How Liz Cheney Could Save the Republic and the Republican Party

A day after Liz Cheney lost her congressional seat, Ron Brownstein in theAtlantic speculated on her next moves, including running for president. I want to use one of his remarks as a springboard to discuss the ways she could lead a defense of the republic that not only saves it, but also save the GOP–or gives birth to a new Conservative party that can compete with Democrats.

“The only plausible way to break Trump’s hold on the GOP, these critics believe, is to show that Trump, or Trumpism, cannot win national elections. Even if Cheney cannot deny Trump the nomination, she could still ultimately loosen his hold on the party, this thinking goes, if she persuades enough centrist and white-collar voters to reject him and ensure his defeat in a general election. To save the party, in other words, Cheney might first have to be willing to destroy it.”
(emphasis added)

This last line really resonated with me, and reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago, suggesting the Republicans should consider abandoning the GOP (brand) and start a new conservative party. I felt this way because a) embracing Trump indelibly stained the party, making it a political loser, especially in the long-term (at least, a person like me would not vote for them again); b) by vehemently rejecting Trump–including racism–the new Conservative party could jettison harmful political baggage while building a platform and approach that could widen their tent in a way that could lead them to big political victories in the future. (When Romney lost, I believe one group of advisors recommended making changes to attract more voters–especially, people of color–but with Trump the GOP rejected this approach and decided to focus on whipping up the base, including the use of demagoguery.)

To be clear, this was a very long-term project. In the short-term, the GOP would suffer big losses. This is definitely a tough sell to Republicans and Conservatives, but I would argue the approach is not only a strategically wise, for the long-term, but morally right and patriotic. Trumpism and racism–authoritarianism–should be unequivocally rejected. The fact that this would politically damage the GOP is not a sufficient argument against this approach. If it was, that would mean the party would be more important than core American values (e.g., all people are created equal, the rule of law, etc.). Additionally, the political pain is a consequence from the GOP accepting and embracing Trump. Not taking a big political hit was not an option–not enough the GOP would remain a legitimate liberal-democratic party. Yes, they could abandon liberal-democracy–embrace authoritarianism–as a way to avoid this pain, but then the GOP would cease to be a legitimate American party in my view.

For true Conservatives and patriots in the GOP, I didn’t see many options. This is especially true after it was clear Trump wouldn’t change, and he committed multiple acts that deserved impeachment and removal. If true Conservatives didn’t break off to start a new party, at some point, they would have vociferously and rigorously oppose Trump and those who supported him. They would have to fight for the soul of the GOP.

In this process, essentially an internal war within the GOP, the GOP likely would have died–“died” in the sense of suffering huge political defeats. However, in my view, these Conservative insurgents could have laid the groundwork for either a new Conservative party or for a revitalization and strengthening of the GOP.

How does this relate to Liz Cheney and the present moment? Cheney believes (rightly) that America democracy is in peril from Trump and Trumpism, and in defense of American democracy, she is going to vigorously and publicly lead a fight against Trump and Trumpist politicians. I use the word “lead” here to suggest that she needs to be able to bring other people with her in this fight–such as prominent Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney), Conservative pundits, and even big Republican donors or business leaders. To me, her ability to get people like this to join this public defense is really crucial. But if she’s successful, this group of Americans can successfully defend democracy.

However, in the process, Republicans will suffer some crucial losses–including some prominent Republicans. That is, Cheney and those who follow her will be responsible for defeating some of her former colleagues or damaging GOP leaders and allies. She’s going to be seen as an enemy, and will likely be reviled among the GOP establishment. (Well, she’ll be reviled among Trumpist Republican voters as well.)

At the same time, this will position her and those who follow her as the legitimate leaders of GOP or a new Conservative party. This could help Cheney’s presidential aspirations, but I also think this ultimately could help American Conservatism in the future. And, again, if these efforts succeed, they would have preserved American democracy. (More later.)

Should the Department of Justice Prosecute Trump?

I sense a lot of frustration with regard to what seems to be a lack of activity by the Department of Justice (DOJ), with regard to prosecuting Trump of crimes. A lot of people feel like Trump has committed several crimes, and while I’m not a lawyer, that’s my sense as well. (And if he didn’t, he’s done many things that deserve serious consequences–to deter this sort of behavior in the future.)

