As well-informed people, my long-time readers, clients and subscribers will be aware of the important debate that Fox News host Tucker Carlson launched with his monologue on January 3rd.
It will also not surprise them that I agree with Mr. Carlson’s take on American economic, social and cultural trends, as I have been writing along the same lines since the financial crisis of 2008.
As you might guess, responses have been numerous, forceful, and both in agreement and opposition. Here are excerpts of Carlson’s remarks, followed by a few responses:
Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.
The goal for America is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness. There are a lot of ingredients in being happy: Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would if they cared. But our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems. …
This is negligence on a massive scale. Both parties ignore the crisis in marriage. Our mindless cultural leaders act like it’s still 1961, and the biggest problem American families face is that sexism is preventing millions of housewives from becoming investment bankers or Facebook executives. …
What kind of country do you want to live in? A fair country. A decent country. A cohesive country. A country whose leaders don’t accelerate the forces of change purely for their own profit and amusement. A country you might recognize when you’re old. A country that listens to young people who don’t live in Brooklyn. A country where you can make a solid living outside of the big cities. A country where Lewiston, Maine seems almost as important as the west side of Los Angeles. A country where environmentalism means getting outside and picking up the trash. A clean, orderly, stable country that respects itself. And above all, a country where normal people with an average education who grew up no place special can get married, and have happy kids, and repeat unto the generations. A country that actually cares about families, the building block of everything.
A monologue by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson set off a debate over the obligation of businesses to care about the welfare of their fellow citizens, and the impact of their products on society’s morals and happiness. But the responses of both sides miss the true culprit–– the corroding effects of secularism, the two-centuries-long intellectual movement that has tried to do without God, and replace Him with government. …
And instead of taking responsibility for their fellow Americans who are impacted by an economic structure that dedicates itself to profit no matter the social costs, our corporate elites have farmed that job out to the federal government and its entitlement programs that do more harm than good by destroying character and virtues like self-control and responsibility for one’s choices.
Just about every conservative worth reading was provoked into responding. One set of responses accused Carlson of a kind of conspiratorial socialism, which exaggerates economic misery, ignores capitalism’s fruits, and encourages ordinary people to blame shadowy elites instead of cultivating personal responsibility.
The other group basically said, no, Tucker has a point — the point being that market economies are inevitably shaped by public policy, that policies championed by both parties have failed to promote the interests of the working class, and that social conservatives especially need a framework of political economy to promote the institutions — family, work, neighborhood — upon which civil society depends.
Carlson’s must-see monologue may aim wide in a few particulars, but it seems to me directionally correct. He is right that both parties in Washington rely too much on aggregate economic statistics to measure their success. …
Carlson is also right that there is an opportunity gap between America’s elite and everyone else; that those elites have the power to improve this situation; and that they choose not to do so, for reasons ranging from obliviousness to selfishness. I have made many of the same arguments over the years.
On the other hand, many of Carlson’s conservative and libertarian critics score some points, too. First, they caution Carlson against a populism that infantilizes the poor and working class and excuses them from moral agency and responsibility for their decisions. And second, they rise to defend market capitalism from a false politics of demagogic grievance. Market capitalism is not “a religion,” as Carlson said, but it is still the greatest engine of prosperity and opportunity ever devised by man, and conservatives should not abandon it simply because more of the economy’s recent losers happen now to be Republican voters.
Rather than trying to join this debate on one side or the other, it seems to me that conservatives should instead be thinking about how to reconcile the two. First, because I think the Republican party needs to become both more conservative and more populist to meet the challenges the country faces today. And second, because I think the inequalities and injustices Carlson rightly condemns are primarily caused not by the natural operations of the free market, but by elite manipulation of it.
It’s not capitalism or free markets, per se, that have contributed to the decay in our inner cities and rural communities—it is the inexorable, government-sanctioned abandonment of capitalism that has resulted in shuttered plants, abandoned strip malls, crumbling infrastructure, failing public schools, and an influx of deadly drugs from China and Mexico. But here’s the rub: an up-from-your-bootstraps approach to life in Morristown will do little to overcome that treachery. …
We are not living in the America of conservative hopes and dreams. We are living in an adulterated version of America after more than a century of Progressive assaults on the original design.
Trump’s appeal to the folks injured by this isn’t rooted in promises of new welfare handouts or shiny new schools or government jobs. It’s not true that Trump doesn’t believe in capitalism—far from it. But Trump is a realist. He knows that there is no such thing as a free market anymore, just as he knows there’s no such thing as free trade. However wonderful it sounds in theory, it’s not our reality.
