Everyday I listen to angry conservative commentators and ordinary citizens refer to the America of 2020 as “life in clown world.” Beginning in February when the world experienced the COVID-19 outbreak, when the George Floyd riots which raged for five months and still flare up periodically, as peaceful protests by anti-lockdown citizens forced onto unemployment by blue state governors grow increasingly antagonistic with ‘militarized police’, and the recent disturbing rise in the rage of the MAGA movement due to vast election fraud in six key swing states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada) that show signs of descending into violence as far left-wing militias mobilize to attack, America’s descent into nihilism that had already proven problematic became further punctuated by Democrat governors and mayors breaking their own decrees. For many, watching Nancy Pelosi dine on $25 gallon tubs of ice cream while ‘zooming’ with late night TV show host James Corden from her kitchen in San Francisco proved too much in light of frequently blocking additional stimulus paycheck legislation before the House so she can fund her liberal wish list of K-Street priorities and illegal immigrants at the expense of American taxpayers.
Indeed, these are unprecedented times. The America of 2020 is far more divided than at the height of the antebellum period because the present dynamic doesn’t merely debate the moral question over whether slavery should be legal, but whether the metaphysical ties binding the American people as one nation since 1776 should be ‘canceled’, or if those bonds of nationhood and identity ever actually existed. From the establishment of the Republic in 1789 to the attack on Fort Sumter by the South Carolina militia in April 1861 which divided one nation into two, the conflict between the ‘free’ states of the North versus the pro-slavery South reflected organized regional actors to settle the score over state’s rights and federal authority because both gripped tightly to their separate interpretations of the same Constitution to which the delegates of the original thirteen states signed on September 16, 1787. The divide in particular focused on the constitutionality of the Three-Fifth’s Compromise in Article I, Section 2 (“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons”), a tenuous peace maintained by the Missouri Compromise in 1820 until the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in May 1864. It was finally abolished by the 14th Amendment on July 8, 1868, three years following the Civil War.
In his commentary in the 1798 Kentucky Resolution, then-Vice President Thomas Jefferson wrote in defense of states’ rights through nullification of unconstitutional acts by the federal government:
“[T]he several states who formed that instrument [the Constitution], being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a nullification, by those [states], of all unauthorized acts….is the rightful remedy.” —Thomas Jefferson
But 62 years later in his Cooper Union address, Abraham Lincoln crafted a different argument:
“You (pro-slavery Democrats) say you are conservative — eminently conservative — while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;” while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new.” —Abraham Lincoln
Needless to say, both the North and the South embraced the Constitution, but interpretations on American politics and the spirit of the laws varied depending on the state. Consistent with the principle of subsidiarity, most Americans identified primarily as citizens of their respective states than as the sum of the parts forming the whole of America until the rise of the progressive movement after 1876―where the culture of the republic’s first century shifted to a national identity as more power was subsumed from the states by unelected bureaucracies in Washington, D.C.―under conditions previous generations would’ve considered ‘unconstitutional’.
By the time of his 1964 speech titled ‘A Time for Choosing’, Hollywood activist Ronald Reagan reflected on the rise of concerning leftward trends prevalent today: Sen. William Fulbright’s (D-AR) reference to President Lyndon B. Johnson as America’s “moral teacher and our leader… hobbled in his task by the restrictions of power imposed on him by this antiquated document (the Constitution)” because he knew what “is best” for the American people, or when Sen. Frank Clark (D-PA) identified the goal of liberalism as “meeting the material needs of the masses through the full power of centralized government”―the very thing, remarked Reagan, “the Founding Fathers sought to minimize” because “They knew that governments don’t control things. A government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.”
Twenty-five years later in his Farewell Address to the Nation, the outgoing President Reagan articulated his vision of an America defined by “freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise,” of how “freedom is special and rare” and, furthermore, ‘fragile’, always needing protection. He presided over a resurgent America recovered from the chaotic 1960’s and malaise of the 1970’s. Gone seemingly were the days liberals attempted to blackpill the American people into accepting that “The cold war will end through our acceptance of a not undemocratic socialism,” or how “The profit motive has become outmoded. It must be replaced by the incentives of the welfare state.” On the eve of the 1990’s, President Reagan noted that though America’s spirit was indeed back, it wasn’t ‘reinstitutionalized’, that while ‘This national feeling… the resurgence of national pride… called the new patriotism” was good, it wouldn’t count for much nor would it last unless it could be grounded in ‘thoughtfulness and knowledge’. “Younger parents,” he said, “(weren’t) sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.”
Fast-forward again to 2020, and ask how have Reagan’s points aged since 1964. In its “Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism, Communism, and Collectivism”, The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundationfound that a concerning amount of millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z-ers (aka. ‘Zoomers’, or anyone born after 1996) are in support of eliminating capitalism in favor of socialism. The survey of 2,100 Americans, age 16 and older, found that 26% of responders support the gradual elimination of the capitalist system in favor of a more socialist system, especially among younger generations (31% of Gen Z and 35% of millennials). Most striking was during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Zoomers in support of Marxism in the past year skyrocketed from 6% in 2019 to 30% this year, that 18% of Zoomers believe communism is a fairer system than capitalism, that 39% of all Americans were likely to support a Democratic Socialist politician, and of those, the Zoomers were way more open to doing so at 51%. Only 63% of Zoomers and millennials say the Declaration of Independence better guarantees freedom and equality over The Communist Manifesto. Most Zoomers, at 51%, believe that the United States is a racist nation with a long history of discrimination, while only 44% of Zoomers say the American flag represents freedom.
After 230 years of America’s unprecedented historical resume, the secular reinterpretation of the wording in our Constitution has transformed it into a living document in which the rule of law is defenseless against the discriminating tastes of foreign cultures and renegade ideologies peddled, ironically, by the coastal elites in the private sector. The new tug of war between America the idea and America’s political reality has split into two competing narratives and as a result our liberal democratic order faces an existential crisis whose guiltiest parties are gullible voters who, for generations, elected individuals with unrealistic utopian visions which appealed to their fantasies. Unless the America of the present rediscovers the task charged to government within the Preamble of our Constitution―“We the People of the United States, in order form a more perfect union”―the future will be absurd as a clown show.
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About the Author:
Jonathan P. Henderson (B.A. in History, Minor in Pol. Sci.; Univ. of Tennessee, 2012) is a resident of Knoxville, TN. He is Owner/Administrator/Editor-in-Chief of The Conservative Historical Review and a blogger/columnist for PolitiChicks and Intellectual Conservative.