Transitioning From ‘The Great Society’ to ‘America First’ — and How It Could Be Done

Astute students of history will wisely pay heed to the lessons from China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution. There are, to be sure, merits behind the very public gestures offered by former Gov. John Kasich of Ohio to create a new department for the regulation and sharing of America’s culture, both abroad and at home, during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Mao Zedong Cultural Revolution Poster
Propaganda poster from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in the People’s Republic of China, in veneration of founder and supreme leader, Mao Zedong. The caption reads, “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is the great school of Mao Zedong Thought.”

At one point, I opposed the idea on grounds of connecting the idea at some point to Chairman Mao Zedong’s decision to engage in human history’s most extraordinarily concentrated, chaotic, and catastrophic experiment in social engineering from 1966 to his death in 1976. Now, however, I no longer do. Because for one thing, the Republican Party now stands united against the People’s Republic of China for the very reasons we must do this — a proposition to which it is totally committed for the 21st century, unlike the willful breathtaking myopia of the past four administrations. Whether a new cabinet position to regulate the preservation of America’s culture is necessary or proper, or perhaps different courses of action would be more appropriate, are other issues to debate for another time.

While most Americans believe that Donald Trump, an ardent nationalist, will win reelection in 2020; and, given the situation over the Democratic-controlled House’s sham impeachment proceedings against the president and presumed failure to befall it upon its arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, I believe we are on the cusp of fundamentally restoring America back into the truly great nation she was founded to be, but whose way was lost during the 1960’s. Here, I want to begin discussing the difference between this first radical experiment in politicizing America’s culture by using the power of the federal government to fundamentally transform America as announced by President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) in 1964 at the University of Michigan, and the one I will be proposing in comparison and contrast to both Gov. Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio’s vision.

“Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.
But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.”
—President Lyndon B. Johnson

Of course, where does any such change begin but where President Johnson stated, ‘in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms’? Sadly for America, LBJ’s ‘war on poverty’ and the entire initiative failed in its purpose from sea-to-shining-sea, throughout the amber waves of grain over flyover country, and most certainly in our public schools and now, universities. It is questionable whether programs like Medicare and Medicaid can be made to remain solvent on the Federal Government’s present budgetary trajectory without excessive borrowing, soaring taxation, and further devaluations of our money supply by the Federal Reserve. Furthermore, any such monumental series of programs must begin with a substantial proclamation, beginning with a blueprint centering around President Trump’s proclamation that “The future does not belong to globalists” before the United Nations.

Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Sen. Marco Rubio has added his own vision for ‘common good capitalism’ that is the servant of the people who man the ship of the economy, but who sadly do not see the fruits of their labor match the output or their energy. His idea for a great society is one which embraces “the rights of both workers and businesses, but also their obligations to each other,” one in which “businesses have a right to make a profit, but they also have an obligation to reinvest those profits productively for the benefit of the workers and the greater society,” and where “workers have a right to share in the benefits of the profits they helped create.” A devout Roman Catholic, Rubio — a far stauncher social conservative than he is a fiscal one — quotes Pope Leo XIII from 1891 when he stated that “The labor of the working class, the exercise of their skill, and the employment of their strength in the workshops of trade is indispensable…,” and that “Justice demands that the interests of the working classes be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create.”

Our culture, Rubio notes, has fallen victim to the corruption of shareholders and banks who invest heavily in the governing institutions which keep the working class down. The result has been an economy whose architecture has been rapidly transformed. Furthermore, “Despite three years of robust economic growth,” writes Rubio, “millions are unable to find dignified work; they feel forgotten and left behind.” To beat all that, our national debt is approaching $23 trillion, and there is no sign of Washington’s willingness to cut into that deficit in sight. As a result, “We are left with a society,” writes Rubio, “with which no one is happy”: one which embraces ‘gender fluidity’ of all things, while scorning traditional morality. And he is right, at least in the economic variable of the present culture war. Today, we call this the #CancelCulture. They are a complete tool of the Left to shut down political opposition through free speech that it cannot constitutionally through legislation. “The repercussions,” according to Rubio, “have extended far beyond the economy: a collapse in churchgoing and community institutions; a decline in marriage, childbirth, and life expectancy; and an increase in drug dependency, suicides, and other deaths of despair.” 

