Category: Paul Gottfried

Exonerating Mussolini?



Can Mussolini be raised from a stereotyped villain to someone who is at least worth understanding? 



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A Harmless Persuasion: Conservatives and Traditionalism


Several decades ago, Samuel T. Francis coined the phrase “harmless persuasion” to describe would-be conservatives who desist from saying anything that might evoke anger on the left.  Francis was referring to neoconservatives, who climbed to power in the 1980s at the expense of the Old Right.  But since then, there have been other contenders for the honor of representing the “harmless persuasion.”  My own favorites are Catholic and Orthodox traditionalists, who wear their piety on the sleeves but who rarely offend the left.  At least three of these soi-disant traditionalists, Ross Douthat, Ron Dreher, and Patrick J. Deneen, have been lavishly praised in the New York Times.  One might believe from seeing a review there of Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed that the Times had been converted to neo-medieval traditionalism.  Incidentally, all three of the aforementioned traditionalists extol one another’s traditionalism in what looks like a mutual admiration society.  

This problematic but self-congratulating traditionalism is certainly nothing new.  An entire movement in England, led by the Nottingham sociologist John Millbank, has been at the same game for decades.  It consists of occupying the extreme right of Anglo-Catholicism on certain liturgical questions while denouncing European counterrevolutionaries for being tainted by “liberalism.”  But the radical traditionalist then veers sharply left on contemporary political and economic questions.  Millbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward have constructed a “theological social theory” that is hostile to the “liberalism” that has supposedly poisoned Western society for centuries.  But propounding this theory also conveniently allows its bearers to join the anti-capitalist left – and the last time I encountered Professor Pickstock, she was attacking the callousness of Margaret Thatcher while calling for the acceptance of more non-Western refugees into Europe.

In the U.S., harmless traditionalists of a religious bent follow a path similar to that of the Radical Orthodox in England.  They generally avoid scolding the left harshly, instead directing their bile against an enemy called “liberalism.”  By “liberalism” they mean an ideology that took root at the end of the Middle Ages and is held responsible for a multitude of social ills, including capitalism, secularism, individual rights, and our media-created fake culture.  Mixed in with these generalities are at least some grains of truth.  For example, it is possible to ascribe radical consequences to the constructivist character of the American constitutional republic and to the practice of stressing individual rights at the expense of long established communal ones.  Individual rights continue to morph, and some of them, as Deneen notes, are forced down the throats of the unwilling by public administration and legislating courts.

But there are two problems with the more general stance that Deneen’s widely reviewed book, Why Liberalism Failed, exemplifies.  The anti-liberal critics set up a straw man, which they pretend their side has always been battling.  This has supposedly been the case since Catholic Aristotelians or religious communitarians lost their political and moral battle to natural rights theorists like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.  Since then, “liberals” have caused, among other ills, “the degradation of citizenship” and the erosion of education.  Much of this complaint is, of course, open to dispute.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when real liberal ideas gained influence in the West, universities, libraries, symphony orchestras, and manifold cultural activities flourished – indeed, to a degree that humanity had not experienced before.  The dissolution of families properly criticized by Deneen had barely started in the post-World War II era, which came centuries after liberal solvents had supposedly begun their destructive work.

It is also questionable whether the ills that Deneen attributes to contemporary “liberal democracy” and our commercialized mass culture is typical of anything outside the present age.  Deneen and his friends may see deeper than I, but I discern no signs of these late modern developments in early modern Europe and among those varied groups, including both Catholics and Protestants, that helped produce liberal political theory.  I make this observation, by the way, not as a devotee of Locke, but as someone who in his social thinking may be closer to Deneen’s position.  Although I too value the social bond more than individual self-expressiveness, I find no reason to father our late modern problems on thinkers addressing different concerns who lived centuries ago.  Nor do I think their influence was an unmixed curse.  

The other problem with the anti-liberal traditionalist position in question is that it never really engages the left.  Whether the issue is being a NeverTrump, supporting the liberal Democrat Doug Jones against the flawed Fundamentalist Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama senatorial race, or loudly deploring white racism and homophobia, our traditionalists can yell with the best of their leftist pals.

Although Deneen ostentatiously laments the effects of corporate capitalism on women in the workforce, he never dares advocate anything that might raise eyebrows – e.g., restoring traditional gender roles and the single family wage.  He knows that his goose would be cooked if he recommended a return to the prevalent social situation of the 1950s.  But no one at the New York Times or Washington Post could possibly object to his hymn to a distant past that exists only as a vague memory.

Dreher proposes a Benedict Option that would be open to people like himself.  It would allow the faithful to withdraw from a morally corrupt society into a community of the pure.  Significantly, Dreher has reserved his harshest invective for Trump and his supporters while criticizing the left only in very general terms.

Douthat, a Catholic convert and New York Times “conservative” or “co-conservative” with David Brooks, is equally skilled at striking righteous poses. But some of us on the right wish he’d combine his righteous tone with hard-hitting attacks on the left.

Needless to say, that might spell the end of a promising career as a “traditionalist” in the national press.

Several decades ago, Samuel T. Francis coined the phrase “harmless persuasion” to describe would-be conservatives who desist from saying anything that might evoke anger on the left.  Francis was referring to neoconservatives, who climbed to power in the 1980s at the expense of the Old Right.  But since then, there have been other contenders for the honor of representing the “harmless persuasion.”  My own favorites are Catholic and Orthodox traditionalists, who wear their piety on the sleeves but who rarely offend the left.  At least three of these soi-disant traditionalists, Ross Douthat, Ron Dreher, and Patrick J. Deneen, have been lavishly praised in the New York Times.  One might believe from seeing a review there of Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed that the Times had been converted to neo-medieval traditionalism.  Incidentally, all three of the aforementioned traditionalists extol one another’s traditionalism in what looks like a mutual admiration society.  

This problematic but self-congratulating traditionalism is certainly nothing new.  An entire movement in England, led by the Nottingham sociologist John Millbank, has been at the same game for decades.  It consists of occupying the extreme right of Anglo-Catholicism on certain liturgical questions while denouncing European counterrevolutionaries for being tainted by “liberalism.”  But the radical traditionalist then veers sharply left on contemporary political and economic questions.  Millbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward have constructed a “theological social theory” that is hostile to the “liberalism” that has supposedly poisoned Western society for centuries.  But propounding this theory also conveniently allows its bearers to join the anti-capitalist left – and the last time I encountered Professor Pickstock, she was attacking the callousness of Margaret Thatcher while calling for the acceptance of more non-Western refugees into Europe.

In the U.S., harmless traditionalists of a religious bent follow a path similar to that of the Radical Orthodox in England.  They generally avoid scolding the left harshly, instead directing their bile against an enemy called “liberalism.”  By “liberalism” they mean an ideology that took root at the end of the Middle Ages and is held responsible for a multitude of social ills, including capitalism, secularism, individual rights, and our media-created fake culture.  Mixed in with these generalities are at least some grains of truth.  For example, it is possible to ascribe radical consequences to the constructivist character of the American constitutional republic and to the practice of stressing individual rights at the expense of long established communal ones.  Individual rights continue to morph, and some of them, as Deneen notes, are forced down the throats of the unwilling by public administration and legislating courts.

But there are two problems with the more general stance that Deneen’s widely reviewed book, Why Liberalism Failed, exemplifies.  The anti-liberal critics set up a straw man, which they pretend their side has always been battling.  This has supposedly been the case since Catholic Aristotelians or religious communitarians lost their political and moral battle to natural rights theorists like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.  Since then, “liberals” have caused, among other ills, “the degradation of citizenship” and the erosion of education.  Much of this complaint is, of course, open to dispute.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when real liberal ideas gained influence in the West, universities, libraries, symphony orchestras, and manifold cultural activities flourished – indeed, to a degree that humanity had not experienced before.  The dissolution of families properly criticized by Deneen had barely started in the post-World War II era, which came centuries after liberal solvents had supposedly begun their destructive work.

It is also questionable whether the ills that Deneen attributes to contemporary “liberal democracy” and our commercialized mass culture is typical of anything outside the present age.  Deneen and his friends may see deeper than I, but I discern no signs of these late modern developments in early modern Europe and among those varied groups, including both Catholics and Protestants, that helped produce liberal political theory.  I make this observation, by the way, not as a devotee of Locke, but as someone who in his social thinking may be closer to Deneen’s position.  Although I too value the social bond more than individual self-expressiveness, I find no reason to father our late modern problems on thinkers addressing different concerns who lived centuries ago.  Nor do I think their influence was an unmixed curse.  

The other problem with the anti-liberal traditionalist position in question is that it never really engages the left.  Whether the issue is being a NeverTrump, supporting the liberal Democrat Doug Jones against the flawed Fundamentalist Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama senatorial race, or loudly deploring white racism and homophobia, our traditionalists can yell with the best of their leftist pals.

Although Deneen ostentatiously laments the effects of corporate capitalism on women in the workforce, he never dares advocate anything that might raise eyebrows – e.g., restoring traditional gender roles and the single family wage.  He knows that his goose would be cooked if he recommended a return to the prevalent social situation of the 1950s.  But no one at the New York Times or Washington Post could possibly object to his hymn to a distant past that exists only as a vague memory.

Dreher proposes a Benedict Option that would be open to people like himself.  It would allow the faithful to withdraw from a morally corrupt society into a community of the pure.  Significantly, Dreher has reserved his harshest invective for Trump and his supporters while criticizing the left only in very general terms.

Douthat, a Catholic convert and New York Times “conservative” or “co-conservative” with David Brooks, is equally skilled at striking righteous poses. But some of us on the right wish he’d combine his righteous tone with hard-hitting attacks on the left.

Needless to say, that might spell the end of a promising career as a “traditionalist” in the national press.



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Trump and Old-Time Democrats


Last Saturday afternoon, I listened to a gathering of Wall Street Journal editors and writers on Fox News discussing the congressional deadlock on immigration.  Paul Gigot, Jason Riley, and Karl Rove were all disturbed that the president and congressional Republicans who followed his lead were stalling a compromise over DACA and other related immigration issues.  These intransigents should have accepted something like the Graham-Durbin proposal that would have amnestied DACA recipients and their families while continuing chain migration but also making some provision for increased border security.

As I listened to these judgments, I thought, “Spoken like true Republicans.”  These remarks explain why Trump rallied the working-class base that had long eluded Republican politicians.  Trump and his advisers noticed what had been clear for some time: for many decades, the Democrats generally took the harder line on immigration, even if neither national party offered steady resistance. Although both parties voted for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for that legislation in Congress.

