Podcast: Empire Has No Clothes, Episode 5, With Congressman Warren Davidson
Can Congress finally take back its constitutional war powers? Don't hold your breath.
On this edition of Empire Has No Clothes, Matt, Kelley, and Daniel speak to Congressman Warren Davidson, Republican of Ohio, and one of the foremost advocates of constitutional war powers in the House. He tells us why Congress so willingly surrendered its authority to declare war to the president and whether they can ever claw it back. They also talk about the toxic U.S.-Saudi relationship and whether reform is finally—finally!—right around the corner.
Listen to the episode in the player below, or click the links beneath it to subscribe using your favorite podcast app. If you like what you hear, please give us a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher, which will really help us climb the rankings, allowing more people to find the show.
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Podcast: Ann Coulter on Why She Turned Against Trump
'He hired no one who supported the MAGA agenda, and brought in half of Goldman Sachs.'
The following is an edited excerpt from bestselling author and columnist Ann Coulter’s interview on TAC’s Right Now podcast last week, about her break with Trump, and how his administration has failed to deliver. To hear the full interview with Coulter, preceded by a conversation with Jeff Sessions, hit play on the widget below, or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or Google Play.
TAC: You’ve been very strong in your condemnation of Trump over his endorsement of Tommy Tuberville over Jeff Sessions in the Alabama senate race. Why does this race matter to people who don’t live in Alabama, and what caused you to sour on Trump?
Coulter: That’s funny, I thought I was soft-pedaling it. I’ve just gotten really fed up. We knew Trump was a child, I did a podcast with Michael Isikoff and Dan Klaidman and they act like, as so many liberals did during the campaign, like it’s breaking news to Trump supporters that he’s a coarse, vulgar, narcissistic, egomaniacal, lazy individual. No, I grew up in New Canaan, familiar with Donald Trump in New York, well aware of him, though I have never seen an episode of The Apprentice, during the campaign it seemed like it was an actually an advantage that he was such a boorish mongrelo, because he seemed to have no interest in what the fancy people thought. We’d been voting for less immigration for 40, 50 years and the politicians will never, ever give it to us. So when you see the attacks Trump came under, it just seemed plausible to think, let’s try this. We’ve tried elegant politicians, we’ve tried well-spoken politicians, let’s try a complete joke of a candidate, because he would say things like build the wall, the Mexican rapists speech, and then he didn’t back down. Yay, hallelujah.
Turns out we didn’t get that advantage. No, his boorishness, narcissism and egomaniacal childish behavior went in all the worst directions he could possibly go in, starting with not keeping any of his promises. He was too lazy. As I pointed out in In Trump We Trust, every one of his major promises is 100 percent in the control of the president. He didn’t need Congress. They kept saying, how is he going to build the wall without Congress, and I kept saying the president is Commander-in-Chief, he has full authority to build the wall. But it turns out that would have required him to, I don’t know, make a phone call. Get up and walk to the other side of the room. Nah, I’ll just sit here and tweet Michael Moore conspiracy theories about Joe Scarborough killing his intern, that’s more fun. I’ll sit in bed eating a cheeseburger.
He could have continued to do that. I mean, look at the courts, the one bright spot of the entire Trump administration, he wouldn’t have known Brett Kavanaugh if he’d found him in his soup. He turned over the courts to the Federalist Society. That’s what we hoped he would do with his promises on immigration, on building the wall, on deporting illegals, on signing the anchor baby executive order, on ending the guest workers or indentured servitude provisions. But no, he hired none of his early supporters, he hired no one who supported the MAGA agenda, and brought in half of Goldman Sachs. The Donald Trump administration had more Goldman Sachs employees than the Bush and Obama administrations combined. That’s why we never got the ending of the carried interest loophole.
In any event, to fast forward to what I was upset about this week. Trump has a habit of creating messes for himself because he’s so easy to play. So, so easy to play. You could get him to admit to robbing a bank by sitting him down and saying, ‘we know you weren’t the brains of the operation, you were just the getaway driver,’ and he’s say, ‘No, no! I was the one who shot the bank clerk! That was me! That was my decision!’ He recently did this with coronavirus, this famed 3D chess everyone keeps telling me about. No politician wants to be in charge of reopening, because every death the media is going to leap on. So for some reason, the media got a bee in their bonnet, saying Trump has nothing to do with reopening, this is up to governors and mayors. And the next day, he holds a press conference saying it’s my decision.
