Beneath the merry snap, crackle and pop of the 2020 election something bigger than politics is happening: the war on for the soul of America. Claremont Institute board chairman Thomas Klingenstein, with whom I have a professional association, tautly summed matters up recently:
“What the election is about is the character of America: Specifically is America a good country or a bad country. I think Republicans should frame the election just this way. They need to remind the American people that on November 3rd they will choose between a man, Trump, who thinks America is good and a man, Biden, who is controlled by a party that thinks America is bad. President Trump gives us a chance to preserve the American way of life, Biden likely will be party to its destruction.”
Yes, public discourse has been vitriolic for a long time. Mental Floss recalls the rhetoric of the presidential campaign of 1800 between two revered American Founders, Adams and Jefferson:
“Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a ‘hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.’ In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson ‘a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.’ As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.”
But no, Klingenstein is not exaggerating. We confront a true crisis. I was as emphatic as he writing at Forbes.com a few years ago:
“The hard left is not merely contesting America’s greatness. It is contesting America’s goodness. The hard left is holding America, explicitly and virulently, up as Evil. Trump, his eclectic supporters, and the right, hold America as Beautiful. Welcome to the Holy War of the Worldviews. Much is at stake: America. Beautiful? Evil?”
Around that time America’s foremost living gonzo journalist Matt Taibbi, then writing for Rolling Stone, recited the left’s real opinion of America, calling Trump an exemplar not an anomaly:
“This is who we've always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from ‘manifest destiny’ to ‘collateral damage.’ We're used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.
“Trump is no malfunction. He's a perfect representation of who, as a country, we are and always have been an insane monster.”
Taibbi has since come around to something like a grudging admiration for Trump. Back then he was giving us 200-proof “left groupthink.”
The New Yorker published a vicious essay by left-leaning Adam Gopnik:
“And what if it [America] was a mistake from the start? The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the creation of the United States of America—what if all this was a terrible idea, and what if the injustices and madness of American life since then have occurred not in spite of the virtues of the Founding Fathers but because of them? The Revolution, this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy.”
Meanwhile, Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning, in the second edition of their classic advocacy handbook Re:Imagining Change (which I reviewed at Forbes.com as belonging in the canon with Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and The Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci) presented the hard left’s core narrative:
“Five centuries of European colonial expansion and organized white supremacy have wiped out countless cultures, devastated ecosystems, and left us with a legacy of racism, economic disparity, militarism, and global inequity. Over 200 years of resource extraction, industrialization, and fossil fuel-driven economic growth have pushed our planet’s life-support systems to their breaking point.”
There’s far more. But you get the picture.
Klingenstein recognizes that the left is playing for keeps. He states: “Does Biden really believe America is bad? No, he does not. And yet, if elected he will smuggle the BLM wing of the Democratic party inside the White House. And that wing most decidedly believes America is bad.”
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, when House Minority Leader, said “We didn’t win the elections, but we’ve won every fight.” What fights? One is the hard left’s relentless fight to portray America as bad. As an “insane monster.”
For the GOP to win elections and, more importantly, win the war for America’s soul it must heed Klingenstein’s demand and “speak up and proclaim America’s goodness.”
Ralph Benko is a former Reagan White House deputy general counsel, author of The Capitalist Manifesto, and chairman of the Capitalist League.