’t. But they seem to have much less staying power than the massive economic expansion from roughly the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, which was driven by concrete innovation and delivered real gains in standards of living for all classes.

A related but hardly irrelevant point: financialization seems to amount in large part to creating new “products” and markets at the high end, which enrich elites based on…what? Rents excreted out of government monetary policy, outsourcing, immigration, globalization, etc.—all of which make the middle and the heartland poorer. In particular, financialization means finding new ways to stoke consumerism from people who can’t really afford “stuff” like they (or their parents) used to and so must pay for with debt, which obviously benefits banks, in two ways. They make money on the front end through “market-making” and financing the global expansion of big business, and on the back end by lending (and charging usurious interest rates and late fees) to consumers. This is, of course, parasitic.

The other major pillar of the Blue economy is Big Tech, the actual rewards accruing to which appear to be wildly out of proportion to the benefits conferred. When you think back to what the Industrial Revolution accomplished in the transportation sector and manufacturing alone, all of it was vastly more “concrete” than what tech is doing. And the earlier expansions’ benefits were far more transformative and widespread. 1900 looked far less like 1860 than 2020 looks like 1980. Tech is powerful today because of how it can throttle information flows, but information flows are as old as writing. Tech is an effective instrument of tyranny but it does not yet provide benefits for most people that aren’t merely frivolous or enstupefying. Which is in itself a problem for the “dynamic” coalition.

The last element of the Blue economy is media, broadly understood, which either doesn’t make money but is subsidized by Tech or Techies, or does make money but only through its tight alliance with Big Tech, to which it is an appendage. Media (to be more specific, propaganda) is the pillar of the Blue regime, in the sense that it is in effect its army and police force. But as such, it is fundamentally a cost center, not a profit generator.

Perhaps most important, those most emblematic of Blue America, and of the Blue economy—coders, app developers, financiers, VCs, senior managers, foundation grant-makers, professors, vice chancellors for diversity, bloggers, Vox editors, sous chefs, hairstylists, interior decorators, handbag designers, etc.—do not constitute a majority, or even close, of Blue America. They are in fact a minority—and a small minority.

The Blue coalition is something like a layer cake in which the only visible part is the frosting. But underneath that veneer is a light, airy, spongy, not very filling mass that constitutes (spit-balling here) something like 80% of the cake. It doesn’t contribute much to Blue America’s self-congratulatory wealth or “dynamism.” It is, like Blue America’s propaganda arm, a cost center—only much, much more costly. The one thing it contributes is votes. But those votes, even when obtained lawfully, are very expensive. It is at the very least an open question how long “productive” “dynamic” America can generate enough wealth to fund the accustomed lifestyle of the frosting and enough to cover the subsistence of the crumbs sufficiently to keep them turning out to vote the “correct” way.

Blue Subjugation

All of this suggests that the “dynamic” Blue part of the country needs the “backward” Red part a lot more than Caldwell estimates, for a few fundamental reasons. One, the latter are consumers of the stuff the Blues are selling: pixels, bytes, and debt. Second, to the extent that anything gets made any more in this country (other than, perhaps, motherboards), Red people make them. Third, they grow all or most of the food. Fourth, they do the lion’s share of so-called “dirty jobs” or grunt work. Granted, they aren’t hotel maids in Blue cities. But all kinds of other things get done by them and only by them—both Red people in Blue areas and Red people in Red areas, whose work product gets transported into Blue areas also by Red people.

More fundamentally, “dynamism” is inherently parasitic on stability, which is to say virtue. Yes, I know Red America with its opioid crisis, obesity epidemic, welfare usage, etc., is not as virtuous as it used to be. And in some ways—high divorce and illegitimacy rates—it’s in worse shape than the Blue upper and upper-middle classes. But it is also more religious, patriotic and tradition-minded. These traits provide some measure of continuity to a society that is otherwise continually in the process of upheaval owing to the “dynamic” half of the country. What happens when that brake on dynamism is gone, or becomes so weak that it can no longer slow down the car?

Dynamic America has a few ways to address this problem. It can subjugate, as Caldwell says, Boring America. Or it can try to import or develop a Boring class of its own that it can boss around within the confines of Blue America. But the latter solution presumably will, sooner or later, lead to the same problem. “Blue helots” will still be helots. Eventually they will see themselves as such and develop similar interests and political impulses. At which point they will have to be subjugated, too.

Subjugation—whether of a Red class within Blue borders or of Reds where they live now—carries the same risks. One is a reaction that breaks the system and ends the subjugation. That end could take the form of a new settlement that keeps the whole together, perhaps via a kind of radical federalism and regionalism. Or it might lead to a formal separation. Or it might simply end the United States altogether, to be replaced by God-only-knows-what. Barring overt rebellion, the other likely outcome is a kind of implicit general strike in which the Reds’ output and contributions decline.

Aren’t we already seeing at least nascent signs of both? Isn’t the Deplorable support for Trump a sign of rebellion, while the opioid crisis, etc., are signs of apathy and despair?

No one—at least not I—can say which reaction will prevail. But it seems to me that one eventually must if Blue subjugation continues. Which it surely will. The Blues have all the power now, with precious few exceptions, and I see no sign of moderation or circumspection in any of them whatsoever.

Blues sense, at a deep if subconscious level, their need for Reds. Much of their talk about the superiority of their society, economy, and way of life is cant. They may not want to think about where their grubby necessities come from, but they know it’s not from themselves and hence intuit that it must come from somewhere—and someone.

