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Stephanie Slade: The NatCons’ Will to Power

September 21, 2022
Notes
Transcript

Elements on both the left and right are tracking in the same illiberal direction on economic regulation, the First Amendment, and on radical rhetoric. Plus, the NatCons’ plan to get the country to go full Trump. Stephanie Slade joins Charlie Sykes today.

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This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:02

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    more.
  • Speaker 3
    0:00:37

    Welcome to the Bullworm podcast on trolleyCyx. It is Wednesday, of course, we have a lot to talk about. We have Vladimir Putin’s very, very dangerous escalation in Russia. We have more indications of what I real manopolitical genius, Rhonda Santos, is he’s now facing a a lawsuit from some of those asylum seekers that he they duped into going to Martha’s Vineyard. We actually have a new poll out, though, showing that DeSantis has opened up a pretty significant lead over Donald Trump among Republicans in his home state of Florida, which probably means that that timetable for Trump to lash out at the Sandoz has been shortened.
  • Speaker 3
    0:01:19

    Also, just a quick note on my newsletter this morning morning shots and focus on a speech that Marek Garland gave over the weekend at Ellis Island. And by the way, it received some attention. I’m not saying that it was it was ignored, but it but it’s worth revisiting. Because Gollins spoke just a couple of days after Donald Trump began to ratchet up his not so veiled threats that there would be violence and chaos and anarchy. If if he’s ever held legally accountable.
  • Speaker 3
    0:01:47

    And of course, this again raises the the the question. Is is Mark Garland going to blink? Is he going to be is he gonna align himself with with the folks who believe that it’s just not prudent to charge Donald Trump. That is simply too risky to stand by the rule of law. And so I read Garland’s speech to this group of newly minted American citizens on the rule of law.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:12

    As a a very direct, I thought, and and and very clear response to Donald Trump’s attempt to intimidate the Department of Justice. It’s it’s really worth reading, going back to it. I I heard some commentary about it yesterday, and people were we were talking about, look, Garland is, I think that he’s being as transparent as possible, that that he actually thinks that we need to uphold the rule of law. He understands the risk he understands the the fragility of the rule of law. And then he talked about our current polarization and there are a couple of lines that just jumped out of me.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:46

    Garland says, we cannot overcome it, this current polarization. By ignoring it, we must address the fractures in our society with honesty, with humility, and with respect for the rule of law. And then he also says, you know, we have to promise that we will do what is right even if that means doing what is difficult. So that’s just a little bit of a background to a conversation that we’re gonna have today with one of the most interest staying writers in America today. Stephanie Slate, who is Senior Editor at Reason Magazine, who joins me on the podcast today.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:19

    So first of all, good morning, Stephanie. Good
  • Speaker 4
    0:03:21

    morning, Charlie. Thanks so much for having
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:22

    me on. We’ll have to live up to that billing now. It was
  • Speaker 4
    0:03:25

    quite a billing.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:26

    And I I think I should I should just sort of warn people upfront that this is gonna be one of those podcasts that that everybody’s gonna be mad at us at the end of it. But, you know, right, then it goes with the territory?
  • Speaker 4
    0:03:36

    Definitely.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:37

    Okay. I mean, this is because I I want I wanted to talk to you about your the cover story in the October issue of Reason Magazine. Both left and right are converging on authoritarianism. Now, you know the kind of blowback we get on this, this is both sides of them. Can you say that both left and right have abandoned what we would call classical liberalism or liberal democratic norms So we’re gonna face that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:02

    But I wanted to start off with the story that you published. I think it was just, like, yesterday or the day before. About your visit to the natcon convention. The natcon’s are the national conservatives. These are the sort of the people trying to come up, you know, put a sort of a fig leaf of some sort of America first ideology on on Trumpism.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:24

    How how would you describe the national conservatives?
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:27

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 4
    0:04:27

    I definitely think it started as an effort to sort of build an institutional and intellectual apparatus around the Trump movement. The First National Conservative Conference was in twenty nineteen when he was still in office, and they’ve had three now. And the idea is to promote a sort of different vision of conservatism that is much trumpier, that is much more America first, that is sort of economically nationalist and also more just this is sort of the the the heart of my peace. The that is has willingness to wield state power to go after their enemies. Well,
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:03

    and that’s the heart of it. And your piece actually has a a picture of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who was one of the the lead speakers, and he really sort of has come to embody some of the well, what you’re talking about today. The the will to power was front and center at natcon three as to have the will to power what differentiates national conservatives from other right wing varietals is the desire to use government to destroy their enemies. And this seems to be just an increasing theme across the board. This is not just Twitter trolls.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:36

    You you’re seeing this pop up again and again and again and you start off by quoting one of the main stage speakers at this conference. Who said, Wokeism is not a fever that will pass, but a cancer that must be eradicated. In this new reality, the only institution with power to contend with and conquer the woke industrial complex is the government of the United States. And so and this is Rachel Boulevard, who is, I think, you know, quasi well known. And then I’m ready to read another quote that you highlighted.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:11

