The American Spirit of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is the best example of the confluence between America’s pioneering spirit and our national penchant for thankfulness.


Thanksgiving is perhaps the quintessential American holiday; we have feasting, we have football, we have family and friends, and we have gratitude. The last line item on that list may seem odd to associate with ‘Americanness’ as much as the others, but it fits in just fine. In fact, it is deeply embedded in American history, dating back to the colonial era, before the founding of the United States. The strong focus on thankfulness – to the point of dedicating a whole holiday to it – is peculiarly American, but can feel at odds with the classic stereotype of Americans as self-absorbed and entitled. In this case, the stereotype is dead wrong; gratitude is an American tradition that dovetails perfectly with our historic national culture of self-reliance, risk-seeking, and innovation.

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Whistling Past the Graveyard

The Biden Administration is getting played by Xi Jinping and flirting with national disaster in its geopolitical handling of China.


Earlier this week, President Joe Biden met with China’s dictator Xi Jinping for nearly 3 hours in Bali, Indonesia at the G20 Summit of nations. The meeting has been described by analysts as a boon for future cooperation between the nations and their leaders on major transnational issues and a positive step away from tension and towards engagement. According to the Biden administration, the discussion cemented the idea on both sides of the Pacific that conflict is not coming and that a new Cold War is indeed not in the cards. The Biden administration is touting this as a genuine diplomatic success and a move towards stability in East Asia, and has praised President Biden’s warm personal relationship with Xi. From reading major news reports of this meeting, you’d think that the US and China are on a glide path towards better relations in the short and long term, under the joint leadership of Xi and Biden – a big step towards mutual security after the chaos of the Trump administration.

Unfortunately for us, that framing is inaccurate in the extreme. This meeting makes us no safer, gives us no positive assurances from China, and betrays the Biden administration’s terribly naïve instincts on foreign affairs.

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The Rational Policy Podcast Episode 6 – 2022 Midterm Recap

The 2022 midterm elections were quite eventful, seeing mixed results in the Senate, House, and gubernatorial elections. Listen in to this episode of the show to hear the latest updates, analysis of the various races, and overall takeaways from the election. Will the Republicans dump Trump? Will the Democrats double down on Biden? Will American voters ever have candidates they want to vote for, instead of merely voting against the other guy? Tune in for these answers and more.

https://anchor.fm/rationalpolicy/episodes/Episode-6—2022-Midterm-Recap-e1qlu3p


The Millenarian Midterm: https://rationalpolicy.com/2022/11/03/the-millenarian-midterm/

The King Over the Water: https://rationalpolicy.com/2022/10/20/the-king-over-the-water/

The Millenarian Midterm

American politics is replete with apocalyptic and millenarian rhetoric; this has only ramped up in the leadup to the 2022 midterm election. Thankfully, those who feel this way are dead wrong.


Norman Cohn published his excellent academic tome on European religious apocalypticism, The Pursuit of the Millennium, in 1957. It dealt primarily with groups and events which occurred nearly a thousand years earlier, yet it is just as relevant to modern politics as it is to Medieval heresy. Cohn describes an era that was rapidly changing socially, culturally, economically, and politically; he writes of charismatic prophets, millenarian movements, and revolutionary vanguards. In the Middle Ages in Europe, these changes and the various group responses to them revolved heavily around religion – the center of life for the people of the time. This period was full of religious sects and ideologies which believed in the immediate coming of the end of the world and the replacement of the current society with a new world order[1] – either the Kingdom of God, or a version of Hell on Earth. These millenarian movements were very Manichaean in their outlook; they saw only good and evil, with no area in between. Of course, the members of the in-group were good and fought for Christ, while their persecutors were evil servants of Satan or the Antichrist.

Given this eternal struggle for the future of existence – a future that would, again, be decided imminently – accepted social morality and religious doctrine were quick casualties to the necessity of winning the battle for the soul of the world. One such sect, the adherents of the Free Spirit movement, were spread across Europe over five centuries and, according to Cohn, represented “the only thoroughly revolutionary social doctrine that existed” at the time.[2] Their brand of radical individual salvation led to “an affirmation of freedom so reckless and unqualified that it amounted to a total denial of every kind of restraint and limitation;”[3] everything could be theologically justified. This attitude was embraced by many millenarian groups during the Middle Ages, often leading them into violence, revolt, drastic social change, harsh treatment of dissent, and – eventually – death at the hands of the Church or State. All of this stemmed from the idea that the end was nigh, and true believers had to act accordingly to achieve salvation and defeat the foe which sought to destroy the world God built for His children.

If you’ve been paying attention to politics over the past several years, you may find these ideas and tropes painfully familiar. Our partisan politics – the closest thing modern secular society has to Medieval religion – has been riven by Manichaean thinking, revolutionary eschatology, radical ideologies, and apocalyptic warnings. People on both right and left see their ideological rivals as seriously attempting to destroy the country – if not the entirety of civilization – and claim the current moment as the precipice of either total victory or total defeat for their cause. These stakes are viewed as permanent, with no path back for the losers in the new world created by and for the victors. As such, any actions taken to avert this catastrophe are justified and justifiable. “By any means necessary” is not an uncommon adage to hear in radical political circles. This is all millenarian thinking. And as the 2022 midterms approach, this millenarianism has ramped up to 11.

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The King Over the Water

On the folly of yoking a political movement to a lost cause.


Political parties and movements have often been captured by strong personalities and wild overpromises. One is reminded in this regard of the rise and dominance of the Jacobins of the French Revolution, led by the irrepressible Maximilien Robespierre and driven by promises of utopia and crusades against an ever-changing roster of ideological foes. To borrow a phrase from the counterrevolutionary thinker Jacques Mallet du Pan, the Revolution often ‘devoured its own children’ on its continuing quest to root out wrongthink and redress perceived injustices. The Jacobin Terror destroyed the progressive dreams of its supporters in a blood-fueled spasm of violence, turning the French Revolution in a decidedly more moderate direction that ended with the eventual restoration of the very monarchy it overthrew. Processes like these have recurred again and again throughout history, usually ending in a total rout for groups like the Jacobins; it is quite a bit rarer for the defeated party to hang around afterwards, still siphoning loyalty and attention from its backers.

We are seeing a version of this phenomenon playing itself out in real time in American right-wing politics. As the consequential 2022 midterm elections approach and chatter begins around the 2024 Presidential election (I’m sorry, but yes, it’s already here.), Republicans and conservatives are faced with a stark choice: return to the MAGA fold and embrace Donald Trump, or move forward with new blood and ideological competition. The answer they choose will determine whether the party capitalizes on an historic opportunity to dominate American politics and advance conservative ideas or fails and is forced deeper into the political and ideological wilderness during a crucial period for the nation. As noted, this is not a new occurrence in political history, although it is uncommon. Focusing on past grievances and trying to turn back the political clock generally isn’t a winning strategy, especially when it is paired with overpromises and personality cults. Still, these lost causes have drawn support time and time again. One of the prime historic examples of the power of such a combination to ruin political fortunes and movements comes from 17th and 18th century Britain: the failure of the Jacobites.[1]

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