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The Wrongs of Spring

Two decades ago John Judis and Ruy Teixeira prophesied big changes in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority. Their new book asks, Where Have All the Democrats Gone? (Henry Holt, 2023). Essentially, college-educated professionals (some with unorthodox lifestyles) have now pushed out “many of the people in the deindustrialized towns and small cities of middle America [and left them] stripped of essential elements of their identity.” Now that Democrats are no longer “the party of the common, average, ordinary man and woman,” good Republican candidates often win.

The Hollow Parties by Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld (Princeton University Press, 2024) shows why both Republicans and Democrats aren’t able to select the candidates most likely to win: Money talks and political parties no longer control much of it. The authors also show in passing what happens to good ideas in Washington: “Bush espoused a ‘compassionate conservatism’ that was comfortable with a robust role for state action to promote favored claimants.” Ouch! That was the opposite of what I intended in developing that “compassionate conservatism” concept.

Schlozman and Rosenfeld see both major parties missing opportunities. Democrats gain help in the short term and trouble in the long term by the “millionaire and billionaire megadonors bankrolling the thicket of dark money groups and independent expenditure campaigns on the left.” Republicans should “walk back from the brink, accept the rules of the game, shun all who advocate political violence, and treat their opponents as legitimate political adversaries.”

Michael Wear’s The Spirit of Our Politics (Zondervan, 2023) shows how Democrats could both do well and do good, winning elections by not assuming that only those who share their views are among The Political Elect. Some Republicans have a similar problem when they essentially excommunicate those who do not believe that America was always Great and will be again, if only we vote for X and shun Y. Wear shows why and how we should not bullhorn “reckless, sweeping charges of unfaithfulness due to the simple fact of voting decisions.”

Shortly after Basic Books published How Migration Really Works (2023) with a subtitle calling immigration “the most divisive issue in politics,” U.S. polling showed it to be the #1 issue in American politics. That makes this work particularly valuable in knocking down what author Hein de Haas considers to be assumptions without evidence. He says climate change will not lead to mass migration and immigration does not lead to more crime. He also says immigration does not lift all boats: It economically benefits the immigrants themselves and already-wealthy natives. While immigration doesn’t steal jobs or undercut the wages of native workers, it also doesn’t produce economic benefits for the native non-rich. 

University of Texas professor H. W. Brands writes readable history books that generally favor those who prefer the political equator to the frigid poles. His excellent The Zealot and the Emancipator compared John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: Advantage, Lincoln. His new book, Founding Partisans (Doubleday, 2023), provides some helmets for those who fear the sky is falling. Brands shows how neither Hamilton and John Adams nor Jefferson and Madison were above throwing political punches, some below the belt. Nevertheless, they differed from politicians today who forget George Bernard Shaw’s adage: “Never wrestle with pigs. Both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

What happens when both sides incessantly wrestle in the dirt? Robert Darnton points out in The Revolutionary Temper: Paris, 1748-1789 (Norton, 2024) that aristocratic arrogance begets democratic disaster. The left pushes for revolution, the right becomes fearful, and the result is autocracy, as Adam Zamoyski relates in Phantom Terror: Political Paranoia and the Creation of the Modern State, 1789-1848 (Basic, 2015).

In brief: Ryan Frederick’s Right Place, Right Time (Johns Hopkins, 2021) is a useful guide to the aging about when to move and when not to. A Watchman in the Night (Humanix, 2023) shows that author Cal Thomas for half a century was in the right place to offer spirited views of American life.

Clever essayist Joseph Epstein also was in the right places at the right time, as his memoir—Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life, Especially If You’ve Had a Lucky Life (Free Press, 2024)—shows. Even though their existence is shorter, God also shows his creativity through The Lives of Butterflies (Princeton, 2024). Beautiful photography plus readable writing by David James and David Lohman show us how butterflies live, reproduce, and migrate. 

Readers who like fiction with friction should know about the work of two hardboiled veterans of novel-writing: George Pelecanos (Owning Up from Mulholland Books) and David Downing(Union Station from Soho Crime) have new books this year. Downing’s books about a spy’s life in Nazi Germany (wrong place, wrong time) are brilliant, but Union Station is overwrought about life in 1950s America.

Marvin Olasky

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Marvin Olasky is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008 and edited WORLD magazine from 1992 through 2021. He is the author of 28 books including Fighting for Liberty and Virtue and The Tragedy of American Compassion.