When American conservatism becomes un-American

From Harvard Law School comes the latest conservative flirtation with authoritarianism. Professor Adrian Vermeule, a 2016 Catholic convert, is an “integralist” who regrets his academic specialty, the Constitution, and rejects the separation of church and state. His much-discussed recent Atlantic essay advocating a government that judges “the quality and moral worth of public speech” is unimportant as a practical political manifesto, but it is symptomatic of some conservatives’ fevers, despairs and temptations.

Common-good capitalism,” a recent proposal by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is capitalism minus the essence of capitalism — limited government respectful of society’s cumulative intelligence and preferences collaboratively revealed through market transactions. Vermeule’s “common-good constitutionalism” is Christian authoritarianismmuscular paternalism, with government enforcing social solidarity for religious reasons. This is the Constitution minus the Framers’ purpose: a regime respectful of individuals’ diverse notions of the life worth living. Such respect is, he says, “abominable.”

Vermeule would jettison “libertarian assumptions central to free-speech law and free-speech ideology.” And: “Libertarian conceptions of property rights and economic rights will also have to go, insofar as they bar the state from enforcing duties of community and solidarity in the use and distribution of resources.” Who will define these duties? Integralists will, because they have an answer to this perennial puzzle: If the people are corrupt, how do you persuade them to accept the yoke of virtue-enforcers? The answer: Forget persuasion. Hierarchies must employ coercion.

Common-good constitutionalism’s “main aim,” Vermeule says, is not to “minimize the abuse of power” but “to ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well.” Such constitutionalism “does not suffer from a horror of political domination and hierarchy” because the “law is parental, a wise teacher and an inculcator of good habits,” wielded “if necessary even against the subjects’ own perceptions of what is best for them.” Besides, those perceptions are not really the subjects’, because under Vermeule’s regime the law will impose perceptions.

He thinks the Constitution, read imaginatively, will permit the transformation of the nation into a confessional state that punishes blasphemy and other departures from state-defined and state-enforced solidarity. His medieval aspiration rests on a non sequitur: All legal systems affirm certain value, therefore it is permissible to enforce orthodoxies.

Vermeule is not the only American conservative feeling the allure of tyranny. Like the American leftists who made pilgrimages to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, some self-styled conservatives today turn their lonely eyes to Viktor Orban, destroyer of Hungary’s democracy. The prime minister’s American enthusiasts probably are unfazed by his seizing upon covid-19 as an excuse for taking the short step from the ethno-nationalist authoritarianism to which he gives the oxymoronic title “illiberal democracy,” to dictatorship.

In 2009, Orban said, “We have only to win once, but then properly.” And in 2013, he said: “In a crisis, you don’t need governance by institutions.” Elected to a third term in 2018, he has extended direct or indirect control over courts (the Constitutional Court has been enlarged and packed) and the media, replacing a semblance of intragovernmental checks and balances with what he calls the “system of national cooperation.” During the covid-19 crisis he will govern by decree, elections will be suspended and he will decide when the crisis ends — supposedly June 20.

Explaining his hostility to immigration, Orban says Hungarians “do not want to be mixed. . . . We want to be how we became eleven hundred years ago here in the Carpathian Basin.” Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, authors of “The Light that Failed,” dryly marvel that Orban “remembers so vividly what it was like to be Hungarian eleven centuries ago.” Nostalgia functioning as political philosophy — Vermeule’s nostalgia seems to be for the 14th century — is usually romanticism untethered from information.

In November, Patrick Deneen, the University of Notre Dame professor whose 2018 book “Why Liberalism Failed” explained his hope for a post-liberal American future, had a cordial meeting with Orban in Budapest. The Hungarian surely sympathizes with Deneen’s root-and-branch rejection of classical liberalism, which Deneen disdains because it portrays “humans as rights-bearing individuals” who can “fashion and pursue for themselves their own version of the good life.” One name for what Deneen denounces is: the American project. He, Vermeule and some others on the Orban-admiring American right believe that political individualism — the enabling, protection and celebration of individual autonomy — is a misery-making mistake: Autonomous individuals are deracinated, unhappy and without virtue.

The moral of this story is not that there is theocracy in our future. Rather, it is that American conservatism, when severed from the Enlightenment and its finest result, the American Founding, becomes spectacularly unreasonable and literally un-American.

Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Says Company Should Be Broken Up

In a nearly 6,000 word opinion essay published online Thursday in the New York Times, Mr. Hughes said the Facebook chief executive has gained power that is both “unprecedented and un-American.”

.. In 2017, Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, told Axios that the platform was designed around social validation.

Chamath Palihapitiya, the company’s former vice president of growth, took a harsher tone in a talk at Stanford University, saying “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” He later softened his comments after being rebuked by Facebook.

.. In his essay, Mr. Hughes said he hasn’t seen Mr. Zuckerberg in person in nearly two years. He said his former Harvard classmate is a “good, kind person” whom the U.S. government needs to hold more accountable for the immense power Facebook wields.

“For too long, lawmakers have marveled at Facebook’s explosive growth and overlooked their responsibility to ensure that Americans are protected and markets are competitive,” Mr. Hughes wrote.

