Good Friday Morning! This week marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasions in Normandy, France, as well as the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre by the Chinese government. It’s a week that should remind us in America that the price for freedom remains the same from one generation to the next.
On the Tiananmen Square part, there was a viral thread on Twitter from a guy talking to former dissidents who were on the square that day. Almost to a one, they now spout communist party talking points. It’s not that Chinese citizens forgot Tiananmen or were unsympathetic; they don’t see a way around the power of the state. It’s a sobering thought to contrast that with American efforts to keep Europe free from Nazi and Soviet control.
This week I decided to talk a bit about the internecine fight on the right currently, the David French versus Sohrab Ahmari. I’m not going to weigh the various points. I’m just going to take a step back and go through what I see happening — links to follow.
Quick hits before jumping in:
First: I have a column coming out today on the YouTube purge/#VoxAdpocalypse. If you haven’t seen it, YouTube imposed new rules on content creators that aimed to cut down white supremacist and other harmful content on the site. In a variety of ways, as I write, that project is failing. I ran out of room to make one related point to the whole: the left is making FoxNews stronger.
The left hates major right-wing/conservative media outlets like FoxNews, National Review, and talk radio in general. When progressives use their power in tech companies to try and stomp out content they don’t like — whether legitimately racist/supremacist/etc. or not — all they do is chill speech in alternative media and increase the power of places like FoxNews. If you want networks like Fox to lose their grip — you need to encourage more alternative media sites to pop-up, not less. Thanks to this move, the left is helping consolidate conservative media heading into 2020 — which will help Trump.
Second: Jonah Goldberg (National Review/AEI) and Stephen F. Hayes (Weekly Standard EIC), both former FoxNews regulars, are starting a new conservative site. The website right now is Reagan35x.com, with a link to sign up for the Goldberg’s G-File. From what little I’ve seen/read, the plan for the new news site is to start as newsletters and podcasts and build up to a print magazine. Jonah’s last day at National Review was the last day of May, and the new venture is kicking off this month. If you’re curious about the new venture, I’d recommend signing up at the link.
Third: Greg Stohr is reporting that, “Supreme Court likely to issue opinions on Monday and only Monday next week, per its opinion info line. With 27 opinions left, we are looking at upwards of 20 rulings in the last two weeks of June.” If that’s true — the end of the month is going to be full of fireworks at the Supreme Court. Some critical cases are outstanding.
Four: The share of BBB/BB/B rated corporate debt now eclipses the amount of AAA/AA/A rated corporate debt. The quality of debt among corporations is getting worse, and the trendline isn’t improving.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
I dive into the footnotes between Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Clarence Thomas, and what they tell us about the worldview of RBG on the topic of abortion.
If you walk through the aisles of your local grocery store, you might notice some significant changes in recent years. Those changes and the technological disruption they represent are an active form of creative destruction and revolution happening every day.
The David Frenchism vs. Sohrab Ahmari Post-Liberal debate
If you haven’t been following this — and I suspect that’s most everyone since this is mostly a Twitter fight — David French is a senior writer at National Review, and Sohrab Ahmari is the Opinion Page Editor for the New York Post. Before the NYPost, Ahmari wrote for the more neo-conservative Commentary Magazine. Perhaps more importantly, French is a traditional conservative evangelical Christian, and Ahmari is a Catholic.
Ahmari went on a tirade on Twitter after he saw a post for a drag queen reading hour at a local library. Without going into his full broadside, he blamed “David Frenchism” for why the right was losing culture war battles like drag queen reading hours at libraries. French responded and, for the most part, took apart Ahmari’s argument. Ahmari posted his piece at First Things, French responded at National Review.
That happened last week, and I referenced it in the intro, about how I thought it was a dumb internecine fight.
I still believe that.
But it’s consumed the conservative thought leader space, with every significant publication running multiple pieces from their top writers.
When the fight first broke out, I remarked here and on Twitter that I found the entire squabble odd. The attacks against French made little sense since he’s responsible for some of the better legal wins in court against universities (one of the areas Ahmari raged against). What I assumed then, and believe now, is that the entire fight was about elevating Ahmari, First Things Magazine, and (later on) Human Events as acceptable outlets of post-liberal/pro-Trumpian thought.
Kevin D. Williamson described my thoughts perfectly a few days after the fight broke out:
The basic structure of social media makes insults valuable. If Peter insults Paul, then two things can happen: Paul can ignore the insult, which lowers his status and raises that of Peter by establishing that Peter is the sort of man whose insults must be endured while Paul is the sort who must sit there and take it; or Paul can respond to the insult, which lowers his status by forcing him to come down to the level of the insulter and raises Peter’s status by establishing that he is the sort of man whose insults and taunts, no matter how juvenile or trivial, must be responded to.
