Thinking About Old Bill

One thing that has always vexed me about William F. Buckley, Jr.: as a man of acute self-control and acute political sensitivities, what beliefs did he conceal? And how did that shape conservatism?

This is something we will have to consider as we undergo the largest re-alignment of American politics in 85 years.

The Trump Era Dawns

On the global stage Trump’s populism and nationalism makes him very much a man of his times, with parallels to figures as diverse as Marine Le Pen, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of course Vladimir Putin. But in the American context he is like nothing we have seen before — a shatterer of all norms and conventional assumptions, a man more likely to fail catastrophically than other presidents, more constitutionally dangerous than other presidents, but also more likely to carry us into a different political era, a post-neoliberal, post-end-of-history politics, than any other imaginable president.

Source: The Trump Era Dawns

We walk a very narrow bridge with this President.

This is not the time to give up, tune out, and go back to The Way We Lived Before. The Trump Era demands a new kind of American Citizenship, one that is constantly informed, regularly engaged, and frequently activist.

This president and the Congress are going to need to hear from us, and we’re going to need to be more visible, more thoughtful, and more persuasive than ever to get our points across.

Welcome to the Trump Era.

Now get busy.

The Real Bill

Aside

I always wonder about William F. Buckley, Jr.: as a man of acute control, what beliefs did he conceal? And how did that shape conservatism?

Something to think about in the coming months as America’s political spectrum goes through its biggest re-alignment in at least a generation, and probably two.

The Moose and the Elephant: Leaving the GOP

Lean a little more to the right, maybe?

Those who have been reading this blog for some time will notice that we have, once again, undergone a facelift. This time it is for more that aesthetic reasons: it is meant to signal a change.

For a long time, this site and my political activities have been devoted to the fruitless effort to rescue the wagon that is the Republican Party from its accelerating slide down the steep slope to the right. After five years, I have come to terms with the fact that this is a hopeless quest. Long before Donald Trump reared his bilious physiognomy above the political parapet, it was clear that the party was in deep need of change, and that far too few Republicans either acknowledged this or had the faintest inkling of what that change might look like.

But the past few months, culminating with Trump’s nomination at the most shameful political gathering since the last Reichsparteitag in Nuremburg in 1938, have provided sufficient evidence that the GOP is incapable of meaningful, deep reform, even in the face of its most severe existential crisis in a century. The party’s lurch beyond conservatism points our republic toward a dark and terrifying future. We can either get off the wagon and do something, or we will by inaction consign the nation to the darkness.

And while I consider myself to be a conservative, I have found that the term has become so abused as to be almost meaningless, and that I have as little in common with the vast majority of conservative pundits and politicians as I do with those of the left.

Political conservatism to me is a dedication to two things: first, the principles that motivated the Founding Fathers as embodied in their writings and in the Charters of Freedom (The United States Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights); and second, the proposition that even the best system of governance is infinitely perfectible and thus dynamic. Conservatism should not throw itself athwart the road to change, but should embody ongoing reform informed by a wise balance of caution and progress.

Sadly, the most vocal proponents of conservatism seek to twist it into something far more regressive, robbing it of its balance in the name of dogmatic orthodoxy or more nefarious motives. When slavish devotion to free markets leads conservative thinkers like Thomas Sowell to inveigh against Teddy Roosevelt, the right no longer stands for reform but for a backslide into the cauldron of laissez-faire capitalism, robber barons, corporate monopolies, corruption, and vast income inequalities. The future promised by this sort of conservatism is not America: it is decline and dissolution. Christian conservatism would see America declare itself a Christian nation, and impose Christian values in the classroom, the bedroom, and the examination room. A theocracy dominated by plutocrats is the promise, enough nearly to rename the GOP the Banana Republican party.

Either we consign the GOP to the past, or we consign ourselves to the dystopia it promises.

In an effort to be a part of a better future, one informed by a conservatism that captures the promise of the 21st Century while holding true to the enlightened vision forged in the 18th, I am today leaving the Republican Party. I do so with a heavy heart and great reluctance. But to paraphrase my wife when she speaks of her own roots, I love the Republican Party, but the GOP that I love does not exist anymore.

But I also do so with a belief that such changes are good for the country, if for no other reason than they compel us to cast off the fetters of short-termism and special interests and enable us to engage in a more visionary and constructive conversation. This is what motivated Ronald Reagan in 1980, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the men and women who put everything on the line 240 years ago to craft a new nation.

 

I will share more about where the Bull Moose is headed in the coming weeks.

The South China Sea Problem Begins in Manila

The powerful lawmaker wants to get tough now to stop China’s island-building efforts before it’s too late.

Source: John McCain is done pussyfooting around with China

We can argue about whether America has the wherewithal to contain Chinese irredentism, but the responsibility to contain China’s territorial ambitions begins with the states in the region. It is past time for the leaders of Southeast Asia to accept that they cannot canoodle with China via ASEAN and bilateral trade, and then expect America to guard them against Chinese adventurism. Responsibility for regional security begins in region, must be led in region, and the United States should only step in  when the maximum concerted efforts of the region’s nations have proven incapable of stopping China. And even then, we should do so as a part of a clear, united front, not as the sole bearer of burdens.

