The “woke” fancy themselves crusaders engaged in a battle against injustice, racism, inequality and other societal ills they believe have held certain people back since before this country was founded. They may look askance these days at the author of the Declaration of Independence but are passionately committed to his thesis that all men and women are not only created equal but, by virtue of their humanity, possess certain rights which the state cannot legitimately take from them.
Don’t be fooled. It’s all part of an immense power grab by those seeking to remake the nation according to the ideas of certain 19th-century European white males who believed the highest, best use of power was to assure that goods and services—as well as the capital needed to produce them—are not allocated through the free market but “From each according to their ability, to each according to his needs.”
The decision to wrap those ideas up in a contemporary campaign against racism—one that depends on people not seeing their peers as equals regardless of color and on affirmative denunciations of anything remotely “racist”—is a neat trick designed to keep the well-intentioned from becoming suspicious. The United States is probably the single place where, considering our size, population and multi-ethnic character, race matters least. America is a place where anyone can succeed and where success is still considered something to be emulated rather than envied, progressive rhetoric aside. If racism still formed a kind of communal chain holding certain people down, it would have been foolhardy for the GOP leadership to choose Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to deliver Wednesday’s televised response to President Joe Biden‘s address to a joint session of Congress.
Sen. Scott’s success in business and politics, to which he himself alludes repeatedly, is a matter of character. Not just his own but his mother’s, her parents’ and that of several mentors he encountered along the path of life. His experience is quintessentially American—in the best of all possible ways.
So why did the woke remain silent when, moments after the speech ended, Scott began to trend on Twitter as “Uncle Tim”—an ugly phrase, meant to convey the stereotypical image of a black man happily subservient to white people?
It’s a slur all right, grounded in race. It suggests Sen. Scott is somehow a pawn of white men and women rather than a person of strength and independent mind who can judge for himself the best way to go through life.
Why have so few denounced the racist pillorying of a black, Republican United States senator? Why hasn’t the White House press corps asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki if President Joe Biden condemns those referring to Sen. Scott as “Uncle Tim?” Why haven’t Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi been asked whether they consider it an appropriate way to characterize one of their congressional colleagues? It’s not as though questions like these would break new ground. The Washington press corps hounded Donald Trump with them throughout his four years in office. Why is it silent now?
The same is true of the talking heads, whose nightly virtue signals to America about what is and is not racist dictate how the public should feel about every event, politician or piece of legislation. They too have had little to say about the “Uncle Tim” smear—just as they and their predecessors remained silent when similar slurs were hurled at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and other prominent black conservatives. Some of my fellow political reporters and columnists still deny that a notorious incident from the days before camera phones when someone tossed Oreos—black on the outside, white on the inside—at former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele even happened.
If the woke were as anti-racist as they claim, they’d be rushing to Sen. Scott’s defense. “A disagreement with him over ideas is not an excuse to pejoratively invoke the color of his skin,” they might say if they were honest. They haven’t, which is legitimate grounds to wonder about their integrity—on race and everything else. Are their sentiments genuine or are we just being played?
Presidents who misremember history are doomed to repeat it
President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress underscored this administration’s left turn. The speech was a laundry list of progressive priorities in domestic, foreign, and social policy with a price tag, when you add in the American Rescue Plan, of some $6 trillion. Biden’s delivery, heavy with improvisation, only slightly enlivened a prosaic and unoriginal text. Biden repeated lines from both Bill “the power of our example” Clinton and Barack “the arc of the moral universe” Obama. But it wasn’t just the words themselves that made me think of Biden’s most recent Democratic predecessors. The scope of his plans, increasing government’s role in just about every aspect of American life, also brought to mind the Democrats who tried to govern as liberals after campaigning as moderates.
I’m old enough to recall the last president who vanquished Reaganism. Obama spoke of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” and came to Washington in 2009 with the aim of changing the trajectory of the country just as Ronald Reagan had done three decades earlier. Shortly before his one hundredth day in office, he delivered a speech at Georgetown University where he promised to lay a “new foundation” for the country. His friends in the media hailed him as the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “Barack Obama is bringing back the era of big government,” historian Matthew Dallek and journalist Samuel Loewenberg announced in the New York Daily News.
We know how that turned out. The GOP captured the House in 2010. By the time Obama left office, Republicans had full control of Washington and were dominant in the states. Reaganism survived. And now, 12 years later, the cycle is repeating. This time it’s President Biden who is likened to FDR. It’s Biden who is said to have interred the idea of limited government. It’s Biden who is marking his first 100 days in office with plans to spend trillions on infrastructure, green energy, health care, and elder and child care. The political setbacks of the Obama years didn’t temper Biden’s ambitions. They intensified his desire to leverage narrow congressional majorities into sweeping expansions of the welfare state.
Why does Biden think he can avoid Obama’s fate? Like a good lawyer, he has a theory of the case. It goes like this: Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama spent enough money to ensure a strong economic recovery. They didn’t emphasize jobs above all else. Their caution was responsible for Democratic losses in the midterm elections. And all it takes is GOP control of one chamber of Congress to spoil a liberal revival. By opening the floodgates of federal spending, Biden hopes to deepen and extend the post-coronavirus economic boom. Growth and full employment will prevent a Republican takeover. And a second Progressive Era will begin.
The problem with this theory is its selective misreading of history. It wasn’t just the economy that sank the Democrats in 1994 and 2010. It was independent voters who turned against presidents who campaigned as moderates but governed as liberals. Nor did rising unemployment stop Republicans from picking up seats in 2002. And an economic boom didn’t save the House GOP in 2018. In every case, assessments of the president—among independent voters in particular—mattered more than dollars and cents. By committing himself to the idea that massive spending will safeguard the Democratic Congress, Biden may be inadvertently guaranteeing the partisan overreach that has doomed past majorities.
Biden doesn’t give enough credit to the record of his Democratic predecessors. The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in January 1993 when Bill Clinton was inaugurated. By November 1994, it had fallen to 5.6 percent. Meanwhile, the economy grew by 4 percent in the third quarter of 1994. Nevertheless, the Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years and the Senate for the first time in 8 years. Why? Because Republicans won independents 56 percent to 44 percent. Voters who had backed Ross Perot in 1992 swung to the GOP. Voters’ top priority in the exit poll wasn’t jobs. It was crime. And the failure of Clinton’s unpopular health plan didn’t help.
The 2010 midterm had similar results. The economy, while nothing to brag about, was nonetheless improving. Unemployment had been falling since October 2009. Growth, though anemic, had also returned. Republicans gained 63 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate because independents rejected President Obama’s governance. They backed Republicans 56 percent to 37 percent—an 8-point swing against a president they had supported in 2008. Why? Part of the reason was the economy. But the Affordable Care Act was also significant. Health care was voters’ second priority in the exit poll. A 48 percent plurality called for Obamacare’s repeal.
Biden’s theory also omits the contrary examples of recent Republican presidents. In November 2002 the unemployment rate was higher, and growth lower, than in November 2000. But the GOP had a good year anyway thanks to President Bush’s high post-9/11 approval ratings and a tough but effective campaign on national security.
The 2018 midterm is further proof that campaign results are not a direct function of economic performance. Democrats won control of the House despite full employment and sustained growth. Independents, who had narrowly backed President Trump in 2016, turned against him and voted for Democratic candidates by a 12-point margin. No mystery why: A 38-percent plurality of voters said they were voting to oppose Trump, whose strong disapproval rating was at an incredible 46 percent in the exit poll. Health care ranked as the top issue, with voters recoiling at the prospect of an Obamacare replacement that failed to cover preexisting conditions.
Not only do the data show that the economy is less important to the midterms than many assume, they are also a reminder that the first hundred days do not define a presidency. The fate of a president and his party depends more on his ability to maintain popularity and on his performance during unanticipated crises. While Biden’s approval ratings continue to be positive and his disapproval low, there are some warning signs: His approval among independents ranges between the mid- to high-50s, and a majority of voters disapproves of his handling of migration along the southern border. Focused on his grand plans for the economy, Biden might dismiss voter concerns over immigration, crime, and inflation until it is too late.
Sure, Biden might avoid making Barack Obama’s mistakes. But he has plenty of time to make mistakes of his own.
In anticipation of President Joe Biden’s first-ever speech to Joint Session of Congress, the Republican National Committee released a list of what it referred to as “failure after failure” to mark his first 100 days in office.
“Here is just a shortlist,” the RNC said, of what it had identified as Biden’s “many broken promises, disastrous policies, and dangerous proposals: on a variety of issues including:
Joe Biden’s first 100 days have been marked by failure after failure.
Here is just a SHORT list of his many broken promises, disastrous policies, and dangerous proposals:
Biden’s Open Borders Agenda Created A Border Crisis
1. Biden’s open borders agenda has created a border crisis.
2. Biden tried to suspend deportations, weakening immigration enforcement.
3. He has obstructed border wall construction, including through his budget request, which would eliminate all funding for the border wall. Experts say border walls work, and Biden’s construction obstruction is literally throwing the border wide open.
4. Border state Democrats warned Biden’s White House about a border crisis fueled by his polices but the administration ignored their warnings.
Biden’s Border Crisis Boomed
5. Now, experts estimate 1,000 illegal immigrants are escaping into the U.S. each day during Biden’s border crisis.
6. There were 172,331 border apprehensions in March, 5 times the number in March last year.
7. Nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children were taken into custody in March, the highest monthly total ever recorded.
8. Customs and Border Protection forecasts 184,000 migrant children will cross the border by the end of FY 2021, which would be the highest number ever.
9. There has been a 233% increase in fentanyl seizures at the southern border from this time last year.
10. Thanks to Biden’s border wall obstruction, smugglers are exploiting gaps in the wall that were previously set to be built.
11. Officials warn of a “boom time for gangs,” traffickers, and smugglers as they take advantage of Biden’s border crisis.
Biden’s Crisis Of Leadership On The Border
13. When Biden finally admitted there is a “crisis that ended up on the border,” the White House then insisted that is not their official position in a completely insane walk-back, and that “children coming to our border… is not a crisis.”
14. Biden still does not have any plans to visit the border.
15. Kamala Harris laughed when she was asked if she would visit the border, and still has not visited the border even after being named Biden’s crisis manager.
Border Officials Struggle To Cope With Biden’s Disastrous Agenda
16. The Biden administration is releasing some illegal immigrants caught crossing the border without a court notice, and sometimes without any paperwork at all.
17. Border facilities are “stretched beyond thin” because of the crisis.
18. The Donna, Texas facility, one of the few facilities exempted from Biden’s media blackout, is at more than 16 times its capacity. Even Dr. Fauci admitted that packed crowds of migrant children is a “major concern.”
19. To deal with the surge, the Pentagon was forced to approve multiple military bases to house unaccompanied migrant children.
Biden Is Doubling Down On His Border Failures
20. Biden is restricting media access at the border to hide the true extent of the crisis and dodge accountability. When asked why his administration is denying press access, Biden conceded he is purposefully waiting to provide transparency at border facilities.