That dynamic is why you get very silly claims such as the one that David French is knuckling under to the pornographication of our culture by watching Game of Thrones and that the proper political response to such pornographication is the mad and unquestioning embrace of a man who in the course of his long and colorful career has been, among other things, a literal performer in pornographic films. The silliness and the shallowness of the underlying claim does not matter; what matters is that one is being talked about.
The foregoing phenomena are both contributors to and results of the moronization of political language, which, as George Orwell and others have observed, must necessarily lead to the degradation of political thought. This is a golden age of “alpha male” posturing, an era of which Anthony Scaramucci is the minor personification and Donald Trump the major one. And so we have, e.g., Sohrab Ahmari producing manful martial prose about “defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils” — and offering as his natural counterpoint David French, a recipient of the Bronze Star who has spent much of his career literally making a federal case out of it when religious liberties have been violated.
It’s a funny old world.
Perhaps this is my political cynicism showing through, but watching the actions of writers and editors for Human Events and First Things on Twitter, I suspect I’m right.
But even with that being the case — there is a broader more intriguing thing happening. This type of in-fighting on the right isn’t new. It’s more of a feature than a bug. There’s no such thing as a monolithic conservatism or a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” as Hilary Clinton was fond of saying (if that’s true, I’m still waiting for my checks). But in-fighting on the right typically doesn’t happen this loud when they’re the party IN POWER.
Typically, the President in power will coalesce power around him. For Trump, while he’s pulled the Republican Party around him and taken over the party apparatus, he hasn’t made even the slightest dent in the conservative movement. There is no governing Trumpist philosophy. Trump is a person without a driving philosophy, which is why groups are popping up trying to claim that mantle.
Matthew Continetti, the editor-in-chief for the Washington Free Beacon and one of the best historians of conservatism right now, had a fantastic piece detailing how he sees the right broken down right now (must read). Instead of focusing on Trump, Continetti uses four younger Senators to represent four discrete areas of the conservative movement.
- The Jacksonians. Represented by Sen. Tom Cotton (AR). This coalition is the closest to Trump. In a quick summary: The Jacksonians … are individualist, suspicious of federal power, distrustful of foreign entanglement, opposed to taxation but supportive of government spending on the middle class, devoted to the Second Amendment, desire recognition, valorize military service, and believe in the hero who shapes his own destiny. Jacksonians are anti-monopolistic. They oppose special privileges and offices.
- The Reformocons: Represented by Sen. Marco Rubio (FL). Summary: Reform conservatism began toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, with the publication of Yuval Levin’s “Putting Parents First” in The Weekly Standard in 2006 and of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party in 2008. In 2009, Levin founded National Affairs, a quarterly devoted to serious examinations of public policy and political philosophy. Its aim is to nudge the Republican Party to adapt to changing social and economic conditions.
- The Paleos: Represented by Sen. Mike Lee (UT). Summary: The paleos are noninterventionists who, all things being equal, would prefer that America radically reduce her overseas commitments. Though it’s probably not how he’d describe himself, the foremost paleo is Tucker Carlson, who offers a mix of traditional social values, suspicion of globalization, and noninterventionism every weekday on cable television.
- The Post-Liberals: Represented by Josh Hawley (MO). Summary: The post-liberals say that freedom has become a destructive end-in-itself. Economic freedom has brought about a global system of trade and finance that has outsourced jobs, shifted resources to the metropolitan coasts, and obscured its self-seeking under the veneer of social justice. Personal freedom has ended up in the mainstreaming of pornography, alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction, abortion, single-parent families, and the repression of orthodox religious practice and conscience. “When an ideological liberalism seeks to dictate our foreign policy and dominate our religious and charitable institutions, tyranny is the result, at home and abroad,” wrote the signatories to “Against the Dead Consensus,” a post-liberal manifesto of sorts published in First Things in March.
I’d add two more groups to that Continetti list:
- Libertarians: Represented most closely by Sen. Rand Paul (KY) and Rep. Justin Amash (WI). I won’t summarize them here, as I think they’re mostly self-explanatory.
- Traditional conservative-classical liberal: Represented by Sen. Ben Sasse (NE). This group represents many of the same impulses of Jacksonians and Reformocons, with an emphasis on free markets and neutral rules. David French falls here.
In all, that’s about six broad groups, all with sub-categories. Trump didn’t fuse them, nor does he ascribe to any single group. Continetti says Trump is more Jacksonian, but I know for a fact that both the Paleos and Post-Liberals are trying to claim some form of Trumpism.
Of those groups, I’m most opposed to the Paleos and Post-Liberals. The reason being is that both the Paleos and the Post-Liberals see government power as a net positive to get what they want. The Paleos see government as a means to enforce what they desire economically, and the Post-Liberals see government as the answer to cultural issues.
As an example, Tucker Carlson, the main paleo outside Patrick Buchanan, went out of his way this week to praise the newly released economic plan of… Elizabeth Warren. In his monologue, he said Warren’s ideas were Donald Trump at his best.
