What Does a Better Populism Look Like?: A Response to “Against the Dead Consensus”

One of the more interesting debates in politics right now is what is the future of the Republican Party and, to some extent, the Conservative movement.  In the Republican Party right now, there are a wide variety of different viewpoints trying to exert influence on the party.  This includes everyone from the Ted Cruz-aligned Religious Right, to the Rand Paul-aligned Libertarians, to the traditional, more moderate Republican establishment, to mainstream Reagan-style Conservatism.  With the Trump presidency, an avenue has opened up for other ideological variants of the Right to enter the fray.   Much of it has involved the rising of a new class of attention seekers and grifters.  While hacks such as Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens, and other Republicans of the “Own the Libs” variety existed before Trump, the Trump presidency and continued Reality-Telivification of our politics has given them prominence and profit of a degree not seen before.  Not as prominent has been a more ideological populism, focused more on what ideas and policies might fit the New Republican Party best in the Trump era.

To that extent, the First Things manifesto “Against the Dead Consensus” is a welcome addition to the competition of ideas.   In this relatively short and welcomely accessible open letter, several different writers and thinkers such as Sohrab Ahmari, Patrick Dennen, and Rod Dreher offer a few guiding principles for what the new GOP should look like.  The politically diverse group effectively identifies current problems in both society broadly and Conservatism specifically.  As someone who identifies as #NeverTrump and who supports some mainstream Republican policy proposals that at least some signing members of this statement are against, I found it a very helpful guide for understanding what a mature populism in our political sphere might look like.

One of the best elements of the statement is simply that it does focus on actual principles.  Much of what is called populism in our political discourse today is little more than saying whatever will move books and generate Fox News hits.  While political gimmickry is particularly pronounced in populism, it is not only populism that it has infected.  On the eccentric horseshoe that exists between some parts of the “Resistance” Left and the “Never Trump” Right, there is currently a competition to determine whether a Twitter account called “Devin Nunes’ Cow” can gain a certain number of followers.  A lack of seriousness and an anathema to anything resembling ideas, policies, or principles is a part of the political discourse in all ideologies and tribes today, and it is to the credit of the drafters of this statement that they seek to inject populism with general ideals.

Another high point of the statement is that it correctly identifies the problems in our society today and fairly critiques past iterations of Conservatism for failing to combat them.  The authors correctly point out the importance of healthy communities, families, and workplaces as some of the keys to the healthy society, and how the atomization of the individual and the resulting consequences from it destroy these building blocks.  They also fairly point out how Conservatism broadly failed to combat these issues.  For all of their flaws (and there are many), think about how the “Moral Majority” of the 1980s infused the Republican Party with an emphasis on issues such as combating pornography and fighting back against gambling.  As the Republican Party drifted towards Social Libertarianism and focused more on issues such as government spending and aggressive foreign policy, both issues which reasonable people can have disagreements about, issues of traditional values and healthy communities fell out of the Republican mainstream.  Tim Alberta documented this recently in Politico, in an article with supplements this First Things statement nicely.  The Party, in fact, reached a point where an individual who posed in Playboy and who owned casinos could be its standard-bearer.  Looking at society today, it’s hard to say our communities are better places because of our broad acceptance of (including the GOP’s acquiesance to) hyper-individualism and social libertinism.  The authors of the First Things statement are right to call out these failures.

Finally, the authors deserve credit for specifically affirming the importance of human dignity as a guiding principle for the common society.  A large number of our societal issues today, from hyper-partisanship to economic destruction and vulturism to the growing number of deaths of despair can be directly or indirectly attributed to our collective failing to view our fellow humans as worthy of respect and value.  It is particularly right for a Christian publication to make this emphasis.  As Christians, our faith teaches us that we are created in God’s image and that one of our ultimate callings is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  This includes the importance of the protection of unborn life, as the authors rightly include.  I am glad the statement rejects attempts to compromise on human dignity, and I believe that regathering a fuller societal understanding of human dignity is one of the necessary ways to remedy the problems described in this statement.

