One of the more entertaining aspects of the Trump Effect is watching members of the so-called conservative media throw around the word “conservative” like is some sort of magic spell. They utter the word within various incantations intended to make Trump disappear. Others use it to ward off the hordes of Trump supporters they fear are about to break their beloved party.
The word “conservative’ has lost all meaning, which is what you see in this post on NRO the other day. Jim Geraghty is no Genius T. Coates, so you have to look past the logical fallacies at the beginning, but you’ll note that what Geraghty thinks of as “conservative” is just a shopping list of Republican proposals with a healthy dollop of social engineering.
The panic among the chattering classes is obvious and the Geraghty piece has the feel of someone bargaining for his life. The only thing missing is the “I’ll give you anything you want” line that Hollywood imagines everyone says when facing death. A year ago, they were sure that one of the guys from central casting would be the nominee and now they see it all falling to pieces. The dirt people have breached the walls.
Whenever I read these columns, I keep thinking of the bit from Braveheart at the first battle. This was before Mel shows up to give his big speech. The troops are about to split after seeing the English forming up and one of the nobles pleads with them, “Men, do not flee. Wait until we’ve negotiated.” That’s GOP Inc. these days. They want one last chance to negotiate.
The problem for Conservative Inc. is they conceded a critical principle a long time ago that puts them forever at odds with traditional American conservatism. That is, they surrendered on the fundamental right of association, which is the bedrock of American conservatism. Once the state can dictate to you with whom you can associate or disassociate, you are no longer a citizen. Every conceivable right depends on the ability to band together or walk away, as necessary.
The remedy was to grasp about for ways to gain the ends that naturally flow from freedom of association, without upsetting the Left over the issue of race. The trouble is that it was always a matter of time before the Left could close the loop and make everything about race. They even made the weather a racial issue so anything of consequence was going to be easy pickings for the Cult.
Long ago, the official Right came to an accommodation with the other side of the Yankee ruling class. A movement that fundamentally stands outside the traditions and instincts of Public Protestantism is forever trapped in that framework. Public intellectuals of the Right spend their lives trying to make their movement, their philosophy, comport with the ethics and aesthetics of the Progressives.
Once the Right gave into the Left on association, equating it with racism and therefore off-limits, the Right stopped being an opposition movement and became a partner. One side wants to use the power of the state to compel certain behavior, while the other sides either counsels caution or argues for different goals. Whether or not the state herds the people around is no longer an issue up for debate.
That’s what has the official Right in a panic over Trump and the growing resistance to immigration. If the people can debate who is and who is not allowed in for settlement, then freedom of association is back on the table. That means the average American can decide with whom he lives and, by extension, with whom he refuses to associate. More important, it calls into question the modern Right’s place in the ruling consensus.
In the novel The Sound and the Fury, Quentin Compson is the son of a once prominent Southern family who is at school at Harvard. Quentin wishes to reject his father’s antiquated philosophy, but the world he lives in seems constantly to affirm that view of the world. Eventually, unable to reconcile his place in the cultural timeline with the world in which he lives, he throws himself off a bridge and drowns in the Charles River.
The official Right finds itself in a similar dilemma. They desperately want to find some way to reject the past without succumbing to the present. The Bill Buckley experiment has been a generational attempt to accommodate traditional American conservatism with the dominant Public Protestantism that we now call Progressivism.
For a long time, they were sure they unriddled it, but now here they are facing what they see as the Snopes clan. They look at Trump and his supporters as vermin who threaten the great project. Instead of strolling the ivy covered walls of elite institutions, the official Right is about to drown in the odor of honeysuckle. Like Quentin Compson, they see no way to resolve the past with the present.