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Making a Constitutional Crisis

Liberals continue to try to frame the conversation such that there is no legitimate conservative victory. Note that.

Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Project on International Order and Strategy, Brookings, speaks at the Toward a Europe Whole and Free conference at the Atlantic Council on April 29, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

As always, the main lesson they would like to teach you is that you are not allowed to win. You may be the opposition all you like; indeed, to some degree it’s preferable to have a foil—it gives the illusion of deliberation, of balance, and out-groups make establishing the in-group easier. But you may not, under any circumstances, actually accomplish something. That would be illegitimate, undemocratic, on the wrong side of history. Churchill is supposed to have said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” It is the principle liberals live by; they intend to win, and for you to lose, and then history will not be kind to you, for they will have written it.

A recent essay in the Washington Post illustrates all this very clearly. In “Our Constitutional Crisis is Already Here,” corpulent warmonger Robert Kagan preemptively declares a state of emergency, urging national Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans to disenfranchise the 50 states lest Donald Trump be elected president in 2024. This continues the worst game we could possibly be playing as the United States of America, no matter how many refoundings you think separate us from 1789, a republican death spiral in which anticipatory declarations of coups and countercoups, insurrections and thumbs on scales excuse any action. These public statements are, however, epiphenomenal, not the cause of the rot. As Molly Ball’s gleeful Time retrospective on liberal efforts to “save” the 2020 election showed, electoral machinations are very real and trying to determine who elevated these democratic political arts from the city to the national scale first is an academic exercise; it’s old hat, but gets the occasional refreshment. Work on your forehand all you want, but it’s time to volley.

At the same time, we should not take even the most tired hysterics about imminent fascism and constitutional crises at simple face value. Even from a former Republican such as Kagan, this is not just about Democrats winning in 2024, but also—like Covid, climate change, and racism—a blank check for shoving as much of the liberal agenda through before President Biden’s further senescence and Republican gains in 2022 slightly slow the turning gears. Of course, much of that agenda is about reducing citizens to clients and so building a permanent ruling/ruled majority as the country carries on in managed decline beneath the benevolent eye of international institutions and corporate finance, America as the engine driving towards the global homogenous state, so perhaps this is a distinction without a difference.

Anyway, like most exhibits of the genre, the Kagan column is brazen. While he advises against such genuinely populist measures as “making Election Day a federal holiday and banning partisan gerrymandering,” he endorses the further centralization of elections and federal oversight of state legislatures with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Kagan presents all efforts by states to correct the irregularities and prevent a repetition of the uncertainty of the 2020 election as a nationally coordinated MAGA initiative to guarantee total victory in 2024. The Republican Party is many things—craven, stupid, lazy—but a well-organized cadre prepared and able to take over 50 states is not one of them. Social conservatives, who have for decades been left behind by the national party to rely on the states for any minor wins, might find the fantasy appealing, however.

Of course, many liberals have spent the last months insisting that January 6 was an actual coup attempt, though Kagan sticks to calling it an insurrection. A jacquerie might be more accurate, in a country where the middle class is shrinking away to almost nothing, absorbed by high prole mores on one side and the credentialing of the upper middle class managers on the other, its wealth inflating away under onerous taxation and regulation all the while. But it appears increasingly important for the liberal establishment to emphasize Trump’s base as “middle-class”—the boat and small business owners of the country who, never mind how leveraged they are, make more money than the graduate-school debt laden chatterboxes of the Acela corridor. Revolutionaries need their kulaks.

Kagan joins in, hoping to sound dispassionate and compassionate as he describes MAGA Americans:

The majority were middle-class and middle-aged; 40 percent were business owners or white-collar workers. They came mostly from purple, not red, counties.

Most Trump supporters are good parents, good neighbors and solid members of their communities. Their bigotry, for the most part, is typical white American bigotry, perhaps with an added measure of resentment and a less filtered mode of expression since Trump arrived on the scene. But these are normal people in the sense that they think and act as people have for centuries. They put their trust in family, tribe, religion and race. Although zealous in defense of their own rights and freedoms, they are less concerned about the rights and freedoms of those who are not like them. That, too, is not unusual. What is unnatural is to value the rights of others who are unlike you as much as you value your own.

As it happens, however, that is what the American experiment in republican democracy requires. It is what the Framers meant by “republican virtue,” a love of freedom not only for oneself but also as an abstract, universal good; a love of self-government as an ideal; a commitment to abide by the laws passed by legitimate democratic processes; and a healthy fear of and vigilance against tyranny of any kind.

This is all fair and right up to a point. The passions displayed by voters who want to make America great again are normal human passions, the same that have motivated people forever. It is true that, as Kagan says, Madison and the Framers believed our republic required that certain virtues be cultivated if we were to succeed at ruling and being ruled in turn, which is what it does mean to love self-government, to commit to the rule of law, and to be on guard against tyranny. All this is true.

But that is not what Kagan is saying, and this is not true: the Framers did not set up a cult of freedom as an abstract, universal good. The American idea is not an abstract, universal one, but part of the self-recognition and life of America the country. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration are bound by the laws of mankind’s Creator, and made specific and particular by the “long train of usurpations and abuses,” there listed. The freedoms of the Constitution, the “Blessings of Liberty,” are for “ourselves and our Posterity,” not the peoples of the earth. But Kagan and liberals like him demand that “republican virtue” be defined down from the self-mastery that allows the citizen to command his equals, to a warm and fuzzy veneration for the regime as it is and a happy willingness to lose at every turn. Don’t be cowed. We know what freedom is for; let’s fight for that, and win.

about the author

Micah Meadowcroft is managing editor of The American Conservative. He is also a 2021-21 Robert Novak journalism fellow for the Fund for American Studies. Before joining TAC he served as White House Liaison at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and assisted in speechwriting there. He holds an MA in social science from the University of Chicago, where he wrote on political theory. Previously, he worked as associate editor of the Washington Free Beacon. This is his second stint at TAC, as not so long ago he was an editorial assistant for the magazine. His BA is in history from Hillsdale College, where he also minored in journalism. Micah hails from the Pacific Northwest, and like Odysseus hopes to return home someday after long exile in the East.

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