George Sarant

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Archive for July 2016

Conservative Agony

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There is considerable anguish amongst the conservative intelligentsia concerning the rise of Donald Trump. Virtually the entire establishment of conservative leaders, intellectuals, and pundits are united in their distaste and opposition to his candidacy, based initially on the perception that “he is not one of us,” followed by a firm commitment to the notion that “he must be stopped.” That these efforts failed miserably may be a testament to the possibility that the extent of their actual influence may not significantly exceed the diminutive circulation of their magazines. It also may be indicative of the reality that many self-identified conservatives hold radically different views as to what conservatism consists of, given the widening breach between the mass following of Trump and the conservative elites. The latter may well have painted themselves into a corner, from which there is no easy exit, by constantly vilifying Trump. Furthermore they may increasingly come to be perceived as “liberals” by a runaway base that may well have held different views all along. 

A case could be made that in this election Hillary Clinton is the conservative, given that she represents continuity, the status quo, the traditional political order, and that she is unlikely to upend the system in any way, notwithstanding her progressive posturing. In the area where presidents exercise the most power, international affairs, she is dedicated to the existing order that has been built up over decades and may be more hawkish than Trump in many respects. In fact given the way they have cast out Trump she would appear to be the logical alternative. The agony arises because these same conservative leaders have been implacable in their opposition to the Clintons over the years. I’ve never understood the intensity of that animus, at least on ideological grounds, given Clinton’s relative moderation, so it’s more personal insofar as many people think Hillary has a miserable personality and is basically dishonest. She may be an awful person, but we now have the spectacle of conservative elites actively opposing the Republican candidate for president which can only aide the election of the Democratic candidate they have loathed for decades. 

They have been joined by some Republican politicians, former officials and a considerable chunk of the corporate establishment and wealthy that last left the party in droves when Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate. But these former officials consist almost entirely of people associated with the Bushes, who were ultimately disastrous for the country and the Republican party when in power. Their departure is no loss for a party that can hardly be considered the party of the wealthy any longer as it becomes more of a Republican Peoples’ Party, in the European sense, with a working and middle class base. This is not simply populist irrationality that liberals of the left an right would have us believe, but a natural reaction on the part of people who have not fared well over the last few decades. The problem is that the candidate who has successfully channeled these sentiments, Donald Trump, may be woefully unprepared to actually govern. But at this point Republican elected officials can do little more than support the national ticket if they want to avoid disaster. 

The net effect is that the conservative intelligentsia has been left out in the cold, with, from their standpoint, two unpalatable candidates. It is hard to see how anyone could support Hillary Clinton and still be a Republican. On the other hand, a process that began with 17 candidates, several of them attractive and well-suited for the presidency, has yielded what they regard as a populist interloper. Thus there is nowhere to go. This is a consequence of a deeply flawed system based upon primaries that few people vote in, an endless election campaign season, and mass media that exacerbate these conditions. Unless we reform the electoral system and give the power to choose candidates back to elected officials it is only going to get worse. Another electoral season is coming to a dismal end, so these days when I turn on the news I’m more interested in the weather.

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