21. Instead of reversing course, Biden has doubled down on his failing open borders policies.
22. Biden has even removed civil penalties for illegal immigrants for a “failure-to-depart.”
Biden’s Anti-Energy Agenda Is Destroying Jobs
24. On day one, Biden abandoned Keystone XL pipeline workers, forcing thousands into unemployment with the stroke of a pen. American workers and families effected by his job-killing decision are still struggling to get by.
25. We are still waiting for Biden to announce a plan for these workers. Psaki said she had “nothing more” when asked about how Biden plans to replace oil and gas jobs killed by his energy policies.
26. When asked about the workers forced out of work by Biden’s policies, administration officials have dismissed concerns, saying they need “different [jobs],” “different education,” and that there are “jobs that might be sacrificed.”
27. While Biden implements policies to kill American jobs, he is kowtowing to China and Russia so they cooperate with his environmental agenda.
28. Biden is blocking new oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which if kept in place threatens millions of jobs.
29. Biden nominated an Interior Secretary that believes oil and gas extraction on public lands should be permanently banned.
Biden Is Proposing Massive Job-Destroying Tax Hikes
31. Biden’s proposed tax hike would raise the combined tax rate on U.S. businesses to the highest of any country in the G7 or OECD.
32. Biden’s first tax proposals are already breaking his campaign pledge, “If you make less than $400,000, you won’t see one single penny in additional federal tax.”
33. According to reports, Biden is planning to propose even greater tax hikes, raising taxes on capital gains to over 43%.
34. According to administration officials, he is showing an increased openness to a carbon tax.
Biden’s Proposal Is Not An Infrastructure Package
35. Only 7% of the spending of Biden’s proposed “infrastructure” package is for roads, bridges, highways, airports, waterways, and ports.
36. His administration has lied about the job creation that’s possible under his infrastructure plan. Even CNN and The Washington Post called Biden out on misleading the American people on job predictions.
37. In terms of Biden’s broader Green New Deal agenda, The Washington Post and Associated Press have noted that many of Biden’s proposals will destroy more jobs than they create, and create jobs that pay less than the jobs they destroy.
39. The Biden administration is promoting a business that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is actively invested in to the tune of millions of dollars. Granholm is set to profit off of the hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money Biden wants to spend as part of his infrastructure package.
On Schools, Biden Has Put Special Interests First
40. Biden repeatedly campaigned with American Federation of Teachers boss Randi Weingarten, who is leading the anti-science charge to keep America’s schools closed. Now that Biden is president, he has refused to call out the group.
41. Biden has caved to Democrat special interest groups at the expense of millions of children and families across America, even though the science shows that keeping schools closed has devastating effects on the mental health, social and economic situation, and academic achievement of children.
42. His stimulus bill put special interests before schools. The $1.9 trillion wish list only spends $6 billion, 0.3% of the bill, on K-12 schools this fiscal year with NO REQUIREMENT that they reopen.
44. Biden has conceded he has no plan to open high schools.
Biden Is Refusing To Speak Out Against The Growing Anti-Police Rhetoric In The Democrat Party.
45. The Biden administration has refused to condemn anti-police comments from Democrat members of Congress.
46. Press Secretary Jen Psaki refused to condemn Maxine Waters’ inflammatory comments around the Chauvin trial that “we’ve got to get more confrontational.”
47. When Nancy Pelosi repeatedly defended Waters’ call for confrontation, Biden kept silent.
48. When every House Democrat voted to endorse Waters’ call for protestors “to get more confrontational,” Biden refused to speak out.
Biden’s Flip On Court Packing
49. Even though Biden criticized court packing for decades (check out these comments from 1983, 2005, and 2019), he has refused to speak out against House and Senate Democrats abandoning decades of bipartisan agreement by proposing court packing legislation.
50. He is even going a step further and actually establishing a court-packing commission.
Biden Says Goodbye To Bipartisanship & Hello To Extremism
51. Despite his campaign promises Biden is rejecting bipartisanship in favor of a hyper-partisan process to pass trillions in spending without Republican support.
53. He has resorted to governing through executive order, issuing far-left decrees at breathtaking speed.
55. Biden declared that “no amendment to the Constitution is absolute” when discussing the 2nd amendment.
57. Despite promising unity and compromise on the campaign trail, the only unity Biden has shown is with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. He has spoken to Xi and Putin more times than Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy.
Biden’s Georgia Boycott
60. Aided and abetted by misinformation peddlers like Stacey Abrams, Biden encouraged a boycott of Georgia.
61. Thanks to Biden’s lies about a law that actually expands voting opportunities, Georgia’s Cobb County is set to lose more than $100 million in tourism revenue.
62. What’s worse, Biden supported the boycott KNOWING it would hurt Georgia’s businesses and workers the most.
63. After Democrat Raphael Warnock admitted to spreading misinformation about the Georgia law, Biden is rallying with the senator in Atlanta tomorrow. Biden should apologize to Georgians instead.
Biden Backs The Democrats’ H.R. 1 Power Grab
65. By supporting H.R. 1, Biden is supporting a bill that would force states to allow paid party operatives to harvest ballots.
66. H.R. 1 would also threaten freedom of speech by turning the FEC into a partisan organization.
Biden Embraces Far-Left Spending Proposals & A Minimum Wage
67. Biden has dedicated trillions in wasteful spending for progressive pet projects.
69. Biden is backing a $15 federal minimum wage mandate, which the CBO says could eliminate up to 3.7 million jobs.
70. He is pushing defense cuts in his budget.
Biden Is Caving To America’s Enemies
71. Biden has refused to criticize Xi Jinping, even saying he didn’t “mean it as a criticism” when he called Xi undemocratic.
72. When discussing China’s human rights abuses, Biden downplayed those concerns, saying “culturally there are different norms.”
73. Biden is failing to confront China, with Psaki even saying Biden is “not in a rush” to counter China.
74. And in yet another broken campaign promise, Biden has not confronted China over COVID-19’s origins
75. In a patten of appeasing America’s enemies, Biden is caving to Iran.
Biden Is Now A Pro-Abortion Extremist
76. Biden rescinded the Mexico City policy, forcing American taxpayers to fund abortions overseas.
77. Biden’s HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has a history of attacking religious freedom, and during his hearing, he refused to rule out using taxpayer funds to pay for abortions and defended his past votes supporting the horrific practice of partial birth abortion.
Obamacare & Biden’s Government Takeover Of Health Care
78. Biden has repeated Barack Obama’s “lie of the year” on health care, and now as president he is bringing those lies back to Washington by working to reinstitute Obama’s terrible health care polices.
80. In his time as president, he has worked to expand Obamacare as he proposes a further government takeover of healthcare. A Navigant study found that Biden’s health plan could threaten more than 1,000 rural hospitals across 46 states.
On Operation Warp Speed, He’s The Lying, Plagiarist In Chief
82. Thanks to the previous administration’s development and distribution plan under Operation Warp Speed, which Biden has falsely tried to claim credit for, millions of Americans have been vaccinated.
84. In September President Trump pledged: “Millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April.” It tuns out, he was right, and we have Operation Warp Speed to thank.
85. Biden has failed to apologize for his statements spreading doubt about the vaccine which he made on the campaign trail last year.
Biden’s COVID $1.9 Trillion Bill Was A Far-Left Boondoggle
86. Biden’s $1.9 trillion boondoggle was not a “relief” bill.
87. Through Biden’s boondoggle, Democrats insisted on sending nearly $2 billion dollars in stimulus checks to prisoners, including violent felons like the Boston Marathon Bomber. Democrats blocked an amendment to restrict the stimulus payments when ramming through their partisan legislation.
88. In fact, hundreds of billions of the Democrats’ “relief” will not be spent for up to a decade from now.
Republican Coronavirus Policies Worked, Now Biden Wants To Rewrite History
89. Biden is trying to rewrite history on the coronavirus. After criticizing the Paycheck Protection Program and repeatedly visiting businesses that received PPP loans under President Trump, Biden baselessly claimed credit for their success.
90. After gaslighting the American people during the campaign, he proceeded to plagiarize the Republican’s coronavirus response at every turn, all while lying about the Trump administration’s robust COVID response.
Biden Gives The Worst Governors In The Nation A Pass
92. Biden has failed to take responsibility for being one of Andrew Cuomo’s biggest cheerleaders. Biden even declared: “Your governor in New York’s done one hell of a job. I think he’s the gold standard.” What was Biden declaring the “gold standard?” Anti-science nursing home orders that led to thousands of deaths, rewriting reports to hide the higher death toll, and a cover-up in the face of a federal investigation so the data would not be “used against” the Cuomo administration.
93. During the campaign, Biden repeatedly applauded Whitmer’s terrible approach to the coronavirus, and now as we keep learning more about how awful her response truly was, he has refused to backtrack his endorsement of Whitmer. The policies Biden endorsed? Renewing devastating nursing home orders three times, refusing to release the data on nursing home deaths, and buying the silence of her former health director with a $150,000 taxpayer-funded confidentiality agreement.
94. Biden won’t insist hypocritical governors like Gavin Newsom open their economies. America can only recover economically if we allow our businesses to open, but instead of standing up to governors whose lockdowns are hurting Americans, Biden continues to take a backseat.
An Opaque Administration Where One Has To Wonder Who Is Setting Policy
95. The Biden administration is one of the least transparent in history, continually ignoring questions from the press.
96. Joe Biden holds the modern record for the number of days it took a president to hold his first press conference.
97. Biden has not kept his promise on ethics agreements, facing mounting pressure to disclose the ethics agreements of his appointees.
98. After establishing a cap on refugees not in line with the desires of his far-left base, Biden then backtracked and claimed that he didn’t say that the cap was “justified.”
99. Remember when Biden was silent as his press secretary claimed for days that his reopening goal was only 50% of the schools for one day a week? Was he just not paying attention all that time?
Joe Biden’s presidency has been one stumble after another. It has only been 100 days, and the American people are already paying a steep price for his failures
Ever since Ronald Reagan, presidents speaking to joint sessions of Congress have used the presence of guests sitting with the first lady to personalize the impact of the policy proposals being made.
Joe Biden is no exception. In his speech, Wednesday, given near the end of his administration’s first 100 days in place of a State of the Union address, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will act as hostess to a handful of people who, the White House said “personify some of the issues or policies that will be addressed” in the president’s remarks.
Due to safety concerns regarding COVID-19, this year’s guests will attend the speech virtually while watching remotely, the administration said, following a virtual reception held that afternoon by Dr. Biden and live-streamed on the White House website.
Those attending include, as described by the White House in a news release:
–Javier Quiroz Castro, “Dreamer, DACA Recipient & Nurse”
According to a biographical sketch provided by the White House, Quiroz’s parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was three years old. He grew up in Nashville, attending Lipscomb University from which he graduated in May 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Science of Nursing degree. Quiroz received the Spirit of Nursing Award, given yearly to a single nursing student who best delivered quality care. In 2012, using the protection of the Barack Obama-initiated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he became a registered nurse and has been on the frontlines in the fight against COVID.
