AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
The fiery basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight once said the three options on a team are to lead, follow, or get out of the way. As Americans face a failure of many American institutions public and private, one of the main tasks of statesmen and citizens at every level is to determine what we are to do with these rogue, diseased, and destructive entities. In the spirit of Coach Knight, let us propose that we think about our task in every case as deciding between three options in the moment: reform, break up, or replace.
For many public institutions, we must necessarily seek some kind of reform. Strong governors and state legislatures in red states have the possibility of attempting reform of a great many institutions that are currently populated with dedicated liberals and leftists. Concerning the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, the main task must continue to be to attempt to put them back on a constitutional and sane footing. This will require not only savvy but fortitude. Bending an institution back into shape requires the will to do things that will not be pleasant.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was not many conservatives’ first choice for a leader. He was accused, whether fairly or not, of going along to get along. In any event, it seems the decision of some House Republicans to hold out initially against the California Representative’s bid for speaker has yielded for now a McCarthy 2.0. McCarthy wisely refused to reappoint Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell to their positions on the Intelligence Committee, citing the former’s dishonesty to the American people and the latter’s having been compromised by a relationship with a Chinese spy. While these refusals are necessary for the safety and security of our country, there was yet another Democrat removed from a committee.
Under his leadership the House voted this week to remove Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee for her anti-Semitic and anti-American statements made while serving. Republicans officially deny having taken this step as a reprisal for the Democrats’ unprecedented stripping of Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar of their committee memberships in the previous Congress for things they said (Greene before she was even in office). But it had better be a reprisal. When Democrats break the norms of our institutions, they expect Republicans to acquiesce and then continue to follow those same norms. This strategy is a non-starter. Letting bullies have their way is a good way to get bullied more.
To reform our necessary institutions in Washington, there are going to have to be a lot more confrontations like this one, especially over our national law enforcement and intelligence operations. The late strategist and scholar Angelo Codevilla argued in a 2020 essay that the FBI had become a “politically weaponized, domestic danger” to the country and needed desperate reform so that it could concentrate on crime alone.
Since Codevilla’s September 2021 death, his judgment has been vindicated over and over. Here are three examples: 1) the FBI’s targeting of pro-life activists while dilly-dallying about the hundreds of pro-life centers and churches that have been vandalized or attacked since the Dobbs leak; 2) vastly different approaches to alleged classified documents being stored by former President Trump and President Biden; and 3) the Twitterfiles revelations about the role of the FBI in censoring conservatives and dissenters from Democratic narratives. That is why the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the discrepancy between the Trump/Biden investigations and its new “weaponization” sub-committee (which was agreed to by McCarthy as one of the conditions for GOP votes for him as Speaker) are at least steps in the right direction. The DOJ is refusing the Judiciary Committee’s demands for documents related to Biden’s classified documents. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan says he is open to using subpoenas. Let’s hope he does. He has also issued subpoenas for documents related to the investigation of parents who complained at school board meetings under a rubric of counterterrorism after Attorney General Merrick Garland’s infamous March 2021 memo opening up “dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.” We do need some sort of federal law enforcement. We also need it to enforce the law.
The new weaponization sub-committee is tasked not merely with investigating the FBI but also the intelligence community and assorted parts of the federal government that have come to seem as if they are merely tools of the Democratic Party. Codevilla noted that the best argument for the Central Intelligence Agency was that it could, well, centralize intelligence from multiple sources. But “since at least the 1980s,” he argued, “computers have made it possible and imperative for all analysts, regardless of their location, to access everything securely. Nowadays, ironically, [the] CIA’s insistence on managing the access and distribution of information is the biggest barrier to universal, all-source Intelligence analysis.” The long and short of it is that the CIA from early on considered itself not just an agent of the three branches of government but one of the deciders—perhaps the decider. Codevilla concluded, “To firmly subordinate foreign Intelligence to military and diplomatic operations we must disestablish [the] CIA and return its functions to the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury.” The CIA and FBI are tasked with enforcing laws and policies, not creating them.
There are a lot more agencies in Washington that need to be broken up or even disbanded. Again, this is not possible at the moment, but preparing the groundwork for paring back our bloated and extra-constitutional swamp has to be something that is on the agenda of conservatives. The immediate task is going to have to be some sort of reform—to fill the swamp with our people before draining it. But the next Republican president must have a plan for how to break up or abolish the agencies that do not merely waste money but use it for mischief.
As with reform, state- and local-level politicians in red states have more possibilities immediately at hand to disband or break up institutions gone bad. They also have a lot of opportunities for the replacement of those institutions. The most important one is education.
Despite the heroic efforts of red state politicians, public education as it now stands can neither be completely abolished nor thoroughly reformed. Virginia Democrats recently blocked a bill that would have required schools in the Commonwealth to speedily inform students of academic honors. This was after revelations that more than a dozen schools had withheld this information because more Asian and white students than black students had achieved such honors.
Even worse than this is the effort of Democrats and teachers unions in nearly a dozen states to block bills that would provide greater transparency about curricula and/or classroom instruction. While the line is always about how such legislation will damage “quality education,” the reality is that it would allow for enforcement of laws about teaching race and gender ideology. In Utah, where the state legislature and the state’s board of education passed rules in 2021 banning teaching Critical Race Theory, a group of teachers and administrators was captured on film boasting of how they had skirted such rules, often by deceiving parents about what they were doing.
While legislative and administrative efforts to root out such teachers must continue, what will be of greater service to parents is the continued push for school choice so that families can choose the best education for their children and avoid toxic public schools. And politicians have been pushing for it. As Education Week reports, “lawmakers in at least 11 states—Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia—have introduced and, in some cases, passed school choice bills.” The bills vary, with some providing for education savings accounts and many allowing for public money to be used to fund education at private schools. That such bills put pressure on public schools is a good feature, because the many years it might take to reform public schools are also the years in which many kids are getting their educations. Parents can have a replacement where no other possibility exists.
We can think of many other institutions that might be replaced in this kind of way. Given the way in which public libraries have become sources of progressive propaganda and woke indoctrination, it would be a delight to see more independent libraries along with funding for such endeavors. Even without legislative action or public moneys, it is clear that we need more institutions such as AMAC, New Founding and the St. Joseph Business Guild to provide alternatives to the older advocacy and business networks that have now become hostile to conservative and religious folk.
Not every institution must exist forever. Some become burdens on our societal life. In such cases, we ought to work as hard as we can to take them down if we cannot reform them. But if we can neither reform them nor abolish them, we must pray for an extra dose of freedom and creativity to find new ones. If we have retained the best parts of the American spirit of liberty and discovery, we will, for as G. K. Chesterton argued, “The truth is that when people are in exceptionally high spirits, really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions.”
David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. A past Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute and winner of Acton Institute’s Novak Prize, he is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative.