A mere 30% of Americans think their country is heading in the right direction. President Joe Biden, elected on the promise of being a uniter with better solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic, has resorted to divisive rhetoric and a socialist agenda.
It’s no wonder many Americans are pessimistic about America’s future. Yet, there is reason to be hopeful, says Hugo Gurdon, editor-in-chief of the Washington Examiner. Restoring America, a new Examiner initiative, is celebrating what’s great about America while at the same time confronting the left’s assault on our values.
“We think that we are at an extremely important point in the country where, as I say, the left is now triumphant and they’re pushing successfully against all of the traditional values that have made this country great. We need to push back and we need to encourage people to realize that they can win this fight,” Gurdon says. “We need to realize, and people need to realize, that they can steer their country where they wish it to go. Most people do not wish it to go where the extreme left is currently pushing it.”
Gurdon joins “The Daily Signal” to discuss Restoring America, how it contrasts with The New York Times’ 1619 Project, and why he remains encouraged about our country’s future. The full episode is below along with a lightly edited transcript.
Bluey: You have just launched a new initiative called Restoring America. It’s very exciting, great content, really focused on some of those traditional American values that we hold so dear here at The Heritage Foundation and The Daily Signal, and I know you do as well. Tell our listeners about it.
Gurdon: Restoring America is our effort to be part of a revival of the core values that made America great for the first 200 or more years of its existence. They’re embedded in the Constitution, they’re embedded in the Bill of Rights, but they are increasingly under attack.
As a conservative organization, as is Heritage and The Daily Signal, we are naturally wanting to conserve those things, but we didn’t want to leave that implicit. We wanted to launch a site and a campaign or a movement, which made that purpose and that goal explicit.
These are the things that we want to protect from the relentless attack that they are under at the moment from the left. These are the things that we want to promote, and we want to make sure that the enormous number of the millions and millions of people who are very worried about where America is and where it’s going, don’t feel that they are alone. They’re not brow-beaten into believing that they are some reactionary or bigoted minority for believing these things. They are actually in an enormous number of people, I think actually the majority of people in this country, who want to preserve those things.
We wanted to give courage and get people to realize that the future of this country is in their hands. All they have to do is stand up for the things that they believe and have the courage to say those things explicitly without embarrassment and not be brow-beaten by those who are now trying to brow-beat them.
Bluey: You started your initial editorial with a blunt statement, in the first sentence, “America is going wrong.” Explain what you mean.
Gurdon: All over the country, you hear from people who love this country a concern that it’s heading in the wrong direction. You hear people say different versions of the phrase, “Restoring America.” They say, “How do we get back to basics? How do we save the republic?” They’re using phrases that are a lament and a concern about where the country is heading.
One of the things that I said in that essay was that, for many years, perhaps at least a couple of decades, the left was characterized by moral relativism. It wasn’t exactly programmatic, but it was pretty much systemic. What it did was erode and slash and burn the traditional values, and make everything value neutral.
What’s happening now is that, having destroyed people’s full confidence in the things that they used to believe and the traditional values that they had, the left is now replacing moral relativism with a kind of moral certainty. They don’t want to hear anybody expressing views that they disagree with. People who do not abide by the left-wing nostrums are to be silenced rather than listened to.
I mean, obviously that is inherently tyrannical. It means that the left is imposing. … They want to tell people how to govern themselves, how to be governed, how to live. They’re not interested in listening to people and governing by consent.
Bluey: Was there a particular moment that you can identify where we started to go wrong, or has it been a culmination over years, maybe even decades of the left slowly chipping away at these foundational traditional values that we believe in?
Gurdon: I think it’s the latter. They’ve no doubt been various cardinal points, but this is a process that has been going on throughout pretty much all of my life. I think you go back to the late ’50s through the ’60s, it really gathered momentum with the counterculture of the ’70s, but there have been ways in which it has been eroded from different angles.
