A Response to That Great American, Mr. Beer Wolf
An open letter in response to https://medium.com/the-buckley-club/the-great-populist-escape-57e82aeba891#.8sdyqzynz
It was with anticipation that I clicked a link in your Twitter timeline some days past, relishing the opportunity to enjoy in long-form a writer whose prose I have long admired in the 140-character format. It is thus with respect and admiration that I herein offer a rebuttal.
The Republican party is in the midst of a divorce. Some have acknowledged the failed populist-conservative marriage and begun to push forward; others are somewhere between denial and anger on the grief spectrum. The natural instinct in any failed union is to find someone, anyone to blame for the schism.
While conservatives and populists may have engaged in the occasional, ill-advised drunken tryst, I assure you they were never married. Oh, sure, there were those Reagan Democrats. And a flirtation, maybe, with Jack Kemp. But the brief-but-bitter Palin affair surely soured any hope for marriage. They were just too different. Those bright young men in the establishment, though, are another story. They weren’t very exciting, and they didn’t give conservatives everything they wanted, but at least you could take them home to Mother. G.H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney were upstanding, patrician men. John McCain was perhaps a little coarse, but decades in Washington made him the man he is today, and that man is no rabble-rousing populist. John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell… these men are party stalwarts, no populists they. No, the closest conservatives got to populism was letting Ron Paul get to second base under the bleachers that one time. Sure, conservatives acted out with that “Tea Party” thing, but in the end they voted for that bland-but-respectable center right milquetoast Willard Mitt Romney. They married the economically center-right, socially center-left New Establishment Man.
You’re eager to slap together a clever tweet or pen a scathing missive attributing responsibility for the GOP divide. Success may have a thousand fathers, but the poor failure that was once a functional political party seems to have been some horrific test tube baby comprised of splicing DNA from Establishment this and Pennsyltucky dummies that and a heapful of radioE and a dash of Obummer and hey has anyone explored the Hitler angle yet?
Frank Meyer called it “fusionism!”
But then the successes became fewer. The bad days started to outnumber the good.
Amen to that!
You looked around at your coalition and noticed that a lot of your allies who you’d previously assumed shared your bedrock principles were spouting overly simplified sound bytes they’d heard on the radio. Left is bad. Right is good. Liberals were responsible for everything.
Wait, what? I’ll tolerate a lot in my allies. Our homes are far away, down many a side-street and charming alley, and our paths may yet diverge. But we have thousands of miles to trod on this glorious rightward highway before we need worry about our paths diverging.
(You kind of wanted to correct people that actually, classical liberals have a good deal in common with conservatives and should be our natural allies, and progressivism is a true problem, but you try to not be the actually guy.)
I assure you I did not. If someone doesn’t already understand the classical liberalism of Locke and Hume, far be it from me to try to teach them. (“Classical liberalism? You mean, like, JFK?”)
A local at the bar spotted your Gadsden flag hat and asks if you heard about FEMA camps. Your buddy at work was still talking to you about safety seeds. The first ten comments on a dry article about Executive Power limits were an all-caps debate over whether someone was a Muslim.
Oh, sure. But… so what? The misguided man who fears the crypto-Muslim but wishes to preserve the Second Amendment is an ally, and nothing to be feared. Maybe you don’t want to invite him to dinner, and maybe he’s not very bright. But as long as he doesn’t want to take your stuff, or throw you in jail for your beliefs, he’s an ally. Now, as a wise man of letters, I’m sure you’d find a conversation with David Brooks far, far more rewarding that a conversation with that fellow in the confederate flag trucker hat talking about Alex Jones’ SuperVitaMale. But President David Brooks would sell your interests out to the left-wing bien-pensant class before you’d even finished your first Chateauneuf du Pape. No. Far better, I think, to live in peace with one’s well-meaning inferiors than to surrender even an inch to our betters.
Then a cop shot a kid outside St. Louis, and everyone already knew what side they were on from the last time this happened, and what, don’t you support the cops?
To this I would just say: Get out more, friend! Many of us on the broad right-wing conservo-libertarian spectrum view the police with a healthy suspicion. Many of us even view them with an unhealthy suspicion, those unaccountable, jack-booted federal enforcers that they are. In fact, the Muslim-fearing email-forwarder might even be persuadable on this issue. Sure, he was raised to obey the law and honor the police, but he’s not so dumb that he doesn’t see which way the wind is blowing.
The party management remained an unimaginably inept clown show, unable to out-scheme a zucchini
Now you’re talking!
But what seemed like half of your coalition now told you Paul Ryan may as well be a Democrat (you never could quite follow why)
I’ll take a stab at why: Because his party controls both branches of congress, and they passed a budget that only addresses the wants and desires of the other party. And now you’re starting to smell the stench of Trumpism, aren’t you? It’s almost like the media has our political party by the balls, that Ryan knows he will shoulder 100% of the blame if Obama vetoes a budget and the government shuts down. Why. it’s almost like unelected lefties are the real power behind the throne, the driving force of the nation’s leftward drift. The Speaker of the House, the man third-in-line to the presidency, is helpless against the likes of Pinch Sulzberger and Anderson Cooper (and Megyn Kelly)!
