The term “culture war” is most often associated with Pat Buchanan, the founder of this magazine who invoked it during his speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention. But it was actually coined a year earlier by a sociologist named James Davison Hunter, who published a book called Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. Hunter’s neologism was meant to capture arguments over social issues like abortion and sex education, which he saw as part of a greater clash of visions between religious traditionalism and secular progressivism.
“Culture war” was appropriated by Hunter from the Bismarckian Kulturkampf, which translates to “cultural struggle,” and then sharpened into a “war,” in recognition of how visceral the fight felt to the activists involved. It’s a term that’s at once both redundant and striking. It’s redundant because just about every war is a culture war; mass violence, whether literal or figurative, is rarely waged between people who share the same vision of the world. And it’s striking because culture properly practiced isn’t something that should bring anyone to blows. In a healthy society, culture is cherished, preserved, exchanged, studied. To wage an internecine war over culture seems disfigured, even deranged.
Alas, that’s where we find ourselves today. America is currently in the midst of her most frenzied culture war since at least the 1960s. And over the past month, it’s seemed like barely a day has gone by without some depressing bare-knuckled skirmish breaking out: Ron DeSantis being smeared by 60 Minutes ostensibly over his vaccine rollout but really over his success in beating back COVID without draconian lockdowns; James O’Keefe pushing a video allegedly exposing CNN’s bias only to be banned from Twitter; the Derek Chauvin trial and Maxine Waters’s call for confrontation. This war has become close to total, having sucked in everything from pandemic health measures to children’s toys. Even America’s pastime, Major League Baseball, has enlisted in the fight, pulling its All-Star Game out of Atlanta over Georgia’s supposedly punitive voter law.
The battlefields in this culture war seem endless, a result of both our consumer capitalism and pervasive media exposure. America’s numerous brands have provided a long list of targets for the warring sides, everything from Dr. Seuss to Disney Plus. Grizzled Twitter veterans raise quivering cigarettes to their lips as they tell tales of the Great Potato Head Battle of 2021. Even Star Wars has been caught in the crossfire. Whereas in Buchanan’s day, the culture war was waged largely over issues—gay marriage, school prayer—today it’s being fought over products and personalities. The former has been subjected to a relentless reform campaign by the left, which seeks to overhaul our culture and erase everything deemed to be unfit. The latter are being canceled in accordance with this revolution, which brooks no dissent to its greater project.
Hunter saw America’s culture war as fought between traditionalists who view truth as “rooted in an authority outside of the self” and progressives for whom “freedom is predominant,” especially freedom from tradition. The biggest difference now is that the latter side has abandoned much of that same liberty it once claimed to cherish. The traditionalists tend to be religious or at least respectful of religion, yet the real theocrats these days are to be found on the left. Their objective isn’t so much to liberate marginalized groups as to leverage those groups into a hierarchy. Think of it as a kind of unofficial social credit system: the more favored identity subsets you belong to, the better your evaluative score and the more qualified you are to comment on and participate in society.
That’s what makes this particular fight unique. America has seen plenty of culture wars throughout her history, among them Prohibition, which encompassed clashes between Protestants and Catholics, rural America and urban. Yet that was still ultimately a debate over what the country should look like, dry or wet, Carrie Nation or Lois Long, all firmly rooted in the American experience. Whereas in the current culture war, one side is no longer trying to shape America so much as transcend it. The melting pot, freedom of speech, content of character—all of this is being sacrificed on the altar of a totalizing identity politics. And since that same side is also doggedly imperialistic, seeking to stretch its agenda over even the Monopoly board in your closet, good old-fashioned pluralism has been effectively ruled out. The two cultures can’t coexist because one insists on fully remaking the other.
It’s a bizarre state of affairs, and often an absurd one. Personally I’d much rather be talking about the stimulus bill or the Chevron doctrine than the sex of the mustachioed, googly-eyed, potato-shaped hunk of plastic in the toy chest. It’s a lament you hear often: Politics should be about economic issues; leave the cultural stuff out of it. And it’s an understandable sentiment, perhaps even an aspirational one. Yet it also isn’t the reality of the moment. As 60 Minutes and the MLB have demonstrated, politics can’t so neatly be cordoned off from culture. And those sports games and TV shows exert far greater influence over our imaginations than any election or law. The stickiest bonds in our society are not political but cultural.
Culture matters; it matters immensely. And while you may not be interested in culture war, culture war is…all right, I’d sooner run into traffic than finish that sentence. But this is where we are. Will this arbitrary and bullying and authoritarian march continue? Or will non-woke institutions leverage enough power to fend it off? These questions will, regrettably, define our politics in the years ahead.Read More
Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes (Crown: 2021), 528 pages.
To Americans today who are hailing Joe Biden as a “transformational” president, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s Lucky is a sobering reminder of just how close Donald Trump came to being re-elected. By contrast, to those who view Biden as something less than transformational, Lucky suggests that they were sold a bill of goods.
Allen and Parnes, whose book Shattered described the appalling dysfunction of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, are seasoned journalists whose many contacts with insiders from both the Democratic and Republican campaigns enable them to reconstruct key moments in Joe Biden’s path to victory in November 2020. Employing a kind of fly-on-the-wall style of writing, Allen and Parnes make no efforts to disguise their anti-Trump sentiments.
Nonetheless, Lucky provides a revealing glimpse of the drama behind Biden’s march to the White House. In 2020, they conclude, Biden “caught every imaginable break,” yet his victory fell short of a slam dunk. Winning the White House was offset by Democratic losses in House seats and in state legislatures. Biden, Allen and Parnes observe, “had no coattails.”
Allen and Parnes document that, by February 2020, the party’s centrist core faced the “worst-case scenario” of Bernie Sanders winning the nomination. Meanwhile, Biden, “the national front-runner… had bumbled through his first three debate performances.” He was out of money, he had dumped his campaign manager, his aides “were at one another’s throats,” and Michael Bloomberg was breathing down his neck.
Then came the turning point. Majority whip Jim Clyburn, a Democratic godfather and consigliere all rolled into one, endorsed Biden before the South Carolina primary, where he then crushed Sanders. Clyburn’s endorsement and its shock waves carried Biden through Super Tuesday, when Democratic voters rallied behind the former vice president as the only hope for derailing Sanders. Nobody in Biden’s camp “had ever seen such an abrupt reversal of fortune. Not in a political race with stakes this high,” Allen and Parnes note. One of Clyburn’s colleagues told him: “Damn, Jim, you’ve got more stroke than we thought.”
What Allen and Parnes call “the Clyburn effect” catapulted Biden to the national convention. After Biden surged to victory on Super Tuesday, endorsements from Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke quickly followed. In early April, Sanders threw his support behind Biden.
By then, “Obama world” had taken charge of his campaign. Neither Obama nor his “crowd” had been thrilled with Biden’s candidacy in the first place. “The invasion of the Obama people,” Allen and Parnes concede, signalled a huge turnabout in Biden’s fortunes.
Yet the real game-changer was COVID. The pandemic brought the economy to a halt, shut down businesses, and put Americans out of work. Biden used it as an excuse to retreat to the basement of his Delaware home, claiming he didn’t want to get sick or infect anyone. Some staffers complained about the optics of sequestering “your dumb uncle in the basement,” but on the other hand, Biden’s retreat from impromptu encounters with voters reduced the chances of him going off script. On March 10, in front of reporters, Biden had called a Detroit auto worker a “horse’s ass” and told him “you’re full of shit.” Along with Biden’s other verbal gaffes, an outburst like this gave his handlers all the reasons in the world to curtail his public appearances.
As a Biden aide admitted: “COVID is the best thing that ever happened to him.” An unnamed Trump official told Allen and Parnes that “until the COVID thing came, we were winning four hundred electoral votes.” Biden could look compassionate and responsible in his self-quarantine, while the very-public Donald Trump appeared to many voters to discount the seriousness of the coronavirus.
As for Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential nominee, readers of Lucky will be reminded that in December 2019, she left the race for the Democratic nomination after staff infighting, polling in the single digits, and with donors fleeing her campaign. Allen and Parnes write that Harris had “cultivated more enemies and adversaries than friends in home-state politics.” She “churned through aides like a woodchipper.” Even the Black Caucus was “lukewarm, at best, on Harris.” It’s nothing short of astonishing to realize this same woman, who “wasn’t perceived as a team player” within her own party, is now a heartbeat (in a 78-year-old’s chest) away from the presidency.
