In this episode of High Noon with Inez Stepman, IWF fellow and The Federalist Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky rejoins the podcast to do a requiem on the domestic impact of the Afghanistan debacle.
Inez and Emily lay out the dire (but well-deserved) situation with regard to institutional trust and how this international failure will impact the way that Americans think of their government and especially their leadership class.
If Americans on both the left and the right clearly see that their elite does not deserve power or trust, what are the possibilities of a populist alliance? Are the two halves of the populist rebellion too culturally different to ever form a single political coalition?
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. We’re going to do something a little bit different today given the events of the last couple of weeks, including, of course, the deaths of U.S. service members in Afghanistan, and really since April 14, when the hard date for this withdrawal was announced by the Biden administration. Many people in the country are losing what little threads of faith they had left, not just in the partisan ideology of the U.S. government, not just because they disagree with Joe Biden politically, or his administration politically, or perhaps disagreed with the Trump administration politically, but in the basic competence of our leaders and our elite class. To talk about the domestic impact of these still-unfolding events on what, I think is the larger crisis in which America finds itself reminiscent of the 1970s, but I think worse in several ways, but this larger crisis of trust that America finds itself in.
I actually brought back Emily Jashinsky. Emily is a woman who wears many hats. She is the culture editor over at The Federalist, including hosting Radio Hour over there. She works with young Americans for freedom. You may know her from her scent filling in on Hill TV’s Rising, which is an independent news program that probes the possibility of a populist alliance across political ideology. So, I think she’s one of the best people that we could possibly talk to about what the long-term trust impacts of the last several weeks, and what we’ve been watching on our TVs is really going to be. So welcome, Emily.
Thanks for having me back in this.
You and I are always citing to this one Pew poll that shows that trust in every single American institution, whether that’s Congress or the president, or whether it’s big business, or tech companies, whether it’s Hollywood, basically whether it’s any … or even religion, and churches, organized religion. Every single one of those numbers is well below 50%, and has been for quite some time. But the two bright spots on that poll were always small business and the military. We now find ourselves in a situation where, due to a combination of this global pandemic and decisions made by the leadership class, and by the political class, small business is in extremely rough shape. I think the word decimated could be used.
Now, we find ourselves watching as the top brass of the military have made apparently, not just bad, but completely incompetent calls in this withdrawal. Again, regardless of what your ideology is, regardless of whether you think we should have, or should not have withdrawn from Afghanistan, it seems to me that there’s sort of a bipartisan failure here by ideological failure here of the top brass actually conduct this operation in a way that kept our service members alive, that was orderly, that allowed our Afghan allies to get out in time. I mean, what is the impact? What are those little numbers on the Pew poll going to do with regards to the military, which was essentially the last institution, at least the leadership of the military, the last institution that really brought left and right together in terms of actually having some trust in that institution?
As you say, it’s not merely about the numbers being low, it’s about the trajectory. That’s, I think where things get particularly alarming is to see how quickly … Like with the media, for instance, this is something that’s happened over time. But when you look at certain institutions, the dip has happened really quickly, and doesn’t seem to be reversing in any sort of really quick way as well. That, it was just an anomaly for a couple of years. That’s not what’s happening. We’re seeing pretty rapid acceleration of distrust following this longer pattern of declining distrust. So, when it happens really quickly, that’s very, very de-stabilizing.
To your point about the military, it’s absolutely a bipartisan failure. The public recognizes that. It’s not as though the public blames Biden, it’s not though the public blames just George W. Bush. The public blames our leaders. This is so easy to forget because our political memories are so short because new cycles are so fast, but are huge. I mean, Donald Trump, in 2015 on the primary campaign trail, was talking constantly about forever wars. He was talking constantly about the overextension of the military in the Middle East. This was a huge element of his campaign. It’s a big reason that he was so successful in that primary because he could, and I should say in the general, because he can pin that as somebody outside the political establishment very clearly.
