David Brooks has a sad. In his youth, he says, he fell in love with Edmund Burke conservatism. But what passes for “conservatism” these days is something else entirely.
What passes for “conservatism” now, however, is nearly the opposite of the Burkean conservatism I encountered then. Today, what passes for the worldview of “the right” is a set of resentful animosities, a partisan attachment to Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson, a sort of mental brutalism. The rich philosophical perspective that dazzled me then has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression. …to be a conservative today, you have to oppose much of what the Republican Party has come to stand for.
Brooks goes into an analysis of the intellectual roots of what he considers “conservatism” to be, and it’s grand-sounding stuff. Little of this bears any resemblance to anything American conservatism has been in my lifetime, however, and I am ten years older than Brooks.
For example, Brooks wasn’t even born yet when that scion of conservative high-mindedness William F. Buckley wrote a book defending Joe McCarthy. A 1954 review of that book in the Harvard Crimson called Buckley out for bullshit, in so many words, but he never recanted. Going back to the bleeping McKinley Administration, conservatism in the U.S. has stood against civil rights and ordinary people and for the accumulation of great wealth for a favored elite. Conservatives were isolationists when the enemy was Hitler and hawks when the enemy was Ho Chi Minh. While self-identified Liberals often fall short and make mistakes, through the years Conservativism has consistently been wrong about major issues, and self-bullshit is, apparently, the primordial nature of the American conservative mind.
Brooks has never been the sharpest crayon in the box, of course.
I should add that he’s writing for The Atlantic these days as well as the New York Times. See also his essay The Terrifying Future of the American Right, published in The Atlantic about three weeks ago, in which he exhibits glimmers of insight into the bullshit being presented at a recent National Conservatism Conference. I doubt Brooks will ever perceive his own role in paving the road to that terrifying future, but he’s only 60. Maybe there’s time.
I liked this part:
In the NatCon worldview, the profiteers of surveillance capitalism see all and control all. Its workers, indoctrinated at elite universities, use “wokeness” to buy off the left and to create a subservient, atomized, defenseless labor pool. “Big Business is not our ally,” Marco Rubio argued. “They are eager culture warriors who use the language of wokeness to cover free-market capitalism.” The “entire phalanx of Big Business has gone hard left,” Cruz said. “We’ve seen Big Business, the Fortune 500, becoming the economic enforcers of the hard left. Name five Fortune 500 CEOs who are even remotely right of center.”
What can one say, but — WTF? What comes out in quotation after quotation is that “The Left” is utterly evil and out to destroy America. Whatever American conservatism ever was, it is now pretty much a kind of group psychosis.
The thing is, once you’ve convinced yourself that your opponent is absolutely evil and out to destroy you, you have just given yourself a big permission slip to do whatever it takes to destroy them. And not metaphorically. We should be grateful for those conservatives like Brooks and Liz Cheney who aren’t going down that road, and we on the Left shouldn’t go down it, either. But seriously, nuts is nuts.
Philip Bump writes about the Right’s love affair with Vladimir Putin, and how Tucker Carlson is rationalizing an invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
In his telling, Putin is salivating over Ukraine because the Russian president simply “wants to keep his western border secure.” After all, Ukraine might join NATO, which Carlson describes as the United States “plan[ning] to control Ukraine no matter what.” Massing tens of thousands of troops at the border with Ukraine is simply Putin acting defensively, Carlson insists, akin to “how we would feel if Mexico and Canada became satellites of China.”
Do read all of Bump’s column; it’s jaw-dropping. You should be able to read it without a subscription firewall.
It hasn’t been that long, I don’t think, since Republicans were hammering President Barack Obama for being too soft on Putin’s aggressions toward Ukraine. Seriously, that was just seven years ago. Now many American conservatives have done a complete flipflop and are saying Putin is right to act against American aggression, or something.
It’s easy to blame Trump, but IMO Trump just brought out qualities that were already deeply embedded in American conservatism. The authoritarianism, the demagoguery, the tribalism, the lack of consistent principles, have been strong currents in the GOP for a very long time, at least since before David Brooks was born in 1961 (see: Joe McCarthy). There were still not-crazy Republicans then, and some who were really more interested in governing than in raw power by any means. But the old, relatively liberal Republicans like John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller are extinct now.
See also Adam Kinzinger: Republicans Are ‘Frigging Crazy’ by Jeffrey Goldberg.