As gripping and eye-opening as Lucky is, it cannot be considered the full story of how Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. It seems a tad odd that Allen and Parnes only refer to Trump’s Operation Warp Speed in their preface, and not by name. There is no mention of Tara Reade, who in March 2020 accused Biden of sexually assaulting her back in 1993 when she worked in his Senate office. It took the New York Times 19 days to run the story, and then only to cast doubt on Reade’s honesty. For a party identified closely with the #MeToo mantra that every woman must be believed, it’s mystifying how Allen and Parnes chose not to write about the controversy generated by Reade’s allegations.
Nor is there mention of Mike Podhorzer’s clandestine campaign throughout 2020 to ensure Trump lost the election. It wasn’t until February 4, 2021, that Americans learned from Time magazine about the shadow effort on the part of Democratic operatives, organized labor, big business, Never Trump Republicans, and social activists to oppose Trump’s alleged assault on democracy through skillful use of the media and election laws. Podhorzer’s campaign billed itself as bipartisan and intended solely to defend the “integrity” of the election, but its anti-Trump animus was never in doubt.
Last, but not least, Twitter and Facebook took the “unusual steps,” in the Washington Post’s own words, of blocking an October article in the New York Post about Hunter Biden’s laptop and its emails, while also temporarily locking the accounts of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the New York Post, and the Trump campaign. The tech giants defended the move, saying that they didn’t want a “hack and leak” situation swinging an election. Media efforts to keep the Hunter Biden news from the eyes of voters surely deserved some attention in Lucky.
In other words, Joe Biden may have been lucky thanks to the timing of the pandemic, but he also had powerful forces working behind the scenes to get him across the finish line. Allen and Parnes are right that Biden’s “bland message and blank agenda” enabled many voters to project onto him their hopes for a better future. Many imagined that Biden offered a return to a pre-Trump era. The reality, as 2021 confirms, is different. Amid talk of statehood for the District of Columbia, an unprecedented $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, and legislation designed to legalize ballot harvesting and protect gender identity under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many Americans justifiably might wonder if this is what they voted for.
Ian Dowbiggin is a professor of history at the University of Prince Edward Island.Read More
There is no shortage of news coverage about the immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexican border, with much of the coverage focusing on the horrific conditions in which unaccompanied minors are being kept.
What is almost never discussed, however, is how the lack of interior enforcement of our immigration laws within the United States fails to deter and actually serves to encourage massive levels of illegal immigration. What is also ignored is how this lack of interior enforcement undermines national security, public safety, public health, and the jobs and wages of Americans.
Consider that if you ask most folks how many “border states” the U.S. has, you are likely to be told that there are four: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
In reality the United States has 50 border states. Any state that lies along the northern and the southern border or along America’s 95,000 miles of coastline is also a border state, as are those states that have international airports. As I have written about before, the breakdown of the Southwest border is only the tip of the iceberg.
Meanwhile, radical Democrats are now calling for the dismantling of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Biden administration has taken the unprecedented measure of issuing an executive order prohibiting ICE agents from making warrantless arrests of illegal aliens. Given this and the Biden administration opposing other such security measures, it can truly be said that “Biden Cripples Immigration Law Enforcement” because his executive orders handcuff agents and set law violators free.
On February 18, 2021 the Washington Post reported that a “Biden memo for ICE officers points to fewer deportations and strict oversight.” According to the Post, ICE agents “will need preapproval from a senior manager before trying to deport anyone who is not a recent border crosser, a national security threat or a criminal offender with an aggravated-felony conviction.” The Biden administration expects this policy “to result in a steep drop in immigration arrests and deportations.”
In other words, with a mere stroke of his pen, Biden has virtually eliminated the statutory authority that ICE agents have to make warrantless arrests of suspected illegal aliens. This sends a clear message to the agents, that anything they do can (and likely will) be used against them.
Furthermore so-called “sanctuary” policies implemented by numerous mayors and even some governors further undermine any remaining vestiges of interior enforcement and hence undermine national security and public safety. Sanctuary states now provide driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. New York state even went so far as to block ICE and Border Patrol access to its DMV database, Cuomo’s gift to ISIS, the drug cartels, and human traffickers.
Under Biden’s policies, the Border Patrol is once again engaged in the “Catch and Release” of aliens they arrest. Upon release, these aliens head to towns and cities across the United States. Some have been told to appear for hearings years from now and some have not even been given court dates. Aliens who fail to appear for immigration hearings will have nothing to fear from immigration authorities because of the Biden executive orders and policies.
For decades the interior enforcement mission of immigration law enforcement under both Democrat and Republican administrations has been all but ignored. This has, in my judgement, been the biggest failure of the immigration system and is really a failure by design. It has suffered from an abject lack of resources that has done untold damage and, in my judgement and even in the judgement of the 9/11 Commission, contributed to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and other terror attacks mounted in the United States by international terrorists.
This lack of interior enforcement also hobbles efforts to combat human trafficking, transnational gangs, and drug trafficking organizations. ICE agents are supposed to investigate and penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. ICE agents are assigned to various multi-agency task forces such as the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, where I was assigned for the final ten years of my career with the former United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In November 2001, just weeks after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I testified before the House Immigration Reform Caucus, then chaired by Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado. On December 10, 2001, he entered my prepared testimony for that hearing into the Congressional Record. The focus of that hearing, and consequently my testimony, was to explore the failures of the immigration system that contributed to the ability of the terrorists to enter the United States, embed themselves in our country, and prepare to carry out the most horrific terror attack in our nation’s history.
Among the issues that I raised was my concept of the “Immigration Enforcement Tripod.” Under this concept, the Border Patrol enforces our immigration laws between ports of entry, interdicting illegal immigration and the smuggling of contraband into the United States; the Immigration inspectors (now known as Customs and Border Protection inspectors) enforce our immigration laws at ports of entry by applying the immigration laws during the inspections process; and, finally, comprising the third leg of the enforcement tripod are the Immigration special agents (Now Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents) who enforce the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States, backing up both the Border Patrol and the CBP Inspectors by arresting aliens who evade the Border Patrol and the inspections process conducted at ports of entry by entering the United States without inspection. ICE agents are also supposed to arrest aliens who violate their terms of lawful admission into the United States.
ICE agents also conduct investigations into immigration fraud where aliens may enter into fraud marriages with U.S. citizens or lawful immigrant aliens in order to acquire lawful immigrant status or seek visas by concealing or altering material facts in their applications. The 9/11 Commission, to which I provided testimony, identified immigration fraud and visa fraud as the key methods of entry and embedding employed by not only the 9/11 hijacker terrorists, but other terrorists as well.
Immigration fraud enables aliens to circumvent measures that are designed to combat illegal immigration. The border wall that has received so much attention can be easily defeated by an item that you can place in their jacket pocket or hold in your hand: a green card.
Similarly, while so many have, over the years, asked me if mandatory E-Verify would end illegal immigration once and for all by forcing employers to stop hiring illegal aliens, the answer is that through immigration fraud, an alien who acquires a green card or other appropriate visa can legally work in the United States, enabling them to fly through the E-Verify program.
The only way to combat immigration fraud is to have an adequate number of ICE agents who have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively. Today ICE has only about 6,000 agents for the entire country and most of them are engaged in non-immigration related investigations.
The official commission report, “9/11 and Terrorist Travel,” included several observations that are important to consider. Page 61 warned that “human smugglers have facilitated the travel of terrorists associated with more than a dozen extremist groups.” Page 98 observes that immigration fraud is a primary method for terrorists to remain in the U.S. after securing entry. For example, “Mahmoud Abouhalima, involved in both the World Trade Center and landmarks plots, received temporary residence under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers (SAW) program, after falsely claiming that he picked beans in Florida.” Moreover, the report warns, simple immigration benefit fraud can and has been used by terrorists to prolong their residency in the U.S. “In many cases, the act of filing for an immigration benefit sufficed to permit the alien to remain in the country until the petition was adjudicated.”