By the way, as somebody who was skeptical of the war in Iraq, he could pin that very clearly on every single one of his opponents in 2015 in the primary and in 2016 when it came to Hillary Clinton. That was actually just one of those things that just made him so palatable, and gave him credibility. When we think about how that’s a statement on the public’s interpretation of institutional failure, it’s important because the public’s interpretation of failure is not as partisan as a lot of people think it is. It’s like Donald Trump. That’s not to say the American public was 90% in favor of Donald Trump. We know that’s not the case. We know that there are a lot of people that do still have very firm partisan ideologies that either meant they supported Donald Trump firmly, or they supported Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, or whoever it is very firmly. But there’s a big chunk of the public that is just utterly sick of the political establishment.
What the political establishment is not prepared to deal with is that they are right, they are right. It is actually good news. This is the contrarian perspective, but it’s important. This is good news that public trust in all of these institutions is low. It would be terrifying if public trust of these institutions was high because all of these institutions deserve are distressed. They have failed the public, they have failed their consumers, and their voters, and their constituents over and over and over again. They’ve done it in major ways. In some cases like the military, for instance, they’ve done it in ways that have been repeated. They’ve gone on trajectories that have not been course corrected. They haven’t undergone necessary course corrections over and over and over again.
In the case of the military, it’s happening with people’s children, their husbands, their wives, their brothers and sisters. It would be terrifying to me if trust in these institutions was high. But with the political establishment is not prepared to deal with. They can whine about institutional distress as much as they want, but they’re not in any position to say that they’re culpable for it. It’s the racist rubes who are turning to white nationalism, and voting for Donald Trump because the factory town moved. That’s the elite narrative. At least they’re not prepared to take any of the blame whatsoever. I mean, the blame is squarely on the deplorables, it’s squarely on the partisan, Republicans. They’re in no position to really internalize.
When we saw this after Donald Trump was elected, the week after he was elected, we saw suddenly this introspection in the media. You had Dean Baquet of the New York Times executive editor saying, “We don’t get religion. We need to do a better job.” The New York Times of 2021 has undergone no course correction whatsoever, that lasted for about a week. I think we see the same thing over and over with other institutions. They’re so high in their own supply that they’re incapable of serious introspection beyond the gesture. That’s dangerous.
I mean, I think that’s why these events will have such a big domestic impact because the conventional wisdom is, of course, that Americans don’t vote on foreign policy. But I think the story here for the average American may not be, not that they don’t care about what’s happening halfway around the world, but that they prioritize other problems. I think that’s right, prioritize domestic problems. But this is such a clear instance of, again, the people who are in charge of the decision-making in this country not having any contact with reality. They said that the Afghan army would hold out for potentially months, instead they held out for days. The decision that’s being criticized all over, even mainstream networks now is they let Bagram Air Base go before they had properly evacuated peoples, which left us stuck with Kabul Airport, which is apparently very, very difficult to defend.
Just the other day, we had additional rockets from ISIS being leveled at the airport in the attempt to stop planes from getting off the runway. We have American citizens stuck out somewhere in the city, or even in the country without the ability to safely move to the airport. I mean, regardless, again, it’s like another level of disillusionment. It’s one level of disillusionment, I think that drove Donald Trump’s election when people realize that the elite hate them, and don’t care about certain problems that are really affecting Americans lives. It’s a whole ‘nother level of disillusionment when you realize the people who say that they are expert have made such terrible errors. As you say, in this case, errors that cost American lives.
The crazy thing is, I don’t think anyone believes that there’s going to be any accountability for these decisions. First of all, do you think there will be accountability? We have Trump calling for the firing of generals. A call, which is not broadcast throughout the mainstream media, and is now completely stifled on social media because the former president is banned from those places, or ignored in the case of the mainstream media. But do you think that there will be any kind of accountability? So that’s question one for these kinds of just flat-out bad decisions.
Again, forget about ideology, forget about Trump versus Biden, Republicans versus Democrats, even left versus right in this country, which is a real and substantive divide that I don’t want to gloss over. But even if you lay aside all of those things, I mean, just incompetence that cost American lives in a serious country would come with consequences. One, do you think they will face any consequences? Two, do you think the average American has any confidence that they will face some consequences for these decisions?
No, I don’t think they have … I’ll answer number two first. No, absolutely not because that speaks to the faith in the institutions. Nobody trusts the institutions to course correct because they have failed at that time and again. It’s one thing if institutions are flexible and do correct errors, that’s another. They can have endemic failure, but if they are at the same time, also able to course correct, that’s a totally different thing. But what, I think the reason that distrust is so high in these institutions is because they don’t. They just keep failing. They just keep making the same bad decisions over and over and over again. It’s not as though they make one error change it, that’s not what’s happening. So no, I don’t think anybody has any confidence in this.
