It’s We, The People

Robert Kagan recently published a lengthy excerpt from his recent book  “Rebellion: How Antiliberalism is Tearing America Apart — Again” in the Washington Post.

In it, he dismissed a variety of explanations for the MAGA embrace of Trump–discarding arguments that the movement is a result of rapidly changing technology, widening inequality, unsuccessful foreign policies or unrest on university campuses. Instead, he pinned it on failures of We the People.

It is what the Founders worried about and Abraham Lincoln warned about: a decline in what they called public virtue. They feared it would be hard to sustain popular support for the revolutionary liberal principles of the Declaration of Independence, and they worried that the virtuous love of liberty and equality would in time give way to narrow, selfish interest. Although James Madison and his colleagues hoped to establish a government on the solid foundation of self-interest, even Madison acknowledged that no government by the people could be sustained if the people themselves did not have sufficient dedication to the liberal ideals of the Declaration. The people had to love liberty, not just for themselves but as an abstract ideal for all humans.

Kagan worries that too many of us no longer care about preserving the system the Founders bequeathed us–a system based on the principles of universal equality and natural rights. Preserving that system, he says, “plain and simple, is what this election is about.”

“A republic if you can keep it,” Benjamin Franklin allegedly said of the government created by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. This is the year we may choose not to keep it.

Kagan follows that sentence with an extended recap of what most Americans know–about the intent of the January 6th insurrection, about Trump’s candid announcements of his goals, about the unconscionable failure of the Senate to use impeachment, the mechanism provided by the Founders, to negate the threat of further insurrection. Then he gets to the crux of his argument.

So, why will so many vote for him anyway? For a significant segment of the Republican electorate, the white-hot core of the Trump movement, it is because they want to see the system overthrown. This should not come as a shock, for it is not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, it is as old as the republic. Historians have written about the “liberal tradition” in America, but there has from the beginning also been an anti-liberal tradition: large numbers of Americans determined to preserve preliberal traditions, hierarchies and beliefs against the secular liberal principles of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. The Founders based the republic on a radical set of principles and assertions about government: that all human beings were created equal in their possession of certain “natural rights” that government was bound to respect and to safeguard. These rights did not derive from religious belief but were “self-evident.” They were not granted by the Christian God, by the crown or even by the Constitution. They were inherent in what it meant to be human.

That paragraph introduced a lengthy historical discussion in which Kagan reminded readers that MAGA is really nothing new. Throughout our history, significant numbers of Americans have rejected the classical liberal foundations of the nation’s constituent documents–and especially the notion of civic equality.

For two centuries, many White Americans have felt under siege by the Founders’ liberalism. They have been defeated in war and suppressed by threats of force, but more than that, they have been continually oppressed by a system designed by the Founders to preserve and strengthen liberalism against competing beliefs and hierarchies. Since World War II, the courts and the political system have pursued the Founders’ liberal goals with greater and greater fidelity, ending official segregation, driving religion from public schools, recognizing and defending the rights of women and minorities hitherto deprived of their “natural rights” because of religious, racial and ethnic discrimination. The hegemony of liberalism has expanded, just as Lincoln hoped it would, “constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of colors everywhere.” Anti-liberal political scientist Patrick Deneen calls it “liberal totalitarianism”….

Kagan reminds us that the fury on the Right against “wokeness” is nothing new. “Anti-liberal movements in America, whether in defense of the White race or Christianity, and more often both together, have always claimed to be suffering under the expanding hegemony of liberalism.”

There is much more, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

Bottom line: MAGA’s Christian Nationalism is nothing new. In November, We the People will either defend our “natural rights” or we will lose them.


  1. I’m wondering what natural rights are? Or founding fathers did not believe all human life was equal. The natives in this country, the slaves in this country, the women in this country, the Muslims who were known as abrahamists and bought or traded as slaves, and anyone else except white wealthy males for that matter. All were considered possessions, not equals! Everything that was written, everything that defines this country and its constitution, was based on the only humans with authority, “white Protestant landowners!”