–Maria-Isabel Ballivian, “Executive Director, Annandale Christian Community For Action Child Development Center
Ballivian’s biographical summary describes her as “an innovative educator, senior administrator, trainer, and advocate” who has been working to improve young children’s quality of care and education. The program she runs is an NAEYC-accredited program serving more than 200 at-risk children in Fairfax County, Virginia.
–Tatiana Washington, “Gun Violence Prevention Advocate and Organizer”
According to the White House, Washington became involved with gun violence prevention work after her aunt was killed in a murder-suicide in March 2017. She is a Policy Associate at March for Our Lives and Executive Director of 50 Miles More, a youth-led organization focused on gun violence prevention. She is also involved in the Wisconsin Black Lives Matter Movement.
–Stella Keating (she/her), “First Transgender Teen to Testify Before U.S. Senate”
Keating’s biographical outline explains she’s been politically active since age nine when she testified before her school board advocating for more innovative programs in her elementary school. At age 16, the Tacoma, Washington high school sophomore became the first transgender teenager to testify before the U.S. Senate during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Equality Act in March 2021.
–Theron Rutyna, “IT Director for the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa”
The White House described Rutyna as a leader in the effort to get broadband to tribal lands in Wisconsin. A member of Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ Broadband Task Force, he has been working with the state’s tribal communities to secure funding to bring broadband access to the mostly rural communities they occupy.
The issues the president has chosen to highlight with these guests, especially, the conversion of illegal immigrants to legal ones, transgenderism, and stricter gun control measures are hardly the moderate, bread and butter kinds of issues one might expect a self-proclaimed moderate to address his first time out of the gate. Rather than unite the country, as he tried to do in his inaugural, Biden is attempting, it seems to make a moral crusade out of some of the most divisive issues the country faces. Instead of bringing the country together, he’s splitting it further apart – which may explain why his approval rating at this point is the lowest for any elected president at the same time in their administration except for his immediate predecessors.
By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we reaffirm the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past.
As I wrote in a preceding essay, the First Amendment was written to limit the government’s power. In the 18th century, only the state was conceived as possibly wielding the power to keep free people from speaking their minds. Thus, if maintaining a free people requires free speech, it followed that the government must be kept from controlling speech. For a long time, no more was necessary, but that would change.
As the United States grew in population and prosperity, there was very little agitation against business. There did not need to be. Most businesses were small affairs, owned by one man or one family, employing a handful of workers. Relations between labor and management were dealt with between individuals.
n 1854, Abraham Lincoln summarized this small-scale economy, speaking of a system in which a man “may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”
Yet as corporations grew in size and power, that “true system” changed. Instead of one apprentice negotiating with an owner, a company that employed thousands would tell workers what they would get: take it or leave it.
In response, workers began to join together in trade unions, leveling the playing field, although diminishing their own independence. The balance between workers and management was restored, but the growing power of corporations still overpowered that of individual consumers.
Antitrust and utility laws were the response, but none of this much affected the realm of free speech. There was no news monopoly — newspapers were more plentiful than today — and restrictions on the new technology of radio came from the government, not the station owners. The biggest threat to the practice of free speech remained the state.
Although the two streams of jurisprudence here — anti-monopoly and free speech — did not much overlap in the early twentieth century, some of the same great thinkers were doing work in both. Foremost among these was Louis Brandeis, who joined the Supreme Court in 1916.
Brandeis was a progressive who saw Big Government and Big Business as equally threatening to the average American. Although he focused more on the growth of corporate power in his days as a private lawyer, Brandeis saw the danger in the government becoming too powerful. His solution was to resist consolidation in both regards — keep businesses small and local, and the government could stay small, too.
In regards to free speech, Brandeis also led the resistance to censorship, although often unsuccessfully. While American citizens were the freest in the world in their right to speak and publish, limits remained.
The so-called “Red Scare” that followed communist revolutions in Europe led governments to clamp down on people’s right to advocate socialist ideas in America. In Whitney v. California in 1924, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law. Brandeis was in the minority, but Whitney soon became one of the rare cases more famous for the dissent than for the opinion of the court. Brandeis wrote:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
Brandeis’s words remain one of the great summaries of the custom and law of free speech in America and follows the line of thinking started by Milton and Locke. In 1969, the Supreme Court adopted Brandeis’s ideas and overturned Whitney.
Since then, the government’s attempts to restrict free speech have mostly been rebuffed. Some efforts, like the censorship at issue in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC, nearly succeeded, but most failed and failed quickly. The struggle for free speech in law trends toward greater liberty.
Today, however, something novel is happening in America: private actors have become a greater threat to free speech than the government is. Part of that comes from a laudable achievement — we have tamed free speech’s historical foe, the state. But part also comes from the rise of new means of communication that not only displace the old but are uniquely susceptible to monopolization in a way the old media were not.
That means that for the first time, corporate power might be a greater threat to our rights — especially our right to free speech — than the power wielded by the state. This accounts in part for the recent resurgence in antitrust advocacy.
Not long ago, there was considerable diversity not only in the sources of news and entertainment but also in the distribution of such things. Not only have the sources of news been subject to consolidation, but they have become separated from the methods by which they reach us. This vertical dis-integration might be seen as an antitrust success, except that the distribution methods are even more consolidated than the news sources.
The “distribution sources” in question are the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter, along with less powerful players in the field like Reddit and LinkedIn. Instagram and WhatsApp are also cited as delivery methods for news, but it does little good to mention them since they are both owned by Facebook. Consolidation across Silicon Valley has narrowed the real players in Big Tech to about half a dozen: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft among them.
As far as free speech is concerned, some of these players are more dangerous than others, but the interaction among them is also a problem. Six big technological competitors might look like a healthy industry, but it is an illusion. While they clash at times, these Big Six have divided up the tech world much as the 19th-century colonial powers divided up the globe. Spheres of influence are mutually respected and the political aims of each align with the others.
First, the social media giants established monopolies in their respective fields. As companies grow in power, they exert control over their marketplaces. They evaded detection in doing so because their monopolies are different from those of the past.
What they monopolize is not a commercial product like Standard Oil’s monopoly on kerosene. Their monopoly is on access to a thing they created and that, outside of their network, cannot exist. As I wrote in the Washington Examiner last year:
There is no place to tweet except Twitter; there is no way to create Facebook posts outside Facebook. If Facebook or Twitter delete your posts or restrict your account, that network is closed to you, and each is a network that increasingly dominates the exchange of ideas. Even beyond the market for news and commentary, access to social media for businesses (especially Facebook) can be a make-or-break proposition.
The monopoly is on each social media company’s network, and the danger is in our increasing reliance on those networks to convey ideas. By 2019, a majority of Americans said they often or sometimes got their news over social media, and the number increases every year.
Unlike old-fashioned monopolies, social media companies use their power not only to exclude competitors but also to exclude customers with whom they disagree. AT&T wanted to control all telephony, but at least they only wanted your money. Facebook and Twitter also want to limit what you say, the equivalent of a telephone operator breaking in to shut down phone calls that their bosses find distasteful.
The Department of Justice shattered AT&T’s monopoly in the 1980s, breaking the company into several “Baby Bells.” The result was cheaper, better telephone service for everyone.
But that precise solution will not work for social media. No one is concerned about the price of a service that is given away for free, and the quality of the apps was never the problem. This network, and equal access to it, is the issue. Destroying that network would make service worse, not better. Moreover, it misses the point.
The intersection of monopoly power with free speech is something new. Even beyond the threat of exclusion from a social media company’s network, the collusion among the networks further stifles free expression. Consider the treatment of a rival social network.
In reaction to Twitter shutting down accounts with whose content it disagreed, two entrepreneurs launched an alternative site, Gab, in 2016. It went public in 2017 and seemed to offer the traditional alternative for dissatisfaction with a business: taking your business elsewhere. If the dispute with Twitter had been a traditional one, such as price or quality, that would have solved the problem.
But the nature of Twitter’s monopoly worked against Gab. Twitter users who had not been banned were reluctant to leave the network, because as unhappy as they were with it, it still offered the best forum for reaching a mass audience. Some maintained accounts at both sites, but only the banned — those who had no other option — were active users at Gab. Google decided it was a hate forum and removed it from their Play Store. Apple had never allowed it in the first place.
Gab was then restricted only to people extremely motivated to seek it out, and it became a deeply unpleasant echo chamber. When it emerged that the perpetrator of the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was an active Gab user, the site was forever known as the home of murderous extremists. The providers that hosted them terminated their arrangements, forcing it further underground. The same process played out with Parler in 2020, and it will play out again for the next would-be Twitter competitor.
Mainstream opinion is unbothered. Few had heard of Gab or Parler, which they could not find in their phone’s app stores, and many who were aware of it associated it with Nazis. Shutting them down was good riddance to bad rubbish.
Those few who raised free speech concerns were told to read the law, as though that is all there is to our ancient liberty. Recent episodes of tech censorship have involved a larger combination of tech companies and taken in a larger swath of users — including a former American president.
The drive to stifle speech is not limited to social media. Other tech monopolies have flexed their muscles. Amazon, which controls a majority of book sales in the United States, has started deciding which kinds of books it will allow. Anything that explores sexual orientation or gender dysphoria as mental illnesses is now forbidden. Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject are also likely to be censored if they voice the “wrong” opinions.
If free speech is necessary to enable individuals to discover virtue and choose their leaders, then monopoly censorship is just as harmful as government censorship. Even beyond the specific harm of stifling free expression, it does harm to the idea of free speech itself.
Legalistic denials from Big Tech supporters — “it’s not censorship if it’s not the government!” — miss the point. By allowing continued monopolies over segments of the public square and acquiescing in a restriction of free thought there, we erode the principle of free speech while piously upholding the laws that do nothing against this new threat.
As long as people believe in free speech, it will endure. According to a 2020 poll by Pew, a majority of Americans see the social media threat for what it is: censorship. That is good news. People are not distracted by the distinction of government and non-government; they see a powerful force trying to muzzle them and do not like it. The people understand that this right belongs to them and will resist anyone who tries to take it away.
The bad news is that such sentiments are declining. Americans, especially the young, increasingly are intolerant of speech that they hate. Instead of the liberty and courage that Brandeis extolled, they seek to decide public questions with private force. Milton and Locke would recognize the methods from their own times, although the actors and questions debated have changed.
That same 2020 Pew poll showed a majority of Democrats endorsing social media companies’ labeling of “inaccurate” tweets and posts. Polling by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that same year finds that significant percentages of college students support suppressing unpopular speech through heckler’s veto (27 percent) or blocking entry to an event (11 percent). Only 4 percent of those surveyed claimed that it was acceptable to use violence to suppress offensive speech, but that is still too many.
