Good Friday Morning! Two Democratic debates in the bag and not much has changed in my book. Watch the polls, obviously, but it seems like right now until someone lands a knockout punch on Biden, he’s headed to Iowa and New Hampshire primaries in the first place. After the first debate, Mo Elleithee, a Democratic comms/talking head made a solid point:
Here’s why I’m stunned. The GM plant closure goes to the heart of the myth of Trump. He promised workers in the industrial Midwest that he would protect those manufacturing jobs. They believed him. 16,000 Michiganders will lose their jobs in the next 2 yrs with the closure of these plants. Democrats are debating 10 miles away. They could have spoken directly to those people. Tonight’s candidates missed a huge opportunity. We’ll see if tomorrow’s candidates seize it.
In the second debate night, only Harris even made a token gesture to this reality. Little things like that underscore how the debates aren’t focused on what or where Democrats need to win next year in 2020. I think things are unchanged in the 2020 field. Biden was already drifting back to the top of the pack while Harris lost ground. Biden didn’t do anything to lose voters in my mind. If he doesn’t lose ground, the polls will have to pull from someone — if the field doesn’t consolidate, then I don’t see much change ahead.
Also, it is bizarre to watch the entire field run away from Barack Obama and any of his legacy. Biden is directly running on that legacy, and it clearly irks some candidates, but they’re not bothering to pick up that legacy. You’d never know Obama left office as a broadly popular twice elected president judging by how awful America is according to Democrats. Obama was no centrist, but Democrats are pretending like he was George W. Bush in 2008.
Finally, I want to join in the fun of making fun of a new age nutcase like Marianne Williamson running for President. But she’s having an impact on Democrats talking about healing crystals and dark spiritual psychics, and I’m getting PTSD flashbacks to Trump. I don’t think she’ll win that nomination, but the fact that she can stay in any contention shows how weak this field is from top to bottom.
This week I’ve written up a response to an essay in the Wall Street Journal on the new nationalism on the right. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
Democrats wanted Mueller to be Moses, but all they got was a bureaucrat – The Conservative Institute
The Mueller testimony — which received little to no attention at the debates — got major spotlights from the media and Democrats. But it didn’t deliver any of the shock and awe they claimed.
From Robespierre to SJWs, the left hasn’t changed – The Conservative Institute
I jump into the fray and defend Peggy Noonan and Bret Stephens for a broad point they made concerning the connections of the French Revolution to the modern left.
Into the vacuum steps conservative nationalism
Hey, hey, we’re the new nationalists / And people say we nationalist around / But we’re too busy nation-stating / To put anybody down. That’s basically how a weekend essay in the Wall Street Journal opens on the National Conservatism Conference. Christopher DeMuth begins his piece telling us, “No one saw it coming—that the next big thing of the 21st century would be the nation-state, an idea from the 17th.”
No one saw it coming because a small cadre of academics declaring an awakening does not a movement make. None of the ideas are new, and we’ve experienced reactionary nationalist moments at other times. This new nationalism is an artificial movement claiming it can deliver authentic depth and meaning for America. It’s stepping in to replace what it — correctly — diagnoses is missing. The problem is that you can’t demand a function from a concept that inherently lacks the substance to deliver.
The Monkees were a band with real instruments, real songs, and a television show. Some of their work was quite good. But we don’t demand the Monkees be the Beatles for people. There’s a reason people look to the Beatles as the culture-defining band of the century and not the Monkees.
In the same way, new nationalism is a real idea, with real history, and some interesting ideas behind it. But it’s a movement trying to say it can replace classical liberalism or modern conservatism and fix the world’s ills. In reality, new nationalism isn’t replacing anything. It’s trying to step in an fill a vacuum created by weakened cultural institutions. Nationalism has a place in the world, no doubt, but it is utterly incapable, as is in any political philosophy, of filling the position of religion, community, and family.
Nationalism is an additive, not a foundation.
“America’s Nationalist Awakening,” starts by telling the reader that the nation-state is a “global phenomenon—a driving force of politics in the U.S. and around the world and the subject of intense intellectual debate.” DeMuth then turns towards a religious analogy, the Great Awakening, “we political conservatives, who have been aroused in our own way by the nationalist awakening, have a great opportunity to recast, enlarge and proselytize our ideas.”
He’s not arguing that this conservative nationalism is a religious movement, but claims that nationalism is akin to religion in shaping human nature, “religion and nation are neither threats nor panaceas but something more fundamental. They are central arenas of human endeavor—institutional embodiments of human understanding and aspiration, of human excellence and folly. To oppose them is to oppose human nature.”
That brings us to the key passage in the entire essay, the point of a nationalistic awakening: consensus.
Which brings me to the second parallel with the Great Awakenings. Adamant revivalist energies, while unruly and disruptive, may be precursors to social enlargement and a new sense of collective purpose. I am choosing my words carefully and did not say “national unity” and “cohesion”—that has never been the American Way, outside wars and similar crises, and it never could be. All we need is a serviceable consensus on the essentials of American identity and character, sufficiently broad and representative for the tasks of cultural and political reform.
DeMuth has a good point in using religion to describe nationalism here — not because nationalism is a form of human nature, but because the new nationalism is trying to replace religion’s role in shaping American character. This move isn’t a nationalist awakening; it’s an attempt to fill a void with something else entirely.
We’re telling people that even though they came to see the Beatles perform Hey Jude, that The Last Train to Clarkesville by the Monkees will do just as good of a job.
