Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

How the Right Lost Its Mind

Charles J. Sykes

St. Martin's Press

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CHAPTER 1

DID WE CREATE THIS MONSTER?


The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

—W. B. YEATS

SO HOW DID THIS happen?

How did the right wander off into the fever swamps of the Alt Right? How did it manage to go from Friedrich Hayek to Sean Hannity, from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump? How did it create an alternative-reality silo that indulged every manner of crackpot, wing-nut conspiracy theory? How did a movement that was defined by its belief in individual liberty, respect for the constitution, free markets, personal responsibility, traditional values, and civility find itself embracing a stew of nativism, populism, and nationalism? How did the thought leaders of the movement find themselves tossed aside as “cuckservatives”?

When exactly did conservatives start to lose their minds?

Was it the day the Drudge Report began linking to the fevered conspiracy rantings of a guy named Alex Jones? Was it when the GOP thought it might be a good idea to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the Oval Office? Was it the rise of the Tea Party or when Rush Limbaugh called a young female law student a “slut,” and his career began to implode? Was it when they outsourced their thought leadership to the perpetually outraged? Or when Ann Coulter began her rants about Mexican rapists? Did the Right’s intellectual implosion begin when conservatives began to get their information from their Facebook news feeds? When conservatives replaced Bill Buckley with late-night Twitter rants? When they made fiscal promises they couldn’t keep?

Was Stephen King right when he wrote: “Conservatives who for 8 years sowed the dragon’s teeth of partisan politics are horrified to discover they have grown an actual dragon”?1 Or did it start long before that?

From the outside, political movements can look monolithic, even coherent—especially when there is a dearth of actual conversation with the people who comprise it. For years, progressives have indulged in hostile generalizations about the Right, a pastime made easier by the fact that they seldom read conservative books or magazines or listened with much attention to what conservatives were saying.

So the Right may have looked formidable, but the reality is that it was a mess—a contentious collection of disparate, often contradictory ideas and querulous and warring factions of libertarians, chamber of commerce types, traditionalists, and social conservatives. For years there have been deep fissures in a movement that calls itself conservative but supports an economic system that was designed to be creatively destructive, that supports traditional values but also a limited government. There are inherent tensions in a party that claims to be the party of “freedom” but also of national security and law and order. Consider that in recent years “conservative” had come to mean “radical change agent,” and you see the difficulties. Those were very real tensions, but not necessarily contradictions.

Over decades, conservative thought leaders had sought to knit together those various interpretations of conservativism, carefully balancing culture, individual responsibility, and politics through the concept of ordered liberty. This was the essential equilibrium of modern conservatism that was shattered by the rise of Donald Trump.

Trump, we were told, “tapped into something.” Yes he did; something disturbing that we had ignored and perhaps nurtured—a shift from an emphasis on freedom to authoritarianism and from American “exceptionalism” to nativism. The movement’s slow-motion repudiation of the Reagan legacy has many dimensions, but none more so than the rejection of his optimistic agenda and its replacement by the darker paranoid side of the Right. Where Reagan had famously called on Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” Donald Trump was proposing to build one—a big, beautiful wall to shut people out from Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” Those of us who pointed that out found ourselves increasingly isolated, disoriented, and ultimately disillusioned. It was, indeed, a clarifying moment for conservatism. The extent of the movement’s abandonment of Reaganism was on full display at the first major conservative event of 2017, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), as the ideas that had animated conservativism—such as small government and free trade—were supplanted by the new cult of personality/entertainment politics that has gripped the Right. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway quipped that CPAC was becoming TPAC; with “Trump” replacing the word “Conservative.” Indeed, noted one commentator, the conference revealed an “ideology conforming to an individual rather than the other way around.… Anyone searching for a brand of conservatism independent of the new president would have walked away sorely disappointed.”2*

The reality is that a genuinely “conservative” party would never have nominated a Donald Trump; a right-wing nationalist party or one without fixed principles would have no problem doing so. While Trump’s nomination has been described as a “hostile takeover,” it was not a complete outlier, as conservatives had long ago replaced rational policy discussions with the politics of lowest-common-denominator angry populism. A movement once driven by ideas found itself dominated by Kardashian-like talking point reciters, intellectually dishonest shills, cynical careerists, and Alt Right bullies. Recent debates among conservatives, one commentator gibed, “show[ed] the nuanced differences between a YouTube comments section and a chain email to your grandfather.” Conservative “leaders” did not merely regurgitate “talking points” but became addicted to word salads of conservative clichés—“establishment,” “globalist,” “elites”—that became substitutes for actual thought. This has paralleled a surge in the anti-intellectualism in American life, perhaps facilitated by compromises among the people whose judgment and ideas I once relied upon and trusted.

