What is America? What do we mean when, backing President Donald Trump, we say “Make America Great Again?” Or alternatively, backing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, we say “America already is great.” What is it that is great or needs to be made great again? What do we inhabit, what do we fight for, what is the idea of America?
This debate has raged for centuries, with some proclaiming America to be a set of universal ideals, others claiming it to be a blood-and-soil nation with institutions and culture, and most arguing that it’s something of the latter that happens to have the former.
I view America as something even more obscure and complex- a set of historical experiences linked by common themes, through which a nation of people, a cultural legacy, and a great institutional state have been built over the course of nearly four centuries. America cannot be understood merely as the agglomeration of peoples or a single people, a creedal code of universal liberal ideals, or a state just like any other. It is all of these and more. I choose to identify it through its experiences.
The great decades-long historic experiences described below- each of them a set, too, of ideas, experiences, and institutions with a physical and human legacy and a cultural and nearly spiritual print upon the idea of America- are by no means a comprehensive historical catalogue of the entirety of the American experience. Perhaps one day I will investigate the American legacy in full and chronicle the development and forecast the future of the American nation, state, and idea. But here I will only describe in brief what, exactly, I mean by “America.”
It is important to note that some of these experiences fly in the face of others, and seem incompatible at first thought. All are entirely American, but none is the entirety of America. Together, in their creative tension, they contribute to the great American story and conversation, full, as it is, with contradictions and irregularities. But that’s the beauty of it.
As a temperamental conservative, I view the preservation of what alloyed good exists as the first imperative of statecraft; the reformation and augmentation of it, the second. If any of these ten American experiences were to be lost, our civilization would be all the worse for it. On the other hand, if we limit our historical development to these ten experiences, and fail to develop an eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and beyond, our civilization will fail to thrive beyond its fourth century of existence. The task of American patriots, then, is to cultivate understanding of and reverence for our glorious past; and with that knowledge and the qualities of our national spirit, to build a yet more glorious future.
Here, then, are the experiences that have heretofore defined America.
Albion’s Seed is the title of a magisterial study on American colonial culture by the historian David Hackett Fischer, and I adopt the name as shorthand for America’s British heritage bequeathed us by the settlers from Great Britain. Anglo traditions of common law, the Protestant influence upon American individualism, philosophy, and civic culture, and the English language itself are all undeniably components of the American identity, and the settler experience of the 17th and 18th centuries- the development of a new world from the seeds of the old- is crucial to the American story. We were Americans long before we fought for independence in the Revolutionary War, and the intermingling of English culture with the American wilderness made us something other than Englishmen. Everything comes from somewhere, and in America we came from Britain- yet grew beyond it.
It was the War of Independence, the American Revolution, that shot our nascent nation into the realm of nationhood. The struggle with our British brothers and overlords forged a triumphalism of liberty, of the rugged band of volunteers fighting for an ideal universal to Mankind, that has remained integral to the American self-image ever since. Moreover, the snows of Valley Forge and the fields of Yorktown won for the American people self-determination over their own destiny, an independence to take our place among the nations of the Earth.
The Constitutional Republic
The War of Independence won but did not secure America’s nationhood and liberty- that work was done by the Framers of the Constitution, who through toil and conflict and reflection and compromise designed the framework and foundations of a constitutional republic- a Constitution of checks and balances, a working federal system of government, energetic and powerful while limited and constrained, capable of addressing the great issues of the day and many days beyond, and a culture of reverence for the laws of the land and for the system of government a sovereign people had designed. They created the American state and system of government, and guaranteed that the constitutional republican tradition rather than any other would be the safeguard of American liberty.
But the Framers and their subsequent heirs, for all their brilliance in designing a Republic and a Constitution, did not have the final say on the animating spirit of the growing nation. That decision was shaped by the statesmen of the antebellum, and especially the Jacksonian democrats, who transformed the abstract sovereignty of the people into the people’s active participation in their own mode of governance. The Jacksonian revolution infused American politics forever after with a common man’s ethos of simplicity, tradition, people’s wisdom, and folk culture, and rearranged the governance system into one of mass democracy of culture and society. Alexis de Tocqueville vividly described this culture in his masterwork, Democracy in America; de Tocqueville’s insights have remained relevant to the present day.
The American Continent
But it was not only our culture and our system of government that shaped who we were and who we would become- our physical environment had its share of influence, too. Sam Walter Foss, speaking as the American continent, asked for “Men to match my Mountains;” and by all measures, the American people obliged and provided them. Generation after generation of rugged frontiersman, pioneers, engineers, Indian fighters, surveyors, and more pushed ever further westward, bringing the mantle of American civilization with them and transforming the nature of American civilization in the process. By the time we stretched from sea to shining sea, the rugged individualist ethos of the cowboy was more than mere myth- it was a driving reality of innumerable American men and women, accustomed to self-reliance, simplicity, and honor. Additionally, the American people’s relationship with their land gave them an incalculable strategic asset- dominion over the majority of an entire continent, with access to both of the world’s greatest oceans and full of immeasurable stocks of natural resources.
