Audio 10.07.2020 27 minutes

The Existential Questions of 2020: A Special Edition of the American Mind Podcast

The chips are down.

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 apply the themes of our special edition podcasts on multiculturalism, the 1619 Project, and preserving the American way of life to elucidate the existential questions of the 2020 election. The podcast features Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams. It is narrated by James Poulos, Executive Editor of the American Mind, and produced by ChangeUp Media.


The Existential Stakes of 2020

RYAN WILLIAMS: Welcome to another special edition of The American Mind, on the existential question of 2020. I’m Claremont Institute president Ryan Williams, and I’m publisher of the Claremont Review of Books, and The American Mind. In this latest installment, we apply some of the themes in our previous specials to evaluate what is likely the most consequential election in many decades—if not 160 years. At stake in 2020 is the American way of life, which we at Claremont are devoting all our energies to explaining, defending, and saving. Thanks as always for listening, and if you’d like to support our work, please visit Claremont.org/donate.


JAMES POULOS: This is James Poulos, executive editor of the American Mind, bringing you a special episode of “The American Mind Podcast.”

2020 will go down in the record books as a year that defined America.

It began with a Potemkin impeachment process the instigators have since memory-holed. This itself was an extension of the relentless effort to punish President Trump and his supporters for daring to threaten the power and privilege of the ruling class.

2020 continued with the unleashing of the Chinese coronavirus on America, and the foisting on the American people of arbitrary and capricious shutdown measures by overbearing governors and mayors.


TUCKER CARLSON (Fox News Channel): …15 congregants at a synagogue in New Jersey were arrested and charged for being in a synagogue together…By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights in issuing this order.

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): That’s above my pay grade Tucker, so I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this.


JAMES POULOS: Senior members of Congress seemed gleeful about the idea of using the wages of the crisis to justify seizing total and complete control from Washington, D.C.


JAKE TAPPER (CNN): And quickly sir, if you could, on a call last month with lawmakers you said this was “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” What exactly did you mean by that?

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): We need to restructure our educational systems to accommodate something like this…We see the closing of rural hospitals…here in South Carolina. We need to restructure our healthcare delivery system.



REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Right now in a time when so many people are—whose lives are threatened by a pandemic—their lives shouldn’t also be threatened by the fear of eviction, by the fear of foreclosure, or worse.


JAMES POULOS: The spring of 2020 turned to a tumultuous summer.


We witnessed race riots, looting, and anarchy—funded by our elites and broadly supported by our political class. The lockdowns continued for the law-abiding, but the Woke were free to act with impunity, tearing down our past, and literally torching our present—in front of CNN chyrons straight out of the “Naked Gun” series reading: “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests.”

As summer turned to fall, the 2020 election loomed. Months in advance of election day, one side claimed the other’s victory would be wholly illegitimate, entertained fever dreams about a president having to be dragged out of the White House by the military, and promised still more chaos on the streets if the election didn’t go its way. That same side sought to ensure universal mail-in ballots that might well threaten the very sanctity of our political system.

Underlying this year of conflict were fundamental questions about who we are, what we are, and what we should strive to be, as a nation.

In previous episodes of this podcast, we’ve framed the ideological struggle we are in as Multiculturalism versus America. We’ve exposed the 1619 Project as Multiculturalism’s most devious scheme. We’ve sought to create a unifying ethos—Preserving the American Way of Life—to help guide our actions in this Cold Civil War we’re engaged in.

Prudence demands that we wed our principles to the practices that Preserving the American Way of life demands.

These practices include voting. While by law and custom, we will never support a candidate, we believe we have a duty to highlight for our fellow Americans the critical questions we believe we must ask in choosing our representatives.

In this special edition of the American Mind Podcast, we will explore these questions—the questions begged in 2020 by a political class more radically progressive than at any other time in our history; a political class that imperils our liberty, justice, and with it our civilization; and a political class hellbent on imposing an ideology that threatens to destroy any semblance of our American regime.

This is not hyperbole or hysteria. This is reality.

We are in an existential battle.

And that is why in this special edition podcast, we will pose the existential questions of this battle immediately facing us on November 3rd.


Do you want to live in a land in which individuals are judged as individuals on the basis of merit, or one in which groups are judged on the basis of position in the identity politics hierarchy?

Do you want to raise your family in an environment where criminality and race riots are the norm, or one where law and order rules and societal harmony through colorblindness is the ideal constantly strived for?

These aren’t academic questions.

These are ones we have to answer as a people, today.

The 2020 we just surveyed is a direct consequence of the triumph of Wokeism. Under its banner, America’s purported leaders overtly abdicated their leadership role, using Wokeism as a stalking horse for progressivism—to reimpose their rule over an American public that rejected it in 2016—claiming to protect our values and institutions while undermining and eroding them.