The most vocal opposition to this reform came from Southern Democrats, who feared that the immigration act would change the ethnic profile of the country by removing national quotas.  Republicans had no interest in the concern raised in 1965 by North Carolina Democratic senator Sam Ervin: 

The people of Ethiopia have the same right to come to the United States under this bill as the people from England, the people of France, the people of Germany, [and] the people of Holland.  With all due respect to Ethiopia, I don’t know of any contributions that Ethiopia has made to the making of America.

The most comprehensive amnesty act ever passed by any administration (it granted amnesty to over three million illegals) was under President Reagan in 1986, and it enjoyed near unanimous Republican congressional support.  A major opponent of immigration in the 1990s was a black Democratic congresswoman from Texas, Barbara Jordan, who believed that immigration drives down the wages of poor whites and blacks.  It is important to recognize that Jordan and her Democratic supporters were not making the cultural conservative argument advanced by Senator Ervin and his Southern Democratic colleagues in the 1960s.  They were making traditional working-class arguments against immigration, arguments that had been heard from the American Federation of Labor in the first half of the twentieth century and from the French Communist Party after World War II.  But this opposition to increased immigration stood in stark contrast to the multicultural perspective of the current Democratic Party and the corporate capitalist donor base of the GOP.  Significantly, Jordan’s position continued to resonate in Ralph Nader’s presidential races in 2000 and 2004.  It was also reflected in Bernie Sanders’s vote against the immigration reform act of 2007, which he thought would hurt low-paid American workers.

There are good reasons why the Republicans before Trump were arguably the more leftist party on immigration and why their flagship paper, the Wall Street Journal, has toyed with the idea of open borders.  Providing a steady supply of cheap labor in accordance with the wishes of corporate executives and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was one reason; trying to signal that the GOP, despite its continued WASP appeal, is open to minorities was another one.  Another possible source of Republican enthusiasm for immigration has been the influence of neoconservative ideology on Republican operatives.  According to neoconservative doctrine, the United States is a universal democracy and propositional nation, and therefore suitability for citizenship should be based on the acceptance of neoconservative ideas about democratic equality.  In any case, up until the time the Democrats began to champion ethnic and lifestyle grievances, they were generally the more conservative of our two parties on immigration.

In the 1950s, they were also the more conservative party on cultural issues, as any informed denizen of the Northeast might have recognized.  George W. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott, was our senator in Connecticut, and he and his son George H.W. Bush and their wives were generous backers of Planned Parenthood.  Most Democrats when I was growing up in Connecticut were ethnic Catholics, and they attended Mass regularly and supported the Catholic Legion of Decency.  They were also okay with the ban on the public sale of contraceptives.  This ban in Connecticut was kept in place by the Catholic Democratic state government, even if the governor happened to be a left-leaning Jew.  Needless to say, the Southern Democrats were probably to the right of our Democrats on race and immigration issues, although one of the most conservative Democrats of my acquaintance was my father’s friend, our Connecticut senator Tom Dodd.  Tom would breathe fire and brimstone whenever the commies were mentioned or the term “hippie” came up in conversation.  His son, Chris, who succeeded him, was of course another story.  Almost all my school teachers from K through 8th grade were Irish-Catholic ladies who went to Mass several times a week.  They were Democrats but, like the Kennedy family, ardent admirers of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

These attitudes were indicative of where many Democrats of an earlier generation stood, before the great transformation that carried the party to the left of the Republicans on social and cultural issues took place.  Thereafter, the GOP was pushed willy-nilly into the role of a culturally conservative party, something it did not have to be when it was still the party of big business and sociological Protestants.  During the Cold War, Republican politicians became ardent advocates of military buildup and have remained so ever since.  But being for military spending is different from trying to fill the cultural and moral void that was created when the Democrats became the party of LGBT, feminist, and Black nationalist activists.

Trump has rattled establishment Republicans, and part of the reason may be his bad manners and frenzied tweeting.  But the president may also have driven the NeverTrumps out of their comfort zone because of his alliance with the old Democratic Party, including Southern Baptists, the white ethnic working class, and critics of largely unrestricted immigration.  When Trump came down the golden escalator on June 16, 2015 to announce his presidential candidacy, he became overnight the hero to those abandoned Democrats.

Last Saturday afternoon, I listened to a gathering of Wall Street Journal editors and writers on Fox News discussing the congressional deadlock on immigration.  Paul Gigot, Jason Riley, and Karl Rove were all disturbed that the president and congressional Republicans who followed his lead were stalling a compromise over DACA and other related immigration issues.  These intransigents should have accepted something like the Graham-Durbin proposal that would have amnestied DACA recipients and their families while continuing chain migration but also making some provision for increased border security.

As I listened to these judgments, I thought, “Spoken like true Republicans.”  These remarks explain why Trump rallied the working-class base that had long eluded Republican politicians.  Trump and his advisers noticed what had been clear for some time: for many decades, the Democrats generally took the harder line on immigration, even if neither national party offered steady resistance. Although both parties voted for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for that legislation in Congress.

The most vocal opposition to this reform came from Southern Democrats, who feared that the immigration act would change the ethnic profile of the country by removing national quotas.  Republicans had no interest in the concern raised in 1965 by North Carolina Democratic senator Sam Ervin: 

The people of Ethiopia have the same right to come to the United States under this bill as the people from England, the people of France, the people of Germany, [and] the people of Holland.  With all due respect to Ethiopia, I don’t know of any contributions that Ethiopia has made to the making of America.

The most comprehensive amnesty act ever passed by any administration (it granted amnesty to over three million illegals) was under President Reagan in 1986, and it enjoyed near unanimous Republican congressional support.  A major opponent of immigration in the 1990s was a black Democratic congresswoman from Texas, Barbara Jordan, who believed that immigration drives down the wages of poor whites and blacks.  It is important to recognize that Jordan and her Democratic supporters were not making the cultural conservative argument advanced by Senator Ervin and his Southern Democratic colleagues in the 1960s.  They were making traditional working-class arguments against immigration, arguments that had been heard from the American Federation of Labor in the first half of the twentieth century and from the French Communist Party after World War II.  But this opposition to increased immigration stood in stark contrast to the multicultural perspective of the current Democratic Party and the corporate capitalist donor base of the GOP.  Significantly, Jordan’s position continued to resonate in Ralph Nader’s presidential races in 2000 and 2004.  It was also reflected in Bernie Sanders’s vote against the immigration reform act of 2007, which he thought would hurt low-paid American workers.

There are good reasons why the Republicans before Trump were arguably the more leftist party on immigration and why their flagship paper, the Wall Street Journal, has toyed with the idea of open borders.  Providing a steady supply of cheap labor in accordance with the wishes of corporate executives and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was one reason; trying to signal that the GOP, despite its continued WASP appeal, is open to minorities was another one.  Another possible source of Republican enthusiasm for immigration has been the influence of neoconservative ideology on Republican operatives.  According to neoconservative doctrine, the United States is a universal democracy and propositional nation, and therefore suitability for citizenship should be based on the acceptance of neoconservative ideas about democratic equality.  In any case, up until the time the Democrats began to champion ethnic and lifestyle grievances, they were generally the more conservative of our two parties on immigration.

In the 1950s, they were also the more conservative party on cultural issues, as any informed denizen of the Northeast might have recognized.  George W. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott, was our senator in Connecticut, and he and his son George H.W. Bush and their wives were generous backers of Planned Parenthood.  Most Democrats when I was growing up in Connecticut were ethnic Catholics, and they attended Mass regularly and supported the Catholic Legion of Decency.  They were also okay with the ban on the public sale of contraceptives.  This ban in Connecticut was kept in place by the Catholic Democratic state government, even if the governor happened to be a left-leaning Jew.  Needless to say, the Southern Democrats were probably to the right of our Democrats on race and immigration issues, although one of the most conservative Democrats of my acquaintance was my father’s friend, our Connecticut senator Tom Dodd.  Tom would breathe fire and brimstone whenever the commies were mentioned or the term “hippie” came up in conversation.  His son, Chris, who succeeded him, was of course another story.  Almost all my school teachers from K through 8th grade were Irish-Catholic ladies who went to Mass several times a week.  They were Democrats but, like the Kennedy family, ardent admirers of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

These attitudes were indicative of where many Democrats of an earlier generation stood, before the great transformation that carried the party to the left of the Republicans on social and cultural issues took place.  Thereafter, the GOP was pushed willy-nilly into the role of a culturally conservative party, something it did not have to be when it was still the party of big business and sociological Protestants.  During the Cold War, Republican politicians became ardent advocates of military buildup and have remained so ever since.  But being for military spending is different from trying to fill the cultural and moral void that was created when the Democrats became the party of LGBT, feminist, and Black nationalist activists.

Trump has rattled establishment Republicans, and part of the reason may be his bad manners and frenzied tweeting.  But the president may also have driven the NeverTrumps out of their comfort zone because of his alliance with the old Democratic Party, including Southern Baptists, the white ethnic working class, and critics of largely unrestricted immigration.  When Trump came down the golden escalator on June 16, 2015 to announce his presidential candidacy, he became overnight the hero to those abandoned Democrats.



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Bill Kristol Is Not Yet Out


I’ve just been reading on Breitbart a tirade against Bill Kristol, which features a comparison between this supposedly falling neocon star and the author’s friend Tony, who landed in jail after stabbing his ex-wife’s lover.  Just like Tony, who unsuccessfully tried to attract his divorced wife’s attention, Bill, we are told, is going nuts in expressing his contempt for Donald Trump.  But like Tony, who in a fit of frustration destroyed his own life, Bill may be self-destructing as he disses a transformed conservative establishment.

I’m not sure that this labored comparison works since I’ve no idea what the equivalent is in Bill’s case to Tony “being sent to jail.”  Anyhow I’ve seen other more forceful recent attacks on Kristol from Trump-supporters and even vanilla conservatives, and while I fully share their distaste for their target, I doubt that any of them is entirely correct.  If my own understanding of the conservative movement is accurate, then Kristol’s critics assume a degree of flexibility in their movement that’s not really there.  The current conservative movement came to be what it is because of those interests that shaped it.  Its donor base is made up noticeably of supporters of weapon procurement and foreign policy hawks.  These benefactors are very much in line with Kristol’s Weekly Standard and the Washington Free Beacon, run by Bill’s son-in-law, Matthew Continetti.  Paul Singer, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, and other backers of neoconservative enterprises and Washington “conservative” think-tanks are unlikely to abandon Bill Kristol simply because he’s taken whacks at The Donald, whom most of these donors also hate – or barely tolerate.  Nor has Kristol broken all ties to his old associates.  He never followed George Will’s lead in dissociating himself from the Republican Party.  Indeed, he remains a registered Republican and is still something of a “#NeverTrump conservative.”