After the Lester Holt interview, for some reason he gets it into his head to blame Jeff Sessions, because who technically appointed the special prosecutor? Rod Rosenstein. Rod Rosenstein was Donald Trump’s pick to be the assistant attorney general. He put Rod Rosenstein in that position, it was his choice, it was his appointee. And as for Sessions recusing himself, this always gets lied about by the Donald Trump brown-losers, it was 100% manifestly obviously required for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into the campaign. It wasn’t anything having to do with Russia. If it had something to do with Burisma, or something new that came up during the administration, then of course Sessions could oversee it, but he was part of the Trump campaign. The Democrats’ conspiracy theory about Trump was that his campaign conspired with Russia. Sessions was part of the Trump campaign. Of course he had to recuse himself, by law he had to recuse himself.
But this gigantic fruitcake in the Oval Office, instead of just firing Sessions, and by the way Sessions offered his resignation the day after. When Trump first came into office Sessions recommended, fire Comey right away, start with a clean slate. There would have been no Russia investigation. But he disregarded Sessions’ advice, the day after the special counsel was appointed, Sessions offers his resignation letter, Trump rejects it. Though it would have been stupid, if at any point Trump could have decided to fire Sessions. You’re the president. You’re the president. Fire him. But no. Giant fruitcake doesn’t fire him, he just taunts him, he humiliates him on Twitter, over and over and over again. So needless to say all sane, rational people hated Trump for that, they really hated Trump for that. Sessions was one of two-and-a-half members of Trump’s cabinet who wasn’t an abominable open-borders, forever war, anti-MAGA, anti-Trump person. Sessions was the greatest U.S. senator. He’s great on immigration, he’s great on crime, and apparently, according to the tweets I was reading last night from Ryan Girdusky, that’s the whole reason Jared detests Sessions.
Listen to the rest of the interview here (Coulter begins at about 38:25).
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Endless War Comes Home
The president has shown he has no respect for the law or the Constitution, and last night was no different.
The president ordered an attack on protesters to clear the way for a photo op last night, and he also threatened to deploy the military on American soil:
When Trump had returned safely to the White House less than an hour later, the verdict seemed clear: The president had staged an elaborate photo op, using a Bible awkwardly held aloft as a prop and a historic church that has long welcomed presidents and their families as a backdrop.
In the process, protesters had been tear gassed and attacked, and Trump had taken a raging conflagration and doused it with accelerant.
“We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a singularly immoral act,” said Brendan Buck, a longtime former Hill aide who is now a Republican operative. “The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten.
The president has shown on many occasions that he has no respect for the law or the Constitution, and last night was no different. Trump’s stunt was an affront to constitutional government and the rule of law, and it brings disgrace on everyone that was involved. That is particularly true of the senior military officers that took part in the charade. It was a disgusting display. Even some of Trump’s own officials were apparently disgusted by it:
A senior White House official told @Axios when they saw the tear gas clearing the crowd for Trump to walk to the church: “I’ve never been more ashamed. I’m really honestly disgusted. I’m sick to my stomach. And they’re all celebrating it.” @jonathanvswanhttps://t.co/X0D9huf9Y7
— Lauren Peikoff (@laurenpeikoff) June 2, 2020
Trump’s threat to deploy the military here is an excessive and dangerous one. Mark Perry reports on the reaction from military officers to the president’s threat:
As a senior retired military officer told me: "A lot of troops agree with Trump when he said he wanted to end 'dumb' wars in the Middle East.' Not sure they will agree with him when he tells them to fight wars in the Midwest."
— Mark Perry (@markperrydc) June 2, 2020
More from my senior US military officer, when asked what military does if ordered to deploy domestically: “The answer is simple. If [Gen. Mark] Milley and the JCS don’t want to be seen as Trump’s Praetorian Guard, they’d better be ready to resign.”
— Mark Perry (@markperrydc) June 2, 2020
If senior military leaders go along with what the president is threatening to do, it will be enormously damaging for the military as an institution.