As Matthew Peterson writes in The American Mind:

Most Americans still do not realize that what is now occurring on American soil is not an organic civil rights movement, but an elite-funded effort to destabilize the American way of life as we’ve known it: the complete overhaul of the principles of our justice system to put group “identities” above equal individual rights, the erosion of private property and private education, and the destruction of traditional families and moral culture.

The groupthink of this failed leadership class is perhaps best reflected in matters of race and justice.


FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have to dedicate ourselves to an era of action to dismantle systemic racism; to rip it out root-and-branch from every law, evert policy, every institution, every place where it festers.


JAMES POULOS: Pick any of the prominent lethal incidents involving police and black Americans of the last year, and you’ll hear and see the entire smart set speaking and acting in unison: claiming our justice system is systemically racist; throwing due process to the wind; refusing to acknowledge facts challenging the prevailing narrative; supporting the defunding of police or euphemisms for it, while shilling for bail funds and no-cash bail policies that reward criminality; lavishing hundreds of millions of dollars on racial Marxist groups; and winking and sometimes actively cheering on the “peaceful protests” that resulted in death and destruction for untold thousands if not millions of Americans.

This is a microcosm of an even deeper rot.

It is the rot stemming from the rejection of the American system by those who have most benefited from it—including among them self-identified paragons of privilege in Woke, highly educated, white elites.

Race is the most virtuous pretext to use for collapsing the system. To be racist is the highest form of sin. If our entire system is racist, the entire system is sinful. Therefore, to purge America of that sin, the system must be destroyed. Naturally, the Woke then believe in taking apart the system root-and-branch: From the nuclear family—which Black Lives Matter seeks to “disrupt” —to the free enterprise system; from due process to police departments.

Do you support a vision of an irredeemable America and the revolution that seeks to collapse it, to be recast in a racial Marxist vision? The assumption of guilt or innocence on the basis of identity? Chaos and bloodshed in our streets? Cops being treated like criminals, and criminals like their victims—with attendant rising crime? Those same cops forced to retire in droves, while they see their old colleagues ambushed and attacked? A view of justice as revenge fantasy? Do your representatives support this vision? These questions are on the ballot this year as politicians ape Woke rhetoric, egg on those who act on it, or remain silent in its face.

The Wizards of Wokeism’s push for “anti-racist” ideology, splitting the world into racists and anti-racists, is just a new spin on an old divide-and-conquer tactic now being embraced wholeheartedly by America’s elites. Some are true believers. Others have been cowed into backing it. And still others are cynically riding the wave of Wokedom for political ends.

We see fealty to Wokedom not just in small anecdotes like Big Tech titan Jack Dorsey of Twitter cutting a $10 million check to Ibram X. Kendi’s “Center for Antiracist Research” at Boston University, or Oprah’s shilling for Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste, but in the S&P 500’s virtually unanimous sponsorship of BLM, and the institutionalization of such regressive viewpoints in the State.

And make no mistake, they are regressive.


IBRAM X. KENDI: In order to truly eliminate racial inequities, we have to eliminate racist policies, we have to constitutionalize the idea that a racial inequity is caused by a racist policy…


JAMES POULOS: The aforementioned Kendi, author of the New York Times bestselling How to be an Antiracist, calls for America to:

…pass an anti-racist amendment to…make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials (with “racist ideas” and “public official” clearly defined).

…[The anti-racist amendment] would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.

These policies would naturally accord with Kendi’s view that, quote:

The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.

Isabel Wilkerson compares America’s past treatment of blacks to Nazi Germany, and says that today white Americans continue upholding a “caste system.”


ROBIN DIANGELO: We need to change our question from, “If I’m racist”—to which most white people will say no—to “How have I been shaped by the forces of racism I was born into, and how has it manifested in my life?” It’s a really different question. And I can just tell you, look around at the society: White people thinking we’re not racist is not, and has not ended racism. We have to change our paradigm…We can never be complacent.

JAMES POULOS: Robin DiAngelo, whose work the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History shamefully promoted, simply shrugs off the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s colorblind vision, writing:

One line of King’s speech in particular—that one day he might be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin—was seized upon by the white public because the words were seen to provide a simple and immediate solution to racial tensions: pretend that we don’t see race, and racism will end. Color blindness was now promoted as the remedy for racism, with white people insisting that they didn’t see race or, if they did, that it had no meaning to them.

These race-hustlers and hucksters masquerading as social justice warriors are joined as we’ve noted by 1619 Project purveyor Nikole Hannah-Jones, and a litany of other pseudo-intellectuals participating in today’s social justice shakedown.