    Everything was property, except they themselves. They could buy IE purchase what
    they desired, they could do with their purchases, what they desired, and everyone else, including even the Jewish congregations, we’re on a lower level of existence. Historically with the Jewish congregations, this started way back when, when they were forced to live in ghettos. Think everyone knows that history! Christians were not allowed to handle money hence, the money changers which were of the Jewish faith.

    So really, there was no liberal equality for all, but, American conservatism controlled government. The hedgemonic agrarian society (manifest destiny) envisioned by many of the founders, were to have been based on slavery IE forced labor! Even the churches couldn’t agree on who exactly was human or what level of humanity individuals belong to.

    So yeah, if you want to have something better, you better rewrite the rules. Because those who wrote the rules were not fair or believed in equality.

  2. If you doubt the basis of this argument please read the 2025 Project and the more recent “Time” interview with the fearless leader of the radical right.

    What I have a hard time with is that, if the Founding Fathers had such fears, why didn’t they put something in the Constitution? Why not make it explicitly clear that Presidents who fail to do their duty, must be removed from office and prohibited from holding any office in the future. I’m sorry but the Impeachment clause doesn’t do it. What are “High crimes and misdemeanors” anyway? In fact, nobody knows.

    Don’t believe it can’t happen here. We’re watching it now. TFG needs not just to be beaten, he has to be crushed. He and his minions won’t accept any other result.

  3. John Sorg, What????
    Do you know nothing of world history before the establishment of the United States? Before the writing of the Declaration of Independence? Before that first guttural scream of defiance? Apparently not! That Declaration was simply the first utterance of freedom and equality. It was more aspirational than a mirror of the times. It was hope for those who wrote it, and a map to where those first citizens and their decedents might take it all.
    And here is the kicker… it ain’t done yet!

  4. Watched Kelly Anne Conway spew forth the MAGA platform non-stop on Bill Maher the other night, and am very fearful that what she had to say is so easily digested and regurgitated by many (hmmm, how many?). I always wondered how George could live with someone who’s opinion of trump was so diametrically opposed to his own truths (they have now divorced). Anyway, we’d better believe it could happen, that we could lose this ongoing experiment in democracy, so precious, hopefully not fragile enough for that to happen. And yes, most of the founding documents were aspirational, as the fathers were far from perfect in that respect, but oh my, were those aspirations spot on! OK, so they could have made some things clearer but the Constitution can be amended yet again, and again, as we approach those goals. Right now everyone has to vote. Vote vote vote. Overcome gerrymandering and efforts at suppression as much as is humanly possible. But please….VOTE. I’m convinced there are more of us in support of those lofty aspirations than not.

  5. As an academic, look no further than the Postmodern philosophy. It created selfies, selfish relativism, and the vagaries of the “Me Too” movement. What we lost is an acceptance of ethical behavior, an altruistic approach to society, looking to history for guidance, and – on a much lower level – how people drive on American highways. I call it the “center of the universe” syndrome.

  6. Here again – the word liberal has shades of gray. Ergo, the founders envisioned a liberal democracy. MAGA: We hate liberals!

  7. The Founders may have claimed it was a constitutional republic, but as John Sorg eluded to, they formed an oligarchic hegemony. We claim to be a democracy that could end in November, but we’ve never been a democracy. The Founders were absolutely terrified of a democracy because what would happen if we the people decided to cancel the oligarchy?

    Well, we never did cancel the oligarchy. Republican Thomas Massie loosely defined the oligarchy yesterday on a X post and elaborated who runs Washington in his comments. He gets it!

    The monied interests own Washington and many of them align with their right-wing ideology. There was a perceived balance up through the 70s, but since then both political parties have moved to the right with cover by our media entities.

