The American Mind podcast uncovers the ideas and principles that drive American political life. In each episode, it engages Claremont scholars, friends, and challengers in thought-provoking conversations about the causes of our current political and cultural reality—always with an eye towards restoring America to civic health.
In this special edition of the American Mind podcast, we make the case that conservatives should make their mission preserving the way of life–and explore what it entails, the assault our way of life currently faces, and what must to be done to overcome it. The podcast features Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams, and scholar Michael Anton, as well as selections from addresses from President Donald Trump, and Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley. It is narrated by James Poulos, Executive Editor of the American Mind, and produced by ChangeUp Media.
RYAN WILLIAMS: Welcome to another edition of The American Mind podcast. This is Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute and Publisher of the The American Mind and the Claremont Review of Books.
In addition to our weekly editors and publishers roundtable podcast, and occasional interviews, we also publish these longer-form programs—deep dives on the most important issues facing the country.
In July of last year, we investigated multiculturalism, identity politics, and political correctness, in a special podcast titled “Multiculturalism vs. America.”
In April of this year, we investigated what was at the time the leading national campaign on behalf of the ideology of identity politics—the New York Times’ “1619 Project.”
1619 has since been overtaken by Black Lives Matter. But the two share a common ideology of anti-Americanism. Indeed, when my colleague Charles Kesler wrote an op-ed for the New York Post titled, “Call Them the 1619 Riots,” the New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones responded that, “It would be an honor.” Ms. Jones is of course the creator of, and lead journalist for, the “1619 Project” at the New York Times.
In this special edition of The American Mind, we offer an alternative to 1619, Black Lives Matter, and the many left-wing talking points and movements that have been stalking American public life since the late 1960s.
The task for patriots, politicians, and for that matter any leader in America—local or national—is to defend the American way of life. Picking up on themes from our previous specials, this means defending the American idea of justice, the equal protection for all of equal natural rights, as well as defending the constitutional, civic, and cultural inheritance given us by great Americans of days past.
We now face a domestic crisis of national division rivaling that of the 1850s. And if we’re going to avoid the horrible prospect of another civil war, we must devote all of our energies to defending this great country of ours.
If you’d like to listen to the two previous specials, you can find them at AmericanMind.org/American-Mind-Podcast, or you can go to The American Mind on your favorite podcast app, and scroll to July 2019 for “Multiculturalism vs. America,” and April 2020 for “The 1619 Project.”
If you’d like to support the Claremont Institute’s work, please go to Claremont.org/donation, and don’t forget to leave The American Mind a five-star review on iTunes. As always, thanks for listening.
JAMES POULOS: This is James Poulos, executive editor of the American Mind, bringing you a special episode of “The American Mind Podcast.”
The subject of today’s program is the one on every patriotic American’s mind: Preserving the American way of life.
We at the Claremont Institute see this as our mission—as our purpose. For too long, conservatives have been lost in the means to that end. They have been either unable, or unwilling, to think through clearly, let alone articulate concisely, what the purpose of the country is, and what their role ought to be in sustaining it.
Yet this is the entire ballgame. To extend the analogy, we are in the late innings, we risk being shut out, and far too many are focused on marginal tax rates, to the exclusion of, say, marriage rates, or whether their fellow man can and will live a life of worth and dignity.
As Claremont Institute senior fellow Michael Anton contended during a 2019 interview for The American Mind Podcast:
MICHAEL ANTON: …fundamentally the Republican side of the political debate…business community, the Chamber of Commerce types, want unlimited mass immigration because it pounds down wages and it makes them richer. I find there’s something absolutely…“anti-citizen-y” about that, right? You’re not looking out for the good of your fellow—the whole, the common good of your entire fellow citizenry. At that point you’re looking out for your private good, and something’s not right…
The conservatives made the mistake of elevating property above its station as a means to freedom, and as a means to the good life, and into an end.
… It’s a famous quote of Aristotle, where he says, “material goods are equipment.” You can’t have the good life without them, but once they define the good life, your soul’s already started to go wrong and corrode.
