The noise generated by President Donald J. Trump’s contesting the outcome of the November election is drowning out the news that the results yielded more good than bad for the GOP. Once again, the much-ballyhooed “Big Blue Wave” broke up before it crashed on the shores. The Republicans gained net one governor, flipped at least two net state legislative chambers, maintained their good field position crucial to the upcoming post-reapportionment redistricting and, counting only contested seats, came out ahead in the national vote for Congress.
This leaves the party in better-than-expected shape heading out of the Trump era. Most of the focus now is on the two Georgia run-off elections, which will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate. Consequently, there’s been little discussion of what current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and his allies should do when it comes time to organize the House.
Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are heading into the next Congress with one of the slimmest majorities in history. A switch of just a handful of votes by so-called “moderate” Democrats, who claim they’re chafed every time Pelosi cracks the whip to drive her conference leftward, would block anything she wants to do—including her re-election to the speakership.
Among those moderates, 10 returning to the House in 2021 voted against her for speaker in 2019. That’s more than McCarthy needs to become speaker if he wins over those moderates and also maintains the unanimous support of his own conference, leaving Pelosi in a precarious position.
National politics being what they are, there’s almost no scenario in which a Democrat wishing to be re-elected votes for McCarthy over Pelosi even if such a vote would play well with most of the voters back home. Any Democrat who did that would have to change parties or risk re-nomination next time. But what if one of these alleged moderates, like Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger, Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin of New York’s Kathleen Rice, announced a last-minute challenge to Pelosi’s leadership?
They’ve said publicly they’re at least uncomfortable with Pelosi’s progressivism, and feel the actions of “The Squad” and others are a drag on the party’s future. So why not launch a revolution that would, on a bipartisan basis, drag the House back toward the center, matching what’s been billed as the upcoming centrist Biden presidency? McCarthy could probably deliver the GOP votes necessary to pull something like that off without needing too much in return. Maybe he’d settle for an agreement to increase the number of bills brought to the floor under an open rule, or an end to the proxy voting created to address pandemic-related concerns but no longer needed as vaccines are rolled out.
This has been done before—and recently, in both Texas and Ohio. Both states saw moderate Republicans chosen to lead their state’s Houses of Representatives, with the backing of Democrats wishing to block the installation of more conservative Republicans as speakers.
The arrangement in Texas was successful and lasted several sessions. Things in Ohio ran aground after the speaker was indicted on corruption charges—but the plan to put him in the chair still worked. To pull something like this off in the U.S. House, McCarthy and his inner circle will need to start thinking and acting like Democrats, at least politically, and turn up the heat on the moderates.
This isn’t just a fool’s errand. With the GOP sitting somewhere around 212 seats—pending the true finalization of one result in each of New York and Iowa—the pathway back to the majority is indeed achievable. Preliminary estimates of the upcoming reapportionment’s effect on who will control the House suggest that McCarthy and his compatriots should pick up at least six seats, with lines drawn fairly and without having to depend on the kind of extreme gerrymandering the Democrats used in places like California, Ohio and North Carolina to keep control of the House throughout the 1980s.
With control of the floor in doubt and with the country just having voted to eschew extremism in favor of a problem-solving approach to the nation’s woes, McCarthy can help himself by advancing the interests of the moderates in the other party over the progressives. To do that, he needs to be conciliatory while, at the same time, making every vote to move left a tough one. He must call on the Pelosi-skeptical faction of Spanberger, Slotkin, Rice, Tennessee’s Jim Cooper and Maine’s Jared Golden (whose congressional district Trump carried in 2016 and 2020) to be sensible and join with his caucus to vote down extreme Pelosi-backed proposals to raise taxes, drive up energy and food prices, make America less safe, and open the borders.
It’s doable. Most conservatives believe the fight against the socialist agenda will come in the Senate—which is why the GOP must win the Georgia run-offs, so Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell can remain majority leader. If he doesn’t, new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (who will be spending much of the next two years worrying that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) might soon primary him from the left) will let every extreme proposal under the sun, from court-packing to publicly funded abortion, sail right through.
The Senate-focused conservatives may be right. McConnell can be counted on to stop anything extreme from coming to the floor. And a Schumer-led Senate would probably be a nightmare for conservatives. With the right attitude and organization, however, coupled with the ability to apply pressure in the right ways and in the right places, McCarthy could have a similar effect in the House as McConnell can have in the Senate. Forcing a handful of self-described Democratic moderates to declare where they stand—with progressive Pelosi or with the people back home—is the beginning of the fight to keep America from lurching sharply to the left over the next decade.
For some unexplainable reason, conservatives rush towards fratricide with the same kind of urgency that drives lemmings over the edge of the cliff. It’s what they do, even when it’s counterproductive and costly.
Conservatism was not made better off by the four-year campaign waged against Speaker Newt Gingrich by some House conservatives who considered him ideologically unreliable. It was not helped by John Boehner’s premature departure from Congress, brought about by the continual political headaches caused by House Republicans on his right flank who branded him an establishment sellout even after he forced President Obama to agree to nearly draconian spending cuts without giving up much in return.Recommended
A small group of so-called purists on the right even crossed swords with Ronald Reagan, without whom modern conservatism would have emerged stillborn after the thumping Barry Goldwater received in 1964 from Lydon Johnson.
Since Reagan, the GOP has marketed itself as the party of ideas and open debate. His eight years in the White House transformed the world as well as the U.S. government. He created a revolution the results of which progressives are still trying to roll back. His policies led to the rebirth of the American economy and the national spirit; millions of new jobs and small businesses were created; and the Cold War concluded in a way many did not think possible. Many forget that when Whittaker Chambers broke with the Soviets, he thought he was leaving the winning side of the struggle to join with the losers.
In the light of what appears to be Donald Trump’s defeat in his bid for reelection, conservatives are now turning on Fox News, a channel where I once appeared with some frequency back in the 1990s, over its supposed ideological apostasy.
What nonsense. Fox was never an explicitly conservative organization but, as conceived by Rupert Murdoch and brought to life by Roger Ailes, it was successfully positioned as the counterpunch to the overtly liberal networks that dominated the media: CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN.
It was a needed, even necessary, addition to the nation’s information stream. The opinion side of the network leans heavily to the right but the newsgathering operation plays it mostly down the middle, remembering the need for balance because every story has at least two sides.
As a programming strategy, it works. The network is a financial and ratings juggernaut embraced by conservatives because Fox News gave their agenda and personalities a fair hearing. Now, because the network’s decision desk called Arizona — a state critical to Trump’s re-election prospects — for Joe Biden on election night, some so-called true believers are encouraging those of like mind to turn to other channels.
This is fratricidal and foolish. With Biden probably coming into the White House with a progressive to-do list that includes wiping out the gains made since the Reagan years, the plan to isolate Fox, one of the few places in the major media where conservative ideas can be discussed openly and without the anchors sniping at them, is silly, What other news outlet covers the deeds and misdeeds of national Democrats with the same enthusiasm that MSNBC, the New York Times, and the rest of the mainstream media go after the Republicans?
The liberal narrative has always been that Fox is the voice of the right. They’re still saying it, as David Brock’s Media Matters for America made clear in a recent email, saying:
As President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral vote margin and popular vote margin grew last weekend, President Donald Trump tweeted clips and quotes from Fox programs that were laced with misinformation and conspiracy theories about the election. Since that time Fox News propagandists have promoted a variety of conspiracy theories and baseless claims of voter fraud. Once again, Trump is amplifying the work of Fox to falsely claim that he won the election.
