The anti-Trump conservatives—as opposed to the anti-Trump Republicans, of which there are perhaps two—have made for a fascinating story in this era. And so we thought this was a good time to check in with a few of them and sound them out on Donald Trump, Trumpism, conservatism, and the Republican Party.
The four with whom we chose to converse all represent slightly different slots on the spectrum: David Frum is anti-Trump and was indeed a critic of the GOP long before Trump came along but still calls himself a conservative. Peter Wehner, like Frum, a Bush Administration veteran, is an evangelical Christian, also firmly anti-Trump and particularly critical of the Republican Party. Liz Mair, a political consultant, is anti-Trump but still a staunch conservative-libertarian Republican. Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin seems to have come closest to giving up on the whole enterprise. Democracy board member E.J. Dionne Jr. and I sat down with the four of them in late April to ask about Trump, but also about whether they’ve reconsidered their views on other matters like preemptive war. A fascinating conversation.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the journalistic phenomenon of liberal contrarianism—the 1990s fashion of liberal pundits and critics coming with counterintuitive takes along the lines of “actually, overturning Roe would be good for feminism.” Well, thankfully, it’s just about dead—liberals have finally learned, contra Will Rogers, to take their own side in an argument. Michael Bérubé, one of the great cultural critics of the last 20 years, reads the phenomenon its rites in a wickedly smart essay.
In late February, we posted a report from Pennsylvania by our board member Theda Skocpol of Harvard and Lara Putnam of the University of Pittsburgh on Resistance activity in the Keystone State. In mere days, it became one of our most talked-about pieces ever. No one has burrowed into how the movement is working the way Theda and Lara have. We publish it here, with some updates, for the benefit of our print readers. And finally, Robert Atkinson, another longtime friend of the journal, makes an important and novel case for a much higher minimum wage: not only in the name of fairness, but because it will spur greater economic growth.
Elsewhere, we welcome Jeffrey Isaac to our pages, with his reply to Sean Wilentz’s essay on liberalism and progressivism in the last issue. And we feature excellent book reviews by Nancy Tomes, Rachel Cohen, and Charles P. Pierce. Finally, our Recounting this issue is by Robert Gordon, a veteran of the Department of Education, on how a new and revitalized Civilian Conservation Corps could produce jobs, but even more importantly, citizens.
We’re now a year and change into this chilling era, and yet it’s still shocking. Every day, it seems, we have occasion to say: He did what?! Sometimes more than once a day.
We all spend a lot of time thinking about what Donald Trump is doing to the country, and the world. But with this issue, we focus on a different, more speci c question: What he’s doing to us, to liberals? We asked John Jost and Orsolya Hunyady—he is an expert in political psychology at NYU, she a practicing psy- chologist; they are also husband and wife—to think about what Trump is doing to our brains, and did they ever deliver. I’m con dent that you’ll read sections of their essay and think to yourself: “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been feeling!” “Groundbreaking” is perhaps an overused word, but to this essay, it certainly applies.
Is there any difference between “liberal” and “progressive”? We tend to use the words interchangeably in casual conversation, but as the eminent historian
Sean Wilentz shows in his essay, there are vast and important historical differ- ences. Sean’s brief is for the word “liberal” and the traditions and habits of mind it implies, but even those who disagree will learn a lot from this nuanced piece.
Next we turn to our political parties. Both major parties are confronting unusual ruptures these days. Are these signs that they may actually break apart though? To answer this question, we assembled a very distinguished group of people to discuss the future of our party system: Christopher Caldwell, Frances Lee, David Karol, and Michael Kazin. I think you’ll be surprised at what they have to say.
One of the fault lines currently at issue, in both parties, is trade. And trade, in turn, is part of a larger conversation: To what extent are our international security policies connected to our domestic economic policies? According to our authors, they aren’t nearly connected enough, and it’s high time to think about how our global actions affect the country domestically, as well as vice versa. Jessica Harris, Heather Hurlburt, Bruce Jentleson, and Todd Tucker offer four insightful takes on the subject, in a symposium arranged by Hurlburt.
