n October 30, 2008, Senator Barack Obama declared, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” As CRB readers well know, the progressive project to “fundamentally transform” America did not begin with Obama but in the late 19th century with Woodrow Wilson and his cohorts, who explicitly rejected the American Founding’s core principles.
At the dawn of the modern conservative movement, in the early days at National Review, senior editor Willmoore Kendall described the ongoing progressive-liberal crusade to transform America as the “Liberal Revolution:” It is, he said, “one that means business: its purpose is to establish in America, in Machiavelli’s phrase, new modes and orders.”
What the progressives seek to “transform” is the American regime or what we used to proudly call “The American way of life.” I am using the term “regime” in the Aristotelian and Tocquevillian sense, encompassing both the nation’s type of government and its civic culture, or the institutions (such as the separation of powers, federalism) and mores (the character of citizenship, civic morality) that constitute an entire way of life.
University of Virginia political scientist James Ceaser has examined the crucial issues of how regimes are maintained, restored, transmitted, and/or transformed. He makes a clear distinction between policy issues (bread and butter concerns over taxes and the like) and regime issues that affect a people’s way of life. But, he also notes, policy issues can either support regime transmission to future generations, or conversely regime transformation into a different way of life.
Identity Politics Equals Regime Transformation
Let us recall the success of the progressive assault on the traditional American regime leading into the 2016 election. Professor John Marini recently detailed progressives’ transformation of the American regime. First, they transformed key institutions, shifting power from the sovereignty of the people, exercised through our constitutional framework of separation of powers and federalism, to a centralized administrative state, run by a transnational managerial elite exercising executive, legislative, and judicial powers without the consent of the people or its elected representatives. Second, for contemporary progressives, moral authority or civic morality resides not in the individual American citizen and his voluntary associations, but in racial-ethnic-gender group identity. “Public figures have come to be judged not as morally culpable individuals,” he writes, “but by the moral standing established by their group identity.”
If “first-stage” progressivism (Wilson-Franklin Roosevelt-Lyndon Johnson) focused on changing institutions and establishing the administrative state, “second-stage” progressivism targeted mores, upending the traditional American understanding of a regime built on the civic morality and republican patriotism. Our traditional regime envisions American citizens working and debating through their democratic institutions and voluntary associations for the common good. Instead, the contemporary progressive world view, which has established ideological hegemony among our elites, bases its civic morality on the centrality of ascribed group identity and group consciousness, particularly race, ethnicity, and gender, thereby prioritizing group interests.
The new, transformed civic morality of the progressive narrative also divides Americans between dominant or “oppressor” groups—whites, males, native-born, Christians, heterosexuals—and victim or “oppressed” groups—racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities; women; LGBT individuals, and “undocumented” immigrants. Progressive politics doesn’t seek the national interest or the common good. Its purpose is to promote “marginalized” or “oppressed” groups against “dominant” or “oppressor” groups.
“This strategy,” Marini notes “requires the systematic mobilization of animosity.” Progressive identity politics, camouflaged under the rubric of “diversity,” is “a new kind of civil religion,” he says. Its enforcement takes the form of political correctness, carried out by the administrative state and private sector bureaucrats and activists within those institutions of a politicized civil society progressives have captured, which include the media, universities, schools, major corporations, and even apparently professional athletic associations.
In tandem with an identity politics that emphasizes the subnational, the progressive project places global concerns above national interests. Hence, the oft repeated slogan “global problems require global solutions.” The national progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt has been replaced by transnational progressivism. The American Bar Association, for example, favors surrendering American sovereignty to supranational authority in an array of UN treaties on the environment, women and children’s rights, and the laws of war. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton stated that it “is a great regret” to her that the United States has not joined the International Criminal Court (ICC). This supranational court claims the authority to try American soldiers and statesmen for “war crimes” (as defined by the ICC, not the U.S. Constitution) without the consent of American people or the protections of our Bill of Rights and Constitution.
Clinton’s Immigration Policy
Policy issues directly affect the irrepressible conflict between the Founders’ American regime and progressives’ identity politics. What is “publicly presented as mere policy change,” in Ceaser’s words, is sometimes designed to change “the form of government” and, thus, “is in reality a regime question.” He also contends that institutional change often results in changing a people’s mores.
