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