When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he said he wanted to “Make America great again.” But during his presidency and that of his successor, Joe Biden, neither party has done much to solve our country’s biggest problems. Working-class Americans are falling further and further behind. Illegal immigration is still out of control. Crime is on the rise, and the quality of public education is bad and getting worse. Perhaps most importantly, Americans are more divided now by politics and the “culture war” than at any time since the Civil War.
Most people across the political spectrum would probably agree that America is in decline and that liberals and conservatives hate each other. Do we really have to be so divided, or are there certain things that a solid majority of Americans should be able to agree upon? If so, we have a patriotic duty to build a political movement bringing people together around these issues and ideals.
I call this the “American Renewal Movement.” I believe it’s the big-picture framing we need to move beyond the poisonous politics of the present day. Americans have been united before — together we built one of the greatest countries in the world. By looking to what has united our nation in the past, we can build a better future.
The American Renewal Movement Facebook page says, quite simply, that it’s about “Standing up for basic American values: Democracy, freedom, the rule of law, civic virtue and ethics.” I haven’t published anything there since March and haven’t made any efforts yet to promote it — I was planning to leave the page dormant until next year — but during the past six months it has somehow grown from 700 to 3,700 followers.
This tells me there’s a hunger out there for a better political philosophy than what most politicians are currently promoting. Unfortunately, standing up for basic American values is not high on the list of priorities of either Democrats or Republicans nowadays. Former president Trump and his supporters spout endless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, and President Biden and his party pander to liberal activists on cultural issues that, under the U.S. Constitution, are supposed to be left to state and local governments to decide for their own people.
In January 2023, I plan to start publishing lots of content and spreading the word about the American Renewal Movement that I envision. In anticipation of the active launch of the project, I’d like to take a few moments to explain its purpose — especially for the benefit of all the new people who have liked and followed it on social media.
The Need for an Ethical Conservative Populism
Most Americans want to feel good about our country — and rightly so. America is an exceptional nation which, despite our mistakes and flaws, has by and large been a positive force in the world. A strong and proud America saved Europe from Nazism and Soviet Communism. After overcoming the sins of slavery and segregation, we have created a pluralistic society with human rights and equal opportunity for diverse people.
But America has a problem with growing economic inequality and social stratification between an educated elite and a downwardly mobile working class. Over the past few decades, globalist trade policies and the abandonment of American manufacturing led to the loss of good-paying blue-collar jobs and the decay of once-great cities and communities. At the same time, highly educated, upper-middle-class people with liberal cultural values clustered in gentrifying cities and suburbs on the East and West Coasts, and increasingly looked down upon the rednecks and “deplorables” in the Rust Belt and the Heartland who were left behind, mocking them for “clinging to their guns and religion.”
These socioeconomic factors led to the rise of populist politicians on both the left and the right, such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Sanders focused on economic inequality, while Trump focused more on cultural grievance. Both of them, despite their extremism, had some valid points and successfully appealed to voters who felt that economic and cultural elites didn’t care about or respect them.
Sanders lost a hard-fought Democratic primary in 2016 to the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, but Trump defeated the Republican establishment in his primary and won the general election. This caused a political realignment in which the Republican Party has gained a solid hold on the white working class, and much to Democrats’ surprise and dismay, the GOP is increasingly making inroads among working-class Hispanic voters as well. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, under the leadership of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, has chosen its path of being the party defined by liberal cultural philosophies favored by well-to-do urban professionals.
I have always believed that whichever party defines itself as the more populist in the two-party system will tend to have an advantage, because most people are not part of the socioeconomic elite and never will be. Most people are working class and want their government to reflect their values and interests — rather than the values and interests of bankers, multinational corporations, left-wing professors and elite universities, and those to whom they give patronage.
A moderate and reasonable form of conservative populism may be a long-term political winner. It has much in common with the political philosophy of some of America’s greatest presidents, such as Theodore Roosevelt — center-left on economic issues and center-right on cultural issues. Arguably a form of this philosophy was what enabled Franklin D. Roosevelt to be one of the most popular and successful presidents in American history. Truman and Eisenhower, who presided over a triumphant and united nation in the wake of World War II, had similar political leanings.
Combining a full-throated patriotism with the classic values of faith, family and community, and economic empowerment for ordinary people, is as American as apple pie. This was the politics that inspired the Greatest Generation, and now that they’re gone, it is sorely missed. We need to bring back some of their political philosophy and ideals. But the version of so-called conservative populism espoused by Donald Trump doesn’t fit the bill. Among Trumpism’s key features are dishonesty, inflammatory and unethical behavior, and disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s not what our ancestors would approve of, and it isn’t the right way to go.