Then there is the unpleasant fact that Blue America wants to rule Red in a way that the latter does not want to rule Blue. To borrow from Machiavelli, in the present-day United States, these two diverse humors are found, which arises from this: that the Blues desire to command and oppress the Reds, while the Reds wish to be neither commanded nor oppressed. Machiavelli offers two solutions to this perennial, inherently irreconcilable conflict. To a prince (sitting or would-be), he recommends becoming the leader-vindicator of the backward or bucolic or less dynamic side and sticking it to the dynamos. To the founder of a republic, he urges the creation of institutions through which both sides harness their mutual enmity to team up and wring the good life out of foreigners.

The problem with the latter solution Machiavelli partly illuminates in another passage where he describes Ferdinand and Isabella’s expulsion of the Jews from Spain as an act of “pious cruelty,” that is, cruelty allegedly in the service of God. Pious cruelty is perhaps the animating impulse of the average Blue’s outlook and behavior toward the average Red: the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor, who, as he flogs you for heresy, really believes he is saving your soul. This, too, is not a recipe for long-term stability. Even—especially—if the Blues win.

In sum, my contention is that dynamism needs tradition more than the reverse, and that tradition may not need dynamism at all—if it’s willing to live a little poorer and with slow or no WiFi.

I leave to the reader to decide for himself whether this short missive has ended on a hopeful note or gives cause for alarm.

The American Mind: A House Dividing?

The American Mind talks about the widening chasm between liberal and conservative Americans in A House Dividing? The piece includes links to other essays which further discuss the issues.

We do not publish this feature lightly. Nor do we intend to take a firm editorial stance in the debate. But it is past time to bring the discussion Americans are now having in private into public light. The longer it stays underground and forbidden, the more we risk serious and sudden shocks to our political and cultural life together. Only by having this debate out in public can we hope to resolve the current crisis.

When we can’t agree as a people on the purpose of government, or even about what human nature is, the next logical question is: how can we stay together as citizens? What truths, in other words, do we still think self-evident? What is the basis of our shared citizenship? Where is the growing divide in America leading us, and what is the best path forward?

The best book on the topic has been written by our colleague Michael Anton, who explores these questions in The Stakes, which we encourage you to read. Examining the contemporary scene, we find those, like Geoffrey Vaughan, who acknowledge the deepening divide yet hold that the structure of American government stands. In “Madison Wins, Factions Lose,” he argues that “Madison has continued to outwit the ideologues and factionalists.” And, after all, even Democrats who support packing the Supreme Court and adding Puerto Rico as a state are operating within the Constitutional framework. Republicans now eye the Constitution’s requirement that state legislators ultimately choose their state’s electors to the Electoral College.

Yet one must also note that changes to the Constitution’s Electoral College and the apportionment of the U.S. Senate are being openly proposed by mainstream Democrats. Further, while the Constitution at least partially holds, the question is how long it can continue to keep a house divided together. In the midst of the growing divide in America, red counties are growing increasingly eager to leave blue states and reconstitute red ones even as blue states have been saber-rattling for four years about federalism and state prerogatives. This week, we present the visions of two pseudonymous authors pointing toward a national separation in the interest of preserving the union.

It is not only young radicals who are thinking though a potential balkanization and breakup of the nation. Many engaged citizens are talking about such things in private. It is particularly worth noting that many highly competent professionals throughout the country—notably those in finance and tech whose livelihoods are tied to judging reality as it is and not as they’d like it be—quietly believe that America is headed towards an even deeper divide. Many are silent readers of this website, and in private they often offer dark thoughts about the state of our financial system, Big Tech, and our political culture.

In “2020: A Retrospective from 2025,” Professor “Tom Trenchard” provides an account of what might happen if red counties began to act as a unified front against the blue cities that propelled Joe Biden’s vote count. This is not merely a fantasy: red county repartition movements have been picking up steam, and Trenchard’s account identifies the real divide in American political life between rural and urban areas.

Finally, in the essay of the week, “Rebecca” presents an extended argument for the depth of the divide, proposing that the only way to resolve it is a more radical form of federalism. This “proposal for a renewed America” is not an argument for secession, but a peaceful process whereby both sides are allowed some measure of self-governance, with an eye to reunification. As the author says, “The two Americas avow their disagreements. The Separation respects reality and seeks peaceful co-existence.”

Such thoughts are no longer wild-eyed fantasy. Both pseudonymous essays vaguely echo Angelo Codevilla’s thoughts at the end of Revolution 2020 and “Our Revolution’s Logic.” These voices now represent those of many thoughtful Americans concerned about the fate of the nation. We welcome more to the discussion.

The American Mind: The Big Tech Occupation

Attorney Molly McCann writes about how large, internet, social media companies are enforcing foreign speech laws across the board in The Big Tech Occupation.

Big Tech has infiltrated the American homeland and is imposing speech laws that resemble those of Europe, challenging the authority and longevity of the First Amendment. Although we share common ideals with other Western nations, we pursue and defend those ideals very differently. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our approach to speech.

It is important to understand how fundamentally different our country is from the rest of the world if we want to understand why Big Tech’s speech codes shout not be inflicted on American citizens in American jurisdictions. Put another way, if the would-be monarchs of Silicon Valley get their way, their speech codes will ultimately undermine our American values of free speech and the First Amendment itself.

A Tale of Two Speeches

In America, the First Amendment expresses an absolutist viewpoint on speech: “Congress shall make no law...” (emphasis added). From there, the courts have developed a framework that governs speech. Not all speech is “protected” speech (e.g. fighting words and true threats), and we have standards that determine if, when, where, and how the government can limit speech. All told, American speech law can be quite complex, but philosophically it begins at that intransigent right: “Congress shall make no law.” This principle permeates the American mindset and is defended by our written and entrenched (i.e., difficult to change) Constitution.