Over the course of the antebellum period, the debates over secession and slavery and union raged violently on the streets and plains of America and in the halls of the statehouses and Congress. When the war broke out, its violent prosecution and conclusion guaranteed two critical things- first, that the moral cause of liberty and equality would forever be enshrined in the American civic ethos at the level of the practice of democracy, rather than merely at the level of public discourse and philosophy. And second, that the union, which stretched over the American continent, would be preserved in whole and not in parts, and remain the great power it was, positioned towards even higher greatness in the decades and centuries to come.
Matching the individualist ethos cultivated by the experience of the West was an entrepreneurial ethos, a great knack for management and organization and innovation, a brilliance and genius rooted in benevolent acquisitiveness that fueled American inventors, investors, and captains of industry. Over the course of several great industrial revolutions, still ongoing, and fueled by ample investment and a healthy business climate, Americans built titanic industries, infrastructure, and cities, harnessed the power of every natural resource conceivable, and invented contraptions and machines that sent men to the moon and conquered atomic science. The great industrial might of America would not have been possible without the spirit of enterprise, nurtured by governments and powered by businesses. The business of America, in at least this sense, has always been business.
The New Deal
The excesses of industrialization had by the turn of the 20th Century necessitated reforms in America’s governing institutions, and over the course of several decades- the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Great Society, and more- Americans built up a federally-sponsored safety net and welfare state, a system of collaborative enterprise and regulation with roots across American history, and a government promising a better quality of life for all its citizens. These institutions, which I collectively call “The New Deal,” represent a preservation and extension of the American Dream, the promise of American life, for the citizens of this great republic. The notion that the government ought to serve its people in all ways possible, and marshal national resources for national ends, is now integral to American political culture.
The Liberal International Order
After the defeat of Fascism in 1945, the Americans inherited from Britain command of the then-growing liberal international order (a process that had taken some decades.) The prospect of a peaceful, orderly world order, governed by peaceful relations between states and open societies, was a dream the architects of American foreign policy in the postwar period sought first to preserve, and then to expand. It involved stewardship of international institutions, the maintenance of a Navy that could command the seas and keep open the sea lanes of trade, and most importantly the preservation of a peaceful balance of power between great nations of all sorts. American internationalism had its roots going all the way back to the Founding, but the consummation of America’s role as a “city upon a hill,” a “light unto the nations,” took its fullest form when America assumed the mantle of world leadership.
The American past has always been marred by grave injustices against those who were not white, even after the Civil War decreed all Americans free. The offenses went against the slaves brought from Africa and their descendants, against the original native inhabitants of the American continent, and against the multitudes of immigrants from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere who migrated to American shores over the course of two centuries. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s enshrined equality before the law of all races into the American identity, and paved the way for a fuller integration of peoples of all backgrounds into the broader American experience. This last experience is still underway, and we have not yet reached an equal and harmonious society yet, where all men and women will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. But thanks to the Civil Rights experience, we are slowly making our way there.
What Comes Next?
We stand, now, at a dangerous point of American history, with many of these facets of American identity under threat from all sides, and with the American people more often than not forgetting who they are, and being divided against each other by demagogues.
I am of the opinion that to advance as a nation, it is important, first, that we remember who we are. A study of the roots of American identity- and a healthy debate over it- would be useful in that regard.
But we must also press forward with advancing the American identity into new centuries. What will the next great narratives be? In recent decades, there’ve been two possible next great steps, in my opinion.
First, the reform of the New Deal towards a more localized, sustainable, and fundamentally workable system, which President Nixon started with his New Federalism programs and which some scholars have taken up intellectually today. Such a revolution- a New New Federalism, fueled by the power of the Information Revolution- could transform American governance at the same level that the Progressive Era and New Deal did.
Another great quest with historic antecedents is the conquest of space- the rejuvenation of the American space program and the exploration and colonization of other worlds beyond the Moon. Another great period of exploration can bring out the greatest facets of the existing American character and transform them into something new.
Whatever we choose, we must begin moving soon. History will not wait.
I must note, before I close, that all of these facets of American identity have played an important role in shaping the American experience, and should any be lost, it would fundamentally change the American legacy in a worse way than the positive addition of new experiences would.
All of these ten experiences and assets- a fundamentally Anglo cultural and philosophical heritage, political independence and liberty, a working constitutional and republican system of government, a democratic political culture, the resources and character of a great continent, an unbreakable union, the innovative and industrial power of our system of free enterprise, our modern social contract through the New Deal, a liberal international order, and basic fundamental rights and equality for all citizens of all races- these are the things our statesmen and stateswomen must preserve, defend, reform, and expand. And they must add onto these new experiences- in my opinion, we must reform the institutions of governance for the 21st Century, and expand our civilization beyond the stars. All of these collectively are what I speak of when I speak of America the idea, America the nation, America the state, America the experience.