I think they’re right because, to answer question number one, accountability is impossible. So I think there might actually be some superficial gesture towards accountability, like some sort of political decision that Joe Biden makes. Maybe he fires General Milley, maybe he fires somebody high profile, maybe somebody resigns, maybe it’s Lloyd Austin. Maybe there is some major … I expect that there will be some gesture. There will be some sort of superficial symbolic attempt to look like the Biden administration is taking things to account.
On the other hand, to just dwell on the political level for a moment, it’s entirely possible there won’t be because Joe Biden is obstinate, and you can actually debate the merits of that. To some extent, it’s defensible that Joe Biden has refused to, he has just absolutely refused to accept any real substantive failure because he’s clinging to that defense, which again, is somewhat reasonable that there’s no way to get out of a chaotic war without chaos.
To some extent, this was inevitable. He’s completely wrong to say that he was locked into it. I mean, the administration, even when being pressed on the Americans trapped in Afghanistan, they keep saying those people have had every opportunity to get out for months. They are not accepting any criticism really, for the most part, they are not. So, it’s possible-
It drives me crazy, they think that Americans in Afghanistan, they’re just people working for the embassy, contractors and so on. They should have anticipated the speed with which the Afghan army collapsed and the Taliban came into Kabul. But the U.S. government did not.
But essentially their position is these random people who are stuck in Afghanistan should have made a better call than the joint chiefs of staff and the president, which is an absurd position.
Well, remember what General Milley said last week, he saw absolutely nothing to indicate that Kabul would fall within 11 days. So they then expect the people who are trapped in Afghanistan to be interpreting this mixed messaging in any other way. I mean, it’s absurd, it’s absurd. But that does speak to the possibility that Biden doesn’t even take a step towards accepting any responsibility because he is very … This is like, you hear this from some of the leaks. This becomes clear from some of the leaks that Joe Biden actually was very, very entrenched in his decision that this is a war we’re on the path to get out of, and there’s nothing that’s going to stop me from doing it.
I’m not going to delay it. I’m not going to take this advice, or that advice that would look like an escalation, or would look like a delay because we’re getting out. So I think to that extent, it’s possible that he doesn’t even take the step of accepting failure. But again, accountability here is impossible because this is a … Accountability is impossible, this has been going on for 20 plus years. There’s nobody really in the military that would have made substantially different decisions. It’s not to say there’s nobody, but most of the military establishment-
[crosstalk 00:16:04] the top, the people in the Pentagon is what you mean, just to clarify.
I think there are probably plenty of people. Of course, we saw, I think a battalion commander, his career ruined for publicly criticizing the decisions that were made by those above him in the chain of command, which … I understand why there have to be consequences within a military environment that’s not a free speech environment, it’s not a … You don’t get to have all kinds of the rights while in the context of being in the uniform that Americans take for granted. It’s part of the necessary structure of the military. But the fact that the people who made these decisions may suffer absolutely no consequences while this guy is the only person to have his career ruined over this.
Let me ask you this, where do we go from here? Because it seems like there is a combination of boiling anger out there at the people who aren’t suffering any consequences for making these terrible decisions, and on the flip side, a very dispiriting detachment. It is very difficult for Americans to watch, I think. I know it is difficult for me to watch scenes that look like the end of empire. Things that make us wonder whether those assumptions, especially for us ’90s kids, those assumptions that we’ve had baked in to our politics, which is that the U.S. will remain a preeminent power, that we will remain the most powerful military force on the planet, that we can suffer bad precedents, or stupid decisions in a way that other countries can’t because we have enormous wealth and enormous ability to project power. Those assumptions are suffering daily, it seems like.
I guess, where do American politics go from here? Is there any kind of light at the end of this? As you say, it’s a good thing that Americans don’t trust their institutions because their institutions don’t deserve trust. On the flip side, when you don’t have any gatekeepers, you don’t have any institutions, the stability that Americans have counted on really since the close of World War II, and before that as well, but particularly since 1945, that stability seems like it’s over. I wouldn’t think that I’m the only person speculating as to whether American power is now, it’s definitely waning, and whether it will wane below other great global powers, and we might find ourselves once again at the mercy of a great power politics that isn’t ours.