The 2016 Democratic platform approved by the convention that nominated Hillary Clinton for president, uses the language of cultural Marxism to decry “the enduring scourge of systemic racism,” and promises to “dismantle the structures…of political and social inequity” in America. In her first debate against Republican nominee Donald Trump, Clinton also declared that America must address “systemic racism.” Obviously, if, America is defined by institutional, systemic racism, the regime itself is illegitimate and must be transformed. Indeed, the Democratic platform declares “We will push for societal transformation.”
Clinton has made her immigration policy clear, in speeches, policy statements, and the Democratic platform. She promises to continue and even expand Obama’s policies: less enforcement, executive amnesties, more refugees from the Middle East, and increased immigration of those with little education and few skills. Clinton opposes almost all serious border control measures to halt illegal immigration, offering no support for electronic verification (E-Verify) to check legal eligibility for employment; enhanced border security; or efforts to crack down on visa overstays.
In fact, Clinton promises in the first 100 days of her presidency to seek legislation providing work permits to millions of people who crossed our borders illegally or came here on a visa but stayed after it expired. If Congress declines to pass amnesty legislation, she will issue executives orders and bypass Congress. Not only does Clinton support Obama executive actions with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), she would unilaterally grant amnesty to a new category of millions of illegal immigrants, parents of the “Dreamers,” the DACA recipients.
Today, there are more than 300 “sanctuary cities” in the United States harboring illegal alien criminals and refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement. Yet the Clinton campaign team declared that sanctuary cities “help further public safety.” The BBC reported that Hillary Clinton favored increasing Syrian Muslim refugees from the current 10,000 mark to 65,000, an increase of 550%. Congressional testimony from the FBI has stated that vetting all Syrian refugees for potential security problems would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, because of a lack of data.
On September 1, 2016, Obama’s Justice Department announced a formal agreement with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work together to prevent discrimination against any worker on the grounds of citizenship, national origin, or immigration status. By highlighting immigration status, illegal as well as legal, this Memorandum of Understanding clearly contradicts efforts to prevent illegal immigrants from working in the U.S. Since Hillary Clinton has made it clear that she will continue and expand Obama’s immigration policy, there is little doubt that her administration would continue this partnership with Mexico to oppose employment “discrimination” against illegal immigrants. Not surprisingly, the adjective “illegal” never modifies “immigration” in the 2016 Democratic platform.
In addition, Clinton promised to work for “comprehensive immigration reform,” which would first grant amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants and then increase massive low-skilled legal immigration. Based on the “Gang of Eight” bill’s numbers, this would mean about 33 million more green card holders over the next ten years, the great majority of whom possess few skills and don’t speak English.
Clinton’s “Integration” Policy Means Assimilation Into an Identity Politics Regime
The Obama administration has developed a coherent “integration” strategy that complements its immigration policy. The combination is a powerful weapon to achieve Obama’s overarching goal of fundamental transformation. Hillary Clinton has explicitly endorsed Obamas’ integration policy, whose details are spelled out in a report by the White House Task Force on New Americans, and a joint policy statement by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Education (ED).
The pillars of the Obama-Clinton integration project are for immigrants to maintain both their native language and culture. For the first time in American history, the federal government emphasizes these objectives over learning English and cultural assimilation. Indeed, the policy documents specifically criticize immigrant parents who want their children to assimilate as quickly as possible, warning against the possibility that such children “may inadvertently lose their home language.” In other words, Obama and Clinton believe that learning English and assimilating to American culture should not be “prioritized.”
One resource document aimed at integrating Somali Muslims recommended that cultural practices such as refusing to shake hands with people of the opposite sex should be “respected.” It warned that participation in an American daycare center “could cause a loss of Somali language and culture.” Instead of promoting assimilation, the document declared that Somali-American children should be “encouraged to use their home language’ and that Somali culture be maintained. The developers of this policy appear to be oblivious to the widely known assimilation problems of the Somali Muslim refugee community in Minnesota.