The chroniclers, storytellers, and promoters of the American legacy have a twofold task, then- first, to serve as bards to the public, singing the glory of the past, reminding Americans of who they are; and second, as prophets of the future, sketching the glorious things to be and dreaming up the future greatness of the American nation. I hope to someday turn to that great task- to write a great cultural, political, and intellectual history of the American experiment- but for now I must direct my studies and efforts elsewhere.
Americans, remember who you have been, who you are, and who you will be.
I’ve always thought there are no greater lovers of country- quiet patriots, invisible servants- than the men and women of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations/National Clandestine Service. To give your life to your country so fully as to surrender your judgment to a code of pure and silent duty to a cause greater than self, to live no other life- is a high order not all of us are worthy of bearing, or called to take.
Patriotism isn’t flags and eagles. It’s a way of life, replete with a demand for virtues we moderns are uncomfortable with thinking about in this age of rights and feelings- honor, duty, sacrifice, service, and yes, love- a love that transcends self-interest and conscience, what President Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.” We’ll never hear about the silent heroes of the CIA- they’ll never be grand marshals of parades, they’ll never stand before adoring crowds and wear gold medallions around their necks. They don’t do their work for glory- they do it out of love. They are superior, but they’d never say it, or, frankly, think it.
They are patriots. They are our best, and their patriotism ought to sober us into emulation.
So when Donald Trump goes and mocks the CIA, when Donald Trump accuses them of falsehoods and favoritism, when Donald Trump has the nerve to make a self-gratifying campaign speech in front of the wall of heroes at Langley- all patriotic Americans ought to be offended and offended deeply.
Above all the things that offend me and disgust me about our new President- and there are many- by far the most egregious is his obnoxious mockery of patriotism, turning a noble devotion and creed of liberty and service into a childish parody of real patriotism. When he delegitimizes true Americanism with his antics, wrapping himself in the flag, he does a disservice to those who died for this country and only got a nameless star on a wall.
I despise the godless sophisticates of the left who disparage patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels and the first cover of racists, because they don’t and never will understand why soldiers and spies do what they do. But they don’t have a pretension to be patriots. Far worse are those boorish buffoons who claim the mantle of patriotism for their own, dumb it into a high school fight song, and never reflect on the meanings of honor, duty, sacrifice, service, and love. President Trump numbers among these.
(This is an edit of an older piece, which has been sitting in my queue for quite some time. The writing quality is not as good as I wish it had been at the time, but I suppose we all get wiser as we age.)
The Case for Universal Childhood Therapy
Crazy About Mental Health!
Whenever a mass shooting dominates American headlines, a portion of the media assigns blame to America’s subpar levels of mental health care and awareness. These tragic moments are some of the few times when mental health comes into the national discussion, which is really too bad. It is estimated that some 30,000 Americans die from gun violence every year, not all of which could possibly be related to mental illnesses, while 40,000 die from suicide– a cause of death much more directly related to mental illness. Other, less fatal statistics abound- 6.7% of Americans are estimated to suffer from clinical depression at some point in their lives, while 18% will deal with General Anxiety Disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder afflicts 2.3%, while some 2.7% suffer from various forms of manias and panic disorders. 6.8% are bipolar or schizophrenic. These are only some of the most common mental ailments afflicting Americans- dozens of other, less well-known illnesses plague countless more. And given that data collection on these statistics tends to focus on cases where the patients come seeking help, we have no way of knowing the real statistics of mental illness sufferers who do not seek treatment. The numbers could well be far higher.
Now, most of these disorders- OCD, anxiety, depression, and the rest- are relatively manageable if properly treated early on, and modern psychiatry has advanced to the point where practitioners have both a neurological and psychological understanding of most ailments. And most health insurance plans by major providers in this country offer coverage for therapy and psychiatric drug treatment, so access to mental healthcare for the majority of Americans is not a major problem. The uninsured don’t have this coverage, which is a pressing problem that must be fixed, but for the most part Americans have access to quality care.
Yet millions still suffer. The problem is not that the care isn’t there; the problem is that, while available, it isn’t widely used or emphasized to the same extent that, say, dietary or sanitary health is emphasized. The notion that there is a “stigma” against the mentally ill is overblown, but their problems are certainly not given as much attention as other more purely physiological health issues.
It’s common practice for doctors to pay attention to children’s physical health- from the counting of toes and fingers at birth to the constant checkups and physicals administered throughout childhood- but there is no equivalent emphasis placed on mental health. This is unfortunate, because most neurological disorders can be detected by early to mid-childhood. It would make sense for health policy officials to insist that, alongside the standard physicals and checkups, children undergo a few therapy sessions at an early age.
