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In Times of Crisis, Don’t Blame the Pragmatists

Zack Boyden     -SB 483, known to Nevadans as the Commerce Tax, was the most divisive law passed in 2015, so much so that we are still hearing the aftermath. In short, part of the law proposed to increase taxes on Nevada businesses making over four million dollars in gross sales to go towards Nevada schools. It was proposed by Republican governor Brian Sandoval with Republicans giving enough support to have it pass at 30-10 in the Assembly, and certainly not without controversy.

It has subsequently divided the Republican Party in Nevada with criticism directed at Republicans who voted for the bill. P.K. O’Neill, Republican representative of Assembly District 40, was voted out of the Carson City Republican Party two weeks ago for his support. Robert Haynes, the chairman of the Carson Party, stated: “If he doesn’t want to walk like a Republican, talk like a Republican and vote like a Republican, he isn’t one.”

The issue of party identity is a strong one, especially considering the large ideological debate occurring on the main stage between establishment Republicans and Trump. Nevadans in general are skeptical about government size, and Nevada Republicans especially so. The fact this passed with Republican approval is downright scandalous, especially considering that Republicans are almost defined by their aggression towards increased taxation.

The issue here is that Republicans keep framing issue around the tax itself—forgetting what the tax is laid out for. Nevada schools have been the worst in the nation for seven years, and they were not exactly top tier before then either.

I guarantee the Republicans who voted in this tax did not frame this bill as a means to increase government revenue but rather to section off more funding Nevada schools, which are in desperate need of some kind of help.

No, I don’t think more taxes are necessarily the answer to everything but we shouldn’t immediately go scorched earth on people who are genuinely trying to help in the time of crisis. We need to do something about our poor schools, and no, we cannot enforce better parental involvement.

If we’re working with a two party system, we have to recognize that there will be divides between party members and that making sure everyone lives up to a party standard is a little tough to expect if you hope to capture half of the voting population. A little wiggle room would do everyone some good.

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Paradise Lost: The Fall of Puerto Rico

Heberto Limas-Villers

puertorico

“Neither a lender nor a debtor be,” is a great piece of advice that the character Polonius recites in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Right now, many Puerto Ricans wish their leaders heeded Polonius’ words, as they have to decide which service the government will cut to pay back the lenders. In a tragedy that is more Greek than Shakespearean, Puerto Rico defaulted on its debts just a week ago and is currently unable to declare Chapter 9 Bankruptcy like American states are. In the meantime, many residents are left in a terrifying limbo of an island that has become a paradise lost.

The root causes of Puerto Rico’s current crisis go back to its status as a United States Territory. In the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917, which made Puerto Rico residents American citizens, Puerto Rican bonds became exempt from federal, state, and local income tax, making Puertan Rican debt financially tempting. Puerto Rico, given the incentives, went on a borrowing spree, paying back the loans with even more loans at times. Furthermore, the debt wasn’t used for necessary development projects like weaning the territory off of fossil fuels and improving public education. As the economy stumbled, and the islands’ problems increased, the government had more difficulties in keeping up with loan payments, leaving the credit agencies to downgrade Puerto Rican debt. Eventually Puerto Rico, without any option of declaring bankruptcy or acquiring debt relief from Washington, defaulted on its loans.

This issue is more complex than a typical municipal bankruptcy, as Puerto Rico is a territory, but some of the issues Puerto Rico faces are similar to the failures cities are facing around the Rust Belt from Chicago to Detroit. The main priority now, of course, is to direct federal relief in order to ease the people’s suffering- but in the long term we must ensure that Puerto Rico properly manages its finances and uses debt for long-term investments. Ultimately, it is the Puerto Ricans that must remember Polonius’ words when they vote for a better future. But for now, what they need most is help from their fellow citizens so they can make the island a paradise again.

Liberal Nationalists, Unite Against the Globalists and the Nativists

Luke Phillips

fdr

Robert Merry has an interesting piece discussing the underlying philosophical divide in the Trump vs. Clinton election- in his, reading, “Globalism vs. Nationalism.” And he has a very significant point! Trump is unabashedly a nationalist in just about every measure except a unifying and inclusive national identity, while Clinton is a globalist in more or less every regard. Here’s Merry-

“Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is the personification of the globalist elite—generally open borders, humanitarian interventionist, traditionally a free trader (though hedging in recent months), totally in sync with the underlying sensibilities of political correctness, a practitioner of identity politics, which lies at the heart of the assault on the national heritage. Nothing reflects this Clinton identity more starkly than the Clinton Foundation, a brilliant program to chase masses of money from across borders to fund the underpinnings of an ongoing political machine.” 