…If we have a tension here between the equal natural right to acquire, and a tension between what’s best for the good life…we…know that it’s bad probably for your soul, and it’s bad for society if acquisition becomes the highest thing and if wealth concentration increases. But there’s [sic] other things that we can do rather than brute force law or expropriation…to discourage the overemphasis on acquisition and to encourage emphasis on other things, and private charity, and things like that. My only point now is that the balance, it seems, in our society has been tipped way in the wrong direction.
…You know you use the famous phrase “learn to code.” I mean that’s the “let them eat cake” of our time, isn’t it?
JAMES POULOS: Far too many are stuck in minutiae, and esoteric squabbles, divorced from the reality on the ground: That our political opponents are seeking to cancel us, and then cancel the country.
The idea of preserving the American way of life should animate not just conservatives, but all who wish to leave to their children and grandchildren a country that resembles the one in which they were privileged to grow up—a country in which they are blessed to raise their families, proud to contribute to their communities, and free to pursue their summum bonum—to live the good life as classically understood.
Preserving the American way of life is about protecting faithful Christians and Jews from a state that imposes Woke theology at the point of a gun; parents from the overzealous teachers who seek to indoctrinate their children into hating them and their most cherished values and principles; employees from being forced to accept and promote the political and cultural views crammed down their throats by Woke CEOs; the everyman from Big Tech crybullies who seek to blot out any dissenting opinion from Silicon Valley orthodoxy; and any and all peoples under assault from state and civil society institutions seeking to purge them from public life for having the temerity to be Americans as Americans—to live their lives in accordance with our traditions.
This is what is at stake today on our ballots, in our boardrooms, across our campuses, and within our institutions—institutions that are, and have been under withering attack for decades while we have too often stood idly by.
In today’s special edition podcast, we will elaborate on what we mean by “preserving the American way of life”—clearly explaining what it is we wish to preserve, and how we can and must go about preserving it.
What is the American Way of Life?
JAMES POULOS: That the notion of an “American way of life” cannot be so easily defined today shows the size and scope of the challenges we face.
President Trump, as just heard there during his Mt. Rushmore Independence Day speech, has done a better job of summarizing it than perhaps any other politician in a generation.
Here is how we see it: Concepts such as freedom, or constitutional government, while essential to America, do not tell us what we should be pursuing as a nation, or how we ought to be acting when faced with a particular set of circumstances.
Freedom is too abstract, and constitutional government is merely a means.
There must be something that unifies at a higher and deeper level to drive rhetoric and action—something that encompasses freedom and limited government, but that breathes meaning and purpose into these principles and the institutions that are supposed to implement them.
As Claremont Chairman Tom Klingenstein notes in his seminal piece at The American Mind, “Preserving the American Way of Life:”
The mission I propose is shorthand for “securing the conditions necessary to pursue a worthy life.” “A worthy life” is what the founders meant by “happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. The most essential “conditions” are the beliefs and values that must be held by society at large in order that each American can pursue a worthy life. These beliefs and values support the American way of life; hence the short form version of the mission: To “preserve the American way of life.”
What does the American way of life consist of?
An America united by a common culture, rooted at one level in Judeo-Christian values and principles, and at another in the creed of the Declaration of Independence; an America standing as a shining city on a hill—reflecting a model of self-governance in which man was best-positioned to pursue his highest ends—to which all peoples can aspire; an America that welcomed peoples of all backgrounds and colors—provided they assimilated into and contributed to the unifying American culture—and solely judged such peoples on their merits; an America that celebrated its remarkable achievements and looked to accomplish still greater ones in the future; an America that glorified the self-made man who with hard work and dedication could do anything he set his mind to; an America that balanced rugged individualism with a duty to family, community, and country; an America that citizens embraced in a never-ending love affair.
This America still exists in the hearts and minds of millions of our fellow countrymen.
The American Way of Life is Under Assault
JAMES POULOS: The American way of life is under assault.
JAMES POULOS: If we conceived of our purpose as preserving this, the American way of life, it would become clearer that it is precisely this which is under attack; we would more easily see that the American way of life is being attacked by proponents of another way of life—of another regime.
By knowing ourselves, and knowing our opponents, we would be far better positioned to counter them, and to triumph over them.
