Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
In 2016 two political earthquakes struck the establishment consensus that has dominated the West since World War II. On June 23 the Britons voted to take England out of the EU. Nearly five months later political neophyte Donald Trump won a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton and become President. These two votes were portents of a major shift away from technocratic rule by elites, and a restoration of national sovereignty and citizen political autonomy.
Both elections, however, over the last three-and-a-half years have been met with concentrated and passionate resistance by each country’s ruling elite, including political quislings from supposedly conservative parties. Tory Remainers, including PM Theresa May, used every delaying tactic to undo the June vote, and along the way showed their disdain for the grubby masses who dared to challenge the ruling class. And they also energized the Labour Party and its anti-Semitic, jihadist-hobnobbing leader, socialist Jeremy Corbyn.
In this country, NeverTrumpers Republican fifth-columnists continue to undermine the President and give comfort to a Democrat party now dominated by its most left-wing elements. And they too have exposed their elitist disdain for the “bitter clingers” and “deplorables” who comprise ordinary Americans living outside the Acela Corridor cocoon. In the latest attempt to poison the well of the 2020 election, the House voted to impeach President Trump just a few days after the British election. In both countries, elites refused to honor the results of legal elections, then turned to media, academic, and celebrity calumny of voters, along with judicial and political skullduggery, to undo the outcome and hamstring their political enemies, the Brexiteers and Trump.
Last Thursday came the voter backlash in the UK. PM Boris Johnson and the conservative Tory party won a majority of seats in Parliament, their biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher, while Labour suffered its worst defeat since 1935. This means that finally Britain will be leaving the EU on January 31. In the U.S., however, we still have eight months before the voters can make their displeasure known. That election will be as critical as the Brits’, but the stakes will be even higher for the most powerful and consequential nation in the world: pushing back on the progressive ideology that for a hundred years has sought to undo the Constitutional order that protects the freedom and autonomy of the states, civil society, families, and individuals––the very bulwarks against the tyranny that the Founders feared.
Indeed, this conflict is the latest iteration of the fundamental question of political philosophy for the last 2600 years: should the masses be allowed political power? The two sides of this question were made clear in ancient Athens, the first constitutional state to give the non-elite citizens the power to participate in government by holding office, voting, and openly taking part in political deliberation. Critics like Plato argued that working citizens didn’t have the time or ability to gain the knowledge necessary for governing, while defenders believed that common sense and practical wisdom acquired by experience were sufficient. Were people condemned to be subject either to the tyranny of the masses or the tyranny of an elite?
The American Constitution solved this dilemma by balancing power through the separation of governmental powers, and federalism, which set the sovereignty of the states against the limited powers of the federal government, thus protecting the freedom and diversity of the people. Unity would be created by loyalty to the Constitutional order and affection for the nation community founded on creed rather than blood and soil.
The Progressive movement in this country beginning in the late 19th century rejected this solution, arguing that new human sciences and technologies could transform and improve human nature. This means power has to be concentrated in federal agencies and bureaus staffed by experts learned in the techniques of managing human motivation in order to improve society and eliminate social evils. The old balanced and divided power is an anachronistic impediment to this goal, and so the Constitution has to become a “living” document that can be altered and improved. And this same belief has led to the European Union, which is founded on limiting the dangerous sovereignty of diverse nation-states, and subjecting them to supranational laws and institutions managed by a technocratic elite who will deliver peace and prosperity.
In the end, the central question is how best to protect human freedom and individual autonomy without descending into democratic anarchy or oligarchic tyranny. As Roger Kimball describes this ideological war between dispersed and concentrated political power,
[T]he real battle is between two views of liberty. One is a parochial view that affirms tradition, local affection, and the subordination of politics to the ordinary business of life. The other is more ambitious but also more abstract. It seeks nothing less than to boost us all up to that plane of enlightenment from which all self-interested actions look petty, if not criminal, and through which mankind as a whole (but not, alas, individual men) may hope for whatever salvation secularism leavened by utilitarianism may provide.
After the explosion of federal power and agencies under FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society programs, the second vision has prevailed in the West. And the defeat of the Soviet Union seemingly ratified the idea that this technocratic order managed by Washington D.C. and Brussels is the solution to that ancient dilemma and the best way to create a utopian “social justice.” Yes, the political freedom and rights of individuals, families, local communities, and states necessarily was diminished. But aren’t we now freer and more equal than ever?
Of course, that “freedom” is more akin to what the Founders called “license”: the power to do whatever one wants no matter the costs to virtue, character, tradition, or the moral health of the nation. This hedonistic idea of freedom, moreover, is sanctioned and financed by the federal government that redistributes revenue to create not just the freedom to consume and indulge our appetites, but a radical egalitarianism that is a parody of true equality, which recognizes the great variety of ability, talent, and virtues that make some more successful than others.
