Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.
I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s —
- gun rights,
- right to work
— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.
With the closing of the Weekly Standard, an influential publication that many considered a respectable, center-right, alternative to more pro-Trump outlets such as Breitbart and Fox News, and the continued ostracization of “Never-Trump conservatives” from the Republican Party, many wonder who, if anyone, will carry the torch of prudential conservatism while President Trump occupies the White House.
Just last week, a group of prominent intellectuals and political figures including Maryland Gov.
- Larry Hogan,
- Bill Kristol and
- David Frum
gathered for a conference at Washington’s Niskanen Center titled “Starting Over: The Center-Right After Trump.” The underlying assumption of the conference: It’s time for moderate conservatives to regroup and reconsider their relationship to a Republican Party that has been overrun by populists, nationalists and demagogues.
As someone who runs an organization founded at the time of the Iraq War with the aim of changing the direction of American conservatism, I can sympathize with their efforts, but I fundamentally disagree on their diagnosis of the problem. In the long run, both the conservative movement and Republican Party will be better off for having had Donald Trump shatter the combination of neoconservatism and Reaganism that held the political right captive and blinded since the end of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was the statesman that America needed for his time, but the clock had run out on many of his policy prescriptions and it took a “hurricane,” as the Niskanen Center conference described it, like Trump to wake up conservatism — and America.
.. I need not provide an exhaustive list, as Time magazine’s October cover story by Sam Tanenhaus, “How Trumpism Will Outlast Trump,” did a good job surveying the landscape that includes thinkers such as
- Julius Krein at American Affairs,
- Daniel McCarthy at Modern Age,
- Yuval Levin at National Affairs,
- Michael Anton at Hillsdale College and
- David Azerrad at the Heritage Foundation.
.. What does this new program for the right entail if not a return to the neoconservatism of the George W. Bush years? It’s time for Republicans to embrace a “Main Street” conservatism that prizes solidarity over individualism and culture over efficiency. America needs a foreign policy that serves our vital national interests by securing the safety and happiness of the American people. This means putting an end to the regime-change and nation-building experiments that have devastated Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya; ending U.S. support for the Saudis’ involvement in the Yemeni civil war; reclaiming our national sovereignty; and prioritizing diplomacy over intervention
.. On domestic issues, especially when our country is bitterly divided along partisan lines, we must decentralize both political and economic power to bring it closer to the people. This would allow local and state governments greater flexibility to address their unique problems, letting California be California and Texas be Texas.
.. Regarding the problem of economic concentration, conservatives should stand up to the crony capitalism that has protected big banks and defense contractors, and revisit antitrust enforcement to prevent corporate monopolies from stamping out competition and entrepreneurship. And finally, conservatives should adopt a cultural platform with a renewed focus on civic education; implementing economic and social policies that strengthen families, such as paid family leave and an increase in the child tax credit; promoting vocational training as a dignified alternative to traditional universities; and working toward an immigration policy that better balances economic and cultural concerns.
.. When searching for a prudential conservatism today, it’s best to ignore the advice of those who brought us the Iraq War, the hollowing out of our industrial base and our broken immigration system. The future belongs to conservatives who take Middle America seriously and actually care about the systemic problems that drove the Rust Belt into the arms of then-candidate Trump.
In the “notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment,” fascist Democrats committed a true atrocity when “poor black men were allegedly infected with syphilis without their knowledge.” No such experiment ever occurred, as David explains: “Rather men, who already had syphilis were deceived into thinking they were being treated for their illness.” If President Trump sometimes blurts out questionable facts, one comes away from Gordon’s review believing that next to Goldberg, the Donald is a practitioner of scientific method.
Let me note that such inexcusably sloppy editorializing posing as scholarship has becoming increasingly characteristic of the conservative movement as a media phenomenon.
.. Sometimes the errors can be easily corrected, for example, when Weekly Standard and National Review ascribe almost exclusive responsibility for World War I to a premeditated German plan to conquer Europe. The Craft of International History by the distinguished diplomatic historian Marc Trachtenberg shreds this utterly unfounded view. Not insignificantly, Trachtenberg’s learned tome was published by Princeton University.
