Conservatism’s Path Not Taken: In the age of Trump, the right should revisit the neglected Humanist Conservative tradition (JEFFERY TYLER SYCK, JAN 10, 2024, Persuasion)

This brief sketch highlights the five main strands of Humanist Conservatism.

First, it is committed to compassionate capitalism. Humanist Conservatives believe that free market competition is vital to a healthy economy, but that the sometimes-brutal tendencies of capitalism must be offset with generous welfare and jobs programs. Instead of slashing welfare (as Fusionists want) or drastically expanding the regulatory state (as National Conservatives want), Humanist Conservatives long for a more efficient entitlement system that gives money to those who deserve it without unnecessary bureaucratic bloat. Through a generous, semi-public healthcare system, solvent retirement plans, jobs programs for the unemployed, and other reforms, the United States can work to revitalize all geographic areas and not just its urban centers.

Second, Humanist Conservatism seeks to preserve communities. It directs much of its energy towards ending the gradual collapse of American civil society. It adopts this stance partly out of the conviction that human life is best lived in a community with others, but also out of a belief that genuine self-government can only exist in those institutions we inhabit in our daily lives. In practice, this means using government to support and shield what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons”—those intermediary institutions that stand between the individual and the state such as school, church, trade union, town hall, and so on.

Third, Humanist Conservatism stands for pragmatic internationalism. It understands that no nation can simply ignore the universal struggle for freedom across the globe. But Humanist Conservatives also appreciate that promoting international harmony and human rights is no easy task—that to advance such goals requires a painful awareness of our own limitations. In our current moment this would mean providing critical support to allies like Ukraine and Israel. However, it would also mean avoiding the hawkish war mongering that is common on the right. There is no reason to level all of Palestine, provoke a coup in Iran, or goad Vladimir Putin into attacking NATO. Humanist Conservatives understand better than most that as bad as things are now, they can always get worse. The goal of foreign policy is not just to improve the international situation but to prevent it from deteriorating.

Fourth, Humanist Conservatism promotes a pluralist society. It seeks to build a state whose main purpose is to protect the rights of individuals and ensure a multitude of cultural communities can live in harmony. Rather than arrange a battle royale between secular progressivism and our distinct cultural traditions, as National Conservatives do, pluralism permits both to exist harmoniously.

Finally, Humanist Conservatism embraces moderate politics. Polling data shows that most voters are relatively moderate on issues like abortion, transgender rights, and guns. Humanist Conservativism reflects the views of this largely neglected demographic.

These five principles offer a viable alternative to Fusionism and National Conservatism alike. Humanist Conservatism is moderate, broadly appealing, and committed to human flourishing.

The future of all American policies is the past of W.


Biden’s “An Illegal” Remark Is More Than Just a Slip: The president has moved right on immigration. (Isabela Dias, 3/08/24, MoJo)

Biden’s impromptu flub echoed the direction of his policies—making immigrants, as a collective, seem lesser, somehow stripped of peoplehood.

“The rhetoric President Biden used tonight was dangerously close to language from Donald Trump that puts a target on the backs of Latinos everywhere,” Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas said on social media. “Democrats shouldn’t be taking our cues from MAGA extremism.” The National Immigrant Justice Center’s X account posted that “blaming an entire group of people for the alleged acts of one person is xenophobia which must not be tolerated in part of the US government.”

Naturally, Biden’s “an illegal” moment played right into Greene’s hands. The congresswoman took credit for making Biden “go off script” and telling the “truth” by admitting “Laken Riley was murdered by an ILLEGAL!!!” […]

Immigration and the border have been front and center this campaign cycle. Biden also took the opportunity to rail against Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers for tanking a bipartisan senate border deal so restrictive it would have previously been unthinkable for Democrats to stand behind it.


Every adult a share-owner (Shirley R. Letwin & William Letwin, 3/08/24, CapX)

USO would, first of all, give every adult a sense of increased independence in relation to his economic environment, a sense at present confined to a few. Unlike a bank deposit or an insurance policy, a share gives its owner a direct stake and active voice in the management of an enterprise of his choice. It gives its owner a definite relationship to a business. A firm that would otherwise be a remote abstraction – a name, a set of buildings seen from the outside if seen at all, an entity enigmatically discussed in the back pages of the newspaper, an organisation directed by unknown magnates – becomes instead an operation in which the shareholder has a measurable interest, and which, as an active participant, he comes to see more clearly, closer to the inside.

Just as voters in a democracy sense that they exercise some control over how they are governed because they have the power, at the very least, periodically to turn the rascals out, so shareowners acquire an enlarged sense of being in control of their lives. By being a shareowner, a person becomes a freer man.

