Reflections from Principles First, an Anti-Trump Conservative Conference

Last weekend, an organization called Principles First held a summit in Washington, D.C., which was attended by over 400 people. The conference brought together a wide range of people who could generally be considered to represent the center-right of today’s American political spectrum: Republicans, independents, and even a few Democrats who think of themselves as at least somewhat “conservative” but who oppose Donald Trump and his toxic brand of politics.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) giving keynote address

I attended this two-day event because as an independent and former Democrat who rejects both Trumpism as well as the woke left that has increasingly taken over the Democratic Party, I wanted to find out if a center-right movement could feel like my new political home. I also wanted to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the efforts underway to form a meaningful political coalition to oppose Trump and his disciples in upcoming election cycles, either from within the Republican Party or through the creation of a centrist third party or trans-partisan alliance.

Overall, I found the Principles First Summit to be substantive, engaging, and sometimes inspiring in its tone and content. The group that organized it, as well as other organizations represented, seemingly contain much of the seeds that will be necessary for the growth of a powerful grassroots movement to present a positive vision for America — a broadly inclusive political alternative to compete with the extreme woke Democrats and Trumpist Republicans.

At the same time, it became clear to me that much more work needs to be done, and that voices such as my own, who come out of the classically liberal populist Democratic tradition, are essential for such a movement to fully appreciate what is happening in American politics today and to formulate the strategies necessary to move beyond the divisive ideologies that increasingly dominate our country’s two major political parties.

Preventing the Next Insurrection: The Virtue of Limited Government

Throughout history, many governments have fallen at the hands of barbarians. A year ago today, it almost happened in the United States.

Gallows erected by rioters at the U.S. Capitol, January 6, 2021. Vice President Pence was saved by Capitol police before he could be captured and hanged by the mob.

On the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection and riot at the U.S. Capitol, we will read many erudite journalists and hear eloquent political speeches expounding upon the terrible events of that day, and why Republicans should turn away from the dangerous conspiracy theories of Donald Trump. We will be reminded of the police officers who were beaten with U.S. flag poles; the calls to “Hang Mike Pence!” as a gallows was readied for the vice president who refused to heed his boss’s demand to overturn a legitimate election; and the shameful failure of influential politicians to condemn the most influential leader of the mob, the sitting President Trump himself, who sat in the Oval Office and watched the riot on TV, taking no action for hours as his most fervent followers stormed the seat of our nation’s government and threatened the lives of members of Congress.

Such reminders are well and good — but we should reflect not only on what happened and what fueled such appalling political violence, but on how to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.

Lessons of Kyle Rittenhouse: Importance of the Police and Judicial System

Yesterday, criminal defendant Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges in a high-profile case stemming from the August 2020 riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse was a 17-year-old from Illinois who traveled to Kenosha with an AR-15 assault rifle with the stated intention of trying to protect life and property during the riots. Protesters started a fight with him, and he shot three people in self-defense as found by the jury — two of whom died of their injuries. Rittenhouse had been charged with intentional homicide.

Both the left and the right have made the case political. “Lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw away the key,” tweeted Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a prominent progressive Democrat from New York, last week. When the verdict didn’t go the way liberals hoped for, many Democratic politicians expressed outrage. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, called the verdict “disgusting” and a victory for “violent extremism from within our own nation.” Some, such as Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, condemned the entire judicial system as systemically racist: “The judge. The jury. The defendant. It’s white supremacy in action.”

Meanwhile, on the right, Kyle Rittenhouse has been lionized as a hero. “Be armed, be dangerous, be moral,” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a Republican of North Carolina, who publicly offered him an internship. Apparently, some Republicans believe it’s moral for teenagers to show up armed at a riot, adding to the mayhem and death through their provocative presence, rather than letting the police do their job.

Both sides are wrong. In fact, both sides are a danger to our country.

Woke Madness: Thomas Jefferson Statue to Be Removed from New York City Hall

America is plagued by an epidemic of extremism. On the right, there are dangerous conspiracy theories that led to the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. On the left, there is an excessively “woke” attitude about imperfect historical figures and present-day institutions — emphasizing the negative and “canceling” anyone or anything that doesn’t meet their impossibly high standards.

