Every edition of The America First Weekly includes Five Questions (a Q&A with an interesting figure, pseud or otherwise), Links & Screeds (all editors get to weigh in on anything they choose), and a friends-link to an original Featured Article by one of the AFW editors.
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This interview comes out of a conversation on Twitter that I (Musculus) started with Ryan Williams, the President of the Claremont Institute, regarding his statement that Obama was more divisive than Trump. After asking for his fuller thoughts a few days later on the American Mindset Substack, he agreed to answer some questions for The America First Weekly:
Ulysses S. Musculus: You wrote, "Obama is a skilled and mellifluous demagogue... dissecting and disentangling his rhetorical obfuscations [takes] quite a bit of work." I agree wholeheartedly that Obama was mellifluous. Millions of Americans, myself among them, voted for Obama in part because of his skills as a communicator. This seems to be another instance of the Yanny/Laurel or striped dress phenomenon, i.e. a "parallax." Imagine you are speaking to someone who hears the "Laurel" while you are hearing the "Yanny" of Obama's speeches. What tools do you offer to help us hear him as you do? And is Obama aware of this effect of his speech?
Ryan Williams: The best tool is to read his major speeches carefully, and pay attention to his characterizations of his political opponents. He often presents straw-men caricatures of either side of an issue and then places himself in the middle. The careful student of the actual policies pursued by the administration will reveal Obama as a routine rhetorical dissimulator. I would also point readers to a trenchant review by Joseph Bessette in the Claremont Review of Books, “Sounding Presidential.” Rhetoric is one side of the demagogue (the forward-facing part, so to speak), and then the actions pursued are the other side of the coin. President Obama routinely deployed rhetoric in the furtherance of policies that abused the rights of a substantial portion of the citizenry (e.g., HHS’s Obamacare abortifacient requirement, rights of conscience and free exercise be damned). I do think Obama is aware of the effect of his speech. He was an admirer of Reagan’s success in shifting the political center of gravity of the country to the Right for a generation (many devils in those details of course); he, like Reagan, was very ambitious and deployed his rhetorical gifts in service of shifting the country decidedly to the Left—we’ll see if it lasts a generation.
Musculus: What is the source of the division between those who hear Obama's divisiveness and those who hear him doing a cool (if sometimes campy) impersonation of a statesman? Can you account for why people hear differently in this case? What makes your interpretation more compelling than an opponent who would argue that Obama was just cool and kind albeit high minded?
Williams: To repeat myself a bit: one has to read the major speeches carefully rather than just hear them. They hardly ever read as good as they sound. Anyone who thinks Obama was “cool and kind albeit high minded” should read Andy McCarthy’s book Faithless Execution, which made the case in 2014 for Obama’s impeachment. I know, I know: “go read this book” is a bit of a cop-out. Ultimately the buck stops at the president’s desk, and Obama presided over some pretty nasty (and I would argue, constitutionally faithless) skullduggery. Leading examples: AG Holder’s running of DOJ, including his role in Fast and Furious and especially his lying to and stonewalling of Congress about it (for which Congress held him in contempt); Susan Rice’s and Hillary Clinton’s mendacity around the Benghazi disaster.
Musculus: In your article on the American Mindset Substack this week, you mentioned several examples of past presidents doing similarly divisive things. We are all familiar with the Obama flub about "clinging bitterly to guns and religion." But that isn't the slick and calculated thing I think you are describing; in that moment, the mask came off. Can you provide examples of Obama being divisive in the "mellifluous" way you describe?
Williams: A subtle and skilled (and “big”) example is his 2nd Inaugural, especially starting at the “We, the people” section (the last 2/3 of the speech). A few paragraphs into that section and we find a leading example of Obama offering what he considers a false binary choice clearly imputed to his political opponents. “We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.” Literally nobody on the Right with a national profile has said America must choose between those two alternatives. The 2nd Inaugural is a subtle speech in which Obama places himself in continuity with the truths of the Declaration of Independence but re-interprets those truths of nature and nature’s god to vindicate the priorities and anti-nature ideology of the modern Democratic party. It’s an updating, in a way, of FDR’s “Commonwealth Club Address,” which was an earlier and also very skillful appropriation and distortion of the Declaration.
Musculus: In my last interview with Spotted Toad, who uses a pseud, I asked him what he thought of the rise of pseuds. I'd like to ask the same of you who are obviously not a pseud (unless of course mild mannered Ryan has a secret identity!). Pseuds seem to be popping up all over the place, but mostly on the right. What do you make of this phenomenon?
