Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Tired Old Nostrums And Tired Old Men

Conservatism used to be intellectually vibrant. But, David Brooks writes, the rise of Donald Trump represents the last stage in conservatism's meltdown. It has become a refuge for old white men who can't think but who -- like Trump -- know how to hurl insults. There are several reasons that account for Conservative Meltdown:

The conservative intellectual landscape has changed in three important ways since then, paving the way for the ruination of the Republican Party.

First, talk radio, cable TV and the Internet have turned conservative opinion into a mass-market enterprise. Small magazines have been overwhelmed by Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Andrew Breitbart.

Today’s dominant conservative voices try to appeal to people by the millions. You win attention in the mass media through perpetual hysteria and simple-minded polemics and by exploiting social resentment. In search of that mass right-wing audience that, say, Coulter enjoys, conservatism has done its best to make itself offensive to people who value education and disdain made-for-TV rage.

It’s ironic that an intellectual tendency that champions free markets was ruined by the forces of commercialism, but that is the essential truth. Conservatism went down-market in search of revenue. It got swallowed by its own anti-intellectual media-politico complex — from Glenn Beck to Sarah Palin to Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is therefore now winning among white college graduates by 52 to 36 per cent.

The anti-intellectual strain in modern conservatism was bound to -- eventually -- sink the ship. But two other things happened:

Second, conservative opinion-meisters began to value politics over everything else. The very essence of conservatism is the belief that politics is a limited activity, and that the most important realms are pre-political: conscience, faith, culture, family and community. But recently conservatism has become more the talking arm of the Republican Party.

Among social conservatives, for example, faith sometimes seems to come in second behind politics, scripture behind voting guides. Today, most white evangelicals are willing to put aside the Christian virtues of humility, charity and grace for the sake of a Trump political victory. According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey, 72 per cent of white evangelicals believe that a person who is immoral in private life can be an effective national leader, a belief that is more Machiavelli than Matthew.

As conservatism has become a propagandistic, partisan movement it has become less vibrant, less creative and less effective.

And, finally, because of "the Republican Party’s rigid anti-government rhetoric, conservatives were slow to acknowledge and even slower to address the central social problems of our time."

For years, middle- and working-class Americans have been suffering from stagnant wages, meagre opportunity, social isolation and household fragmentation. Shrouded in obsolete ideas from the Reagan years, conservatism had nothing to offer these people because it didn’t believe in using government as a tool for social good. Trump demagogy filled the void.

Brooks hopes that the young will dispose of the dead wood -- because, at the moment, that's all conservatism has left --  tired old nostrums and  tired old men.

Image: The New Republic


Lorne said...

Those comments remind me of the similar, if less strident decline of conservatism in Canada, Owen. At one time, when we were young, conflicting ideologies, as they existed between the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, were far less the basis for hysterical proclamations than they were for real discussion about policy options. After Harper, I believe it will be a long time before the Conservative Party of Canada can reset its tone, if ever, despite the attempts of interim leader Rona Ambrose.

Yesterday, I was reading a story on Canada's unpreparedness for the kind of infrastructure that will be needed to adapt to climate change. The Globe article was followed by an unbelievable volley of comments from the right wing, who see the whole thing as either a hoax or simply another way for the government to 'waste' taxpayers' dollars. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canada-not-ready-for-climate-change-report-warns/article32588033/comments/

The devolution of public discourse continues apace.

Owen Gray said...

What's truly sad, Lorne is that there is no discourse at all. Rather than critical examination of the issues, argument has devolved into ad hominem attacks.

Dana said...


Dana said...


Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the link, Dana. I understand Trump University goes on trial on November 28th.

Owen Gray said...

He's destroyed the Republican Party, Dana. Imagine what he'll do if he becomes president.

the salamander said...

.. what a sad, scathingly accurate analysis .. a scorching appraisal of our times ..

Owen Gray said...

It is sad, salamander. We're capable of so much that is better. Instead, we have opted for the irrational and the lewd.

Steve said...

All the above totally correct. However is that worse than totally corrupt Hillary and her band of globalized above the law neoconism? The status quo is worse and getting worser and Hillary is throwing fire on gasoline. Trump will merley throw gas on the fire.

I am horrified by the leftist hypocrites who are dumping on Wikileaks, remember the old adage dont shoot the messenger?

Owen Gray said...

We continue to disagree about Trump, Steve. I agree that they are both flawed candidates. Where we disagree is on the damage each would do.

John B. said...

I suppose no one will ever see Trump's, Paul Manafort's, Carter Page's or the Trump Organization's emails (or the records resulting from whatever winks and nods they used to communicate).

From: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/fbi-making-inquiry-ex-trump-campaign-manager-s-foreign-ties-n675881

1 Nov 16

"The FBI has been conducting a preliminary inquiry into Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort's foreign business connections, law enforcement and intelligence sources told NBC News Monday. ...

"The FBI did not comment."

From: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/us/politics/fbi-russia-election-donald-trump.html?_r=0

31 Oct 16

"Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump."

Never mind the Russia story: Let's just see Trump's. I'm still disappointed that the hackers had no interest in Gary Johnson's emails. That would have been a treat.

Owen Gray said...

When stupidity goes viral, John, great nations disintegrate.