Given the preoccupation with safety that has plagued the country since at least September 11, this dreary emphasis on protection is perhaps predictable. But the protection younger Republicans promise is protection from wrongs done by “elites.” In short, they are inviting a class war.
Rather than focus on individuals — “individual” is becoming a dirty word — the NatCons and others focus on delivering their protection to groups. In the name of such protection, NatCons and some others on the right moot a range of proposals: some kind of higher taxes on those elites, perhaps corporate taxes, some kind of taxes on investment to reduce income inequality, antitrust actions to punish companies that are “too big,” especially tech companies, and tariffs and industrial policy to protect certain industries’ jobs. More commonly held conservative ideas such as border and immigration restriction are also in the mix.
Another goal — perhaps the main point — is higher wages. Some support minimum-wage increases. Others talk about finding a way to give organized labor more influence.
Such demands add up to a call for converting America to an official European-style, group-oriented, class-divided social democracy. That would have have disconcerted Reagan, a man blissfully uninterested in the class divide. Perhaps that is why the younger conservatives don’t like to spell out what they grope towards. Directly disavowing Reagan still spooks them. And, after all, some Reaganites are still very much around. Bemoan “income inequality” too loudly and one of the best of the Reaganites, former senator Phil Gramm of Texas, will emerge from the GOP woodwork to shame you into common sense.
Insisting individuals and families define their own path to progress is also vital. For a neat, optimistic summary of a general approach, see Ian Rowe’s excellent Agency. Rowe, who has established schools in the South Bronx and the East Side of Manhattan, has a simple goal when it comes to education: “I want kids to know they can do hard things.” Interventions, Rowe argues, whether of the Democratic or NatCon variety, are “inherently disempowering.”
So what about the New Right’s political prospects? These, too, are grim. Its adherents like to claim that the 2016 presidential election heralded a new working-class coalition for the Right, and that the wind has been at the back of this coalition ever since. There are many reasons to doubt that. Each subsequent election is making 2016 look like less of a surefire case for the theory. “When Trump won Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016, right-wing institutions convinced themselves that populist messaging was the future,” Harsanyi recounts. But now, “those states are gone, and the GOP is going to end up losing Arizona and Georgia and others, as well.” Few political champions of this tendency have, moreover, been able to secure office successfully, a necessary prelude to genuine and durable political influence. “Zombie Reaganites” and normie Republicans have done a lot better. Besides, as [David] Harsanyi points out, “voters already have a big-spending, pro-union, big government, welfare state party.”
Punishment that causes durable impairments of the punished person’s brain surely violates the Constitution’s Eight Amendment proscription of “cruel and unusual punishments.” So, last week the Supreme Court’s three “liberal” justices rightly dissented against the six “conservative” justices’ decision not to hear a case concerning the all-too-common prison practice of protracted solitary confinement.
Conservatives, ever apprehensive about the abuses of power to which empowered people always and everywhere are susceptible, should be acutely alert about potential abuses of prisoners, who exist at the state’s mercy, behind high walls and nontransparent procedures.
The Eighth Amendment makes originalists fainthearted. Spare us sermons about the public meaning of “cruelty” in 1790: No court today would sanction some punishments (e.g., flogging, branding, mutilation, the pillory) practiced when the amendment was ratified. Prolonged solitary confinement was not imposed then. Today, however, protracted isolation is far from “unusual”; it is now traditional and common. But the amendment’s original meaning that matters is: We shall not countenance government-inflicted cruelty.
The court majority’s dereliction of duty regarding Johnson illustrates how the labels ”liberal” and “conservative” can be inapposite in judicial contexts. The conservatives showed undue deference to government; the liberals correctly construed precedent and the Constitution’s original public meaning.
To be clear, all is not well with China’s economy and its economic practices. As Packard documented in a recent essay for Cato’s new Defending Globalization project, China faces a number of short‐ and longer‐term headwinds that will almost certainly constrain future growth. As Adam Posen recently argued in an excellent Foreign Affairs essay, China’s economy is being weighed down by autocratic policies emanating from Xi Jinping and the top of the Communist Party. Though two‐way trade with China hit a record last year owing in part to inflation, new data show that on net, foreign investment in China turned negative during the third quarter of 2023 – the first such negative quarter since China began publishing data in 1998. As Axios surmised, “These capital outflows reflect collapsing corporate confidence in China’s state‐led economic model under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.”
Yet instead of capitalizing on China’s weakening prospects with forward‐looking trade and investment policies, Washington continues to fall prey to misguided protectionism that will weaken the US both economically and geopolitically vis‐à‐vis Beijing. If the United States is going to outcompete China in the 21st century, it needs to quickly emerge from its defensive crouch and pursue an affirmative trade agenda that offers countries a solid alternative.