Leaders must know when to adapt. This is where self-awareness plays a big part. In a word, they need balance. Extreme is almost never the answer.
Matthew Continetti February 23, 4: Jeff, who died suddenly two weeks ago at age 74, was a Vietnam veteran who shocked the political class when he won the Republican Senate nomination in New Jersey in and again in He lost both races, but those setbacks freed him for other pursuits.
He was a longtime conservative who worked on the campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Jack Kemp, and who co-founded successful economic and political consulting firms as well as the nonprofit American Principles Project. Jeff was a serious and unconventional thinker. His writing is one of the best guides to the jagged, surprising, and befuddling American scene.
For decades, in conversations with peers, journalists, and young people, Jeff offered his analysis and insight free of charge. Now that he's gone, I've been wondering how he might interpret the present moment, from President Trump to immigration to the Parkland shooting.
It's a lot to wrap your head around. The key to Jeff's thought was his understanding of populism. They examine what makes America so different from the rest of the world. They illuminate aspects of American history and politics that most opinion-makers overlook. Bell has given us a way of seeing.
The Founders separated the United States from Great Britain by asserting the equal dignity of human beings. Their claim was not based on the movement of History or on the barrel of a gun. It was supported by the laws of nature and, most important, of "Nature's God. With the coming of American democracy, the struggle occurred not only between elites but also between elites and the populace.
Jeff identified a tradition of public resistance to the encroaching control of elites that runs from Thomas Jefferson through Andrew Jackson and Ronald Reagan and beyond. We'll get to you-know-who in a second. Elitism is optimism about the decision-making ability of one or more elites, acting on behalf of other people.
Historians write as if populism began with the Agrarians and with William Jennings Bryan. That is a mistake because, even as he self-consciously adopted the populist label, Bryan modified and repudiated elements of what had been the populist program. In Jeff's telling, Jefferson, Jackson, Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, and even Woodrow Wilson stood for popular property rights including bargain-basement land sales and the unlimited right of anyone to incorporate; a strict separation of government from business interests; strong opposition to manipulative central banking and support for the international gold standard and free trade.
Bryan's inflationary economics and overwhelmingly rural following gave the Republican party of William McKinley the opportunity to back hard money and open its membership to social groups it had previously excluded. The strain of populism Bell championed, which believed in the capacity of individuals to manage their own affairs, split into different strands.
Franklin Roosevelt combined elite confidence in technocratic management with parts of Bryan's economic program and with Wilson's free trade and global democracy. It was such a powerful synthesis that, when Richard Nixon won inhe was the first non-general to be elected president on a Republican ticket in 40 years.
Bell's populism returned when the cultural consensus that had backed up the New Deal fell apart. Previously, elites and the public more or less agreed on which public evils should be combated. That changed in the s when elite and popular opinion diverged.
Elites and the public not only disagreed over how to fight crime, rioting, dependency, illegitimacy, drug abuse, pornography, and campus unrest. They disagreed over whether any of these things were issues at all. Social populism, then, was optimism about the ability of ordinary people to establish and enforce communal norms.
After all, Jeff wrote, "The setting of community standards is at the root of all significant issues, since a public evil cannot even be defined, much less combated, unless the community has a previously established standard in the area of the life in question.
As Reagan wrote in The Creative Society"Government must help, surely, government often must show the way, and government may coordinate.
But government must not supersede the will of the people or the responsibilities of the people. The function of government is not to confer happiness but to give men the opportunity to work out happiness for themselves.1 Donald Trump and the Future of U.S. Leadership: Some Observations on International Order, East Asia, and the Korean Peninsula Jonathan D.
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