Next Conservatism 10: Take It From Them
Donald Trump isn’t an anomaly for Movement Conservatives. He’s a tragic fulfillment of every salesman’s trick they’ve used on their own stakeholders for decades: induction, hyperbole, cultivated rage, and a fierce belief in the alternate reality that Republicans were promised. He’s a last grim all-in bet by people who have exhausted all other options. They won’t negotiate anymore. Their worldview is absolute. For them to conciliate would be a betrayal of themselves.
Above all the right they fight for is the right to their narratives. The GOP promised this to them, but negotiating with the reality-based community hasn’t made reality go away. Trump has won the base because he recognized their impatience. He yells what the GOP used to whisper. He tells the base a myth of themselves wherein they should be heroes, but they’re victims. He tells them they were destined, exceptional, and supreme, and that they have been let down by their own party because the GOP didn’t stop the stream of history. It promoted all their biases, exploited them, and then let them all collapse. There’s no defense for their myth today, when they’re surrounded by measurement and accountable for their scores in life. In the era of smart meters and DNA forensics and big data, they can’t pretend the way they used to. They can’t make themselves subject only to laws they like. The last authentic statement they have is to hate fact itself and to hate anyone who uses it against their narratives. All Trump is, is a fantasy himself. He embodies it all. They embrace him because by factual standards, he is a lie, and so he is a symbol of how lie trumps fact if you believe it hard enough.
The party primaries discredited intellectualism in the GOP. People who made reasoned cases were trampled not because of their cases, but because they reasoned. From here on the Republicans will judge their candidates on tone. They’ll embrace coarseness and call it candor. They’ll look for nastiness and call it courage. Having lost again and again they now salvage their pride with final declarations of implacable hostility, facts be damned.
Trump doesn’t demonstrate Conservative resolve. He shows the resignation they feel. No one understands how to prey on hope like a casino builder.
The New York Times reports that the 2016 Republican Party platform “takes a strict, traditionalist view of the family and child rearing, bars military women from combat, describes coal as a ‘clean’ energy source and declares pornography a ‘public health crisis.’” They say explicitly they want the border wall, and not a metaphor, but a real solid wall. These aren’t realistic statements of what they think they can get. It’s their declaration of what the world ought to like: free of reason. The platform denounces engineering, arithmetic, and every normal process of our republic that denies them these fantasies. It serves notice once again to their political adversaries outside and inside the GOP that anyone standing in their way with mere reason is past redemption. They say that they can deny equality to people whom they feel unequal. They say they can invent their own science when science doesn’t give them the answers they want. They say that their morality should override the Constitution. For the people who wrote this platform, even negotiating this whole epistemology is a moral transgression they will not make. It is because they say it is.
They’ve given up trying to win reasoned arguments with their leaders and to conduct government based on reason. They want their teleology to prevail, not empiricism. Deeply wanting a thing to be true ought to be all it takes to make it so, provided the right people want it; and they are the right people. They understand they can’t get this.
The Platform isn’t aspirational, in any political sense. It’s nihilistic. It’s a declaration of the anger and frustration that the Republicans have been brewing for decades among their most committed voters, promising all this power, delivering none of it. The pot is about to boil over. Trump is their message. The GOP ought to have heard it. The message is that they want push the Party away entirely from governing. They want the Party to stop compromising moral absolutes with qualifiers and accommodations. These Conservatives have a moral duty to make their worldview real and to end forever anyone else’s worldview being shoved down their throats. They know they have God on their side, and with this inevitable failure, they won’t waste any more time trying to argue their side. They know they’re right to make any gesture, use any tactic, lie, and disenfranchise voters, for the good of nation and the divine order they think they embody. Their interpretation of good citizenship, duty and patriotism requires them, if necessary, to settle these questions by force. They’ve said it explicitly to their own representatives. A Republican politician who argues differently with a crowd of his own supporters must keep in mind somewhere in that crowd is a partisan who thinks the 2nd Amendment gives him to right to shoot a leader whim he thinks is compromising his freedom.