The American way of life stands opposite the way of life of the Woke multiculturalists, who practice a politics of identity and enforce it with political correctness. Our vision, and theirs, cannot co-exist.
Hence, our prior episode of this podcast on “Multiculturalism VERSUS America.”
As such, we are in a regime-level contest—a struggle over what a society aims at, what its purpose is. Differences in purposes cannot be negotiated.
We didn’t pick this fight, but we are guaranteed to lose it if we do not engage.
Should multiculturalists triumph over America, in their bid to achieve their stated purpose of equal outcomes for everyone, in proportion with their identity, they will eviscerate liberty and justice.
They are laying the groundwork for this future destruction by seeking to control the American Mind through the insidious 1619 Project curriculum, the mobs sowing anarchy and discord in our streets, and the broader anti-cultural revolution rolling through every institution that sits at the commanding heights of society.
As Senator Tom Cotton rightly noted of the Maoist mob:
SEN. TOM COTTON: …these rioters hate America. In Portland, where they tore down the statue of Washington, they also spray-painted on him the date “1619”—a reference to the New York Times’s revisionist anti-American history project. Perhaps we should call them the “1619 Riots.” After all, the architect of that execrable project said, “it would be an honor.”
JAMES POULOS: Not only that, but the multiculturalists also take aim at the family. It should not be lost on any of you listening that Black Lives Matter, as announced in its own platform, seeks to, quote, “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement…” That is, it wishes to kill the foundational societal institution. And as we will explore in a separate episode, BLM is just the tip of the spear of the multiculturalist movement—cultural Marxists clad in a garb of anti-racist virtue.
This is to say nothing of the broader societal de-emphasis on marriage, access to abortion, and government-backed childcare—all of which undermine family formation and with it the many benefits in the growth and development gained by parents and children alike. The family civilizes.
Nor is it to say anything of the so-called elites who have championed these and many other disastrous programs—who are using the mob as their stalking horse. As Sen. Josh Hawley recognizes:
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY: For too long now, this country has been badly led. We have been governed by a political consensus forged by a political class that has lost touch with what binds us together as Americans. And it has lost sight of the basic requirements of liberty.
…The reigning political consensus shows little interest in our shared way of life. Worse than that, it denigrates the common affections and common loves that make our way of life possible.
It undermines the kind of labor and economy on which our way of life depends.
For all intents and purposes, it abandons the idea of the republic altogether.
In its place, the leadership class have attempted to build a new state in their own image, one that exists cut off from our history, separate from our shared beliefs—beyond borders and beyond belonging.
That project has failed. And what they have left us with instead is the curse of faction.
The great divide of our time is not between Trump supporters and Trump opponents, or between suburban voters and rural ones, or between Red America and Blue America.
No, the great divide of our time is between the political agenda of the leadership elite and the great and broad American middle—the middle of our society.
JAMES POULOS: The coherent response we have been lacking is one that preserves the American way of life from those who wish to destroy it, and with it the country itself.
Conservatives take as a given the importance of family and education, on top of other value-forming institutions, in both secular and religious institutions. But to the extent they have any agenda, it is one that is value free.
As Michael Anton observes:
MICHAEL ANTON: …the Right is supposed to be religious, it’s supposed to be morally serious, it’s supposed to recognize some spiritual contours and limits to the life of man, and it would say that it does, but when it actually comes time to getting into the trenches and arguing, it’s just counting coins and has been for a long time.
JAMES POULOS: They either do not think of it as their job to defend these institutions, or worse, they do not think they merit defense.
What they are implicitly saying by their lack of action—their dereliction of duty—is that American does not need, or deserve, defense.
Framed in this light, we believe conservatives should rethink how they have been going about using their offices. It is to this rethink which we will now turn.
What is to be Done?
JAMES POULOS: The Woke multiculturalists have been at war with us for decades.
It is a war that transcends fights over legislation, Supreme Court decisions, or one economic policy agenda versus another.
Those fights are worth having, but they are the noise, not the signal.
The signal is the broader war for the institutions that form our culture—our government, the schools, the media, Hollywood, Big Tech, Woke Capital, and beyond—and from which all of these other battles stem.