Cecilia Munoz, co-director of the White House Task Force on New Americans and a former top official of the National Council of La Raza, declared that “integration” would be facilitated by the “convening power of the federal government.” At the center of the project working to “integrate” immigrants are major Saul Alinsky-type radical leftist organizations, including: CASA de Maryland, headed by a former pro-Sandinista activist; and the National Partnership for New Americans, headed by Josh Hoyt, a close associate of Barrack Obama during his community organizing days in Illinois. One of these groups’ major activities is to persuade immigrants to become citizens as quickly as possible. At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been accused by Republican Senators Grassley and Johnson, of Iowa and Wisconsin, respectively, of rushing applications for citizenship. The senators pointed to an instance when close to 2,000 illegal immigrants from “special-interest countries” scheduled for deportation under another identity were instead granted citizenship because of mistakes within the system.
Clearly, Clinton’s proposed policies on immigration and integration result are more than the sum of their parts. They constitute much more than “mere policy change,” in Ceaser’s words, but instead effect regime change.
Trump’s Immigration-Assimilation Policy
In speeches, on his website, and in the Republican platform, Donald Trump’s immigration policy is strikingly different from Clinton’s. He proposes to: reject all forms of amnesty; build a wall along the southern border; implement nation-wide use of E-Verify to help employers determine who is in the country illegally; complete the biometric entry-exit visa tracking system; give local authorities the power to hold people who have over-stayed visas until federal officials arrive; defund sanctuary cities; deport illegal aliens who are gang members; and detain illegal aliens crossing the border. Instead of Obama’s catch-and-release policy, Trump favors the mandatory return of all criminal aliens (the Obama administration released 36,000 criminal aliens in 2013 alone), an increase in standards and vetting for admission of refugees, and tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
The Republican platform declares, “Our highest priority … must be to secure our borders and all ports of entry and to enforce our immigration laws.” Not surprisingly, perhaps, for first time in American history the unions representing U.S. Border Patrol and ICE agents have both endorsed a presidential candidate: Donald Trump.
Trump has continually emphasized an “Americans First” immigration policy. The Republican platform states, “Our immigration system must protect American working families and their wages for citizens and legal immigrants alike, in a way that will improve the economy…. America’s immigration policy must serve the national interests of the United States, and the interests of American workers must be protected over the claims of foreign nationals seeking the same jobs.”
In a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump promoted what could be called patriotic assimilation:
Pride in our institutions, our history and our values should be taught by parents and teachers, and impressed upon all who join our society. Assimilation is not an act of hostility, but an expression of compassion. Our system of government, and our American culture, is the best in the world and will produce the best outcomes for all who adopt it. This approach will not only make us safer, but bring us closer together as a country. Renewing this spirit of Americanism will help heal the divisions in our country. It will do so by emphasizing what we have in common—not what pulls us apart.
“Never Trump” conservatives would no doubt counter that Trump, given his past history, cannot be trusted to follow through on his promises, including those about immigration and assimilation. The best indicator of future action is the old mantra from the Reagan era: “personnel is policy.” The top individuals working on immigration-assimilation policy for Trump are extremely knowledgeable immigration hawks. They’re drawn from: congressional staffs, like those of Senator Jeff Sessions and the immigration committees of the Congress; think tanks and policy shops; and informed activists who have been in the thick of immigration policy for more than 20 years. Donald Trump often says he will hire the best people for particular issues. In the case of immigration, he has done just that.
Regime Transformation Beyond Immigration and Assimilation.
Obama’s regime transformation goes well beyond immigration and non-assimilation. The administration has consistently issued rules and regulations that have rewritten the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). My Hudson Institute colleague Jeffrey Anderson, recently commenting on a Washington Post story, warned that Obama is “poised to take unilateral executive action—in direct defiance of legislation he signed—to bail out insurance companies.” In other words, in violation of the separation of powers at the heart of our constitutional framework, Obama is prepared to spend money “that Congress not only hasn’t appropriated but has said shall not be spent.”
In a National Review essay Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru describe how the Obama administration advanced its environmental and energy agenda by ignoring Congress. “Without congressional authorization, the administration has used the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], the supposedly independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other agencies to pressure energy producers, the auto industry, power utilities and others to toe the president’s preferred line.” In 2014, for example, the EPA moved “to require the states to regulate electricity production and consumption to meet a set of arbitrary carbon dioxide-emission targets—under threat of restricting their residents’ access to electricity.” These unilateral executive actions flagrantly violated both the letter and spirit of the separation of powers.