Donald Trump is not — and never will be — a paleo-con in the mold of Patrick Buchanan. This fact is true no matter how much Tucker Carlson and Ben Domenech at the Federalist try to make it otherwise.
The reason Trump doesn’t fit hard into any of the above options is that he’s pure political instinct. He wants a win. Trump understands the necessary things needed for gains: judges, tax breaks, and immigration, but he’s not approaching any of those areas with a governing philosophy. He’s approaching from the angle of getting wins and the best media narrative that lets him beat up on Democrats.
The Post-Liberals are the newest group. And by new — I mean they’ve only existed as an intellectual force for a few years, and on social media for a few months. So they’ve sent out some of their more well-known writers to engage the more significant organizations on the right to gain prominence (hence attacking David French-ism).
But it’s hard to call a group that wants to use the government to solve cultural issues very conservative. They’re more of a moderate version of progressives — seeking to use the same illiberal tools of the left to “win” cultural victories.
I get this to some extent. Politics is downstream from culture. These particular Catholics are pointing to winning cultural areas back as a means to transform the culture. But they’re wrong.
If politics is downstream from culture, then culture is downstream from religion, and religion is downstream from both family and personal faith.
If the culture is wrong, and that’s messing up politics, the problem isn’t government control of culture. The problem is the religion that culture is sitting on as a foundation. And if religion doesn’t have the power to affect culture — that’s not because of the government, that’s due to the ineffectual faith of those in the religion.
Blaming the government for religion’s lack of power is like listening to a social-justice-warrior in a grievance studies department. Except those aggrieved are the religious, not the intersectionality nuts of various college departments.
Ahmari and the First Things crowd are seeking government power over culture directly at the moment when the Catholic Church in America is at its weakest. That’s not the government’s fault. That’s the church’s fault.
If you want to fix the culture — fix the church, fix families, and fix individuals. And I don’t just mean the Catholic church. Protestants have a mountain of work too. If you fix that, there won’t be a debate between David French or Sohrab Ahmari — everyone will push forward and impact the culture like David French (except with regards to his awful movie opinions).
Links of the week
Joe Biden is the Democratic Mitt Romney – David Byler, The Washington Post
HBO’s Chernobyl: Devastating Indictment of Socialism, Not Trumpism – Kyle Smith, National Review
The Pointless Argument Tearing Conservatives Apart – Rich Lowry, Politico Magazine
Social-Media Censorship Is the Product of Culture and Commerce: Free choice has created a challenge the law can’t overcome. – David French, National Review
The DC Dyke March has an anti-Semitism problem – Becket Adams, The Washington Examiner
Gene editing tech is a gamble with our future: Crunch time for CRISPR – James Adams, The Spectator
Mass Shooting Delusions: “We must act now” is not a gun control policy, let alone an argument. – Jacob Sullum, Reason Magazine
How an internet mob falsely painted a Chipotle employee as racist – John Blake, CNN
Why limited-government conservatism is likely to make a comeback after Trump – Philip Klein, Washington Examiner
Former cop Scot Peterson to remain jailed after his arrest in school shooting – Tonya Alanez, The Orlando Sentinel
The Obstruction Mess Was Preordained: It makes no sense to expect the executive branch to investigate itself. Congress should have stepped in. – Charles C. W. Cooke, The Atlantic
China’s Debt Hangover – Macro Polo
US Catholic Church reports a big rise in sex-abuse allegations – David Crary, The Associated Press
All-American Despair: For the past two decades, a suicide epidemic fueled by guns, poverty, and isolation has swept across the West, with middle-aged men dying in record numbers – Stephen Rodrick, Rolling Stone
O.J.’s Lawyer: F. Lee Bailey: Even though he’s barred from practicing law in several states, absolutely no one can stop him from roasting his enemies. – Wil S. Hylton, The Huffington Post Highline
Requiem for a Sports Bettor: Gambling on sports has never been more high-stakes or more accessible. But with the invasion of Europe-based companies in the game, the pros are feeling squeezed and routinely getting banned from plying their trade. Is this the end of the professional sports bettor? – David Hill, The Ringer
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
WASHINGTON — Warning that the promise of publicity and notoriety is often exactly what motivates a run for the White House in the first place, media ethics groups called on news outlets Thursday to stop releasing the names of presidential candidates, part of an effort to stem the tide of copycats. “When a person launches a bid for president and then receives widespread media coverage, it only inspires other unstable individuals out there to do the exact same thing,” said media ethicist Payton Howard, who recommended reporters continue to cover announcements of candidacy when they have news value, but avoid naming the person campaigning for the presidency.
“These announcements have been happening nearly every week, often accompanied by some sort of policy proposal that has been written in an attempt to justify the action. But when those ideas get repeated in the media, they can inspire a whole new crop of imitators who seek the attention that comes from a presidential campaign. It is irresponsible to make celebrities out of these people. They are clearly very sick.” At press time, it appeared the new media strategy failed when former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu announced he was running for president.
Thanks for reading!