Conservatism, from Edmund Burke to Trump


This video from the USA says about itself:

17 September 2016

Rush Limbaugh finds it a bit tiresome that people keep complaining about Donald Trump not being a conservative, because it’s something he’s believed for a while now.

By Andrew O’Hehir in the USA:

Saturday, Feb 18, 2017 06:00 PM +0100

From Edmund Burke to Mr. Burns: In the age of Trump, conservative thought has died at last

Conservatism once had a coherent philosophy. After the neocons, the bigots and the neo-fascists, nothing’s left

One way to understand what we are witnessing, amid the national humiliation of Donald Trump’s presidency, is to see it as the total collapse of conservative ideology. That might seem like a strange claim in a year when the far right seems ascendant throughout the Western world, and when the Republican Party nominally controls the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time in a decade. But I think it’s accurate, and all the breathless Ayn Rand fanfics hidden away in the hard drive of Paul Ryan’s Windows Vista PC don’t make it less so. (It does not follow, by the way, that “liberal” ideology is in such great shape either, and the two phenomena are not unconnected. Topic for another time!)

As a political force, the American conservative movement has been morally and philosophically bankrupt for decades, which is one of the big reasons we are where we are right now. Largely in the interest of preserving their own power and empowering a massive money-grab by the class they represent, Republicans have cobbled together cynical coalitions by trying to appease multiple constituencies with competing and often contradictory interests: Libertarians, the Christian right, the post-industrial white working class, finance capital and the billionaire caste. Those groups have literally nothing in common beyond a shared antipathy for … well, for something that cannot be precisely defined. They don’t like the idea of post-1960s Volvo-driving, latte-drinking liberal bicoastal cosmopolitanism, that much is for sure. But the specific things they hate about it are not the same, and the goals they seek are mutually incompatible and largely unachievable.

But behind that political devolution lies the ideological implosion that’s been coming a long time, longer than I can possibly summarize here. It’s safe to say that Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton, two 18th-century titans the modern conservative movement likes to cite as forebears, would be horrified by the limited, narrow-minded and intellectually inflexible nature of so-called conservative thought in the 21st century. How those guys would make sense of the fact that supposedly intelligent people who claim to share their lineage have hitched their wagons to the idiocy, mendacity and delusional thinking of the would-be autocrat in the White House — an implausible caricature of the stupefied mob democracy Burke and Hamilton hated and feared — I can’t begin to imagine.

Even so, the final stages of the collapse have arrived with startling suddenness. Just a few decades ago, William F. Buckley successfully appointed himself as the intellectual standard-bearer of the American right, in large part by purging overt white supremacists and conspiracy-minded ultra-nationalists from the mainstream conservative movement. Buckley was a slippery and devious character, and despite his command of classical languages and all that, was more like a guy who plays a first-rate intellect on TV than the real thing. Arguably his decision to drive the troglodytes from the temple was more a matter of political strategy than moral principle (although I believe he was genuinely ashamed of his early embrace of segregation).

In any event, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and other forms of paranoid thought were never absent from American conservatism — as in the “Southern strategy” that got Richard Nixon elected in 1968, and made a big comeback during the great renaissance of the Reagan revolution. Those who expressed such views were expected to keep it clean, so to speak, and to observe rhetorical limits. Ben Carson and Clarence Thomas were welcomed at the country club; Klansmen and neo-Nazis and guys who handed out homemade brochures set in 8-point type about the Bilderberg Group were exiled to the strip mall. Immigration, always the great rift in conservative politics, was politely and pointedly ignored, like the ripping fart laid by the bank president’s wife at her garden party.

It couldn’t last, and it didn’t: The grand bargain the Republican elite thought it had struck with the loonier fringes of the lumpenproletariat came undone in spectacular fashion in 2016. Donald Trump and his pitchfork brigade stormed the country club, chugged all the Pinot Grigio straight from the bottle and then barfed it up on the imitation Persian carpets. Blowhard bigot Steve Bannon is running strategy for the White House, while his crony Stephen Miller — variously compared by late-night TV hosts to “Sméagol in a suit” or a younger Montgomery Burns — dispenses outrageous lies on the president’s behalf.

What’s left of the conservative intelligentsia is either whimpering in the corner alongside New York Times columnist David Brooks or groveling before its new overlords and swearing eternal fealty. Either way, it’s pathetic. Buckley may have been an erudite con artist to a large extent, but he had a coherent worldview, avoided telling outright falsehoods and would genially have agreed that there were some good things about the Enlightenment, and perhaps even about postwar American culture. It’s a long slippery ride downhill from him to this dude, the leading intellectual apologist for the Trumpian counterrevolution.