The idea is simple. To the existing battery of physical examinations, vaccinations, and other physical health checkups would be added a couple of rounds of psychotherapy. This could be as simple as a series of questions administered to the patient on their personal history and emotional cycles, and if the therapists detected any potential disorders or problems, additional sessions of psychotherapy using various techniques would be recommended. Three introductory sessions per child sounds about right, placed strategically at important points in early childhood, adolescence, and just before adulthood. Kids would go to a therapy session before starting elementary school, before starting middle school, and midway through high school. This way the patient’s formative experiences can be monitored and, in the event that any traumatic experiences in that time threaten the patient’s mental wellbeing, the resulting disorders can be dealt with at an early age rather than festering and deepening over the years.
What about the majority of Americans and American children who don’t suffer from mental illnesses and wouldn’t need the therapy?
In short, there’s no real downside to therapy. If anything, it helps individuals have a better, more well-rounded view of their emotional state, something many Americans pursue through other practices like yoga anyways. And three sessions separated by a few years each is a relatively small commitment. There’s certainly a stigma associated with therapy at the moment, but it’s a stigma not particularly founded in reality- an estimated 27% of American adults report having gone to therapy at some point in their lives, no trivial portion of the population.
There are some- most likely far-left outfits like the “Mad Pride” movement and far-right anti-government paranoiacs- who would shriek bloody murder at such an extension of a government mandate into people’s personal lives. Who is the state to judge what is “normal?” and what is “deviant?” the lefties might ask. Why does the government want the people conforming to a certain mental state? the rightists might wonder. And there is indeed something almost Orwellian about a state insistence on mental wellbeing. But like most Orwellian-seeming plots, this one is not actually totalitarian. Patients would not be coerced into doing anything against their wishes, and therapists would make only recommendations- not commands. The purpose of this addition to healthcare policy would be to help people who otherwise wouldn’t find help, before they need that help.
Meanwhile, the potential benefits of early childhood therapy and mental illness detection are innumerable. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of lives could be made happier or even saved. There would be lower rates of suicide and homicide. Throngs of Americans could be made more productive and innovative in their newfound ability to manage their disorders. Decreased costs in emergency mental healthcare could save countless public dollars, as preventative mental healthcare will have nipped those cases in the bud. More people could be free from the demons that otherwise would haunt them.
It would be expensive, of course, and before this could be feasible the government would need to find some way to pay for it. But once that means is found, the benefits would be well worth the costs.
American policymakers should act to make early childhood therapy and mental illness detection standard parts of every American child’s health program, to complement the current focus on physical health. At a certain level, we have to realize- mental health is health. Just as it’s important that we identify individuals with pancreatic cancer and strive to help them with the best care possible, so must we search out those suffering from depression and anxiety and work to help them as best we can. There’s a difference in the kinds of health, but they carry equal moral weight.
And as someone who’s been in and out of mental hospitals over the course of my adult life, this issue hits home to me. I wish I had been forced to talk to a therapist back when I was 8 years old, so that the patterns that would eventually culminate in terrible mental illnesses could have been discerned and dealt with by professionals. I always knew I was different, but I never knew it was treatable until I sat down with a pshrink in college. But by that time OCD, anxiety, and depression had already done their dirty work on me.
We should make a point of it, as a society, to make sure our kids don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through. We should devise and implement a system whereby we treat the issues of the brain as proactively as we treat the issues of the body. I’m no health professional or healthcare policy wonk, so I’m in no place to give specifics. But if we can tilt the conversation towards some form of universal childhood therapy, and start having vicious arguments about how to provide it, the world will be much better for our kids.
By Luke Phillips
Outside of California, many Americans- even the well-read- have not heard of Dr. Kevin Starr, who died this last week at the age of 76. But inside California, particularly among those active in public life, Starr was a master- the legendary historian of California, the Californians, and the California Dream, towering above the other literature like Mt. Shasta over the Siskiyou plains. Gregory Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times put it well- “[Kevin Starr] is one of [California’s] greatest treasures…” Starr’s unique mix of social and political history with epic, almost poetic human drama and beautiful prose makes his scholarship not only valuable in an analytic sense, but as a series of literary works, loving odes to a state whose heritage is as great as it is flawed. In our age of statistical, quasi-scientific academic history, Starr was one of few professional historians of the older, story-telling mold- and he was unquestionably one of the best.
I’m not qualified to write a comprehensive obituary of Dr. Starr- others have done so already, others who knew him much better than I did. I only have a cursory familiarity with his body of work, and I only knew him for a year and a half or so. I took his course on modern American history at the University of Southern California and said hello to him at university lectures and events over the course of the following year, until his untimely death. I cannot record what he meant to all. But I will record what he meant to me.