If we refuse to engage in this war at the highest level—the level at which ideas are disseminated and acculturated—we are guaranteed to lose.
Let us state clearly that we are in a culture war with the Woke multiculturalists, and it is existential.
We’ve seen the results of disengagement, from the academy to the administrative state.
Time is short, and odds are long if we do not recognize the stakes, right now, and respond to the aggressors in kind.
As Tom Klingenstein has argued, it is our politicians who must lead in this fight, by necessity. Consider that all the other opinion-forming institutions have been wholly corrupted. They do not support the American way of life. At best they are indifferent to it, but the vast majority of these institutions actively seek to destroy it.
Conservatives can no longer challenge elite culture from within these institutions, because they have virtually no troops on the ground. It is necessary, therefore, for conservatives to fight the culture war on the battlefield of politics.
President Trump has shown the way. His critics, who are loud, but small, fail to recognize the importance of the fact that in Trump we have a political culture warrior—“a walking, talking rejection of multiculturalism and the post-modern ideas that support it,” as Tom Klingenstein says.
Trump’s assault on political correctness, and the progressive political class consisting of either true believing Woke multiculturalists, or their cowardly appeasers of them, represents a defense of the American way of life.
The so-called Resistance to Trump is commensurate with his strength. Imagine if he was joined by even tens of others with his courage and moxie, standing side by side in a war, rather than fighting by Marquess of Queensberry rules or even worse serving as a de facto controlled opposition.
For conservatives to be able to identify the political adversary, and willing to fight him with the same tenacity and vigor with which said adversary fights, would represent a marked shift in the battlefield.
But they need a mission too. And that mission should rest on tending to the institutions that nurture the foundations of American life—family, religion, education, and community.
This should guide their policy prescriptions, and their rhetoric.
The former is nothing without the latter. If politics is the art of the possible, rhetoric is the paint.
Our leaders must build public sentiment in favor of decent laws and moral habits by taking on the Woke multiculturalist’s narratives in defense of our history, our civilizing institutions, our most basic rights, our traditions, and the goodness and greatness of our country and its people.
Some are fully engaged in this battle.
Witness Senator Cotton fighting in the realm of education on the 1619 Project, and American history.
SEN. TOM COTTON: Many founders believed that only with the Union and the Constitution could we put slavery on the path to its ultimate extinction. That’s exactly what Lincoln said…the fundamental moral principle of America is right there in the Declaration—“all men are created equal.” And the history of America is the long and sometimes difficult struggle to live up to that principle. That’s a history we ought to be proud of, not the historical revisionism of the 1619 Project, which wants to indoctrinate America’s kids and teach them to hate America; to believe that America was founded not on human freedom, but on racism; to think that slavery was not an aberration, but the true heart of America. That’s why leading historians…debunked the 1619 Project. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to ensure federal tax dollars don’t go to teaching it.
JAMES POULOS: Witness Senator Hawley on our economy:
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY: We must recognize that a republican nation requires a republican economy, because citizenship is not just a title, it is a way of life. To be a citizen requires independence, it requires the power to participate in your community, to provide for your family, to make your own decisions.
And for those things, our citizens need work…We need new thinking and new policies to bring the work that makes for citizenship to every person in America willing and able to work.
That means encouraging capital investment in the great American middle, in our workers, not just in financial assets.
That means investing in research and innovation in the heartland of this country, not just in San Francisco and New York.
That means challenging the economic concentration that stifles small producers and family enterprises.
That means new pathways for skills and job training, so Americans can get the tools they need, and the respect they deserve, without the mountain of debt that the higher-education monopoly now imposes—and I have proposed new legislation to this end just today.
It means trade policies that put American workers first, that prioritize them over cheap goods from abroad, that encourage the real production of real things here, and not just arbitrage schemes by the giant corporations.
It means an immigration system that rewards and nourishes American labor rather than devaluing it.
…Above all we must get good work for the American people, the kind of work that makes liberty possible.
JAMES POULOS: As Sen. Hawley notes, an economy that promotes self-government must be complemented by a culture rooted in family and faith.
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY: And we must rebuild our sense of shared purpose and belonging. Because self-government cannot exist without these either.
