Preserving the American Way of Life
I have condensed a long but very informative article by Thomas D. Klingenstein of the Clarmont Institute. I see very clear implications for Republicans at all levels and particularly direct it to our Republican sisters and brothers in Montgomery County.
It is the opinion of the author that “Republicans are somewhat lost”. Why? Because they do not think clearly enough about their purpose or mission.
His proposal for a mission is: To “preserve the American way of life.”
This is not simply a bumper sticker or a talking point (though it might work well as both). It is the essential starting point for the development of strategy.
Strategy follows from purpose (the mission). If the purpose is poorly understood, then the strategy almost certainly will be muddled, particularly when circumstances change. President Trump gets this. He has a mission: “Make America Great Again.” He keeps his eye on it, and realizes that sometimes it requires that he not conform to traditional Republican norms.
“Freedom” and “Limited Government” Are Not Enough
Often, Republicans describe their mission as “freedom.” But the word “freedom” (used in its everyday sense) does not give us any guidance as to when freedom must be restricted, as it often must.
To answer that (very difficult) question we need a concept both more focused and more comprehensive than just freedom. We need a mission. If Republicans formulated their mission as preserving the American way of life, I think it might be clearer to them what freedom really means and that sometimes that definition is not clear.
With a clearer sense of purpose we might better appreciate that vesting control in people like Coronavirus czar Dr. Anthony Fauci—people who know a lot about a little—risks sacrificing the body for the sake of a finger.
Republicans sometimes also say their purpose is “constitutional government” (or limited government). But this, too, is not a mission: it is a means to a mission.
The mission proposed is shorthand for “securing the conditions necessary to pursue a worthy life.” “A worthy life” is what the founders meant by “happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. The most essential “conditions” are the beliefs and values that must be held by society at large in order that each American can pursue a worthy life. These beliefs and values support the American way of life; hence the short form version of the mission: To “preserve the American way of life.”
Creating the conditions necessary to achieve the American way of life means giving citizens a nudge in the desired direction. Yes, nudging can, if we are not careful, come to pushing (as libertarians fear). That is indeed a risk we must guard against. But there is always risk that good governance turns into abuse of power. Politics is a high-wire act. One is always in danger of leaning too far to one side or another.
What is the American way of life that Republicans should want to preserve? It would not be difficult to reach a consensus on this question among Republicans. They want to preserve, and in some respects recover, what Americans thought was the right way of life until a generation or two ago.
We then believed that we were the shining city on the hill, marked out to show the rest of the world that people can govern themselves. We saw ourselves as one people with a single culture, which was directed by a creed (expressed most notably in the Declaration), supported by the Judeo-Christian ethos, all flavored by our particular history.
True, there were sub-cultures, but we understood them as all sharing the fundamental attributes of a single culture. There were no hyphenated Americans. We insisted that immigrants be assimilated. Colorblindness was our ideal.
We believed we had done great things in the past and were capable of doing more. This success, despite numerous missteps, made us a confident people. No wonder we thought ourselves exceptional in both senses of the term: distinct and better. No wonder we wore our patriotism on our sleeve and revered our military.
We believed ourselves to be the least class-conscious, most individualist, most religious people in the world. We believed that success in life depends on one’s own talents and character and so we glorified the self-made man. We valued work, no matter how humble, and self-reliance. Dependency was thought to be shameful. This was all part of the “American Dream.”
Although we understood ourselves as individualistic, we believed that happiness (a worthy life) requires doing good in this world. And so volunteerism and sacrifice for the common good was highly valued and publicly honored. This meant more than voting and obeying the law: it meant serving in the military and participating in civic organizations, local government and political parties, and teaching one’s children what it meant to be a responsible citizen. For most people, happiness was found in family, church and community.
Many Americans still hold this understanding of the American way of life. It is this, I believe, that Republicans would like to preserve.
Multiculturalism Versus the American Way of Life
If Republicans today conceived of their purpose as preserving this American way of life, then I think they would more easily see that that way of life is being attacked by proponents of another way of life (or regime). They would then be better equipped to repel it.