Europe, however, begins from a qualified position and immediately seeks to balance speech with other competing interests. Despite aspirational language to the contrary, European law begins with the assumption that speech is a privilege, the contours of which can be defined and redefined by the government. Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights makes this clear.

1.Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers….

This sounds good until you read the second paragraph:

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary. (emphasis added)

The blunt fact is that most Europeans have freedom of speech at the discretion of their governments. Think about the wide differences of opinion there are on what speech restrictions are “necessary in a democratic society”! The European crusade against hate speech (a label that can be applied to almost any disfavored speech) is a perfect example of the abuse that can flourish when speech isn’t enshrined in a written and entrenched constitution, and is instead a discretionary standard subject to majority votes of prevailing legislatures.

The United Kingdom has yo-yoed back and forth on banning “insulting” speech as hate speech. The term has been added, dropped, and added again over the past decade. According to a 2013 article in the Guardian, when ‘insulting’ was included in the hate speech law “arrests and prosecutions rang[ed] from an Oxford student asking a police officer ‘Do you realise your horse is gay?’ which Thames Valley police described as homophobic and ‘offensive to people passing by’, to a 16-year-old holding up a placard that said ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’.” Hate speech can mean almost anything, and in 2018, British police were rounding up and questioning people for tweets that criticized gender reassignment surgeries for children. As the culture slips, standards that can be amended by majority legislatures cannot defend speech rights.

The United States Constitution’s protection of speech has no tempering clause. Our court-created frameworks all seek to implement and obey the opening, sweeping directive of the First Amendment; we do not recognize a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment; and our speech rights are certainly not at the mercy of every successive Congress’s whim. We can truly boast speech rights—and the ability to assert those rights against our government.

Enter Big Tech

The Big Tech internal speech codes are just like Europe’s broad, discretionary standards in that they permit a privileged few to determine what is and is not offensive or “dangerous” speech. For example, Facebook bans “hate speech,” including “white nationalist rhetoric” and “violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation,” as well as other categories of offensive speech. Although this type of speech policing is contrary to the American principle that we have the liberty to offend, these definitions might sound otherwise uncontroversial and even attractive (after all, most decent people don’t want to be exposed to violent or dehumanizing speech). But of course, in addition to offending our spirit of free speech generally, the application of these standards has already proven to be both broad and biased, permitting companies to label all manner of political socially-conservative speech as dangerous or violent.  There is wisdom and authentic freedom in America’s adherence to robust and “absolutist” protection of speech; there is opportunity for corruption, bias, and suffocating censorship lurking in the European approach.

Big Tech has effectively imported European speech law into the United States. Big Tech has created a massive internal framework that blankets the nation and imposes European-style standards in direct opposition to the robust, absolutist American rule.

Because Tech oligarchs control the primary thoroughfares of public discourse today—our new public squares of the digital age—they have effectively occupied our country and imposed foreign law on American citizens, restricting our fundamental liberty to gather and to exchange thoughts and ideas freely.

Big Tech censorship is also dangerous to the long-term stability of the First Amendment. Because digital interaction is so widespread, its European view of speech will slowly begin to chip away at Americans’ absolutist attitude toward speech. Big Tech’s speech codes are chilling and suppressing speech now, but ultimately, our collective attitude toward speech might change.

In debating cancel culture, Greg Lukianoff and Adam Goldstein have argued that nations without good free-speech law can still preserve a thriving culture of free speech—albeit a persecuted one—but, a culture that itself is not freedom-minded will not be free, no matter how good its law on speech is. Lukianoff and Goldstein have warned that if Americans’ attitude toward speech changes, our First Amendment will not protect us. Similarly, if Big Tech’s moralizing about and censoring of hate speech is accepted by too many Americans, it will influence and shift our culture’s attitude, and the First Amendment will fall. To maintain the potency of the First Amendment, the American public has to believe in and live its spirit.

Justice Scalia once remarked, “many Europeans like to think of Americans as their close cousins—albeit reckless, loudmouthed cousins they’re embarrassed to talk about at dinner parties. It is easy to forget, however, that the United States was settled primarily by people seeking, in one way or another, refuge from the ways of Europe.” Our freedoms are not equal.

Europe’s speech standards leave Europeans at the mercy of their ruling class. In America, the First Amendment (and the attitude it embodies), continues to provide Americans the strongest speech rights of any people on earth. Big Tech cannot be allowed to impose European speech codes in digital public squares within American jurisdictions. It is an affront to American sovereignty, and by demanding conformity to a European understanding of speech rights, Big Tech threatens to mold our culture’s perception of speech in a way that will undermine our independent attitude toward speech and even threaten the longevity of the First Amendment.

The American Mind: Honor in a World Gone Mad

In this essay at The American Mind, Spencer Klavan talks about hypocrisy, dishonesty, political theater, and the need for public honors to go those with actual merit. Honor in a World Gone Mad

How to see clearly in the kingdom of the blind.

In the year 1711, behold: Justice descended from heaven to shine the light of truth on all mankind and “to restore and appropriate to every one living what was his due.”

With “darkness and clouds about her, that tempered the light into a thousand beautiful shades and colors,” Justice proceeded to reassign wealth, honors, and status so that they accurately reflected the merits and deserts of which they were supposed to be markers. “One might see crowds of people in tattered garments come up, and change clothes with others that were dressed with lace and embroidery.”

