Note: The following is an adapted transcript from the first hour of Nov. 18’s The Mark Levin Show. To listen to the segment, play the audio embed below.
I would like to discuss something rather foundational.
What do you think about this “new nationalism”? Do you think it's new? What does it mean? Does it mean putting America first? Does it, in fact, put America first? Has this new nationalism been tried before? It very much has.
The phrase "new nationalism" was actually coined by Theodore Roosevelt in a speech he gave in Kansas on Sept. 1, 1910. In that speech, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, later to become a Progressive Party candidate, in essence denounced the Declaration of Independence, and embraced the new nationalism.
He rejected the American heritage, in many respects, the limitations placed on the federal government, and he argued for a powerful central government that would take care of the general welfare of the people. It was a quintessential, aggressive, progressive speech. This is a speech that the Left venerates. In fact, Barack Obama, just a few years ago, visited the exact site where Theodore Roosevelt gave this speech. He gave his own speech and was extremely complimentary of Roosevelt’s.
Roosevelt thought that the general welfare of the people — their health, education, basic jobs and wages, and so forth — should be determined by the federal government. The Republican Party was the progressive party. The Democrat Party became the progressive party. You had two Progressive Era parties. The Republican Party, under Theodore Roosevelt, then William Howard Taft (albeit less so), and then of course Woodrow Wilson, who took the Democrat Party to the hard Left in what's known as the Progressive Era.
Now before Theodore Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson, there were a few decades of what was called the Populism Era. There was even a political party called the People's Party. The People's Party was a populist party. It would become, in effect, a branch of the progressive movement and it was eventually devoured by that movement.
These terms — populism, nationalism, progressivism — are not the same as Americanism. Americanism is the embrace of our founding principles. Americanism is the embrace of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. Americanism is the embrace of free market capitalism, not crony capitalism. But for free market capitalism, there wouldn't be a great middle class in this country. But for free market capitalism, we could have gone the way of Russia or these other communist regimes — the so-called proletariat rising up.
People forget the results of free market capitalism — our trajectory from electricity in every home to heat and eventually air conditioning. Free market capitalism gave birth to new forms of energy, which massively improved the lifestyles of almost all Americans. It made possible everything that runs on fossil fuels, including automobiles, engines, things we take for granted. It made possible the production and the refinement of steel. In other words, it created this great explosion of industrial America, making us the greatest, most powerful economic force on the face of the earth (and eventually, the greatest military force on the face of the earth). That's what free market capitalism gave.
The progressives are an offshoot of the European socialists. Of course, there are 15,000 types of socialism. Broadly speaking, it is a mentality. The Europeans never had a Declaration of Independence. They had their own history to deal with, including monarchies and feudalism. We never had that in America. We were a clean slate. In many ways, that's what enabled us to do what we did.
When the framers of the Constitution met in Philadelphia, they didn't sit there and think about how to create the most powerful central government they could to regulate trade. In fact, they included a Commerce Clause in our Constitution, the purpose of which is to promote commerce and trade between and among the states and between and among countries. Because we were getting killed with protectionism, from state to state and from our country to other countries. We couldn't compete.
The purpose of the Commerce Clause is not to prohibit commerce. It is not to enable big government.
It is also true that they used tariffs at the time, after the Constitution was adopted, because they didn't have an income tax, and in part, those tariffs were necessary to fund the federal government. But they weren't for the purpose of empowering far-off Washington bureaucrats and politicians to manipulate the economy.
But back to the Progressive Era. These words — nationalism, populism, progressive — they've been around a very long time. They gave us, in 1909, the 16th Amendment — the income tax amendment, the federal income tax amendment. The vehicle for government to “let’s get the rich,” to get American companies to “pay their fair share.”
These words gave us the 17th Amendment in 1912. In the name of populism, we get to elect our senators directly. It's very appealing, but we're not supposed to be a pure democracy. We're not supposed to be a populist society. We're supposed to be a republic. Two of the worst ideas during the Progressive Era: the 16th and 17th Amendments — pushed by Republicans. Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Both parties strongly supported it.
Then came President Herbert Hoover. President Hoover was a very successful businessman, and he believed he could manage the economy. He was very concerned about free market capitalism; he was very concerned about the loss of American jobs, the loss of American industry and so forth.
[explore]Why should we want free trade anyway? Here are just a few reasons[/explore]
In 1922, again, the progressive Republicans — the populist nationalist Republicans — controlled Congress. And they passed the Fordney–McCumber Tariff; it covered all agricultural imports. And thus began trade wars. Other countries don’t sit back and watch this. They put their own tariffs in place. Our farmers were severely economically affected by this. They couldn't sell into foreign markets, which they needed to do. So, in a short period of time, there was a recession. I call this a soft depression. Then in 1930, rather than protect farmers, a Republican Congress came up with Smoot–Hawley, enacting tariffs on over 20,000 imported products, which resulted in a worldwide tariff war.