Heterosexual marriage as the only way to raise children; women barred from combat, coal as a “clean”’ energy source, pornography a “public health crisis” — there are no facts to back up these assertions. That’s why they’re in there. They’re examples of the GOP’s policy to reject the idea of fact as they wish. Republicans still seem not to see it. This isn’t a platform to lead the United States. It’s grounds for leaving it. If Trump wins his voters will expect him to make good. If he loses they’ll find someone even more virulent.
They last time thinking like this reached such a crisis as this, its proponents felt they had no other option but to leave the Union and create a new nation founded explicitly on power as the only determinant of fact. The conundrum today’s secessionists face is that they’re already a defeated and occupied nation with nowhere to go. They said they were an alternative to the reality-based community, but reality now occupies their hours, careers, households, the entire economy that sustains them; and the occupying soldiers are the self-evident Great Denominators that they eagerly use even as they deny their self-evidence. The last bastion is in their hearts. In their hearts they need never surrender to the tyranny of self-evidence. They have to pay their electric bills in the real world, but they can hold their pride and pretend they don’t live there.
The New Lost Cause
Donald Trump isn’t running to be the 45th for president of the United States. He’s running to be the second president of the Confederacy.
The problem isn’t just that they haven’t learned, or that they can’t learn. It’s that the Republican Party still works to prevent empirical deliberation on issues and facts by its own voters, just as the Confederates did with theirs. Their “2016 Republican Platform Survey” (https://www.gop.com/platform-survey/) is an exercise in distortion and oversimplification so obvious that it doesn’t just insult the intelligence of Republican voters, it insults them for suggesting they have any capacity for independent thought at all.
Should the national Republican Party only support candidates who adhere to our conservative principles of low taxes, small government, strong values and unwavering defense of our Constitutional freedoms?
Tactical ambiguity, tribal inference that there is one and only one “right” answer to a question; they’re all this “survey” amounts to; it leads and coerces voters instead of informing them; it discourages deliberation in favor of easy conformity. It merits no more respect than a one-candidate ballot in a banana republic election, and yet the Republicans promote it as a tool for effective participation by their voters.
Do you believe the Republican Party needs to do a better job of exposing the Obama record and his radical liberal agenda?
Imagine a Republican standing up at the Cleveland convention and demanding that Party expunge logical fallacies, straw men, false equivalencies, mischaracterizations and exaggerations like these. Imagine a candidate asking that Republicans subject themselves to reason instead of belief as the foundation of certainty. Imagine issues like privatizing Social Security, gay marriage, and legal abortion being acknowledged at last as settled in the United States, instead of politicized again for their anger value. Imagine one Republican who ran for the White House actually defining “low taxes, small government, strong values and unwavering defense of our Constitutional freedoms” and demanding that the definitions be real, measurable and practicable instead of letting those “conservative principles” be reduced to trite memes.
Are you worried that ObamaCare will cause a cancellation of your health insurance, forcing you to purchase new insurance that provides coverage you don’t need, raises your deductibles and limits your choice of doctors?
The Republicans won’t face these questions. They need epistemic closure. Their candidate for the presidency won’t even have read the platform when he accepts the nomination.
What The Right is Becoming
Something worse than losing an election lies ahead: when Republicans give up trying to engage fairly in politics and question the integrity of the whole system, the Party stops participating in government and becomes an industry run by cynics for profit. The convention won’t nominate a candidate. It will recast the GOP from a viable political organization into a mindset, a fantasy alternative to the reality-based community with a fundamental demand: their right to nullify reality as they wish, even at their own expense. These platform positions say it. They will not surrender by changing their minds. They will not be required to accede to the fact of fact and make common cause with people whom they judge to be less. They can’t win, can’t advance, so they will settle for masochistic gestures designed to dismay their enemies. It’s Lost Cause Conservatism to just stop — to refuse to hold hearings for the Supreme Court, to vote five dozen times to repeal ACA and lose every time, to hold show trial investigations that legitimize lies instead of finding fact, to demand that the Stars and Bars be raised again over the South Carolina state house grounds, or to propagate the myth that Obama’s presidency wiped the nation clean of racism, to deny gays the right to live as they like purely in defense of the semantics of their own self-mythology. The cynics at the top profit by it. The ones at the bottom who believe it don’t see it damaging their lives. But trench warfare is the only thing left. It’s not what citizenship ought to be, but it’s exactly what media needs to be: it’s fun.
