Only 30% of Americans believe that their country is heading the right way. President Joe Biden was elected with the promise of being a uniter and offering better solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he has resorted instead to divisive rhetoric as well as a socialist agenda.
It’s no wonder many Americans are pessimistic about America’s future. Hugo Gurdon is the editor-in chief of The Washington Examiner. But, there’s reason to be hopeful. 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. Below is the complete episode with a lightly edited transcription.
Bluey: I 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 your listeners about it.
Gurdon:Restoring America is our attempt to be part in a revival the core values that made America great over the past 200 years. 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 both a site and campaign or movement that made that purpose and goal explicit.
These are the things that are under constant attack from the left. We want to protect them. 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 found in an enormous number, I think, of people in this nation, who want to preserve these things.
We wanted to inspire courage and make people realize that they have the power to shape this country’s future. They only have to stand for the things they believe and have enough courage to speak those words without embarrassment.
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.
I stated in that essay that for many years, maybe a few decades, the left was characterized as moral relativism. It wasn’t exactly programmatic, but it was pretty much systemic. It did erode and slash and fire traditional values and made 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 don’t agree with the left-wing beliefs should be silenced, not listened to.
It is obvious that this is inherently tyrannical. It means that the left is oppressive. … 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 moment when you could pinpoint where we went wrong? Or was it a culmination of years or even decades of the left gradually reducing our belief in these traditional foundational values?
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. Soviet socialism was once a threat to our strategy. 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 they were hypocritical.
What we have is a triumphant form of elitism paired with a deceptive need 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 noticed that you used the term “cultural revolution” in your 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. Do you feel concerned that the left is trying to take lessons from communist countries and other Marxist countries?
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.
One of the main characteristics of what is currently happening is that the left wants to take the self-government from ordinary people. The COVID pandemic is a prime example of how ordinary people have been told 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 are told to trust scientists and experts. 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 de facto removal of sovereignty to a small group of experts was a characteristic of communist regimes. The people, the citizens of these countries, were expected not to govern themselves but to obey.
Bluey: Right now at this moment, we’re in a city that has imposed some strict COVID mandates. To get into our restaurant, you must have valid vaccine documentation. How can we, Americans, resist some of the authoritarian forces?
Gurdon:Everyone must realize 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 out.
In some ways, the omicron variant’s arrival is actually a good thing. It is not because it makes so many people ill, which is clearly a bad thing. But it is so severe that it has exposed the fallacy of the pandemic that we could somehow stop it. This could be stopped.
This pretense or falsehood has been destroyed by the virus. People are utterly sick of the restrictions that they’ve had to endure during the pandemic. They can see that the advice and impositions of authority have changed. There are also things being said now that are 180° from what was previously said.
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 believe that the Democrats are right, and you can see it with this new distinction between those who have died OfCOVID and those who have died With COVID. It was deemed that COVID had been caused by four comorbidities in people who died during a time when Democrats were not running everything. These numbers are far lower than the 800,000.
Democrats know that this is not under their control, or rather they admit that they never did, and it was false to suggest they could ever get it under control.
Bluey: Let’s go back to talking about Restoring America. This is a great idea for a media outlet. A news publication like yours would be the first to undertake an initiative this large and extensive. 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? In the process of doing this, we began to compile a list that reflected the type of stories we were covering as well as the types of stories we should be covering.
Through discussions, we realized that we were referring to the coverage of cultural and political issues that affected the country’s future. 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 must push back and encourage people to believe that they can win this battle.
We are not historicists, where we just believe there’s something inevitable about where we arrive. We must realize, and people must realize, that they have the power to steer their country in the direction they want it to go. The majority of people don’t want it to go where it is being led by the extreme left.
Unfortunately, the extreme right has now coopted the Democratic Party. There seems to be no resistance from the president who ran as centrist and is now operating and cooperating with 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. 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, self-reliance. Courage, strength, optimism. Not elitism, but equality. Family and community. 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. These are the moves being made.
These wonderful qualities, which have characterized America in the eyes both of Americans and abroad, are being fought for and lost on all fronts.
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: Let our listeners know how they can find all this great content.
Gurdon:They should go to washingtonexaminer.com/restoring-america. There they will find a discreetly designed website.