That other regime is multiculturalism. As I am using the term, multiculturalism sees society not as a community of rights-bearing individuals with a shared understanding of a national good, but as a collection of cultural identity groups, ranked in order of victimhood (though all oppressed by white males), and aggregated within highly permeable national boundaries. Multiculturalism replaces American citizens with so-called “global citizens.”
Identity politics is the politics of multiculturalism. Political correctness is its enforcement arm. Multiculturalism involves a way of life that cannot exist peacefully with the American way of life any more than could Communism or the antebellum South.
That is to say, today we find ourselves in a regime-level contest. The Claremont Institute has framed it as “Multiculturalism versus America.” A regime-level conflict is a struggle over what a society aims at, what its end is. Differences in ends cannot be negotiated.
Antebellum America provides a good example of societies with different ends. The South believed that slavery was a good thing and so wanted to expand it; the North, on the other hand, believed slavery was bad and so wanted to contract it. This is an example of a non-negotiable difference.
A nation cannot go in opposite directions at the same time. Multiculturalism has its own end, one that cannot exist peacefully with the American way of life any more than the North and South could exist peacefully together.
Multiculturalism’s end is a society where there are no outcome disparities among identity groups. Each group has, proportional to its size, the same income (hence the need for socialism) and the same power as measured by job titles; that is, the same number of CEOs, senators, marines, fire fighters, college presidents, physicists, soccer players, etc.
Outcome parity is the multiculturalists’ understanding of a just society. Thus, one role of government in such a society is to free us all from the sins of racism, sexism, homophobia (and all the other ever-growing “-isms” and “-phobias”) that stand in the way of outcome parity.
As we have seen multiculturalism’s end (outcome parity) cannot possibly co-exist peacefully with a free society like America that is guided by nature’s laws. For in such a society there will always be group differences—between men and women and among various sub-cultures. Multiculturalism requires crushing these natural differences and so demands expansion of state power and countless social restrictions, including censorship (political correctness).
Nature, however, is not easily crushed. As multiculturalism advances, nature’s resistance stiffens, requiring ever-more state power and restrictions, leading to ever-more destruction of the American way of life.
Education: 1619 v. 1776
As with any regime, multiculturalism teaches its beliefs and values to its future citizens. One way it does so is through the teaching of American history. American history is not simply a description of what happened in America in the past: it is an account of who we are as a people. As such, our history is a general guide to the future.
Until a generation or two ago, American history was an account of a good people striving, however imperfectly and haltingly, toward its noble ideals. And our history—which is particular to us, shared only by Americans—bound us together and helped to make us one people. Aspects of our history changed over time as new facts came to light and new interpretations were made of old facts, but the basic storyline did not change.
Multiculturalism seeks to overthrow that history. Multiculturalists, like totalitarians everywhere, understand that changing a culture requires rewriting its history so as to bring the past into line with the desired future. This is the purpose of the 1619 Project, a major initiative of the New York Times led by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.
The 1619 Project, writes the Times, “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” In this version of American history, America, writes Hannah-Jones, is “not a democracy but a slavocracy,” and “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”
In a sentence, the 1619 Project teaches that America—its values, customs, and institutions—is evil.
We cannot possibly defend ourselves if we think we are unworthy of defending. We shall not defeat China (or other enemies) unless we defeat the thinking that deprives us of the reason for preferring ourselves to our enemies. China may pose a more immediate danger. But at the end of the day, the larger danger is the debased self-understanding advanced by the 1619 Project.
Trump gets this, too. He is our antidote to the demoralizing effects of 1619 thinking. If there is one thing Trump stands for, it is pride in America. Trump exudes more confidence in America than any national figure in living memory. I do not suppose that Trump is any more patriotic than most Republicans, but he expresses his patriotism much more than they do. At every turn you hear him claiming that America is “incredible”—its science, its military, its businesses, its people (and yes, himself).
The one thing he thinks is not incredible (in a positive sense) is the mainstream media, and that is because he sees the media as anti-American. So what if Trump does not always express his love of America in the language of a Cambridge don. He, towering above all other national figures on the Right, stands athwart the self-destructive sentiments of our age: the guilt and doubt bred by multiculturalism. Whatever Trump’s faults, his full-throated defense of America overwhelms them many times over.