    The institutional left does not intend to leave anything of the old Republic behind for us to salvage constitutionalism, scientific inquiry individual liberty civil society, volunteerism, patriotism, parental authority, free expression that they’re gonna destroy all that. Right? Free enterprise, religious pluralism, cultural diversity, They are coming for everything, so national conservatism must come for them. We must forage a comprehensive policy agenda for Congress, the presidency, and the states to break apart the less every source of funding and power. Not as an act of partisan retaliation, but one of national survival.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:50

    So let’s talk about this, Stephanie, because This is a full throated call for the use of government power code, the course of power of the federal government to use as a political cudgel against political enemies who are so dangerous, who would destroy everything that we hold dear, that we must we must destroy them. So so much for diversity pluralism or the peaceful respect for other points of view. This is this is a very interesting development on the right. That’s
  • Speaker 4
    0:07:20

    right. And and I I went to this conference and I’ve been to two of the three nat con conferences so far, in part to try to understand what do they mean when they use those word nationalist. Because you could sort of imagine some more some more benign ways to think about the word. Maybe somebody might say I’m a nationalist and they just mean I think we should be proud of our, you know, our our cultural inheritance as Americans, and we should we should be, you know, offended when people want to tear down the statues for great, you know, founders of this country or something. And you can also imagine a a nationalist who is sort of focused on the nation state, and some of them are sort of a way of opposing the idea of moving towards transnational or supernational government.
  • Speaker 4
    0:07:59

    We are skeptical of sort of moving towards governmental layers that are further away from the people. So we wanted to defend the nation’s state against the UN or the EU or something like that. And some of the nationalists do come at it that way. But what I found is that neither of those were the primary sort of way that nationalism was sort of was manifesting itself at this conference instead It was, again, just what you pinpointed, which is the idea that we should be willing to use the federal government, the national government to sort of impose top down one size fits all solutions on the country in keeping with our conservative values. And again, that very explicitly includes And if it requires us to destroy our leftist enemies, then we will, you know, using the coercive power of the state, then we will we will do so.
  • Speaker 4
    0:08:44

    Okay.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:44

    So you could Hillsdale College is David Azeroth. I think it was on a panel with him once. He said, imagine how quickly the political landscape would change if we had a core contingent of elected Republicans who were committed to using power to defund and humiliate the institutional centers of power of the left. So and you’ve written about this will to power conservatism before, but this is one of their their main talking points. What do they mean?
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:08

    What are they what’s specific things are they talking about? I mean, this is not just this is not just sort of, you know, we are, you know, we are defenders of of America against the evil, you know, left when they talk about defunding and humiliating these these centers of power, what what is their agenda? The
  • Speaker 4
    0:09:25

    argument is that the left has sort of taken control of the, quote unquote, commanding heights of our culture. So academia, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and so on, and now increasingly corporate America, they would say have been captured chart by the left and the left’s, you know, woke ideology. And so the only thing left for that we have to fight back against of against their capture of these of these important institutions is government power. That’s their argument that they’re making. And so we need to we need to jettison this whole, like, a libertarian commitment to limited government It’s no longer suited to the task of this moment.
  • Speaker 4
    0:09:57

    You hear them use the phrase, we know what time it is, and they imply that people like me do not know what time it is, which is to say, it’s time to forget what liberty and and limited government, embrace the government, and use the power of the state to destroy to sort of break the hole that the left has on these various institutions. And there And
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:17

    then clearly, they’re talking about going after not just governmental in institution or educational institutions, but also private corporations. This is something that Rhonda Sanchez has shown a willingness to do to go after private companies pass mandates on them saying things they can and cannot do in terms of of quote unquote, wokeness or, you know, punishing them. But give me some sense of, like, So, okay, they’re going to use the government. What are they going to do defund all higher education? Are they going to come after American corporations?
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:49

    What?
  • Speaker 4
    0:10:49

    Well, some of it isn’t a little bit nebulous, and I think it’s kept vague intentionally. They’re trying to keep their options open in that care people off too much. But a lot of it is quite out in the open and quite explicit. So the idea that for example, we should willing they conservatives should be willing to in government should be willing to use the power of the state to impose, you know, real anti trust. Enforcement against any big tech company or bank or any other large corporation that isn’t playing by the conservative’s rules to break them up to or we should be willing to use government power to impose common carrier status on these different entities to to sort of take come in and and essentially either break them up or or, I don’t know, almost nationalize them.
  • Speaker 4
    0:11:33

    You know, say we can dictate to you from the top down how you how you will run your business. When it comes to education, higher education, there has been calls. J. V. Vance is one of the most prominent examples.
  • Speaker 4
    0:11:44

    He he wasn’t at this conference, but he has called for saying we should target big private universities like Harvard that are imposing their their leftist agenda on students. We should target them should seize their assets using the taxation, to seize their assets to basically tax away their endowments because their endowments are ammunition that money is that they’re using against us. And so we we should be willing to use the state, the power of taxation, to go after them in a targeted way because they will not because they are not doing what we want them to do. As you mentioned, Ron DeSantis with the Disney example, Disney voices a political opinion that he does not like that that is critical of a state law that he supported and signed into law. And so in tell retaliation, for them exercising their first amendment right to having a political opinion and and voice it.
  • Speaker 4
    0:12:32

