Here’s my succinct request to Donald Trump and all the Democrats and Republicans trying to unseat him.
The founders wanted to create a new kind of country where individuals — and individual communities — could pursue happiness as they saw fit. They didn’t achieve that instantaneously, and we still don’t have it in meaningful respects, but they set up the machinery to make it achievable. This doesn’t mean the founders were against unity in all circumstances. Their attitude could be described as in necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas. In essential things unity, in non-essential things liberty, and in all things charity. In other words, they understood that unity was a powerful tool, best used sparingly and only when truly needed. Odds are good that this was — or is — the basic, unstated rule in your own family. Good parents don’t demand total unity from their children, dictating what hobbies and interests they can have. We might force our kids to finish their broccoli, but even then we don’t demand they “celebrate broccoli!” I wish my daughter shared my interest in certain things, but I have no interest in forcing her too, in part because I know that’s futile. Spouses reserve unity as an imperative for the truly important things. My wife hates my cigars and has a? fondness for “wizard shows.” But we tend to agree on the big things. That seems right to me.
What is fascinating to me is that in the centuries since the Enlightenment, unbridled unity, enforced and encouraged from above, has been the single greatest source of evil, misery, and oppression on a mass scale, and yet we still treat unity like some unalloyed good.
Just Drop It
Okay enough of all that. Let’s get to the here and now. Joe Biden promised this week that if he’s president, he will unite the country. Newsflash: He won’t. Nor will any of the other Democrats. Donald Trump won’t do it either — and certainly hasn’t so far. George W. Bush wasn’t a uniter. Barack Obama promised unity more than any politician in modern memory — how did he do?
For the reasons spelled out above, our system isn’t designed to be unified by a president — or anybody else. The Era of Good Feelings when we only had one party and a supposed sense of nationality was a hot mess. It’s kind of hilarious to hear Democrats talk endlessly about the need to return to “constitutional norms” in one moment and then talk about the need to unify the whole country towards a singular agenda in the next. Our constitutional norms enforce an adversarial system of separated powers where we hash out our disagreements and protect our interests in political combat. Democracy itself is not about agreement but disagreement. And yet Kamala Harris recently said that as president, she’d give Congress 100 days to do exactly what she wants, and if they don’t she’ll do it herself. You know why Congress might not do what she wants it to do? Because we’re not unified on the issue of guns. In a democracy, when you don’t have unity, it means you don’t get the votes you need. And when you don’t get the votes you need, you don’t get to have your way. Constitutional norms, my ass.
So here’s my explanation for why I don’t want politicians to promise national unity. First, they can’t and shouldn’t try. Tom Sowell was on the 100th episode of my podcast this week, and one of the main takeaways was that we shouldn’t talk about doing things we cannot do. Joe Biden has been on the political scene since the Pleistocene Era. What evidence is there that he has the chops to convince Republicans to stop being Republicans? When President Bernie Sanders gives the vote to rapists and terrorists still in jail, will we be edging closer to national unity? When President Warren makes good on her bribe of college kids with unpaid student loans, what makes you think this will usher in an era of comity and national purpose?
But more importantly, when you promise people something you can’t deliver you make them mad when you don’t deliver it. I’m convinced that one of the reasons the Democrats spend their time calling every inconvenient institution and voter racist is that they are embittered by Barack Obama’s spectacular failure to deliver on the promises he made and the even grander promises his biggest fans projected upon him. When you convince people they’re about to get everything they want and then you don’t follow through, two reactions are common. The first is a bitter and cynical nihilism that says nothing good can be accomplished. The second is an unconquerable conviction that evil people or forces thwarted the righteous from achieving something that was almost in their grasp. The globalists don’t want us to have nice things! The corporations keep the electric car down! The Jooooooooz bought off Congress! The Establishment pulled the plug! The Revolution was hijacked! The system was rigged! The founders were Stonecutters!
What’s the big deal about thank-you notes that are politically shrewd and reflect the old-fashioned habits of a well-bred patrician?
In fact, those missives of appreciation spoke to qualities that were fundamental to the 41st president of the United States. He was a much shrewder and tougher politician than we remember. He was a patrician, but of a very particular sort, a throwback to a time when elites felt a profound sense of public obligation. Being well-born entailed a commitment to duty and a requirement to live up to certain expectations.
And if his privilege gave him good reason to be a sunny optimist, he shared his cheerfulness with others. Not for him a habit all too common among the wealthy these days of expressing irritation and resentment when others fail to see them as exemplars of greatness and virtue.
.. Bush represented a very different kind of Republicanism. He was a Burkean conservative who saw change and reform as necessary to the work of conserving what he believed to be a fundamentally good society. A fierce partisan when necessary, he refused to see cooperation with political adversaries as a form of ideological treason. As a product of the World War II generation, he did not dismiss government as merely a necessary evil.
.. He cared about deficits in fact and not just in his rhetoric. So he was willing to violate his politically opportunistic 1988 “No new taxes” pledge to get a responsible budget deal two years later.
.. Conservatives never forgave him, although his tax increase was smaller than the one Ronald Reagan signed. Conservatives were willing to forgive their hero almost anything; if the Gipper agreed to raise taxes, it must have been because he had no choice. The right never gave Bush any benefits of the doubt.
.. And it’s worth remembering that when Bush asked Congress to approve the military campaign to reverse Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, he did not seek a war vote during the run-up to the 1990 midterm elections. He waited until afterward, thus keeping the war decision out of electoral politics. He showed both resolve and restraint, resisting calls to send U.S. troops to Baghdad after Kuwait was freed from Hussein’s grip. It was a much-contested choice that looks better and better in retrospect.