Yeah. You just mentioned something that I’ve been thinking about a lot for the ’90s kids. I was nine on 9/11. I think I was nine, I was in third grade. Obviously 9/11 aside, I have memories from that day, all of us do. But what I remember in the aftermath was this intense swelling of American pride. That’s a really important thing to remember because in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was public support for invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. There was a very reasonable hunger for vengeance. I think the military establishment and the political establishment was naive. I think to some extent also, not even just naive was taking advantage of that, and was taking advantage of the opportunity to exert the United States as military might for a number of reasons.
Whatever winning would look like in Afghanistan and Iraq, we know the American military. If we had committed the full capability of the American military to either of those conflicts, we know what would have happened, but that was not what we wanted to do. What we wanted to do was flex and drive these various forces out of those countries. We thought that we didn’t need to devote our entire military to either of these efforts, that it would come much more easily than it did, and that we were naive to the problems that would come afterwards. We were naive to the problems that the sectarian conflicts. We were naive to all of that. In some cases, it wasn’t that we were naive, it was that it was hubris.
It’s interesting for me to look back though on those days in the immediate wake of September 11, and to think of that level of pride, and solidarity, and patriotism, and then use that as a benchmark with where we are on the 20 anniversary, which is coming up in just a few weeks or less than that actually, 10 days, to use those as benchmarks or bookends, and to think about where just patriotism and love of country has gone. I agree with you that people don’t vote on foreign policy, but it does really inform their sense of the country is standing and success. I think the most important metric for our success as a country is just the daily lives of most of our people. What is the level of quality of the daily lives of most of our people? Where’s it heading?
When we’re all basically addicted to dopamine biases that were basically invented by this country, that were enabled by this country, and have taken over our daily lives because of various antitrust issues and cultural issues, and we can have a whole conversation with that, you look back on the way we communicated in September 2001, and in the aftermath, the way that we communicate now, the way that we lived then, and the way that we live now, imagine you’re younger than us in this. You’re just coming into college or graduating college and getting into the workforce, what do you think of this country? Seriously, the people that are about to enter the corridors of power and start pulling those levers, they don’t remember that. Do they even remember the Toby Keith songs like Boot in Your Ass, Patriotism?
Do they have any memory of that? What’s their conception of American greatness? I have no idea. But it’s scary. The, where do we go from here point, it’s like, well, where do we deserve to go? How are we equipped to go forward? This is why I say accountability is impossible because who has the credibility to hold any of our military leaders accountable? Seriously. Who does? I mean, is it Barbara Lee? Someone who voted against the Iraq war, like the AUMF. Is it Ron Paul? I mean, nobody in our political establishment really has the credibility to hold anybody accountable. There seems to be the media in the last two weeks. The entire political establishment has shown absolutely no interest in, or I guess intellectual capacity to, process these failures.
It’s like we’re returning to the neo-con. Isn’t it an interesting thing how the neo-conservatives, and the media establishment, and the Democratic Party establishment have just been back to their usual business? This is the only thing that Biden is really getting criticized on in the course of his presidency. So there’s nobody in any position to hold anybody accountable. There’s nobody coming up the ranks that can make the course correction, I would say with the exception perhaps of the media, where there’s a splintering in the substack suffocation, which you can argue other than that, that’s a good trend. I mean, in the military, in our politics, I don’t know. There’s a lot of reason for pessimism.
Yeah. It’s really interesting that you bring up the memory of post 9/11 era. As you know, I grew up in Palo Alto, and I have nothing but good things to say about Palo Alto always. No, I have very bad things to say about Palo Alto. One of the things, and I’m bringing this up, not just because it’s a personal reminiscence, but because I think it’s very relevant to the point you’re making, in Palo Alto, there really wasn’t a patriotic response after 9/11. In fact, the day after 9/11, the local paper in Palo Alto, their headline story was that Muslims in the United States fear reprisals after 9/11. Now, first of all, to the great credit of the United States, that turned out to be vastly overblown fear. There were no widespread reprisals against American Muslims after 9/11.