If the right turns its back on Fox, it would be an act of rank stupidity. The decision to put Arizona in the Biden camp did not, as some have claimed, affecting the voting in Nevada. It didn’t happen until the polls were closed and, anyway, it looks to have been the correct call – a potential recount and allegations of irregularity notwithstanding. As far as the alleged betrayal of conservative interests goes, has any other news channel given the kind of attention to the still-unfolding Hunter Biden scandal it has? Tucker Carlson’s hour-long interview with Tony Bobulinski, the whistleblower providing the goods on Hunter Biden and the Biden family’s alleged international corruption, was seen by more people than any other interview in recent memory.
The Bobulinski revelations wouldn’t be covered by “60 Minutes” or Rachel Maddow or Anderson Cooper. If anything, they’d be covered up, just as the debilitating consequences of the Democratic lockdowns and the real objectives of Black Lives Matter and antifa have been. The Big Tech progressives who got Biden elected don’t want conservative opinions appearing anywhere any more than they want the truth about the left to be aired. That’s what the cancel culture is about.
In a battle for all the marbles, conservatives can ill afford to limit their reach. Cutting off Fox in favor of small outlets – some of which I do appear on currently – is like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The right needs to build its network, not cut it back. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. If anything, conservatives should be looking to expand their reach and finding ways to defeat the progressives. Energy spent on fighting the movement’s allies is energy wasted.
It’s not Trump supporters who are living in a fantasyland, but members of the corporate media who sense their power and influence waning.
With the end of Donald Trump’s presidency fast approaching, we’ve seen a surge of columns and posts asserting that Republicans and Trump supporters have lost touch with reality. After four years of marinating in “falsehoods” and “disinformation”—a term that really just means “information I don’t like”—Trump’s backers are all turned around, we’re told. They believe much that isn’t so.
David Brooks of The New York Times explains that these poor saps, most of whom, he says, are uneducated, uncredentialed people who don’t live in prosperous cities, have retreated to conspiracy theories to explain their misfortune and unhappiness. “People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers,” he writes. Trump, QAnon, and Alex Jones “rose up to give them those stories and provide that community.”
Over at The New Yorker, editor David Remnick ponders the grave costs of Trump’s “assault on the press and the truth,” asking how many COVID-19 victims “died because they chose to believe the President’s dismissive accounts of the disease rather than what public-health officials were telling the press? Half of Republican voters believe Trump’s charge that the 2020 election was ‘rigged.’ What will be the lasting effects on American democracy of that disinformation campaign?”
These are just representative samples, but across the mainstream commentariat the gist is all the same: if you support Trump, you’re likely a poor person who believes conspiracy theories and is dangerously disconnected from reality, partly because you resent successful people like Messrs. Brooks and Remnick. You live in a fantasyland because it assuages your feelings of inferiority, which are mostly justified. You’re paranoid because you’re powerless, and the alternate reality you’ve constructed for yourself gives you a sense of power and agency in a confusing, unsettled world.
But here’s the thing. Everything these media elites say about Trump supporters can more properly be said about media elites themselves. Who really has been living in a fantasyland these last four years? Is it the ordinary Americans—including a lot of educated, white-collar professionals—who voted for a president they felt would shake up the sclerotic status quo in Washington, or a press corps that perpetuated an actual conspiracy about Trump-Russia collusion for years?
It was Remnick’s New Yorker, after all, that published a serious-seeming essay in September 2018 that claimed Facebook had been weaponized by “Russian agents who wanted to sow political chaos and help Trump win” in the 2016 election—an effort, the author said, that had an “astonishing impact.” Never mind the preposterousness of claiming that a couple hundred thousand dollars in Facebook advertising had an “astonishing impact” on the outcome of the 2016 election, there has never been a shred of evidence that “Russian interference” changed or altered even a single vote in 2016.
A New Yorker staff writer named Evan Osnos wrote that article. Osnos won the National Book Award in 2014 and in 2015 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He’s won many other prizes and worked all over the world, and, just before the election, published a flattering book about former Vice President Joe Biden. Osnos is the sort of fellow Brooks has in mind when he talks about “professional members” of the “epistemic regime”—the people who know what’s real and tell us so, a job for which they are richly rewarded.
What else has this supposedly enlightened member of the epistemic elite told us? In June, he compared Trump’s White House, which had a temporary fence around it after Black Lives Matter protests turned into riots, to the Zhongnanhai, the seat of China’s communist government in Beijing, where “people are more accustomed than Americans are to the notion of leaders who live and work secluded from the public.”
Earlier that month, Osnos dashed off a post that described—falsely, as it turned out—protests in Lafayette Square on June 1 as “peaceful.” We all know, even if the media refused to report it, that the protesters were not at all peaceful, and in fact were hurling “bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” at police.
This isn’t really about Osnos, his hackery notwithstanding, but about his professional class—a class that fervently believes much that isn’t so. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, members of Osnos’ class still believe that Trump got substantial help from Russia in 2016. They believe, still, that Trump is a dangerous authoritarian who might just destroy the republic. They believe, still, that the only reason tens of millions of Americans would support Trump is that they are racists or rubes, or both.
Osnos and Remnick and the rest of our media elites believe these things for the same reason Brooks thinks Trump supporters are conspiracy theory-addled suckers: they are becoming irrelevant, they are losing power and influence, their status as members of the epistemic regime is uncertain—indeed, their entire regime seems to be collapsing, and they know it.
It’s not too much to say, quoting Brooks, that “people in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers.”
So we will continue to see stories and commentary from the epistemic regime that soothe men like Brooks, Remnick, and Osnos, assuring them all is well, that credulous, mendacious Trump supporters have been put in their place, and that after a harrowing four years, all is once again as it should be.
Heavy-handed bureaucracy is set for a comeback under Biden
Barack Obama had a nickname for the highly credentialed economists who surrounded him during his first term. He called them “propeller heads.” It was his way of joshing—and asserting superiority over—figures such as Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Austan Goolsbee, Jason Furman, and other wonks with impeccable CVs and intimidating confidence in their own opinions. The label reduced these résumé gods to propeller-beanie geeks. Like most Obama statements, it was also a self-flattering way for the president to demonstrate the value he places on intellection, data, and expert knowledge. He and his fellow progressives love the idea that reason, logic, and science legitimize the power they wield through law and bureaucratic diktat.
The public wasn’t so enamored. The weaknesses of the propeller heads became evident over time. No doubt because of their glorious self-image, the propeller heads assumed that government could easily implement their ambitious theories and complicated schemes. They assumed that human beings could be “nudged” into desired behaviors. They placed one set of values—efficiency, equality, safety, carbon or gender neutrality—ahead of others, especially individual freedom and religious liberty. They neglected or waved away unanticipated consequences. They treated disagreement or disobedience as irrational or pathological—a manifestation of racism or sexism or greed. They often went ahead with their plans regardless of disapproval or rejection.
The propeller-head mentality is “we know best.” It dominated the administration. It produced a stimulus that did not stimulate, an unpopular health care plan, a contraceptive mandate that inspired lawsuits against nuns, a cap-and-trade bill that never became law, a financial reform that squeezed community banks, a GM bailout that stiffed non-union pensioners, a series of coal and water regulations that put miners and farmers out of business, an immigration amnesty by fiat that set off a rush for the border, and a nuclear deal that rewarded Iran for its malign behavior. Perhaps the most significant consequence of the imperious and heavy-handed manner in which experts ruled during the Obama years was the political reaction it inspired. The propeller heads like to believe they are the stewards of a healthier, cleaner, safer, saner world. But they are really the midwives of national populism, the doulas of Donald Trump.
And now they are set for a comeback. When you read the Biden-Sanders unity task force recommendations, go over Biden’s potential cabinet picks, or examine the membership of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, you see the outlines of an administration committed to the same technocratic principles and top-down, uniform, centralized style of governance as its Democratic precursor. In some cases—if Susan Rice becomes secretary of state, for example—the very same people will be in charge. In other cases, the personalities will be new, but the methods will be similar.