.. an exchange of equally uninformed views by talk show host Dennis Prager and Dinesh D’Souza, on the subject of the fascist worldview. The question was whether one could prove that fascism was a leftist ideology by examining the thought of Mussolini’s court philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Gentile defined the “fascist idea” in his political writings while serving as minister of education in fascist Italy.
.. Hey, but that’s no big deal for such priests of the GOP church as Prager and D’Souza. They zoom to the heart of Gentile’s neo-Hegelian worldview in thirty seconds and state with absolute certainty that he was a “leftist.” We have to assume that Prager, D’Souza and the rest of their crowd know this intuitively, inasmuch they give no indication of having ever read a word of Gentile’s thought, perhaps outside of a few phrases that they extracted from his Doctrine of Fascism.
.. Gentile proves that “fascism bears a deep kinship to today’s Left.” After all, “Democrat progressives, in full agreement with Gentile, love and push for a centralized state, which manifests itself in stuff like recent state expansion into the private sector.” Among the questions that are left begging are these: “Do the modern Left and Gentile agree on the purpose and functions of the state?” “Would Gentile and Mussolini, who glorified Roman manliness, have rallied to the present Left in its support of feminism and gay marriage?” Did Gentile back in the 1920s favor the kind of “the stuff’ the administrative state is pushing right now?” The answer to all these questions, which of course wouldn’t be acceptable at Prager University, is an emphatic “no.” Control of the national economy by the Italian fascist state, down until its German-puppet version was established as the Italian Social Republic in September 1943, was about the equivalent of that of New Deal America.
.. He then went on to compare the Catholic counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre to a black feminist advocate of affirmative action, because both associated human beings with the national identities into which they were born. Apparently anyone who views others in terms of their ethnic origin, no matter at what point in history, is a certified leftist.
.. Goldberg had no idea that political camps in 1800 were different from what they are now.
It’s unclear whether she is speaking for herself or the White House.
But there are indeed some administration figures who clearly are fomenting endless conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere.
One might reasonably start with Generals James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, both of whom are hardliners on Afghanistan and Iran, but with a significant caveat. Generals are trained and indoctrinated to fight and win wars, not to figure out what comes next. General officers like George Marshall or even Dwight Eisenhower who had a broader vision are extremely rare, so much so that expecting a Mattis or McMaster to do what falls outside their purview is perhaps a bit too much.
.. My own little list of “society’s offenders” consists largely of the self-described gaggle of neoconservative foreign-policy “experts.” Unfortunately, the neocons have proven to be particularly resilient in spite of repeated claims that their end was nigh, most recently after the election of Donald Trump last November. Yet as most of the policies the neocons have historically espoused are indistinguishable from what the White House is currently trying to sell, one might well wake up one morning and imagine that it is 2003 and George W. Bush is still president.
.. Number one on my little list is Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
.. Haley is firmly in the neocon camp, receiving praise from Senators like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and from the Murdoch media as well as in the opinion pages of National Review and The Weekly Standard. Her speechwriter is Jessica Gavora, who is the wife of the leading neoconservative journalist Jonah Goldberg.
.. As governor of South Carolina, Haley became identified as an unquestioning supporter of Israel. She signed into law a bill to restrict the activities of the nonviolent pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the first legislation of its kind on a state level.
.. In February, she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a diplomatic position at the United Nations because he is a Palestinian. In a congressional hearing this past week, she was asked about the decision: “Is it this administration’s position that support for Israel and support for the appointment of a well-qualified individual of Palestinian nationality to an appointment at the UN are mutually exclusive?” Haley responded yes, that the administration is “supporting Israel” by blocking any Palestinian from any senior UN position because Palestine is not recognized by Washington as an independent state
.. Regarding Ukraine, Haley has taken an extreme position that guarantees Russian hostility. In February, she addressed the UN Security Council regarding the Crimean conflict, which she appears not to understand very well. She warned that sanctions against Russia would not be lifted until Moscow returned control over the peninsula to Kiev.
.. So Haley very much comes across as the neoconservatives’ dream ambassador to the United Nations–full of aggression, a staunch supporter of Israel, and assertive of Washington’s preemptive right to set standards for the rest of the world.
.. Donald Trump really wants to drain the Washington swamp and reduce interference in other nations, he might well continue that program by firing Nikki Haley. He could then appoint someone as UN ambassador who actually believes that the United States has to deal with other countries respectfully, not by constant bullying and threats.