We all have reason to doubt the accuracy of polling after the failures of the last few years, but there can be no doubt that the principle of free expression is under renewed threat. Looking at that threat requires reacquainting ourselves with the history of free speech and monopolies. Our forefathers fought censorship and fought monopolistic abuses, but political battles are rarely won for all time. These two are back, joined up in novel fashion, but no different than what came before.
The lessons of Milton, Locke, Bastiat, Lincoln, and Brandeis must guide a new generation to protect our ancient freedoms. If we fail, those freedoms will fade from memory and their protection in law will fade with them. We may vote for legislators, but few of us will ever directly influence the words of a law.
In the custom that underpins the law, though, we all have a role to play. By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we remind the world of the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past, and further reinforce them for the challenges to yet come.
How this pernicious ideology rejects rational inquiry and objective truth.
On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13950, “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” The order contained the kind of emotionally charged language about critical race theory that is seldom seen in these legalistic documents: “This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”
The order quoted from training materials being used by government agencies and from statements of the agencies themselves, such as this from the Treasury Department: “Virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism.” The department, according to the order, “instructed small group leaders to encourage employees to avoid ‘narratives’ that Americans should ‘be more color-blind’ or ‘let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.’” Trump’s order was revoked by President Biden on his first day in office.
By this time, however, the ideas that had prompted Trump’s concerns had already begun to disturb the lives of the American people who encountered them. In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on December 20, 2020, Gabrielle Clark, the mother of William Clark, a twelfth-grader in a Nevada charter school, complained about the school’s refusal to accept her son’s objection to what was being taught in a recently revised civics course. Ms. Clark, a widow, is black. Her son’s father, however, was white, and her son was light-skinned enough to be considered white.
In her complaint, Clark stated that a new curriculum at William’s school “inserted consciousness raising and conditioning exercises under the banner of ‘Intersectionality’ and ‘Critical Race Theory.’” “The lesson categorized certain racial and religious identities as inherently ‘oppressive,’ . . . and instructed pupils including William Clark who fell into these categories to accept the label ‘oppressor.’”
Despite Clark’s and her son’s objections to what he was being required to admit about himself and his racial heritage, the school insisted that he take this course and gave him a failing grade — imperiling his chances for college admission — because of his refusal to admit that he harbored the views that were being pressed upon the class.
The remarkable thing about the school’s attitude was its refusal to recognize a student’s objection to the characterization of his personal views. As we will see, this is an insignia of what is now called critical race theory (CRT), which for reasons outlined below will not — actually cannot — accept any white person’s view that he or she is not a racist or oppressor.
Bari Weiss is a former employee of the New York Times, a highly educated and successful writer, who resigned from the staff of the Times in July 2020, with a letter to the publisher complaining of the development within the paper’s staff of a “consensus” that “truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job it is to inform everyone else.” Although Weiss has never publicly identified the “orthodoxy” she described in the letter, it is clear from her actions later that it is the same “divisive concepts” identified by Trump in his executive order and described in Gabrielle Clark’s complaint.
Since then, Weiss has taken up the cause of showing how widespread and dangerous these ideas have become. In a memorandum to her mailing list on March 10 this year, Weiss described the predicament of affluent parents in Los Angeles who see their children being indoctrinated with ideas about critical race theory but don’t protest, for fear of being called racists themselves.
In its way, this is as extraordinary as Trump’s executive order and the refusal of William Clark’s school to accept his protest that he is not a racist. This Los Angeles parents’ group, Weiss wrote, “is one of many organizing quietly around the country to fight what it describes as an ideological movement that has taken over their schools. . . . They are all eager for their story to be told — but not a single one would let me use their name. They worry about losing their jobs or hurting their children if their opposition to this ideology were known.” Another said her son begged her not to talk to Weiss. “He wants to go to a great university, and he told me that one bad statement from me will ruin us. This is the United States of America. Are you freaking kidding me?”
In February 2021, Jodi Shaw, a white female employee of Smith College, resigned, accusing the school of creating a “racially hostile environment” for white people. The incident that produced this reaction occurred in 2018, when a black student was found eating her lunch in a room that was not supposed to be in use. The janitor and the security staff, both white, had advised her to leave and, according to all reports, had acted properly. They were dismissed by the school after the student’s complaint of racism. The school then began a series of initiatives that were intended to eliminate “systemic racism” on campus.
This was not the end of the matter. On March 22, 2021, an organization called “1776 Unites” also wrote a letter to Smith president Kathleen McCartney:
We, the undersigned, are writing as Black Americans to express our outrage at the treatment of the service workers of Smith College. . . . Before investigating the facts, Smith College assumed that every one of the people who prepare its food and clean its facilities was guilty of the vile sin of racism and forced them to publicly ‘cleanse’ themselves through a series of humiliating exercises in order to keep their jobs. Smith College offered no public apology to the falsely accused and merely doubled down on the shaming of its most vulnerable employees.”
For purposes of this essay, the key element in the Smith episode is the failure of the college president to apologize publicly or privately to Jodi Shaw or the white service workers who lost their jobs without good reason. It reflects an uncompromising and unreasoning attitude that accompanies every example of how critical race theory is implemented. No quarter is given, as though no wrong was actually done. It’s as though the individuals involved are not of any importance — just the principle that “racial justice” be achieved. This is a characteristic of totalitarian ideas, and hostile to the concern for individuals that has always characterized classical liberal thinking in the United States.
Why This Is Different
What is happening in the U.S. today, however, is different from ordinary leftist bias. Even where the progressive Left is dominant, its members usually claim that open debate is a good thing. This is not the case with programs like critical race theory. There, as in the examples above, reason and compromise are abjured.
Where did this attitude come from?
It would not be surprising to find in this a link to Marxism, a belief system that does not depend on facts or evidence but asserts that capitalism is at the root of society’s evils, including racism. It’s likely that what we are seeing in the rise of critical race theory is a transmuted form of Marxism, characterized by the same rigidity of outlook but with an updated or modernized complaint about the society and social system it is attacking.
In Cynical Theories, a book on the rise of CRT, authors Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay lay the ultimate responsibility for the rigidity of CRT and related ideas at the door of an academic community that has become enthralled to a new philosophy called “postmodernism.”
A New Secular Religion Evolves
“Postmodernism first burst onto the intellectual scene in the late 1960s,” Pluckrose and Lindsay write, “and quickly became wildly fashionable among leftist and left-leaning academics.” In principle, it denied that truth was discoverable through reason and emphasized the importance of ideology. “The idea that we can come to know objective reality and that what we call ‘truth’ in some way corresponds to it were placed on the chopping block.”
This cynical view turned activist in the 1980s. Postmodernists tried to use this philosophy for “activism on behalf of women and LGBT and, in the United States, the Civil Rights movement . . . just as disillusionment with Marxism — until then, the main, longstanding leftist social-justice cause — was spreading through the political and cultural left. Given the catastrophic results of communism everywhere it had been put into practice, this disillusionment was well founded and radically altered the worldviews of leftist cultural elites.”
It is ironic that although American progressives have eschewed Marxism and its offshoots for well over a century, they should now have fallen in love with a successor to Marxism that is at least as radical and intractable. The difference is that critical race theory and related notions present themselves not as political theories but as purely social ideas.
Many things changed as postmodern theory turned to activism. Pluckrose and Lindsay write that
teaching became a political act. . . . In subjects ranging from gender studies to English literature, it is now perfectly acceptable to state a theoretical position and then use that lens to examine the material, without making any attempt to falsify one’s interpretation by including disconfirming evidence or alternative explanations. Now, scholars can openly declare themselves to be activists and teach activism in courses that require students to accept the ideological basis of Social Justice as true and produce work that supports it.
Obviously, where CRT is taught, it seals off all counterarguments and requires that whites accept the views of nonwhites about the realities of what nonwhites have experienced. No one, CRT proponents argue, who has not actually experienced racism as a black or brown person can claim not to be a racist, because no one who has not experienced racism can fully comprehend what it means.
This attitude inverts the truth, disrupts honest discussion between races, and denies any role for reason. In other words, the more a white person denounces racism and claims not to be a racist, the clearer it is, in critical race theory, that he or she is a racist. It should be obvious how this deceptive argument might be persuasive with young people in elementary school, high school, and even college who have not experienced much of the world and are taken in by this kind of argumentation from teachers or professors.
Wokeness and Reason
The denial of any role for reason or evidence appears to be at the very root of Marxism, postmodernism, CRT, and “wokeness.”
It is both stunning and appalling that critical race theory, a belief system that denies the values that have come down to us from the Enlightenment, can gain ground in 21st-century America. The pessimistic view is that societies, even those well-educated and culturally advanced, sometimes spin out of control over ideas that in retrospect seem lunatic. That happened in Germany in the last century. The support for unreason today in the academy, among university students, and in media such as the New York Times is a truly bad sign.
On the other hand, most Americans are not yet aware of what is happening among the elites and the threat it ultimately poses to democracy. When they realize what is being taught to their children, by large corporations to their staffs, or to the federal workforce, there could well be the kind of reaction that prompted Trump’s executive order. Until then, it remains a hope.
The one issue where the White House plays defense
The pickings are slim for Republicans in Joe Biden’s Washington. For the past few months, the president has maintained a job approval rating in the mid- to low-50s. He has a net positive rating in the double digits. He gets good marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, for his distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, and for his (misguided) decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The American Rescue Plan is extremely popular, and the American Jobs Plan polls well. The rules of the House and budget reconciliation in the Senate mean that Republicans are powerless to stop major economic legislation from becoming law. Meanwhile, the conservative grassroots are more interested in election integrity and identity politics than in policy. GOP officials are frustrated. “It’s always harder to fight against a nice person because usually people will sort of give him the benefit of the doubt,” Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) told The Hill recently.
There’s one issue, however, where the public has doubts. It’s the border. The surge in illegal immigration throughout his first 100 days in office has left Biden vulnerable to Republican criticisms and worried about the political implications. The crisis has exposed as false the idea that this administration is staffed with an “A-Team” of “hyper-competent” technocrats able to manage anything that comes their way. Leaks to the news media reveal an administration playing an internal blame game. The typically unflappable Jen Psaki has been caught up in spats with the White House press corps. The upshot is that Biden’s missteps have given the GOP an opportunity to unite around border security and tight labor markets.
The public doesn’t like the results of Biden’s asylum policies. Just 24 percent of adults in a late March AP-NORC pollapproved of Biden’s handling of the border surge. Last week’s Quinnipiac poll showed 29 percent approval. A Morning Consult survey conducted at the end of last month found that a majority of registered voters blamed Biden, not “seasonal migration,” for the spike in illegal entries. Participants in the Engagious/Schlesinger swing-voter focus group doubted that Biden’s emphasis on diplomacy and humanitarian aid would reduce the pressure on the border. “Swing voter support for Biden’s border policies is like sand falling through an hourglass,” Engagious president Rich Thau saidto Axios.