Williams: Ryan Williams is, in fact, my real name. Well the obvious first response for their rise on the Right is the fact that it is really only on the Right that one faces expulsion, termination, and the irrevocable destruction of reputation for voicing one’s political opinions, especially if they go against the accepted mainstream narrative on any given subject (and especially if that subject is controversial—i.e., it deals with or even touches on identity politics). The rise of social media, especially Twitter, has fueled this phenomenon as well. This is where pseuds are a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing because they allow protection for unorthodox but true opinions to be aired in a time of increasingly strident (and stifling) political-ideological orthodoxy. They’re a curse because they sever the necessary link between responsibility and rhetoric afforded by writing under one’s own name… and so we get more irresponsible (not to be confused with irreverent) rhetoric—in the full “small-r” republican sense of responsibility. Then again, the most famous expositor of “small-r” republican responsibility and statesmanship was Publius in the Federalist, the OG pseud. So, as with much in life, it’s complicated.
Musculus: Claremont still has a stated vision to "return to limited government" but has also roundly criticized libertarianism. Was Claremont's vision of "limited government" different from that of the Reagan-era GOP at the time? Has Claremont evolved on this point under your leadership?
Williams: Claremont has always been quite critical of the conservative movement’s and the GOP’s understanding of the Founding, including “limited government.” (If your readers want a cook’s tour of our teacher Harry Jaffa’s many fights on the intellectual and political right, they should check out a recent edited volume put together by my colleagues Ed Erler and Ken Masugi, The Rediscovery of America.) For one thing, and as I have put it in print and in speeches, the watchword of a good portion of the Reagan-era GOP and its successors has been “small government.” The U.S. government will never again be “small.” We’re a commercial republic of over 300 million people—the government is going to be “big.” But we can once again re-limit government. It won’t be easy and I think it will take a combination of luck and preparation by the Right (we’re nowhere near ready). And we should state the obvious, there is really no “going back” in politics—our limited government will look very different than that of the Founders or Lincoln, even if it’s inspired by the same principles. Our task at Claremont, including under my leadership, remains as it ever was: the vindication and defense of the principles of the Founding, philosophically and politically, and their application to the current forces that threaten to destroy America and subject us to despotism.
Links & Screeds
Every week, each AFW editor comments on the news, shares links, talks about what he’s reading, or just rants. Presented in the order they arrive in the Managing Editor’s inbox…
Untameable Native King
It’s 2007. I’m in my car driving one of my black American neighbors home from a sporting event and having voted for both Gore and Kerry, as a good “Anti-Bush Liberal Christian”, I’m listening to the latest NPR coverage. The host immediately turns to a speech by “up and coming African-American Democratic nominee Illinois Senator Barack Obama.” Two sentences in, my car companion turns to me and says, “I don’t trust that dude. He doesn’t even sound Black.”
I turned NPR off and looked at him, but since he seemed utterly unselfconscious about his latent racism, I decided just to put on the Clipse album, “Hell Hath No Fury” and continued the drive home in relative quiet. And as we rode with the chopped staccato Pharrell beats, “Keys Open Doors”, bumping, I reflected on what the young man had said. What perceptive faculty did he have to delineate fake from real, truth from falsehood? And why had so many well-meaning white Americans fallen for the performance?
The truth is that Barack Obama is NOT a black American. He is African and American. His father was a Kenyan national and his mother was white. This not a problem; quite the opposite, his lineage sets him up to have a successful American life. Unlike black Americans whose heritage is one of oppression, slavery, and Jim Crow, African immigrants have been quite successful in America. 41% of Sub-Saharan African immigrants have their bachelor’s degree or higher but Kenyan Americans are even more successful, with 50% holding a bachelors or greater. This is compared to the 14% of black American students who attend college. Or the 30% of all Americans who attend a 4 year.
On top of that, his mom was one of only a vanishingly small percentage of women, as of 1992, who earned a Bachelors, a Masters and a Phd. Subsequently, while he claimed for himself the legacy of civil rights leadership and the mantle of the black American savior, he is not at all in a position to align himself with the struggle faced by black Americans who endured slavery.
He may present well. He may speak well. He might even be able to harness the vocabulary of black American liberation theology. But he’s not authentically black. For one, look at his repudiation of his 20+ year pastor, Jeremiah Wright after it came to light that Reverend Wright had a dim view of the American project. For another in his giving up membership in Chicago Trinity United Church of Christ, his home church.
