The Nature of the American Regime

Rightly Understanding Our Political Situation is the First Step

Major financial institutions de-banking organizations or individuals for religious reasons probably strikes the average American as a conspiracy theory fit for a raving, right-wing lunatic. Last week, however, it was reported that there is good reason to think this has been happening for some time. 

Financial officials from 13 states wrote a letter to Bank of America, the second largest bank in the United States, calling them to task for a pattern of de-banking Christian ministries and individuals. They cited a handful of cases where this occurred without good cause. Bank accounts that were closed for vague and shifting reasons included those of Indigenous Advance Ministries, a Christian organization that cares for orphaned children in Uganda; a Memphis, Tennessee, church that donates to IAM; Indigenous Advance Customer Center, a separate business that also serves in Uganda; the Timothy Two Project International, which trains pastors in over 65 countries; and Christian author and podcaster Lance Wallnau. 

The bank closure letters claimed that BoA could no longer serve that “business type” and also that the organizations exceeded the “bank’s risk tolerance”; months later, BoA also maintained they don’t work with for-profit businesses that do debt collection. “Neither Indigenous Advance Ministries nor the church collect debts,” the letter notes, “nor was the bank able to point to any policy prohibiting account holders from engaging in such activities. In other words that rationale was a ruse, and even if legitimate, would only apply to one of the closed accounts.”

A similar letter sent in 2022, signed by 60 financial professionals, alleged that JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Capital One, and Morgan Stanley have engaged in similar patterns of behavior against other Christian ministries and individuals.

Right-wing dissidents began using the term “regime” to describe this exact problem: private corporations targeting the political and cultural enemies of those who always seem to occupy the seats of power, and whose interests are never fundamentally threatened during the brief times they’re out of power. Using regime in this way is imprecise—why not simply describe present-day America as an oligarchy?—and it has been overused, just as any political term of art will be. But it became popular nonetheless because it describes how power at scale actually functions in America today.

The baleful effects of our current governing authorities go far beyond simply adding reams of regulatory red tape to public works projects or stifling the entrepreneurial spirit of the individual. Instead, public and private institutions and actors are regularly engaged in coordinated efforts to unperson those who fall out of line with the approved moral consensus. 

Probably the most famous of these cancellation attempts is Brendan Eich, who was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla for donating money to a campaign that opposed the imposition of same-sex marriage in California. As Andrew Beck noted in a recent profile of Eich at First Things, “A visionary technologist whose work had made the web a more accessible, free, and enjoyable experience for everyone was condemned as a hateful bigot and treated as a pariah by his company, the press, and on the internet that he was so instrumental in building.” 

Though Eich went on to found Brave, a search engine that’s been having recent success, not all have been so lucky. Remember Jack Phillips, the cake baker from Colorado who won his Supreme Court case against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission? He’s now caught up in yet another lawsuit for declining to make a cake for a gender transition—a lawsuit filed on the same day in 2017 when the Supreme Court announced it would hear the Masterpiece case.  

Defining the Regime

In the Politics, Aristotle described the regime as having four constituent elements—the ruling body, the ruling institutions, the way of life, and the ends at which the regime aims. But of these features, he reasoned that “the governing body is the regime,” because it “has authority in the city.” Continuing on, Aristotle noted that “whatever the authoritative element conceives to be honorable will necessarily be followed by the opinion of the other citizens.” 

In a two-part series on this topic, American Reformer’s Josh Abbotoy defined the modern use of regime thusly: “A set of public, quasi-public and private actors exercising coordinated power for the purposes of advancing a shared agenda for social and political control.” What Abbotoy summarizes is the governing body in modern America, which goes beyond merely political offices. As he notes, it is composed of a dense web of elected officials, the intelligence community, boards of Fortune 100 companies, hedge fund managers, non-profits, and NGOs. And what these institutions and individuals think is honorable (or what they need to say to do business), from LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter pieties to abortion and feminism, is what is in fact honored in every major public and private institution today.