But the appeal of Trump remains a mystery!
and worse, apparently had a secret Muslim beard.
Yes, yes, hicks and rubes, we get it. Embrace the hicks and rubes! They hate you far less than the bourgeois liberals!
lunatics went after your allies in the coalition, they called them racists, xenophobes, bigots, fascists, hicks, simpletons, low-information voters, Jesus freaks, hillbillies, dumbasses, gun-clingers, rednecks.
And that bothered you, because you knew they were none of those things.
Hold on, back up. Isn’t “talking about FEMA camps” and “survival seeds” and “forwading emails” and “secret Muslim” all just code for hick, simpleton, Jesus-freak, hillbilly, dumbass, gun-clinging-redneck low-information-voter?
Is there no room in your coalition for someone of lower education and social status who nonetheless believes in at least the first ten amendments and doesn’t want to shut down bakeries and take your guns? Is it not enough that a man respect your freedom? Must he also read the Times?
You figured they worked long hours at tough jobs and paid their taxes and didn’t deserve the condescending labels just because they disagreed with the progressive viewpoint.
Just about everyone in your coalition who’d spent the last few years boiling conservatism down to easy-to-swallow tropes and binary hostage scenarios and shouty artificial patriotism suddenly fell head-over-heels in love with Donald Trump.
OK. I’ll grant you the implied proposition, that all this shouty boiling-down of principle is gauche and stupid. I am an aspiring man-of-letters myself. I prefer to hash my politics out in terms of principles of freedom and non-aggression and an individual right to self-determination. I understand that government is not reason nor eloquence, but force. But I think you’re mistaking correlation and causation.
And while no one else could seem to understand why a bunch of Republicans could be lured by such an obvious Democrat in Donald Trump, you suspected it was because the Republicans really weren’t so Republican anymore.
I agree! We’re talking about the elected Republicans, not the voters, right? Right? Oh…
You realized that cheap and watered down conservatism is largely indistinguishable from the Democrat platform.
The Ryan budget is entirely indistinguishable from the Democrat platform.
What you’d accepted as a flawed but vital part of your coalition had fermented into rank nationalism
Well, what do you want? Some people weren’t made to be citizens of the world. They don’t have a lot of patience for Joe Six-Pack over in Davos, so why be surprised that he’s lost faith in them?
Things which are acceptable: Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, all the other Democrat/black church shenanigans, “they gon’ put y’all back in chains!”, that one time George Lopez tweeted a picture of el Chapo beheading Donald Trump [SocJus SafeSpace Twitter hasn’t taken that down!], La Raza, Jorge Ramos as self-elected spokesman of aforementioned Raza, and all the other buck-naked unadulterated tribalism and racial-identity politics of the Democrat party.
Things which are racist: Let’s put the kibosh on Muslim immigration until this whole “death to kuffar” fad winds down.
And you wonder why the label “racist” has lost almost all its power as a killing word.
If you dissent, you are LEFT. If you concur, you are RIGHT. And yell louder next time, so we know we can trust you.
No, no, no… If you are in government, you are a hideous blood-sucking parasite who is selling out our interests in exchange for personal wealth and career advancement, and you need to be thrown in a (Ed: metaphorical, Mr. Law Enforcement, strictly metaphorical) woodchipper!
Your coalition was rife with accidental populists.
Well, OK. It’s also rife with careerists who will lie up and down about cutting government, and then waltz into Washington and grow government.
Donald Trump, though far removed from an intelligent or intellectual man, possesses animalistic market intuition in spades. It’s doubtful even Trump himself could tell you how he does what he does — his garbled and dissembling attempts to describe his own business ventures and “deals” certainly suggest as much.
What are the chances a man as stupid as the one you describe would be as successful as the Donald Trump we observe in this timeline? At least 3,720 to 1, and probably much lower.
He is a pure entropic force unthinkingly drawn to natural economic vacuums, much as warm air rushes out an open door on a cold day.
It’s delightful, isn’t it? Is there any organization more in need of a pure entropic force than the GOP? You can ask them politely. You can primary them. You can unseat them. They only double down. If Trump is the form of the destructor, hey; at least it’ll be entertaining, and there will probably be less collateral damage than would come with a SMOD presidency.
He identified what few others would have seen — a sizable bloc of ready-bake populists, ripe for the picking. At a national level. And no one was selling product to them. This was the mother lode of all market voids.
Plenty of people saw it. Many’s the conversation I’ve had with a friend or e-friend, wondering why the GOP doesn’t just co-opt this and slap a GOP brand on it. If the existing players aren’t serving the market, do you blame the startup when they go under? Is it the fault of Netflix that Blockbuster thought the streaming/mail-order business model was not worth buying into?