Moreover, the conservative movement, at least since the end of the Cold War, has excommunicated right-wing dissenters but never to my knowledge those who have leaned too far toward the left.  During the Cold War, expulsions took place because of insufficient belligerence toward the Soviet Union, as in the case of my deceased friend Murray Rothbard, but only rarely because conservative publicists were deemed too far to the right.  But since the 1980s, expulsions have occurred because the excommunicated were considered right-wing nuisances.  As Jonah Goldberg points out, it was necessary for the movement to “throw friends and allies off the bus from time to time.”  Those who stressed racial disparities, criticized civil rights legislation, or were viewed as “isolationists” in foreign policy, and therefore accused of fascist sympathies, have been the recent targets of conservative movement purges.  Equally suspect have been those deemed insufficiently pro-Israel, which is not surprising, given the movement’s donor base and its desire to attract Christian Zionist support.

Kristol has been guilty of left-wing deviationism, but with extenuating circumstances.  He shares the foreign policy interests of conservative donors, and even while he opposes Trump’s plan for a military parade (because he loathes Trump), he has underlined his continued devotion to the military.  He remains on excellent terms with the mainstream media, which should enhance his desirability as a “moderate” conservative, as opposed to someone who might be mistaken for an Alt-Right sympathizer.  Most importantly, like his friends David Frum and Bret Stephens, Bill has distanced himself from the conservative movement because he rejects Donald Trump and his attempted restrictions on immigration.  Unlike Jason Richwine, John Derbyshire, and others who were cast into outer darkness for being too far on the right, Kristol turned his back by his own volition on his erstwhile colleagues.

Further, since the conservative movement engages with the liberal media and since this interaction depends to some extent on enjoying tolerable and even amicable relations with one’s debating partners, mainstream conservatives wish to remain clubbable.  They’ve no desire to look too reactionary in dealing with an influential opposition, just as they wouldn’t care to give that unflattering impression in trying to attract socially liberal but militarily aggressive potential donors.  Mainstream conservatives also have an interest in being published in the Washington Post or, even better, being invited to become “house conservatives” at the New York Times.  I couldn’t imagine how it would advance their careers (and yes, we are talking about making it professionally) if they contributed to a race realist website or ascribed the Civil War to causes other than slavery.  

Except for his recent move toward the left, it is hard to find anyone who meets the requirements of being a normative conservative better than Bill Kristol.  This is the case even without factoring in another one of his many assets: his longtime family ties to the New York journalistic and publishing community.  One may reasonably predict that if Kristol decides to return to the fold, he’ll be welcomed back by pro-Trump and anti-Trump Republicans alike.  Fox News features both schools of opinion.  It also showcases an avowed Hillary voter, Ralph Peterson, who is perpetually calling on the president he voted against to bomb some faraway country.  But this is not surprising.  Loads of self-described conservatives, including Peggy Noonan and Francis Fukayama, wrote puff pieces about Obama in 2008 and may well have voted for him.  But none of these Obama enthusiasts lost his standing within the conservative movement because of an excusable lurch to the left.  It is entirely possible that if Bill condescends to return, all recent diatribes against him will disappear from conservative movement archives, just as Hillary’s classified emails vanished from her computer.

I’ve just been reading on Breitbart a tirade against Bill Kristol, which features a comparison between this supposedly falling neocon star and the author’s friend Tony, who landed in jail after stabbing his ex-wife’s lover.  Just like Tony, who unsuccessfully tried to attract his divorced wife’s attention, Bill, we are told, is going nuts in expressing his contempt for Donald Trump.  But like Tony, who in a fit of frustration destroyed his own life, Bill may be self-destructing as he disses a transformed conservative establishment.

I’m not sure that this labored comparison works since I’ve no idea what the equivalent is in Bill’s case to Tony “being sent to jail.”  Anyhow I’ve seen other more forceful recent attacks on Kristol from Trump-supporters and even vanilla conservatives, and while I fully share their distaste for their target, I doubt that any of them is entirely correct.  If my own understanding of the conservative movement is accurate, then Kristol’s critics assume a degree of flexibility in their movement that’s not really there.  The current conservative movement came to be what it is because of those interests that shaped it.  Its donor base is made up noticeably of supporters of weapon procurement and foreign policy hawks.  These benefactors are very much in line with Kristol’s Weekly Standard and the Washington Free Beacon, run by Bill’s son-in-law, Matthew Continetti.  Paul Singer, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, and other backers of neoconservative enterprises and Washington “conservative” think-tanks are unlikely to abandon Bill Kristol simply because he’s taken whacks at The Donald, whom most of these donors also hate – or barely tolerate.  Nor has Kristol broken all ties to his old associates.  He never followed George Will’s lead in dissociating himself from the Republican Party.  Indeed, he remains a registered Republican and is still something of a “#NeverTrump conservative.”

Moreover, the conservative movement, at least since the end of the Cold War, has excommunicated right-wing dissenters but never to my knowledge those who have leaned too far toward the left.  During the Cold War, expulsions took place because of insufficient belligerence toward the Soviet Union, as in the case of my deceased friend Murray Rothbard, but only rarely because conservative publicists were deemed too far to the right.  But since the 1980s, expulsions have occurred because the excommunicated were considered right-wing nuisances.  As Jonah Goldberg points out, it was necessary for the movement to “throw friends and allies off the bus from time to time.”  Those who stressed racial disparities, criticized civil rights legislation, or were viewed as “isolationists” in foreign policy, and therefore accused of fascist sympathies, have been the recent targets of conservative movement purges.  Equally suspect have been those deemed insufficiently pro-Israel, which is not surprising, given the movement’s donor base and its desire to attract Christian Zionist support.

Kristol has been guilty of left-wing deviationism, but with extenuating circumstances.  He shares the foreign policy interests of conservative donors, and even while he opposes Trump’s plan for a military parade (because he loathes Trump), he has underlined his continued devotion to the military.  He remains on excellent terms with the mainstream media, which should enhance his desirability as a “moderate” conservative, as opposed to someone who might be mistaken for an Alt-Right sympathizer.  Most importantly, like his friends David Frum and Bret Stephens, Bill has distanced himself from the conservative movement because he rejects Donald Trump and his attempted restrictions on immigration.  Unlike Jason Richwine, John Derbyshire, and others who were cast into outer darkness for being too far on the right, Kristol turned his back by his own volition on his erstwhile colleagues.

Further, since the conservative movement engages with the liberal media and since this interaction depends to some extent on enjoying tolerable and even amicable relations with one’s debating partners, mainstream conservatives wish to remain clubbable.  They’ve no desire to look too reactionary in dealing with an influential opposition, just as they wouldn’t care to give that unflattering impression in trying to attract socially liberal but militarily aggressive potential donors.  Mainstream conservatives also have an interest in being published in the Washington Post or, even better, being invited to become “house conservatives” at the New York Times.  I couldn’t imagine how it would advance their careers (and yes, we are talking about making it professionally) if they contributed to a race realist website or ascribed the Civil War to causes other than slavery.  

Except for his recent move toward the left, it is hard to find anyone who meets the requirements of being a normative conservative better than Bill Kristol.  This is the case even without factoring in another one of his many assets: his longtime family ties to the New York journalistic and publishing community.  One may reasonably predict that if Kristol decides to return to the fold, he’ll be welcomed back by pro-Trump and anti-Trump Republicans alike.  Fox News features both schools of opinion.  It also showcases an avowed Hillary voter, Ralph Peterson, who is perpetually calling on the president he voted against to bomb some faraway country.  But this is not surprising.  Loads of self-described conservatives, including Peggy Noonan and Francis Fukayama, wrote puff pieces about Obama in 2008 and may well have voted for him.  But none of these Obama enthusiasts lost his standing within the conservative movement because of an excusable lurch to the left.  It is entirely possible that if Bill condescends to return, all recent diatribes against him will disappear from conservative movement archives, just as Hillary’s classified emails vanished from her computer.



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Inventing the Political Center


I’ve just been reading in the New York Post about the need for “centrist” politics in our polarized society. Post columnists, John Podhoretz and Seth Lipsky have both deplored an eroding center in American political life. Podhoretz compares the rampaging anti-Trump Left to the Tea Party, since both have made immoderate demands on our political leaders. Supposedly the Left “is becoming everything it hated,” by coming to resemble Republican extremists. Lipsky,  in his defense of the center, points to Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg, who in a recent biography by Hendrik Meijer is shown to be the quintessential Republican moderate. Lipsky pairs Vandenberg with “a member of my favorite endangered species, the centrist Democrat,” a type that he finds embodied in Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is upset by “the collapse of bipartisanship in Washington.” 

Joe Manchin has indeed voted more often than any other Democratic senator for Trump’s cabinet nominees, and even approved Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. But with regard to Trump’s landmark legislation, like the recently passed tax bill and the attempted repeal of ObamaCare, Manchin has predictably voted with the Democrats. This legislator, according to Lipsky, may be thinking about hanging it all up but not necessarily for the idealistic reason that Lipsky gives. Manchin comes from a state in which Trump is quite popular, and in all likelihood the electorate in West Virginia will vote in the majority for a Republican to succeed their current Democratic Senator. 

Arthur Vandenberg did in fact practice bipartisanship in foreign policy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which meant cooperating with the Democratic administrations of FDR and Truman. Moreover, Vandenberg followed this course until his death in 1951. For years he was the Democrats’ favorite Republican senator; and he was instrumental in winning congressional support for the Marshall Plan and for aid to Greece against Communist efforts to take over that country after the Second World War. Domestically, however, the Michigan senator was a fairly traditional Republican and as Lipsky admits, highly critical of the New Deal. He famously stood in opposition to the National Labor Relations Act in 1936 and objected to other New Deal measures undertaken by Roosevelt during his second term.

Although I agree that Vandenberg was a fine fellow, I’m at a loss for what relevance he has for today’s politics. Would he have taken a “moderate” view on sanctuary cities? What about anti-fascist demonstrators or people asking for visas from countries infested with Islamicists? I for one doubt that Vandenberg, Truman, or anyone else in American national politics in the late 1940s would have yielded on these issues. On social questions there was no significant difference between the two national parties in the 1940s and 1950s. By current standards both were reactionary and insensitive. I’ve also no idea how one can be a “centrist” on much of what today divides us. What is the centrist position for requiring transgender restrooms in all public facilities? What about requiring Christian bakers to make wedding cakes for gay nuptials?

