Friday, September 29, 2023

The Country Will Be Saved By Those Who Love It

Earlier this month I attended 9/11 remembrance and memorial ceremonies, as well as carried on my annual tradition of walking down to ground zero, now the 9/11 Memorial. This year it was after a long work day that included a couple of different public ceremonies and in a downpour. Not unlike the downpour we had today and the lighter rain yesterday while attending the NYC opening of the Vietnam Healing Wall. Both of those ceremonies amongst so many kind-hearted and patriotic Americans and the contemplation while walking the memorials become increasingly rejuvenating for me. No matter how hard things get, or how bleak things seem for American life, culture, and society right now, the long-term, long-game optimist in me slowly comes back into view. 

It was my default setting in life originally, born perhaps from a combination of a Norman Rockwell-esque painting of a home town and a necessary coping mechanism to upbringing ravaged by mental health issues for my entire memory. While I am a tough love critic and very much a hardened realist in matters of politics and public policy, military service and a deployment, neither familial nor country-dysfunction has beat out of me the nostalgic romantic at heart. It is of course an aestheticism, that almost requires a certain amount of worldview steeped in traditions and intact and strong families, especially as I get older. The often quoted "Never Forget" heightens the importance to tell stories and common narratives the older we get. More and more Americans are born every year that will never have a memory of 9/11, which means they'll also never have memory of how truly united the country was in the days, weeks, and months after it, and how much that opportunity was botched by our government, culture, and society every year ever since. 

"People were kind to each other." 

I'm no stranger to kindness. If you're born and raised in the upper Midwest its basically an article of faith, albeit a passive aggressive one. But the italicized quote above comes from a born and raised, lifelong New York friend of mine and its relevant because the reputation for direct and "mean tweet" talk that New Yorkers have. The longer I am a New Yorker myself the more I gravitate to such directness. It's a refreshing shortcut, totally at odds with the labyrinth of city government and the subway if you will, or the gears and levers that make up the city itself. That spirit of kindness, love, and unity in those days becomes increasingly bittersweet nostalgia with each passing year because we're also more and more divided over the last twenty years. 

Consider how we've grown apart in the two charts from a recent Gallup poll on attitudes below. 

On many of these issues the country has grown further and further apart along partisan lines. Yet I suspect, at least a good portion of this isn't people becoming more extreme, but the American societal establishment and elites mismanaging the country a bit more, decade after decade -- eroding trust along the way. And indeed a fair portion of the erosion is prior to 2003, to 2001. What I think is happening in this era more and more is people are realigning and resorting to where they actually want to be. This is exactly what happens at the 11th hour of history's great fights. If you're going down, you want to go down fighting for what you actually love and believe in. More than anything, that is what is happening. 

So what's going on? Well increasingly, Republicans think the federal government has too much power and that immigration should be decreased. And Americans overall (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents/unaffiliated) are increasingly gravitating to those two positions too. Other issues where we've grown apart are smaller in makeup. Republicans now have increasingly have far more confidence in police, but anyone who has followed the news cycle the last half-decade could've guessed that. The striking differences the other way. The gap on humans as the cause of global warming or climate change has grown, as well as K-12 satisfaction, and abortion being legal under any circumstance. Again, all of these positions the public is gravitating more toward the Republican position in general, especially if the Republican position on abortion is more nuanced and not absolutist and without exceptions the other way. The other emerging difference that sticks out, like immigration, was stressed by then-candidate and citizen Trump in 2016 -- foreign trade. Increasingly, Democrats, becoming a knee-jerk anti-Trump party, embrace free trade, unrestricted mass immigration of whatever legality, and are increasingly doubling-down on globalization. The problem is that almost no one else is coming with them. 

"What's happened to you?" 

As a former Democrat, albeit a more blue dog or old school Kennedy-type of Democrat, I no doubt have angered a lot of friends who think I've betrayed them. The above italicized quote was tagged with an article I wrote with Gavin Wax earlier this year where we argued that re-electing President Trump offers the best chance at peace. Read the article for yourselves and be the judge. Have I changed? Or has everything else changed and I've perhaps expanded my media and research diet and had a lot more life experiences... 

