Our corrupt elites have stolen the valor of American heroes. Time to take it back.
The Way Forward
Americans must forge a path ahead.
America is locked into an escalating cycle of political and cultural turmoil. Our cold civil war is heating up and has spilled over into nearly every aspect of life. A momentous commercial-cultural shift is now underway that will force us to reexamine our fundamental assumptions.
This shift will soon become the most significant change in America in living memory. The geographic, digital, and financial movement of millions of people and billions of dollars out from under the control of woke states, woke digital technology, and woke corporations and capital has begun.
And it is now the duty of all those who wish to stop the decline of our nation to join it.
The American cultural and political landscape has been bulldozed and fundamentally reshaped over the last half century. A one-party oligarchy tied to the radical ideology of identity politics controls our major institutions as populist resistance rises. Digital technology continues to reshape human behavior and institutions, causing an escalating war over its control.
The views of roughly half the population of America are increasingly suppressed and delegitimized by most major institutions and media outlets. This difference in opinion is not a mere matter of policy preferences. Americans are divided about what men and women, the family, citizenship, and nation-states are and ought to be, as well as when human life begins.
Few want to admit the reality of the situation, but Americans are now divided over the building blocks and the purpose of human civilization. Many do not consider what underlies all the factionalism amidst the noise, but this does not change the sordid reality. There is no possibility of reconciling this fundamental opposition unless one side or the other wins.
The nature of this conflict is purposely obscured by many of its participants and the rest of our leadership class is often too blind or frightened to describe it. It’s not only hard to come to grips with the depth of our division: it’s difficult for those formed in a very different America to see it. The gap between the experience of older and younger generations of Americans has created dangerously disparate visions of the reality in which we are all operating.
But this reality is clear to those of us who have recognized it for what it is all along. And those of us, like myself, who are already “pre-canceled” because we have been in the trenches publicly for years, are not afraid. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, a quiet burst of energy was unleashed across the nation. We stopped asking for permission or seeking anyone’s approval and began to act.
I grew up conservative.
My parents became a part of the “religious right” after a conversion shortly before I was born. I was homeschooled for much of my youth, read widely, and daily analyzed the bias of the mainstream media. I devoured every major conservative publication in high school.
I attended my alma mater after reading about it in National Review’s Guide to Colleges because I wanted to read original texts and great works. I went to graduate school to study political philosophy and the American founding to try to figure out what, exactly, we ought to be trying to conserve, and how we ought to best go about it.
I reveal all this to make clear that what I have to say comes from a friend, not an outsider, to the American Right. I have willingly shaped myself to engage in the fight to renew America and western civilization and this has driven nearly every major decision in my life.
Like many in my generation, however, I drifted from the movement and despaired of the Right and the anemic Republican Party due to its own incompetence and corruption. The aftermath of the Iraq War, the financial crisis and ensuing bailout, and my own experience in politics and media revealed not only the lack of talent and seriousness on the right, but the corruption of our system.
I tested thousands of students and teachers about American history and civics and saw how our educational system had already failed us—with disastrous consequences to our civic and cultural life still to come. I analyzed and interacted with the flow of power in American politics and saw the depth of its corruption. I learned through experience how central media is to the molding of the public mind—and how blind the Right is about this fact even as the cultural dominance of the Left has hardened.
It became obvious to me that in education and media—both of which shape the minds and opinions of the citizenry—the alternative structures that many of us kept suggesting, which were consistently downplayed as impractical, were, in fact, necessary. But time and time again, those of us who complained and wanted to adapt and address our changing circumstances were pushed away and prevented from action.
The Right didn’t want to hear what it needed to do or to listen to or elevate younger leaders. Many who were merely repeating the “right” words and phrases chased those we needed away. But the Left’s increasing control of our institutions meant that climbing the ladder in any mainstream sector of the economy while not going along politically and culturally was increasingly impossible.
Whatever you think of him, the rise of Donald Trump changed all this. His election was a rejection of the status quo, including both political parties. He revealed the possibility that our cold civil war was not over, its result not inevitable. He revealed the possibility of a renewed Republican party that would not merely manage decline.
And decline we have—to the point where most of the younger generation who rejects the Left justifiably sees America as a dystopic political and cultural wasteland.
For the first time in my life, I was considering giving up the fight to go stockpile as much wealth as I could when Trump’s emergence and the potential for broad political and cultural realignment drew me back to battle. When I created The American Mind with Ryan Williams and James Poulos as a side project at the Claremont Institute, I was struck by how many elites in finance, media, and technology began to eagerly contact us, interested in any sign of intelligent life outside all the old mantras.
In the past, the American Right set out to conserve American institutions and an American way of life through partisan political action and advocacy. The “culture war” was always real, but for the most part it was fought within explicitly political spaces via explicitly political means. Businesses and the economy were considered “neutral” spaces, subject to discipline from shareholders and market demand.
