The Intellectual Foundations of MAGA

Republicans are dumb. They are easily led suckers, voting against their own best interests, manipulated by dangerous demagogues. This accusation is accepted as fact by most Democrat voters and is relentlessly reinforced by the media Democrats rely on. From MSNBC, Democratic strategist James Carville says Republicans “have a lot of stupid people that vote in their primaries.”  From New York Magazine, “Is DeSantis Just Not Dumb Enough for Republicans?” From Vanity Fair, “Is the Sheer Stupidity of Republican Politics Breaking Through?”

Even some conservative columnists can’t criticize the Democrats without taking a shot at those stupid Republicans. Daniel Henninger, writing for the Wall Street Journal, characterized national politics this year as “The Stupid Party vs. the Evil Party.” As for the leader of the Republican Party, we have this from The New Republic, “Trump Is an Extremely Dumb Fascist.” And as James Carville said, “When stupid people vote, you know who they nominate? Other stupid people.”

Rather than challenge the “stupid” stereotype, David Brooks, the New York Times’ thoroughly housebroken token conservative, has tried to contextualize it, recently stating on PBS Newshour that “this is a working class party,” referring to the Republican base in the Trump era.

The narrative is widespread and clear. Republican voters, MAGA voters in particular, are universally stigmatized by America’s mainstream thought leaders as uneducated rubes. As Obama once famously sneered, they are “clinging to their guns and religion.”

The perception being marketed as a truism in America is that MAGA Republicans are at best incapable of supporting a coherent national political agenda and, at worst, are willfully supporting dangerous policies that will put an end to democracy in America.

All of this is utterly false. There is a coherent intellectual and moral basis for the MAGA agenda, and there is basic agreement among MAGA Republicans over not only the broad themes but also many of the policy details that define that agenda.

Immigration policy is an obvious example where the MAGA position—restoring control of who enters the nation and basing legal immigration on merit—has a clarity that is completely lacking in the current de facto policy. Since Biden took office, nearly 8 million people have illegally crossed into America from Mexico, entering the country with minimal screening across a border that has been thrown wide open. Cities are going bankrupt trying to support them with food, shelter, healthcare, and education. At the same time, drugs pour across the open border, a primary cause of over 110,000 drug overdose deaths in 2023.

The MAGA position is both humane and realistic. It is impossible to admit everyone into the United States who wants to live here. There are an estimated 700 million people in the world who live in extreme poverty. An estimated 2 billion people live in conflict zones. Just allowing 10 percent of these people into the United States would nearly double our population. That’s the reality.

What is humane is to control the border and strictly regulate admittance to the U.S. so that people around the world will stop trying to get here. Then they would no longer be victims of human trafficking or risk dying during their trek. At the same time, fewer Americans would die of drug overdoses. While vigorous debate might take place over how many immigrants the U.S. should admit legally, under MAGA policies, whoever did immigrate would have skills that America needs. The MAGA strategy would be to use immigration to enhance America’s economy, bringing in people who will adopt our traditions and create wealth and opportunity for all Americans. A strong America will retain the capacity to be a force for stability around the world, offering an inspiring example of success for other nations to emulate.

Trade policy is another fundamental plank of the MAGA agenda. And here, the “free trade” mantra has been taken too far by both parties. America’s manufacturing capacity has been hollowed out, leaving the nation dependent on imports for vital medicines, finished goods, strategic minerals, even computer chips. For decades, as American companies have moved operations offshore to escape overzealous regulations and find cheap labor, millions of Americans have lost good jobs.

In fear of MAGA trade policies, there is a howling chorus of neoliberals claiming “protectionist” mandates will crash the global economy. The problem with this claim is that the global economy is already in danger of crashing. Nations have built their economies on the basis of exports to the U.S., and they need to rebalance their economies to develop domestic markets. And to stimulate an economy stripped of good jobs, America is about to hit $35 trillion just in federal government debt, well in excess of the nation’s entire GDP. Adding state and local government debt and unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, and public sector pensions will easily vault the estimated total government debt in America to over $160 trillion. It can’t go on.

Restoring American manufacturing and reducing America’s trade deficit do not have to spell the end of free trade. But judicious use of tariffs, particularly on imported goods that are subsidized by their governments, and modifying the tax code to discourage American companies from divesting their American operations are elements of what MAGA adherents call fair trade. It can be free, but it also has to be fair. And again, if America doesn’t successfully navigate this rebalancing, the trade deficit and federal debt will crash the economy, dragging the world economy down with it.

One might at least consider the moral and intellectual worth of these economic arguments concerning trade and federal deficits, but not according to the Los Angeles Times. When MAGA Republicans dug in their heels over federal spending earlier this year, Jonah Goldberg, writing for the LA Times, said “the GOP’s stupidity and hypocrisy are showing.” But stupidity, Mr. Goldberg, is thinking that America’s debt binge can go on forever.