Consider how so many of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and expectations of privacy have been sliced away in the name of “national security” in the post-9/11 world while a succession of administrations have ignored the findings and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
Harry Truman understood accountability when he placed that placard on the desk in the Oval Office that read, “The Buck Stops Here!” Today it would appear that the Biden administration is obstructing the enforcement of the Immigration and Nationality Act undermining national security, public safety, public health, and in direct opposition to those critical findings and recommendations of the commission that was convened to protect us from future terrorist attacks. It needs to be held accountable.
Michael W. Cutler was a senior special agent for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.Read More
With former President Trump out of Washington, America First populists find themselves, as they were before 2016, more or less without a credible advocate in the nation’s capital. With demand far outstripping supply for just this sort of thing, it’s a seller’s market, so some of the new entrants appear to be cutting corners hoping nobody’s going to notice the product defects.
Which is to say, if the things you liked about the Trump administration were stinginess with the second round of COVID checks, the Platinum Plan, and the quasi-Christian stylings of Paula White, you’ll love the new think tank announced last week, the America First Policy Institute.
Trump himself said last week in a statement that they “have my full support as they work not only to preserve the historic accomplishments of my administration, but also to propel the America First Agenda into the future.”
The president and CEO is Brooke Rollins, who has supported amnesty and was instrumental in persuading the White House to take a softer line toward the rioting last year. Mike Allen of Axios reports that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are informal advisors.
What you won’t see looking at the AFPI’s website are indications of strength on the three main issues that got Trump elected: trade, immigration, and opposition to foreign wars.
The blurb for the “Center for Homeland Security and Immigration” decries “efforts to dissuade social integration of immigrants,” as well as “narratives proclaiming American iniquity [and] abuse of our asylum system,” without even mentioning illegal immigration.
In the realm of foreign policy, the two most prominent names are Keith Kellogg, formerly Mike Pence’s national security advisor, and John Ratcliffe, former Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe is an Iran hawk and Kellogg wrote an op-ed in Breitbart in 2017 saying “do not listen” to those calling for Trump to follow through on his commitment to end the war in Afghanistan.
Perhaps one could excuse the Wilsonian word salad in the security portion of their mission statement—“freedom’s cause in every part of the globe depends upon a strong America”—if it was being led by people whose records demonstrated that they construed American interests narrowly. It’s impossible to have that confidence here.
The biggest name on the roster is probably Larry Kudlow, who is a staunch free-trader opposed to social spending, not exactly the type you’d expect to champion creative ideas for restoring the American middle class. Other hires are even more puzzling, like Javon Price, who came from the anti-Trump Republican group GenZGOP. About Paula White, who will chair the “Center for American Values,” the less said the better.
To the extent some of these Trump-aligned PACs and policy outfits draw fundraising away from the moribund institutions of D.C.’s conservative movement, perhaps there’s a case for them. But it’s hard to look at this list of staffers and conclude it’s a populist endeavor.
Details are slim about what is going to come out of this new group, but it is striking how backward-looking they have been in their initial media promotion, with Rollins and Chairwoman Linda McMahon talking about how they’ll be defending the policy legacies of the Trump administration. This may be useful for maintaining Trump’s influence in the GOP, or for the alleged political aspirations of Brooke Rollins to run for governor of Texas, but not much else. I think most America First conservatives would admit the Trump administration’s policy record was decidedly mixed.
One could even argue many of the people involved in this project share the blame for Trump’s loss in 2020. From Kudlow advising against a second round of COVID checks, to the Rollins/Kushner softness on immigration, these sorts of deviations from the populist line probably played a role in many of the midwesterners who voted for Trump the first time staying home. Whatever shadiness there may have been in the election this November, it doesn’t exculpate the people around Trump whose decisions allowed it to be so close in the first place.
NeverTrumper Pete Wehner claimed to Bloomberg that the AFPI was attempting to rehabilitate Trump’s reputation after two impeachments, but at least to the Republican Party’s base, no such rehabilitation is needed. What is needed are institutions to carry forward the vision Trump’s success in 2016 pointed toward, but it looks like we’re going to have to keep waiting for that.Read More
One of the more startling manifestations of the Biden administration’s subserviency to liberal advocacy groups is its sudden dismissal of the Commission on Unalienable Rights appointed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the withdrawal of the Commission’s measured and thoughtful report.
The uninitiated may be puzzled by the State Department’s involvement in the issuance of publications about fundamental rights. The recent report of President Donald Trump’s “1776 Commission,” also cast into the wastebasket by the new administration, was criticized as an illegitimate effort to propagate an official version of history. It was intended as a riposte to the New York Times’s “1619 Project.” It was a work of official propaganda, though scarcely an unprecedented one; witness the publications issued at the time of the Bicentennial of the Constitution, which no one regarded as illegitimate.
The State Department’s effort enjoyed much greater legitimacy. Foreign policy realists, most notably the late George Kennan, have adopted as their watchword the cautionary declaration of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1821:
America, in the assembly of nations, has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own…She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….
Kennan had once urged that the Foreign Service “desist from all sorts of moralizing public judgment about the internal quality or propriety of Latin American governments,” sharing William Howard Taft’s view about Mexico in 1913: “We cannot make the qualifications of Sunday school superintendents square with the necessities of the situation where anarchy prevails.”
In the wake of the Second World War, the U.S. Congress adopted two foundational documents. The first was the Charter of the United Nations which declares in Article II(7) that “Nothing contained in this Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.” This was drawn from the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 which brought an end to the religious wars in Europe, rebellions by religious dissenters within states being unsustainable without foreign assistance.
The second was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which all members of the U.N. (save only for Saudi Arabia) including the communist countries were prepared to accept at least as aspirational, which was limited to political rights, including those of property, free elections, and religion. Subsequent covenants attempting to define economic and social rights were adopted by some countries, but not the United States.
These documents were supplemented in 1975 by the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Final Act) signed by 30 or so European and Atlantic nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union. Article VI(1) of the Helsinki Final Act pledged adherence to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and only to obligations “as set forth in International Covenants on Human Rights by which they may be bound,” expressly referring to “fundamental freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, and belief.”
Subsequently, the State Department during the Carter Administration set up a human rights agency to monitor compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, whose operations were extended beyond its signatories to all the members of the U.N. by an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act in 1979. This was an unusual innovation, since it was not hitherto thought to be the function of diplomats to systematically criticize the domestic policies of the nations to which they were accredited. Reports on human rights had their genesis in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, referring to torture, detention without trial, and like abuses, subsequently supplemented by other statutes, including the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
The report commissioned by Secretary Pompeo thus bore a direct relationship to the duties of the Department, as defined by statute and arguably by the Helsinki Final Act. The chair of his commission, Professor Mary Ann Glendon of the Harvard Law School, was the author of The World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which discusses the origins of the Universal Declaration and the limitations on it imposed to secure universal ratification. The report carefully discussed this history, urging that in American foreign policy and in the human rights country reports priority be given to the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified by the United States Congress and those recognized in the congressionally enacted International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and that attention be given to the rights of national self-determination and subsidiarity recognized in both the U.N. Charter and the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
Upon appointment of the commission, and on delivery of its report, a cacophony of organized criticism arose from dozens of American abortion rights and gay rights organizations. It is manifest that the “rights” these organizations exist to defend were not those on which the members of the United Nations and the U.S. Congress agreed in ratifying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So-called “reproductive rights” were anathema to religious authorities and governments in Roman Catholic, Muslim, and some ex-communist countries, including Russia, Poland, and Hungary. These rights had never been enacted or approved by most of the countries of the U.N., nor by the United States Congress, nor the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, and are the object of continued controversy in the United States and even in international religious bodies such as the Anglican communion. Their acceptance in the United States, such as it is, rests on 5-4 opinions of the Supreme Court with little or no foundation in any authoritative text. The late conflict-of-laws professor Brainerd Currie deplored the fact that “legal scholars and to a lesser degree the courts under their influence because of the compulsion of internationalist and altruist ideals have guiltily suppressed the natural instincts of community self-interest.”