The issue also features book reviews by James Crabtree, Charles Kenny, Sanford Levinson, and Mitchell Moss, and a response to Richard Vague’s earlier piece on pensions by Chad Aldeman and Andrew Rotherham.
Our lead package in this issue turns attention to the most overlooked political species in America: the red-state liberal. We know all about blue-state liberals and red-state conservatives; and Lord knows, after last year’s election, we’ve read thousands of articles on those disaffected red Americans in erstwhile blue states.
That’s understandable—they turned the election. But we kept wondering, what about their opposite number? They exist. We want our (largely) blue-state readers to know that there are liberals like Mary Wolf, the Oklahoma writer who penned our lead essay, whose liberalism is rock-solid but is nevertheless different in some important ways from Cambridge or Williamsburg (Brooklyn, not Colonial) liberalism. We want our readers to know that there are people like Lydia Bean, Sue Malek, Alvin McEwen, and Jennifer Riley-Collins, trying to do progressive work in some tough places (Texas, Montana, South Carolina, and Mississippi, respectively). And finally, we’re thrilled that the package includes a very smart and specific set of ideas from former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the rural agenda progressives should pursue.
Also among this issue’s features: an engrossing excerpt from the new book by E.J. Dionne Jr., Thomas Mann, and Norman Ornstein on the new category of intellectuals—the “neomoderates”—who might help us survive the Age of Trump. Eric Alterman lays out the case that the anti-Israel “BDS” movement is discrediting the broad left and helping the right in Israel and elsewhere. Pew demographer Paul Taylor asks the pointed question of whether Baby Boomers are willing to do enough to support the younger generations. And Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly of the German Marshall Fund offer a richly detailed and informed assessment of the state of our cyber-security efforts.
We’re honored to welcome the distinguished Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, to our pages, responding to the recent cover essay on health care by Harold Pollack. And in the books section, the journalist Sarah Wildman reviews an important new book on the refugee crisis, while the historian Marjorie J. Spruill explains the role played by women in sustaining white supremacy in the South during the twentieth century.
They’re at it again. On the one side, absolutists who scream that if you’re not for single payer, you’re a sellout. On the other, incrementalists retort that no, it’s you who are being completely unrealistic and naive. It’s just going to get worse.
There is a middle ground, which health-care expert Harold Pollack lays out in this issue, if people choose to accept it. It begins with recognizing that single payer is one means to an end. The end—the principle—is universal coverage. Single payer can get us there, but so can other systems, modeled more for example on Germany’s. As Pollack argues, we should be debating which system—provided it guarantees universality—has the best chance of becoming reality in the United States.
Reality in the United States, meanwhile, has become . . . surreal. We asked five distinguished historians, among them Democracy board member Sean Wilentz, what to make of this current moment, and what past moment (if any) it compares to. The results were interesting, surprising—and, inasmuch as no one said the late 1850s, reassuring.
Two more important feature essays: Board member and Brookings Scholar Isabel Sawhill makes a strong case that liberals spend too much time debating taxation and redistribution, relative to their actual ability to change society. She envisions a post-redistributionist liberalism, one that tackles corporate structures, that she argues could have greater impact. And another board member, Richard Vague, takes a hard look at the state and local pension crisis. With his usual empirical rigor, he finds that pension-fund managers have no good choices, but one or two options that may help them avert future calamity.
Beyond the feature well, we’re delighted to welcome to our pages for the first time Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the distinguished feminist writer, who responds to our earlier exchange on whether a progressive woman can ever be elected President. Richard Parker, the esteemed biographer of John Kenneth Galbraith, assays a new Arthur Schlesinger biography. Also Thomas Goetz reviews Franklin Foer’s new book on how the tech powers are hurting journalism and society, and Samuel Bagenstos reviews Richard Rothstein’s widely discussed history of how the government helped sustain segregation.