What we’re now facing is a form of socialism. We used to face Soviet socialism strategically and that was the threat. What we now have as a kind of postmodern socialism, which used to argue that almost all the beliefs that we had were … one could not subscribe to them. They were either evil or else they were just hypocritical.
Now what we are getting is this triumphant kind of elitism combined with this deceptive demand for equity. So, it’s a very strange thing that we’re looking at, and I think that it’s actually been evolving or in a process of constant decline over the course of perhaps half a century.
Bluey: I also noticed that you used the term cultural revolution in that initial editorial. Of course, many times that is associated with the 1960s or the 1970s, but it’s also been associated with some Marxist regimes in Russia and China. So, are you concerned at all that the left is taking lessons from those other Marxist countries, communist countries, and trying to apply them here at home?
Gurdon: I don’t know whether I would say they’re taking the lessons, but they have the same instincts, and broadly defined, the tactics of the same. Obviously, we don’t have tanks rolling through the streets to suppress and oppress civilians or anything like that.
But one of the chief characteristics of what is happening now is that the left wishes to take self-government away from ordinary people. The COVID pandemic has been a prime example of where ordinary people have been told to shut up. And if they don’t shut up, they are often just canceled or they’re removed by social media, they’re removed from the conversation.
We have been told to trust the experts to trust science, etc. Now, this is a way of delegating the authority that comes from popular sovereignty—the sovereignty of the people of the United States. A way of removing it from them and saying, “Well, you don’t understand this, leave it to these experts.”
The removal of sovereignty to a small caste of experts was very characteristic of those communist regimes and frankly, any other tyranny. The population, the citizens of countries, were expected to obey rather than to govern themselves.
Bluey: Right now at this moment, we’re in a city that has imposed some strict COVID mandates. You need vaccine documentation simply to get into our restaurant. How can we, as Americans, resist some of these authoritarian forces?
Gurdon: The first thing that everybody needs to realize is that they should resist. They have to get to the point where they stop saying, “Oh, well, the experts probably know.” They have to realize that resistance is required. They have to speak up.
The arrival of the omicron variant is, in some ways, rather a good thing. Not because it makes so many people sick, which is obviously a bad thing, but that it is so virulent that it has exposed the fallacy that has existed over the course of the first 18 months or more of the pandemic, that somehow or other we could stop the pandemic. That we could stop the spread of this.
The virus has just blown that falsehood or pretense away. People are utterly sick of the restrictions that they’ve had to endure during the pandemic. They can see that the advice or the impositions from authority have changed, and there are things said now that are 180 degrees the opposite of what was said earlier on.
They recognize that this has not been handled well by the authorities, by officialdom, and they’re no longer willing to have their lives disrupted and restricted for reasons … without reason, actually. They’re no longer willing to have their lives disrupted and crimped and restrained, when they can see more and more commonly, and more and more obviously, that those restrictions don’t do any good.
Bluey: I’m hopeful that it’s breaking down even among party lines. It’s not just Republicans who are resisting, but there are Democrats and independents and others who are starting to speak up as well.
Gurdon: Well, I think that they’re preparing the ground. President Biden just recently said something along the line, “We’re not going get rid of the variant. We’re going to have to live with it.”
Now, a lot of us were saying that in April or May of 2020, just as a lot of us were saying, “Actually, the lab leak theory looked really looks fairly plausible. Please look into it closely.” We were accused of being racist, etc.
So I think that the Democrats, and you can also see it with this new distinction being made between those who died of COVID and those who died with COVID. So, that if people with four comorbidities died in the past when the Democrats were not running everything, this was put down as having died of COVID. Of course, the numbers are actually far lower than the 800,000 people actually dying of COVID.
Democrats know that they have lost control of this, or rather, admitting very quietly to themselves that they never did have, and it was actually false to suggest that they could ever get it under control.
Bluey: Let’s go back to talking about Restoring America. Quite a novel idea for a media outlet, a news publication like yours to take on an initiative this big and, and expansive. Where did the idea come from, and what are some of the things you’ve been doing since it’s been up and running?
