Conservative Institution-Building Threatened if Dems Win
So much hangs in the balance with this upcoming election. One crucial area of concern is the threat to recent alternate institution–building by conservatives, traditionalists, and right-libertarians.
Clearly, many longstanding institutions, such as universities, no longer serve our needs; rather, they often undermine our visions of the good life, liberty, and the well ordered state. If leftists win in November, they will assuredly not just prevent further institution-building on the right, but also dismantle whatever conservatives have already built. If Trump wins, we get four more years to create, build, and prepare against whatever further erosion of our rights to free association and free speech the left has in store for us.
Progress in institution-building has already been going on for several decades. In the political sphere, hundreds of think-tanks, pressure groups, and citizens' organizations have appeared with conservative or libertarian perspectives.
One area in which conservatives have been building alternative institutions for some time is education. Charter schools that permit greater leeway than ordinary public schools and school choice policies that promote attendance at private schools through taxpayer-subsidized vouchers have been making small inroads into the mainstream for some time. According to the Center for Education Reform, students attending charter schools increased nearly sevenfold from 2000 to 2015, from approximately 400,000 to over 2.7 million. Furthermore, all 50 states now have some form of school choice, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Homeschooling may not be an institution per se, but it is advancing toward such status, building infrastructures, creating a culture, and developing networks. The number of homeschooled students doubled between 1999 and 2012. And the number of private schools with a "classical learning" orientation is exploding. For example, Thales Academy, an organization based in North Carolina, started its first campus in 2007 and now has eight, with three more planned to open in the next two years (and for the first time, two of them will be in states other than North Carolina).
In higher education, a few new colleges have been founded, but a more common innovation is the emergence of independent academic centers that are separately funded by private donors and are independent of departmental supervision. Many of them have conservative or right-libertarian tendencies. And the National Association of Scholars formed in 1987 to give conservative academics an alternative professional association to the increasingly leftist American Association of University Professors.
The internet was a great step forward for conservatism and aligned perspectives, allowing for the proliferation of ideas locked out of the mainstream media. The Internet has enabled conservatives to create their own information network of websites, social media, and podcasts. Without it, there is no conservative populism: no Tea Party, no Trump presidency. The heightened "cancel culture" of late has resulted in the creation of new platforms, such as Gab and Parler as alternatives to Twitter.
Furthermore, as the senior citizens organization American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) grew increasingly liberal, several conservative alternatives have been founded, including the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) and the 60 Plus Association.
Despite those advances, the movement is still fragile. All existing progress is threatened should the Democrats retake national control. There is no longer any question that they are not liberal, but radical; the Bernie Sanders wing of the party is now in control. Democrats consistently have given their seal of approval to street rioters intent on tearing down society to its core and remaking it according to a vision that is antithetical to our core values: at one Senate hearing, eight Democrat Senators refused to condemn Antifa.
Old-time machine Democrats have been tripping over themselves to appeal to the extreme left. Joe Biden's campaign platform and advisers could just as easily belong to radical Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In fact, AOC is his adviser on environmental matters.
Leftist changes are coming at a dizzying pace, from so many different directions, in ways great and small. A recent incident in Montgomery County, Maryland shows what is likely to happen should Democrats retake power. Officials there ordered private schools to remain closed due to the COVID-19 virus while allowing public schools to reopen for the new school year. Fortunately, the Republican governor stopped the order, but the intent to force students out of the independent private schools and into the Democrat-controlled public system was obvious. To the left, such failures are viewed as mere temporary setbacks; they are on the "right side of history," and progress can only move in one direction.
Much of the battle over institutions is about the control of information. The mainstream media no longer make even a slight pretense of being an accurate source of news. Recent attempts to control information by the media, by social network companies, and by government itself seem like something out of a dystopian novel or dissident literature from behind the Iron Curtain — or, frighteningly, suggest an alignment with the Chinese Communist Party.
The left is already exerting great influence through corporate interference in politics and information. For instance, high tech giant Google used its monopoly power over internet revenue to force the website The Federalist to eliminate its comments section (thus inhibiting the free exchange of ideas).
In a country run by Democrats, this "cancel culture" will only get worse. They have made it clear this summer that dissent is impermissible. Socialism or communism, whichever label you want to give the redistributive social justice now openly favored by the left, is not just an economic ideology. It goes beyond mere compliance and demands submission. We all know how past examples have turned out — with shocking body counts of recalcitrants and innocents alike.
And they have many weapons at their disposal to end conservative institution-building: regulation, taxation, isolation, the power of the government purse strings, direct control over health care and education, and executive orders — just for starters. Democrats have shown little concern about civil law and the Constitution, ordering police to stand down in the midst of violent law-breaking and giving voter rights to illegal aliens. It is possible, even likely, that with a few strokes of the pen: AMAC — gone; the National Association of Scholars — gone; Thales Academy — gone.
We have been forced into this position by a feckless Republican Party that refuses to push back against the relentless pressure of the left. Hopefully, enough voters recognize the enormousness of what is at stake, and we will avoid handing the keys to the empire to the barbarians. If we do retain the White House and (at least) the Senate, then let the institution-building begin with all urgency. And we should use any and all advantages to limit their ability to incapacitate our attempts to create our own organizations in the future.
Jay Schalin is the director of policy analysis for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.