Today, however, few elite professions or corporations allow their members to safely dissent from woke dogma; everyone knows they risk their job and career if they do so publicly. The woke agenda has been grafted into most major corporations. And since culture is made in large part by corporations, mainstream media and culture have largely turned into tools to support one side of the divide.
It is true that much of the American Right has dithered in the face of this new reality, hampered by an ideology and subculture that shelters and blinds them to the actual landscape of American commerce and culture. But it is also true that many talented professionals are now quietly seething from their perches in elite society. They know how bad things are. They want leadership—and they want out from under woke tyranny.
In other words, while establishment pundits and others out of touch with reality might call me a “radical,” many in professional perches throughout American society in position quietly agree with me. They know something has changed, and that the older understanding of American politics and business is no longer enough.
Many assume they will be fired or will have to resign on principle at some point. They are eager to find opportunities outside of the big corporations whose names you know. They are not cowards—they are willing to move to a red state and take a pay cut—but they are also not suicidal. They are mulling how they can transition out of the current system and join up with sufficient talent and revenue streams. Many are not themselves entrepreneurs or executives but are looking to slot themselves in with teams of like-minded people.
The opportunity is clear: in many sectors of the American economy, whoever starts demonstrating competence and generating revenue outside of woke capital’s control will have historic levels of talent and experience to draw from.
The obstacle is in large part organizational: how, at scale, can we transfer many of our best and brightest into revenue-generating entities led by those who will not break to the demands of woke capital?
The quietly Right-leaning or just plain non-woke dissenters in elite ranks suffering under our rolling cultural revolution are not alone. The cutting-edge leaders in American business who have begun to stand up and speak out put to shame many of those in similar positions who consider themselves Republicans.
The wealthiest man in the world, Elon Musk, recently declared: “Unless it is stopped, the woke mind virus will destroy civilization and humanity will never reached [sic] Mars.” His high-profile effort to buy Twitter for the sake of allowing dissent on the platform could be described as an act of statesmanship for the twenty-first century. Musk has also called ESG—the “socially conscious” investing acronym (Environmental, Social, and Governance) used by woke capital to dictate the politics of business entities—”an outrageous scam.”
Musk’s position echoes the long-standing criticism of modern America made by Peter Thiel, one of the most interesting entrepreneurs and investors in America, that we are losing our ability to innovate. Thiel recently set forth what he called an “enemies list” denigrating some of the largest figures in American finance and all those beholden to woke capital who stand in opposition to cryptocurrency. He labeled ESG the enemy of Bitcoin. In perhaps the most belligerent public statement he has ever made, Thiel called ESG and all that surrounds it a “hate factory” equivalent of the Chinese Communist Party. He urged a “revolutionary youth movement” dedicated to cryptocurrency to rise and take over the world.
In 2020, famed investor Marc Andreessen wrote a short manifesto entitled “It’s Time to Build,” declaring that “[o]ur nation and our civilization were built on production, on building.” Andreesen’s firm, A16Z, went on to hire Katherine Boyle, who has since and developed the concept of “American Dynamism,” announcing that our current “problems demand solutions from builders—and it’s never been more vital that startups tackle these serious American problems.” In her words, “American dynamism…is the belief that the values upon which the country was founded are real and worth defending.”
Boyle recently wrote “The Case for American Seriousness,” calling out the “unseriousness” of our current system and those who run our corrupt institutions:
Insurmountable problems in our society…demand solutions that aren’t just incremental changes that perpetuate the status quo. And these solutions will come from serious founders, those who are willing to build something new from nothing. Building is a political philosophy.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a successful entrepreneur and the author of Woke Capital, recently announced the creation of Strive Asset Management, “to restore the voices of everyday citizens in the American economy by leading companies to focus on excellence over politics.” He rightly says established competitors such as BlackRock and Vanguard are part of an “ideological cartel.” In his words, “Depoliticizing corporate America should not be a left wing or right wing issue” since it “has nothing to do with partisan politics.”
An apolitical private sector is a requirement for an otherwise divided country to be able to come together. It’s a sort of sanctuary away from politics. Once we lose that, it’s the beginning of the end of the American experiment.
These figures are correct that America needs to take power back from woke capital. They are correct that we now need a kind of willed audacity in the face of civilizational decline to build again and make the future better than the past.
But this is not enough.
What all these noble efforts reveal is the need for the full-fledged emergence of the burgeoning commercial-cultural movement that underlies them. What they lack is a robust connection to red state America and a full articulation of what the broad-based, popular movement about to burst forth is substantially about.
