What’s with conservative columnists?

In the past couple weeks, liberal twitter has been lit up with interesting discussions of conservative columnists in mainstream news sources, particularly the NYT.  While, on the surface, this seems like an esoteric discussion for journalists and political science professors to obsess about on social media, David Roberts has a great piece in Vox about why this is indicative of deep problems within conservatism today:

These writers [Brooks, Douthat, Stephens, Weiss] are, to a (wo)man, alienated from the animating force in US conservatism, which is Trumpism. They command no divisions. They have nothing to do with what is going on in American politics today.

They might serve the purpose of challenging liberal thinking, but they do not serve the purpose of exposing NYT readers to the people and the movement from which they are allegedly alienated.

If Bennet wants to do that, he needs to be clear-eyed about what the right is today…

The signal feature of the 2016 election is that it settled the question of whether US conservatism — the actual movement, I mean, not the people in Washington think tanks who claim to be its spokespeople — is animated by a set of shared ideals and policies. It is not.

For many years, many people have convinced themselves otherwise. A lot of people believe to this day that the Tea Party uprising and the subsequent eight years of hysterical, unremitting, norm-violating opposition to Barack Obama was about small-government philosophy and a devotion to low taxes and less regulation, and had nothing to do with social backlash against a black, cosmopolitan, urban law professor and his diverse, rising coalition.

But that kind of credulity can only stretch so far, and Donald Trump has stretched it to the snapping point…

There cannot be an intellectual Trumpism — a Trumpist philosophy, a Trumpist argument — because Trump is devoted only to Trump, only to bringing himself glory and defeating his perceived enemies. For now, his interests overlap (mostly) with the interests of the white, suburban and rural conservative base. The only conceivable motivation to support him is tribal; the only argument a tribalist needs to reward himself and punish his enemies is, “We won.”

That means anyone who is devoted to the conservative intellectual tradition, anyone who thinks of themselves as a conservative through devotion to small government and traditional morality, has had to peel off. There is no way to pretend that Trump represents that tradition; he himself does not even try… [emphases mine]

What Trump revealed, in the most dramatic way possible, is that the conservative base in the US today is driven not by ideology but by white resentment. That’s the underlying thread. Trump may lurch back and forth on policy — or more often, demonstrate an almost cosmic ignorance of policy — but he speaks to, and in the voice of, America’s angry whites, who want their imagined old America back. He is the prototypical Fox News viewer, tossing off endless insults, conspiracy theories, and furious aggrievement.

What’s happening in the US today is not a contest of governing philosophies. Trump doesn’t have one, and his administration barely tries to pretend it does. It’s not a philosophy or a plan that won — it was a team, a tribe. They are living it uprewarding their friends and ratfucking everything the other team did before them.

More broadly, what’s going on in American politics is a contest between those who believe America is an idea and those who believe America is a people, a particular culture — white, Christian, and patriarchal. Trump represents those who want that culture restored to primacy.

How can the NYT opinion page expose its readers to that?…

Most importantly, the NYT sees the opinion page as a contest of ideas. And fundamentally, what Trumpist conservatives are advocating for are not ideas, but a demographic, a tribe.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

8 Responses to What’s with conservative columnists?

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Trumpism nailed! Now, who would be the columnist who best could be a pundit for Trumpism and who would agree to write a column for the New York Times?

  2. ohwilleke says:

    So, does the intelligent right join the Democratic tent? Does the intelligent right form its own tribe? If it did, could it get anyone to join?

    Also, while I agree that Trumpism is tribal, it isn’t entirely clear if the several tribes that were fused to form the Trump tribe (e.g. Southern Evangelical conservatives, Appalachian conservatives, rural and suburban Western conservatives, disillusioned Reagan Democrats in the Rust Belt) have truly fused into one tribe in a moment of ethnogenesis, or if the seams will show again when Trump fades from the scene as he inevitably will sooner or later. Also, notably, Mormon Republicans, the one GOP faction that pretty cleanly rejected Trump at the outset, are now a bit adrift.

    Assume there is a Blue tsunami election in 2018 and severe scandals either force Trump out or cripple him politically rendering him a lame duck for two years. What happens to this tribe then? Who peels off first, and how?

  3. homeys44 says:

    Good thing liberalism doesn’t have any kind of crazy split between people that vote on liberal ideology and people that just vote their race/identity/tribe, huh?This sounds more like a “how dare they copy us” type piece.

  4. Nicole K. says:

    I never thought I’d say this, but I miss RGBact. At least when he trolled this blog he made points that I actually sometimes felt were worthy of arguing with him about. I’m just not feeling that this time around.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Yep. I had pretty much that same thought.

    • homeys44 says:

      so do you at least read the NYT’s conservatives? If not, I don’t know what else there is for you. Just enjoy the bubble.

      • R. Jenrette says:

        I read some of them Don’t have full access to the NYT. They’re pretty good on Trump. Doubtful how they feel about the social safety net that I support.

      • homeys44 says:

        Yes, they’ll have different opinions than you on things, but I suspect they try to present them in the least annoying way to liberals. David Brooks is about as moderate as a Republican can be and I don’t think Bari Weiss is even a conservative. she just questions both sides.. The other 2 are fairly standard center righties..

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