The call for centrist politics seems endemic to “Never-Trump conservatives,” like John Kasich, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, and the editorial staffs of some of our authorized conservative publications. Still, it is worth asking whether these advocates of centrism are serious in their application of this term to themselves. Some self-described American political centrists remind me of how the Catholic Zentrumspartei (Center Party) approached parliamentary politics in late 19th-century Imperial Germany. Factions in the Center Party spanned the socioeconomic spectrum in the Reichstag from being pro-capitalist to being open to the economic programs advanced by the socialists. What held them together, however, were loyalty to the Catholic Church and determination to maintain the Church’s structure of authority in the German Empire. The Center Party could embrace its own brand of diversity, providing that the deputies and party leadership were agreed in their dedication to upholding the interests of the Church.

Similarly our would-be centrists and Never-Trump conservatives (by now the two terms may be mostly interchangeable) present different views on some things but also predictable loyalties. In their hatred for Trump, exuberant support for Doug Jones in the Alabama senatorial race, and drumbeat support for amnestying and granting citizenship to the DACA recipients and their families, these folks stand with the establishment. And this shouldn’t surprise us. We are talking about people who live and breathe the same air as their liberal friends and colleagues. If they’re looking for social acceptance, it’s not the folks in flyover country whose acceptance they crave. They are centrist in the sense that they are centered on an unchanging source of authority, namely, on how their liberal friends and the WaPo assess them as people. They also believe in the essential goodness of the political establishment, even if not all of them go quite so far as Bill Kristol in affirming fidelity to the “deep state.”

Centrism is not about occupying a vital center between two extremes, although our centrists sometimes claim they’re doing this. But they are characterizing themselves correctly in one critical respect. They wish to occupy the juste milieu as defined by the socially respectable Left and by fans of an expanding administrative state.  Although their efforts to fit in may not benefit our country, those who call themselves “centrists” are making defensible career decisions. At the very least they won’t be attacked by their peers at cocktail parties as riffraff.

 

I’ve just been reading in the New York Post about the need for “centrist” politics in our polarized society. Post columnists, John Podhoretz and Seth Lipsky have both deplored an eroding center in American political life. Podhoretz compares the rampaging anti-Trump Left to the Tea Party, since both have made immoderate demands on our political leaders. Supposedly the Left “is becoming everything it hated,” by coming to resemble Republican extremists. Lipsky,  in his defense of the center, points to Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg, who in a recent biography by Hendrik Meijer is shown to be the quintessential Republican moderate. Lipsky pairs Vandenberg with “a member of my favorite endangered species, the centrist Democrat,” a type that he finds embodied in Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is upset by “the collapse of bipartisanship in Washington.” 

Joe Manchin has indeed voted more often than any other Democratic senator for Trump’s cabinet nominees, and even approved Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. But with regard to Trump’s landmark legislation, like the recently passed tax bill and the attempted repeal of ObamaCare, Manchin has predictably voted with the Democrats. This legislator, according to Lipsky, may be thinking about hanging it all up but not necessarily for the idealistic reason that Lipsky gives. Manchin comes from a state in which Trump is quite popular, and in all likelihood the electorate in West Virginia will vote in the majority for a Republican to succeed their current Democratic Senator. 

Arthur Vandenberg did in fact practice bipartisanship in foreign policy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which meant cooperating with the Democratic administrations of FDR and Truman. Moreover, Vandenberg followed this course until his death in 1951. For years he was the Democrats’ favorite Republican senator; and he was instrumental in winning congressional support for the Marshall Plan and for aid to Greece against Communist efforts to take over that country after the Second World War. Domestically, however, the Michigan senator was a fairly traditional Republican and as Lipsky admits, highly critical of the New Deal. He famously stood in opposition to the National Labor Relations Act in 1936 and objected to other New Deal measures undertaken by Roosevelt during his second term.

Although I agree that Vandenberg was a fine fellow, I’m at a loss for what relevance he has for today’s politics. Would he have taken a “moderate” view on sanctuary cities? What about anti-fascist demonstrators or people asking for visas from countries infested with Islamicists? I for one doubt that Vandenberg, Truman, or anyone else in American national politics in the late 1940s would have yielded on these issues. On social questions there was no significant difference between the two national parties in the 1940s and 1950s. By current standards both were reactionary and insensitive. I’ve also no idea how one can be a “centrist” on much of what today divides us. What is the centrist position for requiring transgender restrooms in all public facilities? What about requiring Christian bakers to make wedding cakes for gay nuptials?

The call for centrist politics seems endemic to “Never-Trump conservatives,” like John Kasich, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, and the editorial staffs of some of our authorized conservative publications. Still, it is worth asking whether these advocates of centrism are serious in their application of this term to themselves. Some self-described American political centrists remind me of how the Catholic Zentrumspartei (Center Party) approached parliamentary politics in late 19th-century Imperial Germany. Factions in the Center Party spanned the socioeconomic spectrum in the Reichstag from being pro-capitalist to being open to the economic programs advanced by the socialists. What held them together, however, were loyalty to the Catholic Church and determination to maintain the Church’s structure of authority in the German Empire. The Center Party could embrace its own brand of diversity, providing that the deputies and party leadership were agreed in their dedication to upholding the interests of the Church.

Similarly our would-be centrists and Never-Trump conservatives (by now the two terms may be mostly interchangeable) present different views on some things but also predictable loyalties. In their hatred for Trump, exuberant support for Doug Jones in the Alabama senatorial race, and drumbeat support for amnestying and granting citizenship to the DACA recipients and their families, these folks stand with the establishment. And this shouldn’t surprise us. We are talking about people who live and breathe the same air as their liberal friends and colleagues. If they’re looking for social acceptance, it’s not the folks in flyover country whose acceptance they crave. They are centrist in the sense that they are centered on an unchanging source of authority, namely, on how their liberal friends and the WaPo assess them as people. They also believe in the essential goodness of the political establishment, even if not all of them go quite so far as Bill Kristol in affirming fidelity to the “deep state.”

Centrism is not about occupying a vital center between two extremes, although our centrists sometimes claim they’re doing this. But they are characterizing themselves correctly in one critical respect. They wish to occupy the juste milieu as defined by the socially respectable Left and by fans of an expanding administrative state.  Although their efforts to fit in may not benefit our country, those who call themselves “centrists” are making defensible career decisions. At the very least they won’t be attacked by their peers at cocktail parties as riffraff.

 



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Does Conservative Populism Exist?


Having just read Matt Purple’s comments on The American Conservative website why “Bannonism will live on,” I thought I’d weigh in as a critical observer of what now passes for the “conservative movement.” Like Bannon, I have generally chastised that movement from the Right. But like Mr. Purple, I find President Trump’s erstwhile adviser to be downright inept in selling his conservative populist message. Bannon has behaved like an egomaniac, who viciously turned on the president he was supposed to be assisting. He couldn’t even serve the populist cause he purports to believe in without making it entirely about himself. Some of Bannon’s more widely-publicized political choices, such as favoring Judge Roy Moore for the vacant senatorial seat in Alabama, is a case in point. His involvement in that race gave him ample opportunity to exhibit himself on camera, in his bag man attire and four o’clock shadow. But we know how disastrously that race turned out. Despite his supposedly persuasive rhetoric, moreover, I don’t think that I’ve ever heard Bannon say anything memorable or notably coherent.

But my criticism goes beyond Bannon’s demeanor and extends to the populist brand that he’s selling. Although I’m not categorically against the Right embracing populist tactics, I just don’t think these tools can work well in the U.S. Populism assumes a high degree of homogeneity, cultural, historic, and ethnic, among the “majority” to whom a populist leader appeals. The white working class base that Bannon and Trump have targeted includes no more than about 35% of the voting population; and at least that number of voters and probably more are allied to the cultural and social Left.

Bannon, Stephen Miller, and the American Greatness crowd are always claiming they’ll bring American blacks into their populist alliance. But in Alabama and Virginia black turnout for Democratic senatorial candidates, in what was at least partly an expression of anti-Trump sentiment, was over 95%. It doesn’t matter that Trump’s policies have helped blacks and Hispanics economically. There’s no indication that help is even minimally appreciated, and even less that racial minorities are running to join an expanding populist alliance. Ditto for college-educated, upwardly mobile women, who are running toward the social-cultural left in droves. Despite the continuing protests of pro-Trump populist websites against the legalization of DACA Dreamers, 69% of American adults polled in favor this measure. Although there may be good reasons to oppose the legalization, “the people” and the democratic will are not among them.

Much of what Bannon has advocated as populist nationalism seems to be a grab bag of his own preferences, combining tough trade deals with the Pacific Rim, increased solidarity with the Israeli government, and a general relaxation of relations with Russia. Although Bannon may be able to defend his individual positions, I’m not sure they amount to a populist posture. And while I fully share Bannon’s traditionalist views on social moral questions, I doubt they represent what a majority of the American population believe about any of them. When the Trump administration ordered the firing of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat air base in Syria in April, 2017, Bannon opposed that move as not being in America’s interest. Are we supposed to think that Bannon was taking a “populist” position because it was he who took it? If so, would his stance have been equally “populist” if it had been the opposite of the position he took, by virtue of the fact that he took it?  In contrast to our situation, leaders of the populist Right in Hungary, Poland and Serbia usually speak for the views of most of their citizenry. They don’t have to fabricate their “people.”

Allow me to offer a much less exuberant description than Bannon’s of what the American Right might be reduced to if present demographic and cultural trends in the U.S. continue. And please note that I’m referring to the “real Right” as opposed to GOP deal-makers and centrists who are eager to compromise in order to stay in the political game.  A moment of disenchantment for this Right is bound to come sooner or later.  At that point it will have to stop deluding itself that “the people are behind us,” when most of them are not. The wisest strategy may be for cultural and social traditionalists (and those are the ones I’m addressing) to try to protect themselves against the “popular will,” as more and more of that will is likely to be found on the enemy side.

The right must try to limit immigration if for no other reason than because it increases the electoral power of a well-organized left; and it must work to decentralize administration in order to allow non-leftist minorities to continue to have influence over their political fate. Least of all should the right (as opposed to neoconservatives) be interested in having the U.S. play the role of global policewoman or try to impose what it considers “human rights” on societies that have no interest in them. One might of course wish that “conservative” foundations devoted the same energy and resources to these stands as they do to promoting the purchase of new weaponry by the Pentagon. But that may be more than one has a right to expect. 

