How Generations of Presidents (Including Reagan) Wrecked Our Country

For over fifty years, it has been a recurring promise of conservative candidates running for election that they will stand up for our constitutional rights and support the appointment of judges and Supreme Court justices who will uphold the Constitution.

Yet time after time, the left seems to win both ideological and legal battles on monumental issues such as abortion, marriage, gun control, immigration, racial preferences for minorities, and the ever-expanding size and scope of government — no matter what the text of the Constitution actually says.

In The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties, (2020; ISBN 978-1-5011-0689-7) author Christopher Caldwell advances the thesis that the Constitution of 1788 has been effectively nullified by our elites and supplanted with a "new constitution" that originated in, and reflects the values of, the "Civil Rights Era" of the 1960s.  Though the civil rights movement began as a reformist movement within the old order, it evolved into a "revolution" that has nearly triumphed over the polity created in the 18th century:

The changes of the 1960s, with civil rights at their core, were not just a major new element in the Constitution.  They were a rival constitution, with which the original one was frequently incompatible[.] ... Much of what we have called "polarization" or "incivility" in recent years is something more grave — it is the disagreement over which of the two constitutions shall prevail: the de jure constitution of 1788 ... with centuries of American culture behind it ... or the de facto constitution of 1964, which lacks this traditional kind of legitimacy but commands the near-unanimous endorsement of judicial elites and civic educators and the passionate allegiance of those who received it as liberation.

Caldwell argues that the new "de facto constitution" has been used to supersede the Bill of Rights and the black-letter law of the traditional Constitution.  Forced busing and forced integration violated the First Amendment right to freedom of association, as did affirmative action for blacks and women.  Racial and sex-based preferences offend the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  These policies were enacted despite opposition from most Americans.  Speech codes and political correctness designed to cater to the sensitivities of minorities infringe on the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  The "right" to an abortion, which existed nowhere in the traditional Constitution and was opposed by a majority of the people (with limited exceptions), was essentially created by the Supreme Court.

(It should be noted that not all of those "judicial elites" were far-left Democrats.  Indeed, a fair amount of damage was done by Republicans.  Harry Blackmun, author of Roe v. Wade, was appointed by Nixon; Anthony Kennedy, appointed by Reagan, wrote the majority opinion in the marriage-redefining case Obergefell v. Hodges; Bush appointee John Roberts voted to uphold Obamacare; and Ford appointee John Paul Stevens wrote a virulent dissent in District of Columbia v. Heller, denying that the Second Amendment gave any right whatsoever to anyone not enrolled in the National Guard).

While most white Americans outside the Deep South supported fairness for blacks at the time the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Caldwell believes that the act created a bureaucratic and judicial Frankenstein's monster that well intentioned whites never anticipated.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964

empowered the federal government to reform and abolish certain institutions that stood in the way of racial equality and to establish new ones. By ... subjecting to bureaucratic scrutiny any company or institution that received federal money ... by laying out hiring practices from all companies with more than 15 employees ... by creating ... the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with the power to file lawsuits, conduct investigations, and order redress ... the act emboldened and incentivized bureaucrats, lawyers, intellectuals, and political agitators to become the "eyes and ears," and even the foot soldiers, of civil rights enforcement.

Over time, more of the country's institutions were brought under the act's scrutiny. Eventually all of them were. The grounds for finding someone guilty of discrimination expanded[.] ...

Civil rights transformed the country not just constitutionally, but also culturally and demographically. In ways few people anticipated, it became the mightiest instrument of domestic enforcement the country had ever seen.

But the new civil rights bureaucracy, and the Great Society entitlements it began to confer on minorities and "oppressed" groups in terms of jobs, educations, welfare, and housing, cost money — money that most Americans, including many who supported civil rights, were unwilling or unable to pay.  By the 1980s, a backlash was developing among white working-class voters to the cost and the intrusiveness of the new bureaucracy.

Caldwell reserves special criticism for Ronald Reagan, who figured out a middle ground between traditional Americans and the newly entitled.  Reagan gave the white working class tax cuts, and he gave corporations tax cuts, cheap immigrant labor, and global trade incentives, while paying the civil rights/entitlement constituency off with debt:

Reaganomics was just a name for governing under a merciless contradiction that no one could admit was there: Civil rights was important enough that people could not be asked to wait for it, but unpopular enough that people could not be asked to pay for it.

