How a right-wing stereotype fuels negative partisanship and hurts our politics

President Trump in the Cabinet Room, June 10, 2020 (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Democrats are out to defund the police. The left wants to abolish them entirely. As Donald Trump and the Republican Party face increasingly tough poll numbers for the coming election, this is a promising new line of attack for the right.

The conservative effort to tar Joe Biden and liberals in general with what is a fringe political position — even one that has gained salience in recent weeks — is a time-honored strategy. The core essence of conservatism is opposing liberalism, and the liberalism conservatives oppose is often caricatured beyond recognition.

One of Trump’s supporters’s early defenses of him…


Tom Murphy VII / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

House historian of the conservative movement, Lee Edwards, has been rescuing “Unsung Conservative Heroes” from obscurity. His aim? “To give proper place and praise to the unsung heroes without whom there would be no conservative movement in America.” Having worked on the history of conservatism and the conservative movement, I welcome research that extends our understanding and adds complexity to received narratives. But Edwards’s emphasis on “heroes” closes as many questions as it opens.

Take for instance the second entry in the series: publisher Henry Regnery. It’s undeniable Regnery was a key figure in the development of movement conservatism. His…


For the longest time, the right believed originalism to be synonymous with a respect for the Constitution. Adrian Vermeule wants to change that.

There’s a wolf among us. And according to legal thinker Randy Barnett, evoking conservative icon Antonin Scalia, “this wolf comes as a wolf.”

Barnett means Adrian Vermeule, an increasingly prominent Catholic legal thinker, who went the intellectual equivalent of viral with a splashy essay in the Atlantic.

At first blush it’s a surprising description of Vermeule, a sandy-haired, donnish Ivy Leaguer. But his unprepossessing lectures and gentle, non-domineering, non-proselytizing personal demeanor belie a vicious pen and quick Twitter fingers.

For the Atlantic, Vermeule performed a man-bites-dog routine. Here was a right-winger blasting originalism, the long-dominant conservative constitutional framework. But in…


Checking in on how libertarians are grappling with the largely state-powered response to the coronavirus outbreak

(Getty)

“Depending on the time of day that you catch me, I’m either depressed or thinking, ‘Wow, this is a great opportunity here.’”

So says Dr. Jeffrey Singer, a gregarious Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, on the prospects of libertarianism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governments worldwide have responded to the novel coronavirus in dramatic and unprecedented ways. Many countries have provided impressive displays of executive action: border closures, limits on public meetings, rapid legislation, and massive relief packages.

These seem like dark days for libertarianism — a political philosophy built on individual liberty, property rights, and a zealous critique of…


The funny thing about liberalism is its optimism

J.S. Mill, by G.K. Chesterton (Getty)

With enough education, any problem can be solved; with enough good will, any conflict resolved. In the marketplace of ideas, the most truthful, most rational, most effective ideas will rise to the top.

At least that was the idea.

Liberalism’s optimism extended to its political foes. As the patron saint of liberalism J. S. Mill once wrote, “‘Lord, enlighten thou our enemies; sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.”


Rush on COVID-19 versus Rush on Ebola. What it means for the right.

First Lady Melania Trump awards Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on February 4, 2020. | Credit: Tom Williams (Getty)

On Wednesday, Donald Trump called into Fox News’s Hannity. Based on a “hunch,” the president downplayed the threat of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in what Vox’s Aaron Rupar called “a blizzard of dangerous, irresponsible misinformation, all delivered within a span of just over two minutes.”

It’s not much of a stretch to think Trump’s hunch has its origins in talk radio, or has at least been reinforced by it. …


The American right is divided on porn. Ironically, it may be our Playboy-cover-donning, affair-with-a-porn-star-having president who bolsters the anti-porn side.

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Conservatives are coming for porn. Late last year, four congresspersons wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr. They asked the Department of Justice to enforce obscenity laws and reduce access to pornography. The letter, signed by Brian Babin (R-Texas), Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) claimed, “The internet and other evolving technologies are fueling the explosion of obscene pornography by making it more accessible and visceral.” They cited the fact that 15 states have declared porn a public health crisis.

The anti-porn movement, which is gaining momentum, reflects conservative distaste for smut. But it’s about more than…


What Jerry Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk’s new venture says about conservative evangelicals

Late last year, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. joined forces—and names—with the young conservative organizer Charlie Kirk to found the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty. Its mission: “to equip courageous champions to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, to advance his kingdom and American freedom.”

Both men are enthusiastic culture war sluggers and have embraced Trump and his style.

Falwell is the son of Jerry Falwell, the evangelical minister and head of the Moral Majority, a political organization active in the 1970s and ’80s that was astonishingly effective at ushering evangelicals into the conservative movement.

Kirk is the…


Examining the movement to reclaim a political slur

An ancient cave inscription depicting the central symbol of neoliberalism. Just kidding. It’s just the Twitter globe emoji radiating its glory outward. | Arc illustration.

It’s hard to think of a word with a bigger image problem than “neoliberalism.” For one thing, it’s vague. When the intellectual historian Daniel Rodgers heroically defined it, he teased out four distinct meanings. But in spite of its vagaries, neoliberalism seems to stand for something unpopular.

“In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis,” writes dissident right-winger Julius Krein in the New York Times, “the Reagan-Bush-Clinton neoliberal consensus seems intellectually and politically bankrupt.” Krein claims the desire to overturn the neoliberal consensus unites politicians as disparate as Marco Rubio and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But liberal stalwart Jonathan Chait rejects this…


Searching for the highest conservative value

Credit: Andrew Bret Wallis (Getty) | Arc illustration

It’s a sign of changing times when conservatives need to spell out what it means to be a conservative.

As a typically defensive outlook, conservatives tend not articulate conservatism as an active philosophy (or feel the need to) unless their world is challenged. And when they do articulate their values, conservatives are at something of a rhetorical disadvantage. As the English philosopher Roger Scruton notes, conservatives cannot appeal to the promises of “social justice,” “equality,” or “freedom” to win votes.

Although many American conservatives would disagree with Scruton on freedom, the conservative philosopher nevertheless raises important questions: How do conservatives…

Joshua Tait

Historian of right-wing thought and politics. Columnist for Arc Digital. PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tweets @Joshua_A_Tait.

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