President Trump gave one of the best speeches of his presidency while many Americans were brushing their teeth. His remarks at the seventy-fifth commemoration of D-Day at the Normandy American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, were gracious, moving, poetic, and delivered in a time zone six hours ahead of the East Coast.
Which is too bad. The address deserves a wide audience not only for its content but also because it fits into the larger themes of this presidency. Speaking from what he described as “Freedom’s Altar,” Donald Trump once again made the case for reviving America’s national spirit, sovereignty, and strength.
I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican Party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s—gun rights, pro-life, taxpayer, right to work—and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.
The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. This never happened in America. Labor confronted capital throughout the late nineteenth century, often violently, but American democracy and constitutionalism withstood the clash. Socialist movements remained minority persuasions. When Eugene V. Debs ran for president in 1912, he topped out at six percent of the vote. Populist third-party candidates, from George Wallace in 1968 (14 percent) to Ross Perot in 1992 (19 percent) have done much better.
Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is—a crawl to peace, maybe—America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame with calls for America to show restraint, pursue diplomacy, and rein in the madman with the moustache before he starts a war.
And you thought Democrats won the House out of fear Republicans would drop coverage of preexisting conditions. That they wanted to spend this Congress addressing the cost of prescription drugs, building roads and bridges, resolving the legal status of DACA recipients, expanding gun background checks. Don’t be silly! Rashida Tlaib let spill the real Democratic agenda back in January, when she said they were going to “impeach the motherf—er.”
I can’t think of a better illustration of our partisan divide than the reactions to Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Democrats are furious at Barr’s defense of his rollout of the Mueller report and his assertions of executive power. Some Democrats want Barr to resign, others want him to be impeached, and Nancy Pelosi says he’s guilty of lying to Congress. Republicans have found a hero.
If it were not for her last name, Abigail Disney would be just another alumna of Yale (B.A.), Stanford (M.A.), and Columbia (PhD) living in Manhattan. No one would pay much attention to her opinions, none of them especially unique or different from others shared by her class. But she is a Disney, dammit, and in America in the twenty-first century we must pay attention to the rich and privileged, especially if they parrot the current line of the left wing of the Democratic Party. Abigail Disney’s father was Roy E. Disney, who instigated an animation renaissance in the 1980s; her grandfather was Roy O. Disney, the co-founder of the Walt Disney Company; her great-uncle was that company’s namesake, one of the most important cultural and business figures in American, maybe world, history. Abigail is not a fan.
Hollywood is filled with remakes and reboots. Washington is about to get one of its own. The re-launched property: the 2016 campaign.
You know the plot. An outsider with grassroots support leads a crusade against the party establishment and the legitimating institutions that bestow credibility upon a candidate. He’s old, white, been around for a while, says some things that are outside the mainstream, and has a fickle relationship to his party. But he possesses a strange charisma, dominates the conversation, and is willing to speak to audiences outside the typical party coalition.
I used to laugh every time I heard someone like Elon Musk say that we are living in a Matrix-like simulation. These days, not so much.
Don’t call the funny farm just yet. On the major question of the nature of sense experience, I remain with Aristotle and against Bishop Berkeley. Matter is real. But there is also the question of how we perceive “the news”; how established media institutions present and frame information; how we are supposed to respond to the “takes” purportedly expert and knowledgeable voices serve up to us by the second on social media. And here, I’m skeptical.