“Some cultures are better than others, not because of some gauzy metaphysical claim, but because they allow more people to live happy, prosperous, meaningful lives without harming people in the process. Because this is true, it is incumbent upon all of us to fight for a better society, to defend the hard-learned lessons of human history, and to be grateful for what we have accomplished.”
—Jonah Goldberg, Fellow; Asness Chair in Applied Liberty
AEI has a long history of producing groundbreaking work on American citizenship, politics, good government, public administration, and political polarization. From Walter Berns to Robert Goldwin to our present work on restoring the legislative branch‘s constitutional design, AEI scholars have contributed a substantial body of knowledge to Americans’ understanding of how their government should function. Over the past year, AEI led a major body of work intended to foster a greater understanding about Americans’ attitudes toward economic mobility and trust in institutions; show how external factors such as educational attainment, employment sector, family structure, and demographics affect attitudes toward the American dream; and find solutions to America’s increasing partisan divide and growing populist movement.
Revitalizing a Limited, Energetic Government
In America and around the world, statism and democratic socialism are on the rise, posing serious threats to human flourishing. As Michael Strain wrote in a major piece appearing in the December 2017 edition of National Review, “Following a campaign cycle in which long-term economic change collided with the consequences of the Great Recession and a declining culture, and with disdain for political elites and an element of chance mixed in, here we are in a populist moment, with a populist president, our politics thrown out of balance.”
Jonah Goldberg’s latest book, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy (Crown Forum, April 2018), makes the case that America and other democracies are in peril of losing the will to defend the values and institutions that sustain freedom and prosperity. Instead, he argues, we are surrendering to populism, nationalism, and other forms of tribalism.
The book debuted at number four on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list and reached six on the Amazon rankings. The book tour featured appearances on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, NPR’s Morning Edition, and Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. In July, Goldberg hosted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) to discuss the importance of maintaining constitutional principles and mediating institutions in a period of populist and tribalist upheaval.
AEI is in a unique position to bridge the divide among Americans restoring patriotism, civic health, and confidence in institutions of meaning. Indeed, AEI’s role is more important than ever in showing how limited, energetic government can empower individuals to earn their own success and lead lives of dignity.
Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith helped launch a new collection of essays from AEI scholars on reviving localism in America. Ryan Streeter and Joel Kotkin (the Center for Opportunity Urbanism) collaborated on the publication of a collection of essays, Localism in America. The volume brings together an eclectic and ideologically diverse group of thinkers to examine various aspects of local governance and problem solving on topics such as education policy, welfare reform, and the value of competition among local governments. The essays, which include work from Samuel Abrams, Karlyn Bowman, Robert Doar, Frederick Hess, and Thomas Miller, were released at a public AEI event in February, featuring a keynote address from Goldsmith.
AEI scholars collaborated on a major bipartisan initiative to confront the most destructive trends in populism and political extremism. Danielle Pletka and Dalibor Rohac collaborated with Vikram Singh (Center for American Progress) on a major initiative, “Defending Democracy and Underwriting the Transatlantic Partnership.” The project aims to analyze and address the internal drivers of populist politics, seeking to strengthen support for democratic institutions and a renewed transatlantic alliance. The project published several reports that culminated in a capstone white paper, Partnership in Peril: The Populist Assault on the Transatlantic Community. Rohac discussed the work on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Pletka and Singh joined Pedro Echevarria on C-SPAN. To learn more, visit the project’s webpage at aei.org/transatlantic.
Peter Wallison’s new book calls for reining in the administrative state. Peter Wallison’s latest book, Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein in the Administrative State (Encounter Books, October 2018), argues that the administrative agencies of the executive branch are gradually taking over the legislative role of Congress and that the courts bear the major responsibility. Since 1937, the judiciary has allowed the administrative agencies great latitude in their interpretation of their statutory authorities and allowed the executive branch to assume more and more of the legislative powers of Congress. The result has been the uncontrolled growth of regulation and a significant threat to the rule of law in the United States. The book was released at an AEI public event, and Wallison published related pieces in the Federalist Society, the Hill, and the Wall Street Journal. He appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box, KDKA’s KDKA Radio Afternoon News, WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, and AEI’s Banter podcast to discuss the book’s ideas, and he also produced an “In 60 Seconds” video for AEI’s YouTube channel.
AEI work on veterans’ issues led to a bipartisan bill in the House to implement the suggested reforms. Rebecca Burgess released a report in March, “Economic Opportunity, Transition Assistance, and the 21st Century Veteran: The Case for a Fourth VA Administration.” It argues that Congress should reformulate veteran legislation to emphasize postservice growth and employment initiatives and avoid feeding a “broken veteran” narrative. The report, read by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), led to a bipartisan bill to implement Burgess’ proposed reforms. The bill was introduced in the House as the VET OPP Act in April and passed the full House in July. Beyond Capitol Hill, Burgess was invited to speak at the American Legion Centennial Celebration held in Minneapolis in August — the 100th anniversary celebration for the largest veterans service organization in the United States. Her March piece in War on the Rocks, “Beyond the ‘Broken Veteran’: A History of America’s Relationship with Its Ex-Soldiers,” which is based on her report, is being used in several university courses.
AEI scholars reconvened for another season of the longest-running election discussion series in Washington, DC. Michael Barone, Karlyn Bowman, Norman Ornstein, Sean Trende, John Fortier (Bipartisan Policy Center), and Henry Olsen (Ethics & Public Policy Center) gathered at AEI for two Election Watch events in the fall, before and just after the midterm elections, during which they discussed voter trends, their predictions, the implications, and the election results. The events reached a combined in person or livestream audience of 2,200 people.
AEI project provided valuable new data on social capital and the American dream. Samuel Abrams and Ryan Streeter directed a new project to more fully understand Americans’ views on community, institutional trust, engagement, and politics and gauge the state of connectedness and cohesion in America’s communities. The survey instrument was created and workshopped by several AEI scholars, including Karlyn Bowman, Robert Doar, Nicholas Eberstadt, and Charles Murray. The survey was put in the field in mid-2018 with a sample size of approximately 3,000. AEI will publish a report discussing the topline results in January, host a public event to discuss the survey, and release a series of subsequent reports in 2019 that will shed light on what the survey’s results mean for American culture and society.
A series of reports addressed key issues afflicting political parties today: factionalism and populism. Jay Cost published a series of reports exploring the problems of factionalism and offering a deeper understanding of populism. The reports include “Who Are the Best Keepers of the People’s Liberties? Political Parties and the Problem of Minority Factionalism” (October 2018), “The Inconveniences of Democracy: The Constitution and the Problem of Majority Factionalism” (July 2018), and “The Humble Members of Society: Understanding Populism in the United States” (June 2018).