Secretary Antony Blinken’s statement throwing the report in the trashcan and directing inclusion of “gay rights” and “reproductive rights” in human rights reports discusses none of this background or these considerations. Indeed, it was such as to suggest that he had not read the report. When advocacy groups or the campaign staff imported into the White House whistled, he jumped. His justification for discarding the report in its entirety read as follows: “Human rights are co-equal; there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others.”
One wonders whether this logic is to extend to the “right to keep and bear arms” or the right to commercial speech, both “discovered” by majorities of the American Supreme Court larger than those in the Webster abortion case or the Obergefell gay marriage case. Rights talk is a game that any number can play, as was shown by the holdover Wilhelmine judiciary in its undermining of the Weimar Republic. The proliferation of “human rights” has dangers for international as well as domestic order; as Professor Mark Mazower observed in his Governing the World: The History of An Idea:
A world in which violations of human rights trump the sanctity of borders may turn out to produce more wars, more massacres and more instability…the bright line between war and peace enunciated in the U.N. Charter has been blurred. The boundaries between domestic and foreign, legal and illegal, civilian and combatant have become confused as never before…a vocabulary of permissions, a means of asserting power and control that normalizes the debatable and justifies the exception.
There is indeed a hierarchy of rights, defined by the inscription on our first secretary of state’s tomb and in the rotunda of his memorial, and recognized also in the practice of our other great secretaries of state: John Quincy Adams in the passage quoted above, Charles Evans Hughes in his robust defenses of free speech, and George C. Marshall in defining our alliance with the democracies of Western Europe. It is distressing to see a pygmy in the seat of giants.
George Liebmann is the author, among other works, of Diplomacy Between the Wars: Five Diplomats and the Making of the Modern World (Bloomsbury: 2019) and The Last American Diplomat: John D. Negroponte and His Times, 1960-2019 (Bloomsbury: 2015).Read More
Conservatives are rightly vexed by “woke capitalism,” exasperated at the ways in which big American corporations are increasingly weighing in on sociopolitical issues—invariably, it seems, in favor of the progressive left. Certainly, many businesses are under pressure to do so.
Sometimes that pressure is open and public. Indeed, it can make national news. But other times it is less so. Many Americans are likely unaware of the coordinated campaigns by shareholder activists—equity owners in a corporation interested in something other than financial gain—to insert their political priorities into those same corporate boardrooms through environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) shareholder proposals.
In his recent and timely book The Dictatorship of Woke Capital: How Political Correctness Captured Big Business, Stephen R. Soukup calls shareholder proposals “the primary tool of the corporate activist”—and for good reason. Any shareholder, provided they meet certain requirements, may submit proposals to corporate management to be voted on by other shareholders at the company’s annual meeting. These are typically written in the form of a request or recommendation. Large institutional investors (index funds, public pensions, etc.) hold outsized voting power, and many rely on third-party advisory services for recommendations on how they should vote.
Activists, keen on influencing powerful companies to adopt their sociopolitical priorities, buy shares in corporations simply to file proposals that further those priorities. Importantly, the objective isn’t always necessarily to win a majority vote. Proposals that fail, yet still receive substantial or increased support, signal momentum on a particular ESG issue and put pressure on management. Sometimes a company will elect to negotiate on a proposal beforehand to preempt such a vote.
The 2021 Proxy Preview
The 2021 proxy season—the period during which many corporations hold their annual meetings—is in full swing, and nowhere is the extent of ESG shareholder activism more apparent than in the Proxy Preview 2021 report (available from Politico here). Considered the “Bible for socially progressive foundations, religious groups, pension funds, and tax-exempt organizations,” it details hundreds of ESG proposals filed for this year’s proxy season, with proposal statuses current as of mid-February.
The report also provides a useful overview of the people and organizations most heavily involved in progressive ESG shareholder activism. Dozens of proponents—nonprofits, labor unions, asset managers, and others—submitted proposals, many of which were in turn coordinated or otherwise supported by additional groups. The report singles out the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (a labor union) and four nonprofits—the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Ceres, the Center for Political Accountability, and the Investor Environmental Health Network (a program of Clean Production Action)—for particular acknowledgment.
One group that produced Proxy Preview 2021 was also the report’s most prolific proposal proponent: a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called As You Sow. It is probably the most well-known shareholder activist nonprofit in the country. According to a tracker on its website, as of mid-April it had filed 76 ESG resolutions with 65 public companies for 2021.
As You Sow’s 2020 annual report disclosed $11.8 million in revenue, with approximately 96 percent coming from “foundation and sponsorships” sources. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, As You Sow is not required to publicly disclose its donors, but some larger ones in recent years include the Wallace Global Fund, the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation, the Roddenberry Foundation, the Park Foundation, and the Battery Foundation.
The Proxy Preview report breaks down proposals into each of the three ESG categories, along with numerous subcategories, and these provide a comprehensive elucidation of woke capitalism’s vision for corporate America. Just two of the report’s 92 pages are given over to 23 “conservative” proposals—an illustration of just how ideologically one-sided the world of ESG shareholder activism is. Most conservative proposals came from the National Center for Public Policy Research and its Free Enterprise Project, headed by Justin Danhof, a prominent national expert on the issue.
Although readers are encouraged to browse the report for themselves, a brief sampling of proposals gives a good sense of what America’s public companies have been facing from ESG shareholders this year.
Dozens of proposals were filed on climate change—the dominant environmental issue—and the report notes that the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Ceres “coordinates nearly all these proposals.” At least 18 companies—including CarMax, United Parcel Service (UPS), and Domino’s Pizza—received proposals seeking a report on how each intends to reduce its “contribution to climate change and align its operations” with the Paris Agreement. Major energy producers like Chevron, Phillips 66, and ConocoPhillips were targeted by proposals on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The “biggest new development on climate change,” the report notes, is a campaign called Say on Climate, which is an initiative supported by billionaire British hedge fund manager Chris Hohn’s Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. It campaigns for companies to issue net-zero emissions transition plans and then submit those plans to annual shareholder review. It is an international campaign, and the U.S. effort is being spearheaded by As You Sow, which plans to file hundreds of resolutions with public companies unless they “voluntarily adopt the initiative.”
Social proposals cover a variety of different issues, but those related to race and diversity are perhaps the clearest theme of 2021. The Proxy Preview notes that the Black Lives Matter movement prompted diversity proposals to double from 2020. Some—like those submitted by New York City’s public pension funds—focus on getting companies to publicly disclose employee diversity data, while others go further and “demand proof of effective diversity and inclusion programs.”
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Change to Win labor federation (of which SEIU is a member) filed proposals at eight large financial institutions seeking a “racial equity audit,” and similar proposals were filed at other companies. NorthStar Asset Management submitted a proposal to PayPal encouraging an assessment of (among other things) whether the company fosters a “cultural hierarchy through perceived pressure to use ‘whitened’ names . . . [or] to adopt ‘white-centric’ physical appearance standards.”
The Nathan Cummings Foundation—a $450 million private foundation—zeroed in on police support. Specifically, it submitted a proposal to Target Corporation arguing that the company’s support for local police could “adversely affect shareholder value.” Indeed, according to the foundation, the mere fact that “Target continues its partnerships with law enforcement,” including “charitable giving to police foundations across the country,” provides “both legitimacy and funding for practices that can exacerbate racial inequity.”
Corporate Governance Proposals
Diversity also plays a role in corporate governance proposals, with approximately 30 resolutions typically asking companies either to adopt a diversity policy for their board of directors or to produce a report detailing how they will increase board diversity. To be sure, a diverse board can be an asset to a corporation, but critically these proposals appear to limit the definition of “diversity” to only gender and racial/ethnic categories. This excludes the myriad other measures of human diversity (age, personal or professional background, life experience, political ideology, etc.) that likely provide more real value to board composition than superficial characteristics like skin color alone.
Finally, and in what is perhaps a glimpse of American capitalism’s ultimate destination as envisioned by ESG activists, a whole class of proposals supported by a nonprofit called the Shareholder Commons seeks to have companies like BlackRock, Caterpillar, Alphabet (Google), and Amazon legally recast themselves as public benefit corporations. Doing so would allow them to prioritize the interests of other “stakeholders” over the interests of their own shareholders, “even when it means surrendering total financial return at an individual company.” This is woke capitalism at its logical terminus: shareholders submitting proposals against those shareholders’ own financial interests.