In this environment, conformity was demanded—on language, attitudes, and even tactics. Since even the mildest of dissent was punished by withering fire on air and through social media—“RINO!”—it was not surprising that original, fresh thinking was discouraged. What creative public policy innovation occurred took place far from the increasingly populist, ranting heart of the movement. It is not as if we weren’t warned. After years of carefully building an impressive intellectual infrastructure, conservatives thought they were poised to move ahead with a coherent philosophy of governing, only to have principled conservative ideas drowned out in a tsunami of misinformation and demagoguery. But even before the rise of Donald Trump, there were signs of deep dysfunction in the conservative ranks, raising questions about its ability to govern.

Critics on both the right and left warned that the GOP often seemed fat, lazy, and intellectually sclerotic—out of ideas and out of touch. With its increasingly shrill rhetoric and rejection of political compromise, the conservative movement was unable to adapt to changing realities and increasingly alienated from its own constituencies. It was not simply the conservatives chronically overpromised, it was that their message was often contradictory and incoherent. Even as the Republican base became more Southern, evangelical, and working class, the party’s actual policies tended to focus on the entrepreneurial and business class. “Most traditional conservatives reliably serve large corporate interests, and can be counted on to ignore the basic interests of middle- and working-class voters,” author Joel Kotkin writes.3 That is perhaps an unduly harsh indictment, but the gap between the Right’s actual voting base and the world of conservative think tanks and Washington dealmakers, was widening. Indeed, while the rhetoric of conservatives was often libertarian, their agenda often focused on the use of government power to satisfy the needs of the donor and lobbyist class. In recent years, nearly every major spending bill has been a master class in the art of crony capitalism.

The tone and the language of the Right was also shifting, as columnist Peter Wehner noted, with many conservatives confusing “cruelty, vulgarity, and bluster with strength and straight talk.”4 In the years before embracing Trump, the party flirted with the eccentric candidacies of Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Herman Cain, making each of them temporary presidential front-runners at one point or another.

Such quixotic, self-defeating strategies were often justified on the grounds that they “made liberal heads explode,” or as Palin put it so memorably, “it’s really funny to me to see the splodey heads keep ’sploding.…” The result has been a compulsion to defend anyone attacked by the Left, no matter how reckless, extreme, or bizarre. If liberals hated something, the argument went, then it must be wonderful and worthy of aggressive defense, even if that meant defending the indefensible and losing elections. So conservatives embraced and defended figures like Christine (“I am not a witch”) O’Donnell and lost winnable Senate races with candidates who said bizarre things about rape (Todd Akin) or were just too weird for the electorate (Sharron Angle).

DIVIDED AMERICA

All of this has taken place in the context of our radically divided politics. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that America, far from being “indivisible,” has become two separate virtual nations, divided both intellectually and spatially. Increasingly, Americans have constructed what the Associated Press called “intellectual ghettoes,” where audiences seldom intersect. But this divide is also increasingly geographical as well, reflected in eye-popping charts that divide the country into red and blue. As recently as 1997, 164 of the House of Representatives’ 435 seats were considered “swing districts.” Today, according to an analysis by the Cook Political Report, only about 72 seats are considered competitive. That is less than one in six congressional seats.5 While some of this can be blamed on gerrymandering, it also reflects the way that Americans are sorting themselves out by class and ideology. As political columnist Mike Allen noted, “We are increasingly moving next to people who share our political views—and then following and sharing like-minded news on social media when our doors are closed. This can’t be fixed with better redistricting laws.”6

This division is also reflected in presidential elections, as Americans sort themselves out by lifestyle and politics. Author Bill Bishop, who documented the trend in his book, The Big Sort, illustrates the sorting out process by calculating the number of voters who live in so-called landslide counties, which were carried by 20 percentage points or more. In 1976, when Jimmy Carter narrowly edged Gerald Ford, only about one in four Americans lived in a landslide county. That proportion has grown steadily as the nation’s political polarization accelerated. By 2004 that had risen to 48.3 percent; by 2012, a majority of Americans (50.6 percent) lived in a landslide county. In 2016, the portion of Americans living in deeply blue or deeply red counties surged to 60.4 percent. In rural America, more than three fourths of voters lived in counties that voted overwhelmingly red.

