Amid an eloquent diatribe against the “woke” left and its friends in the Deep State, Fox News host Tucker Carlson attributed to American Deplorables a sentiment that may more accurately reflect his own feelings: “All they want to do is go back to how things were in 2005.”
I heard myself responding out loud to this observation with, “What good would that do?”
Whatever now ails us as a society already existed 15 years ago, and even much earlier. Why would one think things would turn out differently if we could travel a second time along the path that we traversed from 2005 to the present? If all the same forces remained operative—and there is no reason to believe they would not—the outcome would likely be the same.
There are key turning points in history, so allow me to make a critical distinction between times in which a process of cultural change has already been set into motion, and times when circumstances might have produced different results if certain steps were taken at the proper time. For instance, if the alliance blocs in 1914 had been more flexible, or less warlike, or less fatalistic, the Great War with all its attendant evils might have been averted. All the major powers behaved disastrously during that international crisis, which historian Christopher Clark depicts graphically in his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2014), and which my own extensive study of the Great War has made obvious to me.
Responsibility for the tortuous road leading to the Great War, and finally to its outbreak, was widely shared. While studying this event, one finds oneself thinking aloud that if only this or that had been done by the Germans, Russians, Serbs, Austrians, French, or English, all that bloodshed could have been avoided.
A onetime professor of mine produced a book on the role of contingency in Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933. This scholar, Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., studiously outlined all the failed opportunities and petty intrigues that had allowed a dangerous demagogue to gain control of Germany. Once in that position, Hitler could launch war on neighboring countries and exterminate ethnic and political groups whom he personally disliked. Turner’s research shows that, once again, we have a clear example of a situation in which bad choices were made and paths were not taken at critical points, resulting in appalling consequences for millions.
One cannot reasonably say the same thing, however, about how the American and other Western governments and cultures have developed over the last 15 years. For example, what difference would it have made in terms of where we are right now as a society, if John Kerry, not George W. Bush, had been elected president in 2004?
Since I was working in what is euphemistically called higher education in 2005, I can testify to the fact that academics were then only slightly less batty than they are right now. Certainly, no sea change has occurred among this group since the beginning of the current century; nor among young professionals working in investment banks and stock firms, who to all appearances have not changed their leftist politics in the last 15 years.
Perhaps Americans would have celebrated gay marriage or waged a war against “systemic racism” one year earlier had Kerry been elected. Or maybe his presidency would have enabled us to lavish praise on transgenderism six months sooner. Most of the social upheaval that we have endured since the 1960s, however, would have been the same, no matter who was elected president in 2004 and no matter which party dominated Congress and the statehouses.
The swerving toward the cultural left by the new American administration and the forces that are supporting this direction reflect the impact of a largely uninterrupted process going back decades. Moreover, given the leadership role of the United States in the Western world, it is understandable that other Western countries imitate our tics and styles. Thus, the LGBTQ and anti-racist ideologies that have prevailed in American life and politics have also affected—sometimes in even more extreme forms—Canada, Germany, England, France, and other Western countries. In all these places, culturally leftist forces continue to advance, bringing about bizarre transformations to the detriment of once constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and long-settled ways of life.
To understand this radicalization, it is necessary to consider contributing causes. Perhaps near the top of this list, and a factor that is almost too obvious to mention, is the absence of significant resistance. If there is nothing consequential restraining those who are pushing society in a particular direction, it will continue to move along the same trajectory.
In most Western countries a powerful right-wing opposition no longer existed by the time that a leftist takeover was underway. The growing weakness of the right in relation to the left was not a one-way street; in essence, the right did not become weak simply because the other side grew strong.
One reason the left—or at least the non-right—rules in Western countries without effective opposition is that the other side has collapsed and, in some countries, like Canada, even vanished. Weakened conservatives in the U.S. have behaved in a cowardly fashion by engaging in periodic purges of their own ranks. And, as the left veers ever more leftward, particularly on social and cultural issues, conservatives further weaken themselves by eagerly embracing positions once held by their leftist counterparts.
The soi-disant right in the U.S. has made other mistakes since the 1960s. It has flinched repeatedly when the left smeared it as fascistic, racist, anti-Semitic, and chauvinistic.
Additionally, this self-described conservative opposition has been all too ready to yield to leftist blackmail. It has therefore assumed a permanent defensive role, from which it has never fully extricated itself. Although conservatives were justified in distancing themselves from neo-Nazis and Klan members, they have also purged other, far less sinister collaborators in a frenzied attempt to avoid being attacked by the left. In the process they have become an opportunistic imitation of their accusers.
This generalization admittedly requires that exceptions be made. Monologues of Tucker Carlson, the anti-Biden investigations of the Australian columnist Miranda Devine, and several unabashedly pro-Trump websites furnish praiseworthy deviations from this rule of conformity. But examples of pulling punches abound on Fox News as well as in the pronouncements of the libertarian and Republican think tanks of Washington, D.C., and within the pages of most “conservative” print magazines. Conservative Inc. foundations have also received Big Tech funding, which may have reduced their willingness to be unpleasantly adversarial. At least, they are not inclined to be confrontational toward leftist benefactors, as opposed to unclubbable critics on the right.
A recent example of this timidity was Fox News pushing back at the removal of Chris Harrison as the host of The Bachelor
, the ABC reality television series. Harrison was removed after he defended a contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, when she was attacked by the “woke” online mob after a photograph surfaced of her attending an “Old South”-themed fraternity ball at a plantation in 2018. Activist bloggers disapproved of her attendance, which they characterized as “racist.” Apparently the show’s host, Harrison, fell under the same condemnation for merely noting that in 2018, the politically correct inquisition had not become as intense as it is right now.