Having affirmed the statement, of which there is much to affirm, there are some critiques that need to be made as well.  One of those critiques is that the statement, like much of the rest of populism, seems unnecessarily hostile to immigration.  In the words of the statement:

In recent years, some have argued for immigration by saying that working-class Americans are less hard-working, less fertile, in some sense less worthy than potential immigrants. We oppose attempts to displace American citizens. Advancing the common good requires standing with, rather than abandoning, our countrymen. They are our fellow citizens, not interchangeable economic units. And as Americans we owe each other a distinct allegiance and must put each other first.

This is partly true.  We shouldn’t view our fellow Americans as inferior beings who, for one reason or another, are inevitably bound to suffer economically.  At the same time, all of the best data shows that immigration does not hurt our fellow Americans.  Immigrants improve our economy, by virtue of being both creators and consumers, and benefit the country broadly.  The anti-immigrant hysteria so broadly espoused in populism today simply isn’t grounded in reality.  We should want to see the economic success of our fellow Americans, but there is no reason to believe that opposing or limiting Immigration accomplishes this.

Another weakness of the statement is that it seems to portray Trumpism as superior to Reaganism.  From the very end of the statement:

Whatever else might be said about it, the Trump phenomenon has opened up space in which to pose these questions anew. We will guard that space jealously. And we respectfully decline to join with those who would resurrect warmed-over Reaganism and foreclose honest debate.

It’s true that “warmed-over Reaganism” is probably not a viable course for the future of Conservatism, and that it had problems which the writers did a good job of analyzing.  A blind spot in the statement, however, is that Trumpism in practice fares even worse than Reaganism when it comes to the ultimate problems recognized.  When we think about the atomization of the individual and the “pornographization of daily life”, those are the very attributes at the heart of Trumpism.  Donald Trump specifically has lived his life according to the social Darwinism and sexual libertinism to which nearly every legitimate problem highlighted in the statement can be traced.  If Reaganism failed to adequately pump the breaks on these issues, Trumpism pushes down on the accelerator.  Reaganism, at a minimum, sought in theory to promote traditional values and national unity.  It’s very difficult to see how Trumpism in practice does even that.  It would have been a welcome addition to this statement if the authors could have accurately recognized that while a populism based in ideas has its advantage over stale Conservatism from yesteryear, Trumpism in practice should be a greater threat to the ideals espoused here.  That would be unless closed borders and immigration restrictionism are more important than the other ideals espoused here, which gets to the first critique.

Finally, one last critique is that while the authors rightly advocate for human dignity, it can ring as inconsistent when some of them fail to uphold a general respect and value of fellow people in their lives.  One of the major human dignity problems in our society today is that in our politics, we fail to treat other groups and political tribes as human beings made in the image of God.  Sadly, some of the authors here exhibit some of these worst tendencies.  One of the authors, like President Trump, mockingly referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” and later defended it.  Another habitually crosses the line from rightly defending the religious liberty of Christians to mocking LGBT individuals.  To defend human dignity should be to defend human dignity for everyone, including Racial Minorities, LGBT people, and our political opponents.  The fact that some of these authors have not lived up to their message of human dignity in this statement may lead it to ring hollow to some who read it, which is unfortunate in that it is one of the most important parts of the statement.

This statement has a lot of good in it, and is worth reading regardless of political orientation.  It is a helpful attempt to highlight an ideology that is far too often represented by its worst caricatures, including the President, in the public square.  While it has much too offer, though, it nonetheless falls into some of the same traps as grafter, Trumpist populism though in that it is unnecessarily includes anti-immigration sentiments and exaggerates the extent to which the Establishment is its enemy.  These unfortunate elements keep the letter from having its maximum impact and winning others outside its camp to its view.  A better and more politically potent populism, in the future, will hopefully jettison the anti-immigration hysteria, recognize and identify Trumpism as at least as much a driver of hyper-individualism and social libertinism as the worst of mainstream Conservatism, and inspire us all towards a personal ethic of human dignity that brings out the best of us in all parts of our lives.