    He comes at Disney and tries to strip their various government benefits. The idea is not that we think that Corning Capital is another problem and we want to roll it all back. It’s that we want to retaliate against this individual disfavored company for its political speech. There are a lot of examples of of using government power to go after private corporations or private universities and big big tech companies are a major major target of all of this, but they’re not the only ones. And increasingly now, we’re we’re seeing them talk about how the banks have also been co opted.
  • Speaker 4
    0:13:00

    And so it’s not just the cultural institutions like Hollywood and the mainstream media anymore. It’s really corporate America that they these conservatives increasingly see as their enemies and we need to if if that means that we need to embrace government over the private sector, then so be it. So
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:14

    Newsweek’s opinion editor, Josh Hammer, has sort of boiled this down. To its essence, which is really that the right now should use government to reward friends and punish enemies. Which as you point out is generally an idea that’s generally considered to run afoul of the rule of law by definition and apparently News Week sort of stealthily altered the sentence to call instead for the rewarding of good and the punishing of evil. But but that’s that’s what hammer meant. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:41

    Reward friends and punish enemies. And what’s interesting about that is that seems to provide an ideological gloss to what Donald Trump’s hit. Mean, that is Donald Trump. Not as an ideological belief, but just as an instinct and would pretty clearly be the the agenda of Trump two point o. And so what I think is interesting about this is to read this and to understand that Trump is not a one off here, and that that if Trump came back in with a vengeance tour, that he would have this intellectual political movement behind him that says, yes, this is exactly what we should do.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:20

    We should have a president who is prepared to reward his friends and punish his enemies and use government power however he wants to do it. I mean, isn’t that that’s kind of the essence of this?
  • Speaker 4
    0:14:32

    It is. And it’s it’s really interesting, actually, because, you know, earlier I described the nat con movement and the the national conservatism conferences as an effort to sort of rally the best and brightest minds on the right to build this intellectual scaffolding around the Trump movement. And the idea was that he has this this id and he has this, you know, power of persuasion, this charisma that that’s really got the base fired up. But we wanna develop a policy plan that, you know, that will actually instantiate these these these impulses he has. But actually, what I’ve sort of seen the Natcon movement evolve into, It’s one where instead of the id and now they’re building a a sort of serious policy agenda around it, rather the id is seeping into their movement.
  • Speaker 4
    0:15:12

    That now they’re no longer even primarily about policy. It’s much more about us versus them.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:17

    Yeah. It’s
  • Speaker 4
    0:15:17

    about it’s about the friend enemy distinction as They love to quote the the Nazi jurist Karl Schmidt on the politics is all about the friend and enemy distinction and and you see that friend and enemy coming up in that quote from Josh Hammer. The
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:31

    Nazi philosopher think that drew me up a little bit short that they actually quote the guy say, hey, do you know who he is? Do you know what he wrote about? Do you know how his ideas were actually put into practice? Alright. So you wrote that one of the questions you had throughout the event was the extent to which the most bombastic voices represented the average sympathizer with national conservatism and you got your answer in the reaction to Ron DeSantis because they loved him.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:59

    Right? I mean, they they loved his sort of Clarion call to use the power of the state against individuals and businesses. That’s
  • Speaker 4
    0:16:08

    right. And it’s interesting. I was at CPAC in February of this year. I saw both Trump and DeSantis speak there, and the crowd there loves both of them. At this conference, the Natcon conference, which is a little bit more of a smaller and a more eyebrow C pack.
  • Speaker 4
    0:16:23

    There was not a lot of Trump. It was actually his name hardly came up at all, and he was not invited to give a speech. This was very much a desantis crowd. I think they feel like he is the person with the more the potential to to sort of seriously carry their vision into reality. So
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:38

    during his speech, DeSantis said, you know, we were one of the first states to provide protections to for all employees in Florida, not just government employees against employer imposed COVID shot mandates. So our view is very simple nor fluidity, and she’d have to choose between a job they need in the shot they do not want. And that’s the same if you’re a police officer or at a municipality. You know, you also bragged about banning private companies from, you know, certain kinds of training programs. And you’re right, the idea of the government may stop companies and organizations from setting the terms under which they will do business because other people have a right participate in society is, of course, the same argument that leftist have trotted out to justify crackdowns against Christian wedding vendors that did not wish to participate in gay marriage celebrations.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:23

    And against religious schools that expect job candidates not to openly flow tenants of the faith. Yet, conservatives have long argued that private property and free association do or at the very least should broadly protect employers’ rights. This strikes me as an absolute sea change for Republican politicians. This is a real pet
  • Speaker 4
    0:17:44

    peeve of mine because I actually got my start in the tail end of the Obama years covering religious liberty controversies and arguing for the importance of having a legal regime that protects people of faith and respects the rights of people of faith to live their lives in accordance with their deeply held beliefs. And this includes This is not just limited to the four walls of your home or your church or your synagogue. This includes the right to go out into the public clear and have opinions and make a living in accordance, you know, in a way that isn’t keeping with your your deeply held convictions. This is important. This is why I stand up side of the baker who doesn’t wanna make the cake.
  • Speaker 4
    0:18:20