On economic and family matters, on war and peace -- I'm not a Democrat anymore and haven't been for years because they have nothing to offer me. I'm a Republican because they're increasingly gravitating to the positions I already held. I've changed my mind on a few issues here and there, but it's not the big issues that realign people. In 2003 I thought the Iraq war was a bad idea, and in 2023 I think U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine is dangerous and downright suicidal for civilization. The stakes are high and I have no patience, tolerance, or time anymore to pander to those who want to be socially accepted by a LinkedIn page. If anything, my only regret is that I did not realign earlier. I had been frustrated with the direction of the Democrats for a lot longer and stayed far too long in an official capacity. Two decades ago my political beliefs broadly speaking were pro-middle and working class and patriotic. Today, they are pro-middle and working class and patriotic. They were also anti-authoritarian and anti-war. Today, they are anti-authoritarian and anti-war. Twenty years ago, the word "progressive" was barely in the Democrat zeitgeist. Today, it's everywhere and those progressives are too authoritarian and busybody for my liking. They also tend to dislike all tradition and the received wisdom from the past, and my biggest deal-breaker, they tend to be very unpatriotic. I don't need you to be super patriotic. But this rampant anti-American and anti-Western sentiment is completely self-defeating. 

This is a good country. Most people like this country. And they want their kids, if they have them, to grow up in a better country, with more opportunities than they had, just like all prior generations of Americans wanted. Which brings me to another deal-breaker, which has more and more evidence for it by the day, family demographics

Increasingly, Republicans are becoming not merely the "family values" party like the 1980s and 1990s, but simply the party of parents, the party of families. In the 2022 midterms, underwhelming in many respects for Republicans, married men broke for Republicans by 20 points, married women did by 14 points (very little gender gap there), and unmarried men did by 7 points. Only unmarried women broke for Democrats by 37 points. It is my contention that no matter how hard things get, you can rebuild and save a country with the former coalition and have no chance at all with the latter. The family, tradition, and patriotism nexus grows stronger by the year. It is from the younger, the single, the supposedly righteous, but often self-righteous and sanctimonious cohort that increasingly wants to drive the bus in this country. But let's consider the long-term math here. Below are the states that are having more kids since the end of Roe and the ones having fewer. The states in green are seeing population growth on top of the more children they already did have for the most part, the states in red in graph terms are having fewer kids, and if they are blue or purple states will run the risk of becoming red. 

A party that thinks it's going to "win the future" does not try to lawlessly import with great speed and little care for common sense an entirely new voting population. It doesn't try to cheat through using public health as an excuse to unconstitutionally change laws, and it doesn't try to lock everyone into failing public schools and call parents domestic terrorists if they disagree with the state regime curriculum or want to run for school board. 

This is why I've often said on Twitter: "you can lose now, or lose later -- but you will lose." (The rhetorical negative that I'll turn positive in a moment). 

But this is why it is the Democrats who are in trouble. Yet even if you are a Democrat -- if you are patriotic and love this country, if you're raising a family, and if you don't want to criminalize your opposition -- you're fine in my book. 

The positive side is quite simply: the country will be saved by those who love it. And that is a better story. That is a story people never forget. It is why veterans and service members of all political stripes and demographic backgrounds can get along so well, even if they have little to nothing in common. One team, one fight, all gave some, some gave all. 

If America is a bus, and the people, the children on the bus are the future. Don't you want someone driving that bus who loves the bus, the people, and the children? A patriotism of tough love is always fine, and should be encouraged. But a lack of patriotism, or those who actively dislike America and the American people, and put nearly every other interest first -- that's a dealbreaker. What parent would want to have someone driving the bus who dislikes the bus and the people in it? 

And the problem is those who most want to drive the bus today dislike the bus. And so we've been given no choice. 

It'll be families, patriots, veterans, first responders, homemakers and caretakers, family and household economics, a national and protectionist industrial policy, and a more civic-oriented, communication society and culture like the one advocated for here at The Frank Forum that'll bring back, build, and renew this country. 

Another first this September -- after all of these years, I finally went into the 9/11 Memorial Museum as well (tickets below). It was consistently and accurately described as "sacred and hallowed" space. Language that reminds me of how Gettysburg National Battlefield has been described, as sacred and hallowed ground. 