Of course, these two bad options- Globalist Hawk Hillary vs. Nativist Hawk Trump- do not represent anywhere near the true spectrum of American political divisions these days, though they do exemplify the basic fundamental divides.

Here’s an idea- what about a return to what Michael Lind might call a Liberal Nationalism? That is, nationalism a la Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt’s bold assertion of the American nation-state, combined with a general social openness and reformist temperament?

Let’s look at the five issues Merry looks at: Trade, Immigration, Political Correctness, National Heritage, and Foreign Policy.

On trade, liberal nationalists are not necessarily opposed to trade deals, but they prefer those that assume a healthy export-based American economy must be the least common denominator, rather than deals that inch us closer to a false global free market.

On immigration, liberal nationalists generally support lower levels of low-skilled immigration into the country out of a concern for the American worker; but they do not fall into the anti-immigrant vitriol American populists have employed for centuries, instead promoting benign assimilation and openness.

On Political Correctness, liberal nationalists are reasonable people- they’re careful about what they say and they respect everyone as human beings and human groups. That said, they’re not afraid of pronouncing harsh truths. They’re kind and humane, but they reject political correctness.

On national heritage, liberal nationalists are staunch defenders- that’s why they’re a breed of nationalist! But it is a holistic, inclusive, and benign vision of national identity, while still a proud, principled, and unapologetic one.

On foreign policy, liberal nationalists do not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy; they are about as cold-blooded and realistic as they get, acknowledging not American principles but American interests as the base of American foreign policy.

Liberal nationalists, therefore, might *sort of* resemble Trump in key policy areas, while they might *sort of* resemble Clinton in temperament and social views. It’s more complicated than that, but if you’re a simple thinker, that comparison will work.

This is not merely blood-and-soil nationalism with a human face; this is a principled view of human social organization tempered realistically for the actual challenges this world presents. It avoids the utopianism of Clintonian globalism and the nativism of Trumpian nationalism. It offers a healthy source of identity and a fair means of organizing society, that is nonetheless practical and time-tested.

Any takers?

Community and Identity- Not Multiculturalism

Luke Phillips

eagleflag

Over at The New York Times, there’s a story about how most major Black Republican figures are less leaders and the Black community and are more like token figures, whose main purpose is to reassure white GOP voters that “we’re not really racist after all!” Aside from being thoroughly dehumanizing to the subjects and their communities, this seriously retards the GOP’s prospects of better outreach to the Black community and other minority communities, who-just like white people- tend to identify with their culture first, which necessarily has an ethnic component, rather than with some cosmopolitan colorblind ideal.

Should policy be colorblind in terms of how it treats people, particularly in hot-button issues like affirmative action and welfare? Yes, there’s certainly a strong argument for that.

Should policy- and politics for that matter- be colorblind in how it approaches people?

No, no, no! As my mentor Michael Lind told me once, people are not homo economicuses, mere profit-maximizing rational beings. People have identities and heritages they’re attached to, cultural trappings and particularities that veritably give real meaning to human life. The accident of birth is a beautiful thing, and the diverse tapestry of mankind testifies to its wonder. Republicans shouldn’t be in the business of pandering to divisive identity politics the way lefty Democrats do; but it is certainly thoroughly un-conservative to assume that culture, identity, and heritage don’t or shouldn’t matter.

So when the Republican Party approaches Latinos or Blacks or Asians, the colorblind approach is self-defeating, because for the most part ethnicity, race, culture, and heritage really do matter. As the author of the NYT article put it,

These race-conscious Republicans saw themselves as closely linked to a broader black community, and most experienced this connection as empowering. They were committed to conservative politics as a tool for the uplift of the black community. While they supported most Republican policy positions, their motivations were grounded in their black identity.”

What ever happened to the conservative belief that community, heritage, and culture matter? Not just the melting-pot 100% Americanism (which, by the way, doesn’t seep in very deep, for the most part) but the particular conscious and subconscious ethnic, regional, and professional heritages so many of our nation’s diverse groups love and cherish?

This isn’t a sappy liberal paean to “diversity” for diversity’s sake- the cult of multiculturalism is divisive and corrupting, undeserving of a hearing here or anywhere. THAT praise of local identity and community thoroughly denies the importance of unifying national traits and indeed the very existence of and rationale for united nationhood. It doesn’t particularly love the communities it praises. And it’s hypocritical, decrying white communities of all sorts as fundamentally oppressive and morally corrupt while lauding everyone else. No praise for multiculturalism here.

This is, rather, a profoundly conservative acknowledgment of one of the central truths of the human condition- that identity matters, community matters, and the two are inextricably interlinked. So long as there are human beings and societies, there will be different communities, and people will be attached to those. And since the dawn of time, until now, and until the end of eternity, people will always be socially healthier when they find actively find meaning and identity in their community of origin or adoption.