Gurdon: The idea evolved from, every now and again, and you probably know this with The Daily Signal, you sit down and you think, “What are we doing?” What are the various storylines that we think that we are doing, which ones do we think are important, which ones should we do more of? And in the process of doing that, we started accumulating a list of the kind of stories that we were covering and the kind of stories that we thought we should be covering.
And through discussions, we realized that what we were talking about here was the coverage of political and cultural issues that were over the future of the country. And so, and we decided, “Well, this is what we do as conservatives anyway.”
We think that we are at an extremely important point in the country where, as I say, the left is now triumphant and they’re pushing successfully against all of the traditional values that have made this country great. We need to push back and we need to encourage people to realize that they can win this fight.
We are not historicists, where we just believe there’s something inevitable about where we arrive. We need to realize, and people need to realize, that they can steer their country where they wish it to go. Most people do not wish it to go where the extreme left is currently pushing it.
Unfortunately, the extreme left now has co-opted the Democratic Party, and there seems to be no resistance from a president who ran as a centrist and is now essentially operating and cooperating with the socialists.
Bluey: Are there themes or ideas that have emerged as you’ve launched Restoring America? Different voices that you’ve highlighted to bring new ideas into that conversation?
Gurdon: Yes, there are. I mean, what we did with Restoring America is to say, “Okay, we need to think of ideas, and almost a checklist for action which most people could get behind.”
And so, what this made us do was think, “OK, what were the characteristics of America, and of Americans, that made America most admired when it was most admired around the world? And what made Americans proudest to call themselves Americans?”
We came up, as a result of that with a number of different categories: “Patriotism and unity. Faith, freedom, and self-reliance. Courage, strength, and optimism. Equality, not elitism. Community and family. Fairness and justice.” These are things, the characteristics that Americans and America were known for.
What we’ve sought to do in writing news stories that show these things being threatened, and show people pushing back against these things. And in commentary, to bring people in who are smart and can look at what’s happening in new stories or trends in the culture and associate those events and issues with those core principles and make people realize that all across the political spectrum, all across the political landscape, things are going on. Moves are being made.
On all fronts where those wonderful qualities that characterized America, both in the eyes of Americans and in the eyes of people abroad, are being fought over and won and lost.
We’ve had members of Congress writing for us. We’ve had people at think tanks writing for us. We’ve written news stories. We’ve had 50 or 60 different high-profile public intellectuals writing for us.
It’s not difficult to find people who want to talk about these things, because as I say, wherever you go across the country, there are millions of people who are concerned and who want to push the ideas that we are trying to push here.
Bluey: Tell our listeners how they can best find all of this great content.
Gurdon: They should go to washingtonexaminer.com/restoring-america. And there, they will find a discreet looking website.
We are going to be giving it a big push in 2022. We are discussing three events that we’re going to be putting on with wonderful speakers who I’m not in position yet to name, with audience from all over the country coming in virtually. We’re going to be pushing on events, which each one of these.
We’ve got six pillars. We’ve already identified the first three pillars that we’re going to build events on. We’re going to have thousands and thousands of people, we hope, joining us in these events virtually.
I will be talking, and other members of the Washington Examiner staff will be talking to people, holding panel discussions about these important issues and getting input from public intellectuals, from other journalists, from elected officials, etc.
Bluey: That’s wonderful. Those conversations are much needed. Hugo, as you described this, I can’t help but think of another major news publication, The New York Times, which has gone in a completely different direction with the embrace of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, shockingly, despite the fact that it was filled with errors, and certainly pushing a very extreme agenda.
As an editor-in-chief of a major publication, you know that you can help shape public opinion. What do you make of what the Times was trying to do, and how the Examiner is perhaps a better place for Americans to turn when it comes to looking for ideas and solutions for the future of America?
I think an internal discussion was leaked many months ago now, where after the failure of [The New York Times’] project to damage and bring down President Trump—the whole Russia collusion narrative, which has now been very substantially debunked—the decision was made to focus at The New York Times on the issues of race.