    Not because I necessarily agree or disagree with that baker’s individual choice, but because I believe that we need to have the freedom to exercise our religion. That’s right there. That word exercise is right there in the first amendment. And that means sometimes people are gonna make choices that we don’t like. And we are going to have to say, we’re going to have to accept that.
  • Speaker 4
    0:18:40

    I think that the idea that business owners have the right to say, I don’t want to do business with this person. I don’t want to hire this person. I want to have a business or a religious entity at charity, a school, that has a certain code of values, you know, a certain code and we make hiring and firing decisions. We look for people who who share our values and who without our values. And and that’s that’s important to us and we should have I I just believe that they should have the right to do that.
  • Speaker 4
    0:19:04

    That we I wanna live in society with different organizations, different employers of different kinds. Can have different values and can make hiring and firing decisions based on those values. It can make decisions about what kinds of contracts to enter into and with whom based on the things that are most important to them. That is a thing I’ve always argued for years. And I was, for years arguing against the left, And today, you have folks like DeSantis on the right and a lot of people who support him who are making exactly the same argument on the other side, saying, we’re not just against government mandates for vaccines or for masks, but we are actually against anybody, any private business owner, making the choices that they think are best to protect their customers, to protect their employees, to protect their values, to to live out their values.
  • Speaker 4
    0:19:51

    So we are going to, from the top down at the state level, preempt the ability of these companies to make the decisions that they think are right because we know best. That is a leftist argument, but we’re hearing it now from the right. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:03

    And and, you know, five minutes ago, your position on this would have been held by virtually every conservative. Certainly, every libertarian thinker in in in the country. And so, you know, it was just a few months ago that I I I was on a I was on a panel with rich Lawrie from National Review who was critical of Donald Trump but was saying that I just don’t understand how you can’t embrace Ron DeSantis because he’s just basically a a regular you know, Republican. He’s kind of a mainstream Republican. And I remember pushing back saying, well, no, unless you completely redefine what it means to be a conservative republican because the things that he is doing about free speech, private property, and all of these other things leaving aside the performative cruelty with with immigrants, is not at all what Republicans were saying, like, you know, just a few months ago, it feels like.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:55

    I mean, so and and this is why your piece is so important. Is it underlines this complete reversal of the polarities of of politics where the arguments that we had spent years pushing back against now are being embraced by leading conservative or quote unquote conservative Republicans. Exactly. So this leads me to the part that I think we’re we’re probably gonna be, you know, stepping on some toes with and you’ve alluded to this. Oh, and by the way, before I I get into this.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:25

    So when when you we’re describing this Will the Power at Natcon. I don’t know whether you use the word or not, but the open embrace of using course of government power to punish your enemies and reward your friends and to impose your agenda. Regardless of, you know, private property or free speech. Right? Is that fascism?
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:44

    Is it a formal is it semi fascism? That’s
  • Speaker 4
    0:21:48

    a great debate that’s happening right now. I don’t I don’t I’m not necessarily a combatant in the the rhetorical or sort of semantic question. I think there are there are worrying signs here that that that this is certainly there are aspects of this that are characteristic for sure. But I also know that that that word has sort of lost some of its usefulness because — Yeah. — as soon as you say, you know, a large percentage of the population just tunes you out.
  • Speaker 4
    0:22:13

    They say that this person is is you know, is exaggerating, must be exaggerating. So, you know, we’re not This isn’t nobody here is is hitler. So, why would you be using that word? So, I don’t think it’s necessarily that helpful to to to employ it. Although, I I find the debates over whether it, you know, the extent to which is applicable to this moment to be quite
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:34

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    0:23:00

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  • Speaker 4
    0:23:05

    Okay. So
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:06

    your your piece that I wanna talk to you about is the cover story in Reason magazine that Both the left and the right are converging on authoritarianism. Let’s leave the f word aside. And you argue that the problem with American politics is not polarization. It is rising e liberalism. And what you write is something is broken in our politics.
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:27

    Just about everybody knows it, but it can be hard to put your finger on what it is. And so polarization become the shorthand for what’s gone wrong. Right? I mean, you know, that take used to be that we used to have conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans, mushy moderates. Today, the parties are fuller for their part than ever.
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:45

    But you argue that that explanation is missing something. What is it missing? What do you think is actually the problem?
  • Speaker 4
    0:23:52

    Basically, it comes down to the idea that polarization suggests that at least that the two sides are moving farther further apart from each other. But in in ways such as the one that we were just discussing with with DeSantis essentially making a leftist argument from the right. There are many ways in which the two sides, the especially on the extremes, especially sort of elite voices that are leading the conversations on these two extremes that they really are starting to resemble each other an awful lot. In terms of the actual policies they’re calling for in some cases, so you have, for example, Tucker Carlson on Fox News praising Elizabeth Warren’s you know, economic policies. In that sense, you have, like, a clear overlap between the actual policies that somebody on the left and somebody on the right are promoting.
  • Speaker 4
    0:24:33