This isn’t to say Americanism isn’t important- it is. It is the main string tying together these diverse communities in the American sphere. But unlike rationalistic identities that allow no room for variation, like those of the Soviets or Jacobins, American identity has been remarkably fluid and malleable, allowing people of diverse backgrounds to retain what is best about their own heritages while assimilating into all the necessary trappings of American culture.

Republicans moving forward should encourage the cohesiveness of communities of all backgrounds- up to and including the various Latino immigrant communities and the Muslim community- and treat each with the dignity and honor of an integral component of a broader American community, filled with American citizens and aspiring American citizens capable of unquestioned patriotism and honor.

Just demanding “Be American, damnit!” will never cut it. There’s a place for it, and we need to emphasize the ties that bind us, not those that divide us. At the same time, it’s important to make sure communities are healthy regardless of their background. And to get their, the current Republican model of reaching out to minorities with “they’ll love our principles!” just isn’t useful or good in any way.

Trump a Hamiltonian? Yes and No

Luke Phillips

hamilton3

Amidst all the far-right hacks who write for that shameful rag of a publication, that right-wing-version-of-Upworthy called Breitbart “News,” there is at least one incredibly thoughtful, incredibly piercing thinker- James P. Pinkerton, whom I must disclose is a friend and sometime advisor of mine. Pinkerton is Breitbart’s resident Hamiltonian, laboring effectively at the obviously uphill task of convincing right-wing populists that “big-government” is compatible with conservatism, too.

Pinkerton would probably disagree with my characterization of the site, given especially that he writes for it, but I hold my case given its vehemently anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim platitudes and its general spitefulness. Let the introduction to this post serve as an enduring reminder of where the Progressive Republican League stands on hateful ethno-nationalism of any breed, including white.

Anyway, Pinkerton published a great piece arguing that Donald Trump is a Hamiltonian in some ways, particularly on his support of American manufacturing and infrastructure investments. And you know what- Pinkerton’s right! Trump’s support for American infrastructure investments and promises to conduct pro-industrial trade and tax policy (and for that matter, Bernie’s) are very much within the Hamiltonian tradition.

I definitely wouldn’t count Trump fully in the Hamiltonian tradition, because previous Hamiltonians- Clay, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Eisenhower- strove for national unity rather than pure division. There is certainly a cultural-social component of it that is much more progressive than anything any Breitbart reader could stomach. Nonetheless, Hamiltonian means can certainly be employed by populists and conservatives, and one of the tasks of Progressive Republicans should be to unite various ideological factions behind Hamiltonian policies like industrial policy and infrastructure investments- even if it means holding our noses at the social values some of them put forth.

If there’s anything I have to thank Trump for, it’s this- regardless of how the election goes (and I hope he loses,) he’s fundamentally changed the economic language of the Republican Party to a language more in favor of the working class’s interests than any that has been spoken by Republicans for decades, perhaps a century. With the final death of conservative supply-side, there’s room for more moderate Hamiltonians like us to seep in through the cracks and fill the gaps.

That creation of a vacuum we can exploit, however, doesn’t excuse Trumpian social divisiveness. So while working to move the party to the Hamiltonian center in economics, let’s remember to stand firmly against Trump’s stances on immigrants and Muslims. Human decency requires it.

On the other hand, there’s a lot in Trump’s economic agenda we can use. So let’s use it and build an economically nationalist, socially inclusive faction in the GOP.

John McCain and Rand Paul Like Their Jobs, Pretend to Like Trump

Luke Phillips

John McCain, Rand Paul And Fellow Republican Senators Introduce A GOP Alternative Jobs Bill
WASHINGTON – OCTOBER 13: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (L) speaks as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) looks on at a news conference on Capitol Hill to introduce a Republican jobs proposal to compete with that put forward by President Obama on October 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. The legislation targets the tax code, spending, and regulation in an attempt to grow the private sector. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

While the #NeverTrump bandwagon continues to grow, the #MaybeTrump bandwagon does too. Senators John McCain and Rand Paul- there are few pairs of Republicans more different than each other- both threw themselves behind the wheel of the Trump bulldozer, presumably to save themselves from being sucked under it.

CNN on McCain:

In a wide-ranging “State of the Union” interview in his campaign office in Phoenix, McCain criticized party leaders who are reluctant to back Trump, saying they are “out of step” with voters who have chosen the controversial businessman as the GOP standard-bearer. He defended Trump for being a strong and “capable” leader, particularly on foreign policy.  