And Biden’s response isn’t helping. He put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of efforts to solve the problem, but Harris recognized the political peril involved and quickly made it clear that she would be engaged in diplomacy rather than emergency response. Harris will meet virtually with the president of Guatemala on April 26, two days after her in-person visit to New Hampshire. The southern border has yet to appear on her schedule.
With Harris burnishing her foreign policy credentials, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has been left to coordinate the administration’s efforts. One reason Republicans unanimously opposed Becerra’s confirmation was that he’s a lawmaker and activist in a job best suited for bureaucrats and wonks. They had a point. The press routinely depicts Biden as unhappy with Becerra and “frustrated” at his inability to house, care for, and resettle unaccompanied minors safely and swiftly. What did Biden expect? The moment demands a figure with the logistical brilliance of Dwight Eisenhower and the moral core of Albert Schweitzer. That description doesn’t exactly fit Becerra, who is best known for suing nuns.
Nor is the anti-Becerra leak campaign the only piece of evidence that the White House fears an immigration backlash. Last week, in the space of several hours, Biden flip-flopped on refugee admissions. First came the announcement that, contrary to his campaign pledge, Biden would not raise the cap on refugees. Democrats and progressives slammed the move as inhumane and illiberal. Then the White House, always keeping an eye on its left flank, said it would increase the number of refugees after all. Press secretary Jen Psaki blamed the confusion on “messaging.” She was right—the White House had two different messages in one afternoon. A week later Psaki was still trying to explain the discrepancy.
It turns out that Biden didn’t want to draw further attention to immigration by admitting more refugees during the border crisis. His political instincts may have been sound—but he wasn’t willing to test those instincts against criticism from his own side. The White House can’t even admit that what’s happening on the border is a crisis. When Biden toldreporters, “The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people, and we couldn’t do two things at once,” Psaki and other administration officials said he was referring to the “crisis” in Central America that is supposedly forcing migrants to seek a better future in the United States. Please.
Biden spoke the truth: There is a crisis on the border. What he can’t accept, however, is that his policies are responsible for it—and are making his political difficulties worse. And so he’s handed Republicans a powerful issue in an otherwise bleak environment. Now they have to use it.
One centerpiece of the Biden administration’s legislative agenda is HR 5, the Equality Act of 2021. Its central move is to expand the definition of sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That expanded definition of sex discrimination is coupled with a broader definition of public accommodations that includes “places or establishments that provide (1) exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays; (2) goods, services, or programs; and (3) transportation services.” The legislation, moreover, allows the Department of Justice to intervene in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to add its clout to private claimants.
Proponents of girls and women’s sports and religious liberty have issued powerful objections to this expanded definition of sex discrimination. The Act would permit biological males who self-identify as female to participate in girls and women’s sports. Critics, pointing to the dominance of transgender girls in state track and field meets in Connecticut, insist this move comes at the expense of biological girls and women who are unable to compete successfully for medals and scholarships against their biologically bigger and stronger competitors.
In addition, the act contains no explicit exemption for religious organizations that accept the traditional biological definitions of sex in running their own institutions, including single-sex educational and recreational programs. And the act could exclude these programs from receiving federal support for school lunch programs. Indeed, those religious organizations could no longer rely on the strict-scrutiny standard of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, but instead would be subject to the more forgiving standard articulated in Employment Division v. Smith (1990). This means that any facially neutral law will bind religious organizations even if they suffer far more serious harms from the prohibition, which in Smith took the form of criminalizing Smith for using peyote for sacramental purposes at a bona fide ceremony of his Native American Church.
Neither of these objections, however, cut much ice with supporters of the Equality Act. After a short debate in the House, the act was passed on February 25 by a vote of 224-206, where all Democrats and only three Republicans voted for the bill. Its fate in the Senate, however, remains uncertain. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin—often the tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate—is the lone Democratic holdout and has expressed serious misgivings about the legislation. Even his vote would not let the bill pass without a change to the filibuster rule requiring sixty votes to close debate on any legislative measure.
The Democrats’ monolithic front is disheartening for its willful blindness to opposing arguments. One point commonly made in the act’s favor is that the legislation has the “overwhelming” support of the LGBTQ population, typically by majorities in excess of 70 percent. Properly understood, however, that fact offers yet another reason to oppose the legislation. People who abhor discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity are unlikely to practice it in their businesses. And while the Equality Act stresses the persistent discrimination faced by LGBTQ communities, it does not address the movement’s political and cultural power, nor the vast number of public and private programs dedicated to the protection and advancement of LBGTQ and gender-identify claims.
Why then should this powerful group impose its will on the small fraction of firms and organizations that dissent from its dominant ethos? The Equality Act, for example, pays no attention to the precarious position of many evangelical Christian groups. In a footnote of United States v. Carolene Products (1938), famous in legal circles, the Supreme Court articulated a test requiring that extra constitutional protection be afforded to those “discrete and insular minorities” unable to protect themselves through normal political processes. The insular minorities of today are not the same as those of 1938.
Take Jack Phillips, purveyor of the small Masterpiece Cakeshop who has been sued for his unwillingness to make cakes celebrating same-sex weddings, for that would be inconsistent with his religious beliefs. It is easy to say that the availability of alternative bakeries does not address the “dignitary” interests that are compromised when gay couples are denied service on religious grounds. But what of the dignitary interests of this baker, who has been hounded since he first refused in 2012 to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?
Phillips—whose case went to the Supreme Court, where his religious liberty rights were partially vindicated—was treated with contempt by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In essence, the court sent the case back to the Colorado Commission, which had previously insisted that Phillips could not rely on his bona fide religious beliefs in a commercial context, given that, in its view, freedom of religion has been used to justify the “Holocaust.” This is sloppy reasoning and worse history: the more accurate account is that during the Holocaust, vicious groups deployed dogmatic hatreds to justify the use of force to suppress the religious and ethnic liberties of others. The tragedy of Nazi oppression was not the refusal of bigoted Germans to deal with Jewish customers or merchants. It was the brutal use of public force against the Jewish minority.
Defenders of the Equality Act forget or suppress such historical realities in their partisan appeal to some supposed notion of freedom and equality. Thus, President Biden said that the act represents “a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.” National LGBTQ groups echoed the same theme by hailing the Equality Act as “a major milestone for equality,” which will “finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”
These high-minded pronouncements should not blind us to the explicit discrimination that is baked into the proposed law. How can it be “equality and freedom for all” if devout Americans find that their business and religious practices suddenly expose them to criminal sanctions, after which they will be taxed to support government programs from which they are systematically excluded? The president and his supporters seem to forget that the only form of universal equality gives all individuals ample room to decide with whom to associate and why. That principle is not satisfied if religious individuals cannot refuse to deal with gay people while gay people are allowed to refuse to deal with them.
Just such an imbalance was thrown into high relief in the two concurring Masterpiece Cakeshop opinions of Justices Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch. In evaluating Phillips’s case, the Colorado courts had cited an earlier episode in which bakers were allowed to refuse service to a customer requesting a cake quoting a biblical declaration against homosexuality on the grounds that those remarks were “offensive.” Justice Gorsuch used this example to insist on the parity of the two situations. He argued that in both cases, bakers “refused service intending only to honor a personal conviction” and were otherwise happy to sell to gay or religious persons, as the case might be. Justice Kagan, however, argued that the gay bakers were within their rights even though the basic statute also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion.
Discrimination on grounds of religion is supposedly covered by the Equality Act, but in practice, the act is being read to reject any two-way street based on a universal principle of equal liberty for all and displays an utter want of parity between parties who fall on the opposite side of the civil rights divide. The modern civil and LGBTQ rights movements use the language of “subordination” and “marginalization” to support their cause, but those terms should also be applied to religious minorities who are discriminated against by the very organizations who march under some false banner of universal rights.
There is, to be sure, an important exception to the general rule of freedom of association whereby common carriers and public utilities, owing to their monopoly position, are under a duty to serve all takers. That is, firms must provide fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms to all people in the provision of standardized services like rail transportation, gas, and electric power. The underlying notion here is that the monopolist holds too powerful a position when there are no alternative sources of supply. But that exception has no application to firms that operate in competitive industries. The original understanding of a business that is “affected with the public interest” is hopelessly overbroad when the term public accommodation applies to every business, including religious institutions, wholly without regard to their market power.
This basic confusion is further evident in the recent remarks that Senator Charles Schumer made in promoting these false claims of universal freedom and equality. He notes that this “legislation is personal for me and for millions of American families across this country. Just six years ago, LGBTQ Americans like my daughter won the legal right to marry who they love.” But he misses the key distinction between the right to live your own life as you see fit and your right to force those individuals with whom you disagree to supply you with services against their own conscience. The fundamental premise that each person ordinarily has the right to associate with whom they choose does not miss a beat when it is carried over from market arrangements to intimate associations, marriage included. The fact that other individuals find these practices abhorrent only lets them refuse to attend the ceremony, which is why same-sex marriage deserves legal protection. But it is a huge leap from that position to claim that you have the right to force, as a matter of law, people like Jack Phillips to support your activities by taking steps counter to their fundamental religious beliefs.
Religion, like all other belief systems, can be used to defend liberty or to deny it. The same is true of the new crusaders behind the Equality Act. The great tragedy of the misnamed Equality Act is that its ardent supporters are blind to the difference between living your own life and making others bow to your command. And a lot of innocent people will be caught up in the undertow of that progressive mistake.
If approved, rule would funnel federal money to antiracist groups
The Biden administration this week proposed a rule that would encourage public schools to adopt radical, racially driven curricula in American history and civics classes.
The Department of Education on Monday proposed a rule that would prioritize federal funding for education groups that help schools develop and implement antiracist teaching standards. If the rule takes effect, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education would increase grants to woke groups across the country.
School districts in recent months have increased their efforts to weave critical race theory—the idea that America’s political and economic systems are inherently racist—into K-12 curriculum standards. The Education Department’s proposal signals the Biden administration’s support for this trend.
The rule would allocate federal funding for education contractors who work to “improve” K-12 curriculum by promoting “racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically responsive teaching and learning practices.” The rule would also require the Education Department to encourage social studies curricula that teach students about “systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”
The Education Department claims that the coronavirus pandemic and “ongoing national reckoning with systemic racism” make changes to the education system necessary. The proposal cites the New York Times‘s 1619 Project and antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi’s criticisms of American education.
“Schools across the country are working to incorporate antiracist practices into teaching and learning,” the proposal reads. “It is critical that the teaching of American history and civics creates learning experiences that validate and reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students.”
The proposal will undergo a month-long notice-and-comment period, during which interested parties can submit questions on the rule to the department. The department must respond to each individual comment prior to releasing a final draft of the rule, which can take months or even years depending on the number of comments received.
Christopher Rufo, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow who has documented the antiracist push in schools and federal institutions, told the Washington Free Beacon that this decision shows the Biden administration’s true colors.
