A recent article in the Weekly Standard deals with the question, “What’s the best course for conservative intellectuals in the age of Trump?” The author, Daniel Wiser, says that Edmund Burke’s advice is worth listening to.1
Burke said that the virtues of conservatism are Prudence, Moderation, and Character. Wiser argues that these virtues can guide conservatives today. Burke cautioned against radical schemes, utopian schemes:
|The more perfect... cannot be attained without tearing to pieces the whole contexture of the Commonwealth.... The less perfect is the more desirable.... An object pure and absolute may not be so good as one lowered, mixed, and qualified.|
Burke was wary of revolution, and is known for his criticisms of the French Revolution. He believed in incremental change, not radical change:
|A prudent and moderate conservative.... is grateful for established traditions and institutions and seeks to improve them incrementally, to “keep things where they are, in point of form; provided we were able to improve them in point of Substance.” This is the best way to maintain social harmony, to promote what Burke called “the concord of the citizens.”|
With respect to Ireland, Burke favored a moderate approach: more rights for Irish Catholics, while opposing full independence for Ireland. He advocated free trade with Ireland, despite the objections of his constituents. He said that a member of Parliament shouldn’t tailor his views to match those of the voters. The only authority I have, Burke said, is “that authority which is derived from an opinion, that a member speaks the language of truth and sincerity.” This applies not only to politicians, but also to intellectuals. The only authority a writer has comes from ‘an opinion that he speaks the language of truth and sincerity.’
The last of Burke’s three virtues is Character. Wiser says that when Burke impeached Warren Hastings, governor of India, he “demonstrated character by standing against corruption and the oppression of the Indian people, regardless of whether he had public support.” Burke believed that character is contagious. Perhaps the influence of character can be exerted through literature; a writer like Burke may inspire readers who never met him, readers who know him only through his writings.
How can Burke help us to deal with Trump’s victory? Wiser’s advice:
|All Americans should try to think more locally, and promote a culture of faith, family, and work. Burke understood the importance of this. He discussed the “little platoons” of society in perhaps the most famous passage from his Reflections and all his writings: “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.”|
Note the phrase, “a culture of faith, family, and work.” Here we have the creed of today’s conservatives neatly summarized. This creed contrasts with Goethe’s creed, “Live manfully in the whole, the good, and the beautiful.”2 Goethe’s creed might be called the creed of the humanist, the creed of Western Civilization, the creed that inspired Western Civilization from the time of Pericles to the time of Goethe. And Goethe’s creed was still alive in the days of my grandparents, as we can see in this passage from Berenson:
|All the arts — poetry, music, ritual, the visual arts, the theater — must work singly and together to create the most comprehensive art of all, a humanized society, and its masterpiece, the free man: free within and free without, ready in Goethe’s untarnishable words to live manfully in the whole, the good, and the beautiful.3|
Wiser’s “faith, family, and work” shows us how far we’ve fallen in the last century, how far culture has declined, how close we are to Nietzsche’s Last Man. The difference between Goethe’s creed and Wiser’s creed is the difference between a high civilization and a low civilization.
The first element in Wiser’s creed is faith. Deep faith is 24 X 7, but what passes for faith today is SundayMorning faith. Deep faith is an inner experience, but today’s faith emphasizes church-going and community feeling. In my view, today’s faith isn’t a living faith, it’s a resolve to believe what the ancestors believed, it looks backward, it’s afraid to break with the past, it’s afraid to abandon traditional religion. Because today’s faith is shallow, it can co-exist with a strong interest in politics. On the other hand, deep faith often eschews politics.
In an earlier issue, I discussed Irving Kristol, and I quoted the New York Times:
|Mr. Kristol saw religion and a belief in the afterlife as the foundation for the middle-class values he championed. He argued that religion provided a necessary constraint to antisocial, anarchical impulses. Without it, he said, “the world falls apart.” Yet Mr. Kristol’s own religious views were so ambiguous that some friends questioned whether he believed in God. In 1996, he told an interviewer: “I’ve always been a believer.” But, he added, “don’t ask me in what.” “That gets too complicated,” he said. “The word ‘God’ confuses everything.”|
Today’s faith is neither intellectually satisfying nor emotionally satisfying. David Brooks wrote,
|[Irving] Kristol championed middle-class virtues like faith, family and responsibility, especially during the 1960s when they were so much under attack. But he acknowledged that bourgeois culture could be boring and spiritually unsatisfying.|
If the faith that Brooks refers to were a living faith, a deep faith, then it wouldn’t be boring or spiritually unsatisfying.
