Andrew Coyne was not impressed with what Stephen Harper did to conservatism. And he's not impressed with what Donald Trump is doing to it. Both men, he writes, merged populism with conservatism. The two concepts really have little to do with one another:
The great blurring in our time is the collapse of conservatism into populism, most notably in the Trump takeover of the Republican party, but also visible in the style and rhetoric of the Harper government. Last week’s Manning Centre Conference seemed to confer respectability on the merger, as did the conspicuous embrace of Trump, and Trumpism, at the same week’s Conservative Political Action Conference south of the border.
Modern conservatives divide the world into Us and Them:
Of late, the number of Thems has expanded. They threaten Us not only from the right but from the left: not only Big Business, but also Big Labour, or Big Government and its apparatus, bureaucrats, activist groups, lawyers, and so forth. When fused with nationalism, populism acquires a whole catalogue of additional Thems: refugees, Muslims, immigrants of all kinds.
And, to make matters worse, modern conservatives have become Know Nothings:
Skepticism of received opinion has curdled into automatic rejection of anything experts know or believe, or that the media reports: an ordinary alertness to the ways a reporter can get things wrong or the leanings of a particular outlet has been replaced by a childish belief that “the media,” all of it, is engaged in a one-sided conspiracy to deceive the public, of which any story the reader does not like is taken as evidence. In its most extreme form, this becomes indistinguishable from lefty post-modernists who reject the very idea of truth; the populist dismissal of any argument that originates with a member of the “elite” is akin to the left’s “white male” sneer as ways of denying standing to an opponent.
Conservatism -- true conservatism -- rejects both these tenets:
At bottom, modern conservatism is rooted in the idea of a society composed of individuals of equal worth and dignity, each the unique intersection of any number of different intermediary group affiliations, and as such transcending all of them: bound together, that is, by their common uniqueness. There is no Us and Them in such a vision of society, and conservatives should reject a politics based on such divisions, whether it comes from the right or the left.
Modern conservatism has been set adrift from its moorings. It's simply not what it pretends to be. Like its most visible representative -- Mr. Trump -- it's a fraud.