The center-left views of academic, media, and cultural and foreign-policy elites will be ratified as sacrosanct. Officials will attempt, not always successfully and with unpredictable effects, to turn these opinions into policy, through legislation if possible but through regulation mostly. Dissenting forces will be problematized as disingenuous, malevolent, or not entirely sane. The one place where the public will be able to register its opposition is the voting booth.
Many opinion leaders in Washington dispute the above scenario. They point to Biden’s reputation as a moderate, to his decades-long relationship with Mitch McConnell, to the constraints he will face with a narrow House majority and a potential Republican Senate. They hope that the establishment, restored to its former fading glory, will reassert its control and “turn down the temperature.” Biden, they add, will have a “caretaker presidency.” He and McConnell will work out some small-bore tax changes. Maybe an infrastructure plan will pass. Otherwise things will drift merrily along, with Trump tweeting furiously from the sidelines.
My pundit friends forget the nature of the propeller heads. The propeller heads know they are right—their degrees and titles and offices and accolades prove it. They know that government exists to perform the functions of social uplift and rational control. They are not about to sit back and let the Delaware gang and the apex predator of American politics run the show. There’s a virus to crush, a climate to save, a liberal international order to rebuild.
Two of Biden’s appointees to the COVID-19 transition advisory board, for instance, support another national lockdown. Will Biden overrule them as cases mount and the media call for something to be done?
Biden’s deputy campaign manager told Chuck Todd the other day that her boss “campaigned on an incredibly progressive and aggressive agenda” and that “he’s going to make good on those commitments,” including his “big, aggressive” climate plan. Will Biden stand aside as this agenda runs into the maw of Joe Manchin and the Senate Republicans? Or will he say that he, too, has “a pen and a phone” and instruct his EPA and Energy Departments to act accordingly?
It was recently disclosed that Iran has 12 times the nuclear material allowed under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and installed advanced centrifuges in its underground research facility. The theocratic government of Ayatollah Khamenei is isolated internationally. Its economy is under tremendous strain from American sanctions. And Biden and his team are ready to reenter the nuclear deal if Iran will have them, rewarding an authoritarian state sponsor of terrorism in order to demonstrate to Europe that “America is back.”
“There’s nothing more dangerous than a propeller head who doesn’t know his limitations,” David Brooks wrote in 2009. Today’s propeller heads are more ambitious than they were a decade ago. And far more moralistic. Come January, they will return to their old offices and resume their old games. Sure, a few of the names will be different. But the results will be the same.
We might be in an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment, wherein striking Trump down will make his movement more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine.
If Joe Biden walks away with a presidential victory, conservatives will have many reasons to despair. This would portend some terrifying realities about propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion, the acceptance of potential fraud, and the willingness to accept the curtailment of basic liberties.
But it need not. In fact, conservatives have reason to be quite hopeful. We might be in an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment, wherein striking Trump down will make his movement more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine. Beyond the typical takes on the election that give conservatives hope — we appear to have kept the Senate, and socialism and critical race theory lost — we have five long-term reasons to be hopeful.
At some level, the left has to be jealous. For any chance of defeating Donald Trump, look what they had to settle for: a dementia-addled, 78-year-old fossil who’s spent 47 years in the Senate as a pandering politician straight out of Central Casting. But the Democrat establishment pushed him because he polled best against Trump and, as Democrats are so quick to remind us, “science and data.”
Ah, I remember those days. I remember hearing the smart set tell us how a Herman Cain would be an abject failure as a candidate or president, so we’d better go with a traditional politician, such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush.
Then came Trump, dismantling the entire paradigm. One of the most beloved politicians in our history, he showed us how a successful American with a love for his country can do great things, things politicians have been promising for years, such as lowering unemployment for minorities, increasing wages for the working class, sticking it to communist China, creating peace in the Middle East, giving us energy independence, restructuring bad trade deals, withdrawing from foreign entanglements, and revolutionizing the federal judiciary.
Meanwhile, the Democrats get to watch a doddering hack grapple with the wily Sen. Mitch McConnell for four years, while trying to pick up the pieces of an economy they tanked to get Biden elected president and nothing else. Or maybe they’re looking forward to a President Kamala Harris doing her “Excuse me! Excuse me!” routine like that vice principal you mocked in high school.
You almost have to laugh. While they’re locked into “establishment mode” for four years, pantomiming gravitas with their whole “adults in the room” schtick to impress the seven remaining people watching CNN, the right will be having a blast retaking the House, nurturing a new generation of Trump-like candidates, and choosing another unconventional leader for president in 2024 that we actually like and don’t have to hold our noses to select. We’re done with the establishment, and it feels so liberating.
Let’s get into that new generation of conservatives. Trump brought in a significant swath of working-class voters. The Blexit movement continues, with obvious results in the increased turnout of black voters for Trump. With Trump’s Hispanic gains, can we say the whole “demography is destiny” theory officially ran out of juice at, of all places, the Rio Grande and southern Florida?
The last these demographic groups tasted of genuine Trumpism — prior to the Wuhan virus — they were doing outstanding. Now they got Biden to build his case that destroying the energy sector and subsidizing green energy will really get things going again.
Who better than an old, pandering white guy to convince young minority Americans that maybe it’s time for a second exodus from the Democrat plantation? And who will be on the sidelines with a megaphone the whole time saying, “I told you so. Remember what you had under me?”
That of course leads to our third reason for long-term hope: Trump isn’t going anywhere. This is a man who did five to six rallies a day, speaking an hour and a half at each one, for two weeks after recuperating from COVID-19. He’s also a man who hates losing, and his family is completely invested in the movement he started.
Who knows how this will translate. There’s talk of him beginning a right-leaning media outfit to compete with Fox News. Will he continue doing rallies to inspire support for a transformed Republican Party? Will he do a Grover Cleveland number and run for president again?
Whatever it is he chooses to do, he remains the same person uniquely suited to the task at hand, of disrupting the status quo in Washington. He clearly has the support of half the country. Many love him like they’ve never loved any other politician because of how he spoke up for them. That doesn’t end.
The left displayed a real logic problem this year. I became alert to this problem when I heard Biden and others blame Trump for the COVID-19 deaths. Huh? Do people really fall this easily for the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, the logic that “X is president during Y, therefore X caused Y”?
Of course they do. That defines the leftist mind, the hive mind, the belief that agency doesn’t reside in the individual but in collective systems. This is how they think. Consequently, they must run those systems. They must have power.
Their attraction to the swamp comes with an underlying presumption of incredible self-importance. They manage the economy. They keep peace in the world. They take care of us all, good people that they are.
So what do you suppose it means when precisely nothing happens 10 years from now, about the time the world is predicted to implode from climate change? If the left is in charge of things, you know exactly what that will mean: “Thanks to President Ocasio-Cortez’s extreme measures, we’ve saved the world from catastrophe.” We’ll get a preview of this propaganda when a President Biden announces the end of the pandemic due to his wise governance.
This is why they not only needed to win this year but win big, big enough to enact the Green New Deal. That, in turn, could only be sustained with court-packing and a few new states to ensure a friendly Senate for the foreseeable future. With each radical measure, they would use the COVID-19 response as a template. “We came together before to defeat coronavirus; let’s do the same to defeat climate change!”
Alas, this is not going to happen thanks to the GOP’s other 2020 election victories. Without new states and new senators, the midterms will remain seasons of GOP success. It’s difficult to imagine the next presidential election generating excitement for a second Harris or Biden term, at least enough to create coattails for a Democrat takeover of the Senate and House.