    But also maybe even more important than that is just a sort of almost aesthetic and values based rejection of the idea of liberalism. And by liberalism, of course, I don’t mean left of centerism. I mean classical liberalism, the idea of individual liberty and limited government, and the fact that the notion that government exists to protect our individual rights and to to less be as free as possible to pursue our lives outside of that. That is being rejected on both sides in favor of a sense that No. If you’re not living the way I think you should be living, then I should use the coercive power of the state to force you, to to enforce my vision of of a good society and a good life upon you.
  • Speaker 4
    0:25:15

    That’s the thing we’re seeing on both the left and the right these days. And I know that that’s a bit of a controversial It’s controversial to people on both sides who object to my suggestion that their side is it could possibly be as bad as the other side, but I it’s a it’s a long magazine article that we we published it long intentionally because I wanted to really provide just one example after another after another to back this this argument up. Okay. So, I mean,
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:40

    the the pushback on on this which which sure you’re familiar with would be that, okay, so you you may have people on the fringes doing it, but it is it is not symmetrical. So for example, the Democrats are led by Joe Biden, while Republicans are embracing an increasingly unhinged extreme Donald Trump. So the argument would be, look, Democrats are not embracing this kind of left wing fascism while Republicans are So how can you say that both sides are contributing to this? I think
  • Speaker 4
    0:26:14

    it’s fair to say that Joe Biden is being dragged to the extremes. By this this sort of the faction within his movement that is the the least liberal, the the most liberal faction within his movement is having quite a bit of success more than I expected. And I admit, I thought that he would be a moderating force on his party, and I think that he is rather being dragged to the extremes. And we’ve seen some pretty disturbing things out of having just that the the kinds of things that folks on the right then can point to to justify them acting on their own worst impulses. Okay?
  • Speaker 4
    0:26:51

    So when they say your FBI wants to treat parents at a school board meeting as domestic terrorists. They’re not making that up. They’re they’re pointing to they have real grievances against the way that this situation has behaved. Now, you might think and I I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you that on the whole, the right poses a greater threat. I don’t think saying that both sides are coming to resemble each other requires you to think that they’re equivalent in every way.
  • Speaker 4
    0:27:16

    And in fact, part of my argument is that one side does something wrong, breaks the rules in some way, and it justifies the other side than doing something even worse. So it’s escalating. It’s spiraling. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:26

    Well, I mean, I guess part of it is also, you know, the timing to come out with a both sides article at the moment when Donald Trump, who is the former president and and seems likely the to be the next Republican nominee and maybe the future president is embracing Q1 on conspiracies, is making these veiled threats of of violence. At at the time when you had well, we’ve just been discussing the national conservatives, embracing a radical right wing agenda that would override freedom and and and private property for you now to come out and say, yes, but both sides are doing it. I mean, I’m looking at that picture and then I’m thinking, Okay. Joe Biden is more progressive than I would like, but this is not in the same category at all. Again,
  • Speaker 4
    0:28:08

    I really do think the right is responding to a real genuine sense of threat coming from the left and that they’re not imagining it. They’re again, I spent my the early part of my career writing about these religious liberty controversies. I I did a big investigation for America magazine about the ACLU and the Obama administration essentially targeting Catholic hospitals, trying to force them use a force of law to require Catholic hospitals, to perform abortions, and transgender services and elective sterilizations or go out of business. They were trying to destroy Catholic hospitals or force them to sporfit their Catholic character. That’s something that’s not a small threat.
  • Speaker 4
    0:28:47

    So when people on the right say, we feel under threat, I don’t think that they’re that that’s in their entirely in their minds. And and so then so the flip side of the argument you just made is, you know, people will say, the left has been attacking the right for years and where were you? And what I will say is I was there writing about that and I was calling it out and I was disturbed by it. And I’m not gonna stop just because it’s happening on the other side now. Know,
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:10

    it’s interesting that this issue of the of the Catholic hospitals just sort of parenthetically. I remember in the in the before times before all this happened when I was you know, on local radio and local television here in in Wisconsin that I I sat down with then archbishop Timothy Dolan, now cardinal Timothy Dolan. And we did an entire program about what he saw as the threat to the independence of and the conscience of Catholic hospitals. And I remember him looking right at me and and and I asked him, I said, well, what would you do if they required you to perform these procedures? And he looked right at me and says, we would shut them down.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:43

    I still remember that because I was so I was so shocked by all of that. But I guess, I also, you know, yes, you can point to these efforts But in terms of scope and in terms of the immediacy of the threat, look, I have written books about political correctness and intolerance on on the left. So, you know, what’s what’s going on at, you know, Barnard College or what’s going on at the, you know, University of California at Berkeley, etcetera. But we are now talking about a political moment where you actually have a political party that may be poised to achieve overwhelming political power at the state and the federal level with this kind of radical agenda. Yes, there are threats from the left, and I do think that they need to be called out in their danger But are they at the same level and scope and immediacy as the threat that you’re describing, say, with the will to power conservatives?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:41