But the fact that the day after this level of attack had hit the homeland, and I think it’s relevant because Palo Alto is now in charge, the elites in Palo Alto are fundamentally globalist. By that, I don’t mean it in a crude sense of-
Yeah, yeah. It’s not a conspiracy-style charge, it’s an accurate one in the sense that they consider themselves post- nation-state. They don’t really consider themselves truly American. I’m not even now talking about all the leftist tropes about America’s bad and evil, but there’s even a detachment from some of that, and already was after 9/11 in Palo Alto, whereas I think the rest of the country did experience this, and the polls showed this, it experienced this incredible surge of patriotism and solidarity. George W. Bush, I think had what? 89 or 90% approval rating after 9/11. Now, what that administration and the following administrations did without probably has a lot to do with why, for example, we find ourselves in a time where virtually no president can crack 55% approval rating from either party is an interesting thing in itself.
But I almost feel like that reaction from Palo Alto to slip immediately back into the narrative to really not have even that momentary patriotic impulse to pull together, is where we all find ourselves now, or in different ways. Actually I’d to ask you about the flip side, if the detachment from patriotism from the left comes from this vision that, or this ideology that America is in fact not worth celebrating. That we are sexist, racist, terrible country. We’re stamped from the beginning in the words of Ibram Kendi. And then before the current wokes, you had, of course, the Chomsky left that saw America as an evil imperialist power.
On the flip side, on the Right, as American empire and power become more synonymous and more reflective of where we are at home, meaning that these same woke elites are in charge, and their value is what we are projecting into the world, which America is still very good at culturally projecting things into the world I don’t think that there’s any … Eventually we could lose that power, but for now, American cultural projection of power is incredible. But we’re now using that power to do things that the Right at home despises. In fact, the majority at home, including independence and some Democrats despise. That the symbolism of running the rainbow flag outside of our embassy in Kabul is hard to ignore. What happens to patriotism on the right as America essentially becomes more identified both domestically and abroad with this woke ideology?
I mean, that’s already happening. I mean, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, already refers to this stuff as essentially American imperialism. This woke ideology is coming in from America, but the French are not the only country to feel that way. How does the American right respond when America isn’t what they would consider America anymore, that the ideas that they were patriotic about, let’s say after 9/11, or going back in the decades, those ideas are not just, and perhaps not even a minority among Americans, but are completely absent from any powerful institutions in this country?
Yeah. This is not just about America. I think this is about what technology and the consequential globalization that it brings with it is doing to people in Western civilization period. I think it is really important to reflect on what you talked about in Palo Alto right after 9/11 because California, as Michael Shellenberger has been documenting by the way as an environmentalist who is not at all aligned with the right, except on combating climate skepticism and left a poverty initiatives, has been documenting as a new book out documenting this, but he has been showing how California is basically the canary in the coal mine, and really demonstrated the logical conclusion of progressive governance and progressive values. When I say progressive, I mean, the progressive movement as a vehicle for what is essentially post-structuralism. Macron is right.
I mean, the French are not necessarily blameless and the exportation of patriotism. We don’t necessarily recognize it as such because these conversations have always been relegated to the realm of the abstract academic ivory tower debates, but they’re not anymore. This is not laughable territory the way that people used to laugh at Fox and Friends for running campus craziness segments. That turned out to be actually one of the most important stories in our politics. It was laughed off by the political establishment as the fever dreams of craze boomers for years and years and years. Here we are, and these ideas are having very, very, very real consequences. There’s a controversy this week over a teacher in California, I think in Newport, who replaced the American flag in her classroom with the pride flag, and offered her students the opportunity to pledge allegiance to the pride flag instead of the American flag.
Again, isolated perhaps, but the worldview is not isolated at all, it is not isolated at all. Where I think sometimes conservatives go wrong is in assuming that it’s … On the one hand we want to say, this has consumed our institutions. On the other hand, we want to say, but it doesn’t represent the population. I think it’s correct that it doesn’t broadly represent the entire population now. But it does represent a bigger chunk of the population than we want to realize. We’re talking about school teachers, we’re not talking about somebody who’s running a media institution right now. This is a sixth grade teacher, I think. The way that this is all flowed through social media, it means that it’s flowing through the minds of people that are not just in the corridors of power.