A discussion at Harvard, featuring Bill Kristol and Bill Galston, offers interesting analysis of the election. Galston begins with a 30-minute talk combining demographic facts and historical analogies. Galston notes the similarity between the Trump Phenomenon and the Brexit Phenomenon, and he compares this to other “linkages” between the U.S. and Western European countries:
Galston’s remarks on demography are based on exit polls, but I wonder if these polls are reliable. One of the lessons of the 2016 election, in my view, is that polls can’t be trusted. Most people decline to participate, angry voters might be especially apt to decline, Trump supporters are often under-counted. So the demographic “facts” that Galston mentions should perhaps be viewed as rough estimates. Nonetheless, Galston is a good speaker, with many interesting insights to offer. He was a student of Leo Strauss, which may explain why he was participating in a discussion moderated by the Straussian Harvey Mansfield. Straussians pop up everywhere — even on The Left!
Galston says that the big story in American politics, in the last 50-75 years, is the movement of white working-class voters from the Democratic party to the Republican party. Trump won, Galston says, because he appealed to white working-class voters who feared the impact of international trade on their livelihoods.
Trump also appealed to native-born voters concerned about high rates of immigration (legal and illegal immigration). Galston says there was a lot of immigration between 1880 and 1920, then the door was slammed shut in 1924, then in 1965 Congress opened the door again, leading to higher rates of immigration, and finally, with Trump, there was a reaction against immigration. So Galston describes what might be called the swinging of the Immigration Pendulum — high rates of immigration produce a reaction that leads to a reduction in immigration.
Galston says that, in 2016, for the first time, the number of white voters with college degrees exceeded the number of white voters without college degrees. This is good news for Democrats. Galston says categorically that this trend won’t be reversed in his lifetime. In my view, though, one of the trends of the present day is a turning away from college, a feeling that college isn’t worth the price, a feeling that you can get an education through the Internet, through work experience, through studying on your own, etc., etc. If this is true, then the number of voters with college degrees could fall below the number without college degrees.
Generally speaking, though, the groups that support the Republicans are shrinking groups. Republicans have lost the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, and probably need to expand their base.
It’s well known that most Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Galston said that pollsters should ask people, “Why do you think the country is on the wrong track? What exactly is wrong with the country?” Perhaps people are struck by the amount of random violence — shooting sprees, etc. Perhaps people are struck by the amount of division within the country; the two political camps can barely speak to each other, they have their own television channels, etc.; what one camp regards as the gravest of problems, climate change, the other group regards as a non-issue, a hoax. Perhaps people are concerned about the debt and the currency; they feel in their bones that if you continually spend more than you take in, a day of reckoning will come; if you continually print money, the currency will eventually become worthless. So I’m not surprised that people think the country is on the wrong track, I’m surprised by Galston’s surprise.
In the last issue, I praised the election forecasts of Allan Lichtman and Nate Silver. Lichtman predicted a Trump victory based on his 13 “keys” — whether there’s a third-party candidate, whether there’s a contest for the incumbent party’s nomination, whether there’s a recession, etc. Silver took a completely different approach, Silver looked at polls, and decided that Clinton was likely to win, but he gave Trump a better chance than most forecasters did.
I should have mentioned Helmut Norpoth, who made perhaps the most impressive prediction of all. Norpoth is a professor at Stony Brook who predicted a Trump victory at least nine months before the election, and stuck with his prediction even when the polls pointed to a Clinton victory. Norpoth appeared on FoxNews several times, to raise the spirits of the faithful.
Norpoth uses a completely different system than Lichtman and Silver. Norpoth’s system “measures each candidates’ performance in primaries and caucuses to gauge party unity and voter excitement.... As a rule, the candidate with the stronger primary performance wins against the candidate with the weaker primary performance.” An example would be 2012, when Romney had several challengers in the primaries, while Obama cruised through the primaries; Obama beat Romney, as Norpoth predicted. Another example is 1964, when Johnson performed far better in the primaries than Goldwater; Johnson defeated Goldwater easily.