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 4
    0:30:42

    Again, I’m not I’m not here to say that they’re equivalent. And I think that when I sort of sit down to think about where where do I see the greater threat, one of the things that tips me in the direction of being more concerned about the things I’m seeing coming from the right. And one of the reasons that that has become my beat at reason magazine to cover the conservative movement is that I look at the sort of center of gravity of the political, the sort of the larger conservative movement. And I see them more radicalized than the center of gravity on the left. I’m actually a little bit hardened when I look at, like, where does the median democratic voter come down on some of the issues of woke in liberalism that I think are real serious problems that I I think in many ways the sort of elites of the Democratic Party and and the progressive movements and and the now Democratic socialist movement have completely lost their minds when it comes to some of these issues of like identity politics.
  • Speaker 4
    0:31:33

    But I think that the average the average Democratic voter is not with them. And they’re actually they’re providing a break on that in a way that the average Republican voter right now is not. See
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:42

    then, that’s an important distinction. So in the the primary elections, it seems that many of these really extreme progressives have been rejected by Democratic primary voters. At the same time, the Republican primary voters have been advancing the wealthiest, quickest, lunatics from the fever swamp, you know, in in one state after another. So that’s another form of the the asymmetry. You know, for example, the defund the police folks out there.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:08

    They’re clearly in retreat on the left. Right? I mean, they lose primaries or they’re they’re backing away from their positions. Whereas on the right, it seems they are doubling down on their positions, the big lie, the the performative cruelty on immigration, etcetera. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:23

    I
  • Speaker 4
    0:32:24

    think that’s fair. That’s a fair analysis. Again, I I do think that it ought to be unfortunately, it won’t be taken well taken as a as a word of warning, but it ought to be a word of warning against the left that their their previous illegal overreaches have now given creative permission structure for these conservatives to to say. And I reject this argument, but they but I hear it every single day. That we must respond in kind.
  • Speaker 4
    0:32:48

    You know, they started it and anything less than fighting fire with fire is unilateral surrender and, you know, that’s that’s what they think I stand for. So you
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:59

    Right. And this is a very, very detailed in-depth piece, and I I and I think there’s a lot of here that’s really worth considering because you argued that the energy in both parties seems to be coming from elements that have something in common, a desire to move their side in the country as a whole in an ill liberal direction. On the left, a new crop of socialist hope to overthrow the liberal economic order, while the rise of intersectional identity politics has supplanted long standing commitments to civil liberties on the right support for free markets and free trade are more and more often derided as relics of a bygone century, while quasi theocratic ideas are gathering, support But you say what has not changed is the effective polarization, right, that all of these studies are showing that Americans have significantly more negative feelings toward members of the other party than they did in decades past. So what you’re describing is the sort of the cycle of of of polarization. The cycle of if you take an extreme position that that gives me that’s a signal that I should take a more extreme position.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:03

    If you are not respect thing, liberal democratic norms. Why should I respect liberal democratic norms? And my sense is that this is going to continue to escalate. Because it it’s that whole argument, well, I can’t bring I can’t bring a pen to a gunfight. I can’t bring a knife to a gunfight.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:22

    I have to I have to use the same cudgel that the other side uses. I mean, is that what you’re seeing? Yeah. And I’m glad you raised this. So
  • Speaker 4
    0:34:27

    I I it’s a little bit of a wonky point, but in the piece, I try to draw a distinction between issue polarization or ideological polarization. And with political science this call, effective polarization. So I’m I’m pushing back against the idea that the two sides are becoming further apart ideologically and on the issues, but I’m I’m acknowledging that there’s a way in which affective polarization really is a problem and is getting worse. That’s the idea of the two sides sort of hating each other more and feeling threatened by each other more. So effective just refers to how, you know, how something makes you feel.
  • Speaker 4
    0:35:01

    And so our feelings are getting more polarized, the two sides. On the other hand, I do I I think it’s important that I end this piece. After, you know, five thousand words of why I’m afraid, I do try to end it with a little bit hope, and and I don’t think that that hope is completely ill founded. And that is even when you when you dig into this effective polarization and related research, What you find is that it’s still relatively small numbers of people who have this like intense visceral
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:26

    hate
  • Speaker 4
    0:35:26

    for the other side. It it really is the elites who are paying a lot of attention to politics. And regular Americans aren’t, for the most part, you know, again, the share of the of people who are expressing these negative these these really scary negative opinions is growing, but it’s still like in the teens. Right? It’s like less than one in five Americans who who is saying things like would be really upset if my child married somebody of the opposite party.
  • Speaker 4
    0:35:52

    You know, it’s it’s not as pervasive. Most Americans, I think, have better things to do with their lives. And when you pull them on the things that they do care about and what their most important sort of political values are, what they want out of their country, what their priorities are, they rank individual liberty. We want we want to live in a society that protects individual rights and liberties as the most important thing to them. For most Americans, that is still continues to be true.
  • Speaker 4
    0:36:16

    They say
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:17

    that. And by the way, I hope you’re right. I I I to the degree that I’m hope it is that there are the normal Americans out there who are not locked into all of this. And if if you step away from social media for even five minutes and encounter real people, It is it is awfully refreshing. But, you know, people, you know, will say that they are for freedom and individual liberty.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:35