Multiculturalism seeks to destroy not only our history but education more broadly, as well as the other institutions that teach the beliefs and values necessary for preserving the American way of life. The most important of these institutions is family, because it is here “that the foundation of morality is laid” as John Adams put it. In other words, family is the foundation of the American way of life.
Our regime depends on such citizens. Without them, we cannot have limited, constitutional government. In other words, it is the family (along with other value-forming institutions) that makes republican government possible.
The multiculturalists, on the other hand, seek to destroy the family as it traditionally has been understood. Their desire for outcome parity requires separating women from motherhood, for it is caring for children that makes it very difficult for women to compete with men in the workplace and other spheres outside the home.
This means teaching young women that gender is simply a social construct (designed by white males to keep women in their place), and that only by having a career can a woman live a worthy life. To this end, it is necessary for women to place less emphasis on marriage and to have few babies, easy access to abortion, and government-sponsored childcare.
Republicans Are Not Sure What Their Job Is
Republicans certainly understand the importance of family and education as well as the other value-forming institutions (most notably community and religion). They do not, however, seem to think that defending these institutions is a terribly important part of their job description.
The 1619 Project is a case in point. It is perhaps the most significant political event of 2019, odd as that would sound to most Republicans. Its curricula have been adopted by more than 1000 schools and multiple school districts, including Chicago. More are certain to follow.
And yet it would seem that hardly any national Republican politician has even heard of the 1619 Project. I think they would have heard about it had they thought about their mission as preserving the American way of life.
As for family, Republicans sometimes talk about its importance and they often “market” themselves as family men or women. But, with a few notable exceptions, they do not actually assign it much importance; instead, Republicans focus on reducing taxes and regulations, gun rights, strong defense, and all the rest of the traditional Republican policy agenda. All this is important, but not as important as family because—to repeat myself—it is strong families that make it possible to actually implement this agenda.
This is all to say that the war against multiculturalism is not in the first instance a fight over the Constitution or the size of government or economic policies or Supreme Court decisions (as important as it is to keep fighting these battles). The war is over the institutions that form our culture. This is a culture war.
Fighting this war against multiculturalism today is a responsibility which rests almost entirely on the shoulders of our politicians. There was a time when our opinion-forming institutions—academia, media, entertainment and so forth—supported the American way of life. But no longer. The Right can no longer challenge elite culture from within these institutions, because the Right has virtually no troops on the ground. It is necessary, therefore, for the Right to fight the culture war on the battlefield of politics.
Republicans should take their lead from Trump. He is our political culture warrior—“a walking, talking rejection of multiculturalism and the post-modern ideas that support it,” to quote myself. Every time he ignores political correctness he is standing up for America’s distinctive culture. After all, what is political correctness but a prohibition on defending America’s distinctive culture? Trump “has said over and over exactly what political correctness prohibits one from saying: ‘America does not want cultural diversity; we have our culture, it’s exceptional, and we want to keep it that way’” (to quote the same author).
And Trump comes to this fight with a knife. By contrast, many Republicans, unaccustomed as they are to wartime conditions, continue to try to “reach across the aisle.” In a war, however, if you are too eager to find common ground you are likely to end up on enemy ground. This seems to be a Republican proclivity.
Republicans should take note. They are fighting an enemy which believes that there is no disputing its facts. If Republicans practice “live and let live,” and the multiculturalists practice “do it our way or else,” Republicans will continue to lose.
What Should Republicans Do?
If Republicans conceived of their mission as preserving the American way of life, they would pay more attention than they do to the institutions that nurture the foundations of that life—family, religion, education, and community. All else rests on those foundations. Today those foundations are giving way. Strengthening them should therefore be, I think, the top priority of the Republican party.
Let me use family as an example. If we wish to strengthen the family then we must try to encourage marriage (between those responsible enough to sustain its burdens), discourage divorce, and make it as easy as possible for mothers to care for their children and fathers to make enough money to support their family. (Obviously, we should not mandate these things, but we should try to create conditions that encourage them.)