Yet has anyone asked the American people if they agree that we should correct perceived discrimination by discriminating? Has anyone asked if we want a Department of Anti-Racism to police our thoughts, and punish us if societal outcomes don’t completely comport with the racial makeup of society? Has anyone asked if we wish to reject color blindness and instead see race in everything? Do we want a system in which people are judged on individual merit, or by group and skin pigmentation? Do we want a system in which justice is blind, or justice sees only color?

You must ask these questions because they are increasingly on the ballot. We can draw a straight line from the Woke racial Marxists to Washington.

Our federal government seems all too happy to comply with the Regime of Wokedom—which is to say, to impose a regime on us antithetical to the American one.

As the Discovery Institute’s Christopher Rufo has exposed, the ideas underlying these positions are becoming enshrined in the administrative state, just as they have insinuated themselves in corporate boardrooms. They pervade agencies as diverse as the Treasury Department, the CDC, and the Department of Defense.

The die was cast for this at least as early as 2011, when the Obama-Biden administration issued executive order 13583. That order directed “government-wide diversity and inclusion training.”

President Trump was forced to issue an executive order to combat this attempt to destroy our sense of unity. The White House has stated that it believes programming associated with concepts like “white privilege” represent “divisive, anti-American propaganda.” One has to ask, do his Republican colleagues agree? How about his Democrat opponents?

The foregoing is to say nothing of taxpayer-funded NPR, which has used our dollars to promote the view that rioting and looting constitute legitimate acts of “protest,” and to pay the salary of a so-called reporter who allegedly tried to stop police from corralling a BLM mob that had organized to block the emergency entrance of a Los Angeles hospital. There, two sheriff’s deputies had just been ambushed and shot, with one mob member chanting “I hope they [effing] die,” and another “Y’all gonna die one by one. This ain’t gonna stop.”

Only now, when the political winds have shifted, do those on the Left realize perhaps winking at those burning our cities might be a political mistake—though not a disaster on the merits mind you.


DON LEMON (CNN): What’s happening in Kenosha is a Rorschach Test for the entire country. And I think this is a blind spot for Democrats. I think Democrats are ignoring this problem, or hoping that it will go away. And it’s not going to go away…The rioting has to stop. Chris [Cuomo], as you know and I know, it’s showing up in the polling. It’s showing up in focus groups. It is the only thing, it is the only thing right now that is sticking.


But more importantly than the link between the Woke’s rhetoric and that of leading politicians, consider the acts they are contemplating. Look for example at the Biden-Bernie Sanders unity agenda. It may as well have been written by the aforementioned Ibram X. Kendi himself. Its “Economic Unity Task Force Recommendations” begin with “Racial Equity,” which reads in part:

race-neutral policies are not a sufficient response to race-based disparities. We need proactive anti-discrimination detection and enforcement. On day one, we are committed to taking anti-racist actions for equity across our institutions, including in the areas of education, climate change, criminal justice, immigration, and health care, among others.

Got that? Differences in outcomes by race must be policed across practically every element of American life.

Will Ibram Kendi get his Department of Anti-racism in the next administration?

Why isn’t anyone asking that question?

As for actual law enforcement, as the Wall Street Journal notes, the Biden-Sanders unity agenda’s “Protecting Communities by Reforming Our Criminal Justice System” section omits the words “felony,” “homicides,” and “gangs.” The Journal asserts that the section is:

almost entirely about one thing—the police and reducing their role. “Shootings” appears once—in regard to “police shootings.”

Subsequent proposals on the official Biden campaign website overwhelmingly reflect these policies.

These are defining statements from political leadership. Do you as an American accept them?

We as a nation have a chance to answer these questions in there here and now, for ourselves and our posterity.



SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): While this virus touches us all, we gotta be honest. It is not an equal opportunity offender. Black, Latino, and indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately. And this is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism; of inequities in education and technology, healthcare and housing, job security, and transportation; the injustice in reproductive and maternal healthcare; in the excessive use of force by police; and in our broader criminal justice system. This virus, it has no eyes. And yet, it knows exactly how we see each other, and how we treat each other. And let’s be clear: There is no vaccine for racism.


JAMES POULOS: Talk is cheap.

But by their actions, our political betters really believe what they’ve said about racism being the true virus infecting America.

They have made clear in fact that they are even willing to threaten mass death to fight the virus.