2030 will come with glorious weather, and the left will have had nothing to do with it. After a string of exposed lies — Russia, COVID-19 “science,” systemic racism, polls, climate change — how soon before the nation becomes wise to the fact that leftism is synonymous with lying?
The answer to that last question gets to the American DNA. Americans distrust power. The left does well appealing to that distrust, promoting a false narrative blaming the “powers that be” whenever they’re out of power. They milk that “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy for everything it’s worth. It comes more naturally to them than it does to the right.
How often, these past four years, did the leftist mind resort to “Orange Man Bad!” and a primal scream into the cosmos every time their car didn’t start, or they encountered a long line at McDonald’s, or they just felt blue? It’s their psychic makeup.
No more. The left is running their asylum now. They’re great at manufacturing fear about the bogeymen behind “the system,” but in actual governance, they do nothing but lose. Of course, the leftist answer to that conundrum is, “If we all just work together, nothing is impossible.” So they can continue to blame the Senate, disinformation, gridlock, those on “the wrong side of history,” and Trump.
The whole point of leftism is that it can’t succeed without total investment by everyone in its program. That’s why it’s “all hands on deck” from Big Tech, Big Media, Big Business, Hollywood, Wall Street, human resources departments, and the Washington swamp. That’s why cancel culture is integral to their success. Dissent, alternative information, and a muscular minority topples the whole house of cards.
We’re America. We left the tyrannies of the world to come here. We left our cultures and even families. We’re all just a few generations away from incredible risk-takers, fighters, and survivors. Rugged individualism is in our blood.
Add to that the brilliant system set up by the forefathers with its many checks and balances. The newly conservative federal courts, red state governments, and that troublesome right to free speech aren’t going anywhere for now. Meanwhile, the free market is begging for new social media platforms and a FBexit or Twexit movement.
The left tells Americans, “We’re all in this together,” but it won’t be too long before, well, 70 million people say, “Speak for yourself. We’ll speak for ourselves, thank you.” That 70 million isn’t going anywhere. It’s only growing.
America's polarized and divided politics aren't going anywhere.
The polls were wrong. The blue wave was no tsunami. The Democratic majority did not fully emerge. Parts of the “coalition of the ascendant” drifted to the right. For a generation, American politics has been closely and bitterly divided between the parties. There has been high turnover in office, and frequent shifts in power. Majorities are unstable. No victory is permanent, no realignment durable. The stalemate goes on.
If Joe Biden becomes president, he is more likely than not to take office with Republicans in control of the Senate. That hasn’t happened in 116 years. He will certainly take office with a reduced House majority—the Democrats have a net loss of six seats at the time of writing. Six of the nine Supreme Court justices are Republican appointees. The partisan breakdown of state legislatures and governor’s mansions will resemble, almost precisely, the pre-election status quo. It’s a good thing Biden campaigned as someone willing to work across the aisle. He’ll have no other choice.
If Trump wins a second term, practically nothing will have changed in American politics, except that both Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell will have fewer votes to work with.
The country remains split. The New York Times exit poll says 37 percent of voters were Democrats and 35 percent Republicans, with 28 percent identifying as independents “or something else.” The Fox News/AP voter analysis pushed “leaners” toward one party over another. It says that 47 percent of voters were Republican or lean Republican, and 48 percent were Democrats or lean Democrat.
Only 24 percent of voters in the exit poll identified as liberal. The rest said they were moderate (40 percent) or conservative (37 percent). The Fox News voter analysis has similar results, with a slightly higher percentage of liberals (30 percent) and a lower percentage of moderates (33 percent). Conservatives were at 38 percent.
The sorting of parties by race, education, marital status, and religious practice has polarized our elites and made politics heated, noisy, and apocalyptic. Every election is billed as the most important in our lifetimes, the potential end of democracy and our ways of life. For all the fire and fury online and on cable news, however, elections continue to be decided in the middle.
Look at the suburbs, where a lot of those moderates and independents live. They backed Bush in 2004, then went for Obama in 2008. Two years later, repelled by Obamacare, Republicans won 56 percent of the suburbs and 56 percent of independents. Obama won reelection in 2012 by erasing those margins. The electorate in 2014, however, looked almost exactly like it did in 2010. And in 2016, Trump won the suburbs by 5 points and independents by 6 points. (He lost moderates by 11.)
According to the 2020 exit poll, Trump lost the suburbs by 3, independents by 14 (a 20-point swing), and moderates by 31. In the Fox voter analysis, Trump lost suburbs by 10 points, independents by 14 points, and moderates by 25 points. Both campaigns turned out their supporters. But the Trump campaign assumed its base would be enough to win. It looks like they were wrong.ADVERTISING
If Trump loses, it will be because voters in the middle grew tired of his antics. The public assessment of Trump’s actions was filtered through its distaste for his comportment, rhetoric, and behavior. And Trump’s personality often overshadowed or undermined the progress of his own administration.
These dramatic self-owns became most obvious, and most harmful, during the coronavirus pandemic. The elected officials who demonstrated steadiness, compassion, and concern these past eight months have seen their job approval numbers rise, no matter the actual status of their communities. Trump’s scattershot response prevented him from building on the slight uptick in support that he enjoyed last March. The voters who said the coronavirus was their most important issue went for Biden overwhelmingly.
This rejection of Trump was personal. It did not extend to the entire Republican Party. Several GOP senators ran ahead of him. The gains in the House speak for themselves. At the moment, the only governor’s mansion to flip is Montana’s. It’s a Republican pickup. Voters rejected a graduated income tax in Illinois and affirmative action in California. Even if Democrats sweep the two Georgia Senate runoffs, and Chuck Schumer gets to be majority leader thanks to Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, the chances now that he will abolish the filibuster, pack the Court, and grant statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., are nil. The Democrats dreamed of legislating the GOP out of existence. That’s not going to happen. It’s why they are so morose about these results.
The Republican challenge today is the mirror image of the party’s dilemma after 2012. Then, the GOP needed to retain its support in the suburbs while boosting support among whites without college degrees. Now, it needs to retain its support among whites without college degrees while boosting support in the suburbs. And it needs to solidify its gains among black males and Hispanic voters who responded to policies aimed at tight labor markets and economic empowerment.
It’s a tall order. But, as always, the Republicans’ best allies will be Democrats, who like all winners will interpret an electoral victory as an ideological mandate. Overreach is inevitable. And so is the backlash. The vote counting isn’t over, but the GOP comeback has already begun.
In a heated presidential campaign year, two dates in history have illustrated our deep national divide. The New York Times spoke for liberal America when it declared last year that the real founding of the country was in 1619 when the first African slaves arrived on its shores. In short, the 1619 Project argued that what was distinctive and problematic about America was its economic system of capitalism and the original sin of slavery that established it.
President Trump responded for many conservatives last month when he proposed the creation of a 1776 commission, underscoring that the real founding of the country came with the Declaration of Independence and, a decade later, the Constitution. What makes America distinctive, in this view, is political freedom guaranteed by a unique constitutional system.
While this is an important debate, two other numbers speak more clearly and less divisively about today’s most serious problem with U.S. history: Twenty-four and 15. Those are the percentages of eighth graders who scored “proficient” or better in government/civics (24%) and U.S. history (15%) in National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores announced earlier this year. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rightly called these scores “stark and inexcusable.”
Sam Cooke’s 1960 song lyric is now literally true of America’s children: “Don’t know much about history.”
We fail to appreciate the profound effect civic ignorance has on the body politic. Only about 60% bother to vote, described by Founding Father Thomas Paine as “the primary right by which other rights are protected.” Only 55% voted in 2016, even fewer (40%-50%) when there is no race for the presidency. Data published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that U.S. voting rates are only rated 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic states. Young people’s trust in government has plummeted, with only 27% expressing trust in elected officials. Indeed, only 17% trust the government “to do what is right most of the time.” As one expert said, “How can you trust what you do not understand?”