To value freedom is to hold that every adult ought to have a sense, accurate rather than illusory, of controlling his own life. In the past, certain advocates of free government maintained that nobody could enjoy real political or economic independence unless they owned land. Today, in an industrialised society, this is no longer feasible nor necessary. The ideal of independent proprietor-farmers has yielded to the ideal of a property-owning democracy.

Not all forms of property however can serve that ideal equally well. Title to one’s dwelling – which some 60% of British households now possess, thanks partly to the policies of the present Government – is in many ways desirable and commendable. But it does not give one a direct interest in, or what is more important, a right of control over, productive enterprises. In other words, owning one’s home does not, like owning shares, involve one in public economic life.

Further, the vast majority of British adults own investments in bank accounts, life insurance, unit trusts, and pension funds; and they thereby, though often unknowingly, possess indirect claims on shares owned by such financial intermediaries. But here again, however rewarding such investments are financially, they do not and can not give their owners a sense of enjoying a rightful and potentially active voice in determining the policies of the nation’s enterprises. In short, the ideal form of a property-owning democracy in today’s world is a share-owning democracy.

The future of all American policvies is the past of W.


Trump says he’s long worked ‘hand in hand’ with Black people. Let’s review. (Glenn Kessler, February 27, 2024, Washington Post)

You could begin the story in the 1950s, when Trump’s father, Fred, became the subject of a protest song, “Old Man Trump,” written by one of his tenants, folk singer Woody Guthrie, who objected to the all-White environs of his apartment complex. “I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate he stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts when he drawed that color line here at his Beach Haven family project … Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower / Where no black folks come to roam,” the lyrics go.

Trump’s first appearance in the New York Times was under the headline “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City.” The front-page article detailed how the Justice Department had brought suit in federal court against Trump and his father, charging them with violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act (another LBJ bill that helped Black people) in the operation of 39 buildings through their Trump Management Corporation. The city Human Rights Commission had tested what would happen if Black and White people tried to rent the same Trump apartments — and discovered White people could easily get a rental but Black people were told nothing was available. A DOJ subpoena revealed that Black applications were marked with a “C,” for “colored.”

Donald Trump, then 27, took the lead in defending the case and told the Times that the charges “are absolutely ridiculous.” He added: “We never have discriminated and we never would.” The Trump Management Corporation turned around and sued the U.S. government right back.

Elyse Goldweber, a Justice Department lawyer who brought the suit, recalled in 2019 that Trump remarked to her during a coffee break: “You know, you don’t want to live with them either.”


Donald Trump’s Cash Crunch Just Got Much, Much Worse (Roger Sollenberger, Feb. 20, 2024, Daily Beast)

On Tuesday, Trump’s “Save America” leadership political action committee reported raising just $8,508 from donors in the entire month of January, while spending about $3.9 million, according to a new filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Nearly $3 million of that overall spending total was used for one purpose: to pay lawyers.

At the same time, the Trump campaign itself reported a net loss of more than $2.6 million for the month of January. It raised about $8.8 million while spending around $11.5 million, according to a separate filing made public on Tuesday.

The filings reveal that Trump is continuing to burn through his donors’ funds as he struggles to feed two massive cash drains—astronomical legal bills stemming from numerous civil cases and four criminal indictments, plus the costs of a national presidential campaign.


The Mass Psychology of Trumpism (Dan P. McAdams, 2/20/24, New/Lines)

Trump’s enduring appeal stems from the perception — his own and others’ — that he is not a person. In the minds of millions, Trump is more than a person. And he is less than a person, too.

In 1962, a prominent Harvard psychologist published a scholarly paper titled “The Personality and Career of Satan.” Henry A. Murray examined how, for over 2,000 years, Western theologians and other writers have depicted the mythical figure of Satan, projecting onto him human traits perennially designated as evil.

It is worth noting that Murray’s characterization of Satan bears an uncanny resemblance to the psychological portrait of Trump painted by many psychologists today. A malignant narcissism rages at the core of Satan’s personality. Cast out of heaven for his overmastering pride, Satan wants to be God, resents the fact that he is not God and insists that his supreme worth entitles him to privileges that nobody else should enjoy while undergirding his reign as sovereign of the mortal world below. Wholly self-centered, cruel, vindictive and devoid of compassion and empathy, Satan nonetheless possesses substantial charisma and charm. Completely contractual in his approach to interpersonal relationships, he has perfected the art of the deal, as when, in the Gospel of Luke, Satan tempts Jesus with earthly powers and riches in return for his adulation: “If thou will therefore worship me, all shall be thine.”

