Kimberly Strassel has written a timely, bold, and important book explaining why a great many people are supporting Donald Trump for President. You wouldn’t know it from the book’s title, however, because the title — The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech — reflects Ms. Strassel’s mission, which is to reveal the full extent of the threat to free speech and small d democracy brought on by the coordinated efforts of the political left since 2010 to silence conservative opposition.
In 2004 leftwing filmmaker Michael Moore released his film Fahrenheit 9/11, a searing attack on the legitimacy of George Bush’s election to the presidency in 2000, and his handling of events before, during, and after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2011 on the World Trade Center. Moore was unequivocal in his stated hope that the movie would “help unseat a president.”
Fahrenheit 9/11 was produced by Moore’s production company Dog Eat Dog Films, a corporation. At the time – before the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—it was illegal for corporations to spend money “in connection with any election to any political office,” and illegal for an officer of a corporation to consent to such an expenditure.
Imagine if fourteen months after the election, Moore had been indicted by a Bush-appointed federal prosecutor for violating the prohibition on corporate spending. Imagine if Moore was arrested, cuffed, criminally charged for his activities, had his passport confiscated, and bail set at $500,000–what would have been the reaction from the America’s liberals? Of the press? Of Senator Barack Obama?
The state of our liberty provides the best measure of the state of our union, at least in times of relative peace. It was liberty, after all, that our union was meant to secure. And the news here is not happy. Our economic liberty is on the decline as measured by the annual Heritage report. We have fallen out of the top ten of the nations with greatest freedom to create, trade and keep the fruits of our labor. While Congress had made some cuts in discretionary spending, the entitlement state is on track to take an ever greater share of GDP. And civil liberties have hardly been advanced by the systematic snooping of the NSA.
But beyond these objective indicia, there are deeper signs of trouble for our culture of freedom. The bailout of Wall Street suggested that the government protects the financiers and the one percent. This action in turn has energized the forces of envy that are always just below the surface in a democracy. The election of Bill DiBlasio as Mayor of New York on a theme of two cities shows that the movement is taking virulent political form.
Some might argue that Tea Party shows that the founding spirit of Don’t Tread on Me is alive and well.
America is under one-party rule. That is illegitimate because it is irresponsible. Restoring responsible government will take a revolt from within the ruling coalition, or a new party formed explicitly to represent the people against the ruling class.
The New York Times’ “News Alert” heralded the House of Representatives’ passage (359-67) of a single bill that appropriates money for the US government’s discretionary accounts through fiscal 2014: “The legislation, 1,582 pages in length and unveiled only two nights ago, embodies precisely what many House Republicans have railed against since the Tea Party movement began, a massive bill dropped in the cover of darkness and voted on before lawmakers could possibly have read it.” The same day, a Wall Street Journal headline hailed the event as “Budget Deal Gives Parties Break From Fiscal Combat.” Like the Times, the Journal published a summary list of “who gets what” from the $1.1 trillion deal.
The Party bosses and the lobbyists closest to them who worked out the deal over the previous weekend answered only to themselves.
Where does the Tea Party come from? William Galston recently argued that the Tea Party represents an update of the “Jacksonian tradition.” Drawing upon the work of Walter Russell Mead, Galston says that they “embrace a distinctive code, whose key tenets include self-reliance, individualism, loyalty and courage.” That’s true to a point but it also misses something fundamental. There are also some Puritan elements in the Tea Party.
Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader, confessed to big business bureaucrats that he and other Establishment Republicans want to remain their link to government money and favors. According to a Wall Street Journal story (December 16), he asked them to open their wallets lest his kind be overwhelmed — not by Democrats, but by those smelly little Tea Party conservatives — the real threats to the government spending and regulations by which big business thrives.
Cass Sunstein recently published two short essays-here and here-on the current political struggles between “tea-party” conservatives and progressives. In the first essay, Sunstein attempts to link our current political fracturing with the famous standoff between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. His second essay, which compares Whittaker Chambers and Ayn Rand’s divergent philosophies and then links their disagreements to various tendencies within present-day conservatism, is much better.
Increasingly, the US government’s many police forces (often state and local ones as well) operate militarily and are trained to treat ordinary citizens as enemies. At the same time, the people from whom the government personnel take their cues routinely describe those who differ from them socially and politically as illegitimate, criminal, even terrorists. Though these developments have separate roots, the post-9/11 state of no-win war against anonymous enemies has given them momentum. The longer it goes on, the more they converge and set in motion a spiral of civil strife all too well known in history, a spiral ever more difficult to stop short of civil war.
The Republican Party died during the struggle over Obamacare. Its most vital elected officials chose to represent their voters. This left their erstwhile leaders to continue pursuing acceptance by the ruling party, its press and its class. The result is a new party that represents the roughly three fourths of Republican voters whose social identities are alien to those of the ruling class and whose political identity is defined by opposition to the ruling party. These voters are outsiders to modern America’s power structure. Hence the new party that represents them is a “country party” in the British tradition of Viscount Bolingbroke’s early eighteenth century Whigs, who represented the country class against the royal court and its allies in Parliament. The forthcoming food fight over the name “Republican” is of secondary importance.
The IRS stories keep piling up, on top of the other Obama Administration curiosities. Among all the worthy reading, one recent NY Times article remains the most revealing of the many that might be read. See as well my previous post on the “Professionally Political IRS.”
As well, two other commentators need to be kept in mind—investigative reporter and Calvin Coolidge scholar Charles C. Johnson and the sober Pete Spiliakos, who blogs regularly at Postmodern Conservative (a lively team led by Peter Lawler).
Last Sunday’s New York Times had a lengthy article on the “unglamorous” Cincinnati IRS office, which some would identify as the focus of IRS evil. For the most part, the reporting supports the Administration’s current narrative that an out-of-control bureaucracy of this “independent” agency created the current mischief. So, some advise, increase the IRS training budget for the sake of this “understaffed Cincinnati outpost that was alienated from the broader I.R.S. culture and given little direction.” (It also buys into the falsehood (link no longer available) that in 2010 the IRS was “flooded” with 501(c)(3) and 501(c)( 4) applications, when in fact these were fewer than in the previous year. )