And so, they produced the 1619 Project, which posits the idea that the real founding of the country was in 1619 when the first slaves were brought here, and further posits the idea that the revolution itself was based on the desire to sustain slavery, and essentially, to teach that the United States is inherently and irredeemably racist. It suggests that the founding ideals are hypocritical and outdated or both.
It would be marvelous if Restoring America were to be able to influence the way people thought and think, and to be adopted as the 1619 Project is now being taught in schools.
We believe that, in fact, we already have a bigger base for what we are trying to push than the 1619 Project has. Most people recognize not only that the history and that the scholarship of the 1619 Project is very faulty and tendentious, but they believe that this is a wonderful country. They don’t believe it’s irredeemably racist.
They remember, and they were taught in school that this country fought a Civil War to remain united and to end slavery. That is to the United States’ credit. Hugely to its credit.
It eradicated a terrible practice in this country. It tried to live up better to the ideals. It didn’t say that the ideals were hypocritical. It realized, a lot of people realized and the whole country has come to realize, that the country did not live up to the ideals that were outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
The way that the country has evolved is greatly to its credit. The 1619 Project is intended as a revolutionary analysis of the United States. One of the things that we go back to in Restoring America is the Burkean idea of conservatism, where a free and peaceful and united country is involved constantly in a negotiation between the past and the future.
It respects the wisdom of the past. It doesn’t want to start from year zero, like the French revolutionaries did, like Pol Pot did. It doesn’t say that the people of the past, and we’re canceling them now at an extraordinary rate, were fools and naves. It says they had their wisdom too, but we don’t allow the wisdom of the past to snuff out the hopes for the future.
Conservatism and the restoration of America is not about somehow freezing America at some perfect epoch. It never was perfect, and it never will be perfect. It’s about allowing the wonderful principles of a free people to guide the way it evolves into a better and better place.
Bluey: And we need to get back to that point, and that is an optimistic vision of the future. At the same time, you point out that public polling suggest that Americans are pessimistic right now. So, what is your advice to Americans? If they’re reading the articles on Restoring America, are there practical steps that they can take in their own lives to push back on things like cancel culture, to overcome divisions that might even exist within their own families?
Gurdon: The division of families, both within single families or in the wider families where people won’t talk to each other, where pollsters ask question of people about whether they would date or marry someone who had political views that contradicted theirs or disagreed with theirs; these are worrying trends in the country.
People used to people talk about the days when up on Capitol Hill members of Congress could be friends and friendly acquaintances off the floor, even though they argued vigorously on the floor. There was a sense that even when people disagreed that they were at least on the same team.
It’s very sad and problematic that I don’t think it’s plausible to argue anymore that people are on the same team. I think that there is a substantial proportion of the country, and it’s a minority, but it’s a substantial minority, that simply doesn’t believe in America anymore. That’s why they burned the flag. It’s why they chant, “America never was great,” and things like that.
What can people do? The first thing they have to do is realize that they are actually probably in the majority, I would say almost certainly in the majority. They are not alone. They are not this voice of reason in the wilderness. There are millions upon millions upon millions of them. And therefore, they can have the courage of their numbers.
The fact that there is a noisy minority trying to silence them shows that silencing them is what the opposition wants. It is the one thing that they should not do. No doubt some people will be angry. As a friend of mine reminded me the other day, Aristotle said that, “When anger is appropriate, not getting angry is a character flaw.”
Sure, being angry about some of this is fine, but it doesn’t mean that people have to be hostile. People can, in civil discussion, nevertheless, refuse to back down. They can say, “I disagree with you. I think you’re wrong. Here’s why I think you’re wrong.” And people should get involved at whatever level they feel comfortable.
And you saw that happening in Virginia, in the Virginia governor’s race, which was expected early on to be a fairly comfortable Democratic victory, and where in fact, Glenn Youngkin won pretty handsomely. COVID delivered this for the Republicans in some ways, remote learning meant that parents were obliged obviously to have their children at home and be with their children. And they could see on Zoom learning what their children were being taught.