Reason Magazine on Rand Paul:

Sen. Rand Paul isn’t joining the #NeverTrump bandwagon. In a recent interview, he reminded radio host Leland Conway that he plans to endorse the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, no matter who it is. 

“You know, I’ve always said I will endorse the nominee,” said Paul. “I think it’s almost a patriotic duty of anyone in Kentucky to oppose the Clintons, because I think they’re rotten to the core, I think they’re dishonest people, and ultimately I think we have to be concerned with what’s best for Kentucky.” 

Now both Senator McCain and Senator Paul have served their country honorably (Senator McCain much more nobly and pragmatically so.) I do not question their patriotism; but I do find myself wondering if these two statesmen fully comprehend the magnitude of the Trump moment. I don’t recall which column, but someone wrote recently to the order of “Thou shalt be judged if thou standeth with Trump,” encouraging Republicans not to bend to the pressures of the moment. On the other hand, Pat Buchanan argued a while back that any Republican who doesn’t stand with Trump has no future in the GOP post-2016. We shall see.

If McCain and Paul’s reasoning is saving their skins, I can’t blame them. If it’s keeping together a fractured party, their motives might almost be honorable.

But the GOP as it has been and as it is now is not worth preserving in full- a party of nativist Jacksonian populism smoldering into racial conflict. It desperately needs reform, re-evaluation, and rebirth, and for that it needs to fall apart. And for the party to fall apart, establishment men like McCain and counter-establishment men like Paul need to stand against the Trump phenomenon with resolute firmness.

Now let me be clear- I’m not suggesting McCain and Paul should stand for traditional Republicanism, which is demonstrably full of holes, decadent, and without a future. Everyone should stand against that with the vivacity with which they stand against Trump.

But we should all stand against the racist, xenophobic, nativist elements of Trumpism, lest we all become consumed by them. Time is running out.

Hillary Clinton- Heir of Buchanan and Hoover, Not Lincoln and Roosevelt

Luke Phillips

hillaryclinton

I’ve historically written a lot about the cycles of American history, having largely been inspired by Michael Lind’s treatment of the subject in The Next American Nation and Land of Promise.

Here’s the gist- you have great “founding moments” or “revolutions” of our institutions and society, presided over by great “lawgivers” like Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. These institutions decay under a series of reasonably great leaders until a great populist revolt is unleashed, another charismatic leader reforms the institutions, and the democratic legitimacy of the Republic is restored. These institutions further decay under a series of relatively mediocre leaders, and the decay gets so bad that when the next great crisis strikes, another Washington-esque leader rises, reforms the Republic, and sets of another cycle.

You have Lincolns and FDRs. But before you can have them, you need to go through Buchanans and Hoovers.

Hillary Clinton is not yet President of the United States, but bar something cataclysmic happening, she’ll be it. And how will she do?

Some feminists and mainstream Democrats have been overly optimistic, methinks. She’s a competent enough administrator, but she doesn’t seem to have much in the way of “the vision thing” or even the charisma to go do great things. She’s also, by the way, the absolute epitome of the left-right neoliberal establishment- nothing new comes from her speeches, while promises of centralizing-neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy- in other words, elite globalism- abound in her pronouncements. Todd S. Purdum nicely documents her boringness in a piece at Politico out yesterday.

In other words, when Secretary Clinton ascends to the Oval Office, we’ll see a historic first- a woman as the leader of the free world- but we’ll also see a historic much-of-the-same. We here at PRL don’t foresee Clinton taking bold stances on governance reform, taking on the plutocracy, addressing the debt and deficit, rebuilding America’s productivity and innovation base, or crafting a new concept of world order, much less re-articulating America’s national purpose and national identity. She’s steeped in the ways of the past thirty years, and appears temperamentally incapable of thinking outside the neoliberal globalist box.

That’s fine. She’s still a responsible governing figure, and at the very least will make a fine President who won’t drag us into fiscal or constitutional crisis the way Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump would. Her ascendancy is to be expected, though neither celebrated nor feared.

What next, then?

We of the Progressive Republican League are hoping that some enterprising and charismatic politician, Republican or Democrat, can not only revitalize the Republican Party in the next few years, but send it along in a new, reformist direction. We have some hopes- Jon Huntsman, maybe, or perhaps a Californian like Kevin Faulconer or Gavin Newsom- but whoever it is, they’ll have to think outside the box and bear in mind the great historic moment at which they stand.

In the meantime, though, we’ll have to get through the inevitable stagnation and insipidity of the second Clinton Presidency. That’s plenty of time to think up new ideas and craft a new coalition- maybe by 2020 or 2024, the country will be ready for greatness again.

And not a moment too soon- the clouds of war and sirens of decay are gathering and sounding. Let’s marshal ourselves together, America. Greatness awaits.