But assuming the DOJ has enough evidence to prosecute Trump and they feel confident they can win the case (It would be a disaster if they failed to convict Trump.), I may belong to a minority of anti-Trumpers who has unease about prosecuting Trump.

Yes, I understand and largely agree with those who argue that not prosecuting Trump (if the evidence is there) would be worst than failing to prosecute him.

But prosecuting Trump will set a precedence that I’m very uneasy about. To see why, think of the current GOP. I have no doubt they would prosecute Democratic presidents when they leave office (and I wouldn’t put it past them to prosecute past presidents like Obama)–for purely political reasons. And that would likely lead to Democrats doing something similar.

This would be an awful situation, one with no clear remedy.

Here, I should mention the congressional GOP–and my utter contempt I feel for them. The Founders created the mechanism to deal with someone like Trump–namely, impeachment and removal. Indeed, one could argue Trump was precisely the type of president Congress had in mind when it came to impeachment. I believe the majority of Republican members of Congress know/knew Trump deserved to be impeached (Same with many of the people working in the Trump administration.)

But they failed to use this mechanism. Twice!

And that’s why we’re in this position. The GOP seem to be waiting for the DOJ to do their dirty work–in spite of the problems this will likely cause for future presidency. It’s another example of the egregious way they put their party ahead of the country.

An Article That Captures What Inadequate Republican Leadership Looks Like

On this 4th of July, I hope Americans really reflect on the system of government the Founders created, the benefits we’ve enjoyed from it, and all the people who have gave their lives to launch and preserve it. I hope they realize that this system is not guaranteed, and that they heed those who believe it is currently under threat.

Rep. Liz Cheney has been raising alarms about this, and I view these efforts, as well as her work in the 1/6 Committee, as a robust defense of our constitutional system–something that stands in stark contrast with Republicans who have actively supported Trump’s undermining of our system, or those who have largely remained silent. Among the latter, I’m especially disappointed, perplexed, and exasperated by those who know better, who actually care about the country, but have decided to sit on the sidelines

I include Sen. Romney among this group, and his piece in the Atlantic today is not only disappointing, but also exasperating. I’ll expand on this in the next section.

A Speech That Captures What Republican Leadership Looks Like in 2022–Liz Cheney’s Speech at the Reagan Library

Barack Obama gave a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that catapulted him into the national consciousness and eventually lead to him becoming president. Describing a politician’s speech as “presidential” may be overused, but that’s what I thought of when I listened to this speech. She emphasized our most important values, she reminded Americans of the importance to defend the Constitution, putting this above politics, and she used rhetoric to help unify the country (although she had a small political digs in there). In short, she sounded like the type of Republican that I’ve been accustomed to–which was refreshing, but also something that sadly now requires courage. Rep. Cheney certainly has displayed tremendous courage, not just in this speech but her work in the 1/6 Committee and her public criticism of Trump. She has made herself a pariah in her party, and may lose her seat in Congress. And she’s doing this to defend the Constitution–to keep her oath.

I highly recommend listening to this (start around the 14:00 minute mark). I not only found her words inspiring, but also the moments and energy of the crowd’s applause.

A Middle Ground for Moderating Social Media

Social media companies have been wrestling with content moderation for several years. Jaron Lanier recently suggested an alternative to a laissez-faire approach and government regulation. Here’s how he describes it:

…a platform would require users to form groups through free association, and then to post only through those groups, with the group’s imprimatur.

…It would be like starting up a zine, a band, or a partnership. You’d find some people with whom you feel compatible, people whom you trust, and then you’d work together to create a brand—a name for your group to be applied to a common feed of posts. Only groups like this would be able to post, not individuals, though individuals would still identify themselves, just like they would when playing in a band or writing in a magazine. Individuals could join multiple groups and groups would self-govern;…

…Members would share both good and bad consequences with one another, just like a group shares the benefits and responsibilities of a loan in microlending.

…Groups, as they appear on existing platforms, can be of any size. Some number in the millions. The sort of groups I have in mind would be much smaller as a rule. The point is that the people in the groups know one another well enough to take on the pursuit of trust and quality, and to rid their groups of bots.