When elite universities shift their entire worldview away from liberal education as we have long known it toward the imperatives of an identity-based “social justice” movement, the broader culture is in danger of drifting away from liberal democracy as well.
If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges — your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression — will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.
.. The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect.
.. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency
.. Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism.
.. Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction.
.. there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind.
.. anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.
.. Liberals welcome dissent because it’s our surest way to avoid error. Cultural Marxists fear dissent because they believe it can do harm to others’ feelings and help sustain existing identity-based power structures.
.. the impulse to intimidate, vilify, ruin, and abuse a writer for her opinions chills open debate.
.. An entirely intended byproduct of this kind of bullying — and Roiphe is just the latest victim — is silence.
.. only a member of a minority group can speak about racism or homophobia, or that only women can discuss sexual harassment.
.. The only reason this should be the case is if we think someone’s identity is more important than the argument they might want to make
.. left-feminists are not just interested in exposing workplace abuse or punishing sex crimes, but in policing even consensual sex for any hint of patriarchy’s omnipresent threat.
.. In the struggle against patriarchy, a distinction between the public and private makes no sense.
.. There’s a reason that totalitarian states will strip prisoners of their clothing. Left-feminists delight in doing this metaphorically to targeted men — effectively exposing them naked to public ridicule and examination because it both traumatizes the object and more importantly sits out there as a warning to others.
.. Besides, if they’re innocent, they’ll be fine!
.. can anyone justify why the POSSIBLE innocence of men is so much more important than the DEFINITE safety and comfort of women?”
.. we now have a “gender editor” at the New York Times, Jessica Bennett
.. Does she understand that the very word intersectional is a function of neo-Marxist critical race theory? Is this now the guiding philosophy of the paper of record?
.. At The Atlantic, the identity obsession even requires exhaustive analyses of the identity of sources quoted in stories. Ed Yong, a science writer, keeps “a personal list of women and people of color who work in the beats that I usually cover,” so he can make sure that he advances diversity even in his quotes.
.. there is no art that isn’t rooted in identity.
.. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics
.. what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is.
.. the core concepts of a liberal society —
- the individual’s uniqueness,
- the primacy of reason,
- the protection of due process,
- an objective truth
— are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.
.. The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke. You see: We are all on campus now.
.. prudence that worries about unintended consequences; that values thrift; that tries to insure itself against future risks; that takes the responsibility of government seriously; that worries about extreme rhetoric; that balances the budget; that insists on constantly taking pains to protect inconvenient constitutional norms; that defends existing institutions. I could go on. It all began with Burke’s recoil from the French Revolution.
.. Is there any institution in the West that is currently less conservative than the GOP?
.. No institution that is integral to our liberal democracy is immune from attack. This includes law enforcement (the FBI), the Justice Department, an independent and free press, the prerogatives of the opposition party, and regular order in the Congress.
It is a party that would impeach a State Supreme Court rather than give up its gerrymandered districts.
.. its cult leader never misses an opportunity to deepen racial divides and to inflame the gender wars.
.. Whatever else this record is, it is an open and outright assault on any concept of prudence, responsibility, or moderation. Which is to say it is an assault on conservatism itself.
.. If there is any future for the conservative soul and mind in America, it will have to start with the wholesale destruction of the current Republican Party. I made that case more than a decade ago now.
The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life.
gun-control advocates assume that if Republicans oppose “gun free” workplace rules, it’s because they think gunplay at work is okay — and not because such laws don’t work on people keen on shooting up their office
.. I have no doubt that Porter was good at his job. One hears reports about how he was a stabilizing presence in the White House and a reliable ally of the Gang of Grown-Ups in the West Wing. But it tells you something about the bunker mentality inside the White House that these allegations were simply too bad to check.
.. one of the great defenses of the Trump administration is its practicality and rejection of abstract theory and ideology
.. Part of my defense of ideology is that much of it isn’t abstract theory (
.. Different thinkers (Burke, Chesterton, Hayek, Polyani, et al.) have different terms for different kinds of knowledge that cannot be simply conveyed with words, such as “tacit,” “hidden,” or “embedded”
- .. “Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States” is explicit knowledge.
- How to throw a curveball involves a lot of tacit knowledge;
- all the variables that go into the price of a loaf of bed is embedded knowledge;
- all of the arguments that go into why good manners are valuable is hidden knowledge.
.. it took hundreds of thousands of years of trial and error to come up with the ideas bound up in liberal democratic capitalism and modernity.
.. the supposedly abstract ideology that underlies Western civilization — on most of the left and most of the right and everywhere in between — is the greatest achievement of practicality in all of human history.
.. The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life.
.. In politics, the worry is very often not that the government will knowingly do wrong but that it will take the shortest path to doing what it thinks is right. This is what Michael Oakeshott called “politics as the crow flies.”
.. For the last decade, at least, conservatives have insisted that they were ideologically opposed to precisely the sort of turd burger we saw getting sizzled on the congressional grill this week.
.. the tea parties were in no small way a delayed backlash against the profligate spending of George W. Bush as much as they were a backlash against Barack Obama. The psychological reasoning boiled down to: “We felt we had to put up with the crap under Bush because of the war or because he was our guy, but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna put up with it from this guy too.”
.. More broadly, the president doesn’t like entitlement reform, as he has made clear many times.