The result, says Bishop is that “any common ground between the two sides has nearly disappeared.”7 Inevitably, that has meant that the worst tendencies of both the right and left have been magnified as we interact less and less with those with whom we may disagree. Our politics becomes less about compromise than confrontation and less about persuasion than about tests of tribal loyalty. “Cross-party friendships are disappearing,” writes Jonathan Haidt. “Manicheaism and scorched earth politics are increasing.”8

The loudest voices on the Right became increasingly strident as they stoked a mood of perpetual outrage. Long before Trump burst upon the scene, Conor Friedersdorf wrote in the Atlantic, “Hugely popular intellectual leaders abandoned the most basic norms of decency, as when Mark Levin screamed at a caller that her husband should shoot himself; stoked racial tensions, as when Rush Limbaugh avowed that in President Obama’s America folks think white kids deserve to get beat up by black kids on busses; and indulged paranoid conspiracy theories, as when Roger Ailes aired month-after-month of Glenn Beck’s chalk-board monologues.”9

Further cranking up the volume, charlatans and grifters sought to exploit the anger for cash and clicks, pushing the GOP into shutting down the government in a maneuver that was nearly as pointless as it was suicidal. And, of course, there were the crackpots, from the darker corners of the fever swamps. Many of us in conservative media brushed them off, because we felt that somehow we could control the crackpottery. How naïve.

BRING IN THE CLOWNS

In 2016, the various denizens of Crazytown who had made cameo appearances on the national stage were first emboldened, then empowered, gleefully crashing the party, overturning the furniture and settled hierarchies as they raucously dismissed traditional gatekeepers. Those who were slow to join the bacchanal were denounced as sellouts and traitors, or perhaps, even worse, elitists. This was all heady stuff that required extraordinary nimbleness: conservatives who had just five minutes earlier agreed that Russia posed a global threat pivoted to embrace Vladimir Putin as an exemplar of white Christian civilization; Tea Party activists who had railed against deficit spending now accepted calls for massive infrastructure spending; the party of free markets endorsed protectionism and an economic policy that seemed driven by personal fear and favor; constitutionalists watched silently as the rule of law was undermined and norms of public integrity ignored. Activists who had clamored to “burn it all down” suddenly pivoted to demand party loyalty and virtual lockstep support of policies, even when they conflicted with fundamental principles or contradicted what the dear leader had previously said.

WHO WERE WE?

We learned a great deal about “conservatives” in recent years; they were passionate in what (and who) they opposed, but they were evidently far less clear in what they supported or believed in. Birtherism resonated far more than Paul Ryan’s patient, wonky analysis of the tax code. Hatred of the media substituted for a coherent governing agenda.

And, as it turned out, Americans were just not that into conservative values. Among conservative voters, principles like constitutionalism, entitlement reform, and even the belief that character mattered turned out to be pie-crust thin, leaving the movement vulnerable to cult of personality politics. Some of the same media figures who gutted GOP leaders for not adopting scorched-earth tactics on budget issues and were willing to read them out of the movement found themselves carrying water for a man who had actually funded many of the Democrats who advanced those policies. Their about-face reflected the degree to which conservativism has come to be dominated by careerists and opportunists for whom the professed beliefs in small government, fiscal restraint, and constitutionalism were merely means to an end (ratings, cash, clicks, power), and thus easily discarded.

“One of the things we learned this year is that the ranks of conservatives as you and I understand them—limited government, the rule of law, working against the new effort to destigmatize dependency on government … that sort of conservative is pretty thin on the ground in the United States,” George Will told me after the election. “Mr. Trump did not seek and therefore did not get … a mandate for dealing with the most predictable crisis in American history: the crisis of the entitlement state that gets worse every day and is clearly unsustainable.… That is because there is no constituency of any significant size for doing some of the kinds of things that this kind of conservatives know have to be done.