Situated in a middle ground between God and human beings, Satan is a liminal figure. He is like a person but not quite a person. For one, he is gifted with superhuman powers of the sort, Murray writes, that children have always imagined they might possess in the furthest reaches of their wish-fulfilling fantasies. But he does not possess certain qualities that adults especially value and recognize as part of the human condition. He lacks wisdom, for example, and love. He is not troubled by a complex inner life, by the doubts, ambivalences and moral quandaries that routinely run through the consciousness of mature humans. He is instead like the modern conception of a superhero. Satan is one-dimensional and mythic, an idealized personification, rather than a fully articulated person.

Donald Trump sees himself in the same way. While Trump insists that he is a force for good rather than evil, he truly perceives himself to be qualitatively different from the rest of humankind. He has often compared himself to a superhero. He has famously described himself as a “stable genius” who has never made a mistake. He is not lying when he makes these outrageous claims, for Trump truly believes them to be true, just as he believes he won the 2020 election.

At the same time, Trump is incapable of describing an inner psychological life or of identifying traces of reflection, emotional nuance, doubt or fallibility. Even though he talks about himself all the time, Trump has never been able to explain his inner world or to narrate stories about how he has come to be the person he is, as frustrated interviewers and biographers have repeatedly noted.

In my book “The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning” (2020), I argue that Trump lacks a narrative understanding of himself in time. A well-established line of psychological research shows that human personhood is tied up with narrative and storytelling. People understand their lives as narratives evolving over time. But Trump is the curious exception, in that there seems to be very little by way of a story in his head about who he is and how he came to be. He is instead what I call “the episodic man,” living outside of time in the eternal moment, fighting in the here and now to win the battle at hand, episode by episode, day by day. At the center of Trump’s personality lies a narrative vacuum, the space where the self-defining life story should be but never was. As such, Trump is rarely introspective, retrospective or prospective. There is no depth, no past and no future.

Currently reading Ian Kershaw’s Hitler bio and the parallels are truly striking, especially the core hollowness of both men, which they fill up with hate.


Donald Trump and the Lost Cause (Angie Maxwell, March 30, 2016, VQR)

Southern whiteness is not just about race. Yes, that is how it started. But as Southern whites faced the changing twentieth century, they became the “other” or foil to American identity. Each time the criticism poured in, they defined themselves in opposition to a growing pantheon of enemies. Southern whiteness expands beyond racial identity and supremacy, encapsulating rigid stances on religion, education, the role of government, the view of art, an opposition to science and expertise and immigrants and feminism, and any other topic that comes under attack. This ideological web of inseparable strands envelops a community and covers everything, and it is easily (and intentionally by Donald Trump) snagged.

The key environmental conditions (if we learn from Adler’s pattern again) that made it more likely, in the wake of such criticism, for an individual to develop an inferiority complex were poverty, lack of education, and authoritarian religion. The Southern white triptych or trap. For those of us who were born here or have spent our lives in the South, other than the sheer distinctive levels of violence, the trap remains the most painful dynamic to witness. The need to maintain white supremacy and patriarchy at all costs has, indeed, cost us almost everything. The price to maintain segregation, both legal and cultural, is limited access to and the denouncement of education. The price to maintain white economic power is the proliferation of pay-day lenders and right-to-work laws and the vilification of the “undeserving” on welfare and food stamps. The price to maintain male authority is the failure of almost all Southern states to ratify women’s suffrage in the 1920s (though they did so symbolically decades later, including Mississippi finally in 1984) or the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s (renewed efforts failed in both Virginia and Arkansas just last year) and the wholesale demonization of feminism. The price to maintain fundamentalist Christian values includes the banning of textbooks, the denigration of non-Christians and of science in general. The price is so high that Southern states rank forty-eighth and forty-ninth and fiftieth time and again on almost every measure that matters to quality of life. And those rankings serve as alarms as well, and the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, an inescapable trap laid by the very folks it ensnares.

So public criticism for many white Southerners is constant and damaging and creates a defensive and extreme response that only causes more damage. In-migration to the South has diluted this community, but for many whites who self-identify as Southern, the inferiority complex is alive and well. We know from our own academic polling that whites who claim a Southern identity score significantly higher than those who do not on scales measuring racism, sexism, and fundamentalism. Whites who claim a Southern identity prove to be more decisive on public-policy issues, with significantly fewer respondents choosing a neutral or independent stance on health-care reform or gay marriage or abortion or affirmative action. In his letter to Life magazine in 1956, William Faulkner warned of this Southern white penchant for polarization. In the battle over integration, Faulkner questioned, “Where will we go, if the middle becomes untenable? If we have to vacate it in order to keep from being trampled?” They run to the right.