In virtually every industry — ironically enough, in the automobile industry in particular — we couldn't sell many products overseas. Countries responded to us and many of them ganged up against us. Of course, after the 1929 stock market crash, they were trying to fix these things. To save American jobs and stop them from going overseas, they destroyed American jobs, farmers and businesses. Of course, the federal government wasn't getting the revenue it needed given what had taken place. So what did they do to compensate?
They turned to that precious federal income tax. They passed something called the Revenue Act of 1932. It increased the personal income tax dramatically, boosting the standard rate from 1.5 percent to five percent, and in some cases to eight percent. It placed a large surtax on higher income earners, leading to a total tax rate, depending on your income, anywhere from 25 percent to 63 percent. It massively increased the corporate income tax, along with several taxes on other forms of income and wealth.
What did that do? It further killed the economy. The Republicans did what the Democrats would later to: they panicked. They knew what they had started and how the chain-effect had led to this new suffocation of growth. You see, there was a small New Deal, under Hoover, before there was the big New Deal. Hoover put in place the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to lend money to banks, a home-loan bank, so the government could help the construction sector. Direct loans to state governments for spending on relief, infrastructure, and the Public Works Administration that could better coordinate federal public works and state public works, creating jobs for the unemployed.
Sound familiar? This all came along before we even got to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. This was populism, nationalism, progressivism.
Franklin Roosevelt raised taxes to 90 percent. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Civil Works Administration, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the Public Works Administration. They took over a huge percentage of the gross domestic product. They had wage and price controls throughout all industries, even created trust councils that would oversee the grouping of various industries and regulate them just to make sure people weren't “ripped off.”
We had double-digit unemployment. So a bad recession was turned into a depression, which was turned into a horrendous depression that lasted a decade. Study after study has said that the government did the exact wrong thing. They had a double-digit unemployment for years. No matter how much taxes were raised, no matter how many programs were put in place, no matter how much redistribution of wealth occurred, no matter how powerful the central government became, the people were miserable and suffering.
Why is this history important?
Because these terms are being thrown around by a lot of people who don't quite comprehend the history behind them.
Moving into the Nixon period: We had wage and price controls that were set in place in 1971 to try to attack inflation. But what did wage and price controls do? Terrible dislocation of markets. And when the controls were lifted, of course, they spun out of control. Massive spending and massive redistribution of wealth.
Now Donald Trump is proposing $1 trillion in infrastructure spending — twice as much as Hillary Clinton did. They insist this is going to create jobs for the middle class and union workers and so forth.
How many more times are we going to do this? How many more times are we going to take money out of the private sector to fund some mastermind's idea about how to create jobs?The great power of the American economy was not created by government or tariffs or protectionism or progressivism or populism or nationalism. It was created by Americanism, by Americans.
Economies go through evolutions. There was the horse and buggy, now we have the car. We used whale blubber to light lanterns, now we have electricity. Are we supposed to kill economic progress and evolution that improves lifestyles for the vast majority of Americans? Any country would kill to have the standard of living that we have in this country. Of course, you’d never know that listening to our politicians.
And yet it is they — with their government departments, their government agencies, their 80,000 pages of regulations this year and last year and the year before — it is they who destroy American jobs. It is they who create economic dislocation.
Man isn't perfect. That means all of us together are imperfect. But if I make a mistake or you make a mistake, well then, I might feel it and 25 other people may feel it. But if I'm making these decisions for all of society, for the entire economy, and I happen to get elected to office so I have the power to do it, any decisions or mistakes I make impact everybody. That's why you do not want concentrated control, centralized control of decision making.
What we lack is more economic competition, because the government plays favorites through its tax schemes and so forth. Our economy needs to be unleashed. We've have tried more government spending for a century. A trillion dollars over 10 years? This is a massive expense, and yet, in the big scheme of things, when you look at our GDP, it is a drop in the bucket. On the one hand, it bloats federal spending and the federal debt; on the other, the economy is so big it's of minimal consequence. Whether these ideas come from Theodore Roosevelt or William Howard Taft or Herbert Hoover or Franklin Roosevelt, whether these ideas come from Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, or yes, Donald Trump, they're the same warmed-over ideas that do not work. This is why we believe in individualism, capitalism, and constitutionalism. That’s Americanism.
People romanticize the Jacksonian period. First of all, ironically, people who want to compare Trump to Jackson: Jackson, in his first race for the presidency, won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College vote. He won the popular vote like Hillary Clinton, but lost to John Quincy Adams.