At other times in our recent history, failures in our educational system led to alarm and action. The Soviets’ launch of Sputnik, the first satellite in space, in 1957, led to calls for improvement in science and technology education. A discouraging national report on the state of education generally, “A Nation at Risk,” launched a series of reading and math initiatives in the 1980s and beyond. Despite failing test scores and reduced curriculum offerings in civics education, however, little or nothing has been done.
In a recent article published by the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, I have proposed a series of steps to reverse our civics decline. Happily, we do not have to wait for the gridlock and hyperpartisanship in Washington to go away in order to fix this because there are many important goals to be addressed at other levels, especially in the states and schools.
The main point is that we need to make civic education a national priority with extra emphasis everywhere. The federal government needs to restore and increase funding for civics that it practically eliminated in 2010. In fact, by one estimate, the federal government now spends $54 per schoolchild on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and a meager 5 cents per student on civics.
States that required multiple courses in civics and government in the 1960s in most cases now mandate only a single semester in civics education, with almost no attention to it in elementary and middle school. Studies show that teachers are often ill-prepared themselves to teach civics education. Is it any wonder that students in Rhode Island have sued their state for poor civics education?
Civics have taken a back seat in our schools to reading, math, and especially STEM. But can saving our democracy be any less important than getting good jobs in technology? That is what is at stake if we do not make a national commitment to strengthening civics education.
The 2020 election is coming down to the wire and it’s closer than most would acknowledge. The polls say former vice president Joe Biden has a substantial lead over President Donald Trump, but as in 2016, there’s reason to believe the polls are wrong.
Call it a hunch based on more years of covering American politics than I’m comfortable acknowledging, but media-conducted public polls that match candidates head to head have grown increasingly unreliable even as they’ve grown in importance. The more of them there are, the less they can be relied upon, at least for their value in predicting outcomes.
There are many documented reasons for this, including the ways data are manipulated after being collected and the trend away from landlines to cell phones. All that is for later. The important thing for each candidate is how he closes the race, as it is likely to make the difference between victory and defeat.
For Donald Trump:
During the campaign, Trump has learned the truism that those who live by the sword also die by it. In 2016 he made former secretary of state Hillary Clinton‘s character a major issue—some would say the issue—and won. This time the Democrats have made his character the principal issue in their campaign and he’s been on the ropes because of it.
His response, which at times verges on whining, is unbecoming a president. Voters don’t like it. Those who voted for him in 2016 did so because they expected him to take on “the swamp.” He said he knew it would be tough. Maybe he didn’t realize how tough it would be. In the process, however, he’s delivered on many of the other promises he made, something the other swamp dwellers don’t like because it proves things can be changed if you’re willing to fight for them.
To close the campaign, Mr. Trump needs to take the focus off himself and turn it back on the country he promised to “make great again.” It was an effective message then and would be again now. In a recent Gallup survey, 56 percent of the respondents said they were better off now than they were four years ago. That suggests there are plenty of people out there who think the president did a lot of things right even though he’s been investigated, impeached and vilified by the major media more intensely than any president in recent memory—including Richard Nixon.
Instead of talking about Hunter Biden (though there is a lot to talk about), Donald Trump needs to sell the successes of his first term as a reason for the voters to give him a second. Talk about economic growth. Talk about tax cuts, about record employment for Black and Latino Americans, about the creation of millions of new jobs, the manufacturing renaissance, achieving energy independence, criminal justice reform, fighting sex trafficking more aggressively than any previous administration, brokering real deals to help bring peace to the Middle East and keeping America out of new wars.
The pieces are there, Mr. President. You just have to put them together for people. Because if you don’t, no one else will.
For Joe Biden:
The former vice president spent much of the campaign sequestered in his home in Delaware, communicating over the internet and through supporters. As a strategy, it worked. It kept him out of the limelight most of the time and allowed everyone to remain focused on the president, who daily found a way to remind people who didn’t vote for him why they don’t like him.
But being the anti-Trump is not enough to get him across the finish line first. Most late-deciding voters choose to stick with the devil they know rather than taking a chance on the one they don’t—and none of the Democrat’s proposals on taxes, jobs and the economy are compelling enough by themselves to persuade people to switch. Biden has to spend the last week telling people in more detail than he’s as yet put forward just what his presidency would do to bring America back from the COVID lockdown recession. And he has to be the one who does it—to show people he understands what he’s advocating and not just direct potential voters to a website.
This leads to another issue: Biden must address questions about his fitness for office head-on. The Republicans may have started the whisper campaign about his not being up to the job, but it’s seeped into the national conversation. Biden will need to campaign aggressively, out in the open, on his feet, as if it was his first run for U.S. Senate, to put an end to the growing buzz on both sides of the aisle that he’s just a placeholder for his running mate.
Finally, the Democratic nominee must get out in front of the stories about his son Hunter and their alleged corruption. The stories may not be true, but what the elder Biden has said thus far has not carried enough weight with voters still trying to make up their minds.
As Democrats have done with Trump, voters are equating Biden’s lack of candid answers about specific questions with possible guilt. It’s hard to face when it involves a family member, but Biden needs to put the country first—something he and other members of his party have repeatedly and from the start accused the president of failing to do.
If Biden has no doubt his son did nothing wrong, he should announce he will appoint a special counsel—on par with Robert Mueller‘s investigation of President Donald Trump—to investigate and clear up once and for all the questions about Hunter’s business dealings in China, Ukraine and elsewhere. If Biden can’t do all that, the president, who once wrote a book on the art of the “comeback,” will probably have an extra chapter to add to the next edition.
It’s a close election that will decide, more than at any time since 1980, the direction of the nation for decades to come. America will either move to the right or lurch to the left depending on which of the two men on the November ballot makes the better case to the electorate. How each of them finishes the race will likely determine which way the nation will go.
The lasting influence of the legendary Supreme Court justice
“Enough to field a baseball team.” That was the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s response when asked how many children he had. And he and his wife Maureen’s nine children have themselves parented, as of this week, 40 grandchildren. How big is the Scalia family? So big that, at the moment, it would not be allowed to hold an in-person gathering in the justice’s home state of New Jersey.
Even that count might not be accurate. Watching Judge Amy Coney Barrett testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, I couldn’t help thinking that the Scalia family is larger than the individuals directly related to him. In both her September 26 remarks at the White House and her October 12 opening statement to the committee, Barrett spoke of the influence Scalia had on her life and identified herself with his approach to the law. “His judicial philosophy was straightforward: A judge must apply the law as written, not as the judge wishes it were,” Barrett told the senators. “Sometimes that approach meant reaching results that he did not like. But as he put it in one of his best-known opinions, that is what it means to say we have a government of laws, not men.”
Whether it was for the students he taught, or the clerks he hired, or the lawyers he mentored, or the readers of his work, Scalia modeled a form of jurisprudence rooted in the text of the Constitution and in the American political tradition. His approach came to be called originalism (in matters of constitutional interpretation) and textualism (in matters of statutory interpretation). But his legacy is far greater than these contributions to legal terminology and methodology. What this son of an Italian immigrant accomplished was nothing less than a revolution in the law—and the promulgation of a distinctly American conservatism that is needed now more than ever.
It was Scalia who was among the first faculty advisers of the Federalist Society, and who addressed the society’s first national gathering in 1982. Along with his colleagues Robert Bork and Laurence Silberman, Scalia stood for the idea that judges should interpret the Constitution and statutes based on their original public meaning. The clarity of his argument, the force of his intellect, and the charm of his conversation enlarged the audience for his views. That audience exploded in size after President Reagan elevated him to the Supreme Court in 1986. Over time, the strength of originalism’s reputation in legal circles became so overpowering that some liberal judges, such as Justice Elena Kagan, felt it necessary to describe themselves, however ironically, as “originalists.”