The Conservative Path Forward
Recent polling by Scott Rasmussen suggests a majority of Americans oppose companies taking positions on political issues. Frustrated that many are nevertheless doing so, however, some conservatives have called for boycotting the offending company’s products or services, or otherwise trying to punish them through disengagement. While the frustration is understandable—and vocally dissatisfied customers can certainly be effective—such actions in isolation may well be counterproductive over the long term.
Instead, as Danhof and others have prominently argued, conservatives should prioritize engaging directly with companies that have drifted inappropriately and unnecessarily into politics. Shareholder votes are one avenue through which this can be done. The lopsided ideological breakdown of the Proxy Preview’s catalog of proposals—where conservative ones amounted to all of 5 percent of the total—suggests that the progressive Left has certainly embraced this approach. If the recent and varied eruptions of woke capitalism are any indication, that strategy is paying off.
Robert Stilson is a research specialist at Capital Research Center.
The post Shareholder Activism: Woke Capitalism from the Inside appeared first on The American Conservative.Read More
The question of election integrity is not going away. As Justice Clarence Thomas recently pointed out, addressing weaknesses and opacity in election processes and voting laws isn’t just about 2020. The efforts being undertaken currently across the substantial majority of states are about finding a way that American voters can regain confidence in the security of their elections before the 2022 and 2024 seasons. Otherwise, those elections will also be questioned, potentially compromised, and our democratic process rendered illegitimate in the minds of tens of millions of Americans.
With the courts having closed their doors, the states are now taking up the issue of election integrity with just such an eye to the future. Analysis reveals at least 300 new bills being considered across 43 states to address voter integrity and election security. Many of these bills are in states that were the most controversial and closely contested in November, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These proposals have been met with shrill and knee-jerk cries of “Racism!”—including from quarters which should know better, such as the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola (in response to Georgia’s newly enacted laws). However, a recent poll confirms that 75 percent of Americans, including 60 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of African Americans, support the common-sense idea that voters should show identification before voting. We show IDs to board planes, rent cars, check into hotels and pick up baseball tickets, so why not to cast a ballot, the highest responsibility and privilege of citizenship?
The pivotal question now is, will states be allowed to reform their laws and improve their processes according to the clear will of their citizens, or will the federal government (through H.R. 1) and captured Corporate America stop them? H.R. 1 is particularly pernicious in that it would override state laws, abolish voter ID requirements, and enable congressional redistricting by an “independent” commission guided by H.R. 1. While H.R. 1 has passed the Democrat-controlled House, it is likely to run aground in the Senate, where the filibuster remains a powerful line of defense.
Corporate interference may be the more immediate issue. Our largest corporations have been engaged in what has been openly acknowledged by mainstream media as “a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information” regarding elections.
State lawmakers have a battle on their hands. Those who have the courage to follow the expressed will of their constituents will stand up and resist corporate blackmail. Those who don’t are likely to be turned out of office next year. Executive Order 13848, regarding foreign interference in U.S. elections, may be a means to confront corporations acting under the pressurized influence of the CCP and its agents. Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey just signed a law banning any official from accepting outside funding to administer elections. He said: “With public confidence in our elections in peril, it’s clear that elections must be pristine and above reproach—and the sole purview of government.”
On Wednesday, hundreds of executives of America’s largest corporations signed a letter challenging voting law reform, a rebuke that fires a shot across the bow of the GOP and conservatives generally. Corporations need to be extremely careful here. Privileges such as MLB’s anti-trust exemption can be reviewed and rescinded. The same tools of confrontation, shaming, and boycott successfully employed by the left for decades are available to conservatives. By dint of sheer numbers, this group, once awaked to action, will be a very powerful force to remind corporations that they too serve at the will of the people.
And the people they serve remain upset. It is now approaching six months since the 2020 elections, and Americans still have no acceptable answer as to what happened on November 3. As I wrote in late December:
Election integrity is not a partisan matter. All Americans should want to know if there were systemic flaws in the elections, whether intentional or accidental, and take steps to improve the process before the 2022 election cycle. Democrats should be equally interested in understanding what happened, if for no other reason than to de-bunk any falsehoods or unfounded conspiracies, and to regain some confidence and a legitimacy that is clearly missing now.
At that time, two national polls indicated that somewhere between 35 percent and 40 percent of all voters believed that the election was stolen and should be contested. Because so little has been done since then to clarify what happened, Americans’ viewpoints have not moved much. Indeed, a recent poll affirmed that 34 percent of all voters, including 36 percent of unaffiliated voters, still believe that Biden did not win fairly.
Widespread media claims of “no evidence of fraud” have been shown to be false, and many cases have been documented. Long before November 2020, many on both left and right were warning of the dangers and inherent weaknesses of electronic voting machines (the March 2020 documentary Kill Chain exemplifies this). The question remains whether the fraud and other irregularities were systemic and widespread enough to overturn the 2020 election results.
There is an abundance of documented and disturbing evidence available, which perhaps explains why over one-third of Americans paying attention still believe the election was stolen. While not easy to find on social media platforms that are censoring and removing election integrity-related content, there are detailed compilations, reports, full-length documentaries, and shorter, more user-friendly videos. The allegations fall into six categories: significant anomalies in data tabulation, voting machine irregularities, outright voter fraud, ballot manipulation, Equal Protection violations, and process fouls.
The courts, which should have been the appropriate venues for discovery, refused to take up the challenge, dismissing on procedural grounds those cases brought before them. The Supreme Court refused to hear the substantive cases brought before it about whether states such as Pennsylvania violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law. While giving no explicit reason for the refusal, it appears that the cases were deemed moot by the inauguration and handover of power. This is akin to refusing to hear a murder case on the grounds that the victim is already dead.
As dissenting Justice Thomas wrote at the time, “We failed to settle this dispute before the election, and thus provide clear rules. Now we again fail to provide clear rules for future elections. The decision to leave election law hidden beneath a shroud of doubt is baffling. By doing nothing, we invite further confusion and erosion of voter confidence.”
The Biden administration and its allies want to bury November 3. Sorry, but this matter is not going away, no matter how many times Americans are told by the media gatekeepers to shut up and move on. In fact, the harder they work to kill the story by censoring, boycotting, or canceling those who challenge the “nothing to see here” narrative, the more suspicions are raised in the minds of Americans. Do these powers not understand this? The question of election fraud will continue to taint the legitimacy of the Biden administration.
Michael Wilkerson is executive vice chairman of Helios Fairfax Partners, an African-focused investment firm and author of Stormwall: Observations on America in Peril.Read More
Donald Trump believes there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Even from Elba at Palm Beach.
We know this. In his eighth decade, it’s unwise to expect much change from the 45th president—or “the 45th,” as Trump is now explicitly rebranding (that is a change). Steve Bannon, Trump’s once and, now that he is pardoned, plausibly future counselor, also would seem to feel there’s no such thing as poor press. In his nearly five years as a household name, Bannon’s appetite for exposure and public bombast has been notorious, if unproductive, and put him at odds with Trump. But the final verdict on the outlaw approach of both men, forever twinned, is best summed up by the late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai on the revolution in France—it’s too early to say.
I could write a full dispatch on my personal impressions of the Trump relationship with Bannon, and vice versa: the junkie energy of the duo together, how Trump was ideologically affected by Bannon but, perhaps more interestingly, how persuaded Bannon became of the virtues of Trump’s approach. Trump is often sneered at as lazy, but his former chief strategist has told me he was enthralled by Trump’s work ethic when it came to what he actually cared about. The insane, germophobic flights back and forth daily from Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina to the New York penthouse. The cavernous appetite for media bloodsport. The willed obliviousness to establishment niceties, Trump’s brass tacks desire to get things done and chuck the process. The relentless propagation of The Brand, its exposure, its purity be damned, the preoccupation of loser historians of the future.
“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s “brain,” to whom Bannon would later be compared, was once quoted as saying. “And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too… We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” If Bush and “the man with the plan” (Bush’s words) fell short of doing this in the Middle East, the team that overthrew them in the Grand Old Party may have achieved this vision domestically, controlling the right for a generation. They pitched—and continue to pitch, I should say—what almost all concede is direly needed renewal, not in Baghdad, but in Biloxi, Buffalo, and Beaufort. Their tactics are electroshock therapy for a country that’s seen better days. Think what you will about electroshock therapy—it’s too early to say.