Examining what defines MAGA politics must include foreign wars. An illustrative example of how Americans are being trained to think was evident on CBS News last week, where in coverage of the war in Ukraine, the reporter displayed a map of Eastern Europe and said a Russian victory would “bring the Russians to NATO’s doorstep.”

For anyone slightly familiar with the last fifty years of European history, this remark is blatantly deceptive propaganda. In 1989, on the brink of its peaceful dissolution, the Soviet Union still controlled what was referred to as the Warsaw Pact, and the Central European borders of NATO stopped on the eastern frontier of West Germany and Austria. Yugoslavia and Finland were neutral. Since that time, NATO has expanded eastward to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia), Romania, Bulgaria, parts of the former Yugoslavia, and East Germany (reunited with Germany). Ukraine, which might have remained neutral, was never on “NATO’s doorstep.” The doorstep was moved east. Acknowledging this does not equate to Russophilia. But it’s a pertinent fact that belongs in any honest discussion of the war over there today.

It would be foolish to suggest that America should abandon foreign entanglements altogether. But just as with free trade vs. fair trade, there is a long way to travel between frequent, expensive interventions with a devastating cost in human lives and “isolationist” foreign policy. If it is realistic and prudent for the U.S. to maintain a strategic and technological military supremacy over other major nations, then wouldn’t that goal be better served by not squandering resources on countless, endless, unresolvable conflicts everywhere on earth?

Why was it necessary to invade Iraq? We had the regime all bottled up, with no-fly zones north and south. About all Iraq still had left back in 2003 was the military wherewithal to serve as an effective regional counterweight to Iran. That would come in handy just now. Does anyone think people in the Middle East are better off since the U.S. and its allies went in and removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or, for that matter, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya? The dead can’t answer. The living endure chaos and violence without end. Where is the moral worth in this outcome, or the brilliant strategy? The MAGA foreign policy would be to minimize foreign interventions, putting those resources instead into research and development to maintain a decisive technological edge. We cannot, and should not, try to do it all.

A final, fundamental pillar of MAGA concerns environmentalist extremism, which, even more than mass immigration, has crippled the ability of most Americans to afford a decent standard of living. Energy independence and cheap energy have been abandoned to be replaced with “renewable” wind and solar energy projects that degrade thousands of square miles from upstate New York to the California coast. Equally impractical and oppressive are environmentalist-inspired restrictions on not just drilling but mining, logging, farming, ranching, new roads, freeways, and housing. Every essential in America is artificially in scarce supply, and this is the real reason for inflation. There’s no end in sight. The MAGA policy would be to deregulate all of these essential industries, forcing corporations to compete again on price, and to redirect public investment into practical infrastructure and away from costly “green” solutions that are neither green nor solutions.

There is a common thread in all of these mainstream, uniparty, establishment policies that MAGA threatens. Money. American corporations and American billionaires make more money when there is unrestricted immigration. It drives down wages. More people in America also means more shortages—particularly as long as the U.S. remains in the grip of extreme environmentalists. More people and less home building means higher prices, making home ownership out of reach for more Americans. But it creates a tremendous opportunity for corporate investors to buy up the nation’s housing stock and turn America into a nation of renters. And the scarcer that housing gets, the better their real estate investments perform.

So-called “free trade” is also an obvious moneymaker for America’s multinational corporations and globalist billionaires. Moving America’s industrial base into nations with cheap labor and minimal regulations is extremely profitable for the movers. But it destroys the workers it leaves behind. As for foreign wars, one of America’s most respected presidents, Dwight David Eisenhower, warned the nation in his farewell address as president of the “military industrial complex.” His warnings are more relevant than ever.

MAGA voters have been tagged as stupid, dangerous simpletons, ready to vote for politicians that will plunge America into a new dark age. To reinforce this smear, MAGA voters are depicted as intolerant bigots, and news reports focus on the polarizing issues of abortion, transgenderism, sexism, racism, and gun violence, to name just some of the big ones. On these issues as well, the MAGA perspective is rooted not only in intellectual coherence, but also in common sense. But these issues, while also of critical importance to our future, are also a distraction, chosen to trigger an emotional response that dominates the psyche. The real threat that MAGA poses to the establishment is financial, involving immigration, trade, war, and “environmentalism.”

In all four cases, the MAGA position is founded on a solid intellectual and moral foundation, aspiring to the optimal well-being of all Americans and ultimately to the benefit of everyone else in the world as well. MAGA Republicans are not dumb.

This article originally appeared in American Greatness.

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