Asheville Daily Planet, March 2020
I was intrigued by a headline in this Opinion section last December: “President Trump is right about today’s fake news climate.” It appeared over the “Candid Conservative” column.
The Candid Conservative and Trump? I expected satire.
But deeper in, the columnist, Carl Mumpower, wrote: “That’s why President (Donald) Trump is correct in calling out a parade of fake news marketed as something more virtuous. Most conservative thinkers agree with him.”
The page should have lit up, “TILT!” Conservatives come in many shapes — political, economic, religious, lifestyle and more — but through them all runs a common thread. I was surprised to see that thread extended to Donald Trump.
Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk wrote of conservatism in 1993 as something almost spiritual: “(Conservatism) is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order. The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata.”
What is this body of sentiment? Kirk continued: “The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.…Necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.”
I read Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative in 1963 in the Philippines. I remember discussing it with a Peace Corps volunteer. I defended Goldwater. It defined well what Kirk meant by a “way of looking at the civil social order.”
Goldwater wrote: “The conservative respects the political institutions and customs and traditions which he has inherited, particularly the Constitution of the United States and other great documents of our nation. He believes our heritage of ordered freedom is the product of great wisdom and much practical experience.”
William F. Buckley put it this way: “A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!”
Donald Trump’s life and governance are polar opposite to conservative devotion to an ordered world. He has total disregard for norms and rules. Now that he’s been acquitted, we’re watching his contempt for the rule of law, openly rewarding his friends and punishing those who stand up to him. Gradual change? Demolition of established institutions is more likely.
And yet, somehow, he has won and retained the adoration of many conservatives — including, apparently, the Candid Conservative. In 2018, he enthused:
“President Trump’s renewal of 21st century conservatism tracks to his one relentless dedication – an unyielding refusal to manage the decline of America. These phenomena begins [sic] and ends [sic] with two words – President Trump. We are living in one of those rare – MLK, Gandhi, Churchill, Reagan [sic], Washington – moments where one man with a courage button is turning the world upside down.”
Shortly after Mumpower’s December column, an article came to my computer by conservative economist Jeffrey Tucker, “How Trumpism Swallowed Conservatism.” It is stark. He sets his opening scene at FreedomFest, an annual gathering of conservative and libertarian intellectuals:
“In the summer of 2015, Donald Trump came to FreedomFest..as an eccentric outsider. Almost a gate crasher. People wondered why he was there. He presented his message of protectionism and immigration restrictionism, while railing against Iran and China. Only a strong leader can save us from them, was his message. So far from Reaganism was his message that it was surprising that he received even a smattering of applause.
“The next year, it was different….I spoke from the FreedomFest stage with warnings that Trump’s ideology is neither libertarian nor conservative but from a different tradition altogether, one that was historically and philosophically statist [a political theory where the state has great control]. I was booed by perhaps two-thirds of the audience….I did the same the next year – Trump was now president – and I was basically shouted down. I’m glad no one in the audience was carrying vegetables.”
So Mumpower is seemingly in step with many others. Trump seems to have scattered the conservative movement like a weasel in the henhouse.
This conservative surrender to Trumpism is so shocking that we have to wonder how deep it runs.
Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative talk show host and editor, thinks it’s not very deep. He said (in the context of his intention to vote for Trump in 2020): “I think most Republicans correctly see Trump more as a vehicle for policy priorities than as a thought-leader, which makes sense, because thought-leaders need to have thoughts.”