Progressive Strategy for 2020: Change the Rules of Engagement

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a rally at Town Hall in New York City on June 23, 2016. (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx via AP)

The news cycle is so unnaturally shrill, as if the status quo itself is screaming. From unenacted policies to the automatic assignment of blame to Western civilization, the news cycle has become one continuous rant. Referring to the root causes of the Christchurch mosque massacre, a Slate article argued: “we are a nation born of shame. A white-majority Australia exists only as the result of a genocidal invasion.”


Speech has never been more dangerous nor points of view more opposed. When the demand isn’t “why didn’t you denounce this” or “why didn’t you apologize for that” it may be “why did you misgender me?”  You can go to jail for saying “he” instead of “she.”

Caroline Farrow, a broadcaster and writer for Roman Catholic newspapers, said she had a phone call from an officer on Monday asking her to attend an interview. Mrs Farrow, 44, said she may have posted the suspect tweet following an appearance on Good Morning Britain last September, during which she took part in a debate on transgender children. …

She added the officer said her tweets had ‘misgendered’ an individual by using the wrong pronoun, which could be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act. Sentences for those found guilty under this act can be as long as two years.

Gessler’s hat is now perched in every Internet Square. All must bow before the pole or face sanction. Cambridge University withdrew the visiting fellowship of academic Jordan Peterson, who refused to refer to transgender people by their chosen pronouns. One tweet explains why: “@Cambridge_Uni by hiring Jordan Peterson, you are giving a platform to anti-trans speech. Instead of making this campus safe(r) for trans folks & those that fall under your so-called ‘diversity’ mission, you are actively supporting their oppression. So shameful.” These events are no coincidence. According to NBC News, the hot new progressive strategy for 2020 is to “change the rules.”

The biggest policy-related fight roiling the 2020 Democratic field may not be over any of the increasingly ambitious proposals flooding the race, but the ways progressives would like to turn some of them into reality.

With the Senate and Supreme Court landscapes looking like a roadblock to legislative wins, a growing number of candidates are looking to change the rules of engagement should they win unified control of government.

A new network of progressive activists want the next Democratic president and Senate majority to make changes that would leave Republican lawmakers unable to block their bills and give Republican-appointed judges fewer opportunities to overturn them. And that’s just the beginning.


The trend toward changing the rules is not confined to the U.S. The EU’s chief negotiator suggested that “the price of a long Brexit delay … would be  … a ‘new event’ such as a second referendum or general election.” Countries don’t have to pay for common defense if they don’t want to. According to the NYT, Germany is not going to meet its spending commitment to NATO.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had a falling-out with the Trump administration last year when it said that, despite signing a commitment to work toward spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024, its target would instead be 1.5 percent.

Now, projected spending levels are expected to fall below even that lower path in a three-year budget plan due to be announced on Wednesday, portending another confrontation with Washington.  … “Trump? Europe is the answer.” … “Donald Trump has made it more difficult … it’s become a liability to stand shoulder to shoulder with this guy.”

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said in reference to a neo-Nazi attack on a mosque, “On 15 March, our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too.”

Now, six days after this attack, we are announcing a ban on all military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles in New Zealand. Related parts used to convert these guns into MSSAs are also being banned, along with all high-capacity magazines. An amnesty will be put in place for weapons to be handed in, and Cabinet has directed officials to develop a buyback scheme. Further details will be announced on the buyback in due course. All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday 15 March will be banned.

But changing the rules is a tacit admission that Plan A has failed. Nobody’s talking about a “rules-based international system” anymore because changing the rules is Plan B.  The progressives are already creating their own world order to replace the old world order.  The system Hillary hoped to lead is gone.


As world leaders gathered in Munich again for their annual summit, the Europeans in attendance admitted that Putin had been right. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel put on Feb. 16, the global order had “collapsed into many tiny parts.” …

Iran also got in on the action, with Mohammed Javad Zarif, its top diplomat, urging Europe’s leaders not to “succumb” to the bullying of the Trump Administration.

Zarif’s most immediate goal in Munich was to salvage the nuclear agreement that Trump withdrew from last year. Despite intense pressure from the White House, the Europeans have stood with Iran on that issue. France, Germany and the U.K. have even continued to trade with Iran in circumvention of U.S. sanctions. …

Despite fierce U.S. objections, the Europeans have continued building bridges to the East. Russia’s new gas pipeline to Germany – North Stream 2 – is expected to make Europeans even more reliant on Russia for energy. China’s global infrastructure project – known as the Belt and Road initiative – will soon bind its economy much more closely to that of Europe, an aim that Merkel intends to promote when her country holds the European Union presidency next year.

In this context, the spate of proposals to change the rules — lower the voting age, abolish the Electoral College, expand the Supreme Court, and spend trillions on a Green New Deal — should come as no surprise. They are the domestic equivalent of building a brand new America. Although they come at a destabilizing price, it is one the ideologues are willing to pay since their vision is imperative enough. After all, to paraphrase Recep Erdogan, “The rules are like a tram ride: when you reach your stop, you get off.”

If the tram’s not going to your stop, you change trams. Bernie Sanders is going to explain socialism again, more slowly this time for those dullards who didn’t see what a great idea it was in the first place: “I think what we have to do, and I will be doing it, is to do a better job maybe in explaining what we mean by socialism — democratic socialism. Obviously, my right-wing colleagues here want to paint that as authoritarianism and communism and Venezuela, and that’s nonsense.”  And then you’ll see it or there will be a second or third explanation until you get it.


If one were to predict between comity and authoritarianism in the coming years the odds would favor authoritarianism. Never has so much naked ambition disguised itself as virtue, and the more loudly political factions proclaim they’re out to save the world, the more ruthless they are likely to be. Liberty will come under assault from the banner of tolerance; fascism will advance in the guise of grievance.

One challenge in the coming years will be to reconcile the effects of divergent evolution with the demand for risk pooling. Politicians will change the rules and many of them will make things worse. “Imagine… a process like the flowing of a river…  If however a big enough boulder were to stand in between its path, the river would split into two and give rise to two new smaller rivers, each of which would meet its separate fates as it flowed down the mountain. This is exactly what divergent evolution is all about. The boulder represents ‘natural selection.'” The future will winnow out the choices. Perhaps Donald Trump will regret his wall, Arden her gun ban, Merkel her dependence on Putin, and Sanders his socialism. But at all events, there will be a demand by the losers for the winners to bail them out.

There’s no denying that the future will be uncertain, rife with both great danger and opportunity. Yet that is a comforting thought, for while the true believers are convinced they know how the story ends just as surely as they knew how the present would, the rest of us know the tale is not yet finished. Until then:

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. To many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.

Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days – the greatest days we have ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making them.


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The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership, by Fred Kofman. Kofman argues that our most deep-seated and unspoken anxiety stems from our fear that our life is being wasted — that the end of life will overtake us when our song is still unsung. Material incentives account for perhaps 15 percent of employees’ motivation at work. The other 85 percent is driven by a need to belong, a feeling that what we do day in and day out makes a difference, and that how we spend our time on earth serves a larger purpose beyond just ourselves.

Democracy: A Case Study, by David Moss. Through nineteen case studies, Harvard Business School professor David Moss delivers not only a first-rate history of the United States but also reveals that the nation has often thrived on conflict. Each case presents readers with a pivotal moment in U.S. history, asks them to weigh the choices and consequences, wrestle with momentous decisions, and come to their own conclusions. The reader comes away from this engaging book with a new appreciation of the country’s extraordinary resilience.

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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.


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