Thus, when considering a policy of any sort, we should first ask ourselves: what is the proposed policy’s effect on the family?
Take an issue much in the news today: our manufacturing dependence on China. If our goal were primarily to protect the nation’s health and defense, we would focus on moving the manufacturing of health care and defense products out of China, transferring them to more friendly countries. But if our goal were to strengthen the family (and we thought that more manufacturing jobs in America would make it easier for a man to support his family) we might move all manufacturing back to America—and not just from China but from all countries.
This might cost us more (labor is more expensive here than in most other places), but if we thought strengthening the family was very important, we might deem it worth the cost. Oren Cass and others have suggested something along these lines.
As important as it is to have the right policies, rhetoric (in the classical sense) is even more important. The role of a politician is not only, or even primarily, to legislate but to build public sentiment in favor of decent laws and moral habits. The need for rhetoric is particularly important at present. This is because Americans do not fully understand the nature and extent of the multicultural threat that confronts them, and because many have been intellectually disarmed by multicultural dogma.
In order to shape public sentiment, politicians must make arguments. The public does not always have well-developed arguments. Their beliefs are sometimes unformed or taken for granted. We look to politicians (and intellectuals) to give voice to such beliefs.
Under present circumstances, in which the multiculturalists control the opinion-forming institutions, the political arena is pretty much the only place where there is even the possibility of seeing traditional American values expressed publicly. If such values are not expressed there, then those citizens who hold such views will assume they are not widely supported. In that case, citizens are likely to sit on their hands, or worse, come to adopt what they understand to be the prevailing views..
If Republicans desire to reverse the decline in marriage, and all the rest of the multicultural agenda, they should scream bloody murder. They should declare war, identify the enemy, and give it a name. We cannot fight an enemy if we do not have a name for it. Many of my knowledgeable friends tell me that “multiculturalism” is not the name to go to war with. I am not completely persuaded, but that is a discussion for another day. For now, not knowing a better name, I shall continue to identify the enemy as “multiculturalism” and its adherents “multiculturalists.”
And Republicans need to call out multiculturalism when it manifests itself, as it did both in the Kavanaugh hearings and in the midst of coronavirus pandemic, when multicultural Democrats at the highest levels claimed that it was xenophobic to prohibit from entering the country those travelers likely carrying a lethal infection.
Republicans rightly criticized the offending Democrats, but I think Republicans should have taken one more step and called attention to the multicultural monster that was lurking just below the surface. Here was a powerful way of showing how multiculturalism is going to get us all killed.
Imagine a politician saying: the 1619 Project or “Black Lives Matter” are racist; traditional marriage is far better than alternative arrangements; there are no hyphenated Americans; or America is a Christian country. Only a generation or so ago these would have been unremarkable claims of cultural distinctiveness; today they are considered seditious, with offenders put on the rack.
If we cannot speak about who are we, we will not know who we are. If so, we shall not long endure. If we cannot ask, for example, whether Islam is consistent with liberal democracy, we may well follow the suicidal path of many of our European friends. Thus, to preserve the American way of life we must confront political correctness.
“Political correctness is the problem of our time.” Those are Trump’s words. It is this insight, along with his willingness to put his mouth where his money is, that has made Trump such a godsend. He is our “fire bell in the night.” Will our leading politicians heed his warning?
So far I am not encouraged.
Many Republicans see that Trump gets mileage out of kicking political correctness in the mid-section; still, they seem unwilling to follow suit or even defend Trump when he is politically incorrect. When Trump (most indecorously) called Haiti a “shithole,” not a single Republican senator, many of whom undoubtedly agreed with Trump, tried to explain what Trump was getting at: that there are some people who cannot live, or do not wish to live, in accordance with the American way of life. (Whether Haitians are the right example is beside the point.)
In failing to support Trump, Republicans missed an opportunity to explain who we are as a people. Who are we? That is the most important question of our time.
At one level Republicans are very much aware of political correctness. They are exquisitely sensitive to its commands. And yet they do not publicly identify political correctness as a problem, let alone the problem. I hear no Republican campaigning against political correctness. (One partial exception might be those who are trying to fight censorship by Big Tech.)
