The University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics has a new poll out, and the numbers are pretty shocking — but not particularly surprising or even discouraging, if you understand the long view.
As it happens, my new book, The Revivalist Manifesto, lays out that long view quite clearly, and you should of course buy your copy today. We’ll get to that in just a minute.
In the meantime, here’s what the poll says:
A majority of Americans say the U.S. government is corrupt and almost a third say it may soon be necessary to take up arms against it, according to a new poll from the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
Two-thirds of Republicans and independents say the government is “corrupt and rigged against everyday people like me,” according to the poll, compared to 51 percent of liberal voters.
Twenty-eight percent of all voters, including 37 percent of gun owners, agreed “it may be necessary at some point soon for citizens to take up arms against the government,” a view held by around 35 percent of Republicans and around 35 percent of Independents. One in five Democrats concurred.
It’s not altogether unreasonable to see such numbers and conclude America is ending. But the good news is that America is not ending. What’s ending is the current political era — the New Deal/Great Society/military-industrial complex/foreign adventurism/Big Media reality — that we’ve been in since 1932. All that’s required to banish it is a Republican Party worthy of doing so. The following excerpt from The Revivalist Manifesto addresses the subject.
In 2015, a couple of months before Donald Trump descended that escalator and changed American politics in ways our political establishment has still not sufficiently processed, a historian named James Piereson penned Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order. It’s a very underrated piece and an excellent read, and what it details is something all patriots should understand about where we are as a country.
Namely, that we’ve been through most of the things that terrify us before, and we’ve come through them quite well. American society is flexible. It adapts. It flows past problems and makes them irrelevant.
America moves on.
Piereson’s book divides American history into three distinct periods, the last of which is coming to an end and causing the dislocation and rancor of the past several years. The eras he describes were born of major societal upheavals — Jefferson’s “Revolution of 1800,” the Civil War, the Great Depression — which concluded with lasting institutional and cultural adjustments that set the stage for new phases of political and economic development.
Each of the eras Piereson describes was formed by the creation of a national consensus around a set of policies and cultural imperatives that informed the times, a consensus both major political parties generally wedded themselves to.
Piereson says, in fact, that it’s more accurate to say America has operated on the basis of a one-and-a-half-party system rather than a two-party system through most of its history, because the dominant party will set the agenda for a given era, and the opposition then has no choice but to adapt to the times and take on a “me, too” approach to its search for political power.
Another way to describe this would be to refer to the Overton Window, the political model first proposed by policy analyst Joseph P. Overton of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Overton’s core concept is that politicians are limited in what policy ideas they can support, as they can generally only pursue policies that are widely accepted throughout society as legitimate policy options. When a consensus around public policy forms, as has happened periodically in our history, the Overton Window is thus created. And the Overton Window doesn’t just apply to politics; some version of it or other is present in business, culture, sports…you name it. It’s only the really exceptional, or fabulously incompetent, figures in a given field of endeavor who’ll do something truly outside of the main, and while some of those departures shake the ground, the majority of them are fizzles.
From a political perspective, when you have a period of upheaval that makes new ideas and practices acceptable to a receptive electorate, that Overton Window shifts and then settles. All the players then calibrate their plays based on the new reality. Any departures from it usually have to be subtle and gradual.
Consider the attempts during the George W. Bush administration to add some sort of private sector investment option for younger people within the Social Security system, and you’ll understand how difficult it is to change the political consensus.
In the first historical era Piereson describes, which was set in place with President Thomas Jefferson’s “Revolution of 1800,” the Democratic Party assumed dominance in national politics as the Federalists collapsed. America was mostly a rural nation then, with some lightly industrialized urban areas in the northern states, and we governed ourselves according to the needs of rural and agricultural interests. The international cotton trade, which was at the time centered in the American South and depended on large plantations employing sizable slave labor forces, was perhaps the single most powerful economic reality of the time.
