Monday, June 18, 2018

F. H. Buckley: A Political Philosopher for the Age of Trump


I recently had an interesting lunch with F. H. Buckley, George Mason University law professor, political philosopher, and author of THE REPUBLIC OF VIRTUE: How We Tried to Ban Corruption, Failed, and What We Can Do About It and THE REPUBLICAN WORKERS PARTY: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed, among other works...

Which reminded me that I had promised to review his latest books...

So here goes:

THE REPUBLIC OF VIRTUE (Encounter Books, 2017) is an interesting attempt to deal with the problem of corruption in American politics, from a prominent conservative political philosopher, so therefore is well worth reading...My quibble is that it reflects a certain Canadian-centric perspective that takes as given that Canada is less corrupt than the United States. Not every American would agree with that premise, which unfortunately undercuts many good points--especially the critique of campaign finance legislation--made by the author in this serious study.

Yet, if Canadian PM's Justin Trudeau's fake eyebrows aren't enough to convince one that something's rotten in Canada, one might also note that President Clinton's business partner in Clinton Foundation deals, as well as the "Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative," is a Canadian businessman: Frank Giustra. Likewise, President Clinton was reportedly romantically involved with Canadian Member of Parliament and millionaire, Belinda Stronach

So I remain unconvinced that Canadians are more virtuous than we are, although I am persuaded they may have a tendency to appear "holier-than-thou."

My other nitckpick concerns the omission of Mark Twain's and Charles Dudley Warner's 1873 novel about American politics, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today which set the bar pretty high for writings on the subject. No study of corruption in the US Capital is complete without a discussion of that classic novel of Washington, which still is a tale of today. 

Other than those minor reservations, the book is well worth reading, serious, scholarly and indeed thought-provoking, with some solid case studies...even if you aren't persuaded that Canada is a better and more honest land than the good old USA.

THE REPUBLICAN WORKERS PARTY (Encounter Books, forthcoming September 2018) is in my view a much better book, perhaps because it is more focused on the nuts and bolts of the last election.

Buckley is able cite persuasive evidence of what went wrong with the Republican (and Democratic) Party, and forecasts what might happen in 2020. Buckley clearly believes that Donald J. Trump is President of the United States of America in large measure because the Democratic Party abandoned the working class -- and Trump was able to bring them into his camp.

Well, that's my take-away from this provocative and insightful book. Every Republican in Washington, indeed every Democrat, should read it for that revelation alone.  

Now, this isn't the first time such a thing has happened. It happened with President Reagan. It happened with President Nixon. There are just not enough members of all the country clubs and Episcopalian congregations in the country to elect a President. But each time the working class was admitted, the GOP Establishment pushed them out soon afterwards. 

Republicans would take their votes, but they didn't want to rub shoulders with their social inferiors--or more importantly, give them their fair share of the spoils. 

Well, in my opinion, that's not exactly a winning formula in electoral politics, and Buckley has figured it out. 

All the GOP needs to do to continue winning is to keep working-class voters in the Republican Big Tent. That means delivering "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs..." as we say in Washington. It means delivering higher wages. It means not demeaning or insulting voters by calling them names. And it means listening to their concerns.

Bottom line: President Trump didn't win because of Russian interference--he won because of the American working class.

Not really very hard to understand the winning formula, so simple that even a Canadian can perceive it, perhaps due to his outsider's eye. 

However, as  the rabid response of "Never-Trumpers," Libertarians, and GOP Establishment types to the victory of Donald J. Trump in 2016 indicates,  the incorporation of the American working class into the Republican Party may be easier said than done.

So, even having been persuaded by F.H. Buckley's masterful political analysis in THE REPUBLICAN WORKERS PARTY, it may still be appropriate to recall Bettye Davis' advice in All About Eve: 

"Fasten your seatbelts..."