This phrasing, this story, was referenced by President Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address: "we can not hallow this" ground, before adding that "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract." But indeed the country remembered and benefited too, from those words. Because the country needs stories. Needs a common story. Common principles and values. A common understanding, and some common sense again. 

And that is the new inevitability

Yes, the country will be saved by those who love it. And that's a beautiful thing. 

Troy M. Olson is an Army Veteran, a lawyer by training, and the co-author of the forthcoming book ‘The Emerging Populist Majority.’ He lives in New York City with his wife and son. You can follow him on Twitter and Substack at @TroyMOlson

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Sohrab Ahmari's Pugilistic New Book

My Twitter (or sorry, X!) "For you" feed has been ensconced in pictures of Sohrab Ahmari's new book, Tyranny, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty - and What to Do About It.

Here are just a few examples:

I had to know: what was all the hype about? 

So I got my hands on a copy:

Me, in between the pages of Sohrab's new provocative book.


If I had to sum it up in a sentence, I would say: Sohrab's book is a scathing repudiation of neoliberal orthodoxy. A self-proclaimed conservative, the Compact editor decouples conservatism from some of its widely-accepted shibboleths like "free trade" and "deregulation". He instead promotes what Oren Cass and others affiliated with the National Conservative movement coin "conservative economics", which they posit is, unlike laissez faire economic theory, conducive to promoting the "common good". 

Sohrab, instead of bogging the reader down with charts and unpalatable quantitative methodology, provides powerful and humanizing anecdotes from individuals who have fallen victim to the neoliberal order. This is, I find, a compelling and attractive way to make a case to the lay-reader. Throwing numbers and regression outputs at readers is, not only ineffectual, but obnoxious and pedantic. 

This leads me to a broader point: so many academics lack the ability to communicate to a broad audience. Instead, they speak only to other academics in their immediate circles. Books like these, I believe, die in obscurity because they are fundamentally unreadable. Sohrab, though, by humanizing the toll that hegemonic liberal economic theory has had on average working Americans, provides us with something that could have as much influence as Murray's The Bell Curve or Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed, epochal books written by academics who understand how to actually communicate a message to the masses. 

Give it a read...then, give it another read. This is, I feal, a book of great import. The post-liberal movement, which Sohrab, Deneen, and others are spearheading, is already penetrating the political mainstream, with the likes of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Josh Hawley (R-MI) offering their praises on the back of the book. 

New Deal-conservatism may just be the future...

Friday, September 8, 2023

Have You Read This Book? (You Need To)

The in-fighting on the American political right continues with each passing day. 

Why, though, do these factions (the NatCon populists and the FreedomCon libertarians) have such disdain for one another? Sure, trade policy has become increasingly thorny, and don't even get me started on foreign affairs...But the squabbling runs deeper than these differences in policy prescription. It is almost as though there is a colliding of worldviews here. 

Yoram Hazony, in his all-important and surprisingly palatable work, Conservatism: A Rediscovery, explains the reasoning for the internecine skirmishing on the right. 

Ultimately, Hazony explains, these fissures aren't new. In 18th century America, these same ideological cleavages existed. The Hamiltonians were nationalists who believed in tradition and, what Hazony calls, "historical empiricism" (the idea that our future ought to be guided by the trials and tribulations of our ancestors, as opposed to pure reason alone), while the Jeffersonians were enlightenment-rationalists that believed in the primacy of reason and the individual, with little deference paid to our ancestor's lived experiences. While these differences may seem rather abstract, or even overly philosophical, the feuding between these factions was very real. The Hamiltonians thought that the Jeffersonians were dogmatic in their allegiance to pure, unadulterated notions of liberty and indifference toward religion, while the Jeffersonians saw the Hamiltonians as monarchical anti-liberals who worshiped the nation to an egregious degree. Do these differences sound familiar?

It is, in fact, true that history repeats itself. The populist-libertarian divide that we see today isn't all that different from what occurred in 18th century America. 

Let's dive a little deeper...