These happenings caused Fox News to defend both Rachael and Chris, albeit in a strikingly anodyne manner. A panel consisting of agreeable guests was expeditiously assembled, which included a black interlocutor who announced irrelevantly that he was married to an Iranian lady. The invited participants were asked whether they thought the actress in question had been unfairly treated.
At one point, the Fox News moderator interrupted her black guest to point out that Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have approved of what happened to the host and guest at The Bachelor. She was certain of this but gave no evidence for her statement. This gesture was like quoting Scripture at a fundamentalist service: the source may have been regarded as too sacred to be questioned.
All that was lacking in Fox’s politically correct criticism of the left’s even more extravagant politically correct behavior was a transgendered individual to rush to the aid of Kirkconnell and Harrison. Conservative media once again descended into cringing caution as soon as the discussion turned to blacks and the South.
This politically correct objection to a more advanced form of the same pathology reminded me of Sean Hannity’s past rants against Muslims. We were supposed to oppose these human rights violators because they threw gays off the tops of buildings, were brutal sexists, had bad relations with Israel, and so on. It was only at the end of this long list of offenses that one came to the concerns of the Christian majority in the U.S., who might have found Muslim fanatics to be a bit of a problem.
Curiously, this demographic, which was stuck at the end, made up the vast majority of those who listened to Hannity’s tears against unfriendly Muslims. This illustrates how Conservative Inc. slights its majority base, while attempting to woo other demographics that have been associated with the left.
Almost equally disadvantageous to the right has been its outmoded fixation on anti-communism and anti-Marxism when the enemy has noticeably changed. Is Mark Zuckerberg a communist? What about Jeff Bezos or Jeff Zucker? Sure, all those Silicon Valley executives take Chinese Communist money, but this hardly proves that our high-tech giants, or those whom Keith Preston has dubbed “rainbow capitalists,” are ideological Marxists. It is not even clear that the Chinese government is genuinely Communist, as opposed to being a very unpleasant authoritarian nationalist regime that is working to weaken the U.S.
I also wonder whether the rhetoric from conservative media about a communist enemy is not a deliberate attempt to bring back the relatively cohesive conservative movement of yesteryear. If only we can focus again on a familiar enemy, perhaps it would be possible to ignore the post-Marxist left, which is the one that is raging right now. This focus also allows Conservative Inc. to avoid giving offense to its benefactors who fancy the LGBTQ agenda. Ditto for all the Fox News celebrities who are proudly gay and make no bones about it.
A third reason that so much ground has been ceded to the left is that the conservative media cannot break away from what it claims to be opposing. It seeks, where possible, to establish good relations with leftist celebrities who may be willing to deal with oozingly affable, moderate conservatives. There is of course no comparable value for these media luminaries making nice to rightist outliers. Who needs these superfluous right-wingers anyhow?
Although there were and still are conservative talk radio figures, such as the recently deceased Rush Limbaugh, who preach only to the converted, the conservative media has strained to dialogue with the left. Fox News devotes millions of dollars every year to buying its own leftist commentators to set an example of civilized discourse with left. Although this openness to the left has helped enhance the careers of conservative media celebrities, it has done zero to strengthen the right in a losing battle against implacable foes.
It would be ridiculous to think that the ground the right or non-left has abandoned in the last 50 years can be reclaimed all at once. That is not the way the world works. But we can come up with measures to keep the left from doing more harm, while giving the right time to mobilize.
While it may be impossible to realize all these reforms immediately, efforts should be made to advance as many of them as possible. These would include halting immigration, defunding public education while refunding police forces, and abolishing all anti-discrimination laws, the effect of which has been to allow government administrators to bully American citizens who are white, Christian, heterosexual, and/or male.
We may also benefit from promoting effective electronic media that would permit us to escape leftist censors, and, yes, we should organize mass boycotts of companies that finance left-wing terrorism.
Some way must also be found to ensure only legal votes count in elections. There’s no way to control the left if it remains in a position to manipulate mailed-in votes and votes cast by people who provide no real identification.
In the longer run, a new conservatism must be fashioned that is built on the working class and small business and which is unswervingly populist in its appeal. Although this movement may attract some minority support, its base will be necessarily white and Christian, and it will be viable mostly outside of large cities. It would be best for this movement to emphasize regional autonomy, since it is highly unlikely that it will gain a sizeable electoral foothold in metropolitan areas.
The important thing here is that conservative strongholds be allowed to survive and thrive outside the centralized leftist administrative state. If possible, we should drive this permanent ruling class from power. But if that cannot be done, at least its would-be victims should try to protect themselves. Social programs aimed at the working masses should be administered locally; and above all, education should be run the same way.
Please note that in this vision of a renewed right, I’m not describing something that either the Republican National Committee or The Wall Street Journal editorial page would happily endorse. This is also not a right that would push the bipartisanship that, among others, Fox News host Bret Baier, Washington Post conservative columnist Marc Thiessen, former Congressman Trey Gowdy, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have adopted as a mantra, even as the present administration does anything it wants to please its donors.
Nor do I believe this renewed right would resonate particularly well among soccer moms in Delaware County, Pennsylvania or Lake County, Illinois; and it would probably not make electoral inroads in Harlem, Watts, or in any other black urban concentration. (Of course, Conservative Inc. hasn’t won the hearts and minds of those demographics, either.)
What I am presenting is what I think the right must become to prevent further advances by an increasingly unhinged left. Unfortunately, the pursuit of more modest goals is not likely to change the political situation.