A party built on all this rage is doomed, but a media industry built on cultivated fury will thrive, as we have seen. The worst-case scenario could start in November: the GOP deliberately terminates all its political effectiveness and become a parasite tribe living under occupation in its own country, seething at its own impotency, dooming itself to marginalization and dependency; a welfare class of self-nullified people trapped in a new age of reason and still thinking with their blood.
It’s both bizarre and predictable that they view this as part of a grand march back to power: the platform says, “Republicans are preparing to win back the White House and expand our majorities in 2016,” they say. “The Republican Party is growing and is as strong as it has ever been — and our recent historic election victories prove it.” This “proof” comes despite the facts that the GOP is letting itself be led by someone who isn’t a Republican, or a Conservative, or an Evangelical, and that Donald Trump is treating Movement Conservatism the way he treated Atlantic City: as a distressed property to be bought with someone else’s investment, branded with his name, gutted for every dollar, and left in ruins.
This isn’t resurgence. It’s the Right disintegrating. Cleveland won’t reconcile their positions or settle their differences in the cause. They must delegitimize each other, and so they must attack the possibility of there being any legitimate definition of Conservatism. They have to destroy the movement to save themselves. What Lincoln predicted for the South is happening in Movement Conservatism. Out of united commitment to their cause they are seceding from each other.
Four myths falling were described in a prior chapter, with mention made of a fifth one. It’s this:
1. Things Are Getting Worse
What’s promoting this error is that we’re increasingly aware of problems, meaning that the comfortable assumptions that used to substitute for diagnoses and insights aren’t useful to us anymore. Now seeing the problems is possible in ways, and in places, that used to be invisible. Ignorance was bliss, sometimes; not for long though, and not for everyone. And not anymore. It costs too much. It misses opportunities.
Some people rightly view this as a threat. If the status quo in question serves them, as it did for example for the tobacco companies who preferred that no epidemiological data on smoking be available, who then denied it when it was, who created huge shadow institutions to buy time with plausible lies, and who finally had to concede that the facts had always been so. Gun advocates do this now. It’s an old story — this is the crisis of literacy that slave-owners used to endure when their slaves learned to read. Ignorance is the strongest shackle. Literacy permitted slaves to see their situation in a way that disrupted the status quo.
In our era of measurement and trickle-down proficiency, this process exceeds every version of literacy that led up to it.
If some people thought prior iterations were threatening, this one is terrifying, not only to individual assumptions, but to whole species of them throughout the culture. It’s forcing tiny splits and schisms between fact and fantasy everywhere inside companies, inside families, even inside individuals who are forced to choose between the fantasy they crave and the facts they see. Most times the choice is easy: science, law, and the private sector all have to treat untested assumptions as pathogens. At other times, the choice is too hard. Some people choose to not know about their health or their finances. They’re victims of their own decisions, and sitting ducks for predators. And in some cases, they elevate blindness to fact into a non-negotiable truth in their lives, and the right to their untested, unquestioned worldview into freedom itself.
It can’t be so. Their right to decide what is and what isn’t a fact is threatened. And when they make simple common-sense concessions to facts they feel the sting of being aligned with people whom they hate. It feels like their world is collapsing when they desperately assert that they still have the right to their own facts but can’t use it except in making gestures that amount to displays of malice.
That’s why they feel things are getting worse when they aren’t. Things aren’t getting worse. The world is being clarified. Clarity compels them, in their own interest, to concede to the same tyrannical detested facts their enemies use, to act like their enemies, to get the same benefits as their enemies, and to be measured by the same benchmarks and metrics, and to do it again because it works. Their freedom to assume, and to require that the world reflect their assumptions, both fail. They’re desperate for proof that things they believed were better when they didn’t know really were better. They thrill to any evidence that suggests they might still be right. They exult when the facts actually support their anti-factuality. But they’re losing those battles, and they can feel that. They used to love it when their worldview made fact, when they could legislate their reality for everyone. Now they can’t dictate the facts for women or minorities or gays as they like. Now the facts are the same for them as they are for everyone — the equality of all men is becoming self-evident as they watch. They evolve.