Scalia pointed to his decision upholding the constitutionality of flag-burning as proof that originalism is not a mask for conservative politics. And there have been plenty of decisions—most recently Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in Bostock—where self-described originalists and textualists arrived at places conservatives did not expect. But there is nonetheless an integral relationship between originalism and conservatism. What American conservatism seeks to preserve is the institutional and philosophical inheritance of the American Founding. This inheritance is codified in our enabling documents: the Constitution (as amended), the organic laws of the United States (which include the Declaration of Independence and the Northwest Ordinance), and the Federalist Papers. It is through fidelity to these words, as the Founders understood them at the time, that conservatives defend the constitutional structure and the individual freedom it secures.
Originalism has turned out to be more than a legal doctrine. It is the common ground of American conservatism. For years, the right has tried to define a “constitutional conservatism” that would serve as the political analogue to originalism. That project has been overshadowed by the rise of national populism. But it is worth noting that the current president won his office in no small part because he pledged to nominate judges in the mold of Scalia and approved by the Federalist Society. And his most enduring legacy will be his appointments to the federal courts.
It would be difficult to name other Supreme Court justices who have had such a galvanizing effect on American politics—and who continued to play such important roles after their deaths. What accounts for Scalia’s iconic stature? The latest collection of his writings, The Essential Scalia, edited by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton and Edward Whelan, offers some clues. “Nino loved ideas—thinking about them, talking about them, arguing about them, as well as writing about them,” Justice Kagan writes in her introduction. “That love may explain why he found it so natural to befriend colleagues with whom he often disagreed (yes, like me).” Scalia’s ability to depersonalize intellectual debate was a function of his self-confidence and sense of humor. His convictions were the result of deep reflection. But he was more than happy to defend them, and to explain why you were wrong.
What comes across most, though, is the quality of Scalia’s writing. It is clear, direct, witty, lapidary, memorable. Scalia’s opinions and dissents are famous for certain lines—”this wolf comes as a wolf”; “What Is Golf?”—but on second reading it is the way he develops his argument that most impresses. And he always makes a perfect landing. “Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem,” he wrote in Heller (2008). “That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”
These aren’t judicial decisions. They are essays. And like great literature they will reverberate far into the future. As Antonin Scalia’s extended family, biological and philosophical, continues to grow.
The 45th President of the United States is opposed by several identifiable groups of people.
There are those who believe unquestionably the portrait of an evil man whose character encompasses nearly every sin imaginable, from a “pathological liar” to a greed-driven, narcissistic buffoon, to a Russian spy, and so on. This is the description put forth by the large corporate press, which has its own reasons for what many know is often completely without any factual basis.
This “alternative universe” is inhabited by many true believers, and led by the Democrat Party which provides the organization, funding, and candidates to continually feed the narrative they have created with the help of the “Deep State” bureaucrats by leaks of both true and false information to the willing Press. The most visible supporters of this view of Mr. Trump are the leaders of the Democrat Party, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and most of their followers in the Congress.
These leaders vary in their personal acceptance of the received Party dogma, with Nancy Pelosi, the most radical true believer, and others more likely to realize the extent of their deception – Nancy being too gullible to make such distinctions.
The deliberate and thoroughly conscious liars of this narrative are the professionals who have justified their truly immoral behavior on the basis of the ends justifying any means. The end in this case is their retention (or regaining) of the ultimate power of government, which for them means maintaining their personal future and fortune. They see Trump as the major threat to their own future which they hope will include their total power over the USA. They began to taste this power in the Obama administration. Even a taste is addictive and these people are addicted to victory at all costs, even turning their backs on the Ten Commandments (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”).
There also exists, however, another opposing group, namely, Republican and conservative voters who oppose Trump for personal reasons. The most prominent of these “Never Trumpers” are former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, now senator from Utah, and former Republican Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, and the Bush family with two former Presidents and former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. All have chosen different ways of expressing their anger at Mr. Trump, but all were deeply offended by his criticism during the 2016 campaign.
The Bushes have maintained a dignified silence regarding Mr. Trump, although they have been rumored to quietly support opposition to Trump initiatives. Romney ran for the Senate after Trump’s election and has consistently opposed most Trump-supported legislation. Kasich, in the most direct “bad loser” manner, has publicly and loudly endorsed Joe Biden for president.
The man with the most direct Never Trump attitude was Republican Arizona Senator John McCain, who defeated repeal of Obamacare by casting the final, deciding vote against it. Senator McCain died with a deep and permanent grudge against Donald Trump. However, his family has decided according to son-in-law Ben Domenech to let bygones be bygones with respect to President Trump and make their political judgements for the good of the country. In their case, they have decided to support the President because they believe that a victory of the Left in this election would be disastrous for the American people.
The 2020 election
I have agreed with this judgment as I watched carefully the rapid growth of confidence and anti-American activity over the years of the Obama administration, starting with foreign policy and spreading to the weaponization of whole segments of the bureaucracy into instruments of silencing opponents of the administration, especially the IRS, and eventually the Department of Justice (although we did not realize the extent of that corruption until later), and other agencies with direct contact with the American people.
The ultimate act of defiance was the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president, one of the most corrupt people ever to stand for public office. She and her husband sold American interests to foreign countries for a fortune – at the same time she was in charge of America’s foreign policy. But her platform was nearly pure socialism, the next step up from Obama’s efforts to pull America toward that goal.
Now we have an even more brazen attack on American institutions and free market capitalism in the form of a very weak (and probably corrupt) f candidate for president and a strong socialist for vice resident.
Never-Trumpers: Now is the time
For the good of the nation, it behooves the Never Trumpers to put aside their private objections and bruised egos and vote for the greater good of the United States. They know better than to believe all the rubbish about Trump but especially the doubts about his patriotism and dedication to American values. They are neither dupes nor cynics. They should have enough patriotism to follow the example of John McCain’s family and support America’s last defense against the sinister forces we have been witnessing in America’s cities all summer and in the halls of Congress and the nations’ courtrooms for the past generation.
This is the last half of the ninth inning, the two-minute warning is blasting. If the socialists win this election, we may never get another chance.
Former Vice President Joe Biden may think it’s nice to have Washington on his side. That’s his world, the one in which he’s lived since the early ’70s, when he first entered the U.S. Senate. He may have been commuting much of the time back and forth from Delaware, but it’s inside the beltway that has been his home.
That’s a liability going into the November election. Biden has lived in a bubble all those years. He may be from Scranton, Pennsylvania, originally, but it’s doubtful he has a feel for what the folks living there now think and feel and how many of they view the government as impeding what they want to do with their lives. His ad guys may understand “real America”—and some of the spots they produced have been masterful—but it’s doubtful he does.
By contrast, and many people will no doubt find this surprising, it’s Donald Trump who has his finger on America’s pulse. The just-concluded Republican National Convention, truncated though it was, made that clear. The folks who spoke in support of his second term were surprisingly, even refreshingly diverse. They all had stories to tell that not only fit Trump’s narrative but the country’s, representing one nation in which we are best defined by those things that make us similar.
The speakers at the Democrats’ convention, on the other hand, ranked gender, race and economic status above their “Americanness.” Almost everyone who took to the podium at the DNC took great plans to place themselves in a category or categories before launching into a denunciation of the president and an articulation of what he’d done that was offensive to his or her particular group. They had four days to make Trump seem like the devil incarnate—and used virtually every moment of their program to do so.