“President Biden is structuring the Department of Education’s programs to incentivize critical race theory in America’s public schools,” Rufo said. “Biden campaigned as a moderate, but this decision would bring a radical and unpopular ideology into the classroom. The federal government should reject the principles of race essentialism, collective guilt, and neo-segregation, not encourage them in the public education system.”
The Biden administration’s move follows national trends to weave anti-American ideology into public schools. The Illinois State Board of Education in February approved a set of learning standards that asks teachers to “mitigate” behaviors that stem from “Eurocentrism” and “unearned privilege.”
California has considered adopting standards that teach kids to “resist” Christianity and other elements of the “Eurocentric neocolonial condition.” And the North Carolina State Board of Education in February adopted a new set of K-12 history curriculum that teaches high schoolers to “compare how some groups in American society have benefited from economic policies while other groups have been systematically denied the same benefits.”
The Democrats are returning to their roots during Joe Biden‘s presidency. The Clintonian concession that the “era of big government” was over has been nullified. The bigger-is-better approach to public policy fueled by “tax and spend” is back.
Biden was portrayed as the moderate candidate in the last election, so this switch may seem odd. Those who follow politics closely know, however, that was spin. He’s only “middle of the road” because the party has moved so far left since he first achieved national prominence.
Over his first hundred days, Biden has embarked on an ambitious program that will lead to a radical change in the role, scope and size of government.
In recent weeks, the president has announced the creation of a commission to study the makeup of the federal judiciary, as he promised he would during the campaign. Former president Donald Trump‘s achievements in remaking the third branch of government—ably supported by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell—might be Trump’s most significant achievement, making it the thing that irks progressives the most. Rather than waiting on Father Time and the Grim Reaper to do their work so they may make major changes to the Supreme Court‘s makeup, congressional Democrats have introduced legislation increasing the number of justices from nine to 13.
The last time Biden took a position on the idea, he denounced it as “boneheaded.” That was back during the Reagan-Bush years. Challenged on the issue by Trump in 2020, he punted to the idea of a commission rather than answer “yes” or “no” to the question.
The dodge worked, and reminded us all what a skilled politician Biden is.
Since changing the direction of the Court can only be accomplished by changing the justices—right now there’s a soft six-to-three center-right majority—the only quick way to bring about change is to change the justices. Packing the Court may be fashionable among progressives not content to wait for Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to depart, but it isn’t popular with the American people.
According to one recent survey, a majority of likely voters said they opposed enlarging the Court, especially if the purpose of adding justices was to change the direction of its rulings. Just 33 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen Reports said they were in favor of adopting a proposal like the one put forward by congressional Democrats to add four justices as quickly as it can be done. A solid majority—55 percent—said they were opposed.
“On the specific question of increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 13,” the polling firm said, “voters divide along party lines much as they do on the more general question. Fifty-six percent of Democratic voters approve increasing the number of justices to 13.” That includes the 29 percent who “strongly approve” of the proposal that congressional Democrats have already put forth as legislation even before Biden’s commission on the judiciary can make its report. Meanwhile, the pollster continued, “Seventy-four percent of GOP voters disapprove of the plan, including 70 percent who strongly disapprove. Among unaffiliated voters, 59 percent disapprove of increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 13, including 49 percent who strongly disapprove.”
According to the pollster, those numbers are “little changed since October,” when 53 percent of those asked said they opposed packing the Court. Rasmussen found a slim majority in both surveys supporting term limits for appointments to the federal bench—though making that change would require a constitutional amendment, while the number of justices on the Supreme Court can be changed through legislation.
The idea of packing the High Court to change the direction of its rulings has been tried before. Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to do it in the late 1930s but was rebuffed by a Congress controlled by Democrats—who were nonetheless punished for FDR’s overreach at the next election. There’s something about changing the rules to change an outcome that disturbs most voters. The Democrats had better figure that out fast, or they’ll suffer at the ballot box for their mistake.
President Biden and the Democratic Party still cannot answer a simple question: “Will you, or will you not, blow up the judicial branch of the United States government?”
This should not be a tough one — especially for Joe Biden. Last time a Democratic president considered destroying the Supreme Court, his party described the proposal as “the most terrible threat to constitutional government that has arisen in the entire history of the country” and recommended that it “be so emphatically rejected that its parallel will never again be presented to the free representatives of the free people of America.” As a senator, Biden concurred with this assessment. “Roosevelt,” Biden said, “I remember this old adage about power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely — corrupted by power, in my view, unveiled his Court-packing plan.”
Evidently, the presidency does that to some men.
Perhaps aware of the gravity of what they are attempting, the Democrats are running a two-track play. President Biden, through whom many of the party’s most radical ideas are laundered, is simply refusing to answer whether he supports the idea, and, in an attempt to extend the uncertainty, has unveiled a bipartisan commission to “study” the issue. Equally wishy-washy is Nancy Pelosi, who generated headlines yesterday by saying that the current proposal would not get a vote in the House, but did not rule out the idea so much as hide behind Biden’s commission and insist that it needed to be “considered” and is “not out of the question.” In the meantime, less protean Democrats are making the affirmative case. A bill introduced by no less than the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet would add four new justices to the Court — exactly the number needed to hand Democrat-approved judges a majority.
Subtle, this is not.
The justifications that the Democrats have proffered are ridiculous on their face. They claim that the Republicans “packed” the Court themselves when, as the party in the majority in the Senate, they merely used their constitutional powers to approve or reject the candidates they were sent. They claim that the Court must be expanded to keep up with population growth and the workload that results — a contention that miscasts what the judicial branch does, and that does not make sense on its own terms (because all justices participate in every case, a court of 13 will not be able to take more cases than a court of nine, and in any event, the Court’s docket is smaller than it was a half century ago). And, finally, they claim that the Court is suffering through a crisis of legitimacy — which, given that it is more popular and more trusted than it was prior to the additions of Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, represents the very opposite of the truth.
What is the truth? That, as it grows more progressive, the Democratic Party senses that it will more frequently hit up against the Constitution itself, and that, when it does so, it is going to need judges who are not interested in what that Constitution actually says. To comprehend this is to comprehend the whole grubby initiative, which will confer benefits upon the Democrats irrespective of its success. If Biden and Co. succeed in their undertaking, the Court will become merely another legislature, there to rubber-stamp the Democratic Party’s transgressions. If the endeavor fails, the Court may nevertheless be so intimidated by the attempt that they begin to bend at the knees. And, either way, the public is taught to mistrust Article III.
There is only one way out of this treacherous scheme, and that is the emphatic rejection that the congressional Democrats of 1937 envisioned. It must be rejected by the Republicans. It must be rejected by the Democrats. And, ultimately, it must be rejected by the people — who did not vote for a regime consumed with freeing itself from any meaningful constitutional restraint, and do not deserve to live under one.
Americans are now trained to see racism everywhere, even where it doesn't exist.
One high school in Oregon postponed a vote last week on whether to change its mascot from the Trojan to the Evergreens over concerns the imagery of lush timber was racist.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, named after the prominent black activist and journalist who documented lynching in the post-Civil War era, was considering a mascot change to adopt a symbol more representative of its connection to the community. Board members complained, however, that evergreen trees would conjure up imagery invoking the brutal execution of African-Americans.
“I think everyone comes with blind spots and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot,” said Director Michelle DePass at the school board meeting.
The episode is emblematic of how the country has come to see race, viewing minorities deemed oppressed by the woke left as fragile special-interest groups that Americans must hold a religious commitment to buttress in the moral righteousness of “antiracism.” Everywhere, Americans are explicitly reminded of the racial inequities among minority groups as evidence of their inherent racism and the nation’s irredeemably racist past — and present.
Starting at an early age, Americans are barraged with statistics and anecdotes, about everything from income to health status, that are always broken down by race to highlight disparities that victimize minorities and define their destiny as one determined by racist circumstance over personal responsibility. This ideology of abject victimhood taught in classrooms, newsrooms, and boardrooms after being bred for an entire generation on left-wing university campuses has now produced a nation dangerously constrained by a toxic obsession with race.
Under this doctrine, anything and everything must be vetted by 21st-century standards of cultural acceptance to root out the poisonous racism. This obsession, however, is the root of American demise. A nation primed to think only about race will only think about race.
Americans are now trained to see racism in everything, even where it doesn’t exist. Trees are racist. Hiking is racist. Your cereal box is racist. Your depictions of Santa Claus and Jesus are racist. Claiming otherwise to any of it is also racist.
Minorities are trained to see themselves as hopelessly oppressed and facing endless aggressions at every turn. Every slightest impolite infraction can earn the morally indignant condemnation as racist, wrecking the perpetrator as a villain responsible for deep personal trauma. The so-called trauma, however, is merely a preconception inculcated by years of woke indoctrination.
None of this is to say racism doesn’t exist. Americans can and should recognize there are racial tensions that need to be addressed. The radical obsession with defining every aspect of the modern culture through the exhaustive lens of “antiracism,” however, has only led tensions to new heights while deceiving millions of well-meaning Americans who are terrified of the racist label and roping them into the effort. And “antiracism,” weaponized by the political left to pursue political ends through intimidation of their opponents, has stifled debate, driven division, and merely created a different kind of racism.
The debate over voter ID requirements included in the recent Republican-passed Georgia voting bill provides a perfect illustration of today’s racism infecting woke corporatists and the Democratic Party, which claim — in the name of antiracism of course — that mandated identification requirements for ballot access are too difficult for minorities to comply with.
And then there’s affirmative action and the push for reparations, endorsed by the Democratic Party, which claims minorities aren’t capable of achieving of the American dream without white saviors and billions in special assistance.
Race relations under the mandated lens of antiracism aren’t getting any better. On that, nearly all Americans agree. According to Gallup, in 2008, the year Americans elected their first black president, 70 percent of white adults and 61 percent of black adults said race relations were either “very” or “somewhat good.” Only 46 percent of white adults and 36 percent of black adults said the same in 2020.
If last year’s radical acceleration of antiracism in the culture war has taught us nothing else, it’s that the colorblind approach was likely the right one. The opposite has shown to be an aggressive form of racism featuring the bigotry of low expectations cloaked in the moral righteousness of social justice.
Former vice president Mike Pence announced Thursday the formation of Advancing American Freedom to promote “the pro-freedom policies of the last four years that created unprecedented prosperity at home and restored respect for America abroad.”
To lead the group, he’s chosen Dr. Paul Teller, a highly regarded former congressional staffer and member of his vice-presidential staff. Teller’s policy chops and conservative contacts are hard to match. Pence has also attracted other conservative heavyweights—like former Heritage Foundation presidents Dr. Ed Feulner and Kay Coles James, Arizona governor Doug Ducey, Ambassador Calista and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former senior Trump advisers Larry Kudlow and Kellyanne Conway and important organizational leaders like Lisa Nelson, Penny Nance and Marjorie Dannenfelser—to serve on AAF’s advisory board.