In Donald Trump they can express their bitterness with a vicious ly self-destructive gesture just to prove they can still control their world a little.
American society is absolutely not coming apart. The opposite is happening: empirical facts have finally permeated the entire country, knitting a fabric of thinking and testing that makes common sense truly common. Everyone uses it. Not everyone likes it. What divides us are nostalgic paradigms and preferences that have lost their provenance in the institutions and systems. There is no bastion strong enough now to protect willful ignorance against the intrusion of tests and measurements. It’s real work now to stay stupid. The pride of it requires pointless sacrifice.
Of course they see the world getting worse. It’s easier than ever for them to make an empirical decision that works. Every one of them is an admission they wish not to make. They’re embarrassed when they do the right thing for themselves.
And What to Do
So what’s Next?
If there’s one thing Movement Conservatives understand, it’s branding. Next Conservatives can brand their authentic acts of conservation as the true Conservatism and deliver proof instead of vagaries. They can show each other how their empirical decisions exemplify meaningful freedom, deliver measurable benefits, and contradict the Republican line. They can invent Next Conservative best practices and demonstrate them concretely each other. They can replace Movement Conservatism’s platitudes with useful Conservative tools:
· A deep suspicion of the power of the state replaced with Defense of the self-evidence of empirical fact
· A preference for liberty over equality replaced with A requirement for empirical fairness
· Patriotism replaced with patriotism defined, measured and proven in its outcomes in the household, the community and the nation
· A belief in established institutions and hierarchies replaced with Testing and evolving “established institutions and hierarchies” for their ongoing endurance and utility
· Skepticism about the idea of progress replaced with Certainty about and daily applications of progress in the free market
· Elitism replaced with Status for merit and achievement
For the moment, Trump’s anti-empiricist appeal seems strongest in exactly the places where the battles between Movement Conservatism and Next Conservatism will happen. A map displaying solar radiation for the U.S. shows there the market opportunity is greatest for distributed generation, i.e., rooftop solar: the Red States from Texas to the Atlantic coast are America’s Sunshine OPEC. Movement Conservatives have tried to protect their interests by discrediting and obstructing solar’s implementation. They’ve failed so far, and they’ll fail faster as the price for panels drops, the cost of generating a watt of energy falls, and as businesses and homeowners stop listening to propaganda and make rational assessments. Likewise, fracking: the boom in natural gas pits the authoritarian pro-fossil fuel Movement Conservatives against Next Conservative homeowners, landowners and municipalities in Oklahoma and Texas. Fracking’s effects on the value and sanctity of health and private property will raise questions that will finally determine who is Conservative, and what is Conservatism.
The social issues used to deliver useful hysteria that the Movement Conservatives could deploy as they liked. But even Trump voters can learn when their own interests are plainly before them. The convention could be a last celebration of malignant stupidity for its own sake. Cleveland might help to prove how fake Movement Conservatism always was, and how irrelevant it is to the real thing.
America needs rebuilding coast-to-coast, top to bottom. It’s the greatest challenge we’ve faced as a people since the Second World War, and the greatest opportunity for capitalism in action in our time. Closer to home, the individual has unprecedented ways to ask what Movement Conservatism always asked and never answered, and the same question Franklin confronted for himself: how can one person’s choices make America better?
Movement Conservatives have opted out. They want to benefit from the change they deny is needed, to deny the tools it will take to make it, and to hide in their trenches until they like what they couldn’t ever have made. You can feel it: the frauds are weak. Don’t let “Conservative” be a lie anymore. Test them now. Call them out. Prove them wrong. Show them why. And when the people can’t prove they deserve to call themselves Conservatives, stop them by example, not just with debate. Do it better. Take the word “Conservative” from them.