Norpoth focuses on early primaries. “Winning the early primaries is a major key for electoral victory in November. Trump won the Republican primaries in both New Hampshire and South Carolina while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders split the Democratic primaries in those states.” Norpoth calls his model “the primary model.”4
In addition to looking at primaries, Norpoth looks at cycles; Norpoth argued that, after two terms of a Democratic President, the pendulum was likely to swing to the Republicans. Norpoth uses the chart below to show that, after one term in the White House, the incumbent party is likely to win again, but after two or more terms, the incumbent party is likely to lose.
So Norpoth’s system might be called Primaries Plus Cycles. Norpoth predicted a Trump victory based on both primaries and cycles. Impressive as Norpoth’s system is, one might object that he predicted Trump would win the popular vote, but Clinton won the popular vote. Norpoth says his system works with all presidential elections from 1912 (when primaries began) to the present.5 His system suggests that Trump has a good chance to win in 2020, especially if he has no serious primary challenge, and the Democrats have a good chance in 2024.
The left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore also predicted a Trump victory. Moore predicted that Trump would win in the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Moore spoke of a “Rust Belt Brexit.” Moore describes the mindset of the Angry White Male:
|Now, after having had to endure eight years of a black man telling us what to do, we’re supposed to just sit back and take eight years of a woman bossing us around? After that it’ll be eight years of the gays in the White House! Then the transgenders! You can see where this is going. By then animals will have been granted human rights and a fuckin’ hamster is going to be running the country. This has to stop!6|
The Internet is buzzing with a quote from Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country (1998), a quote that seems to foresee Trump:
|Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported.... At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.... The gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion.... All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.|
Rorty noticed that left-wing academics had stopped trying to help the working classes. Instead, academics were focusing on helping the “victims of oppression,” or had resigned themselves to living in an unjust society. The “academic left” had become “a disaffected gang of spectators, rather than agitators for change.”7
|Nobody [Rorty wrote] is setting up a program in unemployed studies, homeless studies, or trailer-park studies because the unemployed, the homeless, and the residents of trailer parks are not “other” in the relevant sense.|
The academic left was pessimistic and resigned, but in the heartland, the people wanted to hear a hopeful message:
|Outside the academy, Americans still want to feel patriotic. They still want to feel part of a nation which can take control of its destiny and make itself a better place.|
In Trump’s phrase, “Make America Great Again.”
Rorty saw the downside of globalization:
|This world economy will soon be owned by a cosmopolitan upper class which has no more sense of community with any workers anywhere than the great American capitalists of the year 1900.|
The Democratic Party was no longer the friend of the working class: “Under Presidents Carter and Clinton, the Democratic Party has survived by distancing itself from the unions and from any mention of redistribution.” The Sanders campaign filled this gap, and resonated with many voters. One might say that Rorty foresaw Sanders as well as Trump.
Instead of talking about redistribution, the Democrats talked about identity. “The left, both cultural and political, eventually abandoned economic justice in favor of identity politics.”8
|The cultural Left [Rorty writes] has a vision of an America in which the white patriarchs have stopped voting and have left all the voting to be done by members of previously victimized groups. This Left wants to preserve otherness rather than ignore it.|
One might say that Rorty was the first to foresee Trump. But Trump has been musing, in television interviews, about running for President since at least 1988. So it’s possible that someone foresaw Trump’s rise long before Rorty. Certainly Trump himself felt, since at least 1988, that he might run for President, and might win.8B
In December 1987, Jimmy the Greek was on the Letterman Show, and said that Trump could be a good Presidential candidate, could get the Democratic nomination, and could make a strong run against Bush Sr. in the general election. He praised Trump’s intelligence, good looks, and managerial skill. If you combine Jimmy’s analysis of Trump’s talent, and Rorty’s analysis of working-class discontent, then Trump’s election doesn’t seem surprising. Trump shrewdly appealed to the discontent that Rorty noticed; thus, Trump justified Jimmy’s high estimation of his political talent.