    But your thesis though is this growing illiberalism out there. And I think one of the things that’s been exposed in the last several years has been how thin a crust, you know, some of these classical liberal beliefs have been when they’re challenged in the electorate. So for example, you walk through the areas where the left and right elite are tracking in the same direction. So for example, free markets under the gun from both the left and the right. Both sides are also turning on the first amendment.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:04

    We’re we’re we’re seeing a push. You know, it’s it’s a lot of attention to the book banning that’s taking place, you know, from from the right. But We also know that the left has there are people on the left who believe that there are certain ideas that are violent, that are dangerous, that they cannot be be tolerated. And both sides are pushing a rhetoric of radicalization. So, I mean, this is concerned, then just before we get to, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about free markets.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:32

    The assault on the first amendment. I don’t know how you talk about it without talking about the ill liberalism from both the right and and the left. You watch some of the debates and it feels like the people who believe in liberal tolerance and academic freedom a kind of a besieged minority. And maybe that’s just that’s just the perception. But, you know, the pushback that you get from the left of over speakers on campus or certain opinions on a variety of issues, including so for example, transgenderism, and juxtaposed with what you’re seeing from the legislatures who are, you know, demanding that that workbooks be removed from libraries, this strikes me as as as a real crisis point for free speech and and and academic freedom.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:20

    Howard Bauchner: I think that’s right. I
  • Speaker 4
    0:38:21

    mean, I think it’s fair to point that out and that’s why I spend a good chunk of article, giving the examples and how they’re coming from both sides. I do think that, again, that a lot of this is more an elite phenomenon than it is, a mass phenomenon. And even within the within the college campus sort of environment, there’s a lot of research to suggest that it’s a small number of angry students who are sort of silencing the vast majority of students who don’t care at all about these issues and who would actually probably prefer to be left alone and not be told that they have to you know, they have to care about who’s speaking on campus or they have to refuse to listen to words because words are violent or something. What we have is a small number of people who have successfully achieved enough power to shut down the larger majority. And there’s this idea that, like, nobody wants to stand up against the bully.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:08

    And so everybody just stays quiet. It’s easier to stay quiet even though you actually turns out, or the majority of the campus, the majority of the student body is not on board with this stuff. But what the small number of students have is they have social media. They have people now in the administrations of these colleges who are willing to enforce their values. And so they are able to speak loudly and get their way.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:26

    That is troubling. Absolutely. I mean, I’m I’m disturbed by what’s happening. In these cases, but I just wanna keep perspective about where the numbers are because that’s the only way that we can think through, okay, what is the way out of this mess? And if we have actually numbers on our side, then there is at least some hope for the fever to break or for us to to figure out how to unwind the situation that doesn’t actually seem that stable for a small number of people to be dictating to the larger number of people and infringing on their rights along the way.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:56

    So the numbers are on
  • Speaker 3
    0:39:57

    our side because you think that Americans are instinctual Liberals by and large, you know, not in the sense of being left to center, but in the sense of believing at a deep level that even to one’s versus opponents have right. So the numbers are on our side. But do the numbers matter anymore? I mean, because but the party you see was particularly the Republican party, seems to be held completely hostage to its loudest voices, its minority voices, the way our system is structured. We do have, you know, the the voice of political ideological minorities, the most extreme minority is is obviously amplified.
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:35

    And as you point out, It is the elites who, you know, have jettisoned the long standing idea of respecting the rights of people they they disagree with. Well, I mean, are our politics driven by the extremes and by the elite extremes. So, I mean, do do numbers really matter anymore? Again, it’s a fair
  • Speaker 4
    0:40:52

    question. And what I would say is that the more under threat people feel, the more likely they are going to be to dispense with their commitments to things like, their their stated commitments, their, you know, their previous commitments to things like individual liberty, individual rights that wanna live in a liberal society, the more that they can be made to feel that they are facing an existential threat. The more tenuous the status quo feels, the more they’re, you know, the less committed to those things they’re going to be. And so I I write my piece of partisan animosity suits the authoritarian elements. Of both sides just fine because their goal is to acquire power and they have little patients for the procedural niceties that would interfere with the exercise of that power.
  • Speaker 4
    0:41:31

    But they know that a base whipped up into fear and fury is going to accept a lot more in terms of violations and erosions of these rights that they that that people would otherwise, you know, genuinely say are important and they believe in. But if you’re whipped up into fear and fury, you’re not gonna be thinking rationally. And so this is why we do need to be aware of the ways in which, you know, there’s this tight rope that we have to walk between raising the alarm about these authoritarian or ill liberal or even fashistic, things that we’re seeing happening in our politics and recognizing that the more scared people feel, the more under threat, the more existential everything feels that to people, actually, the more likely they are going to be to abandon their values that we want them not abandon.
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:15

    And I think we see that playing out in real time. So I’m interested in getting your your views on the the way the abortion debate is is playing out particularly in the short term and in the longer term, you describe yourself as a libertarian pro lifer. So what does that
  • Speaker 4
    0:42:30

    mean? Yeah. No, I am. In twenty fifteen, I wrote a piece for a reason called why I am a pro life libertarian, and I think it will probably be the most red piece I’ve ever written for my whole career. There’s a lot of interest in this question.
  • Speaker 4
    0:42:41