Having just read Matt Purple’s comments on The American Conservative website why “Bannonism will live on,” I thought I’d weigh in as a critical observer of what now passes for the “conservative movement.” Like Bannon, I have generally chastised that movement from the Right. But like Mr. Purple, I find President Trump’s erstwhile adviser to be downright inept in selling his conservative populist message. Bannon has behaved like an egomaniac, who viciously turned on the president he was supposed to be assisting. He couldn’t even serve the populist cause he purports to believe in without making it entirely about himself. Some of Bannon’s more widely-publicized political choices, such as favoring Judge Roy Moore for the vacant senatorial seat in Alabama, is a case in point. His involvement in that race gave him ample opportunity to exhibit himself on camera, in his bag man attire and four o’clock shadow. But we know how disastrously that race turned out. Despite his supposedly persuasive rhetoric, moreover, I don’t think that I’ve ever heard Bannon say anything memorable or notably coherent.

But my criticism goes beyond Bannon’s demeanor and extends to the populist brand that he’s selling. Although I’m not categorically against the Right embracing populist tactics, I just don’t think these tools can work well in the U.S. Populism assumes a high degree of homogeneity, cultural, historic, and ethnic, among the “majority” to whom a populist leader appeals. The white working class base that Bannon and Trump have targeted includes no more than about 35% of the voting population; and at least that number of voters and probably more are allied to the cultural and social Left.

Bannon, Stephen Miller, and the American Greatness crowd are always claiming they’ll bring American blacks into their populist alliance. But in Alabama and Virginia black turnout for Democratic senatorial candidates, in what was at least partly an expression of anti-Trump sentiment, was over 95%. It doesn’t matter that Trump’s policies have helped blacks and Hispanics economically. There’s no indication that help is even minimally appreciated, and even less that racial minorities are running to join an expanding populist alliance. Ditto for college-educated, upwardly mobile women, who are running toward the social-cultural left in droves. Despite the continuing protests of pro-Trump populist websites against the legalization of DACA Dreamers, 69% of American adults polled in favor this measure. Although there may be good reasons to oppose the legalization, “the people” and the democratic will are not among them.

Much of what Bannon has advocated as populist nationalism seems to be a grab bag of his own preferences, combining tough trade deals with the Pacific Rim, increased solidarity with the Israeli government, and a general relaxation of relations with Russia. Although Bannon may be able to defend his individual positions, I’m not sure they amount to a populist posture. And while I fully share Bannon’s traditionalist views on social moral questions, I doubt they represent what a majority of the American population believe about any of them. When the Trump administration ordered the firing of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat air base in Syria in April, 2017, Bannon opposed that move as not being in America’s interest. Are we supposed to think that Bannon was taking a “populist” position because it was he who took it? If so, would his stance have been equally “populist” if it had been the opposite of the position he took, by virtue of the fact that he took it?  In contrast to our situation, leaders of the populist Right in Hungary, Poland and Serbia usually speak for the views of most of their citizenry. They don’t have to fabricate their “people.”

Allow me to offer a much less exuberant description than Bannon’s of what the American Right might be reduced to if present demographic and cultural trends in the U.S. continue. And please note that I’m referring to the “real Right” as opposed to GOP deal-makers and centrists who are eager to compromise in order to stay in the political game.  A moment of disenchantment for this Right is bound to come sooner or later.  At that point it will have to stop deluding itself that “the people are behind us,” when most of them are not. The wisest strategy may be for cultural and social traditionalists (and those are the ones I’m addressing) to try to protect themselves against the “popular will,” as more and more of that will is likely to be found on the enemy side.

The right must try to limit immigration if for no other reason than because it increases the electoral power of a well-organized left; and it must work to decentralize administration in order to allow non-leftist minorities to continue to have influence over their political fate. Least of all should the right (as opposed to neoconservatives) be interested in having the U.S. play the role of global policewoman or try to impose what it considers “human rights” on societies that have no interest in them. One might of course wish that “conservative” foundations devoted the same energy and resources to these stands as they do to promoting the purchase of new weaponry by the Pentagon. But that may be more than one has a right to expect. 



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Conservatives Ignore the Obvious


For a long time, it’s been obvious that GOP politicians and media personalities bend backwards to avoid raising what are supposed to be settled social issues, lest they turn off certain voting blocs.  Whether it’s the Supreme Court redefining marriage for all fifty states, the dismantling of Confederate monuments, or wishing to find a “path to citizenship” for various groups that are here illegally, Republican public relations experts try not to notice these issues, except to criticize those who won’t accept “necessary” or “positive” change.  This attitude is partly attributable to the fact that Republicans are trying to capture at least some of the culturally leftist Millennial vote.  What’s more, they’re hoping not to get hammered too badly among racial and ethnic minorities that typically vote for the left (here, in Canada, and in Western Europe).

The Republican establishment and their conspicuously neoconservative advisers, moreover, have their own interests and donor base.  Evangelicals in Texas may contribute votes to Republican victories, but contrary to the prevalent opinion of the Huffington Post and the British Guardian, these pious souls don’t run the party.  GOP operatives in all probability don’t give a rap about overturning the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage to please moral and social traditionalists, but they do favor what their respectable donor base want: a pro-activist foreign policy, tax breaks for corporations, and widening their electoral base among left-leaning blocs.

If any doubt in this matter ever crept into my mind, it was immediately dispelled by a conversation I heard on Fox News on January 3 between Chris Stirewalt and Karl Rove.

The topic these GOP worthies were supposed to be addressing is whether Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has a serious shot at wresting the presidency from Donald Trump.  Both thought this senator is most definitely a serious competitor, who combines Trump’s populist appeal with a flamboyant speaking style.  The question that Rove and Stirewalt couldn’t agree on is whether Warren believes in “markets,” as she said she did at some point in her career.  Stirewalt viewed her as some kind of defender of capitalism despite her attacks on Wall Street, while Rove questioned whether she really meant whatever she once said about “markets.”

Let me make clear that from what I’ve heard her say, for example, at the Woman’s March (against Donald Trump) last year.  It seems that Senator Warren is an agitated feminist, a fervent advocate of Black Lives Matter, and a champion of every demand put forth by LGBQT activists.  Missing in this side of her political persona is a monumental omission, and presumably, Stirewalt and Rove were committing this omission as “professional” Republicans, who are conceding troublesome social issues to the left while focusing on something called “markets.”

Let me say that even if I were an outright Marxist, I would still not vote for Warren, who is not really a socialist, but a crazed warrior against the list of human prejudices she ascribes to everyone who disagrees with her.  Her rant at the Women’s March suggested a cultural Marxist on steroids.  In any case, her attitudes about “markets” would be the last thing I’d worry about if Warren became president.  That would be like judging Castro by whether he was providing enough Band-Aids for health clinics in downtown Havana or Cesar Chávez by how many soccer balls he gave out to needy kids.

This careful sidestepping of the problem of Warren’s true radicalism may tell us something about how Stirewalt and Rove would have a GOP candidate run against her in a presidential race – say, Trump if they condescend to back him in 2020.  This hypothetical candidate would never be allowed to contest any of her social positions or the continuing recriminations leveled by Warren against her opponent as a sexist, misogynist, homophobe, or whatever other slur she raises against the target of her attacks.  They would have to focus on the effect of tax cuts, their greater ability relative to Democrats to intercept domestic terrorists, and saying more often than their competitors that the U.S. is the best country that ever existed.  If forced to choose between the model candidate of Stirewalt and Rove and the perpetually outraged feminist from Massachusetts, I doubt that I could even bring myself to vote.

Having said that, I also believe that the U.S. and most other Western countries have swung so sharply to the left on social issues over the last thirty years that the conflict-avoiding, pro-Wall Street GOP establishment may be right in its strategy even if it gives no evidence of being socially conservative.  For example, although it was unusual to find anyone, outside certain social circles, thirty years ago who thought marriage should be extended to two members of the same sex, by January 2015, 60% of those polled nationwide by CBS considered the redefinition of marriage to be not only admirable, but also a “fundamental human right.”  If someone asked me whether in light of this mass conversion I could conceive of Americans, Canadians, and Germans thirty years hence extending the legal definition of marriage to a father and daughter or to a group “marriage” among three generations of the same family, I would immediately answer, “Why not?”  Providing that the public is made to believe it’s fighting rank bigots who oppose the further discovery of “fundamental rights,” most Americans, Canadians, and (if their country still exists) Germans will be happy to view themselves as standing once again on what for former President Obama is “the right side of history.”

Despite the fact that the left has won the culture wars hands down, with a big assist from public administration and the judiciary, Stirewalt and Rove may well believe that their party can survive by making the right moves.  Republican P.R. experts will have to convince a largely leftward-leaning electorate that it can profit by voting for candidates with the red label rather than the blue one.  Appeals to the pocketbook and physical security may still work for those designated as “conservatives” even if other appeals do not.  That assumes that Republican candidates on the model of Mitt Romney make it appear that they support at least in principle the valiant struggles waged by Senator Warren against “prejudice.”  By then, however, even sane people will have to insist that this self-described warrior for equality really cares about whatever college-educated upwardly mobile voters, particularly women, are supposed to care about.

For a long time, it’s been obvious that GOP politicians and media personalities bend backwards to avoid raising what are supposed to be settled social issues, lest they turn off certain voting blocs.  Whether it’s the Supreme Court redefining marriage for all fifty states, the dismantling of Confederate monuments, or wishing to find a “path to citizenship” for various groups that are here illegally, Republican public relations experts try not to notice these issues, except to criticize those who won’t accept “necessary” or “positive” change.  This attitude is partly attributable to the fact that Republicans are trying to capture at least some of the culturally leftist Millennial vote.  What’s more, they’re hoping not to get hammered too badly among racial and ethnic minorities that typically vote for the left (here, in Canada, and in Western Europe).

The Republican establishment and their conspicuously neoconservative advisers, moreover, have their own interests and donor base.  Evangelicals in Texas may contribute votes to Republican victories, but contrary to the prevalent opinion of the Huffington Post and the British Guardian, these pious souls don’t run the party.  GOP operatives in all probability don’t give a rap about overturning the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage to please moral and social traditionalists, but they do favor what their respectable donor base want: a pro-activist foreign policy, tax breaks for corporations, and widening their electoral base among left-leaning blocs.

If any doubt in this matter ever crept into my mind, it was immediately dispelled by a conversation I heard on Fox News on January 3 between Chris Stirewalt and Karl Rove.

The topic these GOP worthies were supposed to be addressing is whether Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has a serious shot at wresting the presidency from Donald Trump.  Both thought this senator is most definitely a serious competitor, who combines Trump’s populist appeal with a flamboyant speaking style.  The question that Rove and Stirewalt couldn’t agree on is whether Warren believes in “markets,” as she said she did at some point in her career.  Stirewalt viewed her as some kind of defender of capitalism despite her attacks on Wall Street, while Rove questioned whether she really meant whatever she once said about “markets.”