Yet, through it all, are figures like Trump and Bannon really so apart from the rest of the party, or merely ahead of the curve?
John Boehner confesses, glass in hand, in his new memoir, On the House, that he once felt inferior to Fox News. This is way back in 2010 now: “Besides the homegrown ‘talent’ at Fox, with their choice of guests they were making people who used to be fringe characters into powerful media stars,” Boehner writes. “One of the first prototypes out of their laboratory was a woman named Michele Bachmann.” Boehner reports that Bachmann demanded placement on the House Ways and Means Committee, Congress’ wallet.
The wise chainsmoker naturally refused. “There was no way she was going to get on Ways and Means.” Until of course Bachmann threatened to caterwaul on Fox, at which point Boehner caved. He received the consolation prize of getting to call her a “lunatic” years later in his book, his book on leadership. In David Simon’s The Wire, the famous television meditation on Baltimore disrepair, the masterful drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield tells a convenience store attendant he’d just robbed without remorse, “You want it to be one way,” but “it’s the other way.” To watch the almost nightly coliseum maulings of establishment Republican figures—Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Gov. Kristi Noem, Sen. Roger Wicker, and Sen. Mike Braun in recent months—on Tucker Carlson Tonight is to witness judgment night for the old guard.
If America’s political scene is now, truly, only for the knife-fighters, the wily and the politically self-created, where does that leave polished, posh Ivy League senators? Where does that leave the less smash-mouth but nonetheless seemingly sincere? Where does a streetfighter’s world leave, for example, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri?
In Hawley’s swift ascent, he has shown no aversion to the limelight, but for most of his years in Washington he’s also displayed a desire to cultivate what President Bush once bragged was his constituency. “Some call you the elite,” said Bush 43, “I call you my base.” It’s been less Fox green rooms (to say nothing of Newsmax or One America News Network) and more the Center for New American Security. Hawley is thick as thieves with defense intellectuals such as Elbridge Colby, formerly of CNAS, who would no doubt one day like to run Hawley’s National Security Council.
Never mind President Biden’s first hundred days. Far more outlandish have been Hawley’s first hundred-odd days since it was clear that Trump lost power.
First, with the socialist independent Democrat Bernie Sanders, Hawley pressed outgoing President Trump to veto anything out of Congress that didn’t generate direct $2,000 payments to Americans. In early January, Hawley graced the cover of the Washington Examiner magazine, in a largely laudatory profile from the lefty realignment writer Zaid Jilani. The piece explored Hawley’s plausible similarities to the erudite, nationalist trust-buster Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, of whom Hawley once wrote a biography. It’s safe to say that TR serves as a sort of working life model for Hawley in the way that Winston Churchill holds a similar sway over British prime minister Boris Johnson, another intellectual-cum-politician.
Then came the big kahuna.
Hawley broke the Senate seal. On January 6, the 41-year-old threw in with Trump’s attempt to jam up certification of the Electoral College, the gadfly effort which created the pretext for the nihilistic mayhem at the Capitol. This is critical, because a senator is necessary procedurally to advance objections from the rabble of the House. Less famous failed attempts to dam up the certification of new presidents have occurred since the 2000 election, when America’s politics went off the rails. Young bucks in the Senate have been using their status to complain about the integrity of the vote for a while now. Freshman Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, casting doubt on electronic voting machines that don’t have paper backups, said Congress should “take it upon itself once and for all to reform this system” in his very first speech in the upper chamber in January 2005. Obama’s effort wasn’t serious, and neither was Hawley’s, as he later conceded (“I was never attempting to overturn the election,” he now maintains). But, mercifully for the 44th president, there was never a Black Panther “shaman” on the floor of the House. And nobody got killed.
Hawley didn’t get so lucky. Accordingly, when the next magazine cover came for Hawley, this time in libertarian Reason, the headline was “THE DARK FUTURE OF THE GOP?” Juxtaposed against Hawley’s goofy and ill-advised but now famous fist pump photo, Peter Suderman’s discourse on “Josh Hawley’s toxic populism” was a nonstop polemic that concluded Hawley “specializes in grandstanding and gimmickry,” without a trace of irony. If the flagship magazine of Libertarian Inc. says you’re doing something wrong, in 2021 anyway, it’s certainly going to drive a lot of folks to ask if you’re doing something right.
So is Hawley doing anything right?
Yet another piece, in The Atlantic, explored the collapse of Hawley’s relationship with John Danforth, the former senator and U.N. ambassador and don of Missouri politics. Danforth is a successor to Thomas Pendergast, the mafioso who propelled Harry Truman to the presidency, that is, if Pendergast ever read Reinhold Niebuhr (the subject of Danforth’s Princeton thesis). Emma Green reported that the mentor had come to see his protege’s actions as unacceptable, dare she say gangster, in line with the state’s more checkered past.
For now, the reality under President Joe Biden is that Hawley is less the fan favorite of the Federalist Society than he is the big bad wolf of Washington. And one does wonder if it’s the best thing that ever happened to him.
This was Josh Hawley’s coming out party, said one Freedom Caucus congressman. It was Hawley “unleashed.”
At the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference, held for the first time ever in Florida, the Republican headquarters-in-exile, Hawley greeted the gathered but was seemingly addressing the elephant in the room: himself. “Didn’t anybody tell you that you’re supposed to be canceled? You didn’t get the memo. You’re supposed to ask permission before you came here today,” Hawley said.
Hawley then unveiled his thesis, which, with the cancellation of his book by a major publisher and the termination forevermore of his goodwill with Google, he spoke from the heart: “We’re facing a fight for the republic itself, and we are facing an unprecedented alliance of radical liberals and the biggest, most powerful corporations in the history of the world. They are standing together. You know who I mean, people like Google, Facebook, if you’ve heard of them, Twitter. These companies have more power than any companies in American history, and they’re aligned with the radical left to try to impose their agenda on this country. They want to run this country, and if we don’t do something, they are going to.”
Josh Hawley wants to be president. As Thomas Meaney dished in Harper’s last year about the 2019 National Conservative Conference in Washington, D.C., “It was Josh Hawley over whom the crown most plausibly hovered… Hawley was a scholar-warrior out of NatCon heaven. In presentation and style, he reminded me of the young Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz.”
But prior to his newly minted bad boy status, it all felt a little academic. Hawley had neither the bombast of Trump nor the platform and panache of Tucker Carlson, the military record of Tom Cotton, the gubernatorial record of a Ron DeSantis, the presidential runner-up status of Ted Cruz, nor the biography of J.D. Vance, now a potential future senator.
Asked for an honest assessment of Hawley’s chances, as recently as this past Christmas you might have found yourself in the situation columnist Jack Burden did on the campaign trail in All the King’s Men. “How you think it’s going, Jack?” gubernatorial candidate Willie Stark asks Burden. “It was one of those embarrassing questions like ‘Do you think my wife is virtuous?’”
But to watch his speeches now is to watch a different and, yes, more famous Hawley. He’s pissed off.
When Hawley first came up in politics, he drew on his small-town Missouri roots, but the populism he expressed was clearly more of an abstraction. The sense of peril for the nation was communal but not individual. How could it be, for the youngest member of the United States Senate, a former Supreme Court clerk and Stanford and Yale alum?
But now, it is his family that has been harassed. Unfamiliar for the ace student, it’s his writing that’s been thrown out. It’s the details of his biography that have been combed through without mercy.
Following January 6, by necessity, Hawley ditched the intellectual circuit and took his case more directly to the people, with an uptick of appearances on Fox that outmaneuvered power brokers of yore like John Boehner. As Willie Stark concluded about his cerebral approach, before changing course and becoming governor, “Those things need doing, don’t they? But they won’t listen to it. God damn those bastards, they come out to hear a speaking and then they won’t listen to you. Not a word.”