I recently read an article about the roots of Trump by Matthew Continetti. I knew that Trump had been influenced by Rick Santorum’s book, Blue Collar Conservatives (2014), and I knew that Trump had been impressed by Santorum’s 2012 campaign, which came close to winning the Republican nomination; Trump met with Santorum and they discussed Santorum’s book. But I didn’t know that Trump’s roots could be traced back to Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, traced back to the so-called New Right.
Many members of the New Right were from the South and West (Goldwater himself was a Senator from Arizona). These rebels were opposed to the moderate, Eastern, establishment Republicans. They traced their roots to Andrew Jackson rather than Edmund Burke. They aimed to “build cultural siege-cannon out of the populist steel of Idaho, Mississippi, and working-class Milwaukee, and then blast the Eastern liberal establishment to ideo-institutional smithereens.” This sounds like Trump; it comes from Kevin Phillips, author of The Emerging Republican Majority (1969).8C
In 1964, most southern conservatives were still in the Democratic Party. In the 1968 election, many southern conservatives abandoned the Democratic Party, and supported the independent, pro-segregation candidate, George Wallace. Wallace represented
|a broad adversarianism, a being-against. Wallace has no real policies, plans, or platforms, and no one expects them of him; it is sufficient that he is agin and gathers unto him others who are agin, agin the blacks, the intellectuals, the bureaucrats, the students, the journalists, the liberals, the outsiders, the Communists, the changers, above all, agin the Yankee establishment.|
This “adversarianism” seems to be characteristic of many conservatives, from Goldwater to Trump. Buckley once said, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” In an earlier issue, I said that “the Neoconservative movement was against more than it was for.”
Nixon managed to attract southern conservatives, strengthening the Republican Party; in 1972, Nixon won re-election in a landslide. But when Ford replaced Nixon in 1974, he angered the New Right by choosing Nelson Rockefeller as his VicePresident. Rockefeller was “the very symbol of old, Eastern, liberal establishment Republicanism.”
In 1976, Reagan came out of the West and challenged Ford for the Republican nomination. One of the chief issues of the day, Continetti writes, was whether the U.S. should keep control of the Panama Canal. Reagan and the New Right wanted to keep the Canal. “[Reagan’s] opposition to the Panama Canal Treaties credentialed him as a nationalist and populist.” Continetti mentions a 1978 debate in which Reagan argued for keeping the Canal, Buckley against. On Reagan’s team was a Trump supporter, Pat Buchanan. On Buckley’s team was a Trump critic, George Will.
Reagan united NewRight Republicans and EasternEstablishment Republicans. But the NewRight rebelled against Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush. “The first President Bush was the literal offspring of the Eastern Establishment so detested by the New Right.” In 1992, Buchanan challenged Bush, the incumbent President, for the Republican nomination (Buchanan ran again in 1996).
According to Continetti, Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republican Revolution of 1994, was in sympathy with the NewRight. In the 2016 campaign, Gingrich supported Trump.
Continetti distinguishes between the New Right and the Religious Right:
|The religious right [was] much more friendly to establishments than the New Right.... It defined itself less in oppositional terms. The New Right was against busing, the religious right was for school choice. The exemplary New Right leader is Buchanan. The exemplary religious right leader is President George W. Bush.|
During the administration of George W. Bush, NewRight figures were among Bush’s “most vituperative critics.”
|They opposed the second war with Iraq, increases in federal spending, and reforms of immigration. These critics assailed John McCain and Mitt Romney for betraying “true conservatism.” They cheered Sarah Palin. They marched against amnesty, against tax increases, against Obamacare. They organized Tea Parties.|
Trump represents the NewRight (perhaps I should call it “the old NewRight”). Trump drove a wedge between the NewRight and the Republican Establishment, between what Continetti calls populism and conservatism. Trump antagonized Republican leaders like Mitt Romney, and Republican intellectuals like George Will. “[Trump] is strongest where Wallace was strongest, among whites without college degrees, in the south, in ethnic blue-collar enclaves such as Staten Island.” Trump expresses Wallace’s adversarianism “in its purest, most conspiratorial, most totalistic form.”9
|1.|| Wiser recommends a collection of Burke’s writings edited by Jesse Norman, and a collection of Burke’s letters edited by Harvey Mansfield. back|
|2.|| Instead of “manfully,” we could say “resolutely.” Goethe’s original is resolut.