So who was Kevin Starr? Like his great native love, California, he was many things- a scholar and professor whose primary focus was history, but whose interests and specialties ranged from urban planning to literature. A soldier, a military officer stationed in Europe during the Cold War. An author- a bard, more like it- who wrote 11 books chronicling the epic history of the Golden State. A librarian, the State Librarian of California who served three governors- Republican Pete Wilson, Democrat Grey Davis, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger- for a decade before being named Librarian Emeritus of California. And an inspiration to students, scholars, and others across his life.
He was something of a partisan for California- in his magnum opus, California: A History, he wrote “Where did it come from- this nation-state, this world commonwealth, this California?” He never dreamed of secession, yet always insisted that California, aside from being the most American of American places, was a place unto itself. In some mystical way, shrouded in the aura of lore, California captured the American spirit, yet was unique. And therefore its history- aside from being fascinating- was crucial to any understanding of the broader American project. No one knew that history better than Dr. Starr.
About six months before he died, I called Dr. Starr in regards to an essay project I was considering- a geopolitical history of California, on the significance of the Golden State to America’s security policy from the westward expansion to the present. He was very supportive, and gave me advice on how to shape it. As our conversation ended he admonished me- “Go! Write it!” But the idea subsequently languished in my brain and papers for the next couple of months.
I encountered Dr. Starr for the last time at a historian’s lecture at the USC Town and Gown club, and stopped over to shake his hand. He told me to send him “the book” once I had finished it, and when I remembered what he was talking about, I hastily assured him that I would. A month later I received news that he had died of a heart attack.
Well, I owe Dr. Starr a book, and when I get around to writing the Geopolitical History of California, it’ll be dedicated to him and his memory. But that’s not all I hope to dedicate, for that’s not all I learned from him during the brief time I knew him.
Dr. Starr was of the old breed of historians, but also the old breed of scholar-servants who straddled the divide between academia and public life, taming it and riding it to great heights. Oftentimes PhD’s- particularly humanities PhD’s- will remain cloistered in the Ivory Tower, barricaded from the reality of public life. Oftentimes politicos, bureaucrats, and other public servants will never write a thoughtful piece in their career. Starr never succumbed to either fate, actively engaging the great questions of the day facing the state of California, actively serving the people of the state as State Librarian, and actively shaping its future through both his storytelling and his government service. In this regard he walked the same steps, albeit in California, as such figures on the national stage as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Henry Kissinger, and Walter Lippmann- great intellectuals who were also great public servants. Starr’s love was California, and he lived that love through his life’s work.
In this regard, Starr was more than a professor, more than a mentor- he was a model to those of us younger folks who want to serve our country, while advancing the life of the mind for the public. He was the model of public intellect, public service, public life well-done.
In these tumultuous times for America, it’s hard to see the future Kevin Starr’s on the horizon, moderate and public-spirited scholar-servants ready to write history and serve in government. They’re out there, ready to put their minds to work. But most of them aren’t in leadership yet. Perhaps that will change in due course; but for now, those of us who so aspire to follow the path of Dr. Starr must prepare for those future days. That would be the best way to honor his memory. And Dr. Starr’s love, California, offers an insight into where we ought to put our affections- “a place, a society, in which the best possibilities of the American experiment can be struggled for and sometimes achieved.”
May a scholar-servant like Starr, who loves America the way Starr loved California, rise to chronicle the life and soul of our nation as Starr did for California. When they do, more likely than not, Kevin Starr will be in their citations.
This week started off in Washington D.C., where I was attending the Hertog Foundation’s seminar on the Iraq War taught by Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby alongside my friends Marshall Kosloff and Nayeli Riano among others. It was interesting hearing those who prosecuted the war give their explanations for why they did what they did, especially in light of the legacies they had to protect. I got to portray the Secretary of Defense in simulation, which was fun.
Aside from the usual drinks with classmates and such, I made a point over the course of the five days of the seminar to visit several people in my DC network, as I usual do while passing through the City of Power. The day before the event, Jan. 4th, I had breakfast at the indomitable Founding Farmers with my dear cousin Thomas, scurried off to meet the impressive Lina Abisoghomyan and discuss podcast business, walked past the White House to meet my intellectual idol and mentor Michael Lind at New America (a meeting which as usual sparked plenty of thoughts,) and had a late dinner (which I organized) with most of the class. In the free time over the next five days, what little there was, I schemed with my fellow moderate John Burns, discussed book-writing with my friend and mentor the historian of the moderate Republicans Geoffrey Kabaservice down in Alexanderia, was inspired to not preclude another run for public office by my CRS friend Raj, and had drinks with the brilliant TAI writer, my friend Nick Gallagher, at the suit-and-tie DC University Club. I had a brief hot chocolate in Dupont Circle with Nayeli before catching the metro down to Springfield and getting picked up by my Dad.