This “transnational progressivism,” as political philosopher John Fonte calls it, is approaching a crisis. It has reduced true human freedom, the ordered liberty that was the Founders’ primary goal; loosened the solidarity of citizens nourished by patriotism for one’s nation, compromising our willingness to defend our country; corrupted character by creating governments “of the dole-drawers, by the dole-drawers, and for the dole-drawers,” as Winston Churchill put it; and finally, has been subsidized by enormous debt, annual budget deficits, and trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities that are fast becoming unsustainable.
The bipartisan managerial elite in this country, and the EU across the Atlantic have evolved into an oligarchy that has run roughshod over the people’s freedom, rights, traditions, faiths, and national pride that comprise their identity. The long-developing backlash against technocratic “soft despotism” intensified in 2016 with national populist movements in several EU countries, most spectacularly with the Brexit vote; and the election of Donald Trump, who shrewdly gauged the discontent with the bipartisan elite that for decades has surrendered ground to the federal technocracy and its championing of illiberal identity politics and its attack on the First and Second amendments.
We may, however, be on the cusp of a paradigm shift away from illiberal technocracy. The Tory victory means that the UK will indeed leave the EU, weakening it considerably and perhaps encouraging other disgruntled members to depart as well. But the more important event will be the reelection of Donald Trump, and the continuation of policies that lessen government interference in the economy and that push back against the tyranny of political correctness and its subversion of our freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.
Right now, it seems that absent a significant economic down-turn, Trump will prevail. The Brexit vote should concentrate the minds of the Democrats, since it was fear of the hard, nasty socialism of Jeremy Corbyn that helped turn many Labour voters to the Tories. The current dominance of socialist policies, illiberal identity politics, and extravagantly costly policies being promoted by the Dems’ primary candidates suggests that they will suffer the same fate as the Labour Party in the UK. The preposterous articles of impeachment, which include nothing close to “high crimes or misdemeanors,” is likely to backfire just as the Republicans’ charges––which were actual crimes––against Bill Clinton did.
Also, voters have not forgotten the Dems’ hysterical, hyperbolic, fabricated Mueller investigation, the corruption of the FBI and DOJ, and the unjust, Salemite treatment of Justice Kavanagh during his confirmation hearing, a performance they have repeated with impeachment hearings. These have violated Constitutional norms and displayed, as law professor Jonathan Turley pointed out during Rep. Nadler’s hearing, a very real “abuse of power.” And don’t forget that Trump has brutally and relentlessly in word and tweet fought back against the entitled, smug, self-righteous, hypocritical celebrities, Democrats, and academic “experts” who lecture us about “social justice,” “racism,” “Islamophobia,” and “open borders” from the opulent safety of their walled mansions, armed guards, and not very diverse tony neighborhoods.
More obviously important is Trump’s performance on the economy. Record stock-market highs, low unemployment rates, high workforce participation, fewer people on food stamps, more cash in people’s pockets, fewer growth-killing regulations, and record oil and natural gas production: All point to an electorate eager to keep the good times rolling. Things will get even better now that a revised trade agreement with Canada and Mexico will finally become law, and China is close to signing a trade agreement that will end for now the tariff war and stop China’s blatant violations of World Trade Organization rules. And don’t forget Trump’s undoing of politically correct illiberal policies from discrimination against religious beliefs, to tyrannical star-chambers in universities.
Finally, there is Trump’s transformation of the federal judiciary by appointing a record 174 federal judges, including two Supreme Court justices, with the likelihood that if he wins a second term, he will appoint at least one more. And just in his first term, now more than one-quarter of appellate court justice are originalists. His pick of relatively young jurists faithful to the Constitution as written means that for decades the progressive agenda will be slowed, and in some cases reversed.
But even if Trump is reelected, will the country return to the Constitutional order of unalienable rights and limited government power? Or are we too far gone? The latter may be a more defensible conclusion. Progressivism’s Leviathan federal government, and the redistributionist policies it has created, are pretty much accepted by most Republicans––as they are by today’s Tories, who campaigned on more social welfare spending rather than less. On that front the progressives have won. Then there is demography. The Greatest Generation is nearly gone, and the Boomers are right behind them. The Millennials who will follow have been marinated in political correctness and progressive ideas their whole lives, as indicated by the pluralities and sometimes majorities of Millennials who approve of socialism and despise capitalism. Perhaps, like many Boomers, they will outgrow their juvenile utopianism. Perhaps not.
But most important is the looming debt, deficit, and entitlement spending crisis. Few people, politician or citizen, have the inclination or political nerve to address a problem that in a few decades will eat up every dollar of the budget. When that reckoning comes, we may see social disorder that will make the antics of Antifa look like an unruly Cub Scout pack.
For now, however, we must follow up the Brexit victory by keeping Donald Trump in office. At least then we will still have a chance to undo the damage done by the technocratic tyrants.
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