Of course, they were also extremely frustrated that the schools were closed when in other parts of the country, schools were kept open by, I think, more judicious and wise and farsighted local officialdom. They were frustrated that the schools were closed, and then they paid attention to what was being taught.
And they looked at this despicable curriculum that was being foisted upon their children, indoctrinating their children in the belief that if they were white, they were irredeemably oppressors and privileged. If they were black, they were irredeemably victims, and really, could not expect to participate in the American dream.
What you saw there was a parental revolt. It was most acute in Virginia because there was a governor’s race, but it was actually happening all over the country. Suddenly, the scales were falling from the eyes of parents.
The people of Northern Virginia are the people who turned that state blue. But it was the people of Northern Virginia who realized that the Democrats who controlled the governor’s mansion, who controlled the school boards, etc., didn’t have the interests of their children at heart and were feeding this poison into their children.
They said, “We’ve had enough.” There are a lot of people who are not that interested in politics. When political arguments come up, they’re inclined to say, “Oh, it’s just politics. Let the people…” But when you start messing with their children, you wake the Kraken. And they are not going to have their children propagandized and distorted and told that they are irredeemably racist just because they’re white, or incapable of achieving their goals in life because they are black. Then you go, “Right.” That’s where the ordinary people will realize that politics meshes with their ordinary lies. And that’s what people have to realize, and what we hope we will do with Restoring America.
The attacks on our traditional values, which include the suggestion that parents should not have any involvement in what their children have being taught. In other words, it’s to erode the family.
What we hope people will realize, and we will promote this idea through our writing and through our videos and through our commentary and Restoring America, is that policy and politics is something which has a profound impact on the way that they live, the society and the culture that they live in. They have a wonderful society. And what has in the past been a vibrant and enviable culture, envied all around the world. They can still have it, but they have to try and keep it and they have to do what’s necessary to keep it.
Bluey: I’m so glad you made that point and shared that story about parents. You recently wrote about what you call the socialist lullaby, which guarantees Americans that government will always be there for them to help. Clearly, in the case of Virginia, the parents were not lulled to sleep by this lullaby. They woke up. What’s it going to take, and do you think it’s coming in the rest of our country?
Gurdon: I do think that it’s coming. I don’t think you can fool a majority of the people all of the time. Things are setting up pretty well for the Republicans in the midterm elections. And I think that the profound unpopularity of President Biden after he’s been in office not yet one year, nearly one year, suggests that the Democrats are in trouble.
And I observe that more and more people are looking at the leading edge of the left, the extreme policies, the astonishing sight of biological males being allowed to participate in sports and destroying girls sports, for which girls and young women have been training all of their lives to achieve things and just being blown away because of this ridiculous transgender agenda, which suggests that men can get pregnant.
Everybody knows it’s not true, and the leading edge of the left now is so fantastical, so ludicrous, that it’s impossible for ordinary people to say, “Oh yeah, that’s sounds sensible.” They are increasingly saying, “No, that’s a lot of BS. I’m not going along with that, it’s not true.”
There’s the biblical notion that you have to build your house on a rock. You have to build your society on the truth. Otherwise, it’s going to fall to pieces. The left-wing nostrums now are so evidently quicksand that you can’t build a decent and free society on it, and I think more and more people are realizing that.
Bluey: If, as you suggested, Republicans do perform well into midterms, they’re going to need ideas and solutions. The American people will expect action, not only in Washington, but in state capitals across this country, and Restoring America I think will be a great resource for them to turn and look for those ideas.
Gurdon: I certainly hope so.
Bluey: Tell our listeners again how they can find all this great material.
Gurdon: You can find all of this great material, thank you for saying so, Rob, at the washingtonexaminer.com/restoring-america. There’s going to be lots of new developments with this, and we are going to be telling people about these events that I talked about. It’s wonderful to come here and talk about Restoring America, and I’m very grateful that you invited me.
Bluey: Hugo, thank you so much. It’s great to have you on the show.
Gurdon: Thanks very much, Rob.
The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email [email protected] and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.