It will be given a major 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 speaking along with other members from the Washington Examiner staff. We will hold panel discussions about important issues, talk to people, and get inputs from journalists, elected officials, and public intellectuals.
Bluey: That’s wonderful. These conversations are very 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.
You are an editor-in chief of a major publication and you have the power to influence public opinion. What do you think about the Times’s intentions? How can the Examiner be a better option for Americans looking for ideas and solutions to the future of America than the Times?
I believe that an internal discussion was leaked several months ago now. [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.
They created the 1619 Project. It posits that the country was founded in 1619, when the first slaves arrived. Further, it posits that the revolution was motivated by the desire to preserve slavery and, essentially, to show that the United States is intrinsically and irredeemably racist. It suggests that the founding ideals have been hypocritically or obsoleted, or both.
It would be amazing if Restoring America could influence the way people think and feel. This is why the 1619 Project is being taught in schools.
We believe that we have a better base than the 1619 Project for what we want to push. While most people know that the 1619 Project scholarship and history are flawed, they also believe that this country is beautiful. They don’t believe it’s irredeemably racist.
They are still able to recall that the United States fought a Civil War in order to keep its unity and end slavery. That is to the United States’ credit. It has a lot to its credit.
It eliminated a horrible practice in the country. It tried to live up the ideals. It didn’t say that the ideals were hypocritical. It realized, and a lot of people have realized, that the country didn’t live up to the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights.
It is a credit to the country’s remarkable evolution. The 1619 Project is a revolutionary analysis about the United States. Restoring America focuses on the Burkean idea conservatism. This is where a free, peaceful, and united country is constantly involved in a negotiation between past and future.
It is open to 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 America is not about preserving America at a perfect time. It has never been perfect, and it will never be. It’s about allowing the wonderful principles of a free people to guide the way it evolves into a better and better place.
Bluey: We need to go back to that point. That is an optimistic vision for the future. You also mention that public polls show that Americans are pessimistic at the moment. So what advice do you have for 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 talk about the days when members of Congress were friends and friendly acquaintances on Capitol Hill, even though they argued on the floor. Even when they disagreed, there was a sense that they were at the very 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? First, they need to realize that they are probably in the majority. I would say almost certainly in majority. They are not the only ones. They are not the voice in the wilderness of reason. They are many millions upon millions upon million of them. They can therefore have the courage to face their numbers.
They are being silenced by a loud minority, which is evidence that the opposition wants to silence them. It is something they should not do. There is no doubt that some people will get 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. In civil discussion, people can still refuse to give up. 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 made this possible for Republicans in a number of ways. Remote learning required parents to stay at home and be present with their children. They could even see what their children were learning via Zoom.
They were also very frustrated that schools were closed in their area when schools were open in other parts. In my opinion, these schools were maintained by more judicious, wise, and farsighted local officials. They were disappointed that schools were closed and they began to pay attention to what was being taught.
They looked at the deplorable curriculum that was being taught to their children. It indoctrinated them in the belief that if their children were white, they would be irredeemably oppressors, and privileged. If they were African-American, they were unredeemably victims and couldn’t expect to be part of the American dream.
You saw 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. Parents suddenly noticed that the scales were shifting.
Northern Virginians are the ones that 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.
Attacks on traditional values include the suggestion that parents shouldn’t have any involvement in what children are learning. In other words, it’s to erode the family.
We hope people will see and will share this information through our writing, videos, commentary and Restoring America. Politics has a profound effect on how they live and how they interact with society and culture. They have a wonderful society. What was once a vibrant, enviable culture that was envied by all over the world has become a wonderful society. 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 the “socialist lullaby”, which guarantees Americans that the government will always be there for their help. This lullaby did not induce sleep in Virginia’s case. 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 looking pretty good for 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 notice that more people are looking at the leading edge, the extreme policies, and the amazing sight of biological males being permitted to participate in sports and destroying girl sports. For which young women and girls have been training all their lives and being blown away by this ridiculous transgender agenda which suggests that men can get married.
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. Your society must be founded 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 from Washington and other state capitals. I believe Restoring America will be a great resource to help them find those solutions.
Gurdon:I do hope so.
Bluey: Tell our listeners once more how they can find this amazing material.
Gurdon: Rob, you can find all this great material 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: Rob, many thanks.
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