Earlier in the day yesterday, audio has leaked in which the Secretary of Defense referred to U.S. cities as the “battlespace.” Separately, Sen. Tom Cotton was making vile remarks about using the military to give “no quarter” to looters. This is the language of militarism. It is a consequence of decades of endless war and the government’s tendency to rely on militarized options as their answer for every problem. Endless war has had a deeply corrosive effect on this country’s political system: presidential overreach, the normalization of illegal uses of force, a lack of legal accountability for crimes committed in the wars, and a lack of political accountability for the leaders that continue to wage pointless and illegal wars. Now we see new abuses committed and encouraged by a lawless president, but this time it is Americans that are on the receiving end. Trump hasn’t ended any of the foreign wars he inherited, and now it seems that he will use the military in an llegal mission here at home.
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General Milley Checks on His Troops…On the Streets of D.C.
It may have been a silly photo-op and a symbolic announcement, but Trump's calling in the military is not insignificant.
There is nothing more cringe than a political photo op, but when the President of the United States sends his Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out onto the streets during political protests it becomes a bit unnerving, too.
The stagecraft started Monday afternoon with the president leaving the White House grounds with the two aforementioned cabinet officials, along with Attorney General Bob Barr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and assorted White House staff, to the historic St. John’s Church, where he held up a bible. Demonstrators had set fire to the church and the basement had sustained damage the night before.
In order to clear the way for this sojourn, police had used teargas and batons on the largely peaceful protesters outside the White House in the late Monday afternoon sun.
He finished the evening by addressing the nation, announcing he would be deploying federal troops “to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property,” he said. “We will end it now.” He said the military would exert “total domination” over the situation. Again, flash bangs could be heard and smell of tear gas in the air as protesters were dispersed just before the D.C. curfew.
Later there were reports that upwards of 250 military police from Ft. Bragg had been activated for the mission.
Earlier, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called it “dominating the battlespace.” Senator Tom Cotton, a combat veteran and hawk of first order, said in a Tweet, that “if necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry—whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.”
Later Esper and General Milley were seen walking the streets, giving interviews, shaking hands with police.
Milley, donned in his fatigues, told reporters he was “checking” to see how well the deployed D.C. National Guard were doing and said “everyone has the right to protest …. But protest peacefully.”
According to reports some 1,700 DC Guard have been called up and were moving into the city over the weekend. Because D.C. is a federal district, not a state, there was no need to federalize them, they are already under the chain of command. As an aside, Trump put Milley in charge of the “response,” but as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs he is not in the military’s operational chain of command so it is not clear what exactly that role will be.
General Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, walking the streets of Washington DC right now. Briefly spoke to say he is observing the situation. pic.twitter.com/fHcYOTYMzN
— Shabtai (@velvetart) June 2, 2020
It was a rough night Sunday for sure, with a number of businesses broken into, fires lit, buildings and monuments, including the Lincoln and WWII Memorials, spray-painted and defaced. But this isn’t a war and the “soldiers” hadn’t been in the “battlespace” for more than 48 hours. The moment hardly called for a moral boost akin to stoking the troops after the Battle for Baghdad. This was a Trump photo op and Milley and Esper were a command performance.
So what do we at home see? That depends on who you ask. Many Americans, watching the wretched violence on TV and You Tube—store owners in major U.S. cities beaten as they businesses are looted, vehicles smashed, neighborhoods smoldering—will commend the president for taking a stand, calling himself “the law and order president.” They will have no reservations about calling in the military for D.C. or if the president decided to invoke the Insurrection Act to send troops into more volatile cities like Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
Others will look back at the other 12 times presidents used federal troops on domestic soil—the most recent, the Rodney King riots in L.A.—and wonder if Trump’s move is more symbolism than necessity. In Los Angeles in 1992 the city had been on fire for three days and after 5 days, more than 3,700 buildings were torched, a $1 billion worth of damage caused, and 60 people dead. As disturbing the images coming from D.C. over the last few nights are, there is no comparison.
But the symbolism cuts both ways: Milley walking around DC like John McCain in Iraq in 2007—sans helmet, to prove it’s not so bad—after accompanying the president on a cheesy photo op in which protesters had to be forcibly cleared for the cameras, makes him look like a political tool. Esper too, looks like, as one friend noted to me, part of Trump’s “personal praetorian guard.”
It also sends a message, I’m afraid, that we suddenly have an occupying army. This tends to rub some Americans the wrong way. It’s kind of in our DNA. We have accepted, for good or bad, that the laws allow this incursion from time to time but also, that it has often, like President Hoover calling on Gen. MacArthur to bulldoze the World War I Bonus Army marchers, pitted the Army against its own citizens.