I moved to Texas last year to help launch New Founding, a venture organization dedicated to revitalizing America and building what is now needed in tech, media, and finance with my co-founder, Nathaniel Fischer. We are actively working on laying out a practical vision for an American future that is better than the past, and how to unite and rally eager Americans around it. When I am asked “Why are you doing this?” my instinctual answer is simply: “Because no one else is.”
The first reaction on the part of Right-leaning leaders and all others concerned with the present crisis has been and will continue to be to keep businesses “neutral” and to steer revenue-generating entities away from politics. But these efforts, while well intentioned and helpful, will ultimately fail if neutrality remains their goal.
We will not defeat a positive with a negative. It is clear, as Musk says, that woke capital threatens civilization. It is also clear that, as all the above figures know intimately, the radical ideology that now grips our centers of power stifles innovation. But the deeper question is why we innovate or build in the first place. Business was never “neutral”—it’s just that, in former times, we more readily agreed on the possible answers to this question.
There are at least two reasons for the inadequacy of neutrality as a goal. The first is practical: our civil rights regime, our laws, our institutions, and our culture have long since baked in the necessity of allegiance to elite-sponsored wokeness and identity politics. The system is not neutral. And thus far, no one has been able to roll back this regime of laws and customs, which fights under the inspiring banner of justice and a moral vision of a virtuous way of life, by means of the less inspiring, abstract notion of neutrality.
The second, deeper reason is that neutrality was always a smokescreen. All civilizations possess a social credit system of some kind and an idea of human virtue that its members use to “signal” to others that they are not merely successful, but good. Any human community requires a shared vision of the good life, and broad but real agreement on what it entails. That agreement is precisely what has broken down in America.
As I have written previously in these pages, “If you will be viciously attacked anyhow—if you will be attacked because you remain neutral—what do you gain by remaining neutral?” Even if one thought we could somehow return to “neutrality”, the only way to bring it back would require parallel competing structures built around a positive vision of an alternative way of life.
Musk’s suite of businesses are themselves organized around solving big and practical problems revolving around the perpetuation of humanity: traffic and pollution (The Boring Company), keeping human beings in control of Artificial Intelligence (Neuralink), sustainable energy (Tesla), and planetary colonization (SpaceX).
His central purpose certainly relies on presuppositions about a preferable way of life, and very broadly speaking shapes one, presuming as he does that humanity is worth perpetuation—an assumption that perhaps increasingly puts him at odds with modern elites. His warnings about civilizational collapse go unheeded by those influenced decades of educated “environmental” efforts at population control.
Andreessen and Boyle propose building itself as the solution to real and practical problems of decline and speak of investing in America to defend an American way of life that is worth defending. Building, as Boyle suggests, is certainly intimately connected to a political philosophy. But what, exactly, this political philosophy is—never mind what it looks like in practice in our contemporary context, is unclear.
Thiel proposes a revolution focused on the freedom cryptocurrency offers to disrupt our decrepit institutions and unleash the freedom to build anew. As a nascent movement, crypto carries assumptions and aspirations of certain ways of life as opposed to others. But as presently proposed, this movement and what it entails is also ill-defined, especially for the regular Americans who might be most inclined to join it.
Thiel has invested in Ramaswamy’s efforts, who proposes that “It’s time to replace ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ with ‘Excellence, Opportunity, and Civility.’ Ramaswamy’s central theme is the celebration and support of excellence, by which he means human virtue. He is also indirectly proposing a certain way of life as opposed to others, and perhaps goes furthest towards explicitly describing one. But Ramaswamy also frequently names “neutrality” as the goal.
While each of these vital nascent efforts complement each other, and no doubt only reveal a part of their respective proponents full understanding, they do not directly and publicly address the central question. Even excellence in the abstract is not enough. Human excellence must be tied to some higher calling or purpose. It requires a “why.” Why should we build, and what for, exactly? What is the way of life we are trying to shape and form?
While the Claremont Institute itself advocates for defending the American Way of Life, it is no longer clear what that phrase means in an era in which American institutions fly rainbow and BLM flags and frequently issue official statements about what everyone must think about the daily headlines. In this time of tumult and transition, what our way of life should be is precisely what is now up for grabs. Fortune favors the bold, and he who boldly proposes a way of life and fights to instantiate it is likely to win. This is what the other side has already accomplished.
We need to renew an American way of life worthy of the name. We need to re-found an American civilization that is coming apart at the seams.
And we will. Because we must.
Americans have already begun to act. Everyone knows that domestic migration from blue states to red states has rapidly accelerated over the last two years, but no one is allowed to say in public why, exactly, this is happening. The answer is not merely lower taxes, as the Wall Street Journal tells us, nor is it a temporary move to avoid contracting COVID-19, as many on the Left have pretended.