In particular, it is difficult to conjure much sympathy for the Philippines. The late Corazon Aquino called U.S. bases on Philippine soil “an affront to national sovereignty.” We can argue about whether she was right, but what is clear is that once she managed to summarily eject the U.S. Navy from Subic Bay and the Air Force from Clark Air Base, she – and her successors – utterly failed to replace the shield the US military had provided. The Philippine armed forces are a bad joke, first tossing their professionalism to the wind in a series of domestic political interventions, then intentionally weakened by sequential administrations who (not without reason) feared the specter of a military coup.

Such is the lot of a bored military with no external threats. But times have changed, and China’s actions are enabled in no small part by their unvarnished assessment of the Philippine military as being aught more than toy soldiers.

The Philippines is overdue to create an armed force capable of defending the nation. Until they at least begin such an effort in earnest, the US should live by the letter of its treaty obligations, and no more.

Conservatism’s Primary Duty

There is a huge failure of imagination on the right. And a failure of self-awareness.  It may also be that I don’t see conservatism’s primary duty as guarding the purity of certain 19th century liberal principles on economics. I see its task as reconciling and harmonizing the diverse energies and interests of a society for the common good.

Michael Brendan Dougherty

Source: A Hard Case, For Trump | The American Conservative

Dougherty, who contends that Donald Trump qua politico-ideological revolutionary is already disintegrating, makes a point that is particularly timely for me, given my ongoing efforts to frame a modern American political taxonomy (you know, when I’m not working, being a husband, a dad, a scout leader, promoting my book, or trying to shake off a persistent respiratory infection. In short, it’s coming, but not today.)

First, in saying this Dougherty taps into something elemental: what does it mean to be a conservative? And, thank G-d he’s doing it. We ALL should. What does it mean to be all of these things.

I don’t know if conservatism can claim a monopoly on “reconciling and harmonizing the diverse energies and interests of a society for the common good.” I’d wager every single candidate for the presidency would say that this is exactly what they are doing. But I would argue that it is better to claim that ground than claim as your ethos a commitment to placing orthodox economic globalism over the well-being of the nation.

As a starting point: conservatism’s primary duty should be reconciling and harmonizing the diverse energies and interests of American society for the common good, and doing so through thoughtful and measured progress.

Donald Trump is no Moderate

Source: Donald Trump is a moderate Republican: That’s why he’s winning.

There has been of late much speculation as to the provenance of Trump’s supporters. Some see Trump’s irredentist caucasian nationalism as de-facto proof that he is a conservative, if not a nascent fascist. But others, including Jamelle Bouie, Slate’s Chief Political Correspondent, point to Trump’s rejection of movement conservatism and exclaim that he is a moderate.

With respect to Bouie, that’s a misdiagnosis, and one that suggests that Bouie doesn’t understand what a moderate (I prefer “centrist”) Republican is or believes. As a centrist Republican myself, I see nothing appealing in Trump or his policies. Pat Buchanan, on the other hand, who is either a “paleocon” or an outright reactionary, adores Trump. All of this suggests that trying to frame all of this as a “conservative” vs. “moderate” issue misses the point.

In truth, Trump’s supporters seem to cut a wide swath across the spectrum, suggesting that his appeal is less ideological than it is a visceral reaction to the perceived political and economic sidelining of white middle-and working-class America. It’s the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” bloc, those left behind by globalization and the information revolution who face dimming economic prospects for themselves and probably their children and grandchildren and lay the blame on the White House lawn and at the steps of the Capitol building.

That’s important. The group at fault here is not the moderates or the conservatives. The problem is with the elites in the party (and, arguably, with both parties.) The nation will only evolve beyond Trumpism when the Democrats and Republicans begin framing a path to a better future for Trump’s supporters that is more convincing than angry nationalism.

Wake Up, My fellow Conservatives. Time To Kill the GOP.

The core of Americans who find themselves falling between John Kasich and the political centerline in America have a choice. Either we give up and go full Dem, surrendering our political fate to progressives favoring a headlong reinvention of America; we rebuild the Republican Party to be relevant in the 21st Century by crafting an inclusive ethos that is fundamentally conservative; or go and form a third party that implicitly rejects the Goldwater-Buckley conservatism that has ossified into a reactionary ethos and overtaken the GOP.

Whether Trump wins or loses, we will face these choices. And let us choose well.

On the Cusp of Apostasy

The Republican Party I joined promoted fiscal responsibility, strong foreign policy abroad, and individual liberty. The party that I’ve seen of late is one that is none of that.

Source: I Left The “Grand Old Party” Today — The Buckley Club

Luis Mendez
“I left the ‘Grand Old Party” Today”
The Buckley Club
4 May 2016

If nothing else, it is nice to know that I am not the only Republican living on the horns of this particular dilemma today.

But I’m not leaving yet. I would rather let the edifice of the party burn around me, knowing that when the time comes to clean up the wreckage and build anew, I’ll be on scene and ready to begin.

We knew that a Republican disruption was coming in 2016. What none of us could have predicted was that Donald Trump would be the one to finally sunder the GOP.