And when Esper starts using words like “battlespace” and police taunt citizens by calling out “light ‘em up” while paint balling their neighborhood, it is an uncomfortable reminder of how wide that civ-mil gap has become since 9/11. And how the significance here can be much more powerful than a silly Trump photo op. And not in the way Trump expected.
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Amid Chaos, Trump Deploys Military to Washington
“I am your president of law and order, and an ally of all peaceful protesters," said Trump, with flash bangs heard in the background.
President Donald Trump addressed the nation Monday briefly after protests and violence swept the nation over the weekend in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
As helicopter blades whirred overhead, and flash bangs were heard in the background, Trump declared that, “I am your president of law and order, and an ally of all peaceful protesters.”
The president said justice would be served for George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes during an arrest. Trump said he and “all Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd” and that his administration was “fully committed” to service justice for Floyd and his family.
Holding a Bible and surrounded by aides national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Attorney General Bill Barr, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief of staff Mark Meadows, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Trump said, “We have the greatest country in the world.”
“But in recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others.”
“A number of state and local governments have failed to take action” Trump said, and he promised that “if a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Trump said he will ensure that violent protests end, and that he is willing to deploy “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” in order to maintain order.
Nearby, peaceful protesters were dispersed with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets, about 20 minutes before the 7 p.m. curfew, so that Trump could visit St. John’s Episcopal church across from Lafayette Park.
Meanwhile, an active duty military police battalion of between 200 to 250 military personnel is in the process of deploying to Washington, D.C., from Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, and could be in the nation’s capital as soon as Monday night, according to three US defense officials who spoke to CNN.
Earlier Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper encouraged governors to “dominate the battlespace” and put down nationwide protests in cities across the country.
On a White House phone call with governors on Monday, Esper urged leaders to use force and overwhelm protestors.
“I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal,” Esper said during the call, according to a recording of the call leaked to the New York Times.
During the same phone call, Trump urged governors to dominate and use force to put an end to the protests and violence.
“You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people,” Trump told the governors during the call, which took place from the basement White House Situation Room.
The entire D.C. National Guard was already called up over the weekend to assist along with a host of other law enforcement agencies, including Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, the Secret Service, and U.S. Park Police, to control protests near the White House. Riot teams from the Bureau of Prisons and a Federal Bureau of Investigation hostage rescue team are assisting as well, according to a senior Department of Justice official.
Trump on Monday said in his call with the governors said Washington would be “under much more control” because “we’re pouring in and we’re going to pull in thousands of people.”
“We’re going to clamp down very, very strong,” Trump said, according to an audio recording of the call obtained by CNN. “The word is dominate. If you don’t dominate your city and your state, they’re gonna walk away with you. And we’re doing it in Washington, in DC, we’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before. … But we’re going to have total domination.”
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Susan Rice Suggests Russians Fomented Floyd Protests, Violence Across U.S.
Obama's former national security adviser offered no evidence for her bizarre claim.
President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice suggested without evidence that the Russians could be behind the violent demonstrations that have taken place across the U.S. following the death of George Floyd.
Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Sunday, Rice said:
“We have peaceful protesters focused on the very real pain and disparities that we’re all wrestling with that have to be addressed, and then we have extremists who’ve come to try to hijack those protests and turn them into something very different. And they’re probably also, I would bet based on my experience, I’m not reading the intelligence these days, but based on my experience this is right out of the Russian playbook as well.”
“I would not be surprised to learn that they have fomented some of these extremists on both sides using social media. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they are funding it in some way, shape, or form.”
Rice admits she’s not reading the intelligence anymore, so what makes her think the Russians are behind this?
She doesn’t offer much more in the way of evidence for her assertion, other than that the Russians are the Democrats’ always-present bogeyman, ever ready from behind their poorly translated social media posts to unleash mayhem upon the U.S.
Ever since the election of President Donald Trump, Democrats have blamed Russians for the outcome of the 2016 election.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller found evidence that Russian-linked accounts spent a small amount of money placing social media ads for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election, but there’s nothing to suggest their efforts were successful. The Department of Justice abruptly dropped its prosecution of a Russian-based troll farm, days before trial. Mueller also did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election.
Although the claims of Russian “collusion” in the 2016 election were eventually found to be nearly totally baseless, Rice’s new narrative, that Russians support 2020’s post-Floyd rioting, appears to be even more fact-threadbare.
Rice’s claim drew criticism from across the political spectrum.