Let me make clear that from what I’ve heard her say, for example, at the Woman’s March (against Donald Trump) last year.  It seems that Senator Warren is an agitated feminist, a fervent advocate of Black Lives Matter, and a champion of every demand put forth by LGBQT activists.  Missing in this side of her political persona is a monumental omission, and presumably, Stirewalt and Rove were committing this omission as “professional” Republicans, who are conceding troublesome social issues to the left while focusing on something called “markets.”

Let me say that even if I were an outright Marxist, I would still not vote for Warren, who is not really a socialist, but a crazed warrior against the list of human prejudices she ascribes to everyone who disagrees with her.  Her rant at the Women’s March suggested a cultural Marxist on steroids.  In any case, her attitudes about “markets” would be the last thing I’d worry about if Warren became president.  That would be like judging Castro by whether he was providing enough Band-Aids for health clinics in downtown Havana or Cesar Chávez by how many soccer balls he gave out to needy kids.

This careful sidestepping of the problem of Warren’s true radicalism may tell us something about how Stirewalt and Rove would have a GOP candidate run against her in a presidential race – say, Trump if they condescend to back him in 2020.  This hypothetical candidate would never be allowed to contest any of her social positions or the continuing recriminations leveled by Warren against her opponent as a sexist, misogynist, homophobe, or whatever other slur she raises against the target of her attacks.  They would have to focus on the effect of tax cuts, their greater ability relative to Democrats to intercept domestic terrorists, and saying more often than their competitors that the U.S. is the best country that ever existed.  If forced to choose between the model candidate of Stirewalt and Rove and the perpetually outraged feminist from Massachusetts, I doubt that I could even bring myself to vote.

Having said that, I also believe that the U.S. and most other Western countries have swung so sharply to the left on social issues over the last thirty years that the conflict-avoiding, pro-Wall Street GOP establishment may be right in its strategy even if it gives no evidence of being socially conservative.  For example, although it was unusual to find anyone, outside certain social circles, thirty years ago who thought marriage should be extended to two members of the same sex, by January 2015, 60% of those polled nationwide by CBS considered the redefinition of marriage to be not only admirable, but also a “fundamental human right.”  If someone asked me whether in light of this mass conversion I could conceive of Americans, Canadians, and Germans thirty years hence extending the legal definition of marriage to a father and daughter or to a group “marriage” among three generations of the same family, I would immediately answer, “Why not?”  Providing that the public is made to believe it’s fighting rank bigots who oppose the further discovery of “fundamental rights,” most Americans, Canadians, and (if their country still exists) Germans will be happy to view themselves as standing once again on what for former President Obama is “the right side of history.”

Despite the fact that the left has won the culture wars hands down, with a big assist from public administration and the judiciary, Stirewalt and Rove may well believe that their party can survive by making the right moves.  Republican P.R. experts will have to convince a largely leftward-leaning electorate that it can profit by voting for candidates with the red label rather than the blue one.  Appeals to the pocketbook and physical security may still work for those designated as “conservatives” even if other appeals do not.  That assumes that Republican candidates on the model of Mitt Romney make it appear that they support at least in principle the valiant struggles waged by Senator Warren against “prejudice.”  By then, however, even sane people will have to insist that this self-described warrior for equality really cares about whatever college-educated upwardly mobile voters, particularly women, are supposed to care about.



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Misreading Putin


Last Saturday, President Trump stated that he thought Russian president Putin “meant what he said” when he denied interfering in the American presidential election. Whereupon Senator John McCain shot back that he was shocked that our chief executive “would take the word of a KGB official over that of the American intelligence community.” Leaving aside certain obvious questions, such as whether Trump may be justified in suspecting the trustworthiness of some past leaders of the intelligence community and whether Trump was actually agreeing with Putin’s disclaimer, let’s focus on McCain’s designation of Putin as a “KGB official.” This is the same characterization that one hears repeatedly on Fox-news; indeed Fox-news celebrity Charles Krauthammer usually begins his remarks about Putin by referring to him as the “KGB agent.”

 What is being criticized is not the recognition that Putin learned political tricks while working for the KGB earlier in life. It is rather the attempt to view him and his regime as an extension of the Soviet Communist one. This is a glaring misreading of the cultural and political changes in Russia since the 1990s. There isn’t much evidence that Putin was ever anything but a Russian nationalist, who worked for the Soviet rulers of the Russian empire before they fell from power. Identifying Putin as a left-over Soviet Communist is misleading, and perhaps like characterizing Mussolini in 1930 as a Marxist, because he was a socialist before the Great War. This linkage between Putin and Soviet Communism seems especially popular among geriatric Cold Warriors who may already be nostalgic for the Cold War. It also plays well among a GOP base that like to imagine that they’re still confronting the “evil empire” that President Reagan famously denounced.

But much has changed since the early 1980s. Most of the Western fan base of the present Russian government is situated on the very conservative Right. It is certainly not found among leftists, if we make an exception for the Nation’s Steven Cohen, a leftist Russia expert whom those sympathetic to Putin like to quote. But Cohen’s efforts to show Putin in a favorable light is hardly typical of the Left or of Putin’s neoconservative critics in the U.S.  More typically we find an international gay activist like Jamie Kirchik denouncing Putin as a reactionary homophobe. This Russian despot, complains Kirchik, has banned the presentation of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle in Russian schools and has openly associated gay marriage with Western decadence. Putin has also gone out of his way to advance the moral and social teachings of the Russian Orthodox faith and attacks current Western notions of secularism. At the same time he is refurbishing Orthodox monasteries and churches throughout Russia and boasts that in the last three years atheism has declined in his country by 50%. In June, 2015 Putin announced his intention of “reinstating” what is left of the Russian royal family in their ancestral residence. This is widely regarded as the first step toward restoring the Russian monarchy.

While Western societies rush into a multicultural, PC society, Putin is presenting himself as the defender of Western Christian civilization. He is also, not incidentally, a traditional Russian nationalist pursuing the Russian policy of expansion on his country’s Western border. Although former Soviet satellites are justified in fearing Russian expansionist politics, some Eastern European heads of government now view the Cultural Marxist ideology coming out of the West as even more pernicious for their way of life than Putin’s efforts to reclaim the Soviet empire. Despite Hungary’s unhappy history with Russia, its premier Viktor Orban has expressed sympathy for “elements of Putin’s worldview.” This has also been heard from other traditionalist leaders in Eastern Europe, who, like Hungary, are interested in Russian gas deliveries as well as having a protector against a socially disruptive “Western liberalism.” A complaint made against former National Front head Marine Le Pen during her presidential campaign earlier this year was her praise of Putin’s conservatism.  

Please note that I have not come to praise the Russian president. A Russian nationalist, he seems hell-bent on geopolitical expansion, and his stirring of the pot in the Middle East should be of some concern to our country. Further, because one feels traditionalist repugnance for the cultural transformation undergone by the West in recent decades does not mean that one has to lavish praise on Putin. But it is plainly stupid or dishonest to claim that we are still fighting the Commies or the Soviet “evil empire” when Putin and his government challenge us.  Pat Buchanan has a point when he describes Putin as a “paleoconservative” who stands for a new international Right: “He is seeking to redefine the “Us vs. Them” world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.” This dialectic, according to Buchanan, changes radically the locations of the two opposing sides at the outset of the Cold War: when Soviet Russia was viewed as the champion of the international Left and the U.S. as the defender of Judeo-Christian-classical civilization locked in combat with “godless Communism.” Whether this change is good or not, I shall leave to others to decide. More relevant here is that the platitudes of the Cold War era no longer apply to the current American-Russian confrontation.         

Last Saturday, President Trump stated that he thought Russian president Putin “meant what he said” when he denied interfering in the American presidential election. Whereupon Senator John McCain shot back that he was shocked that our chief executive “would take the word of a KGB official over that of the American intelligence community.” Leaving aside certain obvious questions, such as whether Trump may be justified in suspecting the trustworthiness of some past leaders of the intelligence community and whether Trump was actually agreeing with Putin’s disclaimer, let’s focus on McCain’s designation of Putin as a “KGB official.” This is the same characterization that one hears repeatedly on Fox-news; indeed Fox-news celebrity Charles Krauthammer usually begins his remarks about Putin by referring to him as the “KGB agent.”

 What is being criticized is not the recognition that Putin learned political tricks while working for the KGB earlier in life. It is rather the attempt to view him and his regime as an extension of the Soviet Communist one. This is a glaring misreading of the cultural and political changes in Russia since the 1990s. There isn’t much evidence that Putin was ever anything but a Russian nationalist, who worked for the Soviet rulers of the Russian empire before they fell from power. Identifying Putin as a left-over Soviet Communist is misleading, and perhaps like characterizing Mussolini in 1930 as a Marxist, because he was a socialist before the Great War. This linkage between Putin and Soviet Communism seems especially popular among geriatric Cold Warriors who may already be nostalgic for the Cold War. It also plays well among a GOP base that like to imagine that they’re still confronting the “evil empire” that President Reagan famously denounced.

But much has changed since the early 1980s. Most of the Western fan base of the present Russian government is situated on the very conservative Right. It is certainly not found among leftists, if we make an exception for the Nation’s Steven Cohen, a leftist Russia expert whom those sympathetic to Putin like to quote. But Cohen’s efforts to show Putin in a favorable light is hardly typical of the Left or of Putin’s neoconservative critics in the U.S.  More typically we find an international gay activist like Jamie Kirchik denouncing Putin as a reactionary homophobe. This Russian despot, complains Kirchik, has banned the presentation of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle in Russian schools and has openly associated gay marriage with Western decadence. Putin has also gone out of his way to advance the moral and social teachings of the Russian Orthodox faith and attacks current Western notions of secularism. At the same time he is refurbishing Orthodox monasteries and churches throughout Russia and boasts that in the last three years atheism has declined in his country by 50%. In June, 2015 Putin announced his intention of “reinstating” what is left of the Russian royal family in their ancestral residence. This is widely regarded as the first step toward restoring the Russian monarchy.

While Western societies rush into a multicultural, PC society, Putin is presenting himself as the defender of Western Christian civilization. He is also, not incidentally, a traditional Russian nationalist pursuing the Russian policy of expansion on his country’s Western border. Although former Soviet satellites are justified in fearing Russian expansionist politics, some Eastern European heads of government now view the Cultural Marxist ideology coming out of the West as even more pernicious for their way of life than Putin’s efforts to reclaim the Soviet empire. Despite Hungary’s unhappy history with Russia, its premier Viktor Orban has expressed sympathy for “elements of Putin’s worldview.” This has also been heard from other traditionalist leaders in Eastern Europe, who, like Hungary, are interested in Russian gas deliveries as well as having a protector against a socially disruptive “Western liberalism.” A complaint made against former National Front head Marine Le Pen during her presidential campaign earlier this year was her praise of Putin’s conservatism.  

