Author: J. Pepper Bryars

Author. Columnist.

Are you still proud to be an American?

When we turn on the radio during this year's Fourth of July fireworks show, we'll all be reminded that Lee Greenwood is still "Proud to be an American." But are you? That would have been a silly question a few generations ago, back when people still recognized how rare our opportunities really are and still knew the true cost of our freedoms. Many had lived without such things, so they were extremely proud to live in a nation where they were abundant. As Bob Dylan sang, "... the times they are a-changin'." A recent poll released by FOX News showed that only a tad more than half of all Americans -- an embarrassing 51-percent -- said they were proud of our country. A whopping 42-percent responded in the negative, actually saying they were not, with the remaining 7-percent not really knowing how they feel. On the one hand, that's sad. There's so much we have to be proud of and thankful for. On the other, that's pretty darn enraging. What is the matter with these people? Have we become a nation of ungrateful, spoiled brats? I guess so, but before you shrug of these abysmal numbers to the "Blame America First" crowd, know that the poll also found that only 61-percent of Republicans said they were proud of America. This, from a party that wraps itself in the flag. Something is amiss. Sure, the poll also showed that only 39-percent of Democrats are proud of our country, but that makes…

Big Luther’s big vote on the repeal of Obamacare

When it comes to electing someone to the U.S. Senate, often called the world’s greatest deliberative body, voters rarely have an opportunity to “try it before you buy it.” Alabamians, however, suddenly find ourselves with an appointed senator who is considering a bill that could easily indicate how he’d perform if elected to a full term. Sen. Luther Strange has only been in office a few short months and while his brief tenure hasn’t produced many substantive votes to measure, he has managed to avoid the ire of the conservative movement’s philosophical watchdogs. But that could dramatically change based upon how Strange votes on that phony repeal of Obamacare that’s currently before these Senate. Make no mistake. It’s not the promised repeal-and-replace bill that conservatives have been promised over and over during recent years. Even the architect of Obamacare – the guy who said Democrats had to fool the American people in order to get it passed – said it’s not a repeal at all. In many ways, it’s worse. While there are elements of tax cuts in the bill, the defining element of conservatism – limited government – is nowhere to be found, and it actually further enshrines the federal government’s role in your healthcare decisions. How Strange decides to vote on this mess will tell us everything we need to know about what kind of a senator he’ll be if elected to a full six-year term: a fighter for conservatism or a pawn of the establishment. Simply said,…

Conservatism steers the path between control and chaos

Wisdom, like courage, can be found in the most unlikely of places. Earlier this month NPR aired and interview with a Russian scholar who, while defending President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, unexpectedly described the entire purpose of American conservatism. “The traditional Western perception is that the real borderline in … international politics is the borderline between democracy and authoritarianism,” explained Andrey Kortunov, president of a Kremlin-backed think tank in Moscow. Therefore, he said, “If you’re on the side of democracy, you’re on the right side of history. If you’re on the side of authoritarianism … you’re on the wrong side of history.” There are strains within the neoconservative and progressive movements that would certainly agree with those thoughts, but the prudence that guides traditional American conservatism forces its adherents to adopt a wider and longer view. “I think (Putin) would argue that, of course … democracy is good, but the real borderline is the line between order and chaos,” Kortunov said. “And if you intentionally or unintentionally support chaos, you’re on the wrong side. And that’s what he sees the West offering in places like Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or even Syria.” Kortunov described this borderline between order and chaos in terms of foreign policy, but it exists in all areas of human behavior, stretching from one’s interior moral code to the laws and policies of an entire nation. This borderline is actually the straight path that conservatism seeks to navigate along, remaining on its course and endeavoring to…