Andrew Jackson wanted, among his top priorities, to eliminate the federal debt, and he did. How does spending a trillion dollars, on top of a $20 trillion fiscal operating debt and a $200 trillion unfunded liability debt come anywhere close to Jackson's thinking on this sort of thing? It's been tried a numerous times, and yet we're going to do it again?
In this centralized government that gets to make all these decisions, Jacksonian democracy, as it came to be called, was not about centralized federal government. It was a rejection of the increasingly centralized decisions coming out of the federal government. But we need to be blunt, too. In the 1820s and 1830s, if you still owned slaves, you were in a distinct minority.
Jackson was a slave owner, and he was a brutal owner. But a lot was going on at the time, such as the battles between "the mercantilists," the elitists on the East Coast and some of the other areas of the country (the agrarians, slave owners, non-slave owners, cotton growers, tobacco growers). There were a lot of tensions that would eventually lead to the Civil War.
Jacksonian democracy was an attempt to create a populist revolt against what was taking place. When people talk of Jacksonian democracy and agrarianism and nationalism and populism, that's what they're talking about. But in the end this was very destructive. Jackson got rid of the national debt, alright, and he did it so quickly that what happened was his vice president, who became his successor, Martin van Buren, inherited what would soon become the worst depression in American history.
You see, these notions of populism, nationalism, progressivism, they are antithetical to republicanism. The reason our Constitution is structured the way it is structured is to prevent mobocracy and to prevent despotism, by one or by an oligarchy. We have a beautiful system of checks and balances, of limited powers, that secure the unalienable rights of the individual.
Under a republican form of government, the individual has a responsibility to take care of his or her family. It's what is called rugged individualism.
How does that ideal compare to today?
How does it compare to a government that swallows up an enormous percentage of the gross domestic product — of all goods and services produced in the private sector? A government that spends far in excess of what it collects with confiscatory taxes. The issue isn't what it regulates, the issue is what it doesn't regulate. To now say that we need a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, to now say that we need to further regulate our economy, which is heavily regulated with over 12,000 tariffs, to now say that that's what the working men and women of America need? That that's what's going to give us the shot in the arm to create American jobs? This will be disastrous, as it always has been, as it always will be.
Many of the people hawking this are not men and women of the assembly line. They're not men and women of agriculture. They're not men and women of the steel mills and the oil fields and so forth. They're bankers, developers, and businessmen. Like Hoover. Hoover didn't get dirt under his nails. Woodrow Wilson didn't get dirt under his nails. Franklin Roosevelt didn't get dirt under his nails. These are theoreticians who reject or have forgotten what made this country great. That’s the problem. Nationalism and populism have far more in common with status-quo progressivism than they can possibly have with constitutional conservatism.
Virtually every form of tyranny that I'm familiar with is wrapped in populist arguments.
Tyranny comes packaged as “for the people,” or representing “the will of the people.” That's how Mao Zedong represented his genocidal tyranny, that's how Vladimir Lenin represented his genocidal tyranny, that's how Hugo Chavez, the Fidel and Raul Castro brothers, Robert Mugabe, and the like represented their reigns. But populism is not republicanism.
This is not about class warfare; it's about liberty. You want to live free or don't you? When you live free, that means at times, things get difficult. But let me tell you something: When you don't live free, it means things are always difficult.
How many more experiments must humanity go through before it becomes obvious that our system, as set up by the framers, is and was the best? How many more human experiments must we have? How much more spending until it becomes clear that the government doesn't create jobs? Nobody spent more to "create jobs" than Franklin Roosevelt. Obama spends a hundred billion dollars on infrastructure, what did that do? Now Trump wants to spend a trillion dollars. What will that do?
I don't care if you're blue collar or white collar; I don't even like those terms. Those are terms that some egghead came up with — just like “working people.” Well you're either working or you're not. What does that mean? What is a working people? I work very long hours, am I not a working person? Whatever my income is, whatever your income is, this is the vernacular of the progressive leftist. Working people, blue collar, white collar: No, we're Americans. We are Americans. The goal is to create and defend and improve upon a society that has created the greatest amount of wealth for the most people, the greatest amount of freedom for the most people, despite and in fact due to our diversity. Our diversity of thinking, our diversity of acting, our diversity of producing.
All of these populist movements, whether on the pseudo-right or the Left, always demand egalitarianism. They demand material equality, on different levels and to a different degree. Somebody's “earning too much,” somebody has “too much wealth.” Why should they have that when you have nothing? These philosophies overlap. And you know what they have something in common? The iron fist.
Mark R. Levin is Editor-in-chief of Conservative Review and host of LevinTV on CRTV and the nationally syndicated "The Mark Levin Show”.