His appeal is rooted in his pledge to rollback the very policies that have wreaked havoc on rural communities across the land and to confront the ongoing political indifference to those woes. It’s worthwhile to note that few, if any, of the anti-Trump influencers on the Right have offered sound alternatives to Trump’s policy prescriptions for rural America.
The vast majority of America’s marriage decline is concentrated among poor and working-class Americans. As marriage rates plummeted among America’s poor, the institution has remained resilient among America’s upper-middle and upper class, who still marry at rates similar to those 50 years ago.
Among the poorest Americans, marriage has all but disappeared. Poor Americans want to be married, but they don’t see it as attainable. Poorer Americans also want children, a goal that is attainable without marriage, thus the skyrocketing rate of non-marital births among poor whites and minorities over the past century. Today, 40 percent of American children are born out of wedlock, and one-third of American children are fatherless.
Fatherlessness is the greatest predictor of a child being stuck in poverty, spending time in jail as an adult, or mental health difficulties, among a whole host of other problems. Fatherless kids are even at a greater risk of abuse. David Autor and David Figlio studied, and rejected, the idea that these effects are due to dangerous neighborhoods or poor schools. They concluded that “neighborhoods and schools are less important than the ‘direct effect of family structure itself.’”
The problem isn’t a genuinely free market, but the unfree market that now prevails in America. That’s been a problem at least since 1964. That’s when Southern Democrats, trying to kill the Civil Rights Act, added “sex” to “race” discrimination as part of what we were outlawing. But Republicans went ahead and championed the bill, and it passed. Suddenly, private businesses that used to routinely pay more to attract that desirable quantity — a stable, reliable married man with mouths to feed — could no longer do so.
Social conservative Alan Carlson’s book, The American Way, shows what a departure this was. For centuries, churches, reformers, and even women’s groups had backed a “family wage” that would benefit stay-at-home wives and children. The New Deal, much of it conceived by socially conservative Catholic Democrats, aimed at helping families stay together. …
The heavy hand of the state now mandates that we treat the sexes as interchangeable. We must remedy “historic imbalances” between them by affirmative action, harming men. Schools now routinely treat ordinary masculine behavior as dysfunctional. Boys get heavily medicated for proving unruly when female teachers want them to sit still, just like the girls. Big surprise, now significantly more women enroll in college than men. …
As men get beaten down more and more, the psychiatric profession starts casting traditional masculinity as a kind of disorder. And in one sense they have a point. Practicing masculinity makes you unsuited to survive in today’s society. (So does practicing Christianity, but that’s another article.) …
Our government, laws, and culture declared war on men long ago. That war is reaching its final stage, of unconditional surrender.
The peace terms on offer are toxic to men, to wives, to children. They don’t even seem to be making women, generally, happy. Maybe it’s time to tear up this wretched Treaty of Versailles. Get the government out of the business of obliterating the sexes. Renounce sexual sameness or economic “equality” as legitimate goals of public policy. Reduce low-skill immigration that undercuts wages. And let human nature again take its course.
Trump understood what no other Republican competitor did, that even Republican voters were tired of an economic system that pushed normal citizens into economic competitions that they could not win and that it was time for a change. Carlson’s monologue simply makes Trump’s underlying assumption clear—Americans owe obligations to other Americans that go beyond simple market arrangements. We can and should debate what those are and the extent to which public intervention is warranted. But to dismiss it out of hand, as Shapiro and others on the Right do, replaces America’s public philosophy with abstract ideology. Which, as it turns out, Ronald Reagan warned against in his 1977 speech to CPAC. …
Americans have supported limited but effective government intervention in the economy for at least the past 160 years. They supported the protective tariff, the Homestead Act, and the Land Grant College Act that the first Republican-controlled Congress passed and which helped average people improve their lives. They supported antitrust acts, workman’s compensation laws, and workplace safety laws to prevent monopolies and oligopolies from forcing Americans to work for less or in less safe conditions than they deserved. They supported FDR’s New Deal, which for all of its many faults contained many provisions that even today ensure a depression will never again cause social upheaval and penury. And they continue to support reasonable and targeted interventions when a sector of society can persuade the majority that they have been unfairly treated.
Carlson’s monologue and Trump’s presidency promise to continue that American tradition. They contend that an American prosperity that leaves millions behind is politically unstable. They contend that an American economic system that worries more about the reactions of foreigners than it does the feelings of citizens is unjust. They contend that an American government that enriches those who know how to pull its’ levers and treats election results as mere Kabuki theater is profoundly immoral and un-American. And they are right.
Americans may call themselves conservative, but they do not want ideological conservatism. Americans may call themselves liberals or progressives, but they do not want doctrinaire leftism. Americans want what they have always wanted and what their birthright, the Declaration and the Constitution, promise them: a government that, through its actions, will secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves and our posterity.