I suppose it was in this spirit that Hawley declined to be interviewed for a piece in The American Conservative. The first column I ever wrote about the young senator was the attention-grabbing “The Talented Mr. Hawley” in the Spectator. It was a mostly sympathetic portrait, although it’s true the namesake of the headline was a chameleonic serial killer, Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; mostly it was just a good headline. The gist of what I wrote—apparently so negatively in his office’s eyes—was that Hawley had expressed skepticism toward foreign wars and a sympathy for American extrication from the Middle East but had failed to provide much in the way of elaboration and had not registered votes where it counted, for instance in Yemen, where other Republicans had.
Turns out there was some reason for concern, if this issue is something you’re concerned about. In recent weeks it has been uncovered that, as a younger man, Hawley was a pro–Iraq War blogger and an approving name-checker of neocon éminence grise William Kristol. Hawley’s response to these revelations has been unequivocal, with his spox Phil Letsou commenting to CNN, “Senator Hawley’s views have definitely changed… If the twenty-year failed experiment in ‘neo-conservative’ globalism in the Middle East doesn’t convince you that nation building doesn’t work, nothing will.”
The legendary correspondent Steve Coll wrote a 700-page book, Private Empire, much of it about Rex Tillerson, without ever being granted an interview with the secretive-to-a-fault Exxon CEO. When Tillerson was chosen to be secretary of state, Coll wrote that it was “astonishing on many levels” and “as an exercise of public diplomacy, it will certainly confirm the assumption of many people around the world that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources.” If Hawley ever becomes president, I pledge never to write such an unsparing epigraph on his rise. But I suspect I might have to work on my lines.
The 2024 race is a crowded highway, and it will be a lot more frenzied if the eighteen-wheeler known as Donald John Trump takes an off-ramp. But this much is clear. The Republican Party now believes, deeply, in two things: the preeminence of the voter fraud concern and corporate coldness to a more tested way of life. Hawley’s actions aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but against such a dire backdrop, it’s not so outlandish to think that Republican, if not American voters could in the end ask for someone like Hawley. This new Hawley, served like his life lately—on the rocks.Read More
The New York Times thinks it knows how its great rival, the Wall Street Journal, can boost its readership and improve its strategic position in the realm of big media: It should become more like the New York Times.
That’s the message from an extensive article by Edmund Lee in the latest Times “Sunday Business” section. In the piece, Lee reveals that the Journal “makes money. A lot of money.” He explains that this is attributable in part to the Journal’s brilliant early internet strategy of charging for digital content, when nearly all other publishing companies, including the Times, were giving it away. But that early success, says the writer, “also kept the paper from innovating further.” And that’s a problem, he writes, for a news outlet whose readership is made up mainly of white men—and “at a time when the U.S. population is growing more racially diverse.”
Aha. So that’s it. If that concept generates just a bit of suspicion on the part of readers, a full perusal of Lee’s article would make clear why that suspicion is justified. The writer is saying that the Journal needs to become more “woke” in its story selection and presentation, rather like today’s Times. And that view is shared by an internal Journal committee that produced a 209-page “Content Review” examining how the Journal “should remake itself.” The report, writes Lee, “argued that the paper should attract new readers—specifically, women, people of color and younger professionals—by focusing more on topics such as climate change and income inequality.”
The so-called Content Review went further, recommending “putting muscle behind efforts to feature more women and people of color in all of our stories.” That would include monitoring the race and gender of people even just quoted in news stories; how that possibly could be done through the course of routine interviewing on topics that may or may not involve racial or gender matters defies comprehension. Who’s the person behind this call for journalistic wokeness at the venerable Journal? One Louise Story, the paper’s chief news strategist and chief product and technology officer. With a title like that she must have quite a background. And, sure enough, before joining the Journal she spent a decade as reporter and news manager at—surprise, surprise—the New York Times.
It seems that Story, who heads a staff of 150 and directed the committee that spawned the Content Review, was hired by Journal editor Matt Murray to address a problem. News Corp., which owns Journal publisher Dow Jones, wants the company to double the Journal’s online readership to boost revenues and compensate for substantial losses at many of the parent company’s other publishing and broadcast outlets. That’s a tall order, if it is realistic at all. But the remarkable thing about Story’s Content Review (as described by Lee) is how insipid it is in relation to the goals it sought to address. Does anyone really believe that this mountain of a strategic challenge can be conquered by monitoring the racial backgrounds of interviewees?
Based on the Times article, the greater likelihood is that Story merely availed herself of the all-too-delicious opportunity to leverage the strategic imperatives facing the news outlet to interject her woke biases into the Journal’s corporate culture. Either that, or Edmund Lee did a lousy job of explaining the full thrust of the Content Review. There is very little that emerges in the Times description of the report’s recommendations beyond the diversity obsession.
Here I note (as disclosure for reader evaluation) that I spent a dozen years in my early adulthood covering Washington for the Journal and its sibling weekly newspaper, the National Observer (long since defunct). The WSJ was an amazing success story in those years. Leveraging satellite technology to beam newspaper pages to various printing plants around the country, the Journal boosted circulation from around 1.4 million in 1974 to nearly 2.2 million just 12 years later. Revenue was pouring in.
Part of that business success stemmed from a conviction among news executives that they knew what readers wanted in a newspaper that was entirely distinctive among other news sheets throughout the nation. Even back then some people thought the Journal, with its singular front-page format and conservative editorial section, should be more like the Times or the Washington Post. But top executives knew better. It wasn’t merely a distinctive paper; it had a distinctive audience: top corporate executives and finance people—rich, with vibrant minds, and lots of money to spend on high-end consumer goods, and even more money to invest in corporate improvements.
Of course, times changed, and the Journal had to keep up with those changes. Sometimes it did so brilliantly, sometimes not so much. But through the years it expanded its sections, added a weekend edition, boosted editorial and op-ed space, leveraged the web with profound success, and, under Rupert Murdoch—its owner since 2007—pursued a more general-interest approach to the news in order to compete more directly with the Times. All of these proved to be good moves.
So, what’s going on now? Well, it doesn’t seem much different from the kinds of criticisms that used to pop up at the paper in my day, except that, based on Edmund Lee’s piece, it would seem that the paper is rent now with competing views about how it should seek to expand circulation. The Times article tells of a “newsroom revolt” from staffers who think pretty much along the lines of the Content Review. And here’s the kicker: these staffers want the Journal to place more emphasis on the social justice movement and, oh, yes, address the problem that “its conservative opinion department had published essays that did not meet standards applied to the reporting staff.”
When news staffers go after the opinion department, which is supposed to be protected from pressures from the news side (and vice versa), you know this is an ideological conflict and not about circulation. And at the heart of it is wokeness. The biggest difference between the Times and the Journal these days is that the Times is thoroughly imbued with the woke sensibility, visible in its news stories, its editorials and columns, its Book Review, the Arts & Entertainment section on Sunday, and throughout the paper. The Journal has resisted that siren call for the lockstep ideological leftism that suffuses the Times news and editorial presentation, though small elements of the woke thinking seem to be increasingly seeping into the Journal’s news stories as well.
And now, based on the Edmund Lee piece, we know that the Journal may be entering a kind of corporate civil war over all this. It seems news staffers have created a private Slack channel, called “Newsroomies,” where they have discussed the paper’s need to embrace the Louise Story view of what its new direction should be. And there seems to be a chasm in outlook between editor Murray and the new Journal publisher, Almar Latour. Lee quotes a Journal executive as saying, “They hate each other.” More significantly, it appears they disagree on the paper’s direction. Lee acknowledges that some Journal executives on both the news and business sides have dismissed the Story report as “a woke strategy.” But promoting that strategy are the Newsroomies.
Which brings us to another distinction between the Times and Journal that may now be under challenge. At the Times, increasingly, news staffers hold the balance of power on big and sensitive personnel decisions. This was seen in two potent, blow-out controversies in the editorial department and newsroom over the past year.
First, the paper forced out its editorial page editor, James Bennet, after he allowed the paper’s pages to bear an op-ed by no less than a United States senator. Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger initially defended running the piece by Arkansas’s Tom Cotton; after all, he said, there should be a broad mix of expression in the opinion section. But then news staffers initiated what the Washington Post called a “whirlwind of turmoil.” Under pressure, Sulzberger caved.