There’s a reason Rice’s claim was not taken seriously — besides the lack of evidence for the Russian meddling narrative that has dominated the nation’s political life since 2016, there’s also the sheer ineptitude of the actual Russian trolling and ads themselves.
Just look at this ad the Russians funded from the 2016 election cycle for a taste of how convincing those Russians and their social media campaigns can be:
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The Antifascist Fascists in Our Streets
For Antifa, targeting the innocent and the vulnerable is the whole point.
Yesterday, I wrote about the wonderfully diverse array of jackasses who have used George Floyd’s shooting as an excuse to act out. Today, Andy Ngo delves into what’s clearly the largest of those factions, Antifa, the supposedly anti-fascist left-wing front. He writes at Spectator USA:
The US is getting a small preview of the anarchy antifa has been agitating, training and preparing for. Ending law enforcement is a pre-condition for antifa and BLM’s success in monopolizing violence. Those who are harmed first are the weak and vulnerable, the people who cannot protect themselves. Small business owners in Minnesota pleaded for mercy, even putting up signs and messages in support of the rioters, but to no avail.
The destruction of businesses we’re witnessing across the US is not mere opportunism by looters. It plays a critical role in antifa and BLM ideology. Their stated goal is to abolish capitalism. To do that, they have to make economic recovery impossible. Antifa sees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to exploit an economically weakened America during the coronavirus pandemic.
In other words, all this looting is by design. Antifa’s radical ideology comes with a built-in excuse for cathartic violence. How convenient!
Back in 2018, my friend Zachary Yost suffered his way through Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, a primer on the group written by (but of course!) Dartmouth lecturer Mark Bray. What he found was a chillingly lucid call to revolution that subordinated all else to the goal of overthrowing capitalism and the “Far Right.” So free speech, for example, is dispensable, valuable only to the extent that it enables the coming flames. Yost writes:
By the time he’s finished, Bray has thrown everything and the kitchen sink into the category of fascist ideologies that must be targeted, ranging from whiteness to “ableism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, nationalism, transphobia, class rule, and many others.” Though cloaked in calls to stop oppression, Bray’s book at its core makes the case for the exercise of raw, unbridled power. Under this revolutionary ideology, no dissent can be tolerated. There can be no live and let live—it is all or nothing.
In fairness, Antifa is a wide and somewhat amorphous umbrella, some of whose members may not subscribe to everything Bray says. But what the more committed among them seem to understand is that, come lawlessness, power will flow naturally to he who has the most muscle, he who’s most willing to pick up a brick and throw it, at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. Remember that tonight when we inevitably see more violence in the streets. Senselessness is the point. Preying on the innocent is the goal.
Remember after Charlottesville when some on social media compared these guys to the American soldiers who fought the Nazis at Normandy? I don’t want to hear another word about that. Antifa may stand for antifascist, but Yost’s piece makes it clear that they’re fascist to their marrow. And as with many latter-day fascists and extremists, Antifa are simultaneously cogent at the manifesto level and utterly delusional as to likely outcomes. They aren’t going to overthrow capitalism or Donald Trump. They may, however, affect the election in five months, with the most likely beneficiary the president they so despise.
These people are self-defeating morons, yes, but they still have the potential to do great damage. Last night, here in Washington, the unrest they helped fuel saw a church lit on fire, LaFayette Park near the White House set ablaze, the AFL-CIO building attacked, and the Lincoln Memorial defaced. This is how a Franco ends up in power: because even churches are being targeted, even the moderate leftists aren’t safe. Bully people long enough and they long for a bully of their own. That Antifa has desecrated the protests over George Floyd’s death this way is appalling and I wish them nothing but the worst.
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An Embattled Trump Unveils a New China Policy
The president took to the Rose Garden Friday while contending with parallel crises.
WASHINGTON– It’s heating up.
As the United States embarks on a fourth month of a chain reaction of crises spurred by the novel Coronavirus, a president with flagging re-election chances addressed a weary nation Friday. Donald Trump and senior members of his foreign policy and economic teams — top diplomat Michael R. Pompeo, leading China hawk Peter Navarro, trade representative Robert Lighthizer, National Security Council chief Robert C. O’Brien and Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin — unveiled fresh policy on the People’s Republic of China. Trump’s national address in the Rose Garden Friday was the first since anarchic protests broke out in several American cities — centrally, Minneapolis — earlier this week, in response to the controversial death of Minnesota man George Floyd at the hands of police, which followed months of national frustration.