    Can you be those two things at once? And I initially, I wanted to write it as a defense of Rand Paul. Yes, he can be a libertarian and be pro life. But it ended up being more of a first person piece about where I come down. And what I write in the piece is, look, libertarianism is a political philosophy.
  • Speaker 4
    0:42:55

    It tells us about the proper role of the state and society. And what is good public policy and what is bad public policy? And it says that good public policy is policy that protects people’s right to life liberty and property and basically leaves the rest to individuals working on their own and in association with other individuals in a voluntary private private way. And but the question of abortion requires you to first answer the question, what is the person? When does life begin?
  • Speaker 4
    0:43:21

    Right? Is an abortion and acts involving one human life or two human lives. And until you have answered that question, you can’t apply the political philosophy of libertarianism to it. And really, libertarianism has nothing to say to help you answer the question of when life begins. It’s just outside the scope of libertarianism.
  • Speaker 4
    0:43:35

    So you gotta answer that question for yourself. You gotta decide what is life, what is human life, and, you know, what is an abortion. And if you look at an ultrasound, like I do and see a human life, then, of course, when you apply the the libertarian political philosophy, which says the one of the only roles of the state is to protect life, an innocent life, then you’re gonna come down on one side. Meanwhile, if you look at an ultrasound and you think that’s not a human life at the clump of cells or something, you’re gonna apply libertarian political philosophy and come down in a different place. Howard Bauchner: So where do
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:09

    you come down on this? Do would you support what Lindsey Graham is proposing on the federal level. So I I
  • Speaker 4
    0:44:16

    look forward hopefully to a day when abortion is illegal everywhere. But I’m a big believer that trying trying to impose a top down policy solution on a country that is that isn’t ready for it at a sort of heart to minds level at a cultural level is not gonna end well. It didn’t end well for the other side trying to impose its vision on a country that was half pro life for the last forty years. And I don’t think it’s probably gonna go any better doing it the other way around. So I’m a little bit reluctant to look to federal answers to this question right now before we’ve tackled the need to rebuild a culture of life, a culture in this country as sort of a polity that recognizes the when life begins, what life is, why it has inherent dignity and why it needs to be protected by law.
  • Speaker 4
    0:45:04

    If you try to pass the law without accomplishing that sort of I think precondition first, I think you’re probably not gonna solve the problem the way you think you will. Howard Bauchner: Well, this is why it’s so difficult because,
  • Speaker 3
    0:45:14

    you know, obviously, we would like to see a culture that specs life, that respects all life. But also, we’re having this moment, we’re debating abortion. We’re in a very stark terms, we’re getting a sense of perhaps the limits of government power over individual choice. The limits of the use of coercive legislation And then I guess I’m I’m trying to get at what what it’s like being a libertarian watching a what feels like a libertarian moment in the country that is saying, okay, I don’t want politicians to make this decision. I don’t want legislatures debating this very personal choice.
  • Speaker 3
    0:45:54

    This should be up to me. And so right now, you have many people who would not be described as Libertarians, really embracing a libertarian ethos when it comes to this particular issue. I
  • Speaker 4
    0:46:09

    think you can make that argument, but I think that I would caution against drawing too many conclusions from, like, for example, one Midwestern state referendum vote. And the reason is that there has been a lot of polling done for decades on public opinion toward abortion. And what you have consistently found is that we are our country is not at either extreme, but that most people think that there should be some limits on when an abortion can be procured. We think there is some rule for the state in regulating this. That’s where the average American is.
  • Speaker 4
    0:46:39

    So it’s not ban abortion from conception, even if if I think ideally that’s what the law should say. And it’s not the New York State law, which allows abortion right up until the moment of delivery for any reason, you know, at any time. It’s actually much closer to the first and the second. It’s actually a thing that I think is surprising to many on the left when they actually take the time to dig into polling numbers on this. You find that people are pretty uncomfortable with second and third term master abortion.
  • Speaker 4
    0:47:06

    Certainly, late late term abortions is is horrifying to them. Even people who identify a strongly pro choice think they’re offended by the idea that you would suggest that they that they are in favor of this. So I don’t think there is really a rejection of of this idea that there should be laws or regulations or restrictions on this issue. I think that we’re just we’ve just found ourselves in a new political moment, and we haven’t had to think in terms of legislative remedies on this issue in so long that we’re having to sort of relearn how to flex those muscles. No, I think
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:38

    that’s right. Why it’s evolving and why some of the polls I don’t think necessarily reflect where we’re going on all of this because fifty years of not having to really think this through in in in reality terms, you know, has changed overnight. So, Stephanie, thank you so much coming on the podcast. I appreciate it very much. Thanks
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:58

    so
  • Speaker 4
    0:47:59

    much for having
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:59

    me. Stephanie Slate is senior editor at Reason magazine, a fellow in liberal studies at the Acton Institute, and she wrote the cover story for the October issue of reason both left and right are converging on authoritarianism. And in this week, growth of the will to power was front and center at natcon three. You can find both of them at reason dot com. And thank you all for listening to today’s Bulwark podcast I’m Charlie Sykes.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:24

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    0:48:26

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