The Role of Conservative News Sites in Trump’s World
After seeing that list of “top conservative news sites” the other day, I have been doing some thinking about the role that places like National Review have had in the recent past, and the role that it has today.
Conservatism was, in the past, in large part defined by what it stood against: against communism, against welfare systems, against the New Left, against secularism. It was never as unified, or as strong as it may have appeared. This opposition mentality soon consumed the Right.
Traditionally, conservatives would go to NR and similar outlets to see intellectual arguments in favor of conservatism. You could find a 5,000 word article about why low taxes are good, or why communism is bad, and the writers would make a long case for it.
I suspect that a great many conservatives went into these articles looking for intellectuals to tell them they were right about various things, whether it was finding gay people icky or creating a reason post-facto to justify their beliefs on some other topic.
In a way, conservative intellectuals were acting as much as a PR firm for conservatism as they were thought leaders, giving arguments that respectable people could tell their friends or relatives to justify those people’s pre-existing beliefs. Sure, some people were probably convinced to take new positions through articles like these, but for the most part it was preaching to the choir.
More recently, many people who were “conservative” would have been better described as “reactionary”, yet these people made up such a large part of the base that conservative writers couldn’t ignore them without generating a backlash.
Unfortunately for places like NRO, many of these people weren’t really interested in reading them, they merely wanted “respectable” arguments to support things they already supported. The occasional dog whistle was enough to appeal to both the reactionaries and the conservatives.
Yet today, there are places like Breitbart or Fox News, who don’t bother writing a 5k word article about why Muslims or gay people are bad, or why college kids are the true enemies of freedom in America. The new outlets simply say what the average conservative reactionary thinks.
When a conservative wants to read or see something they agree with, they no longer need to read a long article with the occasional dog whistle. They can read an entire article that’s open and honest about the argument it’s making.
Or they can turn on the TV and have the beautiful, young, blonde conservative woman from their dreams tell them that they’re right, and everyone else is wrong and ruining the country.
And those old conservatives who really did believe in conservatism and wrote long articles defending their beliefs? They don’t have a role to play in an intellectual movement that merely used them as cover. The technical term for them now, I believe, is “cuck”.
NRO is a great case study in how this will go down. NRO was all out against Trump, because he stood for things that the writers had argued against for years. Unfortunately for them, the average conservative never bought their arguments.
There are many religious conservatives, for whom authoritarianism is the base of their familial and social lives, where deference to the father, or to the priest, is the foundation of how life works. “Small government” was always a dog whistle for many conservatives, not a genuine policy goal to rally around.
There aren’t that many conservatives to whom a 5k word article about Burke or Buckley or about the long terms effects of low taxes or high deficits would appeal, because conservatism isn’t about any of that anymore.
Frankly, Obama is more influential to modern conservatism than Buckley, simply because modern conservatism is built around reactionary opposition to Obama. “Obama did it” is justification enough to oppose something for most conservatives today.
(Well, abortion and guns too. The views on both of which get more and more extreme in the GOP with every passing month. There’s a lot of money to be made in convincing people that guns are going to be taken away (they aren’t) or that abortions will be everywhere (they won’t.))
“The Corner”, previously a place at NR for the writers to write down little things that didn’t need a full article, will likely become more representative of the magazine as a whole, as readers look more for clickbait articles than they do longer arguments.
Surely the writers have known this was the case for some time, that they were writing for an audience that didn’t really exist, but they assumed that no one would simply write down what the average reactionary thinks. Too abhorent to admit in public. NR could always write a scathing article to put those people in line.
Unfortunately for NR and others, that’s exactly what the internet has done: made it impossible to eject the reactionary nutjobs. The average person is now aware of just how far apart intellectual conservatism and the average conservative’s views are.
So NRO will slowly have their “diversity of opinions” include racists and authoritarians, which is, in a way, their admission that racism and authoritarianism are part of what conservatism means to many conservatives these days.
And by doing so, they will show that I was the actual fool for spending so many years defending conservatism from accusations that it was all about race, or all about hating gays.
I bought in hard, and now I realize I was making arguments that no one apart from me and a few other nerds really believed, and laughed it off when my conservative relatives would outright say the things you couldn’t just say!
And as places like NR fade into irrelevance, they will have no one to blame but themselves for pandering to the lowest common denominator rather than confronting the pernicious views festering in the bowels of conservatism.