The truth is that, while all the causal factors of the last decade remain in place, in the last few years more people than ever have been moving because of the tyrannical actions blue states took in reaction to the virus; and the increase of crime and politically motivated violence (the 2020 riots) and the unwillingness of blue states to protect their own citizens. There is a general sense in America that things are falling apart and will likely get worse. In short, people are moving to seek a better way of life in a much deeper sense than the phrase is usually bandied about.
There are four major parts of life around which human happiness typically revolves: religious observance, healthy family life, meaningful work, and community engagement. In blue, one-party counties in blue, one-party states, satisfaction in each of these areas is increasingly difficult for anyone dissenting from the woke cultural revolution to attain. The harsh truth is that those who live in such areas must now move to red or purple states to seek a better way of life.
In America, the frontier is always with us. We have been told that people have been leaving New York and California for Florida and Texas for “economic reasons” for decades, but in the last few years people have begun to purposely resettle in areas where they can live with those of like mind on fundamental issues. Florida and Texas are becoming more and not less strident politically; in both states, the Republican party is far stronger than it has been in the recent past.
This trend will continue as the differences between the way of life on offer in red and blue states becomes starker. Florida under Governor Ron DeSantis is the model of the future for red state America. The bolder red state laws and action that the Republican base is increasingly demanding make it less and less likely that those who disagree will relocate there.
But the same forces driving geographic migration apply with even more force to the one-party controlled workplace, marketplace, and digital world. When the divide in understanding about fundamental things is so deep, and increasingly enforced by one side, people are pushed by necessity and pulled by desire to get out from under woke control.
Woke capital operates by means of its capture of billions of dollars from the very people it opposes. A key reason for its success is the lack of non-woke options currently on offer for those millions of Americans. We need a new class of investors and founders who refuse to break to its demands.
Any way you count the numbers, millions of Americans—who as a group would constitute one of the largest GDPs in the world—want to stop supporting companies and cultural institutions that hate them. They know that Big Tech and Hollywood alike are dead set against them. They are becoming aware that not only their banks but their 401ks have also been weaponized against them, increasingly used as they are by large financial structures to enforce wokeness upon the world.
Half the nation, in other words, wants alternatives. If we can put together the historic levels of talent now available to meet increasingly ravenous demand, this is the single biggest business opportunity in our lifetime. It is also necessary to save America.
Some will argue that providing millions of Americans what they actually want will only serve to further rip us apart. They’re wrong. The truth is that without a recombination and consolidation of commercial-cultural power America cannot be saved outside of sheer top-down political power wielded at the level of a Caesar.
Since the Right is not in control of virtually all our major institutions, the only power it currently possesses are red states and the support of millions of Americans scattered about the country. The Right must strengthen and aggressively wield its political power in red and purple states, but it cannot win unless it harnesses the power of the people by means of aligned revenue-generating entities. Strong political leadership is vital but even the strongest of American presidents will not be able to defeat woke capital unless propelled by an alternative, broad-based movement.
I will lay out a vision for what that positive movement will look like in a future essay. But whatever it looks like, the single major obstacle that prevents its full emergence is a media apparatus with the right visionary leaders that is equipped to reach a friendly, eager audience in red state America and help define, unify, promote, and guide such a movement.
Wokeness, ESG, “social justice”, and all the rest were created as positive movements by a concerted effort on the part of many kinds of organizations. Any positive movement pointing in another direction will fail to launch unless it includes the same key stakeholders. Non-profits and intellectuals must lay out definitions and guidelines and promote and advocate for them, businesses must adopt and be able to innovate and advertise based on them, but at the center of it all media must showcase this attractive vision to the public.
Media is the mortar that binds ideas and vision with commerce and culture. Op-eds and essays such as this one are not enough. There is no way to promote a vision of a better, more human way of life without media entities that draw in likeminded audiences and show rather than tell what we can all do together to promote our own well-being.
What is needed, in other words, is not more political commentary, or the glorified influencer networks that constitute much of “conservative” media, but a full-fledged alternative to mainstream networks and content. This means lifestyle and reality content, and all manner of entertainment geared towards promoting and celebrating a healthy civilization and culture.
In the past, this sort of talk on the part of the Right usually went nowhere, and to the extent it did it usually led to cringeworthy, reactionary partisan content. In our current reality, however, virtually every variety of media content is being left on the table by the woke-ified media and the commercial brands that fund it. What is needed and what is now possible are media groups that can actually reach red state America and beyond as a whole.
We do not have time to wait for leaders on the Right to finally understand the necessity and power of media to frame, shape, and guide a commercial-cultural movement. We do not have time to waste while our current media ruthlessly atomizes and demonizes the millions of Americans who oppose the powers that be. Investors and talented professionals must band together—now—and support readily available talent to build the lucrative media entities of the future.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.