The Path Forward
I suspect that if Republicans believed the survival of the American way of life depended on speaking up, they would make combatting political correctness a high priority. They must. They must start speaking out in defense of the American way of life. Trump has shown them that it can be done.
Again, Republicans must say plainly, without the usual LGBT/feminist-appeasing qualifications, that: traditional marriage is the best way to raise children; some lifestyles are better than others; and America-is-evil curricula are racist and undermine the American way of life.
They must insist that we are one culture, that there are no hyphenated Americans, that we have no duty to invite anyone into this country, and that no one has a right to come here. (These statements do not constitute an immigration policy but rather the premises for a sound one.)
They must explain that the problem with the administrative state is not so much that it is wasteful and inefficient (though it is) or that bureaucrats make wrong choices (they do), but that bureaucrats are making our choices. Living a worthy life requires that citizens, to the extent possible, make their own choices.
During the coronavirus pandemic there has been much talk about making the right choices, but not nearly enough talk about the importance of citizens making their own choices. Our experience with the coronavirus “experts” shows us vividly what a profound and immediate threat the administrative state is to the American way of life.
Republicans must explain that “diversity is our greatest strength,” which is multiculturalism boiled down to an aphorism, is exactly backwards. America’s greatest strength is having transcended race, and the one major exception, slavery, was very nearly our undoing.
And perhaps most importantly, Republicans must, like Trump, remind the public that America is “incredible.” That America is the greatest country the world has ever seen. As Norman Podhoretz is fond of pointing out, America has brought more freedom and more prosperity to more people than any nation in the history the world. Citizens need to hear this—loudly and often.
If, because of political correctness, Republicans cannot say some of these things today, then they need to figure out how to get to a place where they can say them.
More broadly, Republicans need to articulate a compelling vision of an American way of life that competes with the multicultural way of life.
The good news is that this vision is likely to be well received by the American public, including many Democrats. The divide in this country is not between Republicans and Democrats but between multiculturalists and Americans.
By and large, Americans reject multiculturalism—political correctness, the America-is-evil narrative, taking down statues, transgenderism, diversity requirements, open borders, drag queen library hour, and many of the other tentacles of multiculturalism. The public opposes these things by huge margins.
And I cannot believe that even most Democrats think it was xenophobic for Trump to keep out the Chinese during the coronavirus pandemic. Nor do I believe that American people have much use for the anti-American “liberal arts” that are taught by our best colleges and universities.
As Christopher Flannery advised, Republicans ought to make the next presidential election a choice between multiculturalism and America. Although the divide in this country turns on multiculturalism, our politics are still fought along party lines. Thus, Republicans must be clear that the Democratic Party, despite the better judgment and inclinations of many of its voters, is being taken over by the multiculturalists.
A vote for a Democrat at any level must be seen as a vote for the multicultural project to destroy America. As Flannery wrote, “If Democrats want to repudiate the multicultural agenda, God bless them…but Republicans must compel them to do that or to get unelected.”
After Trump, Republicans will not get far without a national leader, one who has Trump’s courage and conviction and who understands what Trump has tapped into (a rejection of multiculturalism) and where he is pointing (the preservation of the American way of life). But that leader must go further than Trump. Trump began the fight. Now we need someone to carry it on, which requires explaining what the fight is all about.
One often hears it said, usually by multiculturalists, that the Republican party is dying because old white males are dying out. Republicans, however, cannot let themselves be positioned by the multiculturalists as the party of white males. Republicans must be the party of the middle class and of common-sense Americans, of all races and ethnicities, the party of color blind, hard-working, self-reliant, public-spirited, religious, patriotic, self-sacrificing Americans. There are many, many Democrats who belong in that group.
Making multiculturalism the enemy provides a big opportunity for Republicans. Opposing multiculturalism, like slavery and Communism before it, has the potential to energize the Republican party and the conservative movement. Conservatives, who are in the business of conserving things, come to life when there is something important to conserve. This allows them to stake out a very distinctive and morally powerful position with enough room to accommodate a broad coalition.
In this case, that really important “something” is the American way of life.