I had a good night with my family that last night before flying out to Los Angeles. Jingles was as beautiful as always, and my mom and dad and sister all sat around on the couches making jokes and thinking about the future. (Jake and Zach had left for Ohio State a few days before.)
The next morning Dad dropped me off at Reagan Airport and after a long, uneventful flight, I touched down in Los Angeles. I stopped at AhiPoki almost as soon as I got home- Hawaiian Poke is a delicacy to me- and proceeded to clean emails, read articles, and do general bookkeeping work. First day of class for me was Wednesday, a political philosophy- as distinguished from political science or political theory- class with Professor Anthony Kammas. I’ve been meaning to read Marx and other European political thinkers, so this class will be beneficial to my own self-education (though my love remains with American political philosophy.) I encountered an old friend from the Unruh Institute’s Cerrell Seminar, Mary Perez, and had a pleasant chat with her after class.
On Thursday the 12th I dressed in California formal- jeans, button up shirt with the top two buttons undone, black blazer- in preparation for the first day on the new job. (Back over break I had emailed John Cox to let him know I was interested in rejoining the Neighborhood Legislature ballot campaign, and he graciously took me in. I had worked for him for a few months in the Fall.)
After a wonderful coffee discussion with Sam Zhai, the recently baptized Catholic-turned-theology student, I picked up a Zipcar on Ellendale and drove out to meet Cox for an event in Chino Hills. We got dinner at a little Italian place and discussed my involvement on the future of the campaign-Cox wants me full time when I’m back from New Mexico in September (more on my forthcoming Philmont Scout Ranch job later) and I’m most likely going to take it. My professional goal is to help reform the national GOP and help rebuild the California GOP, and working on campaigns out here between now and the November 2018 election is probably the best way to build capital and gain experience to do that. Additionally, Cox is a great boss and I enjoy working for him.
We then drove over to the event at Calvary Chapel. John delivered the usual pitch to this right-leaning Christian audience, stressing the corruption of our state government due to special interest influence and the need for radical legislative reform to curb it. The response, as it usually is in right-leaning audiences, was generally positive. Some city councilmen from local towns were present and I made sure to get their cards. There was talk, in the announcements section at the end of the meeting, of organizing protests in an effort to shut down the local Planned Parenthood clinics. I’m a pro-life Catholic but the moderate in me believes intimidation tactics is a step far too far for comfort in a civil society. I stayed quiet, though, either out of prudence or cowardice- I’m not sure which.
The next day I met a few friends- Brian Mendoza, “Tubacabra” as we called him in the Trojan Marching Band; Alex Gregath, a charming and wonderful fellow intellectual friend who’s working to get into med school; and Mina, a Berber girl, a liberal Muslim, with whom I occasionally have political banter. I made the poor choice of getting a drink during happy hour- so it was two drinks, and I’m very much a lightweight- and then going to Leavey Library to study. Drunk studying doesn’t work well, as it turns out, and I went to sleep a lot earlier than I’d anticipated. The drinks were good, though.
Saturday I finally stopped by that new Bird’s Nest Café down the street and wasn’t too impressed, but at least it’s coffee. Aside from getting a lot of work done, the highlight of the day was going out to Westwood and meeting up with my good old friend Holly Chan for the first time in about five years. We chatted about life and then she had to get over to an event. But it’s always good seeing old friends and realizing that no matter how much people change, they’re usually always what you remember of them.
Sunday morning I took a run for the first time in a while, determined to get fit for the marathon coming up in March, to start feeling healthy again, and to be prepared for three months of leading trail crews in New Mexico this summer. I made a point of doing a few sets of pushups and crunches too. I won’t write the mileage here because it was wimpy and pathetic, especially considering that I’ve actually run a marathon before. But, I suppose you gotta start small. We’ll see how long I keep up the routine- hopefully for a good long time.
I received a FB message request from a guy working for a new website called The American Moderate, and chatted with him a bit. The American Moderate seems like a better-funded, better-organized, more fully-staffed version of the moderate reformist websites Heberto Limas-Villers and I have been trying to make succeed over the last few years. So I connected the guy, Fairooz, with Heberto and John Burns, suggesting collaboration or merger. I realized long ago that Heberto and I don’t have much talent on the business side of things, and that hurt the Progressive Republican League and The New Hamiltonian. Maybe if we wind up being bloggers or staff writers for The American Moderate, we can focus on content and let others worry about the business side of things.
In any case, regardless of how much I wind up writing for TAM, if anything at all, my main focus remains California politics for the foreseeable future. TAM could be a nice outlet for national commentary and party commentary.