Hazony, who is pretty unabashed in his preference for the Hamiltonian and Burkean worldviews, makes things crystal clear. Today's populist-conservatives give primacy to the nation over the individual. This is, in effect, a repudiation of liberalism (enlightenment liberalism, I mean). The populists are, for the most part, Communitarian, in that they believe that the family, church, and nation are far more important than the lone individual. Libertarian-oriented rightists (Hazony would just call them liberals, and rightly so), are "blind to the nation". They see any degree of state involvement or impingement on civil liberties as an afront to the American experiment. 

In his words:

A dogmatic belief in the individual's freedom has moved liberals to destigmatize - and, eventually, to actively legitimize - sexual license, narcotics, and pornography, as well as abortion, easy divorce, and out-of-marriage births, until finally the family has been broken and fertility ruined in nearly every Western country.

These are strong words, but there may be something to them... Liberalism, in its advocacy for unlimited choice, has placed individual desire well above the "common good". 

To be clear, though, Hazony at no point says that freedom of the individual is unimportant. Rather, he posits that today's libertarian-types have over-emphasized it in a way that is detrimental to our societal fabric. I am mostly sympathetic to this view...

Hazony's views on the family are particularly interesting:

In a conservative society, one is not relieved of the responsibility to honor one's parents at the age of eighteen or twenty. On the contrary, this obligation remains throughout life, and it only grows more difficult as one's father and mother become infirm with age.  

Hazony is describing the East-Asian idea of filial piety, something that has been largely forgotten in our modern age. Hazony, though, takes this point further than most, even in the conservative ecosphere. To Hazony, the concept of the nuclear family is insufficient. The nuclear family consists of a mother, father, and a few children. To Hazony, this is small potatoes. Rather, he advocates for the "traditional family". This includes the extended tribe: grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncles... A crucial difference! The traditional family also implies obligations. It is your duty to stick around to take care of your folks when they are old and ill. Moving out and leaving them in the dust is out of the question! In fact, you may even have grandma and grandpa living with you! 

Anyway, there's a lot I can say about this book. All (or mostly all) positive. Whether or not you agree with Hazony's particular brand of conservatism, his description of the contemporary climate on the right is flawless. A must read!


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Why Sidewalks Matter

Alan Ehrenhalt, one of America's leading Communitarian voices, wrote another salient piece for Governing last week. The topic of this article: sidewalks. Sidewalks, Ehrenhalt contends, can function as a venue for casual association. 

Ehrenhalt recalls a time when he and his friends would gather on the sidewalk for hours at a time:

When I was a kid on the South Side of Chicago, we didn’t have front porches. We and our neighbors would congregate during summer evenings on the placid sidewalks of Everett Avenue, trading gossip and opinion while standing around in little knots of weak-tie fellowship.

What, though, does Ehrenhalt mean by "weak ties"? Well, weak ties, in contrast to strong ties, represent casual relationships, like those between two neighbors in an apartment building or peripheral acquaintances that smile and nod to each other in the grocery store.  While these passing interactions may seem trivial, they are actually an immeasurably important component of robust community life. If two people walking past each other on the sidewalk stop for a quick chat, or even just a brief exchange of niceties, they are, in essence, communicating something very important: that this community is a safe space and one that respects social etiquette. 

But what if the sidewalks are in shambles? Then where do the two neighbors go to shoot the breeze? A lack of adequate infrastructure is detrimental to people's ability to engage in social interactions.  

Ehrenhalt notes that many city governments allocate little in their budget to sidewalk maintenance and construction:

A recent study by the urban planner Todd Litman concluded that the average city spent about 1 percent of its infrastructure budget on sidewalks, even though walking accounted for 11 percent of residents’ trips every day and pedestrian fatalities constituted 17 percent of all traffic deaths.

 More people ought to be talking about this...

And, sadly, it is low-income communities that bear the brunt of this neglect. Not only do folks in these forgotten municipalities lose out on valuable social capital by not having walkable sidewalks, but they face an appallingly high risk of being killed by automobiles speeding down the road. People should not have to fear this in their communities. 

More attention has to be paid to infrastructure, as it can facilitate much needed societal connectedness in towns across America. And, ultimately, more people need to read publications like Governing and Public Square: A CNU Journal. These publications understand the importance of the Communitarian spirit and the positive role of proper city planning.