Trump and National Review

Culled from a private conversation last week

Hate-reading National Review’s attempt to keep the conservative movement flying from resounding success to resounding success by thwarting Trump. Has anyone else noticed the house style of larding editorials with hammy archaisms that stick out like sore thumbs — “show and strut,” “is not deserving of” (should be “does not deserve”), “tenderfeet” (has anyone ever used that word as a plural?), “excrescences,” a “brash manner” (nobody uses “manner” like that, “personality” or “style” would be better)?

Is there anything less attractive, or arguably less conservative, than appeals to a discrete “conservative philosophy”? Their editorial calls him “philosophically unmoored,” unlike, I guess, the conservative case for gay marriage that their managing editor wrote a few months ago. The piece is full of non-sequiturs — the idea that he’s “dismayingly conventional” when it comes to legal immigration, besides being a silly cheap shot, is just not true. The rest of the paragraph even admits that. It also misstates his bromance with Putin, which I’m pretty sure Trump started.

One of the big reasons why National Review is not nearly as interesting as it was in its glory days is because they portray conservatism as this settled thing — a “broad conservative ideological consensus,” when in fact no such thing exists, and never did. Consequently NR is completely unable to explain Trump aside from the Salon strategy of pointing and shrieking. What makes 1950s-60s NR enjoyable reading even today is that it was full of people who were ideological refugees.

E.J. Dionne serviceably described Frank Meyer’s fusionist conservatism as “libertarian means in a conservative society toward traditionalist ends,” which gets at the difference between American conservatism and European rightism — American conservatism’s job is to conserve the liberal revolution — against king, authority, mercantilism, etc — which means it has built-in contradictions and limited class appeal. What does American rightism, call it conservative or not, look like when the “silent majority” of attitudinally conservative people care more about nationalistic concerns, like globalization and immigration, than the libertarian economics that has cemented the Republican Party’s close relationship with business. This is the conversation I’d love to see us having right now, but of course nobody is interested in having it.
Let’s talk about the kicker for a minute, though:
Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.

Now we’re getting to the real issue (though it should be, “on behalf”). Let’s be charitable and say this isn’t just a complaint that Trump has avoided the usual patronage networks and movement box-checking, thereby marginalizing professional conservatives. What does this statement imply? If American conservatism was really so fragile that Trump is an existential threat to it, maybe that explains why American conservatism can’t even stop the sale of baby meat. Yet, it’s that very movement we’re supposed to care very much about being traduced? Seems like Rich Lowry needs to be working a little bit harder to make the case for the utility of the conservative movement to the sort of people that are attracted to Trump, no?

I was thinking about Bill Kauffman’s comparison of Trump to William Randolph Hearst, and it’s actually much more apropos than he even goes into here. Hearst really got into it with people who would later become conservative stalwarts, like James Burnham and Garet Garrett. One of Garrett’s embarrassing early-career missteps involved trying to bring Hearst up on charges for violating the Espionage Act for his anti-war stance in 1917 (Garrett would later have reservations about intervention in the Second World War). This is the proto-conservative example of a phenomenon that continues today. Recent converts to the right demarcate the bounds of conservatism they find acceptable. Hofstadter wrote Paranoid Style as he was shifting to the right. Buckley denouncing the Birchers is another example.

Also read Scott McConnell, James Poulos, MBD, and Chris Morgan

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