Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
This year’s midterm election offers the starkest contrast between the two parties in recent memory, making the choice of which to vote for obvious. We have reached a critical point in the long-developing transformation of our country from a democratic republic to the concentrated power and “soft despotism” of a technocratic elite. This year’s vote will determine whether Donald Trump’s pushback against that transformation will continue, or whether it will stall.
Democrats, of course, have been the main engine of that transformation. For over a century their politics and policies have relentlessly shifted further and further toward the progressive left. They have embraced and institutionalized the doctrines of technocracy based on a rejection of the Constitutional order and its philosophical assumptions that common sense, practical experience, virtue, and traditional wisdom are sufficient to make people capable of self-rule.
Democrats also rejected the Founders’ deep-seated fear of concentrated and centralized power, a lesson taught on every page of political history for 2500 years: No amount of technical training or knowledge can change a flawed human nature and its permanent vulnerability to the lust for power that always ends in tyranny. Hence the Founders’ separation and dispersal of power among the sovereign states and the three branches of the federal government. Protected by divided powers, the liberty of self-reliant and self-governing citizens became the bulwark against the self-aggrandizement of power by elites, and the tyranny that follows.
The more the Democrat Party moved toward progressive technocracy, the more it abandoned ordered liberty as the most important reason for government to exist in the first place. Instead it endorsed the grand narrative of modernity: The inevitable progress and improvement of people and society, based on “human sciences” presumably as successful as physics and mathematics at effecting improving changes, would create the brave new world that avoided the miseries and sufferings of the benighted past. Technological progress became the model for this dream, its success in the material world now to be achieved in the human, social, and political realm. Of course, such a regime required “experts” to be installed in the centralized bureaus and agencies of the federal government, and to be given the power over policy once the purview of the representatives elected by the sovereign people and accountable to them at the ballot box. Now divided and balanced power was scorned as an 18th century anachronism and systematically degraded.
Accelerating under Franklin D. Roosevelt, this ideological program relentlessly moved forward, bringing along many Republicans who accepted the inevitability of the technocratic, redistributive state, and found that the centralization of power and privilege served their own interests as well. They embraced the Democrats’ underlying technocratic assumptions, and ceded their legislative authority to the cadres of unelected, unaccountable federal workers, and to the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, which now essentially legislate laws, enforce them, and determine their legitimacy.
Eventually, this bipartisan progressive paradigm provided the foundations of the “ruling center” in which Democrats set the bounds of acceptable policy and political discourse, and Republicans practice the “preemptive cringe” in the face of Democrat overreach. This dynamic is lauded as “bipartisanship,” the preferred method of progressive rule by political technicians, who see citizens as their wards and clients, and dismiss the Constitution’s separation and balancing of power and factions as inefficient “partisanship” that keep us from “solving problems.”
What accelerated this long-developing transformation of the political order and brought us to this momentous choice was Barack Obama. Exploiting our dysfunctional racial narrative of indelible white racism and guilt, Obama was twice elected on the hope of racial redemption on the cheap, and the promise of technocratic expertise and “science-based” government. All voters had to do was ignore his public record of leftist progressivism, and whites would be forgiven. Then the races could start coexisting like human beings in a world with “no white Americans, no black Americans,” rather than remain trapped in an eternal racial melodrama in which whites always have to pay.
But the Democrats’ true intensions soon became clear. Racial reconciliation was a pipe-dream, as Obama and his Attorney General interfered in racial conflicts and stoked the fires. Policies like Obamacare well beyond the progressive-lite center began to emerge. Crackpot ideas of the cultural left escaped from the universities and began an all-out assault on the Bill of Rights in service to an illiberal identity politics. Political correctness, imposed on the country and enforced by the technocratic federal overlords, grew ever more intrusive and totalitarian. Citizens who resisted their patronizing tutelage were insulted as “bitter clingers to guns and religion,” “deplorables,” or “wacko-birds,” as the Dems’ favorite conservative John McCain called them. Protesting the admission of nearly two million poorly vetted immigrants a year was decried as “xenophobia” and “racism.” Patriotism and national pride were demonized, and American sovereignty subordinated to the global technocratic elite and its “rules-based order” alleged to be superior to a toxic American exceptionalism.
