The Corner

Bundy Ranch and the Political Powerlessness of Rural America

Like Rich, I deeply respect the rule of law. As an attorney who practices in federal courts across the nation, I respect the rulings of those courts (indeed, much of my career is spent securing rulings from federal courts to protect individual liberties) and — having reviewed the pleadings in Bundy’s case — I do not fault the courts’ orders. John Hinderaker is right, “Legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

But, as Hinderaker notes, that’s not the end of the story. I’d urge you to read Hinderaker’s entire analysis and don’t want to repeat it here. Instead, let me back up a bit and place the Bundy controversy in the larger context of America’s urban/rural divide and the resulting polarization of the increasing powerlessness of rural America.

On March 21, the Wall Street Journal published a prescient piece highlighting geography rather than ideology as a key driver in America’s growing partisan divisions. Yes, there are key differences in ideology, but those ideological divisions are nurtured and cultivated according to where we live. When I lived in Midtown, Manhattan, or Center City, Philadelphia, the culture was dramatically different from our current home base in Maury County, Tennessee. And the differences were not just confined to culture, but also included perceived political and economic interests. 

While rural America literally sustains life for urban America, many urbanites dislike large-scale farming (this parody is worth seeing), would like to see the rest of the country essentially transformed into a nature preserve, and argue that to the extent land is “used,” it should be used for selectively-defined “renewable” purposes, like solar energy or wind farms. The result — when urban regions become dominant — has been amply chronicled by Victor Davis Hanson and many others: rural regions increasingly serve urban ones and do so under comprehensive urban regulatory schemes that disrupt lives, destroy livelihoods, and lead to widespread frustration and despair.

And all of it is legal.

As government grows ever-larger, majority rule becomes more consequential for minority populations. The regulatory state grows, and rural Americans are left with little recourse. The courts won’t overturn regulatory actions absent a clearly-identified liberty interest (with the law granting wide discretion to federal agencies), in many states legislatures are dominated by urban voting blocs, and — particularly in the West — massive federal ownership of land means the voice of the local farmer or landowner is diluted into meaninglessness within the larger national debate. 

With few options left within conventional politics, rural Americans are beginning to contemplate more dramatic measures, such as the state secession movements building in Colorado, Maryland, California, and elsewhere. The more viable state secession movements aim to limit urban control by literally removing rural counties from their states and forming new states around geographic regions of common interests.

But until there’s a long-term solution, we may very well see more Bundy Ranch moments, where individual Americans (and their allies) simply refuse to consent to laws that destroy their way of life for the sake of regulations that provide no perceivable benefit to others. (I can only imagine my frustration if I had to end a more-than-century-old family lifestyle, arguably for the sake of a turtle that no one will see). 

The long-term solution is simple to conceptualize but difficult to accomplish: de-escalate the stakes of our political disputes by limiting the power of government over American lives. Americans have always had profound differences, and we live together with those differences when victory for one side doesn’t mean inflicting real harm on the losers. But when victory for one side means the end of a way of life for the losers, instability can and will result. 

I hope and pray that the dangerous standoff at Bundy Ranch was an aberration and not a harbinger, but until we can limit government’s power, I fear that respect for law will increasingly give way to contempt for the lawmakers.

(Final note: Even if one sympathizes with Bundy, nothing — absolutely nothing — justifies this utterly reprehensible nonsense. Deliberately placing women in harm’s way for propaganda value is a Taliban tactic, and I do not use that term lightly).

<!–

//–>

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More
World

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More
Culture

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More
White House

For Democrats, the Party’s Over

If the Democrats are really tempted by impeachment, bring it on. Since the day after the 2016 election they have been threatening this, placing their chips on the Russian-collusion fantasy and then on the phantasmagoric charade of obstruction of justice. The attorney general accurately gave the ingredients of the ... Read More
U.S.

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More