It’s like anybody with a bachelor’s degree has been subjected to this BS, and if they’ve come out of a college in the last 15 years. It’s only gotten worse in the last five to 10 years, so it’s probably more widespread than we realize. It’s also probably, at least the idea of America as a place, as you just mentioned, that’s increasingly responsible for exporting negatives or … One thing that’s a really common sentiment among people outside Washington DC is that, you spent all of this blood and treasure on these foreign wars, and we have immense poverty in certain regions of this country. We have drug addiction that is just consumed certain areas of this country. We have joblessness, homelessness, all of these different crises. When people look at failed wars, they see also something that makes them very angry, which is that little attention has been paid to their own problems.
If attention is paid to those problems, it’s to smear them as deplorables, and racists, and bigots. So I don’t think we’ve, in the political establishment, in the media establishment, fully grasp the scale of … You’d think by the way, the host of celebrity apprentice being elected president of the United States over a former secretary of state. We could really hammered this out, but it’s at the opposite. The elites and the establishment [inaudible 0:33:50] to the trenches further and further and further to the point where they’re now even more blind to the problem than they were before. So, I don’t think we fully grasp the scale, but also the nature of a disillusionment with the country. I don’t think we’re really going to understand it until, for the next few years, as we see the contours of this start, I guess becoming clearer in our politics because this is …
I really agree with your assessment that what’s happened over the last couple of weeks in Afghanistan is going to shape that immensely. I’ll just add one more thing, which is I was watching a frontline that I believe aired last year, which was a 20-year retrospective on the war in Iraq told from the perspective of Iraqis. One of them says, probably 35-year-old man says, “America made two big mistakes in Iraq. The first was getting in and the second was getting out.” That actually, I think probably represents a lot of Americans perspectives on actually what’s happened in Afghanistan over the last few weeks. What’s interesting about that is it’s right at the start of the wars and it’s right at the end of the wars. Those are major failures. It’s where we are.
If we agree, because there is, I think this broad disillusionment that you’re talking about, and there are really two flavors of it because you are referencing a left that looks abroad at these failures and essentially sees the failure of nation-building at home in terms of not offering, for example, universal healthcare, or other expensive “social safety net solutions.” And then a right that sees that failure, I think as a reason to doubt our own ability, our own … really who we are as Americans given how far the rock has proceeded into our institutions, and even into the military now, which I think was a really hard pill for the right to swallow, just like it was a hard pill to swallow that the intelligence services in this country might have played strongly domestically.
They might have essentially been weaponized against their own people, that was really hard, particularly for the right to swallow because the right was the law and order, at least they had enormous amount of faith in police and intelligence services in the military. That was very much a part of the American right. Now I think a lot of people really feel disconnected and disillusioned that even these institutions that were not the media, or the university professors, or institutions that we would expect over time to lean laughs that these intelligence services, or law enforcement agencies, or military agencies had slipped into the same dominant narrative that was very depressing for the right.
You’ve spent a lot of your time in the last year filling in on Rising over at Hill TV, which is essentially a show that attempts to probe the possibility, let’s say of a left-right populist alliance. It’s a show that gives voice to a populist left that is, in many ways, I don’t want to say anti-woke, but certainly thinks that the party has taken a wrong turn in focusing so much on woke cultural issues, and pronouns, and so forth rather than on socialist spending projects. And then on the flip side, the conservative chair, which you held for some time, is one that’s very skeptical of Reaganism of the traditional three-legged stool, let’s say post the end of Cold War, and thinks that the right in this country has made some serious, serious mistakes.
Is there any hope that these two groups of American voters, who are both, I think equally disillusioned with the leadership class, and with the American elite, and both, I think clearly see the problems with the American elite? Or are they too fundamentally culturally at odds with each other over exactly some of these questions that are an unresolvable in the same way that, I think we fear a lot of things in our politics feel unresolvable?
Yeah. You and I have talked about this. I’m of the opinion that when you have a left, and there are … This is increasingly true of some parts of the right as well, and what some may call it the integral-ish new right. You have to agree that there’s something about the country worth preserving. I don’t see that at all on the populist left, I see it less and less on the populist straight every day. I think the populist straight is at least more convinced that there’s something … that the system can be fixed. But there is an agreement increasingly on the populist right with the populist left that the system itself is not worth saving, that anything going forward would need to be, not just corrective, but actually raise the system of our constitutional Republic and replace it with something different.