We must confront the evolving and growing threat of pornography

It seems every week brings fresh reports about the new and very harmful effects pornography is now having on our society, particularly on our young. “Study sees link between porn, sexual dysfunction in men,” reads a headline from the Chicago Tribune. “The emergence of the “pornosexual”: internet users who shun sex with real people,” is the title of a recent article in The Telegraph. “Kansas House declares pornography a public health crisis,” reported the Topeka Capital Journal. These and similar reports often reach the same conclusion: today’s ease of access to free online pornography and the frequency of its use have combined to cause unprecedented changes to the parts of our brains that control the ability to form healthy relationships and have satisfying sexual experiences. The reports also tend to carry a rather dire warning: while some adults are certainly being impacted, many children are having their sexual interests and abilities irreversibly altered by consuming large doses of pornography during their developmental years. Doctors have been reporting alarmingly high rates of healthy young men being unable to have normal sexual activity with their partners, and some see a correlation between the condition and a long-term and frequent use of pornography. Some now believe that viewing large amounts of pornography during their adolescence – right when a person’s brain is growing and forming its neural pathways – has actually rewired the way they think about, and can act upon, their sexual desires. The articles indicate that younger men aren’t simply reporting…

How passion preys on both sides of Trumpmania

Last week a conservative columnist for Bloomberg penned a rational and evidence-based article hoping to explain to President Donald Trump’s base exactly why some thinkers in the movement remain troubled by his many missteps. It was a complete waste of ink, of course, but Megan McArdle probably knew that before it was written. That was kind of the point of her argument. “The conservative voters who elected Donald Trump seem to feel especially betrayed when those who document his failures and violations are fellow conservatives. Like me,” she wrote, adding that Trump’s most ardent supporters instinctively push back on all criticism as “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” To the Trump believer, if anyone disagrees with something the president says or does, then they’re either an irrational hater, part of the loathed establishment, or propagating “fake news.” It’s the intellectual equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in their ears, closing their eyes and shouting “lalalala,” or of seeing enemies lurking in every shadow, even one’s own. While there are indeed haters and establishment powers and biased news outlets, they’re not everywhere. There are writers like Ben Shapiro and radio host Mark Levin whose conservative credentials and alliance to our movement are beyond question, yet who will criticize the president when necessary. To think that they’re somehow part of a liberal conspiracy is beyond reason. It’s crazy talk. Yet I’ve seen life-long friends within the conservative movement, friends who are politically educated and with considerable experience, suddenly become blind and deaf to Trump’s mistakes. If…

Are conservatives winning the culture war?

It’s been a quarter century since Pat Buchanan took the stage at the 1992 Republican National Convention and introduced the phrase “culture war” into our nation’s lexicon. “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America,” Buchanan said. “It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.” The fire and brimstone tone of his speech embarrassed moderates within the party, but the truth of the matter is that Buchanan was, and remains, correct. We are certainly in a cultural war. One side faithfully adheres to the traditions that have made our nation great while the other wants to trade them for unproven fads. We’ve long told ourselves that, like the Roman Empire before us, the only way America could be defeated is from within. What else is “within” a country if not its culture, and what within a culture is more telling than what it considers virtuous? We’ve known this from our Founding. “While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued,” wrote Sam Adams in a 1779 letter to a fellow Massachusetts patriot. “But when once they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.” So if we are in a cultural war for the virtue of our nation – and indeed we are – we must, like every good battlefield commander, take a brutally honest assessment of the…

Will conservatives ever leave the Republican Party?

After the Republicans passed a spending bill that could have been authored by left-wing Democrats (and largely was, in fact), radio host Rush Limbaugh pointedly asked the vice president, “Why is anybody voting Republican, if this is what happens when we win?” I asked myself the same question last week as I walked the halls of Congress with my seven-year old daughter. We were visiting family and I took the opportunity to show her where I lived and worked years ago when I was a press secretary for then-Congressman Bob Riley and later as a Congressional liaison for President George W. Bush’s defense department. “I came here to change things,” I told her. But then I looked around at the same faces in the same places, recalled all that was promised and especially all that wasn’t delivered. Then, quite coincidentally, we arrived outside the White House right when House Republicans gathered there to celebrate the passage of their phony “repeal” of Obamacare. Their spin was repulsive, especially since most of the horrendous law remains intact. That’s when I finally realized … we didn’t change a thing, except ourselves. Republicans have long campaigned upon promises to limit the growth of government, decrease spending, lower taxes, and eliminate the debt, along with a host of other social issues, like protecting the unborn. Republican leaders said they needed the House to get these things done. Conservatives gave it to them, and with a historic majority. Next they told us they needed the Senate.…