You don’t have to look hard to find the collapse of things like community and family. Better authors than myself, like J.D. Vance, Chris Arnade, and Timothy P. Carney, have all shown the varying states of our cultural institutions. You add into that mix the moral collapse of things like the Southern Baptist Association and the Catholic Church from the sex abuse scandals, and you get the current moment. And in this case, where you find the loss, you also find a vacuum.
DeMuth and the new nationalists are right in this respect: there is a collapse of formerly robust institutions that former the character and purpose of the nation. Where they’re wrong is that the problem is a lack of national identity. The parts of human nature that are in desperate need of renewal need a literal spiritual awakening — not nationalism.
On the left, we’re watching socialists try to fill this void with democratic socialism. We point out that they’re wrong because government and politics can never fill a void once filled by religion, community, and family. New nationalism sees the same problem and tries the same solution, only focusing on a different end. The solutions offered won’t work, not because nationalism is inherently evil — but because they’re demanding an answer from a concept that lacks that function.
If nature abhors a vacuum, human nature especially abhors it. Modern political philosophy almost exclusively consumes itself in the quest for obtaining and controlling power. A cultural void is all the invitation political power needs to take action. That’s the awakening — political actors on the left and right trying to fill something long anchored by newly weak institutions.
But there’s another more important thing throughout all this discussion of new nationalism and new anything in politics. None of it holds the same substance as the things they mimic. We’re in a moment of Instant Culture, instead of real culture as Kevin D. Williamson has written:
[W]e do not have that kind of a political culture, or, in some ways, any culture at all, properly understood. What we have is Instant Culture, which is to culture what stevia is to sugar, what masturbation is to sex, what Paul Krugman’s New York Times vomitus is to journalism, what Monday’s dank memes are to the English language: a substitute that replicates the real thing in certain formal ways but that remains nonetheless entirely lacking in the essence of the thing itself.
Nationalism stepping into the void of religion, family, or community can never achieve lasting success because it’s not the real thing. Or as C.S. Lewis put it in The Abolition of Man, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
We’re expecting some form of national unity and character when we’ve rid ourselves of the truth and institutions that create and drive that very character. It’s the result of moral relativism run amok, as Allen Bloom warned in his polemic, The Closing of the American Mind.
The new nationalism isn’t real sugar, sex, journalism, or the Beatles. It’s simply nationalism. It cannot provide those things. When you demand it fulfill those roles, that’s when nationalism goes off the rails. We can’t require a function from a concept that’s incapable of delivering.
Our cultural and political institutions are weak, to be sure. But those institutions are the only ones capable of renewing the American culture. We should seek ways to fix them. Renewal is better than replacing them with an “awakened nationalism.”
There’s a reason the Founders focused on creating general rules that allowed a factitious civilization to thrive. They knew it was impossible to develop identity, purpose, or character from the government. Newly awakened nationalism will never be a majority — it will only be another Madisonian faction in a fractured and atomized culture. Shifting policies to benefit one faction doesn’t help anyone else.
Nationalism is only one part of the mix that creates and shapes human nature. It cannot replace other components in that process. Awakening to the idea nationalism can step in for those components is not an enlightenment or a renaissance. It’s the opposite.
Links of the week
‘Stay away from Barack’: Dems seethe over criticism of Obama: Party officials are frustrated that the former president’s record was collateral damage in the debate attacks on Joe Biden. – Nolan D. McCaskill and Marc Caputo, Politico
Buzzfeed Accuses Babylon Bee of ‘Pushing Conspiracy Theory,’ Forgets to Provide Actual Evidence – Alex Griswold, The Washington Free Beacon
Jeffrey Epstein Hoped to Seed Human Race With His DNA – James B. Stewart, Matthew Goldstein and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, The New York Times
Son of Qaeda Founder Is Dead – Julian E. Barnes, Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt, The New York Times
‘You’re gonna kill me!’: Dallas police body cam footage reveals the final minutes of Tony Timpa’s life – Cary Aspinwall and Dave Boucher, The Dallas Morning News
Intersectionalism Is Nonsense. But the Backlash Against It Is Very Real – Debra Soh, Quillette
New Age Marianne Williamson is breakout winner of Democratic debate – John Podhoretz, The New York Post
Was Lincoln Really Into Marx? – Phillip W. Magness, The American Institute for Economic Research
We should legalize drinking at 18 to make college life safer – Scott Johnston, The New York Post
#MeToo has ruined the office romance: Only one in 10 couples now meet at work. How depressing. – Ella Whelan, Spiked Online
What Happens When Lyme Disease Becomes an Identity? – Molly Fischer, The Cut
Unfree At Liberty – Rod Dreher, The American Conservative
Impeachment Would Probably Cost Democrats the House – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Unity Can Be Worse than Partisanship – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Resistance Inc.: Why impeachment isn’t going away – Matthew Continetti, The Washington Free Beacon
ONE DAY, ONE CITY, NO RELIEF: 24 hours inside San Francisco’s homelessness crisis – The San Fransisco Chronicle
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
WORLD — Climate experts have solemnly warned that we only have twelve years left until they change the dates on global warming again.
“If we don’t take action, then in 12 years we will have to explain why the world hasn’t ended and come up with a new number,” one UN scientist warned. “This is a very serious threat, and we urge everyone to hand control of the economy to the government immediately before we have no more time left to change the timeline again.”
The scientific consensus is that roughly 10-12 years from now, the world will be flooded with new doomsday predictions. This can all be avoided if we overhaul the economy and become socialists, according to non-political, unbiased sciencey type guys.
Thanks for reading!