Where this approach fails, and there are already polls suggesting that’s what’s happening, is that Trump and company had four days over the following week to argue that’s just not so.
Moreover, the Democrats’ decision to spend more of their convention talking about why Trump is wrong for America than why Biden is right is highly risky. Once the fall campaign moves to a discussion of issues—and there’s no way to prevent that from happening—character becomes an ancillary consideration for many voters. There’s an argument to be made that shouldn’t be the case, that character should always count, but as the GOP found out in the Clinton v. Dole contest, it generally falls on deaf ears. And, unlike in 1996, the 2020 race will play out with the mainstream media and most of the pundits saying over and over again it’s the most important issue in the race.
It will help the GOP if some of the president’s supporters get together on an independent ad campaign in which rank-and-file Republicans explain why they’re voting for Trump even if they don’t like him or have concerns about his conduct. That message—that what Trump does is less important than what a Biden-Harris administration would do to America over the next four years—would likely resonate with independents who are still unsure which way to turn, as well as with dissident Republicans who can still be brought home.
These same voters can likely be moved on the two issues you didn’t hear the Democrats talk about much during their convention: China and the protests, which, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Biden continues to describe generally as “peaceful.”
The American people understand instinctively the folks engaged in the rioting, the ones occupying sections of major cities, and whose demands increasingly resemble threats to disrupt the day-to-day activities of law-abiding businesses and their customers are a political force the Democrats can ill afford to offend. Democratic Party leaders continue to distort what Trump said about what happened in Charlottesville, but when it comes to Portland, Seattle, Louisville, Washington, D.C., and now Kenosha, they’ve had little to say. Biden’s recent condemnation of “needless violence” hit with all the impact of a wet noodle and came only after the issue of the riots, as Don Lemon observed, started showing up int eh polls.
Likewise, while the president has promised to get tough on China, not just on trade but because it needs to be held responsible for unleashing the novel coronavirus on the world and then lying about it, Biden and company seem ready to hold hands with President Xi Jinping and sing “Kumbaya,” while getting back to business as usual as quickly as possible. That’s not going to sell with Americans either—especially when they realize the former vice president’s plan for handling the virus and his willingness to consider another lockdown owes more to Beijing than he’s probably willing to admit.
Liberals and conservatives are approaching the COVID-19 pandemic through very different moral frameworks.
In a 2008 TED Talk, psychologist Jonathan Haidt said the worst idea in psychology is the notion that humans are born as a “blank slate.”
Like the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, Haidt was rejecting the notion that the human mind is a blank slate at birth, an idea that can be traced to thinkers from Aristotle, to John Locke, to B.F. Skinner and beyond.
“Developmental psychology has shown that kids come into the world already knowing so much about the physical and social worlds and programmed to make it really easy for them to learn certain things and hard to learn others,” explained Haidt, a Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Citing research from the brain scientist Gary Marcus, Haidt said the initial organization of the brain essentially comes with a “first draft.” Studying the anthropological and historical records, Haidt found that five pillars of morality exist across disciplines, cultures, and even species:
What’s interesting is that these moral pillars differ sharply across ideological lines in America today. Haidt found that both conservatives and liberals recognize the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity values (though liberals value these a little more than conservatives). Things change, however, when examining the three remaining foundational values—loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. While conservatives accept these moral values, liberal-minded people tend to reject them.
The difference is extraordinary, and it helps explain the different ways Republicans and Democrats are experiencing the coronavirus. In May, a CNBC/Change Research survey found that while only 39 percent of Republicans said they had serious concerns about COVID-19, 97 percent of Democrats said they had serious concerns.
While some of the divergence could stem from the fact that blue states have been hit harder by COVID-19 than red states, Haidt’s research would suggest that another reason Democrats are more concerned is because liberals have an intense appreciation of the care/harm moral pillar.
Indeed, the preeminence of the care/harm moral can be found in the rhetoric of many progressives.
“I want to be able to say to the people of New York, ‘I did everything we could do,’” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in March. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”
The care/harm moral is even found in the latest social media emojis. Last month, as USA Today reported in an exclusive story, Facebook rolled out its new “care” emoji.
“The new Facebook reaction—an emoji hugging a heart—is intended as shorthand to show caring and solidarity when commenting on a status update, message, photo or video during the coronavirus crisis that allow users to express how much they care about others,” the paper reported.
Cuomo’s language (and to a lesser extent Facebook’s emojis) suggests that, for many, care for others is the preeminent virtue. As such, efforts to protect people must be taken above lesser social considerations.
Understanding the different moral framework conservatives and liberals are using helps us understand why blue states have taken a much more aggressive approach in efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
As The Atlantic explains, with a few exceptions, such as Ohio, Republican governors have been much more reluctant to impose sweeping restrictions on their residents than states led by Democratic governors. While governors in these states no doubt value care/harm, their moral framework likely gives them a heightened concern of other social considerations, particularly civil liberties.
The lockdowns, the Constitution Center explains, have threatened many of America’s most cherished civil liberties—the freedom to assemble, the right to purchase a firearm, the ability to freely travel, the freedom to attend church or visit a reproductive health facility. They’ve also put thousands of companies on a path toward bankruptcy by prohibiting them from engaging in commerce.
These infringements tend to be viewed as reasonable to liberals, who emphasize the care/harm moral but are less likely to recognize the sanctity/degradation moral. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, for example, said he never even considered the US Constitution—a document considered sacrosanct by many Americans—when he issued his lockdown order.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Murphy told Tucker Carlson in April. “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. We went to all—first of all—we went to the scientists who said people have to stay away from each other.”
Similarly, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer saw no problem in suspending the Freedom of Information Act to prevent outside groups from assessing the model state officials used to justify locking down the entire state.
Those who view civil liberties and constitutional rights as sacred, however, are less than comfortable with such an approach. They will be less inclined to sacrifice sacred principles to support sweeping state efforts to protect people (and are probably more likely to see such efforts as counter-productive).
To be sure, some progressives do see civil liberties as sacred, and some of them have expressed dismay and bewilderment that so many progressives, in their enthusiasm for the care/harm moral, have abandoned civil liberties.
“[The COVID-19 crisis is] raising serious civil liberties issues, from prisoners trapped in deadly conditions to profound questions about speech and assembly, the limits to surveillance and snitching, etc.,” the progressive journalist Matt Taibbi recently wrote in Rolling Stone. “If this disease is going to be in our lives for the foreseeable future, that makes it more urgent that we talk about what these rules will be, not less—yet the party I grew up supporting seems to have lost the ability to do so, and I don’t understand why.”
If Haidt’s theory is correct, the reason is liberals and conservatives are, generally speaking, approaching the COVID-19 pandemic through divergent moral frameworks.
After all, the argument isn’t whether we should protect people.
“In any country, the disagreement isn’t over harm and fairness,” Haidt says. “Everyone agrees that harm and fairness matter.”
The argument isn’t even over how to best balance the care/harm moral with other considerations.
The disagreement is over whether efforts to protect individuals from COVID-19 should be balanced against other considerations—including constitutional and economic ones—at all.
Column: Why Rush Limbaugh matters
Florida governor Ron DeSantis spoke to Rush Limbaugh last fall at a gala dinner for the National Review Institute. The radio host was there to receive the William F. Buckley Jr. award. “He actually gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had,” Limbaugh told his audience the next day. “He listed five great conservatives and put me in the list.” DeSantis’s pantheon: William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Limbaugh.
Good list. No media figure since Buckley has had a more lasting influence on American conservatism than Limbaugh, whose cumulative weekly audience is more than 20 millionpeople. Since national syndication in 1988, Limbaugh has been the voice of conservatism, his three-hour program blending news, politics, and entertainment in a powerful and polarizing cocktail. His shocking announcement this week that he has advanced lung cancer, and his appearance at the State of the Union, where President Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, are occasions to reflect on his impact.
