This book has two objectives: 1) to explain why the American Right seems to have an increasingly difficult time with basic principles of governance required for a free society; and 2) to make a case for government that is consistent with the American ideal of liberty, our modern institutions, and the key values of both political parties.
Donald Trump’s 2016 nomination for president brings the first question to the foreground of American debate (as I thought it might when I began writing this book a year ago). It’s not hard to spot Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and disregard for many of the principles on which this country was founded. But these difficulties with political freedom have been long-simmering on the American Right, and extend beyond Trump. For example, among leading Republican primary candidates in 2016, we often saw:
- A lack of concern for civil liberties and the rule of law
- Unserious budget plans that point to significant deficit spending
- A lack of concern about melding religion and politics
- An intense focus on the personality of leadership
- Hostility to science, the press, and the empirical world
To be clear, there are no angels in politics on the Left or the Right. That said, many people are mystified by the direction of the American Right. I felt compelled to write this book because recent political events have borne out a longstanding thesis of mine: Misguided idealism on the American Right is undermining its best elements and empowering its worst.
My goal is to offer a substantive yet readable book that meets both objectives above—a book that explains this misguided idealism and constructively points to a different direction forward. Elections matter. Politics, ideas, and ideals matter. If the upcoming U.S. election were only a referendum on whether or not to condone torture of terror suspects, or only a referendum on whether an American-born judge should be deemed unfit because of his “heritage,” then I would hope for the nation to make the correct decision.
But even if those questions are decided correctly, we still have a long way to go to govern in a way that meets the potential of our ideals. Though this book focuses on the American Right, my hope is that it is received in the spirit in which it was written—an earnest effort to make sense of recent political developments by considering principles of political freedom common to us all.