Stanley Kurtz and Jeremy Carl of the Ethics and Public Policy and Hoover Institution, respectively, have detailed the revolutionary nature of the Obama administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation. On the surface, this HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) policy forces suburbs with no record of discrimination to build public housing for ethnic and racial minorities. But, Kurtz explains, the Obama housing regulation does much more: “The new HUD rule is really about changing the way Americans live. It is part of a broader suite of initiatives designed to block suburban development, press Americans into hyper-dense cities, and force us out of our cars.” AFFH, Kurtz continues, “spells the end of local government as we know it, and the creation of a federally controlled ‘regional system’ in its place.”
Carl describes Obama’s housing initiative (in which, once again, federal “law” is created by executive regulation, not legislation) as “turning the federal government into a national zoning board, forcing high density housing on unwilling cities and towns.” Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee failed to cut off funds implementing the HUD regulation because eight Republican Senators voted with the Democrats.
The 2016 Election is About Regime Transformation, Not Mere Policy Differences
The Never Trump conservatives’ core argument is that with two deeply flawed presidential nominees, America’s best hope is to shore up a conservative Congress this year, and came back with a strong candidate in 2020. As Jonah Goldberg put it, “America can survive four years of Hillary Clinton, though those four years will be very bad.”
Levin and Ponnuru, however, point out that it is precisely because Hillary Clinton is a “mainstream contemporary liberal” that “she poses a serious danger to American democracy.” They note correctly, “The mainstream contemporary liberalism she represents so well is itself a threat to constitutional government in America. And it is a more concrete and specific threat than Trump.” The assault on American constitutional democracy from the Obama administration with the full support of Hillary Clinton and the Progressive Left has weakened the institutional sphere of the American regime in the past eight years: the administrative state exercises executive, judicial and legislative powers; the presidency overreaches; and judicial lawlessness usurps legislative functions. They lament that all these assaults weaken Congress, our government’s most democratic branch.
For all that, however, Levin and Ponnuru’s conclusion is ambiguous: “So what is a constitutionalist to do? In this year’s presidential election, there are no good options.” They recommend that we focus on “restoring Congressional government” as the least bad option. “However constitutionalists end up voting for president, it is imperative that they elect a Congress” that “will rein in the administrative state…[and] bring our constitutional system back towards its proper balance.”
To their credit, it is clear from their rhetoric about Hillary being a “danger to democracy” that Levin and Ponnuru recognize that the 2016 election is about the future of our way of life, not just policy. It is also clear from their previous writing that both recognize that the progressive assault on the American regime is also an attack on republican citizenship, our civic morality, and our constitutional framework.
Nevertheless, their response is inadequate. The voters thought they had elected a Congress to reign in the administrative state in November 2014. But as we know, the Republican Congress did not stop executive overreach on immigration, Obamacare, housing, the Iran deal, energy and the EPA, transgender bathrooms, and even on giving away the internet to what Fortune magazine calls a “global community of stakeholders” not bound by the First Amendment.
Constitutional scholar Hadley Arkes, writing in a symposium of “Scholars and Writers for Trump,” pointed out that the Obama-Clinton agenda can only be stopped by a Republican Congress and a Republican President working together. “And Donald Trump is the only one who can be right now that Republican President.” Arkes allows that after the big Goldwater defeat of 1964 the Republican party came back strong to win in 1968:
But in those intervening four years the regime itself was changed. The Great Society extended and confirmed the reach of federal authority until it covered the hiring and firing in corporations and even small private colleges. And it extended federal controls over local education. We are faced now with a comparable threat to change the regime yet again.
So what will happen in four or eight years of a Hillary Clinton presidency? Why would a Republican Congress use the power of the purse any more vigorously in and after 2017 than the Republican Congress of 2015-16, which has been explicitly focused on “getting things done” and determined to avoid government shut-downs?
Four Years of Hillary
Hillary Clinton will consolidate and expand Obama’s “fundamental transformation.” America will see both an increase in power for the administrative state, which will breech the parchment barriers of the separation of powers and federalism, and the relentless advance of identity politics, which undermines our traditional civic morality centered on the concept of individual American citizenship.