Then last February the Times fired celebrated science writer Donald McNeill, Jr., over a controversy centered on his use of the N-word in talking about racism with high school students during a South American tour. Initially Times executive editor Dean Baquet chastised McNeill for “poor judgment” but took no severe action based on the clear reality that the Times writer used the word merely for illustrative purposes and had shown “no hateful or malicious intent.” But the newsroom rose up again, producing a staffer letter expressing “outrage” at McNeill’s action and Baquet’s soft response. Baquet, like Sulzberger, caved.
When newspaper executives lose control over key personnel decisions to internal mob initiatives, it is a sign of leadership inadequacy, which is what we have seen at the Times. The Journal has avoided such developments, but the Newsroomies pose a threat to traditional leadership dominance at the paper. Editor Matt Murray did himself and his organization no favors when he turned over key elements of the decision-making process related to the paper’s future to an ad hoc internal entity that diminished his own control over such decision making.
The Wall Street Journal should not go woke. It should concentrate on its traditional bill of fare, which is news and information for and about business leaders and the financial elite and a distinctive opinion section devoted to enlightened conservatism. Lee writes that WSJ readers are dying off, but he doesn’t back that up with anything beyond wispy anecdotes. The circles of endeavor that have been the red meat of coverage for the Journal since its founding aren’t going away, though clearly they will continue to include more and more women and minorities. And they represent a potent element of American society, big enough and vibrant enough to sustain the paper well into the future, so long as the Dow Jones leadership maintains a clear focus on what their paper is and how it contributes uniquely to American journalism.
Robert W. Merry, former Wall Street Journal Washington correspondent and CEO of Congressional Quarterly, is the author of five books on American history, including most recently President McKinley: Architect of the American Century (Simon & Schuster).Read More
“A prophet,” said Mgr. Ronald Knox, “is one who speaks out. He must not wrap up his meaning; he must not expect success.”
Like most prophets, Jim Traficant, the legendary Ohio congressman who would have turned 80 next month but for his death in a tractor accident seven years ago, went mostly without honor in his country. He was expelled from the House of Representatives in 2002 and imprisoned for seven years (during which he refused visitors) after being convicted of a number of dubious sounding felonies, one of which involved employing congressional staff on his farm in Ohio and the houseboat which he made his Washington, D.C., residence.
In his lifetime Traficant had few allies in the Democratic party and no following outside his beloved Ohio (unless the handful of journalists who delighted in his ready wit and bizarre personal appearance count). But there is probably no national politician of his era who spoke more forcefully to what would become the concerns of our own. He opposed drugs, free trade, the decline of manufacturing, eviction, our needless and cruel embargo on Cuba, the banks, Wall Street, euthanasia, and, above all, abortion. (He also supported, perhaps to the horror of some of his contemporary admirers, racial preference in college admissions.)
Traficant was born in Youngstown, Ohio, to a working-class Catholic family in 1941. He played quarterback at the University of Pittsburgh with Mike Ditka and was even drafted by the Steelers in 1963. Instead of playing professional football, he became what we would now refer to as a “community organizer” and spent many years working with nonprofits and colleges in the Youngstown area on issues such as drug and alcohol addiction before being elected sheriff of Mahoning County in 1981.
It was in this office that he made national headlines when he refused to evict families whose homes had been foreclosed upon following the collapse of the steel industry. We are all accustomed to rhetoric addressing such issues from politicians; direct, sweeping action of the kind taken by Traficant—remarkably without regard to electoral considerations, entrenched interests, or constitutional niceties—is comparatively rarer. In doing so he made enemies of both the banks and organized crime. His reward was a trial for having allegedly received bribes in 1981. He defended himself and was acquitted, becoming the only person in American history to have won his own RICO case. (The man on whose evidence the charges had been brought, a petty criminal and associate of the Cleveland mobster “Big Ange” Lonardo, died last week at the age of 93.)
After defeating Washington, it was probably fitting that Traficant should go there himself. After beating a milquetoast Republican incumbent, he would go on to win eight more elections without attracting meaningful challengers. In Washington, Traficant found himself with few reliable friends at a time when politics was more favorable to socially conservative populists. Though he did not go out of his way to alienate Democratic colleagues (he voted no, for example, on each of the articles of impeachment brought against Bill Clinton), he found his hand forced on the issue of abortion, and helped to re-elect a pro-life Republican speaker in 2001. (There is probably no more telling illustration of how sordid Washington is than the fact that his would-be valorous cross-party gesture was in support of Dennis Hastert.) This decision left Traficant effectively independent, stripped of all committee assignments and almost totally without influence upon congressional debate.
I say “almost totally,” for his considerable gifts as an orator ensured that he would always at least receive a hearing. Like Donald Trump’s later, Traficant’s oratory is memorable without having any antecedents. He did not speak in polished classical phrases, but he had a natural Falstaffian gift for imagery and invective. A sample must suffice:
Unbelievable. What’s next? Rectal Diaries? Men are dropping like flies in America from prostate cancer and Broadway is promoting vaginal titillation. Beam me up! I advise all New York men to sleep on their stomachs, and I yield back all the STDs on the East Coast….
Mr. Speaker, Medicare trust funds lost another $4 billion. Payroll contributions keep going down. Maybe it’s the type of jobs that are being created. Check this out: How about a handkerchief folder, a drawstring knotter, a hooker inspector, a pantyhose crotch closer machine operator supervisor, a muff winder, a fur blower, a wizzer operator, a brassiere cup molder fitter. Evidently, Mr. Speaker, when American workers become muff winding brassieras fitters, and fur blowing wizzer operators, the Medicare trust fund will continue to lose money….
This president has gone from Disney to Spielberg, Looney Tunes to outer space, and he’s not finished yet. I predict that his next production will be a Stephen King thriller….
Not all of what Traficant said is worth remembering. Embittered by his long experience in prison and what he imagined (perhaps not wrongly) as persecution at the hands of the Internal Revenue Service, Traficant’s populism took a hard-right turn after his release from prison. And whatever his motivation at the time, his defense in 1990 of Arthur Rudolph, the pioneer of Nazi rocketry recruited by the Office of Strategic Service and later denaturalized and stripped of various honors after his past was discovered, puts him in very bad company today. (One wonders, though, why Traficant deserves more blame than our own intelligence services, who thought nothing of recruiting Rudolph, keeping him employed for decades, and heaping him with medals from NASA as well as other awards despite, indeed, because of their knowledge of his wartime activities.)
What lessons can be drawn from Traficant’s career? The first, I think, is that bold positions matter more than rhetoric, and that direct action matters more than any position, however clearly staked out. It is one thing to say (for example) that payday lending is among the great evils of our age; it is quite another to take matters into your own hands, as Traficant did while serving as sheriff. Another is that indifference to party unity is a great virtue in any politician, as is recognizing the difference between merely prudential questions (e.g., private school vouchers, on which his record was wholly in line with that of other Democrats) and those of a purely moral character. Above all, he should be revered for his willingness to be nothing more and nothing less than the representative of his district, to embody the aspirations, fears, attitudes, and faith of the people of Mahoning and Trumbull Counties. His record should be a model to anyone who serves in the House. (That of his sometime ally Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who sacrificed his long and principled career to keep funding for abortion out of the Affordable Care Act, is another.)
Whatever else can be said for him, Traficant left behind no movement, no faction or meaningful program. Nor did he accomplish any of the great tasks he set for himself in Washington. NAFTA passed over his objections and, whatever the middling efforts of the last administration, is largely with us today. Our trade relations with China were fundamentally remade despite his eloquence, to the benefit of its leader (and the immiseration of the poor in both countries). Drug addiction is more of a crisis now than it was in the 1970s when Traficant lectured on the issue at community centers and college campuses and police academies. Abortion remains legal in all 50 states.
Does this lessen his achievement? I give the last word again to Mgr. Knox:
Does the prophet do good? No such promise is made him when he sets out with his message. His task is to deliver that message to the men of his time, whether they hear or refuse him a hearing. It may be, the stark language he talks to them, the unconventional gestures by which he tries to thrust it home, will produce a reaction, and wed them all the more firmly to their old ways of thought. There are one or two terrible passages in the Old Testament which almost seem to imply that the prophet is sent out, not to inspire repentance, but to redouble the guilt of his unbelieving audience.
Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine and a contributing editor at The American Conservative.Read More