Those are the actions of what here in the streets, Too Short would call a “BIOTCH.” Someone who runs away in the face of resistance. It’s commonly assumed, in the neighborhood, that a white man will only befriend a minority for the sake of business or some other money-making enterprise. But President Obama dropped an entire church of black Americans to further his political and subsequently financial career.
And while people might claim Obama’s mandate was divine, I for one think it was orchestrated. Not by God, though He has his hands in all things, but by those in the establishment who found in this singular man, a tool to be harnessed and leveraged for their own gain.
Don’t believe me, just ask the banks how much money Obama gave them. Yet another thing an authentic black American would NEVER do.
(The names of all the Doctors in this screed have been changed to protect their distinguished reputations.)
Dr. Bernard hung up poster boards filled with her curly handwriting all over the walls. Squinting, I was able to read some of what they said: “start each class with a routine,” “use color paper to engage students,” “not all students share your culture.” She walked around the room, reading and explaining her profound insights. When asked about the poster boards, she remarked with authority that “studies have shown students engage more with handwriting than with computer print text.” She then wheeled in a TV and VCR and played us a video of a Harry Wong lecture. Class was then dismissed.
Dr. Walker insisted that mastering the latest lesson-planning method would help close the racial achievement gap. The key, you see, is to begin each lesson by clearly stating the learning outcome so that students know what they’re working towards. Teachers must then systematically measure through a combination of “formative and summative assessments” each student’s progress towards that goal, and immediately offer “intervention” for those who don’t make adequate progress. Once armed with this ground-breaking lesson-planning methodology, we new teachers could really change the world. We were then tasked with writing a month’s worth of lesson plans. Class was then dismissed.
Dr. Johnson courageously asked all black students to leave his lecture. He then asked all Latino students (“Latinx” hadn’t been invented yet) to leave. Next, all the women. Finally, he asked all non-white people to leave (the last shake of the tree). He then stood above all us crackers and asked us to reflect on our privilege.
“You have never had to face obstacles like your fellow classmates,” he intoned. When he noticed that Dr. Mohammed was still in the room, he was aghast.
“Why are you still here?” he demanded. Dr. Mohammed immigrated from Libya, earned his PhD in Physics, and was now trying to become a teacher. He looked at Dr. Johnson and simply said, “I am white.” Class was quickly dismissed.
These classes, and many others, stood between me and a teaching credential. All my professors had EdD’s or PhD’s in Education. The first rule of Teaching Credential Programs is you don’t talk about Teaching Credential Programs. The entire field is completely unserious, teeming with sophists, hucksters, and dupes.
Those on the outside may look at one with a teaching credential or graduate degree in education and assume it means something. From the inside, let me assure you, an education degree is nothing more than a badge of one’s ability to tolerate or perpetuate the finest grade Bull Shit ever excreted by a diarrhetic bureacracy. The EdD is the American version of the Soviet era PhD in Marxism-Leninism. Useful if you’re trying to suckle at the teat of the regime. An obvious lie if you have a functioning rational mind. Many fine people can’t tolerate it and never become teachers. Dr. Mohammed is one such case. He left in disgust. The entire field must be demolished. And, as I’ve argued earlier, that day may soon be coming.
Ulysses S. Musculus
The Cleveland Indians have succumbed to the discourse. They will join the Washington Redskins to find a new name for their team. The odds are good that they will not rename themselves the Cleveland Injuns. We talk a lot this week at the America First Weekly offices about Obama and his ability to use subtler languages to communicate, and manipulate, different audiences. While Trump was regularly perceived differently by different communities he rarely spoke in this subtler way. The Washington Football Team, however, is attempting to see what and whether it can adopt the subtle language. The subtle language of progress.
Also this week I have heard that Apple is removing “master/slave” and “blacklist” as terms from its coding platform. More progress.
Progress in this usage, however, does not imply an actual development of the moral law. Rather it means correctly interpreting the direction that some people want society to go in as opposed to other people. Obama, I have concluded, in his mellifluous speech, is an expert in signaling what direction society is going to be directed in by these forces and makes it seem palatable. This palatability is concocted partially by attempting to get us to view those standing against this direction as bad and “other.” Of course if the forces of “progress” win, then in hindsight Obama’s words will be vindicated. But if they don’t…
There is a reason that the Indians caved to this pressure after the Redskins. The Indians couldn’t be considered a morally unacceptable name so long as there was a team in American sports called the Redskins. So the Redskins truly were standing in the way of the mob. Trump has pointed this out relative to himself. That as long as he is there taking heat for saying non-progressive things, he is standing between progressive mobs and us, the conservative American. Regardless of how many times they accuse conservatives of flocking to “dear leader” or conflating Trump with Hitler, it will still be true. In fact that reinforces the point. While all the airtime is taken up calling Trump Hitler and getting him out of office, the forces of progress cannot spend their time tracking down the pseudstackers and accusing us of being collaborators.
