Socially Liberal, Fiscally Liberal
In some peculiar remarks at the Rose Garden this month, the president meditated on the role of the divine in quashing a possible federal indictment. Referring to the two-year investigation into his campaign’s communications with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, Trump reflected, “People say, ‘How do you get through that whole stuff? How do you go through those witch hunts and everything else?’”
Joseph Stiglitz, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and a noted left-wing economist, came out last week in support of what he calls “progressive capitalism.” His announcement — in an incisive essay in the New York Times — puts him squarely alongside most of the 2020 Democratic presidential field in defending the market economy, long our most prized national possession.
In the book, we learn that it was by splitting our focus between internal and external objectives. The internal focus of American power, Rana argues, was always on securing economic independence and political equality for members of the civic community — an idea that he calls “freedom as self-rule.” It was our common commitment to this kind of liberty that produced some of the most radical political innovations in our history. The founders, for instance, weren’t just rejecting monarchy. They were declaring a right to equal membership in the political community — a right that, in theory, applied universally. This idea, Rana shows, would prove bountiful later on. Before the close of the frontier in 1890, non-citizen immigrants could vote in over 20 states and receive land grants from the federal government — both ideas almost unthinkable in President Donald Trump’s America.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is right to call President Donald J. Trump’s proposed border wall a “medieval vanity project.” The kind of sovereignty encoded in such a display is centuries out of date — as the president himself has acknowledged in comparisons to China’s Great Wall. For liberals though, the pressing question cannot just be about the president’s medievalism. A robust criticism must move to understand modern sovereignty as a different kind of project — with unique promises and dangers.
One of my favorite scenes in American cinema is from Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It,” when the young Norman Maclean comes before his father’s desk with a handwritten essay, ready for revisions. Maclean’s father — a Presbyterian preacher and strict grammarian — parses through the essay, marking it up until the original penmanship is nearly illegible. He then returns it to his son, who runs off to edit some more.