On the right, this is taking some interesting forms that the stamp of wrong-minded enlightenment thinking on our constitution had taken us into the wrong direction. It’s what enabled the tech takeover that we’re all grappling with right now. On the left, it’s this idea that we are irredeemably stamped with the, like you were saying, in the Kendi-ish problems with the country that were irredeemably stamped with racism that we are not exceptional in any sense, except for having been exceptionally capitalist and an imperialist. That, I don’t think it’s historically accurate. We’ve talked about this, I’ve done full podcasts with your wonderful husband, Jarrett, about this. I don’t think that’s historically accurate. But it does really inform the worldview of the populist left.
If you can’t agree that there’s something worth preserving here in the United States, I think as much as we can find agreement on the folly of localism, as much as we can find agreement on antitrust issues, as much as we can find on tech, as much as we can find agreement on the failures of the elites in the military, you can go down the line, as much as we can find agreement and consensus and shared ground there. If you can’t cobble together a serious coalition of people that believe this country is worth preserving, and there is something exceptional about this country, which by the way, is so common in other countries. I mean, we act like American exceptionalism is unique to the United States, and it’s uniquely nationalist, or even ethno-nationalist, is not.
In other countries, there’s immense pride, and there is a feeling that France is exceptional. Again, you can keep going down the line. But if we can’t come up with that in our country, which by the way is exceptional, and is the greatest force for good that has ever existed on this planet in terms of country is, I just don’t see how that coalition can possibly accomplish anything fundamental or substantive.
I guess my big question for you when you advance this idea is, I think that’s true among people maybe in our circles who are way too focused on the minutia of ideology. This has been a critique of mine of the new right in some ways. I think they transform what are essentially political impulses into grand theory that … I don’t know. The lesson that I took, as opposed to maybe, and how many of these people’s friends, like Sohrab Ahmari, or some of them were new right folks, the lesson that I took from 2015, 2016 in the year since then has been that actually the American public is much less ideological than I thought they were in the same way that I don’t think that it’s inconsistent to post huge numbers for wanting to get out of Afghanistan, and not wanting to see America humiliated in this way, in this disorder.
I think there is a middle ground there, and I think actually most Americans have that more pragmatic impulse about foreign policy. I think that’s true about politics as well, even where I totally disagree with it. So, is there the possibility, for example, that we could truly clean house in essentially a populist wave that includes some elements of the left and right? I mean, it has happened before in American history, as much as we revere the founders, and I do revere the founders. After that first-generation had moved on, had either gotten old or passed away and had removed themselves from politics, there was this feeling that there was a unit party in Washington, and that the same people had been in charge for 30 years. That they were out of touch with the problems of this young and growing country, which is what swept the Jacksonian revolution, which was a populist revolution in many ways into power.
I mean, similarly, FDR being the most popular president in modern American history, won four elections largely by tapping a populist wave that felt that post-Great Depression, a consensus in Washington between both parties was not serving the American people. And then I think the Reagan revolution was also, in many ways, a populist revolution, which is funny because some of the new right folks tend to forget that, but it was initially in the ’80s. It was a reaction exactly to a period of time that while, I think ours is worse because the institutional rot is so much worse, does seem to have a whole lot of parallels. There is feeling of malaise, the ’70s malaise under Jimmy Carter. It does seem to have a whole lot of parallels right down to photographs of helicopters lifting Americans out of foreign countries after long and failed wars.
I guess I don’t think it’s impossible. I think it’s impossible to seam together in many ways the intellectual threads here between say, what is the old Chomsky I left, anti-woke Chomsky I left, don’t forget that Chomsky was one of the people who signed that Harper’s letter, by the way, worrying about the impacts on free speech. It’s the first and only time I’ve ever grade with Noam Chomsky.
Well, also about the media.
Yeah. Yes and no. Anyway, we won’t get into that. All I can say that is as a fiscal conservative myself, I would definitely worry about somebody with the economic platform of Bernie Sanders running on a Make America Great Again cultural value because I think that combination actually could win. I don’t know that’s whether-
That’s what the new left misses.