This is the new GOP: Angry and afraid

One of the unpleasant surprises of your 50s (among many) is seeing the heroes and mentors of your 20s pass away. I worked for Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, who became, through his work with prisoners, one of the most important social reformers of the 20th century. I worked for Jack Kemp, who inspired generations of conservatives with his passion for inclusion. I worked against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries but came to admire his truculent commitment to principle.

Perhaps it is natural to attribute heroism to past generations and to find a sad smallness in your own. But we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?

President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.

.. “It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.” Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking “Onward, Christian Soldiers” more literally.

.. This is now what passes for GOP discourse — the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds.

.. “the true populist loses patience with the rules of the democratic game.” He comes to view himself as the embodied voice of the people, and opponents as (in Trump’s words) “un-American” and “treasonous.”

.. As Robert S. Mueller III continues his inexorable investigation of Trump’s sleazy business and political world — and if Democrats gain the House and begin aggressive oversight — a cornered president may test the limits of executive power in the attempt to avoid justice. If the GOP narrowly retains control of the House, Trump and others will take it as the vindication of his whole approach to politics. The president will doubtlessly go further in targeting his enemies for investigation and other harm. He will doubtlessly attack the independence of the FBI and attempt to make it an instrument of his will. He will doubtlessly continue his vendetta against responsible journalism and increase his pressure on media companies that don’t please him. On a broad front, Trump’s lunacy will become operational.

.. But at length he was asked to retreat from that final area where he located his self. And there this supple, humorous, unassuming and sophisticated person set like metal, was overtaken by an absolutely primitive rigor, and could no more be budged than a cliff.”

Republican leaders may dread it, but they will eventually be forced to identify that final area where they keep themselves — or find there is no one there.

David Frum: Trumpocracy & The State of Western Democracy

The donors believe that Trump would be the vehicle for getting what they want and that the price would be bearable.

People drawn to authoritarians as a way to achieve and punish what/who they want.

It was not Trump’s cunning that allowed him to achieve ..  it was the complicity

 

They got the:

  • tax deal,
  • reduction of environmental restrictions,
  • Obamacare relief/stabotage,
  • Financial Regulation dismantalment,
  • Stop Financial Protection,
  • Neil Gorsuch is more important to the rank and file than donor class.

It has long been a debate about who pays the corporate income tax.  The rise of the stock prices shows that the market thinks the corporations will benefit most.

In the cold war, the presidency was respected and partisanship restrained.

Big Legislation: Tax Cuts and Health Care repeal were passed/attempted without hearings.

Autoimmune disorders: military leaders might be tempted to protect the country by escaping civilian control

How informative do you think the President’s Daily briefing is, knowing that the president is not very curious and gets most of his information from Fox and Friends?

John Kelly: If you have not served, you have no right to ask me questions. (Un-American)

Modern Authoritarianism is not 1933, it attempts to stop 5-6% of people to take power.

Quote: A Democracy only lasts so long as the people realize they can vote themselves benefits.

Reality: Asset holders are fearful and contemplate radicalism.

Americans don’t realize how out of date they are — the plans they have are solutions to different problems.  (not inflation: 1970s).  You can’t fetishize policy.

Conservatives will not abandon conservatism, they will abandon democracy. (43 min)

Women’s suffrage was enabled by the conservative idea that the women would suppress drunkenness, etc

You address broad-based radicalism by repressing the few and making concession to address the factors which make people sympathetic. (48-49 min)

 

He’s taking everything you out to be working on and putting it to a dead end.

The dissolusioned young men facing declining wages need a bigger answer than they’ve got to address their privilege.

Facebook has a business model that is very sensitive to government pressure: if they were ruled to be a “publisher”, they would have to hire human editors.  They have

Our Real Immigration Problem

America’s immigration crisis right now is that we don’t have enough immigrants.

.. First: The U.S. fertility rate has fallen to a record low. In May, The Times reported that women “had nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007, despite the fact that there were an estimated 7 percent more women in their prime childbearing years.” That’s a harbinger of long-term, Japanese-style economic decline.

.. Second: Americans are getting older. In 2010 there were more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. By 2050 the number will be closer to 90 million, or an estimated 22.1 percent of the population. That won’t be as catastrophic as Japan, where 40.1 percent of people will be over 65

.. Third: The Federal Reserve has reported labor shortages in multiple industries throughout the country. That inhibits business growth. Nor are the shortages only a matter of missing “skills”: The New American Economy think tank estimates that the number of farm workers fell by 20 percent between 2002 and 2014, accounting for $3 billion a year in revenue losses.

The same Trumpian conservatives who claim to want to save the American heartland from the fabled Latin American Horde are guaranteeing conditions that over time will turn the heartland into a wasteland.

.. Fifth: The immigrant share (including the undocumented) of the U.S. population is not especially large: About 13.5 percent, high by recent history but below its late 19th century peak of 14.8 percent. In Israel, the share is 22.6 percent; in Australia, 27.7 percent

.. It was nice to hear Republican legislators decry the family separation policy.