It is also true, too, that because of all these details which are interconnected, “We have condemned the next generation of Americans to be the first to enter adulthood worse off than their parents.” This is our 24/7 world, the reality we have created through secularism: a godless world doomed to unbridled growth, but without any of the old values which made America the most exceptional nation history has ever recorded.

Lyndon B. Johnson
President Lyndon B. Johnson

All these points are noteworthy and true, even the vision of Lyndon Johnson’s ‘The Great Society’. But which among LBJ, Kasich, or Rubio’s visions are valid responses to these conundrums of society, or are any of them? Of course, Rubio wants for Washington to restore to America “common-good capitalism: a system of free enterprise wherein workers fulfill their obligation to work and enjoy the resultant benefits, and businesses enjoy their right to make a profit and reinvest enough to create high-productivity jobs, which is what I mean by dignified work for Americans” ― a free enterprise slant to LBJ’s federal ‘top-down’ mission within ‘The Great Society’s’ objective to create “a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness… a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community…,” and “a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.”

Rubio only differs slightly from LBJ: he sees that “Common-good capitalism also means recognizing that what the market determines is most efficient may not be best for America.” Hence, this new conservative war on the Left’s secularization of the culture is ever more critical given its sympathies for the Chinese Communist Party has resulted in the economy becoming “almost completely dependent on China”. It is certainly imperative, I agree, that the reforms which must be taken up by President Trump beginning in 2021 recognize the ‘fundamental shifts in our culture’ the party ignored after Ronald Reagan’s departure from the White House ― the moment where America ceased to be great, because its leaders refused to be ethical by rejecting morality. Sen. Josh Hawley in July 2019 brilliantly articulated his condemnation of the libertarian logic that exploited Middle America in favor of ‘open markets and open borders’ at all costs.

Gov. John Kasich — a man with whom I have taken great objection over the years — is nevertheless clear of the need to decisively engage and sideline the Left in the culture wars, given the problem dips dangerously deep into the socialist Democrats’ hypocrisy in rejecting the Establishment Clause. Had he won the presidency, Kasich proposed to launch a new government agency designed to promote “core Judeo-Christian, Western values” abroad. 

John Kasich
John Kasich, former Republican Congressman and Governor of Ohio.

While speaking before the National Press Club in Washington, Gov. Kasich made his case for why America needs to “beam messages around the world” to promote American values in totalitarian regimes like China, Iran, Russia, and the Middle East. But he did little to discuss the great crisis to the American national cultural imperative: here, in the 50 states. Gov. Kasich sounded off in a decisively Amerocentric tone too often overdone by the neoconservative faction under a foreign policy platform that this would send a “clear mandate to promote core Judeo-Christian, Western values that we and our friends and allies share” — an agenda which he outlined “means freedom, it means opportunity, it means respect for women, it means freedom to gather, it means so many things,” reflecting that “There’s nobody who’s spent more time shrinking government than I have,” he said. At the time, I condemned him, demanding to know why he should “consolidate them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core, Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share” through “the values of human rights, the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association.”

Yet if he was willing to do this abroad, why not here in America?

Four years later, I understand now why all those points mentioned by Gov. Kasich are now needed: they are under open attack by our media, corporate America, and our own government. And it must be stopped, even if it means it must be enforced, in Ronald Reagan’s words, ‘at bayonet point’.

But then I reflect on how LBJ’s ‘Great Society’ initiative was used to construct a bureaucratic fortress for the purpose of the impregnable indoctrination of America’s school children, as well as other public works. And although Kasich’s ideas seemed ‘pie-in-the-sky’, this was only designed to occur on the international scene. My idea would be solely confined to the American homeland, under a motto similar to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: “Peace at Home, Peace in the World.” If we have no peace here at home, how can we then, like a toothless tiger, expect to export this new Pax Americana and it still have bite?