To renew America — to really make America great again — requires us to hold true to the core principles that distinguish the United States from autocratic and authoritarian countries around the world. In America, we’re supposed to believe in respecting the results of democratic elections. We’re supposed to believe that no man is above the law, and that presidents can’t govern by executive order. We’re supposed to believe, as Ronald Reagan did, that America welcomes people of all races and religions who are seeking to build a better life, inspired by the vision of the “shining city upon a hill.” And I wish it didn’t even need to be said, but no major political party should tolerate white supremacists, neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis.
Trump got some things right, but he also got some things very, very wrong. To help renew America, Republicans must move on from Donald Trump.
The Need for Common Sense, Not “Woke” Ideology
Another, equally important aspect of American renewal is to push back against the rising ideology of the cultural left that is taking over so many American institutions. The Democratic Party, the mainstream media, academia, the public schools, and much of corporate America are being warped by identity politics and extreme theories about racial and sexual issues that are opposed to the values of most Americans.
At the same time as we condemn racism, we should reject attempts by today’s left to over-emphasize racial identity. We should instead celebrate the classic pluralism of such leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, who argued for a society in which people look beyond the color of the skin and focus on the merits of individuals’ character. We must work together — Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds — to begin to create the post-racial society our visionary ancestors dreamed of.
Equal opportunity should be the goal, and that’s what we should be teaching our children in school. What liberals call “antiracist education,” which conservatives call “critical race theory,” only polarizes a new generation by blaming and shaming people today for the sins of the past. Let us have strong and honest social studies education, including the disturbing parts of American history and the noble struggle for progress that was victorious. Let us not teach kids that America today is still the systemically racist society it was several decades ago, which is manifestly untrue. Many of the problems in the 21st century attributed to racism can more accurately be attributed to intergenerational poverty — a problem that people of all political persuasions should take seriously and work to solve.
Public education today is also beset by controversies over sexual issues. Liberals increasingly promote what they call “comprehensive sex education,” which means teaching young, prepubescent children about controversial adult subjects such as transgender identity — in taxpayer-funded schools that struggle even to teach basic academics to a high-quality standard. Liberals also argue that teachers and school administrators should not inform parents if their children decide to change their gender identity at school. And they furthermore demand that teenage boys who decide to become girls must be allowed to play girls’ competitive sports, despite the disadvantage this might create for biological females.
These extreme ideas go against common sense and are creating needless political division. Many states and communities will never accept such policies, no matter how strenuously liberals insist on them. If we hope for a rebirth of America as a strong and united people, the culture war must not be fought by politicians at the national level. Tolerance for cultural differences within our country is the only way to prevent it from breaking apart. The same principle applies to abortion, drugs, and gun regulations, which are better left to states to decide based on the values of their own populations.
Reasonable people can disagree to some degree about cultural issues, like any other issues. None of the issues we’re fighting about today rise to the level of slavery or segregation. America is supposed to be a country in which such disagreements as we have now are tolerated and allowed to be manifested in our decentralized federal system of government. In many cases, people’s views about sexual, reproductive, and gender-related issues are based in part on their religious faith, and the United States of America is a country that embraces religious freedom and diversity. As the First Amendment declares, no national policy shall establish the primacy of one religion (or rejection of religion) over another, and that principle should extend to the way we deal with issues that are deeply informed by Americans’ religious beliefs.
The Democratic Party today, and its leaders, believe in nationalizing the culture war. They believe that the liberal view of these issues is more enlightened and that the conservative view is backward and hateful — and that what liberals see as enlightened must triumph nationwide. To have any hope of renewing America, it is important to oppose this agenda. It is the single biggest reason why Americans in the 2020s are so politically divided, and why many conservatives feel that even overturning the results of elections may be justified to keep or gain power.
So, what will be the purpose of the “American Renewal Movement” when it actively launches in January? Its purpose will be to promote a positive vision of America based on common sense, constitutional government, empowering average people, and bringing people together in a spirit of mutual respect and compromise rather than extremism.
How will we do this? We will draw attention to writers, activists, political leaders and organizations that are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We will articulate a political philosophy based on insights drawn from American history, combining all the best of what America has stood for — what we can stand for once again, and must, if we wish to save our nation as a great and virtuous democratic republic. We will encourage the Republican Party to embrace these ideals and reject the divisive path of Donald Trump — a path that if Republicans continue to follow, will lead to unnecessary electoral losses and the triumph of increasingly reactionary left-wing Democrats. We will promote independent and third-party alternatives if the GOP keeps going in the wrong direction.
This is a long-term project. It will take years of vocal activism by many dedicated people to restore American politics and culture to some semblance of sanity. Children are growing up today in a dysfunctional country where politics is like a blood sport. We need to build a political movement we would be proud for them to join when they’re old enough to choose a party or cause — something more honorable and fruitful than the rotten choices we have today.
If you agree with this vision, I invite you to share this blog post and help spread the word. Millions of Americans believe the extremists are wrong and that our country can still be saved. It’s time for reasonable and decent people to speak up, get involved in the political debate, and do whatever it takes to renew America.