Please note that I have not come to praise the Russian president. A Russian nationalist, he seems hell-bent on geopolitical expansion, and his stirring of the pot in the Middle East should be of some concern to our country. Further, because one feels traditionalist repugnance for the cultural transformation undergone by the West in recent decades does not mean that one has to lavish praise on Putin. But it is plainly stupid or dishonest to claim that we are still fighting the Commies or the Soviet “evil empire” when Putin and his government challenge us.  Pat Buchanan has a point when he describes Putin as a “paleoconservative” who stands for a new international Right: “He is seeking to redefine the “Us vs. Them” world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.” This dialectic, according to Buchanan, changes radically the locations of the two opposing sides at the outset of the Cold War: when Soviet Russia was viewed as the champion of the international Left and the U.S. as the defender of Judeo-Christian-classical civilization locked in combat with “godless Communism.” Whether this change is good or not, I shall leave to others to decide. More relevant here is that the platitudes of the Cold War era no longer apply to the current American-Russian confrontation.         



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Why #NeverTrumps Persist on the Conventional Right


Dennis Prager recently posted a column trying to explain why many of his political allies have remained in the “#NeverTrump” camp. This seems to be Prager’s latest effort to reason with friends whom he won’t “cease admiring” but whom he’s endeavoring to “understand.” The closest Prager comes to explaining his difference with “#NeverTrump conservatives” is that, unlike him, his friends “do not regard the left-right battle as an existential battle.” They didn’t think it would matter if Hillary were allowed to “complete the transformation” begun under the outgoing administration These #NeverTrump conservatives, we are told, were not as concerned as Prager about the direction in which the country had been moving under Obama.

Although Prager is spot on about the radicalization to which the U.S. was subject during the Obama years, he may overstate the “conservatism” of the #NeverTrumps. I’m not sure there is any significant ideological distance between Hillary Clinton on one side and on the other, Max Boot, Jamie Kirchik, Jonah Goldberg, and about half of the news commentators on Fox News.  Those issues that define “conservatism” for some of Prager’s acquaintances, like liberal internationalism and tax breaks for the upper class, are in any case not the kinds of positions that appeal to the populist Right. I can’t imagine why Prager’s “conservative” friend Bret Stephens, who now writes for the New York Times and who raged against Trump for his alleged xenophobia, would ever make common cause with Hillary’s “deplorables.” Moreover, other authorized conservatives, most notably Bill Kristol, have no problems with a metastasizing, leftist federal bureaucracy, providing it makes room for them and their friends. It is the troublemaker Trump, not the deep state, whom these figures loathe. 

Another point that Prager omits is that not all the #NeverTrumps are driven by high motives or disagree with him because they interpret the present crisis differently. Some may be motivated by career interests when they denounce Trump as the worst thing that’s happened to this country since 9/11. Some #NeverTrumps enjoy bipartisan followings and the favor of the predominantly leftist national press, even while being considered “Republican” and therefore “conservative.” If one wishes to keep one’s standing as a “moderate” or “honest” conservative, there may be no better way to do this than by joining the Left in attacking Trump.

There’s also a festering antagonism between Trump and his followers and the GOP establishment. If a media personality has made a career out of defending the Republican establishment (e.g., Mark Thiessen, Hugh, Hewlitt, George Will, Dana Perino), why would that person welcome an alien populist presence, in the form of Trump and his base? Trump has interrupted the normal back-and-forth between the two establishment parties, both of which reward their media advocates. Prager is right that we are no longer dealing with those normal circumstances that suit establishment partisans, since neither Trump’s populism nor the radical leftist turn of the Democratic Party in the last decade or so represents politics in the usual key. Yet some of those who grind out GOP talking points would like to get back to the old game, and for them, Trump is a nuisance. In any case, establishment partisans would be delighted if he went away, so they could get back to defending “conservatives” like W and Romney.

One position that I’ve never bought is that those #NeverTrumps who oozed enthusiasm for the candidates of the Republican establishment have been troubled by Trump’s lack of conservatism. I just can’t understand how those “conservatives” who dutifully ran to the defense of W, McCain, Romney, Kasich, etc. represent the “Right,” while Trump stands for some kind of Left. What did these Republicans do to shrink the size of government, halt the march of political correctness, or deal with our immigration crisis? Oh yes, I know. They want us to stand tall for “human rights” and to shape the social attitudes of other sovereign states to make them resemble more closely whatever the U.S. has become politically and ideologically. Of course, these #NeverTrumps are for limiting the federal debt ceiling, but that’s when the GOP is out of power and when Republican presidents aren’t raising it. Certainly I can appreciate that a strict constitutionalist like Rand Paul or Andrew Napolitano would be unhappy with Trump’s brand of populism. But these people have been consistent in going after establishment Republicans at least as severely as Trump.

Note that I’m not against those who are supposed to be on the Right pointing out the lapses of good taste and the dire effects of some of the President’s exuberant tweeting. There is certainly enough to fault in the way in which Trump has handled public relations and the recklessness of some of his comments. But I can’t help noticing the difference between the generally negative way in which Fox News “analysts” like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace have presented Trump and the often drooling manner in which their “conservative” news channel approached the presidency of George W. Bush. Not only did W, like Trump, put his foot in his mouth during his presidential campaign and later as president. In July 2003 on a visit to the black African dictatorship of Senegal, W apologized on behalf of our country for slavery (without to my knowledge bringing up the embarrassing fact that slaves were made available to white traders because of African tribes enslaving other African tribes).  Needless to say, Fox News, which has been proud of the critical fashion in which its analysts have presented the Trump presidency, did not choose to discuss W’s faux pas. After all, unlike Obama, George Junior was an establishment Republican.                 

Dennis Prager recently posted a column trying to explain why many of his political allies have remained in the “#NeverTrump” camp. This seems to be Prager’s latest effort to reason with friends whom he won’t “cease admiring” but whom he’s endeavoring to “understand.” The closest Prager comes to explaining his difference with “#NeverTrump conservatives” is that, unlike him, his friends “do not regard the left-right battle as an existential battle.” They didn’t think it would matter if Hillary were allowed to “complete the transformation” begun under the outgoing administration These #NeverTrump conservatives, we are told, were not as concerned as Prager about the direction in which the country had been moving under Obama.

Although Prager is spot on about the radicalization to which the U.S. was subject during the Obama years, he may overstate the “conservatism” of the #NeverTrumps. I’m not sure there is any significant ideological distance between Hillary Clinton on one side and on the other, Max Boot, Jamie Kirchik, Jonah Goldberg, and about half of the news commentators on Fox News.  Those issues that define “conservatism” for some of Prager’s acquaintances, like liberal internationalism and tax breaks for the upper class, are in any case not the kinds of positions that appeal to the populist Right. I can’t imagine why Prager’s “conservative” friend Bret Stephens, who now writes for the New York Times and who raged against Trump for his alleged xenophobia, would ever make common cause with Hillary’s “deplorables.” Moreover, other authorized conservatives, most notably Bill Kristol, have no problems with a metastasizing, leftist federal bureaucracy, providing it makes room for them and their friends. It is the troublemaker Trump, not the deep state, whom these figures loathe. 

Another point that Prager omits is that not all the #NeverTrumps are driven by high motives or disagree with him because they interpret the present crisis differently. Some may be motivated by career interests when they denounce Trump as the worst thing that’s happened to this country since 9/11. Some #NeverTrumps enjoy bipartisan followings and the favor of the predominantly leftist national press, even while being considered “Republican” and therefore “conservative.” If one wishes to keep one’s standing as a “moderate” or “honest” conservative, there may be no better way to do this than by joining the Left in attacking Trump.

There’s also a festering antagonism between Trump and his followers and the GOP establishment. If a media personality has made a career out of defending the Republican establishment (e.g., Mark Thiessen, Hugh, Hewlitt, George Will, Dana Perino), why would that person welcome an alien populist presence, in the form of Trump and his base? Trump has interrupted the normal back-and-forth between the two establishment parties, both of which reward their media advocates. Prager is right that we are no longer dealing with those normal circumstances that suit establishment partisans, since neither Trump’s populism nor the radical leftist turn of the Democratic Party in the last decade or so represents politics in the usual key. Yet some of those who grind out GOP talking points would like to get back to the old game, and for them, Trump is a nuisance. In any case, establishment partisans would be delighted if he went away, so they could get back to defending “conservatives” like W and Romney.

One position that I’ve never bought is that those #NeverTrumps who oozed enthusiasm for the candidates of the Republican establishment have been troubled by Trump’s lack of conservatism. I just can’t understand how those “conservatives” who dutifully ran to the defense of W, McCain, Romney, Kasich, etc. represent the “Right,” while Trump stands for some kind of Left. What did these Republicans do to shrink the size of government, halt the march of political correctness, or deal with our immigration crisis? Oh yes, I know. They want us to stand tall for “human rights” and to shape the social attitudes of other sovereign states to make them resemble more closely whatever the U.S. has become politically and ideologically. Of course, these #NeverTrumps are for limiting the federal debt ceiling, but that’s when the GOP is out of power and when Republican presidents aren’t raising it. Certainly I can appreciate that a strict constitutionalist like Rand Paul or Andrew Napolitano would be unhappy with Trump’s brand of populism. But these people have been consistent in going after establishment Republicans at least as severely as Trump.

Note that I’m not against those who are supposed to be on the Right pointing out the lapses of good taste and the dire effects of some of the President’s exuberant tweeting. There is certainly enough to fault in the way in which Trump has handled public relations and the recklessness of some of his comments. But I can’t help noticing the difference between the generally negative way in which Fox News “analysts” like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace have presented Trump and the often drooling manner in which their “conservative” news channel approached the presidency of George W. Bush. Not only did W, like Trump, put his foot in his mouth during his presidential campaign and later as president. In July 2003 on a visit to the black African dictatorship of Senegal, W apologized on behalf of our country for slavery (without to my knowledge bringing up the embarrassing fact that slaves were made available to white traders because of African tribes enslaving other African tribes).  Needless to say, Fox News, which has been proud of the critical fashion in which its analysts have presented the Trump presidency, did not choose to discuss W’s faux pas. After all, unlike Obama, George Junior was an establishment Republican.                 



