What is the cause of our polarized politics? Some blame one party or the other, and that is certainly plausible. But I wonder if the problem goes deeper. Our two parties are fighting for the future. We are polarized because we disagree about what it would mean to make America better. Beyond that, the arguments are so extreme because in our post-modern age we cannot agree about what it means to be reasonable.
John Adams explains the rise of Donald Trump. From the third volume of The Defence of the Constitutions, which I am currently working on for an edition with Liberty Fund: This whole story is a demonstration of the oppression of the people under the aristocracy; of the extreme jealousy of that aristocracy of kings, of an oligarchy, and of popular power; of the constant secret wishes of the people to set up a king to defend them against the nobles, and of their readiness to fall in with the views of any rich man who flattered them, and set him up as…
Peggy Noonan recently suggested that “elites are often the last to see their system is under siege. ‘It couldn’t be, I’ve done so well.’” There is much to this idea, especially in a nation like America where many are, in fact, doing very well, and are often socially isolated from others who are not doing so well. Near zero interest rates have flooded the stock market with money, and that, among other things, has been good for the wealthy. Outside of that, however, things are tougher, and not only economically. Because Americans are increasingly isolated socially and economically, our governing class often has trouble seeing this reality.
Our system was supposed to be designed to ensure regular contact between elites and the common citizen.
A great deal of ink has been spilled of late on the question what, exactly, it means for someone to be a natural born citizen under the U.S. Constitution. As Senator Cruz was born in Canada, to a mother who was a citizen and father who was not a citizen, the question is on point. The Constitution states in Article II that “no Persons except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”
What, exactly, does that mean?
What Miracle on 34th Street Teaches Us About the Virtues of Capitalism.
Earlier this week I found myself watching Miracle on 34th Street. I never before noticed what a fine job it does explaining the connection between the market economy and virtue. If I taught economics rather than history I might use a few clips from the movie in class.
One of the most revealing cinematic moments of recent memory was at the beginning of the first Austin Powers film.
As those who saw this 1997 comedy recall, Powers, a British secret agent, had been cryogenically frozen in 1967 in case his nemesis, Dr. Evil, should ever return. Fast forward 20 years and Dr. Evil again threatens to take over the world, prompting the British secret service to reanimate our hero. Powers opens his eyes and is introduced to an American officer and also to General Borschevsky. The latter’s presence startles him. “Russian intelligence, are you mad?” he asks. When he’s informed that the Cold War between Russia and the West has ended, he doesn’t miss a beat: “Well! Finally those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh comrades?” Then he’s told who won. His sheepish comeback, with a weak thumbs up: “Groovy, smashing. Yay capitalism.”
It was parody, but this scene was nonetheless full of meaning.
The GOP needs more than cosmetic surgery. It’s either showing signs of great health or is in crisis, or perhaps a little of both. The party controls both houses of Congress and is hitting historic highs in governorships and state legislatures. An array of bright, young, plausible Republican Presidents campaigns for the Oval Office—a far cry from 2012, when former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won largely because he seemed to be the only person who was truly up to the job.
David Brooks is in an angry and spiteful mood. Perhaps he’s even getting to be a bit unhinged, as history is putting his vision of American conservatism onto its rubbish heap.
Reading through John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions, (I am currently preparing an edition for Liberty Fund), several passages have brought me up short, as they shed much light upon our current circumstances. Adams was among those who believed that, human nature being constant, history was a source of humane wisdom. His “Discourses on Davila,” which Adams often called the fourth volume of the Defence begins with an epigraph from Aesop that translates roughly as “happy are those who can learn wisdom from the misfortunes of others.”
There is no greater sign of what a good and generous people Americans are than our troubles over immigration.
Were Americans a downright mean people, we would have no compunction about shipping illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin en masse. Yet that is politically unacceptable. Why? Because most of us would find it morally unacceptable, particularly for people who have been here for long time and have begun to put down roots.
Kicking out someone who has just crossed the border without our permission is another matter altogether. But plenty of Americans object even to that. If these are poor people, arriving in our prosperous country to improve their lot in life, as most of our ancestors did, who are we to object?