Of course Trump is not Hitler. And the “progress” they are selling is anything but. This will end, sooner or later, because the one thing the progressives have to reckon with as of yet is that there is no way around human nature. We can never progress beyond what it means to be human without becoming monsters to ourselves. Obama, for all his rhetoric, can’t take us there. He is ultimately a sophist, teaching his ignorant disciples to praise him, but nothing more. Meanwhile his true intentions and motives are hidden off stage. He is a shadowy friend. And where will all this progress end, I wonder?
The tragic image of the logical terminus of progressivism is Tony Hsieh’s final months. According to reports these were spent attempting to “hack” his body while also exploiting it to squeeze every last ounce of pleasure it could afford him. It ended with him trapped in a room in a house which was burning down–progress. He was a man supremely out of touch with his nature; for all his wealth he was uneducated and friendless. Pray he is not an image of where the “progressive” visionaries take our country, and our world.
Since this week’s newsletter became the Obama newsletter, I thought I’d call our readers’ attention to an interview Obama did on his way out the door of the White House with Bloomberg (the publication, not the man) back in 2016. It is a perfect illustration of the mellifluous divisiveness that Ryan Williams talks about.
Here’s what he has to say about one of the biggest socio-economic disasters of the late 1990s--China’s admission to the WTO:
So you take the example of China’s accession to the WTO [World Trade Organization]. From a geopolitical perspective, it was absolutely the right thing to do. And in fairness, nobody anticipated that China suddenly was going to be the engine of world manufacturing that rapidly. But there probably were some safeguards that could have been built to make sure that they weren’t devaluing their currency unfairly, that they weren’t engaged in the same state-owned enterprise subsidies and dumping that they were. Hopefully we’ve learned lessons from what happened there.
He says “nobody anticipated” what a big deal it would be--does he not remember the Battle of Seattle? The labor unions who locked arms with environmentalists and black bloc anarchists in Seattle in 1999 certainly had some idea.
But Obama knew we’d say that. He immediately pivots:
My argument with my friends in the union movement, for example—and I’m a strong union supporter—is if you’re fighting that battle, you’re fighting the last war. That you have to recognize that globalization is here to stay. That to keep one of the auto plants that have reopened and grown here in the United States operating at full capacity—they’re relying on parts from all over the world, and trying to disentangle that is all but impossible. And our goal, then, should be to try to shape trade deals that raise standards everywhere. And that’s what we’ve done with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
He’s mellifluous--like an abusive husband: “nobody could have known… well, you sorta did know… but this is as good as it’s going to get… after all, without me you’d be even more screwed.”
Ulysses S. Musculus is exactly right in his screed up above:
Obama, I have concluded, in his mellifluous speech, is an expert in signaling what direction society is going to be directed in by these forces and makes it seem palatable. This palatability is concocted partially by attempting to get us to view those standing against this direction as bad and “other.” Of course if the forces of “progress” win, then in hindsight Obama’s words will be vindicated. But if they don’t…
If you can predict which way the wind is blowing, you can position yourself not merely as a prophet, but as the Savior who can carry others through the upcoming storms by getting them “as good as they’re going to get.”
As Obama said: “Hopefully we’ve learned lessons from what happened there.” I dunno Obama, did you learn anything in your eight years in the Oval Office?
But the laughable highlight of this interview, and the reason I’m including it, is for it’s tie-in to my featured article down below: Obama daydream about becoming a venture capitalist:
Well, you know, it’s hard to say. But what I will say is that—just to bring things full circle about innovation—the conversations I have with Silicon Valley and with venture capital pull together my interests in science and organization in a way I find really satisfying.
Above, Untameable Native King said concerning Obama that he dropped his former black allies for the sake of his “political and subsequently financial career.” That “subsequently” was on purpose.
Obama knows where the real power is.
In every week’s edition of The America First Weekly, we provide a “friends link” (no Medium subscription required) to that week’s original article written by one of the editors.
In 1999, just as Larry Page and Sergey Brin were moving out of the garage and into a real office, the same year that the Hilltop patent was filed, Lin Junyue published “The National Credit Management System,” the founding document of China’s Social Credit System (SCS).
I swear to you that I did not launch the giant hack against Google this morning. I merely published this: The American Social Credit System.