Ironically, Donald Trump’s one true talent just happens to be convincing people they can’t live without a product they once thought they hated.
Speaking as a fringe element of the GOP coalition (Ron Paul!!!!), let me assure you that we’ve lived with a product we hate, and for a long time. It’s called the GOP. And it’s not just the fringe elements. What principled small-government conservative could enthusiastically endorse the GOP’s “like the Democrats, but slower and maybe a little smaller” approach?
The rules are simple: speak in simple, easy to digest bromides. Completely disregard the topic at hand. Demonstrate an attention span shorter than the audience’s. Earn trust by embracing and mimicking the caricatured stereotypes the consumer bristles beneath. Demonstrate intentionally sneering disrespect for those factions of somebody else who sneeringly condescend to “us.” Dismiss unhelpful facts as concoctions of sinister conspiracies by somebody else. Turn every opponent’s parry into a reminder that somebody else does the same and, in fact, is far worse. Co-opt willing accomplices with megaphones to amplify your message, and villainize those who won’t be co-opted as somebody else who’s conning you. Affirm your audience’s deepest, darkest underlying suspicions about somebody else and make them feel intelligent for harboring those suspicions all along. Tell them somebody else just doesn’t want them to catch up and have a seat at the table.
I agree with you that these tactics are distasteful, and in the minimum-IQ-of-120* Utopian Republic we may found 50 years from now, these tactics wouldn’t even work. But in the real world, literally every politician tries to do this. Trump’s just that much better than the rest of them. Can you hold a man’s skill against him? I mean, you don’t think Marco Rubio or even Ted Cruz believes everything they say, do you?
(No higher, please; I want to get in)
As you watched half of your former coalition members buy Trump’s product, you tried to talk sense into them. But you didn’t speak their new language, because it’s a language only con men are fluent in and only their marks understand.
I’m going to blow your mind here, but some of us know Trump is a con man and a total fraud, and we don’t care. We’ve tried working within the system, and it didn’t work. So, while I did not cast a vote for Donald Trump, I welcome him as the deserved comeuppance of a party that abandoned any semblance of principle years and years ago.
If they find the ideologically incomprehensible platitudes Trump vomits at random to be more appealing than yours, they’re more than welcome to embrace them.
I like your platitudes, though! It’s just that the people we’ve been sending to Washington have made a laughingstock of them. Will Trump do any better? Of course not! But maybe he serves a warning of what happens when you talk the small government talk and play the usual Washington game. Or maybe he doesn’t. Either way, I’m done giving time and money to the GOP just because they said the right words. Any honest observer knows this country has been moving in one direction practically since its founding, and that direction is left. Pretending that the GOP is a brake on this prevents us from putting an actual brake on it. We need to stop taking the placebo and playing pretend before we can get real and saw off the gangrenous limb of leftism.*
*(A fever dream, admittedly. Far more likely we just end up in the Burning Times).
You intend to ensure that the media entertainment complex that’s turned your philosophy into a craven back-alley shell game will be held publicly accountable and shunned.
You want to hang Rush Limbaugh. I want to hang the people that make the policy, because those people are the real problem.
You regret the years not engaging the left in any actual debate and allowing stereotypes of the right as unthinking meme-bots to colonize.
No! I regret the years of diligently, honestly engaging the left in debate, while they beat us silly with catch-phrases and appeals to identity!
You most of all resent yourself for serving as cover for the small, but no longer insignificant, groups of bigots who were in fact lurking in the ranks.
I do not. The left sowed the wind; let them reap the whirlwind. Go back and look at that George Lopez tweet again and remind yourself that he’s the good guy in this country’s modern narrative. The horse has not only left the barn, he’s moved to California, had a couple of kids, and is running a successful feed business.
But above all, you can’t help but feel the slightest bit responsible for the years you bit your tongue and said nothing while your former allies devolved into a sad and angry mob.
No. I regret losing over and over again to a sad and angry mob.
You’ll never get everyone to agree, but maybe you could’ve taught one or two people to debate productively with a few basic principles instead of memes labeled LEFT and RIGHT.
And then you can be David Brooks, house pet of the liberal elite. They’ll let you come to their parties, but they’ll never respect you, they’ll never let you have a say in your own governance, and they certainly won’t call you in the morning.
Maybe you could’ve established a better understanding that disagreements are not prison walls.
Disagreements are prison walls. And shuttered businesses. And getting choked to death for flaunting petty laws. And endless harassment by the IRS. And getting shot for staging a sit-in at a wildlife park. (Not to mention the drones).
See? I don’t write this because I don’t like your principles, but because, largely, I do. But you’re being Spock in a Bones moment. The Republic died long ago. The time for reason and gentility is, sadly, passed. There is now only raw, naked power. Blame Trump, blame the 19th amendment [as I do], blame the arrangement of the stars, but whoever you blame, wake up and smell the sulfur of our brave new future.
And you struck the bargain anyway, because the devil you knew was surely better than the devil you didn’t.