Home / General / Remember the soul-stirring principled conservatism of the Never Trump movement?

Remember the soul-stirring principled conservatism of the Never Trump movement?


Whatever happened to that veritable Thermopylae of selfless sacrifice in the face of the temptations of political expediency? David Frum is on the case, and it turns out most of the Never Trumpers are just a bunch of whores, although since this is a progressive blog I should probably call them “ideological sex workers” or something.

Tell them at Fox News, passerby
That here, obedient to the laws of profit,
We still lie.

Behold supply and demand at work:

In the spring of 2016, National Review published its “Against Trump” issue. Twenty-one prominent conservatives signed individual statements of opposition to Trump’s candidacy. Of those 21, only six continue to speak publicly against his actions. Almost as many have become passionate defenders of the Trump presidency, most visibly the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell and the National Rifle Association’s Dana Loesch.

As a survival strategy, this is viable enough in the short term. But let’s understand what is driving it.

The conservative intellectual world is whipsawed between distaste for President Trump and fear of its own audience. The conservative base has become ever more committed to Trump—and ever less tolerant of any deviation. Those conservative talkers most susceptible to market pressure—radio and TV hosts—have made the most-spectacular conversions and submissions: Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson. With reason. The same day that [Charles W.] Cooke launched himself into Jennifer Rubin, another contributor to the National Review special issue, Erick W. Erickson, announced that he had lost his Fox News contract. Erickson had precisely followed Cooke’s advice, conscientiously seeking opportunities to praise Trump where he could. That halfway support did not suffice for his producers.

Poor Erick Son of Erick has forgotten his scripture. In the words of Ailes the Revelator: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” To be charitable in the spirit of the season, it does sound like Erickson, unlike the vast majority of his erstwhile companions, is actually making some economic sacrifices, rather than performing whatever unnatural intellectual acts are necessary to sate whatever right-wing fetish is being pimped by the Scream Machine’s paymasters today:

[The Fox News contract] is half of my family’s income and is needed. But I also, if I am being honest, was largely being paid without working. I am a firm believer that if one is to be paid there should be work, but it has been harder and harder to put me in the appropriate contributor box. I am neither anti-Trump nor pro-Trump, but a conservative who does not think he is, but thinks he is advancing some things commendably. All news shows on all networks tend to favor a straight R v. D panel and I’m not in those boxes anymore.

Yet his is a lonely voice. Jonah Goldberg wants you to know that, despite appearances, he’s not a hard-hearted man and that it’s not all about the dollars and cents:

But it’s not merely cable news that insists on those boxes. So does the conservative think-tank world. So does the conservative public-speaking circuit. So do the passengers on National Review’s lucrative cruises. After one such cruise, back in the spring of 2016, one National Review editor, Jonah Goldberg, wrote about the pressure exerted even then by conservative audiences upon conservative writers.

NR Cruises are special things. They are filled with friends of National Review, often lifelong friends. No one who hates the magazine plunks down that much hard-earned money to spend a week drinking, eating, and touring with its writers and editors (and other passengers who are fans of the magazine). As a result, nearly all disagreements are like family disagreements. And so it was an interesting focus group, a kind of microcosm of what is happening across the conservative movement. There were some true Trumpers and anti-Trumpers, but there were many more people who simply think supporting Trump is making the best of a bad situation. I understand that position and I have sympathy for it.

So much sympathy, in fact, that for Goldberg and so many others “Never Trump” has in effect become “Always Trump.”

Frum points out that, as researchers into the matter have confirmed, the right wing media universe has essentially been taken over by Breitbart et. al., and that if National Review types want to keep getting paid for their opinions, their opinions need to be reasonably congenial to the mainstream conservative audience. And although Frum doesn’t come right out and say it, after decades of being shaped by propaganda cranked out by increasingly profit-addled demagogues, the mainstream conservative audience now consists of readers, listeners, and viewers dog paddling in a cesspool of paranoid lunacy.

Rubin stands on that embattled center-right. She is not quite alone. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations stands there, as does the true-hearted remainder of the National Review 21: Mona Charen, Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz. You’ll find others at the Niskanen Center (Jerry Taylor, Brink Lindsey), and holding the faith from the Evan McMullin–Mindy Finn independent presidential ticket. A few brave the adverse comments on social media: Tom Nichols from the academic world; Seth Mandel at the New York Post’s editorial page; veteran broadcaster Charles Sykes. Joe Scarborough keeps the faith on morning TV. There are more, and I do not mean to slight anyone by omission. Others would wish to stand there if they economically could.

Frum himself, of course, is part of the now-tiny conservative opposition to Trump, and he is right to emphasize the long-term corrosive effects of Trumpism — which as he cannot yet bring himself to acknowledge is essentially identical to the Republican party itself — on conservative ideology:

The most revealing thought in Cooke’s essay is his explanation for why he feels it is safe to go with the Trumpian flow: “Conservatism in this country long predated Trump; for now, it is tied up with Trump; soon, it will have survived Trump.”

This is something many conservatives tell themselves, but it’s not even slightly true. Trump is changing conservatism into something different. We can all observe that. Will it snap back afterward?

You can believe this only if you imagine that ideologies exist independently of the human beings who espouse them—and that they can continue unchanged and unchanging despite the flux of their adherents. In this view, millions of American conservatives may build their political identities on enthusiastic support for Donald Trump, but American conservatism will continue humming in the background as if none of those human commitments mattered at all.

This is simply not true. Ideas are not artifacts, especially the kind of collective ideas we know as ideologies.

I find myself quoting Orwell a lot these days. Here is what he said in 1944, to left-wing intellectuals who had spent the last decade defending Stalinism:

Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet régime, or any other régime, and then suddenly return to mental decency.

Trump, of course, is not Stalin, nor, given his obvious mental and emotional limitations, will he ever be. But whether his presidency is closer to the end than the beginning of something that could transform this nation into a fascist state depends, in some small but not completely trivial part, on the extent to which conservative intellectuals surrender to the economic and psychological temptations of supporting the ethno-nationalist authoritarianism that Trump and the Republican party now represent.

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