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A Few Thoughts on Lifeway’s Announcement

Earlier today, Lifeway announced that they are closing all of their retail locations by the end of 2019 and will be pivoting to an entirely digital platform.  This is very disappointing news, in my opinion.  While I don’t agree with Lifeway on everything (Sho Baraka is amazing, for one thing), they provided access to a variety of helpful resources.  Just in general, the demise of any brick-and-mortar book retailer is a bad thing for our society, as well.  Since different people are already throwing in their thoughts, I’ll add a few of mine in:

  • There are many people who will lose their jobs because of this change. While I don’t want to make this very political, the rise of institutions such as Amazon and how technology displaces jobs is a critical issue that us as Christians need to think about from a perspective of Faith-based Ethics.

 

  • Lifeway’s bread and butter haven’t been as much the retail stores as it has been the development of resources and products. I’ve seen some people talk about how those elements won’t be affected by the store closures.  That’s true in some sense, but a large part of how Lifeway distributes its resources is through its physical storefronts.  That will be impacted, and it will be interesting to see how much of their storefront revenue for Lifeway developed products transfers to its online storefront.

 

  • Finally, some theologically Liberal voices have been celebrating Lifeway’s demise. Their basic argument is something along the lines of “Progressive voices were suppressed by Lifeway’s dominance in this field, so Lifeway’s pulling back will not suppress voices.”

 

  • First, these voices were not suppressed in any meaningful sense of the word.  No author is born with a birthright to any specific retail space or market placement.  The idea that Lifeway carrying specific products that aligned with its institutional values and the values of its consumers suppressed Liberal voices is ludicrous.

 

  • Second, the reason that Progressive voices don’t have as many books with the distribution of other content is because there isn’t widespread demand for theologically Liberal content.  As some pointed out on Twitter, there aren’t exactly theologically progressive bookstores thriving out there.  Additionally, there is this very weird assumption that your typical Lifeway consumer is in the market for Progressive content.  If Theologically Liberal voices can’t get the sales and distribution they want without access to Lifeway, I don’t think getting into Lifeway is going to fix that.  Basically, theological progressives are just whiny that mainline Protestantism is dying and Lifeway is a scapegoat for their lack of appeal.  If you doubt that, let’s see how many Unitarian bookstores pop up in the near future.

Ole Miss Basketball is getting Unnecessary Criticism

While kneeling has become somewhat prominent in Professional leagues, it has mostly stayed out of College Sports. One notable exception occurred today. Several members of Ole Miss’ Men’s Basketball team kneeled during the anthem.

https://mobile.twitter.com/overtime/status/1099419946742890498

A lot of people have been ignoring the context. Basically, the KKK and several neo-Confederate groups scheduled a protest for today. Part of this occurred on the campus of Ole Miss. Administration at Ole Miss had little in the way of the response. It essentially amounted to “avoid them”. Telling African-American students that they shouldn’t move freely on their own campus that they are paying to attend is not a comprehensive response.

In general, I think kneeling as a response to injustice is perfectly appropriate, whether it’s in regards to police brutality or neo-Confederate rallys in Mississippi. But specifically examining the response to today’s incident, the contrast between the response to the Neo-Confederates and the response to Ole Miss Basketball is stark. Lots of the response was that people were going to boycott Ole Miss. I don’t remember the response being that sharp to the NFL following its lax penalties for Domestic Violence. Clay Travis (aka Walmart Skip Bayless) said that the SEC has a big problem now. Did the SEC not have a big problem with a Neo-Confederate rally taking place on the campus of one of its member institutions?

What people choose to deem problematic or react to is extremely revealing. Even if you have problems with kneeling in general, it’s easy to understand why these young men at Ole Miss would choose to respond to these specific circumstances. We should have empathy for them and seek to create an environment free of White Supremacy, not melt down whenever African-Americans choose to make a statement about the world as it is today.

Donald Trump and the Future of the Pro-Life Movement

These past two weeks have made it clear the Democrats have decided to become Abortion radicals.  New York proceeded to legalize abortions up to full-term, and Virginia is considering legislation to do the same.  Virginia Governor Ralph Northam somehow went further than full-term, arguing that already born children could be aborted, but fortunately for them, in a “comfortable” setting.  Gone are the days of Bob Casey and ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare.”  Either due to fear of Planned Parenthood, or because they have been bought and paid for by Big Abortion, the Democratic Party (with a few brave exceptions such as Congressman Dan Lipinski, Governor John Bel Edwards, and Democrats for Life) has determined to jettison any pro-lifers and anyone who has any hesitancy whatsoever concerning Abortion on demand. The extent of the extremism the Democratic Party is pushing towards cannot be overstated.