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How the Right can Learn from the Neocons


Several friends on the independent Right have been sending me notes stating their frustration with the Trump administration for playing them for fools. These fellow-members of the independent Right (yes, I’ll admit to my own leanings) complain that after all their efforts in campaigning for the president, he’s turning into a tool of the moderates and neocons. I for one am less critical of Trump, because although I wrote and donated on his behalf, I never thought his election would change much in our society or politics. Nor do I believe that if the improbable happened and Marine Le Pen became president of the French Fifth Republic, she would be able to act effectively against the French deep state (which is proportionately more massive than ours), the rabidly adverse media, and the rest of an entrenched cultural Left.

There is no magic bullet by which decades and even generations of leftist penetration of political and cultural institutions can be reversed in one presidential race. Contrary to a recent hysterical column by the perpetually foaming Ralph Peters, France is not in imminent danger of being turned over to a raging anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier. Not only does Marine in no way answer to that description, even if she defeated Peters’ hero, Emanuel Macron, who represents the multicultural Left and globalist interests, Marine would have to battle the same media hostility that confronts Trump. Unless fundamental institutions can be changed, winning the presidential sweepstakes here or in France will not lead to profound alterations in the political climate.

In the case of Trump, however, there is another reason that I’ve been skeptical about his capacity to change things in a way that would please his present critics on the independent Right. Please note that I’m not speaking of those Never-Trump journalists who still abound in the “conservative movement.” These people, particularly the ones who shilled for such implausible figures of the Right as W, Mitt, and John McCain, are getting away with stunning hypocrisy. The less said about them, the less elevated my blood pressure is likely to become. No, I’m referring to those on the Right who break ranks by criticizing a liberal internationalist foreign policy. I also mean those on the Right who believe that political reconstruction should begin at home and should not be a key element in the way we deal with sovereign foreign powers, unless we’re actually threatened by them. Unlike Bill Kristol, this Right views the deep state as a menace to our freedoms. And its devotees have had enough of “multiculturalism” in all its varied forms and would like the government to stop promoting its crusade against communities and individuals who are charged with “discrimination.” 

The more determined members of this Right would like to see the government come down hard on the antifascist goons and on the political correctness inquisitors at our misnamed institutions of higher learning. Not only do they want Trump to withdraw all federal funding from a place like Berkeley, they’d also be delighted if he sent in the National Guard to suppress the well-planned riots against “reactionary” speakers at Berkeley and other ideologically similar institutions. And yes, they are disappointed that Trump has not spoken out in favor of his loyalists who have shown up at universities to counter the rioting Left.    

Although I fully sympathize with these sentiments and proposals, I see no compelling reason why Trump would lend his ear to those who express them. Nor am I in any way shocked that the loudest Trump-detractors, including the outright Hillary-supporters in the “conservative movement” are swarming all over Fox News and still writing for “conservative” publications. These are well-connected people who enjoy support from corporate funders and are represented in the National Endowment for Democracy and other government agencies. If there is a Right, and a truer one, which would like to have more public exposure, then it will have to follow the neoconservatives’ path to success in the 1970s and 1980s, that is, raise funds and create its own media outlets.

The short cuts that young members of the independent Right have tried promise only very limited success. Starting up a blog with one’s buds or becoming a website troll is a form of self-indulgence. Such activities will never produce the firepower of the National Review or Weekly Standard website. Such vehicles of mainstream opinion have considerably more funds and far better PR than those assets that are available to someone working on a shoestring.  The most ridiculous attempt to gain influence from the Right may be sending obscene or cranky messages through “social media.” Those who do this sort of thing are likely to be dismissed as overgrown adolescents. Yes, I know — the Left gets away with such behavior, but then they’re holding better cards than their altright imitators. If a more authentic Right than the one that is now in power hopes to mobilize, it will have to match the mainstream right-center by coming up with equivalent resources. Such a Right can only succeed by doing what a nineteenth-century French premier Francois Guizot told an impecunious shopkeeper when asked how he could obtain the vote: “Enrichissez-vous (accumulate wealth)” was Guizot’s retort in standing by France’s limited franchise based on the amount of revenue paid by citizens to the state.

It is also ridiculous for an independent Right to believe that those whom they hope to supplant will share their resources with opposition on the Right. I can’t think of any reason they would. What’s in it for those who enjoy a media monopoly on “conservative” opinion to exchange views with troublesome dissenters on the Right? If they do want a “different” point of view, they can obtain one from someone who is generally on the same wavelength; or from leftist debating partners who are invited on Fox News.

Back in the 1980s when the neoconservatives were becoming dominant in the respectable Right, members of the Old Right would complain that their adversaries did nothing but “network.” Whether or not that was the only thing neoconservatives did really doesn’t matter. What’s more significant is that they worked diligently at building profitable connections. This was made clear to readers of my book when I published the revised edition of The Conservative Movement (1993). There I showed how the neoconservatives acquired a vast media and print empire by attracting wealthy donors. Fundraisers like Irving Kristol and Leslie Lenkowsky devoted time and energy to their work and went from one lead to the next in amassing the necessary resources for their movement. Although this movement was a familiar form of Cold War liberalism with a changed label, the neoconservative founding fathers knew how to sell their product as some kind of novelty. They engaged in what many on the Right, including this writer, thought at the time was a tawdry marketing ploy. This may indeed have been what it was, but the strategy and persistent salesmanship worked brilliantly.  And I’m not sure there is an alternative course of action for those on the outside who want a cut of the media pie.     

Several friends on the independent Right have been sending me notes stating their frustration with the Trump administration for playing them for fools. These fellow-members of the independent Right (yes, I’ll admit to my own leanings) complain that after all their efforts in campaigning for the president, he’s turning into a tool of the moderates and neocons. I for one am less critical of Trump, because although I wrote and donated on his behalf, I never thought his election would change much in our society or politics. Nor do I believe that if the improbable happened and Marine Le Pen became president of the French Fifth Republic, she would be able to act effectively against the French deep state (which is proportionately more massive than ours), the rabidly adverse media, and the rest of an entrenched cultural Left.

There is no magic bullet by which decades and even generations of leftist penetration of political and cultural institutions can be reversed in one presidential race. Contrary to a recent hysterical column by the perpetually foaming Ralph Peters, France is not in imminent danger of being turned over to a raging anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier. Not only does Marine in no way answer to that description, even if she defeated Peters’ hero, Emanuel Macron, who represents the multicultural Left and globalist interests, Marine would have to battle the same media hostility that confronts Trump. Unless fundamental institutions can be changed, winning the presidential sweepstakes here or in France will not lead to profound alterations in the political climate.

In the case of Trump, however, there is another reason that I’ve been skeptical about his capacity to change things in a way that would please his present critics on the independent Right. Please note that I’m not speaking of those Never-Trump journalists who still abound in the “conservative movement.” These people, particularly the ones who shilled for such implausible figures of the Right as W, Mitt, and John McCain, are getting away with stunning hypocrisy. The less said about them, the less elevated my blood pressure is likely to become. No, I’m referring to those on the Right who break ranks by criticizing a liberal internationalist foreign policy. I also mean those on the Right who believe that political reconstruction should begin at home and should not be a key element in the way we deal with sovereign foreign powers, unless we’re actually threatened by them. Unlike Bill Kristol, this Right views the deep state as a menace to our freedoms. And its devotees have had enough of “multiculturalism” in all its varied forms and would like the government to stop promoting its crusade against communities and individuals who are charged with “discrimination.” 

The more determined members of this Right would like to see the government come down hard on the antifascist goons and on the political correctness inquisitors at our misnamed institutions of higher learning. Not only do they want Trump to withdraw all federal funding from a place like Berkeley, they’d also be delighted if he sent in the National Guard to suppress the well-planned riots against “reactionary” speakers at Berkeley and other ideologically similar institutions. And yes, they are disappointed that Trump has not spoken out in favor of his loyalists who have shown up at universities to counter the rioting Left.    

Although I fully sympathize with these sentiments and proposals, I see no compelling reason why Trump would lend his ear to those who express them. Nor am I in any way shocked that the loudest Trump-detractors, including the outright Hillary-supporters in the “conservative movement” are swarming all over Fox News and still writing for “conservative” publications. These are well-connected people who enjoy support from corporate funders and are represented in the National Endowment for Democracy and other government agencies. If there is a Right, and a truer one, which would like to have more public exposure, then it will have to follow the neoconservatives’ path to success in the 1970s and 1980s, that is, raise funds and create its own media outlets.

The short cuts that young members of the independent Right have tried promise only very limited success. Starting up a blog with one’s buds or becoming a website troll is a form of self-indulgence. Such activities will never produce the firepower of the National Review or Weekly Standard website. Such vehicles of mainstream opinion have considerably more funds and far better PR than those assets that are available to someone working on a shoestring.  The most ridiculous attempt to gain influence from the Right may be sending obscene or cranky messages through “social media.” Those who do this sort of thing are likely to be dismissed as overgrown adolescents. Yes, I know — the Left gets away with such behavior, but then they’re holding better cards than their altright imitators. If a more authentic Right than the one that is now in power hopes to mobilize, it will have to match the mainstream right-center by coming up with equivalent resources. Such a Right can only succeed by doing what a nineteenth-century French premier Francois Guizot told an impecunious shopkeeper when asked how he could obtain the vote: “Enrichissez-vous (accumulate wealth)” was Guizot’s retort in standing by France’s limited franchise based on the amount of revenue paid by citizens to the state.

It is also ridiculous for an independent Right to believe that those whom they hope to supplant will share their resources with opposition on the Right. I can’t think of any reason they would. What’s in it for those who enjoy a media monopoly on “conservative” opinion to exchange views with troublesome dissenters on the Right? If they do want a “different” point of view, they can obtain one from someone who is generally on the same wavelength; or from leftist debating partners who are invited on Fox News.

Back in the 1980s when the neoconservatives were becoming dominant in the respectable Right, members of the Old Right would complain that their adversaries did nothing but “network.” Whether or not that was the only thing neoconservatives did really doesn’t matter. What’s more significant is that they worked diligently at building profitable connections. This was made clear to readers of my book when I published the revised edition of The Conservative Movement (1993). There I showed how the neoconservatives acquired a vast media and print empire by attracting wealthy donors. Fundraisers like Irving Kristol and Leslie Lenkowsky devoted time and energy to their work and went from one lead to the next in amassing the necessary resources for their movement. Although this movement was a familiar form of Cold War liberalism with a changed label, the neoconservative founding fathers knew how to sell their product as some kind of novelty. They engaged in what many on the Right, including this writer, thought at the time was a tawdry marketing ploy. This may indeed have been what it was, but the strategy and persistent salesmanship worked brilliantly.  And I’m not sure there is an alternative course of action for those on the outside who want a cut of the media pie.     



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