This is the fantasy scene described by Joseph Addison in his “Allegory of Public Credit” or “Vision of Justice,” an essay he published in the Spectator. The first time I read it, I thought it was sour grapes. Addison notes that “I was very well pleased to see that all my friends either kept their present posts, or were advanced to higher.” It’s meant as a bit of a troll, but it still felt to my younger self like the erudite lamentation of an outsized ego wounded by allegedly inadequate recognition.

Now I’m not so sure. Addison was wise to put the light of truth in the hand of Justice: it is justice, after all, that gives to each what he is owed. Suum cuique, to each his due: this is the golden thread that links Plato’s Republic to Aristotle’s Politics, running on down through the history of Western political and moral thought even to the present benighted day. Addison’s is no arbitrary imposition of power or equitable redistribution of wealth: the outcome of Justice’s intervention is not a Communist utopia in which all are of equal stature. It is a society which displays all the shades and gradations of rank that there were in 18th-century England, but rearranged to reflect the truth of every man’s heart.

In other words, what changes is that the outward marks of virtue—the titles, contracts, and positions which convey status—are aligned perfectly with the actual reality of virtue itself as it exists (or fails to) inwardly. So far as public honors and social class are concerned, that is true justice: a divinely accurate and precisely calibrated meritocracy.

That is not the world we live in. It wasn’t in the 18th century, and it won’t be until we find ourselves on a new earth under a new heaven. Only the most deluded optimist could imagine that it is possible to assign praise and blame according to the exact truths of the heart using merely human standards of measurement. That is why only God could pick David, the destined king of Israel, from a lineup of his older and more obviously regal brothers: for “the LORD does not see as man sees; man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Still, we do our best to approximate accuracy and give credit where credit is due. That’s the point of having public honors at all: we are trying to make what Catholics, describing Church sacraments, call “an outward sign of an inward grace.” To refrain from conferring such honors would be just as dishonest and unjust as to practice Communism, and for exactly the same reasons: merit exists. You either lie about it or you try, haltingly, to tell the truth.

But—and this is why I have revised my opinion of Addison’s essay—the older I get, the more I feel that American public honors have utterly and perhaps irredeemably ceased to serve their high purpose. With mounting horror, I have come to feel that all the degrees, titles, and positions of rank we bestow on people are at best irrelevant to, and at worst actively deceitful about, the real qualities of those who hold them. Some of my friends on the very online Right call this phenomenon Clown World. It is a serious problem.

Not long ago I absent-mindedly tweeted to ask people when their “radicalization moment” was—when they became so appalled or astounded at the state of affairs that they stopped trying to be moderate about politics. I got more than I bargained for in response. One of the most unexpected answers was also one of the most frequent and the most revealing. “In college,” as one poster put it, “I got an A for a terribly written essay because I took a position I knew the professor agreed with.”

I myself have similar memories, from as far back as grade school: for certain teachers, you knew that only a certain range of views would fly. How well or poorly those views were defended mattered little or not at all: what mattered was which ones you held. The intriguing irony is that those teachers were also always the ones who stressed “critical thinking”—some of them even had a reputation for being free-thinking mavericks.

This is hypocrisy at a very deep level. When you discover as a child that what adults say they want from you is not what they will in fact reward, you remember that. Maybe the people who commented on my Twitter thread hadn’t thought about those professors in years. But the memory and its lessons had seeped into their bones. It made enough of an impression on them that when pushed, they can now look back and realize: that is when they understood what it is to live inside a lie.

The Senators and the Judge

As I write this, the hearings to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the next Supreme Court justice have just concluded. They have embodied everything that is most demoralizing about the breakdown of American public honors. It saps one’s will to watch U.S. senators engage in forms of political theater premised on deep ignorance, real or feigned, about how American law works.

From Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono, to New Jersey’s Cory Booker, to Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, Barrett was repeatedly forced to explain—calmly, as if to children—that no, she can’t say how she would vote on specific cases in advance, and no, her originalist philosophy doesn’t mean never amending the Constitution. In public statements after the fact, prominent Democrats from Hillary Clinton to Senator Ed Markey to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot implied that originalism means freezing the social customs and standards of the 1770s in time—as if the text of the Constitution itself doesn’t explicitly include guidelines for making alterations to laws that no longer fit the circumstances, from congressional legislation on up to constitutional amendment.

I suspect Clinton, at least, is well aware that her posture was absurd. This, of course, makes it worse. In the cases of Hirono and Lightfoot, the ignorance on display is probably quite genuine. In every instance, though, it is less and less possible to pretend that these people are worth our admiration or even our respect. Our new digital environment, contrary to popular belief, is actually quite hostile to performative self-curation. Online, only authentic self-exposure garners any attention worth speaking about (spare me your Jeffrey Toobin jokes here, please). Under such circumstances, it has become harder and harder for our supposedly leading lights to hide that they are either studiously cynical, alarmingly stupid, or both.

Perhaps the most dispiriting moment of the hearings was an exchange between Judge Barrett and Senator Kamala Harris, who, it will be recalled, might well be president of the United States someday soon. Rooting around in her big box of feckless rhetorical gestures, Harris told the weepy story of a young woman—whose medical condition, let it be duly conceded, elicits sympathy—before strongly suggesting that Barrett will deprive such people of their health care by striking down the Affordable Care Act.

Leaving aside the supreme unlikeliness of such an eventuality (of which, again, I suspect Harris is aware), it was equal parts grimly satisfying and bleakly depressing to watch Barrett brush off the senator’s empty questions. “Do you currently consider the consequences of your ruling on people’s lives?” Harris asked. “Well, Senator Harris,” replied Barrett with deadpan ease, “that’s part of the decision of every case.” “And so you do,” Harris responded lamely. Then again with a blank stare: “Every case has consequences in people’s lives, so of course I do in every case. It’s part of the judicial decision-making process.” In less gracious terms than Barrett’s: yes, you hack—that’s literally what being a judge is.