…each group will be self-governing. Some will have a process in place for reviewing items before they are posted. Others will let members post as they see fit. Some groups will have strict membership requirements. Others might have looser standards. It will be a repeat of the old story of people building societal institutions and dealing with unavoidable trade-offs, but people will be doing this on their own terms.

I’ll write some thoughts later. What do you guys think?

Is Conservatism a Legitimate Political Ideology? Was it Ever?

“Conservatism* is a sham!” That was the original title of this thread. While it’s actually both sexier and more succinct, I opted against it because it doesn’t accurately reflect my position, although it’s not that far off. The Trump presidency has shed a lot of of light, or maybe brought to the surface, the real impetus behind the people who claim to be conservatives, and thus revealed the true nature of conservatism. Well, partly.

I need to make two important distinctions before I proceed–separating two different types of conservatives–namely, ones that don’t really have any real convictions in a legitimate (more on this later) political ideology, and ones that do. The reason that my initial title is both (mostly) true, but too misleading for me is that 99% of conservatives fall into the former category, while the rest fall into the latter. In other words, I believe there is such a thing as a legitimate conservative ideology, but so few people actually believe this that it’s fair to say conservatism is largely a sham.

Now it’s time to explain what I mean by a legitimate political ideology. First, I want specify that I’m talking about legitimacy within a liberal democracy. The rule of law; a constitutional government, separating powers in a way that creates checks and balances; free and fair elections; a free press; freedom of religion; due process–a legitimate political ideology would take these as a given. What also legitimizes a political ideology are the presence of legitimate goals–goals that relate to making the lives of both individuals and the overall society better. By “better” I’m thinking of things like protecting civil liberties, while also ensuring the security of the overall society; I’m thinking of a healthy economy, where one can earn a living, afford quality housing, education, health care. I could probably name other things, but hopefully you get the idea.

In the rest of this thread, I want to address two questions: 1) How is conservatism illegitimate? 2) And what does a legitimate conservatism look like?

(*In this thread, “conservatism” and “conservatives” refers to the American forms of both.)

No, Music Isn’t Worse Than It Was in the Past

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but I saw some interviews of musicians I respect, which reminded me of this topic. Both bemoaned the current state of music, one of them gloomily predicting the the end boundary-pushing. (This interview was from the 80s.) My sense is that the basis for their assessment stemmed from a comparison with the past. That is, the compared their perception and understanding of the music of the present relative to the music from the past. If this is accurate, I don’t think this is a good way to judge the present. Indeed, I think doing so leads to an erroneous judgments and pessissms.

Now, let me make a few things clear. One, I’m not taking this position because I necessarily think the present moment is filled with great musicians and great music. Instead, I’m basing my position primarily on the way we perceive and understand both the present and the past. The difference, I think, primarily explains why the present seems bleak, relative to the past; and I’m going to explain that in this thread.

(Note: This applies to movies, and I would suspect most other art forms as well.)

On the Functions and Value of Art

In a conversation between Tyler Cowen, a George Mason economics professor, and David Salle, an artist and writer, Salle discusses several functions of art (mostly visual art) that I found interesting. Here’s what he said:

I think people might underestimate the decorative function of painting. Painting has various functions. A good painting satisfies most of them or all of them, pretty much at a high level. One of the functions, historically, is to make the room look better, to make people’s emotional temperature quicken slightly when the painting is in the room as opposed to when it’s not in the room. That’s a decorative function. It’s an important one.

I remember the first time I met Jasper Johns. He actually said to a friend of mine, who was standing with us, “The first obligation of a painting is to make the wall look better that it’s hanging on.” It is one of those statements that is so simple-minded it brooks mystification, but it’s just a simple fact.

What else does painting do? Obviously, we want it to do more than just be decorative. I think any good painting — really good painting — expresses something true about the time in which it was made and about the maker. But that’s another level and doesn’t have to be apparent in the same way that its decorative value is apparent.

What else does it do? It locates the maker in a certain history, a certain dialogue, a certain discourse. It sometimes takes sides. It sometimes provokes arguments. These are other things that paintings can do.

I’ll say more about this later.