Our national solidarity has been broken by the globalizing and liberationist policies of the cosmopolitan agenda. Now we must forge it anew.
…We must work to raise up a generation united in a common love for our distinctive heritage and achievements as a people. And that means we must teach our children who we are as a people, without apology.
We must join together to renew the bonds of family life, to honor the claims of kinship and the covenant of marriage. Marriage should be prized in our national policy, not penalized. And from taxes to healthcare, families should get the support and pride of place they deserve.
To rebuild our common purpose, we must protect our communities of faith. Because religious faith has fueled our history and shaped our aspirations and bettered our society.
…Our government should not hinder or diminish religious expression. We need strong religious communities, active in civic life, protecting the vulnerable, defending the weak. Because these communities have helped make us who we are as a people.
In all this, our aim should be clear: to renew the way of life on which our republic depends, to renew the great American middle who make our republic possible, to renew our common venture in freedom as a people.
JAMES POULOS: Our leaders must also argue from justice—for example that foreigners not be afforded advantages legal or otherwise over citizens. Everything must proceed from the just end of the good of American society.
As Tom Klingenstein writes:
The multiculturalists, unlike Republicans, understand the importance of making arguments from justice. This often makes it appear they have the high moral ground. They have (social) justice; Republicans have “it costs less,” “reduce the size of government,” or “states’ rights.” Republicans will not win that fight.
Justice arguments must be met with other, better justice arguments. He who does not argue from justice is not even in the ring.
Our leaders must take a chainsaw to political correctness—which exists to muzzle the truth. The Woke multiculturalists recognize silencing us is the only way ultimately to triumph. Why would we disarm ourselves of that most important weapon: The truth.
What would it look like for Republicans to defend the American way of life?
It would mean they would assert things like: traditional marriage is the best way to raise children; that certain ways of life and cultures are superior to others; that America-is-evil curricula are racist and undermine the American way of life; that as the now-cancelled Teddy Roosevelt said, there are no hyphenated Americans; that the problem with the administrative state is not just that it is wasteful and inefficient, or that bureaucrats make poor choices, but that bureaucrats shouldn’t be making choices at all; that “diversity is our greatest strength” is a fallacy—America’s greatest strength is having transcended race, and the one major exception, slavery, was very nearly our undoing; and perhaps most importantly, conservatives must, like Trump, remind the public that America is “incredible”—the greatest country the world has ever seen.
More broadly, conservatives need to articulate a compelling vision of an American way of life that competes with the multicultural way of life.
The divide in this country is not between Republicans and Democrats but between multiculturalists and Americans. By and large, Americans reject multiculturalism—political correctness, the America-is-evil narrative, taking down statues, transgenderism, diversity requirements, open borders, drag queen library hour, and many of the other tentacles of multiculturalism.
Conservatives ought to make this election a choice between multiculturalism and America. Although the divide in this country turns on multiculturalism, our politics are still fought along party lines. Thus, conservatives must be clear that despite the better judgment and inclinations of many who comprise the loyal opposition, overall, it is being dominated by multiculturalism in the form of an energized, ascendant, Woke mob that has stormed the ramparts and seized power—a mob that is inherently disloyal to the America of our founding.
Support for the multicultural project ought to be seen, and called out explicitly as, an endorsement of a statue-toppling, city-destroying, Woke mob that hates everything about this country, its traditions, and anyone who dares adhere to them.
It cannot be overstated just how vital it is to understand, frame, and act accordingly with respect to 2020, given the existential stakes around this choice.
President Trump should be thought of as a response to multiculturalism. He stands as a living, breathing rejection of it, in defense of the American way of life.
He has proved that being overtly anti-multiculturalism can serve as a winning tactic. He has proved that there is still a chance for conservatives to reassert the primacy of American culture.
Making multiculturalism the enemy, since it has declared war on those Americans who believe in preserving the American way of life, provides a great opportunity for conservatives. It can reinvigorate the conservative movement—a movement by nature in the business of conserving things.
Let us declare today that we will do what we can, and what we must, to conserve the nation we love—to preserve America, and the American way of life.
End of Transcript
Works Referenced & Related Readings (In Order of Appearance):
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Music: “Day of Victory” by Swan Productions