China hawks — including Navarro and powerbroker, informal advisors to the administration such as Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon — have repeatedly urged an uncompromising response to the hostile actors in Beijing. Proponents of a tougher line have consistently argued for a nationally-minded surge of power: the United States should have a tariff policy, and it should begin returning the nation’s critical supply chains closer to Washington’s orbit. Yet, while Trump has been the most tough-minded president on China in at least a generation, he has remained something of a moderate within his own court, as well as within a broader American foreign policy community that’s wised up and changed its mind on the Chinese state.
Balancing a national security legacy with shorter-term, finance-minded considerations has been a hallmark of the Trump approach. This was perhaps most on display with the negotiation of the flawed “Phase One” trade deal that was inked just before the pandemic began battering the American mainland. After laying out the depressing recent history of American diplomacy toward Beijing, the president — true to form — began his address on the subject with an equivocal tone: “But I have never solely blamed China for this. They were able to get away with the theft, like no one was able to get away with before, because of past politicians, and frankly, past presidents.”
Still, what was obvious Friday at the White House was a paradigm shift unimaginable even five years ago, just before Trump announced for president. “We must have answers,” Trump said. “Not only for us, but for the rest of the world. This pandemic has underscored the crucial importance of building up America’s economic independence, re-shoring our critical supply chains, and protecting America’s scientific and technological advances.” The president said the United States is severing its relationship with the World Health Organization — under fire since the inception of the crisis for its toadyism toward the Chinese state. And he echoed the disappointing news announced by Pompeo earlier this week — that in the face of recent Chinese actions, the United States can longer consider the leadership in Hong Kong distinct from the Communist Party.
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The Tea Party Returns, Departs
Rich Lowry thinks we're back to the politics of 2009. He's right, though it's hard to see it lasting.
Over at National Review, Rich Lowry has some fun with those trads who spent months banging on about the common good only to suddenly morph into—perish the thought!—libertarians the moment they were asked to wear masks. This he diagnoses as part of a broader trend. The conservative movement, he thinks, is partying like it’s 2009:
What’s happened during the lockdowns is that the natural distrust that populists have of experts has expressed itself in opposition to government rules. Being told what to do by epidemiologists and government officials wielding all-caps SCIENCE as their authority has been enough to bring Tea Party–era liberty back in vogue.
We’ve also seen a return of the glue that has held moral traditionalists and libertarians together in the conservative coalition for so long — the belief that big government is a threat to traditional institutions. Hence, the focus on resuming church services.
Certainly if anything can cement the bonds between the God and freedom crowds (but I repeat myself), it’s a government shutting down churches. The Tea Party was always more fusionist than libertarian: polls found that its members’ biggest commonality was their Christianity, not any political position. So it makes sense that the pandemic has sent conservatives back in that direction. Just don’t expect them to stay there for long.
The reason is that the liberty gene tends to dominate on the right only when government abuses are visceral, when they exact a direct toll on lives and pocketbooks. This is why the Tea Party grew into a serious national force during the Obamacare debate. Protesters—not all of whom were Republicans—were worried that the government would ruin their health insurance and medical care. Now, lockdown restrictions are destroying jobs and closing businesses, restricting beloved activities like eating out and fishing. The pain is stark. People feel tread on, and so out come the Gadsden Flags. (We might add that the left is in a sort-of-libertarian mood, too, furious over government bullies in Minneapolis who infringed on a man’s constitutional rights and then some.)
That being said, the lockdown rules will eventually lift. The bloodcurdling George Floyd video will fall from the news cycle. Government will continue to overspend, but funded through borrowing, which minimizes the toll on taxpayers, at least in the short term. The military will continue to overstretch, but with relatively few casualties or gory battles, its tool of choice the pilotless drone. The NSA will continue to pummel the Fourth Amendment into hash browns, but operating always in the background, invisible to most. The threat to liberty will come to feel abstract once again. And when it does, the tricornered hats will likely go back on the shelf.
It is possible that a Joe Biden presidency could trigger another Tea Party revolt, especially if he pushes hard on guns or health care. But even then, we can’t discount all the change that the right has undergone during the age of Trump. It isn’t as much as some claim, but it’s still significant. Issues like trade and tech loom larger than they used to, and on both, government is viewed more as a tool to be wielded than a danger to be restrained. That isn’t all going to disappear overnight, even if deficits suddenly become Democrat deficits again.