This should present Republicans a major opportunity to reach pro-life voters and push for the cause of unborn life.  The GOP has taken pro-life votes for granted for so long, though, that they seem to have no interest in moving the ball on this issue.  In a 2-year span with a Republican White House, Senate, and Congress, Planned Parenthood is still funded by our tax dollars and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion act is still unpassed.  Even looking at judicial nominations, the President passed on a very strong choice in Amy Coney Barrett to appoint Brett Kavanaugh.  Kavanaugh has little track record on the issue, is a DC elite who doesn’t inspire hope he would fully overturn Roe (certainly as compared to Barrett), and whom David French says appears very timid on the issue.  Overall, it seems likely a President Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, or Jeb Bush would have accomplished more or as much on this issue had they been elected.

Even if Pro-Lifers had every pick of judges they wanted, though, that would still not be enough to justify a full alliance with this President.  As Matthew Lee Anderson wrote with foresight in Mere Orthodoxy back in July 2016:

“Suggesting that the thin hope of conservative justices on the courts justifies accepting such cultural consequences also seems to rest on either naivety or hubris. It is hard to know which. Pro-lifers will not be able to distance themselves from Trump’s shenanigans, though they will try: if he is their candidate, they will be made to own everything he does if he is elected President. Political action has a symbolic character: it sets a narrative, and that narrative matters as much for the long-term future of a particular movement as do the judicial opinions that result from it. In this case, it is a ludicrously easy story to tell: Pro-lifers are willing to accept misogyny, divorce, racism, and so on for their political ends.

Pro-lifers will protest that voting for Donald Trump does not mean endorsing everything Trump does. And they would be right. Yet I say it’s either ‘naivity’ or ‘hubris,’ because the pro-life movement hasn’t exactly been stellar at framing its own identity. The cultural and media headwinds they face go a long ways toward explaining the struggle. But in this case, they add to those the fact that their critics will have a serious and legitimate point. Voting for Trump means treating everything else he does as acceptable *on the condition* that he also promises — merely promises, mind you — conservative justices. The pro-life movement can justify supporting Trump only by viewing his character, his known sexual vices, his unrepentant history of supporting abortion, etc. as acceptable side-effects that, in this case, are the cost of their hope for conservative justices.”

Among the items this President has tied to the Pro-Life movement by association includes a Refugee Ban, Racist Sentiments and Actions, Intentionally Separating kids from their families, and a history of mysogny and credible sexual assault accusations.  While the movement has gotten Conservative judges, it has come at a political cost that may not be collected for a while, but almost surely will on this trajectory.

Pro-Lifers have still chosen to go all in on the Trump movement.  On the one hand, this is somewhat understandable due to the radical shift in the Democratic Party on the issue.  That said, the Pro-Life movement did not need to buy in to Trump nearly to the extent it has.  For as little progress as has been made, was it really necessary to make Mike Pence a center-point of every March for Life since Trump was elected? Did having President Trump keynote the Susan B. Anthony List dinner reward or lead to any meaningful pro-life results?  Has all the support for Trump from very vocal pastors led to anything meaningful? The recent March for Life served as a catalyst for some to start thinking about these questions, and despite the Democrats’ radicalism, a shotgun marriage with Trumpism isn’t the prudent response either.