    Trump has monied interests behind him as well. Trump just wants to be the King or CEO of the USA. As we saw in his first presidency, he was absolutely inept at building a team. He’s not a leader because he’s narcissistic. He’ll only surround himself with “yes men and yes women.” He is totally inconsistent and makes no plans other than cancelling what he perceives to be Obama or Biden ideas. The Intel community kept info from him because he wouldn’t listen to them. “He knew better than generals and the Intel chiefs.”

    Trump looks like he might back into the presidency because Biden apparently wants to lose it. Due to the internet, we’ve become a global community where everyone is connected. We don’t have to listen to the oligarchy-owned media propaganda anymore. We have access to the internet. The younger generations thrive in this environment while the oligarchy wants to restrict this access. With VPN and encryption, every effort to censor users is met with counter measures.

    For example, there was a post yesterday from the NYPD Counterterrorism Department run by Rebecca Weiner, a professor at Columbia University (Mossad agent?) where they complained that the student protesters had a history book on terrorism and listed the items found on the students. NYPD believed the items to be nefarious. I did a Google search on, “What should I bring to a protest.” There were literally pages of articles describing the exact items the NYPD found. The students used the internet as a shopping guide. Imagine that!

    As for the book, Columbia has entire programs on terrorism and counterterrorism. Incredible!

    If Trump wins, our oligarchy will have its first autocratic leader and he’ll use his executive and judicial powers to solidify his authority. His actions will be met with mass resistance all over the country and more censorship with less rights will be the result.

  8. Anita – WRITE ON!

    Furthermore, the Founders may have been rich and privileged, but they boldly (and in “print”), put their lives, legacy and fortunes on the line. When have you seen the likes of Bill Gates, Barack Obama and their like do the same? Yes, they “virtue posture”, but then simply continue, not too much more than “as is”. It takes the likes of the Lynn Chaneys…to act like the Founders. SAD.

  9. The right worships Donald Trump for exactly the same reason the left despises him.

    He lives lawlessly.

    The right wants to live without laws that inhibit behavior (like two year olds do).

    The left respects the idea that is the Constitution. Equal treatment under the law.

  10. Todd. Gee, that last paragraph sounds like you want Biden to win. Do you?

  11. I don’t give a hoot what Bill Gates, Obama and their like does. I care about my own actions and the actions of my fellow citizens right here in Indianapolis.
    Want a better country? Look in the mirror at who you can influence.

  12. I grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana. When has Indiana as a State – championed “Liberalism”? When I was a teenager, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the Patronage laws – of Indiana – where for example those working for the License Branch – had mandatory payroll deductions – for the Political Party – the Governor belonged to and all jobs were lost when the party changed. Howard Zinn? Power (wealth) + Fear(s) – are a POTENT “weapon”. A majority of our citizenry are largely – passive/ not caring – Your Professional Sports Teams or Taylor Swift or similar are their “concerns”. The Right is an effective coalition of: Wealth + a “Me” Ideology – which exploits the Non-Wealthy. The Democrats – often spout – “facts” which aren’t “relevant” – to those living in Fear. We fund The Military + The Police + now Ukraine and Israel. What is “Education”? The Left is hapless. We are divided!

  13. the NoDaks here never once mentioned freedom,devised by the forefathers. its a constant liberals who are at fault. etc,etc,pow. their silver spoon of their rights never seems to compare between what they have now and where it will go. no thought of the demise of their freedoms if the rightwing trumpers take over. trumps muster of this group who only see their so called freedoms being swept away, never think it takes the whole to keep it together. I begin to wonder if kristi nome really opened the can of worms on how the country will be treated if trump wins. will she shoot those who dont submit to her whatevers.
    recent voting by the tribes of sodak booted her worthless butt of their,,,land.
    theres are small buisness breaks that will dry up for DBE and small minority owned buisnesses. i imagine davis-bacon will become history. seeing how trump sees a prevailing wages to build a infrastructure that pads his buddies ass, wants that profit in their pockets..those small buisness needs over a rampant push by the big corps will seriously crush small buisnesses. and i find alot of these small buisness owners still wanting to vote for trump.