“So, the first thing we learned from this was that our numbers are smaller than we thought; that a number of people who called themselves conservatives (and they are free to do so) are not conservatives in the sense that we understand that—of genuinely wanting a smaller government, genuinely worrying about the separation of powers, and the grotesquely swollen president we have under both parties.

“In that sense,” he told me, “what we have learned is that we are a smaller band of brothers and sisters than we thought.”10

THE LEFT AT RAMMING SPEED

There is, of course, another side to this story that also needs to be told; no account of what has happened to the Right would be complete without a discussion of what conservatives thought they were reacting against. For years, conservatives have felt that the Left has been at ramming speed, often ignoring the niceties of congressional action, public opinion, or tolerance of religious differences. There was the passage of Obamacare with the barest of partisan majorities, rammed through on Christmas Eve and a massive stimulus package that threatened to explode the national debt. That was followed (in the eyes of conservatives) by assaults on free speech and religious liberty; the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, John Doe probes into conservative activists in Wisconsin, complete with predawn paramilitary raids; threats to bankrupt the coal industry; and the ongoing vilification of conservative activists and donors.11* On university campuses, activists began enforcing their demands for ideological conformity, complete with lists of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and “safe spaces.”

Decades of scarcely concealed contempt, including the almost reflexive dismissal of conservatives as ignorant racists, had sowed seeds of deep antipathy among conservatives, many of whom felt both disrespected and under attack. All of this often was distorted and exaggerated by the Alt Reality media and their allies, but it is important to understand that the reactionary Right had something to react against.

Democrats often seemed to act as if their victories were preordained, not merely by history but by demographics, assuring themselves that as the nation became younger and more ethnically and racially diverse, it would deliver one victory after another to liberals. Indeed, the liberal Left seldom disappoints in its ability to alienate, offend, and alarm conservatives who may be tempted to stray from the fold; something in its ideological DNA compels it to shock the bourgeoisie, annoy taxpayers, and demonstrate a global disdain for those who are not members of protected classes.

Not content with winning historic victories on gay marriage, some progressives indulged their penchant for labeling opponents as bigots and their religious faith as hatred and discrimination. The goal was not tolerance, but what seemed like a determination to drive dissenters out of polite society and expel them from the public square. Many conservative voters, especially evangelical Christians, came to feel that they were not simply losing the culture war, they were being anathematized by a country they no longer recognized.

During the campaign, commentators on the Left expressed (legitimate) concern that Trump was encouraging violence at some of his rallies. At the same time, conservatives were inundated with stories, links, and video clips of protesters chanting “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!”12 and “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.”13 But on cable television, they watched their concerns about law and order denounced as racial “dog whistles.”

This was especially unfortunate, because the excesses on the Left pushed many small-government conservatives into an unnatural alliance with the authoritarian and nationalistic right. In her 2005 book The Authoritarian Dynamic, Princeton professor Karen Stenner had noted that authoritarianism and political conservatism “appear to be largely distinct predispositions,” and that conservatives, with their abhorrence to government power and radical change “can be a liberal democracy’s strongest bulwark against the dangers posed by intolerant social movements.”

“Those by nature averse to change” she noted, “should find the ‘shining path’ to a ‘glorious future’ far more frightening than exciting, and can be expected to defend faithfully an established order—including one of institutionalized respect for difference and protection of individual freedom—against ‘authoritarian revolution.’”14

This, however required that status quo conservatives be given “reassurances regarding established brakes on the pace of change, and the settled rules of the game to which all will adhere,” as well as “confidence in the leaders and institutions managing social conflict, and regulating the extent and rate of social change.” In her 2005 book Stenner had written:

Liberal democracy would seem least secure when conservatives cannot be persuaded that freedom and diversity are authoritatively supported and institutionally constrained, and when authoritarians can be persuaded that greater sameness and oneness—the “one right way” for the “one true people”—lie just at the other end of the “shining path.”15

Eleven years later, Conor Friedersdorf noted, we saw that scenario play out in the presidential election.16 Rather than reassuring conservatives about the “settled rules of the game,” Democrats began dismantling the filibuster, while President Obama began issuing executive orders and mandates at a dizzying rate.

