Churchill supposedly said “a fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” I think of that almost every time I visit National Review Online these days. As I’m writing this, the featured article is by the unhinged lunatic David French. He’s the nutter who thought about running for president on Bill Kristol’s Trotskyite party ticket. There’s another article by French on the sidebar, which is a rant about Trump. Above that is a tantrum about Trump by Jonah Goldberg.
If you were new to the scene, you could be forgiven for thinking that National Review is some sort of leftist site that was created for the sole purpose of howling about Trump. I have not counted, but others tell me that more than half the posted articles over the last year have been about the terribleness of Trump and Trump voters. Someone told me they went back a few months counting posts on their blog and the anti-Trump posts outnumber the anti-Clinton posts five to one. I’m not going to test the assertion as it seems in-line with what I’ve observed.
National Review is the flagship operation of Buckley Conservatism and it has given itself over almost entirely to anti-Trump lunacy. For over a year now they have been pumping out anti-Trump content to the point where there’s no point in reading any of it. The striking thing is not the volume so much as the total lack of content. Their rants fall into one of two categories. There are the base personal attacks, calling Trump a big meanie that makes them cry. Then there are the rants claiming Trump is not a “movement conservative” as if that has any meaning.
That’s really the issue at the heart of what’s happening. I’ve often argued that Buckley Conservatism was just anti-communism with things like small government and social conservatism as decorations. Buckleyites were fine trading authority for those decorative items over to the Left so they could have the whip hand on foreign policy. Once the Cold War ended and intellectual communism fell out of fashion, the Buckleyites were left without a purpose. They were a mass movement without an enemy. To quote Hoffer, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”
Thinking back, the fall of the Berlin Wall was in ’89 and then Clinton won in ’92. All the smart people at the time were wondering what would come of conservatism, but then the Republicans won the House in ’94 for the first time in fifty years. Republicans were able to impose spending limits on Clinton and for the first in generations and it appeared that the ratchet was going to click the other way. The smart people suddenly shifted gears and started wondering what would become of liberalism. Even Clinton thought the era of big government was over.
Rolling back the welfare state was going to be dirty work and there’s not a lot of fun in it. The Buckley Conservatives had been bred for generations to trade away authority over domestic policy so there were few with a real desire to get into the trench warfare that would be required to claw back the concessions of the previous generations. The ugly fight over welfare reform “taught” the Buckleyites that there were no parades for the party that cut spending and shrunk government. Fighting wars was much more fun and less risky, to them at least.
I used to say that the worst thing to happen to Buckley Conservatism was the Bush family, but the death blow was actually 9/11. The Buckleyites went all in on the Bushism because they were sure they had found the successor to the Evil Empire. It was like old times. They eagerly gave the Left whatever they wanted on spending and government, just as long as they could wage the great crusade against the Muslims. It was rank boosterism, devoid of anything resembling principle, but the movement had finally found a new devil and that’s what really mattered.
Now that making war on the Muslims is out of the question, the Buckleyites are once again in search of a devil around which they can base their movement. Anti-Trumpism for fanatics like David French is not going to be a fulfilling cause in the long run. Trotskyites like Bill Kristol and the other neo-coms can probably busy themselves with it for a while, but even they will tire of it eventually. Maybe they go back to being Progressives or maybe they just go away. Pat Buchanan thinks (hopes?) they will just go away, having been rejected by the public.
That’s not the way to bet. Fanatics will always be with us. The lesson of the Clinton years was that the ideologues would eventually adapt to the post-Cold War world. The Progressives dived head first into the cesspool of identity politics while the Buckleyites launched a crusade to pacify the Muslims. Now that the Coalition of Weirdos is blowing apart and the Buckleyites are reeling, we may enter a period of cultural sobriety, but it’s hard to know. Perhaps neo-nationalism will the next big thing to sweep the West. Maybe it will be something else, but the fanatics will eventually find their causes.