REUVAIN BORCHARDT (HAMODIA): The retail store owner who has been closed for two months and is experiencing financial ruin has been banned from opening his store. People for whom attending houses of worship are a regular part of life have been banned from doing so with more than 10 people. Now you’ve expressed solidarity with this particular protest cause [the George Floyd-related activism]. Is that why it’s been given dispensation to this regard over pandemic guidelines?…Mr. Mayor, are we in a pandemic or not, and do we have one set of rules for protesters and another for everyone else?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): When you see a nation, entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved storeowner, or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services.


If you were one of the Woke faithful this summer, you were allowed to march, to riot, and to loot in the streets with impunity. Social distancing and quarantining diktats did not apply to you. Conversely, faithful Jews, Christians, and all other law-abiding citizens had their liberties suspended, indefinitely, and arbitrarily.

This is what happens when Wokeism becomes the State religion, and our technocratic clergy reigns. It’s not hysterical to point this out—in fact it’s imperative to recognize it, and to question whether we as a country are willing to accept it.


Perhaps the greatest question of all concerning 2020 is whether we as a nation still have a desire to settle questions on their merits, by way of representative government, at the ballot box, or whether we wish to be a country where force and coercion rules—and where a permanent political class rules no matter who you vote for, and pulls out all the stops to make extra sure.

The last four years have seen much of the bipartisan Washington establishment act as wild-eyed conspiracy theorists, while engaging in first a surreptitious, and now an open conspiracy to ensure the 2020 presidential election does not result in the same calamity as the 2016 election.

What we have witnessed a rolling coup.

As noted, 2020 began with a Potemkin impeachment, just as 2016 and beyond started with Russigate, or Spygate, to be followed by myriad acts of sabotage and subversion by executive branch officials themselves, by legislative and judiciary branch resistance, and a media serving as a conduit for information operations pushed by government officials. All were aimed at toppling a president, and punishing his supporters.

Whether we will tolerate such Third World behavior is also on the ballot, and it’s about far more than any one president. It comes down to whether we believe politics ought to be criminalized, as the Attorney General himself has alluded to; whether the weaponization of the national security and intelligence apparatus against political foes is legitimate; and whether the system can withstand threatened insubordination by those who have served at the highest levels of our armed services; or whether power ought to be peacefully transferred.

Again, this isn’t hyperbole. Look at what we’re witnessing today:

Defeated Donald Trump opponent Hillary Clinton urges…

HILLARY CLINTON: …Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is gonna drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch, and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is.

JAMES POULOS: Michael McFaul, former Obama administration Ambassador to Russia, tweets chillingly that “Trump has lost the Intelligence Community. He has lost the State Department. He has  lost the military. How can he continue to serve as our Commander in Chief ?”

These comments come amid letters and accounts from  former senior military officials contemplating “collective action” against President Trump, and calling on the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to remove the president from office in the imagined event where he loses the 2020 election and refuses to go.

The rhetoric mimics scenarios gamed out by Trump haters claiming that it is he and his supporters who will riot in the event of an electoral loss, creating a constitutional crisis—while the Trump-haters have been out rioting for weeks, and flooding the streets in fits of rage since the very beginning of his presidency.

This ludicrous fever dream has been echoed in article after article after article to try to create a narrative meant to deflect from the fact that it is the establishment that has resorted, and continues to resort, to every possible means—legal and illegal—to satisfy its desire to topple the president that so threatened their turf.

As we wrote in a recent piece:

Today’s incessant scaremongering that a defeated Trump will barricade himself in the White House—the Nation devoted its latest cover story to this phony fever dream—is a smokescreen from party bigs scrambling to plan for just the opposite. Progressive radicals have spent years assembling a nationwide machine for legitimizing their switch-flip to autocratic rule. The full apparatus of that machinery—the media, the mobs, the deep-staters—is being leveraged to intimidate and disorient the people into accepting a Biden coup. Now is the time for Americans to make it known we won’t let our country be treated this way.

The establishment has demanded universal mail-in balloting, distancing the voters from the vote-counters, and attacking anyone who challenges it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called such opponents…

SPEAKER PELOSI (D-CA): …the domestic enemies to our voting system, and our honoring our Constitution…enemies of the state,” notwithstanding that mail-in balloting is an invitation to fraud, as has been proven already this year.

The establishment has indicated that there will be violence in the streets, and litigation in the courts, should the election not go its way.

Again, this is about more than any one president. It is about whether our political class will permit the people to be represented, or do everything it can to represent only itself. Its plan to retain power is to keep up the permanent coup against any anti-establishment figure who dares threaten its power and its privilege—threats the political class mendaciously casts as the real coup.

Will we settle these questions at the ballot box, or will they be settled through exhibitions of raw power in the streets, and by judicial fiat in the courts?

These questions too confront us in 2020.

We must choose wisely, or risk losing everything.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

to the newsletter