  14. The question that prompted the right to depart from the liberal democracy of our Constitution is pretty simple. They believe, like Muslims do, that certain men can live better if uninhibited by the needs of others.

    Thus equal treatment under the law restrains these special humans from their natural role of directing the lives of others.

    I believe that our old word for such people was “criminal”.

    Trump as an above the law monarch makes perfect sense from this perspective.

  15. Teresa, history is a stubborn truth teller.

    The Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights (1791).

    If you’re going to revise history, then, know history. Historically, humanity was aware there was unequal treatment. Men of goodwill wrote many documents of which, United States was basically last on the list until 1948!

    The universal declaration of human Rights (1948) concocted by the United Nations, which has been useless as any sort of human rights bulwark.

    I would suggest you look up “Manifest Destiny” and “American Romanticism.” Unfortunately, France beat America to the punch on human rights. The next big thing coming is to take more rights away rather than add more! Those who are wealthy and in charge regardless of whatever they claim they’re leanings are, will never relinquish their wealth or power. You have to have the majority on the bottom to be an elite power broker. If there was any desire to float all boats, it would have been done a long time ago.

    Those who claim Christianity, seem to forget what Christ said, “You must love your neighbor as yourself!” On the whole, it doesn’t happen! If it does, it’s on an individual basis, not governmental action which seems to fail constantly.

    Read some, Alexis Henri C M Clerel Tocqueville, his fascination with American democracy and the burgeoning hypocrisy is quite fascinating.

  16. No system of government is perfect. We don’t even agree on what “perfect” is. The Founders were products of the Florentine Enlightenment while many if not most of them held slaves, which enriched such Founders with super cheap labor but which was in turn at odds with the liberalizing Enlightenment.

    It is easy to call modern day attention to centuries old argumentive philosophies because we know how they worked out, but we live today and should focus our arguments on today’s realities (which we also don’t agree on what they are). A Holy Roman Empire run by popes is difficult to contrast with today’s oligarchies, whether the latter are Wall Street or Putin or Xi-inspired.

    I personally have chosen to believe that ancient history through Adam Smith and continuing are economic in nature, all with covers of flags, royalty nonsense, and religion along with the likes of Jefferson Davis and Donald Trump in maintaining the economic dictatorship over those who create their wealth, i. e., those who work for them.

    So I’m a Marxist? No. Marx had the right diagnosis but the wrong medicine. I still believe a regulated form of capitalism can work, one in which a more fair and equitable share of the wealth to labor is defined by political policy, though I now greatly fear the effects of AI on political policy, which will soon create a crisis but is a topic for another commentary.

  17. Capitalism? Capitalism has deep pockets, it also has very active lobbyists! The desire to line one’s pockets rather than do the right thing as much more alluring.

    That being said, Anita makes a very good point, actually several! And I have to agree with Lester on that one. Anita is absolutely correct.

  18. Ethics? “I’m because we are”? Hell, “Center of the universe!” has a much more emotional ring to it! And MAGA is running on emotions, base ones, at that.
    Trump has always been about being, knowing, that he is the center of the universe, if not, in some sense the entire universe itself. Solipsism? Trumpism? And this dirtbag’s approach appealed to those in the one political party that he knew it would, and the strength of that appeal, brought the politicos in that party to fear not supporting him. But, of course, that party had become the party of “No ethics, sorry, they are just annoyances,” to paraphrase their St. Reagan, well before his “coming out,” as it were.
    Experiments can be tricky things. Vote your asses off!!

  19. Anita Kirchen. I respectfully disagree that the things you say we have lost are, actually, lost. They are under attack. They are challenged. They have always been, and probably always will be, under attack and challenged. That was the main point of Sheila’s essay. But lost? No. Every day I see examples of ethical behavior, altruism and references to lessons from history. And, in regard to driving, perhaps you are overlooking the fact that the road maniacs are are a small minority of motorists. If a majority of people were driving that way there would soon be nobody left to drive. The maniacs just get more of our attention, as do the political maniacs.

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