Politics & Policy

Hanging On an American Moment

(Fedor Kozyr/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
Responding to the new organization’s defenders — and to my critics.

I wrote the other day about the new group American Moment. Saurabh Sharma and Nick Solheim, two of the group’s founders, responded in The American Mind to defend their organization. Mark Krikorian did so at National Review, as have some some significant names elsewhere.

One rejoinder to me is that I shouldn’t denigrate a group with a simple goal of filling staffing needs for Republican politicians. Sharma and Solheim say that,

in any presidential administration, there are thousands of appointed positions across the federal bureaucracy. . . . Even if the Administrative State were decimated tomorrow, restoring the constitutional order of the founders’ design, the majority of presidentially-appointed positions would remain intact. The question then remains: who will fill these thousands of positions?

Mark says that I deprecate their “goal of cultivating young cadres to staff the offices of populist conservative congressmen (and, hopefully, a future Republican administration) . . .” I am not sure, though, where anybody got the impression that I do not understand the staffing needs of Republican politicians. I obviously don’t oppose training conservatives for government per se. But I am skeptical of an organization that repeats so much populist tripe and so carelessly condemns others on the right.

I noted in my original critique that some of the ideas American Moment wants to advance “don’t seem that objectionable.” Indeed, my views on immigration are hawkish (as were National Review’s long before Donald Trump decided to embrace the cause), and informed by, among others, Mark Krikorian. As for foreign policy, I am skeptical of our open-ended military presence in Iraq and elsewhere, particularly as the relationship of such engagements to our constitutional order and national interest remains ambiguous at best. I do generally support free trade, but I am troubled by the decline of the heartland communities near and dear to my Ohio-native heart, and increasingly unsettled by the realities of commerce with a nation that remains totalitarian.

I came to these views without the help of American Moment, but with the help of . . . National Review. According to American Moment, this is impossible. Instead of accepting that conservatism is a disparate coalition in which relative tendencies and elements wax and wane, American Moment reflexively and unfairly disdains all of what already exists. It seems like less a healthy attempt to diagnose what ails the Right than a desire to run down anyone who isn’t in lockstep with what American Moment hopes will be the new order.

Responding to my observation that American Moment launched its foray against the “establishment” with a cocktail party, Sharma and Solheim neglect to mention one of their party’s most noteworthy attendees (Marjorie Taylor Green) and then meekly submit that,

if that means throwing an occasional social event for them, so be it. The biggest problem with Georgetown cocktail parties has never been the cocktail parties themselves. It’s the indifference and unwillingness of most attendees to take responsibility for how they have failed the American nation.

Prohibition speakeasies required a special password for entry. To get into an American Moment cocktail party, I suppose, Washington denizens must confess how they have failed America.

Mark Krikorian believes that American Moment has learned correctly one of the lessons of the Trump years, which was an absence of a ready source of ideologically compatible staff. Be that as it may, it’s still clear to me that, as I wrote,

if there is to be a new status quo, it will have to sort out Trump’s vices from his virtues; any attempt at “realignment” that ignores the basic lesson of learning from mistakes — and you don’t have to be a rabid Never Trumper (which I am not) to believe there were some — will have difficulty succeeding.

The American Moment conception of the Trump administration doesn’t come close to truly grappling with these mistakes.

Meanwhile, Matt Peterson of the Claremont Institute, whose publication The American Mind hosted Sharma and Solheim’s response, excoriates me by alleging that “National Review still sees itself as the policeman of the ‘movement’ and ATTACKS young conservatives actually doing and building,” and that “NR routinely attacks the actual energy on the Right, as if it senses where new and promising signs of life exist and seeks to destroy root them out and destroy them.”

Of course, I don’t felt threatened — “terrified by a few 21-year olds who just had a launch party,” as one of my other critics put it — by “young conservatives actually doing and building.” I am not opposed to new organizations per se; the Academic Freedom Alliance, to note just one, seems promising. I criticized American Moment for its thoughtlessness and willingness to embrace those within the Right who are fringy and irresponsible, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene. (Claremonsters might call declining to mention this, as well as the group’s notably light emphasis on the Founding, a “conspicuous silence.”)

Finally, a word about the reasonable enough point by Mark Krikorian that I was “hasty and uncharitable” in my critique. Yes, perhaps the fullness of time will confound my initial assessment, but considered and charitable assessments are hardly the hallmarks of America Moment’s criticisms of conservatives.

If the headline of Sharma and Solheim’s response to me implies that I am one of the “failed elites” that they intend to “replace” — well, give it a try, but I don’t intend to go anywhere. But they would be fully within their rights not to invite me to one of their cocktail parties.


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