Politically Speaking: Writer Jonah Goldberg on the perils confronting American democracy
Conservative writer Jonah Goldberg is the latest guest on Politically Speaking. He joined St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies to talk about his book Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy.
Goldberg is a syndicated columnist and a senior editor for National Review. He was intimately involved in the start of National Review Online, one of the most enduring political sites devoted to conservative politics.
Goldberg was in St. Louis this week for a Show-Me Institute event at Washington University Law School. Among other things, Goldberg discussed how extreme poverty has been rampant throughout most of human history.
But that changed after a “cultural revolution” in the 17th and 18th centuries in England, where philosophers began to believe that people’s rights “came from God, not from government.” This point of view democratized prosperity in a way where average people ended up getting richer.
Instead of promoting “market-based, classical liberal ideas,” Goldberg said there’s a propensity in America to not to appreciate those values.
“We teach people that American history and western history is one story of evil and oppression after another that define us — rather than getting rid of, or overcoming, these setbacks,” Goldberg said.
Among Goldberg’s observations on the show:
- For most of history, average humans dealt with “abject poverty, punctuated with early death from violence or bowel-stewing disease.” Most people living now don’t appreciate that, even with their problems, they're also experiencing a time of unprecedented wealth, health and advancement.
- Civilized behavior is breaking down, in part because of the demise of organized religion and other civic institutions. That includes the reduced clout of political parties, which used to act as gatekeepers and moderators for candidates. Goldberg also blames the decline of marriage, which he says is often overlooked as a key factor in civilizing a society.
- President Donald Trump has contributed to the breaking-down trend, but is not the cause of it. What Trump has done is break “the blood-brain barrier between politics and entertainment,’’ and contributed to the “cult of personality’’ that has risen in politics in the last 20 years. Former President Barack Obama is another key example, Goldberg said, recalling that some of his supporters saw Obama as “a messianic figure.”
- Trump is helping the GOP attract working-class whites who used to be part of Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s coalition. But the president is hurting the Republican Party by exacerbating the exodus of suburban, white college-educated women from the GOP to the Democratic fold.
- The debate over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is largely fueled by Democrats’ anger about what they see as the mistreatment of Obama’s 20016 nominee, Merrick Garland, who wasn’t granted a hearing. But Goldberg says the dispute also reflects both sides’ entrenched belief that the “imagined worst behavior of our opponents justifies a ‘Chicago way’ escalation in everything.”
Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies
Follow Jonah Goldberg on Twitter: @JonahNRO
Music: “Space Cowboy” by *NSYNC