The Democrats were, by current standards, anti-capitalist, in the sense that national policy was not formulated to incentivize capital growth. They were expansionist; America engaged in diplomatic activity and military expeditions on several occasions for the purpose of adding territory from France, Spain, Mexico, and other nations.
And of course, they were pro-slavery. It was the coming apart of that national consensus on slavery which brought a bloody end to that first American era in the Civil War.
Looking back on that era one might have concluded that the Civil War could have been avoided were some grand bargain struck to buy out the Southern plantation owners. But no such bargain was available within the Overton Window at the time. When the war came, that window was obliterated along with the political and social consensus of the antebellum era.
And after a decade and change of war and reconstruction, a new era and a new consensus emerged. And there were major changes from the America of Jefferson and Jackson to that of Lincoln and Grant.
This remained an expansionist nation; in fact, with the question of slavery having been removed from the table with the Union victory in the war and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, there were no longer impediments to Americans settling the full length and breadth of what became the continental forty-eight states.
But while the pre-Civil War national economic policy had been pro-rural and anti-capitalist, what came next was pro-industrial, heavily pro-capitalist, and radically pro-growth.
The federal government became a main driver of national infrastructure, particularly with the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1870s, and business interests played an unprecedented role in the formation of national policy. American culture and politics moved strongly toward a homogenous character; Southern states were encouraged, if not dictated, to adopt policies mimicking those of the North, and the new states and territories being added in the West were likewise influenced to copy the Union states.
As technology and commerce created America as an interconnected nation, and as America’s cities rapidly grew to service the needs of the burgeoning industrial revolution, inevitably the political and cultural post-Civil War/Gilded Age consensus became frayed.
Ultimately, between the international balance of payments problem arising out of World War I, the inequalities between capital and labor made into crisis following the stock market crash of 1929, and the rise of socialist movements in Russia, Germany, Italy, and other European countries amid a global economic depression, the second era of American history fell apart.
What came next began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and continued through American victory in World War II to generate the current American era. Namely, the creation of the modern welfare and regulatory state, together with the development of the military-industrial-intelligence complex and the attendant overseas adventurism to fuel it.
We’re living in the era of the biggest government in the history of mankind, and strangely enough given that the most successful presidents of the age — Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan, defined by their key accomplishments on the economic and geopolitical stages — were Republicans, this is most certainly a Democrat era. That was established some ninety years ago, when FDR and Harry Truman won five straight presidential elections from 1932 to 1948, and the policy agenda created and cured in those years amid the Great Depression and World War II, when Democrats dominated both the White House and Capitol Hill, was hardened to the point that it couldn’t be broken by Republican administrations who came later. Most of those GOP administrations didn’t even try.
Just as previous eras were similarly built by party dominance, Democrats won six elections between 1800 and 1820 as the first era of American political consensus was established, and Republicans won six straight between 1860 and 1880 to construct the second era. It’s Piereson’s theory, which this book shares, that one of the two parties is about to go on a similar run and establish a new political consensus.
All of the key consensus items in American national policy originated on the Left: Social Security. Medicare. Medicaid and other entitlement programs for the poor. The massive crush of federal agencies governing every aspect of American life. Foreign aid directed toward furthering American progressive aims across the world, and the creation of a utopian globalist world-government entity in the United Nations. An activist, politicized judicial branch. And finally, the recent flowering of the woke movement out of decades of marinating critical theory in the universities the Left has controlled.
The first era in American history was a Democrat era. The second was clearly Republican. This era, which is ending now, has belonged to the Democrats.
It’s reasonable to believe the fourth era will be a Republican one. But only if Republicans are worthy to set the next consensus. And that’s why a revivalist movement is necessary.
With a few exceptions, every facet of the Republican Party’s conduct since the birth of the New Deal is inadequate to the kind of political leadership necessary for setting the tone for the fourth era of American history.
And yet it has to be the Republican Party which assumes that leadership, because the Democrats are a spent political force.