It’s an indignity for someone of Barrett’s seriousness and qualifications to undergo evaluation by buffoons of Harris’s caliber, as if it were they and not she who carries the full weight of authority in the room. And yet it was lost on no one with eyes to see that Barrett, if confirmed, will be the only sitting Supreme Court Justice who did not graduate from either Harvard or Yale. There is a growing percentage of the population for which this is a point in her favor and part of the explanation for her plainspoken, seemingly effortless brilliance.

Confidence in higher education generally has been plummeting for some time. It gets worse the more major universities simp for manifestly witless sophists like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi as they maunder dribblingly on about “white fragility” and “anti-racist discrimination.” Every day, in other words, it becomes harder to keep up the pretense that academic prestige has anything to do with academic achievement. COVID-19 has turned places like Harvard into $55,000-a-year webinars; and as the breakout sessions start to look more and more like struggle sessions, we approach the point at which only the most dedicated apologists can view an Ivy-League bachelor’s degree as anything other than a sublime triumph of empty credentialism.

What to Do

It is a bit of ancient wisdom that every society will produce more of what it honors publicly. This is one of the main arguments that is worked out over the course of Livy’s monumental history of Rome: it is because virtues such as prudence and frugality were “so highly and continuously honored,” as the historian says in his preface, that Romans became the kind of citizens who could make their homeland great. As long as “the state showed its gratitude” for war heroes like Horatius Cocles, it encouraged others to emulate his achievements (Livy 2.10). A cornerstone of Rome’s success was what is called aemulatio in Latin—a healthy competition among young men and women to outdo one’s forebears and one another in public honors.

The converse follows, of course: societies which award their highest honors to conformity and dishonesty will produce generations of cowards and liars. An America in which children learn to feign agreement with their teachers’ political views in exchange for the social capital afforded by a high GPA is an America in which, sooner or later, the worst kinds of people will proliferate and rule—as indeed they now do…(continues)

American Mind: What Happens if No One Wins?

This article at The American Mind discusses what happens to the Presidency if no one clearly wins the election – What Happens if No One Wins?

The Constitution provides for election crises—and its provisions favor Trump.

*This article was co-written with Robert J. Delahunty, a law professor at St. Thomas University.

Conservatives and liberals agree on few things, but one of them is that the country may well see an election crisis this year. All of the ingredients seem to be present: a closely and bitterly divided electorate; the threat of violence and disruption on Election Day or after; and the unusual circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this essay we provide a short roadmap through the main legal and constitutional issues that could arise if Election Day fails to result in a clear winner of the presidency, identify opportunities for political mischief, and explain why the weight of the constitutional structure favors President Donald Trump in a contested election.

Unusual Circumstances

A crucial fact in this year’s election is that, largely because of COVID, an unprecedented number of voters will vote by mail. According to the Washington Post, 84% of the electorate, or 198 million eligible voters, will be able to vote by mail this year. In the 2016 election, roughly 25% of the votes were cast by mail. This year, as many of half the ballots may be mailed in.

Republicans tend to prefer voting in person while Democrats tend to prefer absentee balloting. In the swing state of North Carolina, Democrats requested 53% of the absentee ballots and Republicans 15%. A July poll reported that 60% of the Democrats in Georgia, but only 28% of the Republicans, are likely to vote by mail.

Counting mailed votes could make a decisive difference on Election Day. In the 2012 election, Barack Obama bolstered his winning margins substantially in swing states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania through overtime votes. Hillary Clinton picked up tens of thousands of overtime votes in 2016, though not enough to win. Last April, over 79,000 Wisconsin ballots arrived after election day (and were counted by court order) in a state that Trump carried in 2016 by about 23,000 votes. In Michigan’s August primary, 6,405 ballots missed the deadline and were not counted; Trump carried that state by 10,000 votes.

In one plausible scenario, Trump appears to be the winner on the morning after Election Day, but a “blue wave” begins in the days and weeks after, and Biden claims a belated, overtime victory.

Both Democrats and Republicans have sought either to enlarge or restrict the opportunities for absentee voting. A massive amount of litigation is already taking place. At last count, 279 Covid-related election cases are currently underway in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico—and that tally does not include other litigation over other election issues.

Vote-counting problems—and the litigation they will generate—do not end once deadlines are decided. States must match signatures on ballots to those on voter rolls and verify that each ballot is valid. Although some key states permit pre-Election Day verification, others do not. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan were among the latter. “Real problems will emerge here,” Karl Rove has warned, “especially when there’s a big increase in mail-in ballots over 2016.”

In Pennsylvania, for example, 84,000 people voted by mail in the 2016 primaries; in 2020, 1.5 million did. In the best of circumstances, matching signatures on mail-in ballots to those on file with the state (from voter registration, ballot applications, or the DMV) is not, to the untrained eye, an easy task. Repeated and time-consuming challenges to the verification process will delay a final, official count.

The Electoral Count

Delayed election results could mean much more than the inconvenience of waking up on November 4 and not knowing who is President. They could trigger a constitutional crisis that would shake the country to its foundations.

An old federal statute, the Electoral Count Act of 1887, establishes deadlines for the states to report their official results and for the 538 members of the Electoral College to meet. The latter date this year is December 14, or 41 days after Election Day. The state deadline this year is December 8. The date is a safe harbor: if a state reports in time, Congress will accept its electors. The Act provides that if “any controversy or contest” remains after December 8, Congress will decide which electors—if any—may cast their state’s votes in the Electoral College.