Limited government is still worth fighting for

Henry David Thoreau opened his pamphlet “Civil Disobedience” with a quote he attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “That government is best which governs least.” Although there’s no record of Jefferson actually saying or writing those words, they were adopted by generations of conservatives as a motto to succinctly explain our view about the limited roles and responsibilities of government. That view has been under attack since its very beginning, however, and a recent survey from the Pew Research Center indicates that conservatives have been steadily losing ground. “As Congress faces an April 28 deadline to fund government operations, the public is now split in their general preferences on the size and scope of government,” wrote the report’s authors. They added, “48% say they would rather have a bigger government providing more services, while 45% prefer a smaller government providing fewer services.” While this news doesn’t necessarily signal the beginning of the end, it is indeed cause for alarm. Because even though past generations preferred smaller government, they still allowed it to grow well beyond its means. Imagine what will happen now that growth is an actual preference. Some moderate conservatives have even gone so far as to recommend that we surrender and accept big government as a permanent political fact, then simply offer ourselves as the best people to run the system. But they have forgotten – and many Americans have obviously never known – why conservatives prefer limited government in the first place. Limited government is more of a process…

We must protect speech, even ‘hate’ speech

Alabamians should be quite proud of the substantial progress that our state has made on the issue of racism. Last Tuesday night, a speech was given at Auburn University by a man who proclaims to be "dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States." His speech was called ignorant, extremist, and racist, and the tension it created caused the talk to be covered by national and even international media. It was cancelled by school administrators, a federal court weighed-in, an order was issued, and dueling demonstrations ensued. There were even a couple of nasty fist fights. But if that same speech would have been delivered six decades ago, at the same location, it would have been called ... Tuesday night. Nobody would have noticed. Campus life would have moved along as if nothing controversial was being spoken inside that nondescript university building, and not a single reporter would have wasted their time covering something so commonplace as a little-known racist saying racists things somewhere in Alabama. That's undeniable progress, so good on you, Heart of Dixie. On the other hand, the fact that so many people did notice - and moreover, that they responded so poorly - does present the millennial generation with an entirely different yet equally insidious threat to their freedoms: censorship. Here's how it went down: earlier this month Auburn University announced that it was cancelling a speech scheduled to be delivered on campus by Richard Spencer, the aforementioned…

Should conservatives care when politicians commit adultery?

One glaring distinction between conservatism and liberalism is that conservatives believe there is usually a clear right and wrong on most social questions, or at the very least a more virtuous way to behave in difficult situations. Whether at first glance or after careful study, we find very few actual gray areas in our mostly black and white world. In fact, Russell Kirk considered this understanding to be our movement's initial principle. "First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order," Kirk wrote in his famous summation of conservatism. "That order is made for man, and man made for it; human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent." Loyalty. Fidelity. Honesty. These are but a few virtues found within this enduring moral order. While some may cast them aside as relics of a puritan past, we are governed by them no less than our ancestors were. For who wants to be betrayed, cheated upon, or lied to? As Kirk said, they are permanent, and we cannot change them no more than we can change human nature itself. When we ignore them, or worse, accept their opposite as a fact of life, we take a chisel to the foundation of society and chip away a bit of something very important. That's why it's extremely disheartening to read that most Republicans suddenly don't care if our president cheated on his wife. And to add insult to injury, it appears that Democrats have taken the high-ground on the matter.…