Socially Liberal, Fiscally Liberal
In the book, we learn that it was by splitting our focus between internal and external objectives. The internal focus of American power, Rana argues, was always on securing economic independence and political equality for members of the civic community — an idea that he calls “freedom as self-rule.” It was our common commitment to this kind of liberty that produced some of the most radical political innovations in our history. The founders, for instance, weren’t just rejecting monarchy. They were declaring a right to equal membership in the political community — a right that, in theory, applied universally. This idea, Rana shows, would prove bountiful later on. Before the close of the frontier in 1890, non-citizen immigrants could vote in over 20 states and receive land grants from the federal government — both ideas almost unthinkable in President Donald Trump’s America.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is right to call President Donald J. Trump’s proposed border wall a “medieval vanity project.” The kind of sovereignty encoded in such a display is centuries out of date — as the president himself has acknowledged in comparisons to China’s Great Wall. For liberals though, the pressing question cannot just be about the president’s medievalism. A robust criticism must move to understand modern sovereignty as a different kind of project — with unique promises and dangers.
One of my favorite scenes in American cinema is from Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It,” when the young Norman Maclean comes before his father’s desk with a handwritten essay, ready for revisions. Maclean’s father — a Presbyterian preacher and strict grammarian — parses through the essay, marking it up until the original penmanship is nearly illegible. He then returns it to his son, who runs off to edit some more.
I say this as a Democrat: After the recent events in Virginia, our entire party, from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi down to the equivocating state legislators of the Old Dominion, deserves a jumbo-sized helping of remorse — and perhaps a side of reflection to go with.
Yet something about economists’ unwavering optimism seems to offend the progressive sensibilities. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls, including California Senator Kamala D. Harris, Massachusetts Senator and Law School Professor emeritus Elizabeth A. Warren, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, have already made fixing the economy a keystone issue — adding to a raucous chorus of new progressive voices in Congress that are raising concerns about subsistence wages and what they consider the growing ranks of working poor. There’s also something unsettling, as the conservative British author Tim Montgomerie once put it, about the amorality of the capitalist marketplace in general. Something about divorcing economics from civic or moral judgment naturally unsettles us.