Thomas Jefferson statue
The statue of Thomas Jefferson at New York City Hall is a replica of this one at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

The “defund the police” movement emerged from this mentality, as a reaction to widely publicized incidents of racial profiling and excessive use of force by police officers. On a more symbolic level, there is an attempt to tear down American heroes and make people feel ashamed of our nation’s heritage, rather than appreciating the United States as one of the most forward-thinking countries in history. The flaws of past leaders are simply too offensive, in liberals’ opinion, for even the greatest figures among them to be celebrated rather than scorned.

Yesterday, the New York City government decided to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson which had stood in the council chamber for more than a hundred years. The push for removal began in the summer of 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests. Jefferson will be removed from among the historical statues in the chamber because he was a slave owner.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, declined to criticize the decision, saying he understood why Jefferson’s ownership of slaves “profoundly bothers people and why they find it’s something that can’t be ignored.”

Why Republican Glenn Youngkin Won Deep Blue Virginia — and What It Means for America

Last year, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 10% in the state of Virginia. Democrats believed this swing state, which has been gradually shifting from Republican to Democrat, had completed the transition and become a deep blue stronghold.

Glenn Youngkin
Glenn Youngkin, Governor-elect of Virginia

Democrats were dead wrong. Yesterday, in the Virginia governor’s race, Republican Glenn Youngkin beat Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a popular former governor of the state. As if to further chasten the Democrats, karma dealt a historically heavy blow: A Black Republican, Winsome Sears, was elected lieutenant governor, becoming the first woman of color ever to win statewide office in Virginia’s history. Jason Miyares, also a Republican, was elected as the state’s first Hispanic attorney general. All of this happened after Democrats have spent the last few years saying that Republicans are supposedly a bunch of deplorable racists.

Four years ago, when Ralph Northam was running for governor, I was serving as a Democratic Party county chairman in southwestern Virginia, doing everything I could to help Northam and our fellow Democrats get elected. This year — despite voting for Joe Biden in 2020 and strongly disapproving of ex-president Donald Trump — I chose not to vote in the Virginia governor’s race between Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe. It was the first time I didn’t vote in a major election in more than 20 years.

I’ve been a Democrat since the presidency of George W. Bush, and at times I have passionately supported the Democratic philosophy and candidates. But not anymore. In this post, I’m “coming out” as an independent and former Democrat. I’ll explain why I’ve left the party and why millions of Americans like myself are doing so — propelling Republicans like Glenn Youngkin to victory in previously solid blue states such as Virginia.

Will It Ever Be “Morning Again in America”?

If you grew up in America in the 1980s, as I did, your first memory of politics was almost certainly of Ronald Reagan. His dignified patriotism, moral decency, sunny optimism and positive vision of our country set the tone for a decade that was the last time Americans as a whole really felt good about ourselves as a people. Our country was so united, in fact, that in 1984, President Reagan was reelected in a historic landslide, winning a stunning 49 out of 50 states over his competent and experienced opponent, the former Vice President Walter Mondale.

How different it must be for children growing up in America today. Their childhood political memories will be of a nation of people who despise each other — united only by the feeling that our country is in decline — so deeply divided by partisanship that a landslide election like 1984 would be unthinkable.

20 Years After 9/11, the Enemy Is Ourselves

When the United States was attacked by foreign terrorists on September 11, 2001, our nation came together. Today, as we are being attacked by a deadly virus, we are tearing ourselves apart.

Twin Towers burning on 9/11

The difference between Americans’ national response to the 9/11 attacks and the Covid-19 pandemic is striking. Both were tragic yet heroic opportunities for people to rally to a common cause: defeating radical Islamic terror, or eradicating a terrible plague. But in one case, twenty years ago, Americans chose national unity in the face of danger. Nowadays, we choose to make our fellow Americans the enemy — and the greatest danger of all lurks within our politically poisoned hearts.

What has changed in the past two decades? We’ve had two failed wars abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have undermined Americans’ confidence in our country as a force for good in the world. And we have an intensifying culture war here at home, between the “Reds” and the “Blues” — the Trumpist Right and the Woke Left — two factions of our society that increasingly hate each other with a passion that equals, or even exceeds, the hatred felt by radical Islamic terrorists toward America as a whole.