Delays in counting the votes could well encroach on the December 8 deadline. State legislators and governors might come under mounting pressure to designate electors on their own if the popular vote remains incomplete, especially if there are allegations of fraud or abuse. Article II of the Constitution provides that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” The time when state legislatures directly appointed electors themselves are long gone: since the 19th century, states have delegated that power to their voters. But as the Supreme Court noted in Bush v. Gore, a state “can take back the power to appoint electors.”

The constitutional question is not whether but how a state legislature could reclaim the appointment of electors. States have provided by statute for the selection of their electors by their voters; therefore it one might argue they may only resume that power with a second, superseding statute. On the other hand, the Constitution specifically designates state legislatures, rather than the executives or a combination of the two, to choose the electors.  A state legislature might argue that a past legislature-and-governor cannot constrain its discretion to choose electors today.  Is it likely that state legislatures in battleground states could reclaim their constitutional power before the December 8 deadline looms? Probably not.

While Republicans control the state legislatures in six key battleground states, only two of those states also have Republican governors (Arizona and Florida). In four other contested states Republicans control the legislature, but Democrats control the executive: Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Only if the Constitution allows state legislatures, acting without the governor, to choose the electors, could those states cast electoral votes in a disputed popular election.

But there is another scenario in which the state legislatures could designate electors if litigation held up a definitive accounting of the popular vote. This requires a closer look at the Electoral Count Act.

The Act contemplates a post-election period in which states have the opportunity to resolve any “controversy or contest” in accordance with their pre-election law through “judicial or other methods or procedures.” Once this process has reached a definitive conclusion or “final ascertainment,” the governor is then to certify the electors. But the Act presupposes that all such controversies or contests have run their course before the governor submits the certified list of electors. What if December 8 is at hand and the controversies are still going on?

Another provision of the Act could come into play. If a State has held an election on November 3 “and has failed to make a choice” by the December 8 deadline, the Act declares that “the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day [after Nov. 3] in such a manner as the legislature of such State may direct.” That failure could arise from fraud, uncertainty, ongoing recounts or litigation. In those circumstances, a state could be said to have “failed” to make a choice, and its legislature could pick the electors.

That analysis presumes, however, that the Act is constitutional. The founders anticipated the possibility that the Electoral College would fail. In fact, they may not have foreseen political parties that would present the same presidential candidates in every state. Instead, several Founders seem to have thought that the states would often propose local favorites, that the Electoral College would reach no majority in the face of multiple candidates, and that the election would have to go to a backup procedure.

No candidate may win in the Electoral College for less noble reasons as well. Suppose states send electoral votes that—even if certified by the governor—remain under question, whether because of fraud in the vote, inability to count the ballots accurately under neutral rules, or a dispute between branches of a state government.

While the Electoral Count Act appears to create safe harbors for a state’s report of its Electoral College votes, the Act itself might prove unconstitutional. Under the 12th Amendment, “the President of the Senate [i.e., the Vice President] shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates [of the electoral votes of the states] and the votes shall then be counted.” Left unclear is who is to “count” the electors’ votes and how their validity is to be determined.

Over the decades, political figures and legal scholars have offered different answers to these constitutional questions. We suggest that the Vice President’s role is not the merely ministerial one of opening the ballots and then handing them over (to whom?) to be counted. Though the 12th Amendment describes the counting in the passive voice, the language seems to envisage a single, continuous process in which the Vice President both opens and counts the votes.

The check on error or fraud in the count is that the Vice President’s activities are to be done publicly, “in the presence” of Congress. And if “counting” the electors’ votes is the Vice President’s responsibility, then the inextricably intertwined responsibility for judging the validity of those votes must also be his.

If that reading is correct, then the Electoral Count Act is unconstitutional. Congress cannot use legislation to dictate how any individual branch of government is to perform its unique duties: Congress could not prescribe how future Senates should conduct an impeachment trial, for example. Similarly, we think the better reading is that Vice President Pence would decide between competing slates of electors chosen by state legislators and governors, or decide whether to count votes that remain in litigation.

The Role of the House

If the electoral count remains uncertain enough to deprive either Trump or Biden of a majority in the Electoral College, then the 12th Amendment orders that “the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President.” Our nation barely avoided that outcome 20 years ago in the 2000 Florida recount and has only used twice it in our history (in 1800 and 1824). So if the disasters described above occur, then the Constitution gives the power to choose the President to the House.

So it seems like Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats would get to pick the winner. But not so fast, said the framers, who feared congressional control of the executive. Rather than allow a simple majority vote, the Constitution requires that the House choose the President by voting as state delegations. If the House decides the Presidency, Delaware would have the same number of votes as California.

This unusual process makes sense in light of the larger constitutional structure. The Framers rejected the idea that Congress should pick the President, which they believed would rob the Chief Executive of independence, responsibility, and energy. They wanted the people to have the primary hand in choosing the President, but mediated through the states, because they also feared direct democracy.

Thanks to Republican advantages among the states (rather than the cities) the current balance of state delegations in Congress favors Republicans by 26-23 (with Pennsylvania tied). If today’s House chose the president, voting by state delegations, Trump would win handily.

But there is another twist. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution seats a new Congress on January 3, but does not begin the term of a new president until noon on January 20. The new Congress chosen in the 2020 elections, rather than the current Congress, would choose the President. Even though Republicans currently have a majority of delegations, Democrats have narrowed the gap—after the 2016 elections, Republicans had held a 32-17 advantage in state congressional delegations. If Democrats can win one more congressional seat in Pennsylvania and then flip one more delegation, they could achieve a 25-25 tie in the House. Then the election would require political bargaining of the most extreme kind for the House to resolve a disputed presidential election.