Caught in their own bubbles, many on the Left ignored and dismissed the concerns that would explode during the 2016 campaign. As the Democrats became a party dominated by a highly educated urban cultural elite, its traditional blue-collar constituencies felt increasingly disenfranchised and disdained. The term “angry white men” was seldom used in the context of asking whether those white men had any legitimate reason to be angry. Instead it was invariably used to argue that we should pay even less attention to their voices and their issues. It is notable that voices on the Left embraced the notion of “white privilege,” even as white working-class America entered a period of acute economic and social decline and blue-collar workers faced the loss of jobs, income, and cohesive communities. Too often, the Left’s rhetoric telegraphed the message to white working-class voters that their concerns were not high on the progressive agenda.

Blaming the backlash solely on racism is a tempting, but lazy reflexive retreat to a rhetorical safe zone for the Left. Crying wolf had serious consequences for both sides, because over time our audiences shrugged off the charges, responding to accusations of racism with an eye roll and “Not this again.” By the time the real thing came along, the Left had used up its rhetorical ammunition, and the Right had become numb to the realities of the bigots around them.

A MORAL FAILURE

But this does not let conservatives off the hook.

For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers, and other conspiracy theorists who indulged fantasies of Obama’s secret Muslim plot to subvert Christendom, or who peddled tales of Hillary Clinton’s murder victims. We treated them like your obnoxious uncle at Thanksgiving. Rather than confront them, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our friends, whose quirks could be indulged or at least ignored. They could rant and pound the table, we thought, but they were merely postcards from the fringe, right? The hope was that the center would always hold, things would not fall apart, and principled conservatives would rise to the occasion. Except they didn’t. That proved to be a moral failure that lies at the heart of the conservative movement, even in its moment of apparent electoral triumph.

It is impossible to say how many conservatives actually harbor racial resentments, but what is undeniable is that a great number of American conservatives have proven themselves willing to tolerate and even accept racism and racial resentment. When Speaker Paul Ryan denounced “textbook racism,” after Trump lashed out at the Mexican American judge in his Trump University lawsuit, he was hit with an avalanche of opprobrium from many of his fellow conservatives who believed that winning the election was more important than distinguishing conservatism from racial animus.

The hard fact is that only a political party that had cultivated an indifference and insensitivity to racial issues could have nominated Donald Trump and embraced him so easily.

Blogger Ben Howe has lamented all the signs we ignored, the times we looked away or simply rolled our eyes when one of our “allies” suggested that Obama was from Kenya or that liberals wanted to impose Sharia law on the country. “People would say outlandish things and I would find myself nodding my head and awkwardly walking away, not calling them out for their silliness,” Howe wrote, because there were more important issues at stake. So, he said, he lied to himself about who they were.

I chose peace over principle. I chose to go along with those I disagreed with on core matters because I believed we were jointly fighting for other things that were more important. I ignored my gut and my moral compass.

The result is that, almost to a man, every single person I cringed at or thought twice about, is now a supporter and cheerleader of Donald Trump.17

THE ALT REALITY RIGHT

I was, of course, well aware that the Right had created an echo chamber. But as authors Kathleen Jamieson and Joseph Cappella noted in 2008, the conservative media were generally united around Reagan conservativism.18 I was part of that and flattered myself that we were helping the audience become savvier, more sophisticated analysts of current affairs and well-informed consumers of news. For years, the relationship among on-air, online, and print conservatives was symbiotic and apparently seamless. On my show I frequently shared with my audience the latest column by Charles Krauthammer or set up topics by reading a Wall Street Journal editorial on air. Other talk shows did likewise, providing a broad forum for conservative authors, editors, and columnists. As long as this nexus held, conservative ideas could be exposed to a much wider audience than Buckley or his generation ever could have imagined.