Sunday evening I went to the USC Caruso Catholic Center community dinner and met a few interesting people, chatted with good friends, saw Father Jim for the first time in a while, and ate a lot of rice (so Asian, I know.) After dinner, I went to choir practice- yes, I’m technically a choir boy- and practiced with Scott Rieker & co. before mass. The songs weren’t anything special today, but nonetheless it’s always a real pleasure and joy to sing to God. It also gives me another interesting thing to do aside from mere reading, writing, and politicking.
After mass I came back here to write all this. That’ll probably be the normal pattern with this weekly journal- after mass on Sundays, I will retire to the library or my home to record the week.
So onto other things.
I’m trying to get back into good writing habits. I’m in maybe half-good reading habits- I almost always get through my daily briefings and articles on California, U.S. and world politics, but I rarely read from books. That’s a problem, and however this works I need to set more time aside to read books more, even if it’s just a chapter a day. Especially if I’m going to get anywhere near my goal of two books per week/100 books over the course of the year.
As for writing, I just need to get back into battle rhythm. Hopefully writing a daily blog post, Via Meadia style, for The American Moderate will help. Maybe keeping this weekly journal will help too. I’m making a point of outlining a couple of series for Fox & Hounds, some essays for The American Interest, and other pieces for the Nixon Foundation blog, NewGeography, CityWatchLA, and other sites. If you’re a writer, you might as well be a prolific writer. Sometimes you just need to put pen to paper and the ideas already floating around your head will form themselves and come out whole, like Athena bursting from the head of Zeus fully formed. I just don’t know where to start. Start with something.
The big political news this week, at least in my intellectual universe, was the continuing flow of statements from the California Democrats concerning resistance to President Trump and the conservative-led federal government. From Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s (whom I ran against, briefly, this last summer- more on that later) Medium piece declaring that he was “ready for war” with Trump’s Washington, to Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s declaration that the California Environmental Quality Act could and should be use to preclude Trump’s border wall with Mexico from being built- so THAT’S what CEQA’s about, they admitted it!- the California Democrats are engaging in dangerous rhetoric and quite likely wading into dangerous waters concerning federal supremacy and states’ rights. I have no sympathy for the Trump Administration, but actively flipping off the President of the United States doesn’t seem like something our public servants should be doing. And I understand the complexity of the issues involved, particularly the question over deportation or protection of the undocumented immigrants residing in California. But the law of the land is the law of the land, and actions amounting to nullification weaken the fabric of our Constitution, not strengthen it. (To be fair, I’m aware of the Texas and Arizona governments doing the same thing in the Obama Administration. I don’t condone that, either.)
We’ll see what happens with this journal and how long I keep it going. To be quite honest I hope it’s forever- it would be nice to keep a running memoir going, especially as a resource if I ever need to look back for information. But that’s a question of personal discipline and will.
This coming week should be full of interesting meetings, travels, and thoughts. I hope to publish at least one piece if not more. President-elect Trump becomes President Trump on Friday. I’ll have some thoughts on that.
In the meantime, journal, I’ll see you in a week.
Well, here we go again- I’m starting a journal. The last time I did this, unsuccessfully, was back in high school, and I kept it for maybe a year or two daily. This time, I’m hoping to run it as an online public captain’s log- post a long update every week as to what’s been going on in my life, reflections on interesting happenings, and generally a resource- for those who love me, for those who hate me, and even in time for myself to look back upon and reflect.
A couple of points.
First, why make it public? The main reason is that I see no reason to hide my life from people, and logistically it makes sense to publish on an open blog rather than just save a big word document. Posting publicly requires a certain amount of discretion, of course- keeping conversations private, editing out things that would hurt other people if they were made public, etc.- but generally I think it should be possible to keep an experience-and-reflection journal and share it with others.
Second, why keep it at all? Quite simply, I want to be able to look back and read my mind, reminisce on things that happened, and connect dots together. If anyone ever writes a biography of me they’ll have plenty of resources- my emails, my Facebook, my published writings, my blog, people who knew me- but that’ll always be someone else’s interpretation of the story. Keeping a journal, a sort of “running memoirs,” allows me some personal discretion over how that story is told and cast. You might call me arrogant, paranoid, overconfident, or anything else, and you’d probably be right. Nonetheless, I’m still keeping it.
A couple of notes on the content.
I’ll include, generally, a summation of the week’s events, assisted by reviews on my Facebook wall and my personal calendar. I’ll include reflections and tidbits on those events. More broadly I’ll include commentary on current events bigger than my own life, at the level of California politics, American politics, and world politics. As I am working in California politics, these will have some influence over my own work. I will reflect on what I’ve read each week, if anything stuck out to me. I’ll share links to what I’ve written each week. And I’ll generally muse about various things, plans, and tell my pre-January 2017 story in bits and pieces over time. And over time, I’ll probably paint for myself and my readers and posterity a portrait of my own character more revealing than anything I’d write about myself while consciously thinking about my character.