One model to observe, objectively and prayerfully, resides to the north, Quebec: Canada’s disgruntled, renegade separatist francophone province. Through its ministry of culture, it has acquired significant political autonomy in the aftermath of the near miss at secession via referendum in 1995. The one political and social reality both the Canadian Federalist and Quebecois Sovereigntist camps can agree upon is, simply, the Quebec independence movement will never end unless the people of Quebec decide via plebiscite. The overwhelming consensus among Quebecois Sovereigntists is that the referendum would have passed had the federal government not aggressively peddled its official “No” campaign, especially the controversial Unity Rally in Montreal just three days prior to the October 30, 1995 vote. The progression was so rapid that a scant six months earlier, 39 percent of Quebecers opposed secession. But as the election approached, that figure swelled to 50 percent in opposition due to fear and uncertainty for what laid ahead.

If we wish to keep states like Texas and California as part of the union, a platform such as Quebec, or Canada’s policy with respect to Quebec, should be considered, just as Rubio generalizes that a commitment to ‘common good capitalism’ in America “also means recognizing that what the market determines is most efficient may not be best for America.” This is why the principles of states rights under the Tenth Amendment is so tightly intertwined to the elimination of judicial ‘fiat legislation’ such as Roe v. Wade, which effectively nullified every state which had previously passed laws banning abortions. What is good in California or New York, for example, would not fly in Tennessee or Kansas. 

Fast forward now to October 2, 2018. As premier-elect Francois Legault declared victory for his populist right-wing Coalition Avenir du Quebec’s (CAQ) historic landslide triumph over the left-wing duopoly of socialist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Le Parti Québecois, he proudly proclaimed that “Today we made history. Today many Quebecers set aside a debate that divided us for 50 years.” Indeed they took that one additional step towards utterly repudiating the Trudeau regime by rejecting the rapid expansion of global left-wing imperialism just as America and most of Europe have. Furthermore, Mr. Legault guided his party to such heights in spite of only existing for seven years through a simple two-month campaign, anchored along the following guidelines of slashing immigration into Quebec while introducing a ‘controversial plan’ to ‘expel’ immigrants failing to learn and pass a French language and ‘values’ exam within three years of arrival.

The French Quebecois have stood firm in their historic commitment to protect their heritage and culture, even to the point of applying a tyranny against its anglophone population, to protect its language. Comparable to the lingering discontents between the American North and South over 150 years after the Civil War, the situation in Canada remains culturally partitioned behind the nationalist lines of her French and British descendants. While France’s Samuel de Champlain founded Canada, it later was ceded to Great Britain following its catastrophic defeat during the Seven Years’ War in 1763. Ever since, political actors have risen to stake claim to Quebec’s authority, reaching its zenith with 1967’s Mouvement Souveraineté-Association. Language and one’s ‘Frenchness’ are universally defended by the Quebecois to the point of extreme hostility towards its anglophone neighbors to its west. In the days leading into the 1995 referendum, Professor Charles Taylor of McGill University explained the level of hostility emerging from feelings of alienation from Ottawa, in the English-speaking province of Ontario: “People feel that the country they belong to doesn’t affect them. It’s as if they weren’t there. It’s as though everyone else was there but they just don’t figure into the picture. It’s very explosive.” 

Today, many Americans feel the same, though not so much linguistically.

Quebec, insist the separatists, has a distinct society, a society separatists believe cannot coexist with English Canada any longer. But three days prior to the referendum while the separatists held a slim leads over the unionists, CNN reported that “Thousands of Canadians are flocking to Montreal in support of a united Canada… to keep Quebec from breaking away from the rest of the nation.” In a prelude to what perhaps was to come almost a quarter century later with the nations of Europe and America’s left-wing populations bringing in voters illegally from other states or living illegally as immigrants inside sanctuary cities, the establishment cracked the whip to prevent the Quebecois from being heard. It worked of course, because the entire outside world opposed French Canada’s independence.

As the Canadian publication Maclean’s noted in 2016 (whose op-ed columnist will be mentioned later), “There are two ways to view Quebec’s decade-long obsession over the place of religious minorities in the province’s proudly secular society.” First, there’s that of the pessimist, who would say “that devoting time, energy and attention to what a tiny fraction of people can and can’t wear in the name of their religion is, at best, a waste of time,” while at its worst, “such a debate can make scapegoats of these very people, particularly when it is sucked into the vortex of an election campaign.” But on the other hand, “An optimist believes such a debate is necessary, particularly in Quebec’s linguistic and social micro-climate,” and that “The province, like most Western societies, is grappling with profound demographic change,” meaning that “it is better to air grievances in the open than let them fester in the dark (and online).” 

