November 4, 2018


Anti-Liberal Zealotry Part I: Our Immoderation (Peter Berkowitz, September 14, 2018, Real Clear Policy)

Our politics increasingly encourages citizens -- members of the intellectual and political elite particularly -- to take to an extreme the perennial human propensity to take one's opinions to an extreme. This imperils liberal democracy in America.

More than most forms of government, American liberal democracy is a hybrid, multi-dimensional regime. Grounded above all in the conviction that human beings are by nature free and equal, the American constitutional order embodies a mix of principles. It draws upon and shelters a variety of traditions. And it calls upon citizens to tolerate a diversity of beliefs and practices, including beliefs with which they may intensely disagree and practices of which they may strongly disapprove.

To accommodate these manifold tendencies, the Constitution establishes complex institutional arrangements that summon the political moderation -- that is, the ability to combine and reconcile competing claims about sound policy and justice -- on which the American experiment in self-government depends. 

Resisting the Constitution's incentives to combine and reconcile, leading figures on the left and right seem bent on heightening tensions and magnifying divisions. Donald Trump's ascent to the White House exacerbated both camps' growing determination, in evidence well before Trump upended the 2016 presidential campaign, to insist that the apocalypse is just around the corner. Powerful conservative voices argued that a Hillary Clinton victory would irreversibly entrench a ubiquitous progressivism that ruthlessly uses government to redistribute wealth, regulate the economy, and restrict worship and speech. Since the election, many prominent progressive voices, joined by a few vehement conservatives (and ex-conservatives), have accused Trump of wrecking democracy in America by debasing political discourse, trampling on norms, corrupting political institutions, empowering working-class bigots and white supremacists, and undermining the rule of law.

The reality is that our politics is so partisan precisely because there are so few differences over policy at the End of History.  And this has, ironically, made compromise more difficult, because while the two sides advocate identical policies, they desperately want to deny the other side credit for achieving them.  This generates the strange phenomenon where Bill Clinton vetoes his own Welfare to Work program so Newt Gingrich doesn't get sole credit for it, where Democratic Senators (including Barrack Obama) defeat immigration reform so that W doesn't get credit for it and where Republicans fight hammer and tongs to deny the value of their own Heritage Plan for healthcare--though, revealingly, they never use their power to do anything about it.

This is why it would be so useful to organize an Obama/Bush Roadshow and have the two ex-presidents tour the country and expound upon our commonalities and discuss the sorts of overlap between the two parties on extant issues, so we could see the shape of possible compromises.  

For instance, on immigration, we could easily forge a coalition around the twinned policies of Closed Borders and Open Immigration.  What bothers even non-racists about our current situation is the aesthetics--that by allowing so much illegal immigration we essentially have no policy and no control over our own borders.  Americans don't want less immigration--nor much more--we just want an orderly process that is fair to all seeking to come here. 

A bill that set aside money to "Build the Wall" and that adopted an Ellis Island model for processing newcomers would restore that sense of orderliness.  

The recording and issuance of official identification would pull millions out of the shadow economy and help them find work, help businesses hire honestly, help law enforcement find wrongdoers, etc.   

We would get the more diverse immigrant population that many on the Right desire because people would not have to rely on sneaking over the border to get in.  Just as prior generations knew that they would be welcomed once they got here by boat, folks could fly in to anywhere and know they had not wasted their life's savings.  

Just as importantly, a more open and legalized system would allow people to return home to their nation of origin if they fail to adapt or simply choose to live elsewhere.  In the past, this was a great boon to both them and their homelands. Anyone who has ever worked with many immigrants will be familiar with the desire of some to take their experience and new wealth and return home to open their own business. A healthy policy would make that easier to do.

Given the increasing demand for labor and raw population, one can easily see a future where businesses and states would have recruiting operations at points of entry to try and lure immigrants.  This would entail offering benefits that would only speed their adaptation to and assimilation into American society. (Even illegals are currently assimilating faster than any prior cohorts, thanks to mass media.)

Of course, the fact remains that some portion of the Right--the hardcore ethno-nationalists--and of the Left--the anti-religious, environmental extremists and paleo-organized labor types--would not be satisfied with such a compromise, because they genuinely oppose immigrants.  But even that opposition would serve American purposes because it would expose their marginality.

Meanwhile, America would have moved beyond one big divisive issue.

Posted by at November 4, 2018 6:27 AM