The Vichy regime in France preached “Work, Family, Fatherland” (Travail, famille, patrie), they scorned the old slogan Liberté, égalité, fraternité. I’m not suggesting that today’s conservatives are akin to French Fascists. All modern political creeds reflect the rise of the middle-class, and the fall of the aristocracy; we live in a democratic age, work is respected more than leisure. back
|3.|| Aesthetics and History in the Visual Arts (1948), Conclusion. This book is sometimes called Aesthetics, Ethics And History in the Arts of Visual Representation. back|
|4.|| One might think that Norpoth would have been impressed by the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, but in fact Norpoth felt that the chances of a Trump victory were even higher if he ran against Sanders. back|
|5.||The only exception, Norpoth says, is 1960. But Norpoth’s “cycle theory” says that Democrats would win in 1960, after two terms of a Republican president, so maybe 1960 isn’t a failure of Norpoth’s system.|
|6.|| Moore deserves credit not only for predicting the winner, but also for predicting the exact states that would turn the tide in Trump’s favor. Moore apparently predicted a Trump victory as far back as July 21. back|
|7.|| This is a quote from the New York Times, not from Rorty. back|
|8.|| This is a quote from the New York Times, not from Rorty. back|
|8B.||Karen Stenner, author of The Authoritarian Dynamic, predicted in 2005 that anti-immigrant feeling would increase: “Intolerance is not a thing of the past, it is very much a thing of the future.” Stenner seemed to foresee Trump, Brexit, etc. Stenner’s argument was summarized by Jonathan Haidt in an essay called “Nationalism Rising: When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism.” Stenner argues that nationalism can’t be dismissed as racism. Nationalists are concerned about preserving’s traditional values and mores; they’re concerned about bringing in large numbers of immigrants who don’t assimilate. This concern is reasonable, Haidt argues: “Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust.... Societies with high trust, or high social capital, produce many beneficial outcomes for their citizens: lower crime rates, lower transaction costs for businesses, higher levels of prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity, among others.”
|8C.||In a BostonGlobe column, Richard North Patterson argued that Republicans have some demographic/geographic advantages. Republican voters are more dispersed than Democratic voters. This gives Republicans an advantage in the electoral college (evident in the 2016 election). It also gives them an advantage in the Senate; North says, “the preponderance of red states over blue also affects the Senate, where Idaho and California each elect two senators.” And finally, Republicans have an advantage in the House: “State legislatures — two thirds of which are controlled by the GOP — [draw] congressional districts that tilt Republican. Half those states also have Republican governors; Democrats enjoy this hammerlock in only six. The result? A GOP that won half the votes cast in congressional elections claimed 55 percent of the seats.”
Patterson says that Democrats are the party of affluence, Republicans the party of discontent: “The 16 percent of counties supporting Clinton accounted for 65 percent of our GNP.” The areas that strongly supported Trump were areas with lots of “underwater” homes (homes likely to be foreclosed), and lots of deaths from drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
Patterson is an author of popular fiction; his works have sold 25 million copies.
|9.||Wallace can be seen as an early version of Trump. Jesse Ventura, the wrestler-turned-politician who was governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003, has also been compared to Trump. And Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was governor of California from 2003 to 2011, followed a Trump-like path from celebrity to politics.
The old split between Eastern Republicans and Western Republicans has reappeared among conservative intellectuals: EastCoast Straussians like Harvey Mansfield and Bill Kristol are anti-Trump, while WestCoast Straussians like Charles Kesler (editor of the Claremont Review) are pro-Trump. WestCoast Straussians like Harry Jaffa supported the NewRight as far back as 1964; Jaffa worked for Goldwater, and authored Goldwater’s famous line, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Jaffa clashed with the Chicago Straussian Allan Bloom. Jaffa criticized Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind in the Straussian journal Interpretation. Bloom was gay, and Jaffa was a fierce critic of homosexuality. back