If you think this looks like a presidential campaign in all but name, you’re not wrong. Pence says he wants AAF to blend “traditional conservative values with the Make America Great Again policy agenda that propelled the nation to new economic heights, and unprecedented strength and prosperity.” That’s a fancy way of saying “take the best of Trump, jettison the baggage and create an agenda the American people—especially the formerly reliable Republican suburban voters who helped put Joe Biden in office—can embrace.”
It’s a smart formula that relies on addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division. As GOP political consultant Roger Stone used to advise, anything a campaign does that isn’t focused on growing its share of the vote is a waste of time.
The question is whether Pence can pull it off. As a House member, he was a GOP star, perhaps in line to be speaker someday. As Indiana’s governor he was a solid, if not exactly inspiring, chief executive who on the ideas front could never quite outshine his immediate predecessor, Republican Mitch Daniels—who is now president of Purdue University.
Pence has a chance to shine now, to step into the spotlight and show America what he’d do and how he’d inspire voters to embrace conservatism redefined. He could bring back the sunny optimism and hope that defined Reaganism—strong and not defensive but also not obnoxious.
On paper that sounds easy. In real life, it will be hard. The media elite already have their guns out for Biden’s potential 2024 challengers. Look at the hatchet job CBS‘s 60 Minutes just tried to do on Florida GOP governor Ron DeSantis, another possible presidential candidate, by alleging that in exchange for campaign contributions he let the Publix supermarket chain dispense the COVID-19 vaccine. The story landed with a thud—but it’s likely just the first of many drive-bys the media will try.
Let’s face it; the elite media helped put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in office and have a vested interest in seeing them stay there. That means the knives are out for Pence, DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and any other Republican who wants the nomination. This will make it especially tough for the former vice president as The New York Times, CNN and others try to tie him to the former president.
The challenges Pence faces on his way to the White House are threefold. First, he must separate himself from Trump enough to allow the Never-Trumpers to consider voting for him while not alienating the MAGA movement. Second, he has to come up with a bold agenda for growth and reform that will get the country moving again to counter what the Democrats offer during Biden’s term. Third, Trump has to decide not to run.
Since the third point is out of his control, Pence would do best to concentrate on the other two. The team he’s assembled so far represents a top-tier mix of MAGA conservatives and Reaganites, meaning that when he runs, Pence will be a force to be reckoned with.
A favorite Republican catchphrase deserves higher scrutiny
“We are now the party supported by most working-class voters,” congressman Jim Banks of Indiana wrote to House minority leader Kevin McCarthy in a six-page memo this week. Banks, head of the Republican Study Committee, said the lesson is clear: It’s time to act like a working-class party. “Our electoral success in the 2022 midterm election,” he concluded, “will be determined by our willingness to embrace our new coalition.”
The Banks memo, first reported by Axios, is part of a trend. Influential Republicans have embraced the notion that Donald Trump transformed the GOP into the vehicle of the proletariat. “We are a working-class party now,” Josh Hawley tweeted on election night. “The future of the party is based on a multiethnic, multiracial, working class coalition,” Marco Rubio said a week later. “The future of the Republican Party is as a party that defends the social, economic, and cultural interests and values of working American families of every race, color, and creed,” Trump toldCPAC in February. Last month, Rubio announced his support for Amazon employees in Alabama who want to form a union.
Banks doesn’t go that far. The word union appears nowhere in his memo. He mentions “labor” only once, in a derisive reference to a Democratic special interest group. The lacuna is a reminder: Despite the emerging consensus that the GOP is a working-class party, there is little agreement on what such a party should stand for. Industrial policy? Trust busting? Family subsidies and financial transaction taxes? Banks sidesteps these trendy measures on the intellectual right. He suggests instead that Republican candidates adopt Trump’s posture of opposition to illegal immigration, offshoring of manufacturing jobs, COVID-19 lockdowns, Big Tech censorship, and political correctness.
It might take a second—or longer—to see how the issues Banks highlights relate to the material interests of Republican voters. What they have in common is an adversarial attitude toward the votaries of managerial liberalism. Indeed, Banks’s dichotomy isn’t between working class and capital, but between populism and elitism. Republicans, Banks writes, must “highlight the cultural and economic elitism that animates the Democrat Party.” It’s “Democrat elitism” that has driven working-class voters to the GOP. And “nothing better encapsulates Democrats’ elitism and classism than their turn towards ‘wokeness.'” Taxes, spending, welfare, and entitlements do not come up.
For all of the “working class” rhetoric in conservative discourse, few Republican politicians have adopted the economic measures put forth by Oren Cass at American Compass, Samuel Hammond at the Niskanen Center, and Julius Krein at American Affairs. Rubio and Hawley are political entrepreneurs willing to push the boundary of conventional GOP policymaking. But they are outliers. A figure like Banks, who has to win reelection every two years, is more cautious. He perceives that Republican voters are more interested in aggressive prosecution of the culture war than in technocratic manipulation of the economy.
The “class war” mentioned so often in conservative discourse is in fact the continuation of the half-century-long war over which values and social roles should be authoritative in American culture. Imposing a class framework on this struggle leads to confusion. After all, according to the 2020 exit poll, President Biden won voters making less than $100,000, while then-president Trump won voters who earn more than $100,000 by 12 points. And Biden won union members by 16 points. The AP Votecast results were more closely divided, but just as muddled: Trump lost voters who earned less than $50,000, barely won voters who made $50,000-$99,999, and narrowly lost voters who earned more than $100,000.
If you read class through the lens of educational attainment, you see that the GOP leans ever more heavily on white voters without college degrees. But that trend long predates Trump. And the white voters without bachelor’s diplomas are a large and diverse group. They encompass a variety of ages, life experiences, occupations, and net worth. The successful contractor who attended college for a few years before starting his own business has a different set of economic concerns than the restaurant server or grocery store clerk. Does muscular labor define membership in the working class? Perhaps. But not every voter without a college degree works with his hands. And agriculture and industry constitute a narrow base for a political party in an economy where 79 percent of jobs are in the service sector. Conservatives like to position themselves as the representatives of the rural heartland against the cosmopolitan metropolis. True enough. But what about the majority of Americans that lives in the suburbs?
Ideology, partisan affiliation, and religiosity mark one’s place in the culture war far better than income or education. Liberals went for Biden 89-10 in the exit poll, and conservatives backed Trump 85-14. Both candidates won 95 percent of their respective parties. And the gaps between voters without a religious affiliation and all others, and between white evangelical voters and all others, were huge.
Ideology also explains the Republicans’ surprisingly good performance among minority voters. There’s evidence, for example, that black Protestants are moving toward the GOP. “What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for Republicans at higher rates,” election analyst David Shor recently explained to New York magazine. “They started voting more like white conservatives.” Why? Revulsion at the far-left messaging of radical elites on immigration and policing.
When the pollsters at Echelon Insights asked Republicans what they want from a candidate, the answer was someone who would “fight” for the conservative cause, support the Trump agenda, and speak out against cancel culture. The most important issues for Republicans are illegal immigration, law and order, taxes, and liberal media bias. The Echelon data have been replicated elsewhere. My AEI colleague Ryan Streeter writes, “Large national surveys conducted by the American Enterprise Institute suggest Trump’s supporters are actually quite content with American economic life but highly reactive to elite dominance of American culture life.”
Calling Republicans “working-class” is a self-flattering way to put the party on the side of the “forgotten American.” But it risks reducing voters to factors of production. And it flirts with an economic program actual Republicans don’t seem to want. The new class consciousness is another example of the Europeanization of American politics: For decades, the two parties competed for the loyalties not of the working class but of the middle class, and public policy experts devoted themselves to improving the condition of the urban poor or “underclass.” Now, Republican communicators are beginning to sound like the leaders of European parties whose anti-bourgeois romanticism often manifests itself in ugly ways.
Maybe less has changed than people think. Remember that Barry Goldwater first identified himself with the “forgotten American” back in 1961. The GOP remains a populist conservative party whose voters are incensed at the values, directives, and rhetoric of the men and women who occupy the commanding heights of American culture. It’s the party of married parents, of the small business owner, of the journeyman who aspires for a better life for his family. It’s the party of peace through strength, low taxes, safe streets, legal immigration, national pride, and traditional pieties. And what it needs most in 2022 are strong candidates who inspire the grassroots without terrifying independents.
America is a diplomatic fox, while Beijing is a hedgehog fixated on the big idea of reunification.
In a famous essay, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin borrowed a distinction from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
“There exists,” wrote Berlin, “a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to … a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance” — the hedgehogs — “and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory” — the foxes.
Berlin was talking about writers. But the same distinction can be drawn in the realm of great-power politics. Today, there are two superpowers in the world, the U.S. and China. The former is a fox. American foreign policy is, to borrow Berlin’s terms, “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels.” China, by contrast, is a hedgehog: it relates everything to “one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision.”
Fifty years ago this July, the arch-fox of American diplomacy, Henry Kissinger, flew to Beijing on a secret mission that would fundamentally alter the global balance of power. The strategic backdrop was the administration of Richard Nixon’s struggle to extricate the U.S. from the Vietnam War with its honor and credibility so far as possible intact.More fromArchegos Appeared, Then VanishedHedge Fund or Billionaire? For Tribune, It’s a No-BrainerIllinois Owes Georgia Voters a Debt of GratitudeOne Cheer for the Return of Earmarks
The domestic context was dissension more profound and violent than anything we have seen in the past year. In March 1971, Lieutenant William Calley was found guilty of 22 murders in the My Lai massacre. In April, half a million people marched through Washington to protest against the war in Vietnam. In June, the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers.
Kissinger’s meetings with Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, were perhaps the most momentous of his career. As a fox, the U.S. national security adviser had multiple objectives. The principal goal was to secure a public Chinese invitation for his boss, Nixon, to visit Beijing the following year.
But Kissinger was also seeking Chinese help in getting America out of Vietnam, as well as hoping to exploit the Sino-Soviet split in a way that would put pressure on the Soviet Union, America’s principal Cold War adversary, to slow down the nuclear arms race. In his opening remarks, Kissinger listed no fewer than six issues for discussion, including the raging conflict in South Asia that would culminate in the independence of Bangladesh.
Zhou’s response was that of a hedgehog. He had just one issue: Taiwan. “If this crucial question is not solved,” he told Kissinger at the outset, “then the whole question [of U.S.-China relations] will be difficult to resolve.”
To an extent that is striking to the modern-day reader of the transcripts of this and the subsequent meetings, Zhou’s principal goal was to persuade Kissinger to agree to “recognize the PRC as the sole legitimate government in China” and “Taiwan Province” as “an inalienable part of Chinese territory which must be restored to the motherland,” from which the U.S. must “withdraw all its armed forces and dismantle all its military installations.” (Since the Communists’ triumph in the Chinese civil war in 1949, the island of Taiwan had been the last outpost of the nationalist Kuomintang. And since the Korean War, the U.S. had defended its autonomy.)