Yeah. I think there probably, or more overlap, there might not be overlap between Chomsky and Starbuck Mary, but there is overlap. I’m wondering what you think about that. Do you think it’s possible that there could be essentially a non-ideological overlap that just says, let’s disagree about universal healthcare? Fine, I’ll give you that chip, but we have to throw these people out of power. We have to throw the people out of power who have made these decisions for the last 30 years because again, they’re not just ideologically opposed to us, they’re incompetent.
Yeah. I think you’re completely right to suggest that. Love of country is broader in the public than it is among elites. I also think disillusionment, as I said earlier, is broader than elites on the right or … Yeah, I guess some people on the right recognize. But I would say that the reason a Bernie Sanders mega platform would work is because it does really tap into people’s sense of hope. Hope is so important and powerful, and it can be something that fuels patriotism and love of country. It should be something that does that because we do have the tools, whether you’re on the left or the right or the populist left to the populist right, we absolutely do have the tools to make change in this country. It’s just a matter of mustering the political will, the cultural will to use them.
Yeah, that’s really difficult. Yeah. I mean, you said something really interesting just now, which was, there was the photographs of the Vietnam War, the televised aspect of the war, and how that shaped opinion, and how that shaped sentiment about the country, and sentiments about leadership. I think we get biopic, not you, I don’t mean to say this about you. I think that the politicals or chattering class. We get so focused on the now. I see this all as the same in the scope of history, the same populist, I don’t know, the same human adjustment to the rapid acceleration of technology. We speak so reverently of FDR as fireside chats.
Well, those were novel because radio was a fairly novel technology. This is like, we’re dealing in the scope of human history with really, really, really new ways of being a human being. Just what it means to live daily life as a human has changed if you’re somebody in the west dramatically, not just in the last 10 years because it has, but also in the last 100 years. America being the superpower that came to global dominance at a time when tech was changing so quickly, it’s being seen as the leader, or the standard-bearer of what it means to live a good life in this era of human history. That was going just fine until recently. There’ve been moments where there’s a crack. You can look at the Depression era. You can look at the ’70s, certainly the ’70s, there’s so many parallels between the Reagan revolution and today, what we’re seeing happen today.
Yeah. Right now as well. We have this system that has maximized human freedom in relationship to a stable government just about better than anything I can think of, or I’m sure that you can think of as well. It’s being tested by this technology that is so brand new and so dramatic in the changes that it creates to human life. In some respect, I think we lose sight of what a major adjustment we’re trying to make, and how blessed we are to be making that adjustment largely in Western civilization, but particularly here in the United States, where we have the freedoms that we do, and the material comfort that we have. As that material comfort, I think becomes less and less satisfying, as secularism rises and religiosity declines, the materialism becomes less and less comforting.
We’ll either soothe ourselves with the metaverse, and become less and less human, or we’ll soothe ourselves with religion and community, and find a way to be human in this new world, and to do it in a more healthy way. So, I guess I’ve recently just tried to think of things from a more 300,000 foot perspective because you can Monday morning quarterback and quibble about different military decisions that were made in Iraq and Afghanistan and in our economy. You can go on down the line, but we’re all seeing through the glass dimly right now. It’s just hard to get distanced from the moment. I know that I sound like I’m rambling, but I think that’s because so much of this is uncertain and is rambling, and we are in the fog of war with new technology. So, none of this is easy.
I don’t think Joe Biden made any easy decisions. I think he made some really bad decisions, but I don’t think they’re easy ones. I don’t think George Bush made many easy decisions, I think he made some really bad ones. I guess I try to see this all in the broader context because even military technology has changed immensely. We are now subjected to the horrors of governments around the world in a way that we never were before, and in a way that makes intervention a whole lot more tempting. War has changed to the point where you can launch an attack via airplane that can do immense damage. That was not possible. You couldn’t do things so dramatically so quickly from different parts of the world until very recently. So, all of that is changing, and we’re just, I think adjusting to it.
Yeah. It certainly feels, especially I think for ’90s kids like us that we have been forcibly reinserted into the stream of history. It has been a bumpy ride to be sure. So, I think you’re right. I don’t think we’ll really know. It’s very difficult to figure out where we’re going when we’re still in the middle of the ride. I guess we’ll be back in 10 years to talk about what this moment meant. But Emily, thank you so much for coming back on to High Noon.
Thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected]. Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.