Since we are perhaps the most litigious society in the world, any Clinton-Trump political comparison must consider how each will treat the interpretation and enforcement of the law. Besides appointments to a sharply divided Supreme Court, the next president will appoint scores of lower court judges and U.S. attorneys, the Attorney General, and lawyers in the Justice Department and throughout the federal agencies. There is every reason to expect that the Clinton Legal Behemoth will push the legal envelope with a vengeance on: Obamacare; climate change; green energy; guns; coal; international law; housing; education; immigration; gender, racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities; and, of course, expanding the administrative state’s scope and power to the detriment of the separation of powers and federalism. One could well imagine a legal Blitzkrieg against political critics like Dinesh D’Souza, sheriffs who enforce immigration law like Joe Arpaio, climate skeptics, conservative activists, fossil-fuel industry executives, Christians, purveyors of alleged “hate speech,” and perceived enemies of social justice and ethnic/gender equity.
Hadley Arkes writes that Obama “has made a nullity of Congress and the separation of powers. And an administration of the Left will only confirm and entrench these changes.” Under Hillary Clinton, “We can expect a campaign to force religious schools to incorporate abortion in their medical plans and have outreach to LGBT groups. And we can expect new judges in the lower courts to support this war on the religious.”
Clinton’s immigration-integration-diversity agenda will create a new regime and, in many ways, a new people. She has promised even less enforcement than Obama, both at the border and in the interior. Word would get out, certainly in Central America, that any youth able to reach the US border can claim refugee status and then eventually bring his parents. Clinton has also promised to exceed Obama actions on executive amnesty. If she is temporarily blocked by the courts she will, after enough appointments, ultimately get the judges who will approve her actions.
In tandem with Clinton’s promise to increase Syrian refugees by over 500%, the Obama administration recently announced that it seeks to add a new ethnic-racial category to the U.S. Census: “Middle Eastern and North African people.” Doing so would provide “protected status” to many American Muslims, giving them affirmative action preferences and the legal privileges of a “marginalized” group. According to data from DHS there has been a 29% increase under Obama in green cards given to immigrants from Muslim majority nations.
Clinton has promised new “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation in her first 100 days. Republican Congressional leaders eager to “get things done,” not “appear obstructionist”, and “get immigration off the table” might well facilitate this goal by permitting a “conscience vote” in the House, where a unanimous Democratic minority will find enough Republicans to form a majority, and consideration under simple regular order in the Senate. A bill close to the Gang of Eight legislation would mean issuing about 13 million new green cards in Hillary’s first term to overwhelmingly low-skilled, non-English speaking immigrants … who will, of course, vote Democratic. This, in turn, will only accelerate ongoing family chain migration and continuing illegal immigration. As in the Gang of Eight bill, all enforcement provisions will be subject to waivers by Clinton’s DHS Secretary. (There were over 1,000 such waivers in the original Gang of Eight bill.) The massive importation of millions of new low-skilled, non-English speaking, immigrants, of course, cannot be reversed in the election of 2020.
Yet some Republicans seem more concerned about Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct decades ago than Clinton’s endorsement of “open borders” in a speech to foreign bankers on May 16, 2013. Most importantly, this deliberate policy of open borders and mass immigration will be accompanied by an official anti-assimilation policy as the new federal government “integration” strategy, inaugurated by Obama, urges new immigrants to maintain their native languages and cultures, instead of prioritizing English and assimilating into the American way of life.
Hillary has wholeheartedly embraced this “integration” strategy. The new immigrants are arriving in a country in which our elites (Angelo Codevilla’s “ruling class”) emphasize racial, ethnic, and gender identity rather than common citizenship. Newcomers will be integrated into distinct ethnic-linguistic “communities” in America, not in the American national community. In other words, Hillary’s ascendancy means the newcomers will be assimilated into diversity, identity politics, systemic racism, and political correctness. The transformation of the traditional American regime will be complete.
Hillary Clinton’s election will render Obama’s fundamental transformation irreversible. At this moment in American history, only Trump-Pence offers an alternative to regime transformation.