So, if the Democrats are purging virtually anyone who does not express complete devotion to the Abortion lobby, and Trumpism provides no meaningful reforms while associating completely unacceptable baggage with the Pro-Life movement, where does that leave us?  99% of the Democratic Party is anathema to our views on this issue, and there are only a handful of candidates on that side the movement could ever seek to promote.  On the other hand, a continuing bond with Trump positions the Pro-Life movement poorly for the future.  From an electoral standpoint, most groups of Americans who will determine the direction of the Country are moving from away from Trump.  Minority groups and Millennials are actually not particularly hostile to the pro-life position, but becoming too tied to Trumpism could change their feelings and hurt the movement’s long-term prospects.  The Pro-Life movement gains when we our helping women in crisis, promoting adoption, and caring for life at all stages.  Trumpism in perception is the social Darwinist opposite, and it’s easy to see where in reality the perception comes from.  Even beyond electoral politics, it’s simply inconsistent to reconcile a pro-life ethic with intentional family separation, bragging of sexual assault, and other vices Trump inevitably encompasses.

The correct direction combines the political and non-political sides of the Pro-Life movement.  Outside politics, we should continue to provide assistance to expectant mothers, help our local Crisis Pregnancy Centers, support adoption and families that adopt, and speak out for justice at all stages of life.  That is how we most tangibly show our communities that we care about the unborn, and that they should as well.  Politically, except for those who are called to support the few pro-life Democrats there are and to push the party away from radicalism, the best option is to support pro-active, pro-life Republicans who do not antagonize the pro-life ethic on other issues outside Abortion.

We need Republicans, of whom there are far too few right now, who will fight and expend political capital for a 20-week abortion ban, defunding Planned Parenthood, passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion act, and nominating the Amy Coney Barrett’s of the world to the high court.  These same Republicans should be people of character who believe in united families, racial justice, and a respect for the equality of women.  If the Pro-Life movement can pull away from Trumpism and support candidates who espouse these virtues at all levels of government, we can save our long-term political prospects of success and not compromise the soul of the movement in the process.

Super Bowl Links + Prediction

Colin Kaepernick and his influence on the NFL

From the Atlantic, Football and the NFL are facing White Flight

Tony Romo is Ready

I’ll be rooting for the Rams.  Obviously the Patriots are the worst, but John Kelly also provided one of the very few bright spots in UT’s 2017 season.

Also, for Atlanta fans, the thought of the Patriots winning a Super Bowl on their home field 2 years after 28-3 is just too much.  I say between a big performance from Aaron Donald and an advantage in Special Teams, the Rams take this one 37-31.

More Thoughts on the Ralph Northam Debacle

  • If the Democratic Party was smart, they would realize many pro-lifers are disillusioned with Trump and would love an alternative. That they are running the opposite direction means they either are scared of the Abortion lobby (see David French) or are bought and paid for by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, EMILYs List, etc.  In fact, many of the Democrats running for President support legislation similar to the Virginia bill, per NRO.

 

  • Northam is supposedly one of the more Moderate Dems. There are even rumors up in Virginia that he nearly flipped to the Republicans in the State Senate at one point when it looked like it might be advantageous.  That a “Moderate” would go out on this limb as telling.

 

  • The fact that the interviewer never even thought to ask a follow-up question is a symptom of what the media at large thinks of the issue. I disagree with the Trump administration’s antagonism to media and believe in a strong, free press, but this is where being in a bubble comes into play.  They just don’t understand why Americans care about this or why anyone would see it as unborn life at stake.

 

 

  • That Northam sees doubling down on Twitter after his botched statement as an appropriate response tells a lot about where his party is. Even 5 years ago, any Democrat would apologize for saying that.  Now, it’s just more base posturing.

 

  • I’m a Christian. You don’t need to be a Christian to be Pro-life.  Pro-life is Pro-Science, and anyone from any or no religion can and should be pro-life.  That said, think about how much faith it takes to look at an unborn child (or in Northam’s case, a born child) and say it is not actually a real human life.  Some strains of Secularism have their own dogmas that require just as much or more faith than any religion.  I have a strong sense of faith in my beliefs, but it’s wrong to portray one side of this issue as being based solely on faith and the other as solely on reason.

The Governor of Virginia Endorses Infanticide

Watch the video.  It is beyond disturbing.  People ask why #NeverTrump Republicans don’t just vote Democrat.  The primary reason is that the Democrats are bought and paid for by Big Abortion and, at least at the National level, have no room for compromise and are in fact radicalizing.  While such issues should never be viewed through strictly partisan lenses, this is how Democrats blow elections.