Abbotoy discusses how through the imposition of regulations, the administrative state “commandeers quasi-public actors in order to further policy goals through expansive uses of existing statutory authority (e.g., higher education and Title IX, or DEI requirements amongst government contractors).” Even worse is the coordination between the national security sector and social media giants. The Twitter Files uncovered a vast operation between pre-Elon Twitter and the intelligence community, which worked in concert to deplatform unruly individuals and prevent stories from being shared that would have damaged Joe Biden’s electoral prospects in 2020.

With that being said, there are critics of using regime as a pejorative, catch-all term to describe who rules in America currently. In a recent World op-ed, Brad Littlejohn of the Ethics and Public Policy Center argues that calling the Biden administration the regime is hyperbolic and confuses the very real problems we face in America with outright authoritarian nations. In his view, what ails America pales in comparison to the “standard news of Chinese censorship or Russian thuggery, of Uyghur camps and Siberian penal colonies.” 

To prove his point, Littlejohn castigates a recent column by J. Peder Zane at RealClearPolitics, which Littlejohn says fuels “inflated melodrama” by linking Trump’s travails to Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who was killed by one of Putin’s men, or possibly died of natural causes, in February.

In too quickly dismissing Zane’s column as one giant overstatement, Littlejohn overlooks the well-founded points Zane makes. Compared to Russia’s beleaguered political history, ours has been one built around the founding and maintaining of republican government. But we have been getting farther and farther away from that tradition of liberty with each passing year, looking increasingly like the country that dominates northern Asia. It is this problem that Zane focuses on.

While Zane admits that “Trump is no Navalny,” he rightly draws attention to some of the similarities in how Putin and Biden treat their political critics. Where Putin “commands assent through fear, intimidation, and even death,” Zane notes that “most of Biden’s supporters—including his base of well-educated and prosperous professionals—are eager accomplices. Instead of standing up to the corruption of the rule of law, most are cheering it on.” “Our Democracy” is the ethic of my way or the highway, heedless of the Constitution or any reasonable interpretation of the law.

Commenting on the nature of a political conspiracy, Abraham Lincoln likened it to the building of a house where the timbers, laid by different actors, just so happen to be the right “lengths and proportions of the different pieces,” fitting together perfectly. Fortunately, we don’t need to speculate on this front: destroying Trump and other MAGA Republicans by any means necessary has been the very public goal of Democrats ever since Trump rode down the escalator in 2015.

When considering the overt political prosecutions against Trump launched by New York AG Letitia James, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, and Fulton County DA Fani Willis, all of whom ran for office specifically promising to get Trump any way they could, Zane’s analysis is spot on. 

At The American Mind, former federal prosecutor T.J. Harker contended that at least 60 of the 88 felony charges against Trump brought by DAs Willis and Bragg, along with Special Counsel Jack Smith, “reveal egregious misuses of fraud-type criminal statutes.” He even maintains that all 34 felony counts Bragg filed are “not legitimate allegations of fraud since they fail” the test prosecutors are supposed to use to bring such charges.

Legal experts even on the Left have pointed out the unprecedented nature of these cases. Georgetown Law professor Jonathan Turley has publicly commented on the legally “bizarre” nature of Bragg’s hush money “Frankenstein case” Regarding Trump’s civil fraud case in New York undertaken by AG James, the Associated Press found that in reviewing 70 years of similar cases, Trump’s was the only one that had no victim and no large losses of funds.

Given all of this, it’s cold comfort to point out that we have a complex legal system where appeals can take place when so many major state and federal prosecutors are clearly abusing it for partisan ends. The state of the country is in a bad place when the Supreme Court has to step in as the last resort to stop manifest issues that are occurring throughout the country’s legal system. And to think that if only one or two SCOTUS appointments went differently, it’s possible they could be rubber-stamping these abuses of the law as somehow being constitutional.