First Constitutional Backup

Suppose the House cannot agree, which could well happen given the polarization of our politics. The Constitution even provides for this. If the House splits 25-25 between Trump and Biden, then the 20th Amendment elevates the Vice President-elect to the Presidency.

Under the 12th Amendment, when the Electoral College fails, the Senate chooses the Vice President. Unlike the House procedure, the Senators each have one vote, meaning that under the current balance in the upper chamber, 53 Republicans would choose Mike Pence to effectively become the next President. But, as with the House, it is the Senate chosen by the 2020 elections, rather than the 2018 elections, that will choose the Vice President. On November 4, we may well learn who will win the Presidency—because control of the Senate is also at stake.

Suppose that this November, Democrats take three Senate seats—those in Arizona, Maine, Colorado, and North Carolina, while losing Alabama—and the Senate divides 50-50. Could Pence, as the sitting President of the Senate on January 3, break a tie in the Senate in his favor to make him Vice President on January 20, 2021, and hence President due to the inability of the House to break its own deadlock? It appears that this is the case; Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution says the Vice President “shall have no Vote, unless [Senators] be equally divided.” It does not restrict the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote to some functions of the Senate but not others. In those extreme circumstances, Pence might recuse himself, but the Constitution would not require it.

Second Constitutional Backup

Suppose then the House, Senate, sitting President, and even Vice President Pence decide that he should not use that tie-breaking power. Then the Constitution’s backup system for the Electoral College will have failed.

That still leaves a second backup system. Article II of the Constitution states that in “the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability” of both the President and Vice President, Congress can declare “what Officer shall then act as President” until the disability ends or a new President is elected. Don’t forget that word, “Officer,” because it may make all the difference.

Under the current federal succession statute, Congress decided that congressional leaders should assume the Presidency. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sits first in line, followed by the President pro tem of the Senate, currently Chuck Grassley. From there, the line of succession continues to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and then the other cabinet members.

But, as Yale law professor Akhil Amar persuasively argued in 1995 (at the prospect of Newt Gingrich becoming President should Congress impeach Bill Clinton!), this part of the federal succession statute likely violates the Constitution. Notice that Article II requires that the Presidency pass down to an “Officer.” The Constitution generally—but not always—refers to “Officers” as members of the Executive Branch. Further, the Incompatibility Clause of the Constitution prohibits Members of Congress to hold executive office. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Chuck Grassley can become President. Mike Pompeo would become President—an outcome so unusual, so unexpected, it just might fit our bizarre times.

The American Mind: Coup Who?

From The American Mind comes an article on the Democrats abandonment of negotiated politics – Coup Who?

Scaremongering Democrats protest too much.

In August, two retired military officers published a piece in Defense One which literally encouraged America’s top military leadership to have the 82nd airborne to descend on Washington in the event of a disputed election and escort President Trump out of office.

“In the Constitutional crisis described above, your duty is to give unambiguous orders directing U.S. military forces to support the Constitutional transfer of power,” they write. “Should you remain silent, you will be complicit in a coup d’état.” In other words, the military must prevent a coup by staging one of their own. Thankfully, the Pentagon publicly condemned John Nagl’s and Paul Yingling’s musings.

In some regards it is unremarkable in a nation with millions of military veterans that two of them would have some kind of Clockwork Orange-style MSNBC viewing party and put crayon to paper long enough to come up with this violent fantasia. However, the problem isn’t so much that Nagl and Yingling gamed out this scenario—every election that I can remember for the last 30 years has featured fringe voices expressing concern that the current occupant will refuse to leave.

The real problem is that, for once, a respectable media outlet went ahead and published it. If anything, the Defense One op-ed was just the most explicit example of the anti-Trump coup pornography that’s become a staple of mainstream media. And when the media is not baselessly fretting Trump will refuse to leave office, they’re outrageously and falsely characterizing Trump and his administration in ways that justify his violent removal.

The Washington Post recently ran an “analysis” in the business section, quoting a bunch of academics warning that Trump was leading America into autocracy. The article ended with this kicker quote from a Swedish political scientist, Staffan I. Lindberg at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg: “‘if Trump wins this election in November, democracy is gone’ in the United States, [Lindberg] says. He gives it about two years. ‘It’s really time to wake up before it’s too late.’”

Does the Post ask Lindberg for anything not wholly impressionistic to justify his dire and specific prediction? Aside from offensive tweets and ego-driven rhetoric, has Trump done something really autocratic, like, kill American citizens without a trial? Maybe he led a charge to effectively nationalize one-seventh of the economy?

No. But such pronouncements sound awfully ominous to credulous readers. And the Post piece was comparatively restrained: the same day, Vanity Fair had historian Peter Fritzsche on its podcast to explain that the Trump campaign cares more about race than Hitler. If Trump will end American democracy in two years and is more race-obsessed than the architect of the holocaust, why wouldn’t we call out the 82nd Airborne to perp walk him down Pennsylvania Avenue?

“Stop Deposing Yourself!”

There are, of course, problems with this plan. Earlier this month, Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks wrote about her role in a Democratic party confab where various left-leaning leaders produced a report called the the “Transition Integrity Project” that gamed out responses to various disputed election scenarios.

“A landslide for Joe Biden resulted in a relatively orderly transfer of power,” observed Brooks. “Every other scenario we looked at involved street-level violence and political crisis.” If Trump wins in a definitive landslide there’s still violence and a political crisis? After years of dishonest accusations about Russia collusion and other nonsense, should we bother to ask what responsibility Democratic party leaders and the media have to prevent violence if Trump wins in November? Or should we just accept this report’s conclusion as a way of blackmailing voters into making sure Biden wins handily?