I also need practice writing, both in terms of writing on a routine and disciplined basis, and in terms of playing around with the English language to perfect my voice, to make it just literary enough that I’m interesting to read. No better way to do that than to write, write, write.
This will be my official “running memoirs” to the world, and as such it will be somewhat political in terms of what is included and excluded, and how things are cast. It is intended as a window into my mind, and a resource for myself and anyone interested. As I’m concluding my college career and jumping into my first real job, I figure now’s as good a time as any to start writing.
I don’t know that anyone will want to read this, and that’s fine. If I can pore over these writings at the sunset of my life and I can lean back and know something about myself I hadn’t previously known, that would be enough, and would have made the whole enterprise worth it.
So here’s off to this new project. We’ll see where it goes. Expect a dispatch every Sunday evening, or thereabouts.
As I was going through my Facebook “About” section figuring out how I’d like to present myself to the world, I realized that the clutter of original and stolen quotes on my “About You” and “Favorite Quotes” sections was too much. So I replaced it.
But not before saving that collection of gems and glimpses into my soul here, on my blog, a repository of my thoughts on the art of life. The following About You and Favorite Quotes sections are as they were on January 2nd, 2017- the result of probably about five or six years’ worth of additions and edits. I don’t really know why I’m saving them; perhaps to remind myself, in the future, about who I once was, and who I will be. For the rest of you, here’s a look at how eccentric I can be.
I study, read, and write about politics, policy, and culture. On the side, I help plan events and programs to facilitate other people’s studying, reading, and writing about those topics. That’s what I do and I love it.
“Luke is multifaceted.” -Aydin Celebi, MUN Boss and History colleague
“Luke is a naturally entertaining person.” -Ali DeGuide, Fellow Trojan Bandsman and Political colleague
“People don’t make me sad usually, but THIS guy…: -Artur Galystan, IR colleague and career mentor
“[Luke is] so freaking cool” -Jasmine McAlister, ACA Boss and Program Board trainer
“[Luke] is good with ideas and concepts, but when it comes to actual practical things he isn’t so good.” -Roger Brown, Fellow Trojan Bandsman and PSA colleague
“You’re going to have an eventful life, Luke. Fools will not like you. You better thicken your skin for the long haul.” -Dr. Adam Garfinkle, boss at The American Interest and mentor
“Prudence and Vigor
Honor and Duty
Goodwill to All
Humility Before God”
“To know the ways of Man,
To write with fire in my pen
To lead with vigor in my chest
To live with prudence in my breast”
-Statement of Purpose
-Statement of Manliness
“Do, or do not. There is no try.” -Yoda
“Live Free or Die. Death is not the Worst of Evils.” -General John Stark
“I implore great leaders to lead with all the grace,
of which we’re capable and be the author of your fate,
band together and endeavor clasp our hands together,
as our ancestors have and stand the test of time forever.” -Dan Bull, Epic Civilization Rap
“Work at your tasks in due season, and in his own time the Lord will give you your reward.” -Jesus Ben Sirach
“Never let you sense of right and wrong prevent you from doing what is right.” -Salvor Hardin
“I have always thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be.” -Alexander Hamilton
“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself, and apply myself to them, if they do not apply themselves to me.” -Michel de Montaigne
“Given a choice between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness!” -Teddy Roosevelt
“Never let die in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” -George Washington
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” -Edmund Burke
“Alike for the nation and the individual the indispensable requisite is character.” -Teddy Roosevelt
“That which is both good and weak must soon cease to be weak, or it will soon cease to be good.” -Original
“You may break free of the shackles of oppression, but you shall never escape the chains of duty.” -Original
“On Earth, the closest things to demons are men who call themselves angels.” -Original
“The world really is more interesting, than it seems.” -Original
“The price of bad politics is shame, and the price of good politics is guilt.” -Original
“One foot in paradise, One in the waste…” -Catholic Hymn
“For Gold is Tested in Fire…” -Jesus Ben Sirach
“Cunning as a serpent, Innocent as a dove…” -Various
“Use Human means as though Divine ones did not exist, and use Divine means as though there were no human ones.” -Baltasar Gracian
“I’d forsake command of all else
to be a tyrant o’er myself” -Original
“Honesty is the best Policy.” -Various
“He who is not a liberal at age twenty has no heart; he who is not a conservative at age fifty has no brain.” -Various
“Those who CAN remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” -Arthur Schlesinger
“‘Tis the portion of Man assigned to him by the eternal allotment of Providence, that every good which he enjoys shall be alloyed with ills, that every source of his bliss shall be a source of his affliction- save Virtue alone, that only unmixed good permitted to his temporal condition.” -Alexander Hamilton
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight which knows neither victory nor defeat.” -Teddy Roosevelt
“This above all, To thine own self, be true! And it must follow, as the night the day, thou then canst not be false to any man.” -Shakespeare
“Be Prepared.” -Boy Scout Motto