So George Wallace’s mantra of “You’re either for it or you’re against it” vibrates on a frequency that white Southerners recognize. It’s a team rally cry, sport-like with signs and tailgates. Even the pushed-up primary in the South was given a sports-conference moniker—SEC. Trump is the brashy, defiant, absolutist celebrity coach. The more he and his supporters are criticized, the more entrenched they become. And his fans want nothing less than a national championship.

They, of course, are not the only Americans who hear that dog whistle. Perhaps there is something to the “southernization of America” described by both Peter Applebome and John Egerton several years ago. NASCAR and country music and the spread of the Southern Baptist denomination across the country follow the American defeat of its own war in Vietnam. Whatever the reason, politicians learned over the last four decades that it is acceptable, even welcomed, to blow the dog whistles of racism and sexism and fundamentalism harder and louder in the South, and when they do the sound reverberates throughout the country. For white Southerners, the sounds are hard to distinguish; the battle for whiteness and patriarchy and church over state are compounded so fully that few can untie the knots in their own hearts and minds.

But outside of the region, in the other states that Trump has won—Illinois and Michigan and Nevada and New Hampshire—he need only strike one of these chords among voters. Maybe immigration is fueling nativism in one community, maybe the legalization of gay marriage has deeply upset another. Maybe some don’t want a female president. After all, white Southerners aren’t the only people who feel down and out or who feel discriminated against, which is clear in the simultaneous, yet separate, national rise of men’s rights movements (mostly notably in the online “Manosphere”), EEOC claims of reverse discrimination, and the belief (among 56 percent of Republicans) in a “war on Christmas.” Trump’s Southern strategy turns out to be less about geography and more about identity. And many want to go back to an America in which people like them run the show.

MAGA is just Identitarianism for white men. The Right is theb Left.


What’s a prez to do? Grant and the Klan (H. W. BRANDS, JAN 27, 2024, A User’s Guide to History)

South Carolina was the test case. South Carolina had long been the most troublesome of states; it was the loudest agitator for states’ rights and the first state to vote for secession. In 1871, South Carolina allowed the Klan to rampage out of control, threatening and committing violence, including murder, against black men who were trying to exercise their right to vote. Judges and juries in South Carolina, even if they had been inclined to deliver justice to black victims, were themselves intimidated.

Grant had to decide what to do. If he did nothing, much of the victory his army had won during the war might be lost during the peace. Federal authority would be nullified even without secession. South Carolina’s bad example would surely spread.

He pondering deploying the army, but he wasn’t sure of his authority to do so. Under the Constitution he was commander in chief, but that didn’t mean he could dispatch the army whenever and wherever he wished. Moreover, once he sent in the army, how would he extricate it? The army might impose good behavior on South Carolinians, but what would prevent them from bad behavior once the army left? The army couldn’t stay in South Carolina forever.

Grand decided he couldn’t do nothing. To bolster his authority, he had his allies in Congress present a bill to authorize the use of force against the Klan. His model was a force act Congress had approved in the 1830s giving Jackson authority to suppress a potential rebellion in South Carolina when that state was complaining about a tariff it didn’t like. The Ku Klux Klan Act, as it was called when passed, aligned the legislative branch with the executive on the matter of enforcing federal law in the South. Whether the judicial branch would object remain to be seen.

Grant was willing to take that chance. He ordered the army into South Carolina for the purpose of enforcing federal law and breaking up the Klan. Martial law allowed the arrest of many hundreds of Klansmen and fellow travelers without the requirement of habeas corpus. Others got the message and fled ahead of the troops.

Southerners and Democrats howled that Grant was making himself a military dictator. Having been called worse things during the war— butcher and drunkard, most often—he was unfazed.

The action was more successful than he had hoped. Although the detainees couldn’t be charged under federal law with anything worse than conspiring to deprive people of their civil rights— murder, assault and most other crimes remained under the exclusive jurisdiction of states in those days— several hundred were prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned or fined.

The political effect was the most important consequence. The Klansmen and their abettors realized they weren’t beyond the reach of the law. Grant’s action ended the reign of the Klan in the South, until it was resurrected and expanded to other sections of the country in the 20th century.


Trump suggests he’d disregard NATO treaty, urge Russian attacks on allies (Marianne LeVine, February 10, 2024, Washington Post)

“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?,’” Trump said during a rally at Coastal Carolina University. “I said, ‘You didn’t pay. You’re delinquent.’ He said, ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”


Special counsel report questions Biden’s memory (Alex Thompson, 2/08/24, Axios)

The report said that “Biden’s memory also appeared to have significant limitations,” citing his interview with the special counsel’s office and recorded conversations with his ghostwriter.

“He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died,” the report said.
“We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Props to the Special Counsel/DOJ for recognizing that, while invoking the 25th was beyond their remit in this instance, the conversation needed to begin and to the staff who wheeled him out last night to bolster the case.