Seeing all the foregoing, the dissident Right has made “murmurs about the need for resistance and revolution as the Biblical response to tyranny,” actions which Littlejohn chides. Putting talk of revolution to the side, resistance of some kind is surely called for in this situation. Political resistance, after all, is well within the Reformed tradition. Summing up Protestant resistance theory in the Davenant Institute’s volume on Protestant Social Teaching, Glenn Moots wrote, “Resisting tyranny is therefore resisting Satan while being obedient to God.”

At The Gospel Coalition, Littlejohn himself detailed the history of how Protestants developed their own theories of resistance to civil rulers who abrogated their God-given obligations to rule well. In fact, he praised the “lesser magistrates” option, noting approvingly that it vested “a right and even a duty of resistance in the whole body of civil authorities.” 

The Blame Game

Littlejohn caps off the piece by pointing out a few of the more notable problems we face—“ubiquitous censorship,” labeling positions most Americans have as “far-right extremism,” and “political correctness.” He then makes the controversial point that “far from being passive victims of this regime, we have done this to ourselves.” 

Insofar as we have done this to ourselves over the course of at least the last 100 years, in which time the American people and our political representatives have slowly ceded control of the government to unelected officials who populate the bureaucracy, this is true. And insofar as we’ve glibly trusted our elites to do the right thing in trying to maintain our status as the global superpower in the post-WWII era, this is also true. Generations of Americans, and older ones especially, have a part to play in landing in the mess we currently face.

But it’s harder to blame a 20-year-old who is just beginning to find his way for our current situation. Younger generations have been born into an exceedingly difficult political situation that’s not of their own making. 

Instead of being given the blessings of liberty, they have been bequeathed by their forebears a hollowed-out shell, a government that continues doing what it wants to do regardless of public opinion or elections. On seemingly every front, from immigration to transgenderism, the rachet clicks ever forward, impervious to the control of “We the People” of the Constitution despite what polls suggest year after year

Returning to Abbotoy’s regime series, this points to the blatantly “undemocratic” nature of the regime, rightly noting that “the bulk of its power is not subject to any sort of democratic feedback.” Rather than the people’s representatives ruling for the public good, an assemblage of patronage networks and political figureheads guide the country, reaping rewards along the way. They work to keep the system afloat, rewarding friends and punishing enemies through both political and non-political means. 

Buttressing this system are the tangible benefits that the key players dole out. Through funding public institutions such as colleges and universities, those on the payroll keep coming back to the spigot for more each year. As do voters whose livelihoods depend on the various entitlement programs. 

This helps explain why when Democrats are in public office, their legislative priorities are advanced (and the more radical ones get shelved for later on) while the priorities of the Republican base get ignored if they aren’t also those of the Acela Corridor (for example, the tens of billions in funds Congress recently approved to be shipped to Ukraine and Israel). 

There is good reason that the Right—along with increasing numbers of Americans—is distrustful of our public institutions, some of which need to be razed and some of which need to be rejuvenated. For many Americans, bromides against the “tyrannical government” and talk of “creeping Marxism” is not simply a product of their own populist delusions but is an understandable reaction to the insanity they see every day on the news. 

Though the comprehensive solution to our current dilemma ventures beyond the political, a political response that is both far-reaching and prudential is absolutely essential.

Instead of launching into yet another Mark Driscoll-esque sermon, chiding the American people for something they don’t know how to do and cannot do themselves, we need individuals in power at all levels of government who understand our situation in all its variegated dimensions and can channel the very real concerns everyday Americans have toward ends that are conducive to the public good. To say that this task will be difficult is perhaps the understatement of the century. 

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Mike Sabo

Mike Sabo is a Contributing Editor of American Reformer and an Assistant Editor of The American Mind, the online journal of the Claremont Institute. His writing has appeared at RealClearPolitics, The Federalist, Public Discourse, and American Greatness, among other outlets. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati.