But as the volume rose and competition for the outrage market intensified, this morphed into an alternative reality bubble that effectively isolated many conservatives from inconvenient information. “The American Right,” Matthew Sheffield writes, “has become willfully disengaged from its fellow citizens thanks to a wonderful virtual-reality machine in which conservatives, both elite and grassroots, can believe anything they wish, no matter how at odds it is with reality.”19 The explosive growth of the Right’s new media infrastructure was fueled by well-heeled conservative donors, dramatically changing the shape of the media and political landscape. A study by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) of more than 1.25 million online stories published between April 1, 2015, and Election Day documented the impact of a “right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart” that had “developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world.” In a remarkably short period of time, the CJR study found, Breitbart had become “the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem,…” All of this was a long time coming. For years, conservatives criticized the bias and double standards of the mainstream media and much of that criticism was richly deserved; conservatives may exaggerate media bias, but they do not merely imagine it. The double standards—something treated as a misdemeanor for a liberal was a felony for a conservative—made for daily fodder. Over the years, I used my own radio show to call out the many failures of the liberal media. What the media has learned (one hopes) is that if you ignore or insult your audience long enough, they will find other sources of information and entertainment. Credibility squandered through bias is not easily restored.

But as we learned in 2016, we had succeeded in convincing our audiences to ignore and discount any information whatsoever from the mainstream media. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the Right’s immunity to false information.

So it should not have come as a surprise when “fake news” became a significant factor in the campaign. After the election, a study by University of Oxford researchers found that “nearly a quarter of web content shared by Twitter users in Michigan during the 10 days before the presidential election was false.” They concluded that “not only did such junk news ‘outperform’ real news, but the proportion of professional news content being shared hit its lowest point the day before the election.” The false information was spread by automated “chatbots” powered by software programs that flooded Twitter with anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages.20 “The use of automated accounts was deliberate and strategic throughout the election,” the researchers concluded.21 The problem was neither small, nor isolated. University of Washington professor Kate Starbird found that there were dozens of “conspiracy-propagating websites,” such as “beforeitsnews.com, nodisinfo.com and veteranstoday.com.” Starbird was able to catalog eighty-one separate sites, “linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots.”22

The proliferation of hoaxes—and the number of gullible voters who believed them—should have inspired some serious introspection among conservatives, but that now seems highly unlikely.

In the wake of the election, the newly weaponized conservative media genuinely believe that they have changed the paradigm of media coverage. In the new Right media culture, negative information simply no longer penetrates; gaffes and scandals can be snuffed out, ignored, or spun; counternarratives can be launched. Trump has proven that a candidate can be immune to the narratives, criticism, and fact-checking of the mainstream media. This was, after all, a campaign in which a presidential candidate trafficked in “scoops” from the National Enquirer and openly suggested that the father of his rival, Senator Ted Cruz, may have been involved in the assassination of JFK. And got away with it.

Indeed, in a stunning demonstration of the power and resiliency of our new postfactual political culture, Trump and his allies in the Right media quickly absorbed, disarmed, and turned the term “fake news” against its critics, draining it of any meaning. Now any news deemed to be biased, annoying, or negative can be labeled “fake news.” It was surely a sign of things to come when Trump used his first press conference after the election to refuse to answer a question from a reporter because he was from a “fake news” media outlet (CNN).

Perhaps even more cringe worthy has been the rise of a new class of pro-Trump “intellectuals” who attempt to impose some coherence and substance on Trumpism. Often they strained to attribute to Trump an ideological lucidity that seems little more than a projection of their own wishful thinking. Even so, Trump’s defenders were often less pro-Trump than anti-anti-Trump, aiming their polemics against the Left and conservatives who have been slow to shift their allegiances. What may have begun as a policy or a tactic in opposition, has long since become a reflex. The New York Times’s James Poniewozik notes that politics today” is attitudinal, not ideological. The reason to be for someone is who is against them. What matters more than policy is your side’s winning, and what matters more than your side’s winning is the other side’s losing.”23 But, as I wrote earlier this year, there is an obvious price to be paid for essentially becoming a party devoted to trolling.24 As the Right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct, just as long as it annoys the Left.

In many ways the new anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery, and bombast. Needless to say, this is not a form of conservatism that Edmund Burke, or even Barry Goldwater, would have recognized.


Copyright © 2017 by Charles J. Sykes