This is insane. [“This” being continued immigration by “Third World foreigners.”] This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity.

I don’t know about you, but when I encounter someone with an expensive education who ought to know better using the term “my people” with no clear point of reference — he does not mean, say, the general population of the United States — I can almost hear the singing and see the flickering torchlight. As Molly Ivins once observed about a famous 1992 speech by Pat Buchanan (which I witnessed live, from the floor of the Republican convention in Houston), that probably read better in the original German.

Far-Right Troll Milo Yiannopoulos To Speak At Conservative Political Action Conference. CPAC embraces the provocateur: here.

10 thoughts on “Conservatism, from Edmund Burke to Trump

  1. http://www.alternet.org/activism/cowardly-republicans-are-running-away-voters-and-cancelling-town-meetings-weekend
    >
    > Cowardly Republicans Are Running Away from Voters and Cancelling Town Meetings This Weekend
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    >

    > Almost all congressional Republicans are scared of facing voters in town hall meetings over the long President’s Day weekend. Only 19 representatives and senators—a tiny number—will hold town meetings during the first recess of the current session of Congress, according to the Town Hall Project . But the group’s listing of these democratic mainstays barely tells the story.
    >
    > According to an eye-opening Washington Post account , Republican officeholders have been cancelling planned town halls because they don’t want to face critics upset that they may soon lose their health insurance or see an increase in costs as the GOP plans to undermine Obamacare. Even worse, they don’t want organized progressive groups to show up with posters and video camera and determination to challenge them in public and post the confrontations on YouTube.
    >
    > “According to the Town Hall Project, which collates information about public town halls, there are no availabilities in Utah—where every federal officeholder is a Republican—over the coming week,” WaPo wrote . “That’s not a fluke. Just 19 Republican members of Congress have scheduled traditional town halls over the weeklong recess. Several more, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have listed ticketed events or “office hours;” a few more have announced tele-town halls , which allow constituents to lob questions without risking a “YouTube moment .”
    >
    > This cowardly response is nothing new from immoderate Republicans; it’s in line with their partisan ethic that “anything goes” to win, except playing fair. They cannot win in many states without gerrymandering federal and state districts, which allowed them to seize power after the 2010 Census. They cannot win widely in high turnout elections, hence their efforts to limit participation by creating barriers like new voter ID laws or restricting voting options favored by critics, like early voting on weekends.
    >
    > Their partisan cowardice goes further by not wanting to reveal who is funding negative attack ads, thus they encourage super PACs to throw mud because they do not disclose donors. In contrast, they never stand up and say all sides should put forth their best ideas and allow citizens to decide, live with that verdict and fight another day. And in 2017, a new twist has emerged: the party that would stamp on others is hiding from voters.
    >
    > Indeed, as WaPo reports, Republicans don’t like it when the tables are turned on them—that is, when their town hall meetings are not filled with angry Tea Partiers but with aggrieved citizens from their districts and organized progressives.
    >
    > “Since Republicans took control of the House six years ago, helped by angry, viral town halls that embarrassed incumbent Democrats, big public meetings have become rarer and workarounds like the tele-town hall more common,” WaPo wrote . “But in the past week, as Indivisible, Organizing for America and other progressive groups have become more open about demanding town halls, some Republicans have become bolder about shutting them down.”
    >
    > A few are even admitting this is exactly what’s going on.
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    > “In a letter to constituents first shared by the Knoxville News Sentinel, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said that he valued being accessible but would not indulge protesters by holding a public event,” WaPo noted. “I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals,” Duncan said. “Also, I do not intend to give more publicity to those on the far left who have so much hatred, anger and frustration in them. I have never seen so many more sore losers as there are today.”
    >
    > Needless to say, these Republicans are fine when their own propagandists are doing the yelling, namely those in right-wing media and related GOP groups, who conveniently ignore that progressives and others are doing what Tea Partiers have been doing for many years.
    >
    > “The National Republican Congressional Committee denounced a ‘top-down effort’ to manufacture controversy,’ WaPo said . “‘Fox and Friends,’ a cable news morning show that President Trump watches regularly (and praised in Thursday’s news conference), has frequently highlighted violent protests and hyped reports that some protesters are being paid.”
    >
    > Such shamelessness is nothing new in Republican circles. It may even be part of their twisted political DNA—the attitude that everything they do is magically patriotic, all-American and justified. The truth is congressional Republicans are running away from the voters in their districts who have ample reasons to be angered at the GOP’s uncritical embrace of Trump and the far right’s extremist economic and cultural agenda.
    >
    > What’s the word for elected officeholders not standing by their beliefs in public and facing voters in their districts? Cowardice, plain and simple, and that’s just the start.

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