In this context, however, Blackmail is a fairly inconsequential crime. After former Trump administration national security official Michael Anton wrote a piece in this very publication criticizing the report, Nils Gilman, a former Pentagon official and co-creator of the Transition Integrity Project suggested Anton be killed by firing squad.

Gilman is previously on record saying that after the Trump administration, America should explore the possibility of “a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, something South Africa used to confront the legacy of Apartheid in a way that enabled restorative justice.” It might be easier on everyone if Gilman merely explored the possibility of having his head examined.

Given the IMAX-level projection involved in the Transition Integrity Project, it’s unsurprising to learn their full report is obsessed with exploring coup-like scenarios. “Of particular concern is how the military would respond in the context of uncertain election results,” notes the report. But the military response is not as uncertain as people too blinkered to separate the fate of America from that of the immediate success of the Democratic party think it is.

Decades of cultural and economic stratification, not to mention a soupçon or ten of naked anti-American contempt on the Left, means that military service has become a right-leaning and regionally Southern affectation. We can say with a high degree of confidence that a majority of the active duty military voted for Trump, so it seems unlikely the 82nd Airborne is going to follow orders to remove Trump while votes are still being counted.

At the same time, it’s frankly insulting to think Republican voters in the military would blindly follow orders from Trump in the event he attempts a Fujimori-type autogolpe after an election loss, which again, there’s no evidence he’s even remotely contemplating.

The Real Conspiracy

So why keep asking the question about what the military would do? Running on a parallel track to all these stories about the need for a military coup against Trump has been an emerging narrative that Trump secretly hates the military and doesn’t care if they die. Stirring up antipathy among troops could simply be a straightforward, if dishonest, electoral strategy to peel away votes from a stolid Trump constituency, but as long as we’re handing out free passes to indulge paranoia, forgive me for thinking the relevant term of art here is “battlespace prep.” It might be helpful to drive a wedge between Trump and the military if you had, uh, “plans” for after the election.

Earlier this month, Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg got wall-to-wall media coverage for a week after his anonymously sourced story claiming Trump called dead soldiers “suckers” and “losers.” This is in spite of the fact there are now more than 20 on-the-record sources with knowledge of the events surrounding Trump’s alleged comments throwing cold water on Goldberg’s account.

And since the New York Times credulously regurgitated more anonymous intel leaks in June, we’ve been hearing about how Trump ignored reports that Russians were paying the Taliban “bounties” to kill American soldiers. Last month, an NBC news report finally gave up the ghost: “U.S. commander: Intel still hasn’t established Russia paid Taliban ‘bounties’ to kill U.S. troops.” After three months of breathless reporting, it seems there’s “a consensus view among military leaders [that] underscores the lack of certainty around a narrative that has been accepted as fact by Democrats and other Trump critics.”

Hours after NBC News’ report, Biden’s campaign was still savaging Trump for “giving Russia a pass for putting bounties on the heads of American service members” and the next day Biden held a “Veterans Roundtable” campaign event where he tried to make an issue of the Russian bounties.

To my knowledge, not a single reporter has asked Biden about reports Russians were paying bounties to the Taliban in 2010 when he was vice president, and, if those reports were accurate, why Biden mocked Mitt Romney as “one of a small group of Cold War holdovers” for saying Russia was a threat in 2012. But don’t worry, the Joe Biden of 2020 is so chastened by his previous lack of concern for the troops that, the week after his “veterans roundtable,” he’s scheduled a campaign event with Hanoi Jane Fonda, a favorite celebrity of vets everywhere.

The Opposite of Fascism

Speaking of Afghanistan, it’s also worth remembering that we’re still at war—and we have been for 19 years. When regimes enter states of permanent war, the lines between enemies foreign and domestic begin to blur. Aside from the electoral backdrop, reports of Russian bounties this summer emerged just as Trump was engaged in his latest of a number of unsuccessful efforts to withdraw American troops in Afghanistan. Coincidence?

Trump got elected explicitly promising to reduce America’s global military presence, and while you might question his efficacy, there’s no denying he’s faced powerful resistance from a military-intel-media-industrial complex that has spent the last couple of decades turning foreign entanglements into an ouroboros tied up in a Gordian knot. Perhaps there’s a right way and a wrong way to draw down in Afghanistan, but Trump’s pronounced aversion to permanent war is certainly atypical of fascist autocrats.

The truth is that Trump isn’t fascist any more than the contemporary American Left is Communist,  though that’s a more damning and instructive comparison than many realize. “To speak of [fascism] as the true political opposite of communism is to betray the most superficial understanding of modern history. In truth there is an opposite of all the ‘isms’, and that is negotiated politics, without an ‘ism’ and without a goal other than the peaceful coexistence of rivals,” wrote Roger Scruton in his indispensable guide to the ideology of the Left. If America’s Democrats, who in the last two elections have come perilously close to nominating a man who honeymooned in the Soviet Union, haven’t embraced full Communism, well, then there’s a good case they’re at least guilty of fascism’s shared sin of abandoning negotiated politics.

When peaceful coexistence is increasingly off the table, it’s worth asking where that leads us. Four years of elaborate Trump conspiracy theories—most of them involving Russia because irony is dead, dead, dead, and all of them premised on refusing to accept the results of the 2016 election—have finally made clear that there’s one key distinction between the excesses of the Right and Left worth fretting about in 2020.

“Of course there are differences,” adds Scruton. “Fascist governments have sometimes come to power by democratic election, whereas communist governments have always relied on a coup d’état.