It might seem strange to say that, given the leftward lurch you can see everywhere in America — mostly among the culture and chiefly among our monolithic ruling elite class. Corporate America, Big Tech, Hollywood, the Washington establishment, Wall Street — each of them have been increasingly friendlier to an agenda the Democrat Party set decades ago and is attempting to expand. And the Democrat presidential candidate has won the popular vote in every election since 1992, save for George W. Bush’s victory over the hapless, French-looking John Kerry in 2004.
But that agenda is out of gas. The Democrats can’t run on it much anymore. And attempts by people within that party to install new ideas have gone exactly nowhere.
What are the political initiatives animating the Democrat Party today? They’ve all got whiskers on them. Every one of their big projects are leftovers from an era rapidly becoming bygone.
Medicare for all? Essentially, that’s a copycat plan to install the British National Health Service, or its counterpart in Canada, here in America. But the American public continues resisting full-on socialized medicine, and the passage of Obamacare, the most aggressive attempt at socializing health care they’ve been successful in enacting, was one of the most Pyrrhic victories in the annals of American politics.
In fact, Obamacare ended up greatly fueling the growth of the Tea Party movement, which had begun in 2009 as a result of a famous Rick Santelli CNBC rant and wiped out the Democrats’ majority in the House. The Tea Party faded away as a coherent political force, but it came back a few years later as the Make America Great Again phenomenon upon Trump’s political rise in 2015 and 2016. This book will make the case that it’ll resurge once again in 2022 and 2024 as revivalism, and finally become an unstoppable force that changes American politics.
But the common threads that run through all three iterations of pushback against Democrat rule are unmistakable.
First, all three were and are truly organic, grassroots-driven movements. Unlike Black Lives Matter, for example, which is the recipient of billions of dollars in corporate guilt money and has made multimillionaires of its leaders like Patrisse Cullors, nobody created the Tea Party movement. Nobody created the MAGA movement either. Trump may have branded it, but his rallies and the huge crowds at, for example, Trump boat parades are without a doubt bottom-up phenomena.
And the polls showing a likely Republican wipeout in the fall of 2022 certainly aren’t a reflection of the popularity of, say, Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy. There isn’t a galvanizing figure driving the GOP’s midterm hopes.
In other words, the Democrat Party that branded itself so long ago as the party of the little guy and the masses now seems to have a nasty habit of generating a popular revolt every time it attempts to use political power to push its agenda.
That, friends, is a spent political force.
As a quick historical aside, each of our previous political eras has come following a highly tumultuous and spectacularly unsuccessful presidency. Jefferson took office following the four-year term of John Adams, a great patriot whose presidency was nonetheless chaotic and quite unpopular given controversies like the civil unrest in response to the Direct Tax of 1798, which led to the Alien and Sedition Acts; the XYZ Affair and the “Quasi-War” between America and France; and the intraparty rivalry between Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Adams’s presidency, in retrospect, was a reasonably successful one, but as to his popularity it was an unmitigated disaster.
But Adams’s performance holds up exceptionally well in comparison to that of James Buchanan, who held office from 1857–61 and whose administration heralded the collapse of the first era of American political consensus. Generally regarded as the worst president in the nation’s history, Buchanan presided over a sharp economic recession and the centrifugal forces surrounding slavery that ultimately tore America apart. His robust endorsement of the ridiculous Dred Scott decision greatly hastened Northern passions for abolition and, consequently, Southern disillusionment with remaining in the union.
And then there was Herbert Hoover, who was in office when the Great Depression began. Virtually everything Hoover did after the 1929 stock market crash was a mistake, most notably signing the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff bill, which crashed international trade at a time when economic activity was spiraling downward, and the Revenue Act of 1932, which raised taxes in the middle of an economic recession. Hoover was a great American in many respects, but as a president he was disastrous in ways that had the effect of ushering in a whole new era of American politics.
You’re welcome to consider these examples in light of the current occupant of the White House.
To read more, click here and order your copy of The Revivalist Manifesto.