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Street Corner Conservatives

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While I am handing out plaudits in the Christmas spirit this evening, young Matthew Continetti has also written his best article:

“I have been thinking about Gavin lately because his life and thought so perfectly capture the conservatism of Donald Trump. When you read Gavin, you begin to understand that the idea of Trump as a conservative is not oxymoronic. Trump is a conservative—of a particular type that is rare in intellectual circles. His conservatism is ignored or dismissed or opposed because, while it often reaches the same conclusions as more prevalent versions of conservatism, its impulses, emphases, and forms are different from those of traditionalism, anti-Communism, classical liberalism, Leo Strauss conservatism in its East and West Coast varieties, the neoconservatism of Irving Kristol as well as the neoconservatism of William Kristol, religious conservatism, paleo-conservatism, compassionate conservatism, constitutional conservatism, and all the other shaggy inhabitants of the conservative zoo. …

Trump’s politics are grounded not in metaphysics but in what he understands to be the linguistic root of the term conservative. “I view the word conservative as a derivative of the word conserve,” he has said. “We want to conserve our money. We want to conserve our wealth. We want to conserve. We want to be smart. We want to be smart where we go, where we spend, how we spend. We want to conserve our country. We want to save our country.”

The conservatism of Donald Trump is not the conservatism of ideas but of things. His politics do not derive from the works of Burke or Disraeli or Newman, nor is he a follower of Mill or Berlin or Moynihan. There is no theory of natural rights or small government or international relations that claims his loyalty. When he says he wants to “conserve our country,” he does not mean conserve the idea of countries, or a league of countries, or the slogans of democracy or equality or freedom, but this country, right now, as it exists in the real world of space and time. …”

As it happens, this is the reason why Donald Trump electrified the Alt-Right. Good for Matthew Continetti for trying to understand Trump’s appeal.

American conservatives are classical liberals. It is a really confusing term. It suggests they want to conserve something real like a people or their culture, but the movement is really about fidelity to liberal abstractions like Freedom and Equality and Democracy. Conservatives are really into the Free Market and the Constitution.

I’m a “conservative” in the European sense of the term. I want to “conserve” concrete things like my nation, its people, its culture. I’m skeptical of abstract universal ideologies. I identify with previous generations and feel a sense of duty to pass on their legacy to my descendants. Instead of “principles,” I believe in permanent interests. I liked Trump because his pitch wasn’t about the usual conservative buzzwords like Freedom or American Exceptionalism. He talked about our interests and what he could do for us.

Trump came to the South and promised to build a Great Wall on the Mexican border. He went to Appalachia and promised to end the War on Coal. He went to the Rust Belt and vowed he would be tough on China and renegotiate free-trade agreements. He went to the Midwest and heard what the farmers had to say about the EPA. He also promised that he would change course and avoid disastrous wars like the Iraq War.

Remember the huge crowd that Trump attracted in Mobile, AL last summer when the little ¡Jeb! plane flew over the stadium with the banner “Trump 4 higher taxes. Jeb 4 Prez”? That moment was symbolic of everything that followed in the campaign:

They honestly believed the people of the Deep South were National Review conservatives. This region used to be known as the “Old Southwest” (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida Panhandle) and produced America’s leading populists – in Alabama, Big Jim Folson and George Wallace, in Mississippi, the Great White Chief James K. Vardaman and Theodore “The Man” Bilbo, in Louisiana, Huey “The Kingfish” Long.

Again, the conservatives didn’t get what was happening because they think in terms of grandiose liberal abstractions. They don’t think of concrete peoples with their own peculiar cultures, history, worldview and interests.


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