.. there’s no sugarcoating the fact that a plurality of Republicans, 46 percent, favored it, while only 32 percent were opposed

.. This isn’t a party that’s merely losing its policy bearings. It’s one that’s losing its moral sense. If anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools, then opposition to immigration is the conservatism of morons.

.. It mistakes identity for virtue, entitlement for merit, geographic place for moral value. In a nation of immigrants, it’s un-American.

‘The Snake’: How Trump appropriated a radical black singer’s lyrics for immigration fearmongering

The poem originated in the 1960s from a soul singer and social activist in Chicago, Oscar Brown Jr. Its appropriation as a tool to drum up fear about immigrants has turned heads; some of Brown’s family are asking Trump to stop using it.

.. Democrats (“They’re always fighting for the criminal”),

.. The lyrics were written in the 1960s by Brown, an outspoken black singer, songwriter, social activist and former Communist Party member from Chicago.

 .. Brown’s work has been described as a celebration of black culture and a repudiation of racism.
.. Brown, who died at 78 in 2005, wrote “The Snake” during a time in which he was performing regularly in nightclubs and writing songs that used biblical references and animal allegories for simple stories that held deeper meanings
.. Brown’s family has been harshly critical of the president’s appropriation of the song, and Maggie and Africa said they wished he would stop using it. In particular, they are upset by the fact that it has been repurposed to serve prejudice, saying that use flies in the face of their father’s work.
.. Trump has also failed to credit Brown for the song, which the family takes as another slight. During one rally in Florida, Trump said it was written by the R&B singer, Al Wilson, who popularized the song in the “1990s.”
..  I can see how telling your crowd that you were quoting a man who resigned from the Communist Party in 1956, declaring himself ‘just too black to be red,’ might be problematic.”
.. “Trumps snake story is vicious, disgraceful, utterly racist and profoundly Un-American,” conservative operative Steve Schmidt wrote on Twitter after CPAC on Friday. “That this is how an American President speaks of immigration is a tragedy. This crowd of cheering extremists are the heirs of the Know-Nothing’s and nativists that have always plagued us.”
.. Trump’s love affair with the poem represents a subconscious confession: The president identifies with the snake.
.. “Historians will view it as obvious that Trump was describing himself in ‘The Snake,’ ”
.. Josh Marshall, the liberal editor in chief of Talking Points Memo, called Trump’s use of the poem “some weird psycho-sexual” thing that “must appeal to Trump on like ten levels and also appeal to bible literalists.” 

The Philosophical Assault on Trumpism

Establishment Republicans have tried five ways to defeat or control Donald Trump, and they have all failed. Jeb Bush tried to outlast Trump, and let him destroy himself. That failed. Marco Rubio and others tried to denounceTrump by attacking his character. That failed. Reince Priebus tried to co-opt Trump to make him a more normal Republican. That failed.

Paul Ryan tried to use Trump; Congress would pass Republican legislation and Trump would just sign it. That failed. Mitch McConnell tried to outmaneuver Trump and Trumpism by containing his power and reach. In the Senate race in Alabama last week and everywhere else, that has failed.

.. The Bob Corkers of the party are leaving while the Roy Moores are ascending.

.. The only way to beat Trump is to beat him philosophically. Right now the populists have a story to tell the country about what’s gone wrong. It’s a coherent story, which they tell with great conviction. The regular Republicans have no story, no conviction and no argument.

.. The Trump story is that good honest Americans are being screwed by aliens. Regular Americans are being oppressed by a snobbish elite that rigs the game in its favor. White Americans are being invaded by immigrants who take their wealth and divide their culture. Normal Americans are threatened by an Islamic radicalism that murders their children.

This is a tribal story. The tribe needs a strong warrior in a hostile world. We need to build walls to keep out illegals, erect barriers to hold off foreign threats, wage endless war on the globalist elites.

.. Somebody is going to have to arise to point out that this is a deeply wrong and un-American story. The whole point of America is that we are not a tribe. We are a universal nation, founded on universal principles

.. The core American idea is not the fortress, it’s the frontier. First, we thrived by exploring a physical frontier during the migration west, and now we explore technological, scientific, social and human frontiers.

.. From Jonathan Edwards to Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglass, Americans have always admired those who made themselves anew. They have generally welcomed immigrants who live this script and fortify this dynamism.

.. The original Republicans were not for or against government, they were for government that sparked mobility; they were against government that enervated ambition.

.. Today, the main enemy is not aliens; it’s division — between rich and poor, white and black, educated and less educated, right and left.

.. Trumpist populists want to widen the divisions and rearrange the fences. They want to turn us into an old, settled and fearful nation.

.. with entitlement reform that spends less on the affluent elderly and more on the enterprising young families

.. this striving American dream is still lurking in every heart. It’s waiting for somebody who has the guts to say

  • no to tribe, yes to universal nation,
  • no to fences, yes to the frontier,
  • no to closed, and yes to the open future,
  • no to the fear-driven homogeneity of the old continent and yes to the diverse hopefulness of the new one.