With his eyes on so many prizes, Kissinger was prepared to make the key concessions the Chinese sought. “We are not advocating a ‘two China’ solution or a ‘one China, one Taiwan’ solution,” he told Zhou. “As a student of history,” he went on, “one’s prediction would have to be that the political evolution is likely to be in the direction which [the] Prime Minister … indicated to me.” Moreover, “We can settle the major part of the military question within this term of the president if the war in Southeast Asia [i.e. Vietnam] is ended.”
Asked by Zhou for his view of the Taiwanese independence movement, Kissinger dismissed it out of hand. No matter what other issues Kissinger raised — Vietnam, Korea, the Soviets — Zhou steered the conversation back to Taiwan, “the only question between us two.” Would the U.S. recognize the People’s Republic as the sole government of China and normalize diplomatic relations? Yes, after the 1972 election. Would Taiwan be expelled from the United Nations and its seat on the Security Council given to Beijing? Again, yes.
Fast forward half a century, and the same issue — Taiwan — remains Beijing’s No. 1 priority. History did not evolve in quite the way Kissinger had foreseen. True, Nixon went to China as planned, Taiwan was booted out of the U.N. and, under President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. abrogated its 1954 mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. But the pro-Taiwan lobby in Congress was able to throw Taipei a lifeline in 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act.
The act states that the U.S. will consider “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.” It also commits the U.S. government to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and … services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capacity,” as well as to “maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”
For the Chinese hedgehog, this ambiguity — whereby the U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state but at the same time underwrites its security and de facto autonomy — remains an intolerable state of affairs.
Yet the balance of power has been transformed since 1971 — and much more profoundly than Kissinger could have foreseen. China 50 years ago was dirt poor: despite its huge population, its economy was a tiny fraction of U.S. gross domestic product. This year, the International Monetary Fund projects that, in current dollar terms, Chinese GDP will be three quarters of U.S. GDP. On a purchasing power parity basis, China overtook the U.S. in 2017.
In the same time frame, Taiwan, too, has prospered. Not only has it emerged as one of Asia’s most advanced economies, with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. the world’s top chip manufacturer. Taiwan has also become living proof that an ethnically Chinese people can thrive under democracy. The authoritarian regime that ran Taipei in the 1970s is a distant memory. Today, it is a shining example of how a free society can use technology to empower its citizens — which explains why its response to the Covid-19 pandemic was by any measure the most successful in the world (total deaths: 10).
As Harvard University’s Graham Allison argued in his hugely influential book, “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”, China’s economic rise — which was at first welcomed by American policymakers — was bound eventually to look like a threat to the U.S. Conflicts between incumbent powers and rising powers have been a feature of world politics since 431 BC, when it was the “growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta” that led to war. The only surprising thing was that it took President Donald Trump, of all people, to waken Americans up to the threat posed by the growth in the power of the People’s Republic.
Trump campaigned against China as a threat mainly to U.S. manufacturing jobs. Once in the White House, he took his time before acting, but in 2018 began imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. Yet he could not prevent his preferred trade war from escalating rapidly into something more like Cold War II — a contest that was at once technological, ideological and geopolitical. The foreign policy “blob” picked up the anti-China ball and ran with it. The public cheered them on, with anti-China sentiment surging among both Republicans and Democrats.
Trump himself may have been a hedgehog with a one-track mind: tariffs. But under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. policy soon reverted to its foxy norm. Pompeo threw every imaginable issue at Beijing, from the reliance of Huawei Technologies Co. on imported semiconductors, to the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, to the murky origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan.
Inevitably, Taiwan was added to the list, but the increased arms sales and diplomatic contacts were not given top billing. When Richard Haass, the grand panjandrum of the Council on Foreign Relations, argued last year for ending “strategic ambiguity” and wholeheartedly committing the U.S. to upholding Taiwan’s autonomy, no one in the Trump administration said, “Great idea!”
Yet when Pompeo met the director of the Communist Party office of foreign affairs, Yang Jiechi, in Hawaii last June, guess where the Chinese side began? “There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. The one-China principle is the political foundation of China-U.S. relations.”
So successful was Trump in leading elite and popular opinion to a more anti-China stance that President Joe Biden had no alternative but to fall in line last year. The somewhat surprising outcome is that he is now leading an administration that is in many ways more hawkish than its predecessor.
Trump was no cold warrior. According to former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s memoir, the president liked to point to the tip of one of his Sharpies and say, “This is Taiwan,” then point to the Resolute desk in the Oval Office and say, “This is China.” “Taiwan is like two feet from China,” Trump told one Republican senator. “We are 8,000 miles away. If they invade, there isn’t a f***ing thing we can do about it.”
Unlike others in his national security team, Trump cared little about human rights issues. On Hong Kong, he said: “I don’t want to get involved,” and, “We have human-rights problems too.” When President Xi Jinping informed him about the labor camps for the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang in western China, Trump essentially told him “No problemo.” On the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Trump asked: “Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal.”
The Biden administration, by contrast, means what it says on such issues. In every statement since taking over as secretary of state, Antony Blinken has referred to China not only as a strategic rival but also as violator of human rights. In January, he called China’s treatment of the Uighurs “an effort to commit genocide” and pledged to continue Pompeo’s policy of increasing U.S. engagement with Taiwan. In February, he gave Yang an earful on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and even Myanmar, where China backs the recent military coup. Earlier this month, the administration imposed sanctions on Chinese officials it holds responsible for sweeping away Hong Kong’s autonomy.
In his last Foreign Affairs magazine article before joining the administration as its Asia “tsar,” Kurt Campbell argued for “a conscious effort to deter Chinese adventurism … This means investing in long-range conventional cruise and ballistic missiles, unmanned carrier-based strike aircraft and underwater vehicles, guided-missile submarines, and high-speed strike weapons.” He added that Washington needs to work with other states to disperse U.S. forces across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean and “to reshore sensitive industries and pursue a ‘managed decoupling’ from China.”
In many respects, the continuity with the Trump China strategy is startling. The trade war has not been ended, nor the tech war. Aside from actually meaning the human rights stuff, the only other big difference between Biden and Trump is the former’s far stronger emphasis on the importance of allies in this process of deterring China — in particular, the so-called Quad the U.S. has formed with Australia, India and Japan. As Blinken said in a keynote speech on March 3, for the U.S. “to engage China from a position of strength … requires working with allies and partners … because our combined weight is much harder for China to ignore.”
This argument took concrete form last week, when Campbell told the Sydney Morning Herald that the U.S. was “not going to leave Australia alone on the field” if Beijing continued its current economic squeeze on Canberra (retaliation for the Australian government’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the pandemic). National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has been singing from much the same hymn-sheet. Biden himself hosted a virtual summit for the Quad’s heads of state on March 12.
The Chinese approach remains that of the hedgehog. Several years ago, I was told by one of Xi’s economic advisers that bringing Taiwan back under the mainland’s control was his president’s most cherished objective — and the reason he had secured an end to the informal rule that had confined previous Chinese presidents to two terms. It is for this reason, above all others, that Xi has presided over a huge expansion of China’s land, sea and air forces, including the land-based DF‑21D missiles that could sink American aircraft carriers.
While America’s multitasking foxes have been adding to their laundry list of grievances, the Chinese hedgehog has steadily been building its capacity to take over Taiwan. In the words of Tanner Greer, a journalist who writes knowledgably on Taiwanese security, the People’s Liberation Army “has parity on just about every system the Taiwanese can field (or buy from us in the future), and for some systems they simply outclass the Taiwanese altogether.” More importantly, China has created what’s known as an “Anti Access/Area Denial bubble” to keep U.S. forces away from Taiwan. As Lonnie Henley of George Washington University pointed out in congressional testimony last month, “if we can disable [China’s integrated air defense system], we can win militarily. If not, we probably cannot.”
As a student of history, to quote Kissinger, I see a very dangerous situation. The U.S. commitment to Taiwan has grown verbally stronger even as it has become militarily weaker. When a commitment is said to be “rock-solid” but in reality has the consistency of fine sand, there is a danger that both sides miscalculate.
I am not alone in worrying. Admiral Phil Davidson, the head of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific, warned in his February testimony before Congress that China could invade Taiwan by 2027. Earlier this month, my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Max Hastings noted that “Taiwan evokes the sort of sentiment among [the Chinese] people that Cuba did among Americans 60 years ago.”
Admiral James Stavridis, also a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, has just published “2034: A Novel of the Next World War,” in which a surprise Chinese naval encirclement of Taiwan is one of the opening ploys of World War III. (The U.S. sustains such heavy naval losses that it is driven to nuke Zhanjiang, which leads in turn to the obliteration of San Diego and Galveston.) Perhaps the most questionable part of this scenario is its date, 13 years hence. My Hoover Institution colleague Misha Auslin has imagined a U.S.-China naval war as soon as 2025.
In an important new study of the Taiwan question for the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Blackwill and Philip Zelikow — veteran students and practitioners of U.S. foreign policy — lay out the four options they see for U.S. policy, of which their preferred is the last:
The United States should … rehearse — at least with Japan and Taiwan — a parallel plan to challenge any Chinese denial of international access to Taiwan and prepare, including with pre-positioned U.S. supplies, including war reserve stocks, shipments of vitally needed supplies to help Taiwan defend itself. … The United States and its allies would credibly and visibly plan to react to the attack on their forces by breaking all financial relations with China, freezing or seizing Chinese assets.
Blackwill and Zelikow are right that the status quo is unsustainable. But there are three core problems with all arguments to make deterrence more persuasive. The first is that any steps to strengthen Taiwan’s defenses will inevitably elicit an angry response from China, increasing the likelihood that the Cold War turns hot — especially if Japan is explicitly involved. The second problem is that such steps create a closing window of opportunity for China to act before the U.S. upgrade of deterrence is complete. The third is the reluctance of the Taiwanese themselves to treat their national security with the same seriousness that Israelis take the survival of their state.
Thursday’s meeting in Alaska between Blinken, Sullivan, Yang and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi — following hard on the heels of Blinken’s visits to Japan and South Korea — was never likely to restart the process of Sino-American strategic dialogue that characterized the era of “Chimerica” under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The days of “win-win” diplomacy are long gone.
During the opening exchanges before the media, Yang illustrated that hedgehogs not only have one big idea – they are also very prickly. The U.S. was being “condescending,” he declared, in remarks that overshot the prescribed two minutes by a factor of eight; it would do better to address its own “deep-seated” human rights problems, such as racism (a “long history of killing blacks”), rather than to lecture China.
The question that remains is how quickly the Biden administration could find itself confronted with a Taiwan Crisis, whether a light “quarantine,” a full-scale blockade or a surprise amphibious invasion? If Hastings is right, this would be the Cuban Missile Crisis of Cold War II, but with the roles reversed, as the contested island is even further from the U.S. than Cuba is from Russia. If Stavridis is right, Taiwan would be more like Belgium in 1914 or Poland in 1939.