It’s one thing to excel in your field. It’s another to create the field in which you excel. Conservative talk radio was local and niche before Limbaugh. He was the first to capitalize on regulatory and technological changes that allowed for national scale. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 freed affiliates to air controversial political opinions without inviting government scrutiny. As music programming migrated to the FM spectrum, AM bandwidth welcomed talk. Listener participation was also critical. “It was not until 1982,” writes Nicole Hemmer in Messengers of the Right, “that AT&T introduced the modern direct-dial toll-free calling system that national call-in shows use.”
Limbaugh made the most of these opportunities. And he contributed stylistic innovations of his own. He treated politics not only as a competition of ideas but also as a contest between liberal elites and the American public. He added the irreverent and sometimes scandalous humor and cultural commentary of the great DJs. He introduced catchphrases still in circulation: “dittohead,” “Drive-By media,” “feminazi,” “talent on loan from God.”
The template he created has been so successful that the list of his imitators on both the left and right is endless. Even Al Franken wanted in on the act. Dostoyevsky is attributed with the saying that the great Russian writers “all came out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat.'” Political talk show hosts came out of Limbaugh’s microphone.
Limbaugh’s success prefigured more than the rise of conservative radio. His two bestsellers, The Way Things Ought to Be (1992) and See, I Told You So (1993), were the leading edge of the conservative publishing boom. And his television program, The Rush Limbaugh Show, produced in collaboration with Roger Ailes, was a forerunner of the opinion programming on Fox News Channel. “I had to learn how to take being hated as a measure of success,” he told a Boy Scouts awards dinner in 2009. “Nobody’s raised for that. And the person that taught me to deal with this and to remain psychologically healthy was Roger Ailes.”
Limbaugh is not fringe. His views fit in the conservative mainstream. He idolizes Buckley. “He was a fundamental individual in helping me to be able to explain what I believed instinctively, helping me to explain it to others,” Limbaugh said last year. The ideas are the same but the salesman is different. Limbaugh is Buckley without the accent, without the Yale credentials, without the sailboat and harpsichord. Limbaugh is a college dropout from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who spends Sundays watching the NFL and speaks in plain language. His background connects him to the audience—and to the increasingly working-class Republican voter.
Limbaugh entered stage right just as Ronald Reagan made his exit. He took from Reagan the sense that America’s future is bright, that America isn’t broken, just its liberal political, media, and cultural elites. “He rejected Washington elitism and connected directly with the American people who adored him,” Limbaugh said after Reagan’s death. “He didn’t need the press. He didn’t need the press to spin what he was or what he said. He had the ability to connect individually with each American who saw him.” The two men never met.
Limbaugh assumed Reagan’s position as leader of the conservative movement. In a letter sent to Limbaugh after the 1992 election, Reagan wrote, “Now that I’ve retired from active politics, I don’t mind that you have become the Number One voice for conservatism in our Country. I know the liberals call you the most dangerous man in America, but don’t worry about it, they used to say the same thing about me. Keep up the good work. America needs to hear ‘the way things ought to be.'”
In a long and evenhanded cover story in 1993 by James Bowman, National Review pronounced Limbaugh “the leader of the opposition.” Bowman quoted R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor of The American Spectator. “We need to have people who can dramatize ideas,” Tyrrell said. “You need that literary spark. Luigi Barzini had it; Buckley has it. And, though he’s a great talker rather than a great writer, Rush has it too.”
More than a decade later, after the Republican defeat in 2008, Limbaugh once again stepped into the breach. The media likened Barack Obama to FDR. Republicans wavered. Should they cooperate with President Obama in building a “New Foundation” for America? Limbaugh gave his answer on January 16, 2009. “I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year and a half,” he said. “I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed.” Limbaugh said he hoped Obama failed. “Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?” The monologue, and the speech he delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., a month later, became a sensation. They set the tone for the Tea Party and Republican victories in 2010 and 2014.
Limbaugh did not mock Trump when the businessman announced his presidential campaign in June 2015. “This is going to resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys are going to pooh-pooh it,” he said. He spent the primary reminding listeners of the importance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Trump was not an ideological candidate, he said. Trump was a missile aimed at the establishment. If ideology matters, then you should vote for Ted Cruz. “If conservatism is your bag, if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote,” Limbaugh said in February 2016, “there is no other choice for you in this campaign than Ted Cruz, because you are exactly right: This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan.” But, Limbaugh added, the feeling in the country might be so anti-establishment that Trump’s unusual coalition could win the presidency. It did.
To say that Limbaugh supports the president would be an understatement. Last December he introduced the president at a Turning Point USA summit. He mentioned a recent encounter on a golf course. Someone told him it is hard to defend President Trump. “I said, ‘What? Hard to defend the president? It’s one of the easiest things in the world to do.’ President Trump does not need to be defended.” The crowd cheered. A few seconds later Limbaugh said, “How do you defend Donald Trump? You attack the people who are attempting to destroy him. They’re trying to destroy you. They’re trying to transform this country into something that it was not founded to be.”
Bold, brash, divisive, funny, and amped up, President Trump’s style is similar to a shock jockey’s. His presidency is another reminder of Limbaugh’s staying power. The American right has been molded in his anti-elitist, grassroots, demotic, irreverent, patriotic, hard-charging image. Rush Limbaugh is not just a broadcaster. He defines an era.
The Republican Party has a choice to make about its future. It can either adapt to America’s societal and demographic changes or rely on its current strategy. One of these options leads to a party that reflects the United States; the other renders the party obsolete.
Many on the right have argued that the GOP must broaden its base by assertively courting minority voters if it wishes to remain relevant. So far, many in the party have ignored or even resisted such outreach. However, if a recent announcement from Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) is any indication, a new approach is on the horizon.
Hurd, who retires next year, is starting an organization that will support diverse candidates in primary races across the country. The group, known as Future Leaders Fund (FLF), will “go into primary races around the country where there are good, conservative, and diverse candidates to build the future of the Republican Party,” according to its website.
FLF’s objective is to help the GOP shed its “party of old white men” label by creating “a diverse crop of future elected officials to be ambassadors to our party,” who will “attract new voters disenfranchised by the socialist left to join our party.”
The group plans to spend millions of dollars next year to ensure that minority, female, and young candidates get on the ballot. During the announcement, Hurd explained his reasons for this new endeavor: “America is becoming more diverse, while the Republican Party is becoming less popular with minority voters,” he said, pointing out that the GOP “lost 76% of minority voters.”
The representative then issued a stark warning: “If the Republican Party doesn’t start looking like America and resonating with all Americans, then there won’t be a Republican Party in America.” Hurd, the only black Republican in the House, announced that he would not seek re-election next year. He endorsed Tony Gonzalez, a Hispanic American, to replace him. After announcing his retirement, he indicated that he was not finished with politics, and it appears this initiative will occupy his time in 2020.
Until the present, the Republican Party has focused the bulk of its campaigning and messaging efforts on white voters in rural and suburban areas. Since the 1960s, this strategy achieved varying levels of success. Nevertheless, this approach will likely become ineffective going forward because the nation’s demographics are changing. The solution is simple: The Republican Party must adopt a plan that will expand its base.
Hurd and other conservatives are correct in this assessment. Unless the GOP reforms into a party that looks like the rest of the country, it will become irrelevant. Some on the right are resistant, arguing that engaging with minorities constitutes the same type of pandering that Democrats love, but this argument misses the point. Interacting with minority voters is not pandering. It is stimulating dialogue and demonstrating the areas where conservative solutions can make a positive difference. To keep the GOP vital in the years to come, the party must enlarge and revitalize its base.