It is true that identity issues have been at the forefront of Quebec’s political sphere long before Trump had even pondered his eventually successful run for President of the United States. Of course English Canada will continue dominating the country’s second-largest province well after Trump’s presidency ends in either 2021 or 2025. And this is where the situation involving identity politics has Canada poised to collapse before Europe and even America: Quebec, home to a majority population of about 6.6 million French speakers in which “about three-quarters of the 50,000 immigrants who arrive here every year settle in the region of Montreal,” is itself divided. Montreal in fact is multicultural and multilingual, and every bit as divided along those lines as anywhere in Europe’s rapidly disintegrating social and cultural fabric, while the rest of the province is largely white and French. Regardless, the province has always seen itself as innately ‘separate’ and yet ‘equal’ to the rest of English-speaking Canada. The populism therefore arose resulting from this unique demographic circumstance which surfaced in the 2007 election campaign and had a distinctly Trumpian narrative to it long before his election to the presidency south of the border, and here is where Maclean’s adopts the disparaging leftist narrative of indignation: “the political elites in Quebec City were corrupt and out of touch. Immigration had turned Montreal into a Babylonian hellhole, and threatened to do the same to the hinterland. By throwing out the first and radically curtailing the second, Quebec would be . . . well, it would be great again.” 

Quebec however remains a comparatively welcoming province which, at 3.2 per 100,000, police-reported hate crimes in the province are below the national average of 3.7—and well below Ontario’s average of 4.8. But the clash between the Left and Right over the matter of  developed guidelines for “religious accommodations” and cultural practices in 2017 resulted in Quebec’s National Assembly voting on Bill 62 that would compel anyone giving or receiving a public service to do so with their face uncovered—unless the temperature, not religion, dictates otherwise. By limiting its reach to the public service sector, the legislation strikes a balance between defenders of religious freedom and state religious neutrality akin to Europe’s own policy of secularism, laïcité. 

It’s all very complicated. Margaret Thatcher herself explained during a speaking engagement at the Hoover Institute the following points when addressing why the European Union can never become like the United States, and why we must pivot away from the present globalist neoliberal ideals:

“Americans and Europeans alike sometimes forget how unique is the United States of America. No other nation has been created so swiftly and successfully. No other nation has been built upon an idea – the idea of liberty. No other nation has so successfully combined people of different races and nations within a single culture. Both the founding fathers of the United States and successive waves of immigrants to your country were determined to create a new identity. Whether in flight from persecution or from poverty, the huddled masses have, with few exceptions, welcomed American values, the American way of life and American opportunities. And America herself has bound them to her with powerful bonds of patriotism and pride. The European nations are not and can never be like this. They are the product of history and not of philosophy. You can construct a nation on an idea; but you cannot reconstruct a nation on the basis of one.”

How might America learn from Quebec how to both reconcile the cultural and political narrative, while still maintaining our constitutional prerogative? For one, Mrs. Thatcher also warned in her book Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (2002) to “Never believe that technology alone will allow America to prevail as a superpower” — and this point rings particularly true with respect to our rivalry with China. Another suggestion, more along Sen. Rubio’s lines, could be to paraphrase Rev. Robert Sirico’s quotation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We should not judge the rich. We do not advocate class struggle. We advocate class encounter: where the rich save the poor, and the poor save the rich.” It’s also important to recall that, as Chairman Mao promulgated in 1942 at the height of the Sino-Japanese War, “There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics… they are, as Lenin said, cogs and wheels in the whole revolutionary machine.” Given the curious declaration by Kasich that the U.S. should tout liberal political values but insists on describing them as ‘Judeo-Christian’ or as expressions of ‘our Jewish and Christian tradition,’ he appeared prepared to do a little social engineering himself. At the time, I believed this to be in defiance of the great conservative principle of methodical, organic societal evolution. After all, my thoughts were that the biggest losers would be both religious liberty and freedom of the press. Now, I’m convinced that our inaction for nearly 30 years is the primary reason why we are seeing our culture slip away before the altar of political correctness like so many countries throughout the West.



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