But typical of all tyrants, the Democrats overreached. Obamacare, growth-killing regulations, and higher taxes at home; and a foreign policy of retreat, “leading from behind,” and apology for America’s sins abroad marked the progressives’ hubristic certainty that they could ride roughshod over the bipartisan consensus that at least had checked some of the left’s ambitions by reminding them––in 1968 1972, and 1980–– that the US remained a center-right country most of whose citizens self-identified as conservatives or moderates. The political success of “New Democrat” Bill Clinton followed his recognition of this truth, which he brilliantly exploited as a “Third Way” and more cynically, as “triangulation.”
The Dems’ arrogance at ignoring Clinton’s strategy during the Obama years was punished with the loss of the House and then the Senate, along with most of the state governments. A sluggish recovery and foreign policy debacles like Benghazi, the rise of ISIS, and the catastrophic Iran deal showed starkly the failure of the technocratic elite when its utopian delusions and ideological pretensions met the stern taskmaster of a world of hard, cruel men who respected only brutal force. The wages of progressive statism––more intrusive federal power, illiberal policies backed by executive fiat and the courts, the corruption of federal agencies by partisan interests, and a worsening of race relations–– had earlier fueled the Tea Party, which galvanized the discontent and helped the Republicans take the House in 2010.
Then came Donald Trump.
Trump launched an all-fronts assault on the bipartisan consensus. The establishment Republicans, who used the Tea Party for electoral gain but didn’t address the larger discontents it gave voice to, revealed with some exceptions their fealty to the social and cultural shibboleths that marked the elite apart from the middling classes and non-college educated working class of flyover country. In contrast, Trump spoke in the direct, earthy, and at times vulgar idiom that has been part of American folkways since the Republic’s beginning. His disdain both for totalitarian censorship by politically correct commissars, and for the illiberal neo-tribalism of identity politics, captured the citizens’ anger at the double-standards and hypocrisy of the holier-than-thou nomenklatura virtue-signaling as it grubbed for more privilege and power. The progressives helped stoke the anger even more with their eternal media savaging of the president that culminated in the still festering Russia collusion show-trial and the shameful slandering of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Equally important, on issues such as hyper-regulation of the economy, the relentlessly metastasizing federal bureaucracy, the addiction to high taxes, the excesses of activist federal courts, and the dysfunctions of our immigration policies, Trump expressed the common sense that many ordinary people used to understand just how much our government has failed the people.
And, so far, his policies have worked. Trump is reshaping the courts, appointing 84 federal judges, including two Supreme Court Justices, who promise to rein in for decades the judicial activism the progressives have relied on to implement their policy preference without having to face the voting citizens. On the economic front, wages and salaries have the highest year-to-year gain, 3.1%, in a decade. Economic growth has reached 3.5% this quarter, a rise that progressive economic savants had announced impossible. Unemployment is the lowest in decades, and more new jobs have been created than people available to fill them. Consumer confidence is at an 18-year high. Tax reform has put more money in people’s pockets. Repatriated corporate taxes have fueled investment in the domestic economy rather than abroad.
Finally, Trump has returned common sense to our foreign policy. He has backed out of multinational treaties like the Paris Climate Accords, and the disastrous agreement to bribe Iran into delaying for less than a decade its development of nuclear weapons. Both were manifestations of the long failure of the decrepit “rules-based international order” that served mainly the transnational global elites at the expense of national sovereignty and the people. He has moved our country closer to the traditional mission of foreign policy, which is to serve the interests and security of American citizens and put them first, not the interests of some fantasy “global community” or the “cosmopolitan” functionaries of transnational institutions. This credo of putting America first, and his full-throated expression of this sentiment has revived and celebrated the patriotism and national pride that progressives and Davos Man have long scorned and slandered as the nursery of fascism rather than of democratic freedom for distinct and diverse national identities.
On Tuesday we will face the choice: continue to push back against the progressive agenda to “fundamentally transform America,” or continue to feed the progressive Leviathan at the cost of our freedom, autonomy, sovereignty, and national identity of a people who have never been perfect, but have advanced and inspired prosperity and freedom more than any other country in history.
Common sense tells us the choice is obvious. Vote for freedom, and vote for America.