Reagan permitted Americans to live under two social orders, two constitutional orders, at the same time. There was a pre-Great Society one and a post-Great Society one. Paying for both soon got expensive[.] ...

Reagan saved the Great Society the same way that Franklin Roosevelt is credited ... with having "saved capitalism." That is, he tamed ... its very worst excesses and found the resources to protect his own very angry voters from consequences they would otherwise have found intolerable.

But all Reagan did was kick the can down the road — not resolve the tension between traditional America and the newly empowered "civil rights" constituency.  So did his successors, in both parties.  In 1987, the national debt was roughly $1 trillion, or 34% of GDP; today it is nearing $30 trillion and 130% of GDP.

Caldwell believes that the upshot of Reagan's failure to undo the Great Society was the empowerment of minorities, women, immigrants, and wealthy globalist corporate elites (who turned out the be "woke" leftists in contrast with the conservative, buttoned-down corporate culture of the past).  The losers were the white, working-class, traditional Americans who still believed in the old Constitution while under relentless wage pressure from immigration, affirmative action, and the offshoring of jobs — and were relentlessly mocked and sneered at by the media, politicians, and corporate oligarchs.

Caldwell ends the book by inferring that the growing backlash among disaffected traditional Americans, the accumulating national debt, and the cluelessness and haughty arrogance of the post-1960s ruling class could produce a political reaction in the 2016 election.  However, he does not discuss or address the Trump presidency.

If Caldwell's thesis can be criticized, it is for understating his case — things have proven to be worse than he described.

In hindsight, the Trump presidency exposed the fact that the elites and the Deep State are now completely untethered by the original Constitution of limited and enumerated powers and by the Bill of Rights.  They have demonstrated that they are willing to use the FBI to surveil presidential candidate and to fabricate a false narrative for the purposes of impeaching him.  They have demonstrated that they will side with illegal aliens over American citizens, and that they will freely let black BLM and communist Antifa agitators run riot in the streets while ruthlessly prosecuting and suppressing as "domestic terrorists" patriotic and nationalist groups who caused a ruckus at the Capitol.  They have demonstrated that they are willing to turn a blind eye to vicious and violent attacks by blacks against whites, but drop the hammer of "hate crimes" on any "deplorable" white who has the slightest dispute with a black, or on any cop making a traffic stop of a black criminal.  They have demonstrated that they will continue to expand so-called "civil rights" to include all manner of insanity and freakishness, such as "transgenderism."

Our elites are willing to make explicit racial appeals to minorities and immigrants in order to create a one-party dictatorship for the foreseeable future, while mercilessly demeaning whites and stripping the public sphere of symbols of our past such as statues of Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln.  Our black U.N. ambassador recently denounced America's founding documents as "white supremacist."  They have demonstrated that they are willing to completely ignore the black-letter law of the Second Amendment and ignore the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment with "red flag" laws.  Colleges and corporations have openly and brazenly implemented racial and sex-based quotas in the name of "equity."  Bureaucrats have prosecuted Christian bakers of wedding cakes and used COVID as an excuse to shutter churches and gun shops.  They will prosecute any business-owner for refusing to serve or hire gays or blacks or women, while applauding tech companies that censor and deplatform conservatives, and universities that refuse to hire Republicans or conservatives.  They have openly stated their willingness to pack the Supreme Court with leftist ideologues, to flood the country with third-world immigrants, and to change voter laws to ensure that they get what they want — forever.

Caldwell does not propose a solution to this situation.  But recognizing the problem is a necessary first step in finding one.  "Civil rights" has been used as an effective battering ram against conservatism and against the Constitution of the 1780s; conservatives can no longer allow themselves to be browbeaten by "civil rights" activists.  The rigged election of 2020 and the double-impeachment of Trump should have awakened conservatives to the fact that merely voting Republican and asserting your "constitutional rights" is no longer enough.  But it may be too late.

In 2014, Gov. Cuomo sneered that conservatives have no place in the state of New York.  Increasingly, our elites have adopted the attitude that conservatives have no place anywhere in the country, and they are willing to act on it.

Image: kolyaeg via Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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