5 thoughts on “The Nature of the American Regime

  1. Trump’s current case is where there are “No victim and no losses of funds.” And yet laws were broken and information that could affected the election was kept from the public and not just in the case of Trump’s coverup, but in the dealsmade with news outlets. Putting caveats on the laws you want to enforce isn’t necessarily following the rule of law especially when one’s objection to a current case is based on partisanship.

    What I find here is that any slights that my fellow religiously conservative Christians might have suffered are often magnified or judged prior to all of the information becoming available. On the face of it, the BOA treatment of those mentioned in the above article raises red flags. But we have yet to have any hearings where both sides get to explain their side in a court of law. Regarding the case of retail business people like the baker mentioned above, it is about equal access to goods and services in the free market. And here, what those Christian retailers are not mindful of is that their stances are obstructions to equality. And those who belittle those obstructions are willfully neglecting what those who have been emerging from marginalization have had to deal with in the past.

    And all of that explains why more and more Republicans and politically conservative Christians are questioning pluralism and democracy with equality. This refrain of our nation being a republic does not imply that we can’t be a democracy too. For that depends on the level of equality there exists in society and who is choosing our representatives. And it seems that too many of us religiously conservative Christians don’t want a nation and society where those with objectionable lifestyles have the same rights as we do and have an equal place in society that we have. At the same time, we want them to listen to us when we preach the Gospel.

    1. Oh, Curt Day thinks there’s a problem with an AmRe article? Must be something good in there!
      Sure enough, here you go, getting everything exactly backwards. As usual.
      The problem is that not enough religiously conservative Christians don’t want a nation and society where those with objectionable lifestyles have the same rights as we do and have an equal place in society that we have.
      But why do you get an opinion in the first place? You aren’t a religiously conservative Christian to begin with.

      1. Ryan,
        Authoritarian responses try to discredit a source by challenging the source’s credentials. That is done in lieu of challenging the facts and logic of what was said or written.

        And so instead of arguing against the statement that identified the problem as being not enough, and I can add fellow, religiously conservative Christians don’t want a nation and society where those with objectionable lifestyles have the same rights as we do and have an equal place in society that we have, you challenge whether I am a religiously conservative Christian.

        And so why put the focus on me rather than on the statement that you quoted from me? And why doubt that I’m a fellow religiously conservative Christian? Is it because you don’t want me to write comments here and so now you are making accusations.

        The problem for your position is that I hold to the fundamentals of the Christian faith that were used to distinguish Christian Orthodoxy from Liberal Theology. You know, the fundamentals that people like Machen used. The problem here is that some fellow religiously conservative Christians have tied their conservative political beliefs so tightly to their conservative Christian religious beliefs that they have conflated the two and think that one can’t be a religiously conservative Christian without being politically conservative too. And that is a worthwhile subject to discuss. And I will start the discussion by asking this: What in the fundamentals of the Christian faith implies that one must be a political conservative?

        1. Why put the focus on you instead of your “statements”? Because the problem here is you, not your disingenuous, performative posturing. “Discussion” with anyone as disingenuous and lacking in self-awareness as you is entirely counter-productive. The best and most appropriate response to your constant, unwanted intrusions in this forum is to tell you to go away.
          You won’t listen; you never do. You’re clearly not going to change either your behavior or the ideas with which you are possessed. But maybe, some day, the editors will finally get around to banning you.

          1. Ryan,
            But isn’t the problem me being here the statements I make? And so why not deal with those specific statements rather than make personal accusations? If you dealt with those specific statements you have the opportunity to prove those personal accusations that you are making.

            Or perhaps you are using those personal accusations as an excuse for not dealing with the specific statements. Or perhaps you can’t use those specific statements to prove your accusations and so you make those accusations.

            When you start with making personal accusations without using statements to show why your accusations are true, you are begging the question logically speaking. Biblically speaking, you are making accusations without just cause.

            In short, like everyone else, you have a personal problem. And the trouble for all of us, including you and me, with having personal problems is that we are answerable to God for how we handle those problems.

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