Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Must "Conservative" Mean "Right Wing?"

Republican party (represented by an elephant) being dragged rightwards, by Wendy Cockcroft
Today's New York Times continues to chronicle the rise of Donald Trump and his ever-increasing popularity. Interestingly, it points out that the Establishment figures running the party tend to set policy based on the demands and needs of the party donors, while Trump's popularity is that he promises to meet the demands and needs of the people. Let's take a closer look.

The men and the message

When Neil Irwin, the Senior economic correspondent at The New York Times's The Upshot posted this tweet:

I was quick to dismiss it as a pig in full drag. Read through the full text of Speaker Ryan's press release to see why Irwin didn't argue back:

[Jack Kemp] was a conservative willing—no, eager—to go to America’s bleakest communities and talk about how free enterprise could lift people out of poverty.

...And in 1981 the Kemp-Roth bill was signed into law, lowering tax rates, spurring growth, and putting millions of Americans back to work. - FULL TEXT: Speaker Ryan on the State of American Politics

The message and the meaning

Ryan may be sorry about the way the message was delivered and the divisiveness and identity politics that resulted from it but he remains convinced that the core tenets of Republican conservatism itself is low taxes and the abandonment of public assistance programs. Amusingly, since the logical endpoint of this paradigm is that public spending on poverty relief causes more problems than it solves, anyone who is in a position to put an end to it should do so forthwith — or be replaced by someone who will.

Enter "A wealthy businessman with tea party ties" who has so far declined to be named, who intends to run against Speaker Ryan in the national elections in America later on this year because he's annoyed with him for failing to implement their right wing agenda.

Trump's message

Donald Trump plays a populist tune; eliminate immigration from Southern America and Muslim countries, end FTAs that go against the public interest, and a promise to overthrow the corrupt elites who rule America now. He's as racist as hell; an ignorant, arrogant buffoon. The difference between him, the likes of Paul Ryan and those secret one percenters who wish to kick him out of office, is that he never resorts to sophistry. With Trump, what you see is what you get. That is why he seems likely to win the Republican presidential nomination, God help us. And since the logical endpoint of Trumpism is, well, Trump, there's nowhere else to go but off a cliff or back into the open arms of the various branches of right-wing nutbucketry. But does it have to be that way?

An alternative message

I've been lamenting the state of conservative thought for some time now, decrying the fact that for all that it's supposed to be about upholding traditional values, it's not interested in the communities from which those values come.

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.

...The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul. 

...If you want to live, get out of Garbutt. - Chaos in the Family, Chaos in the State: The White Working Class’s Dysfunction, by Kevin D. Williamson for the National Review

Katie Hopkins's American counterpart Ann Coulter is only saying what other privileged white right-wingers are saying and thereby shovelling poor voters into Trump's truck with every word they say. At least back in 2012 they could pretend that they were John Galt or that the takers Mitt Romney was referring to didn't include them. The mask has been pulled off now so for people on low incomes it's a straight up choice between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders depending on how invested they are in the culture wars and identity politics.

Where conservatism is now

David Brooks has written a fantastic op-ed in the New York Times on what is happening in the conservative movement at the moment. As the rank and file come to terms with the fact that the Republican party is owned and controlled by radical right-wingers who care nothing for their communities because they lack economic value as if that's the only value there is, they cast about for someone who at least pretends to give a rat's and the best they can come up with is Trump. As the candidate selection date draws ever nearer the party seems set to implode. I'd never clocked Brooks as being on the sidelines eating popcorn and watching the fun but see what he says:

Trump is prompting what Thomas Kuhn... called a model crisis.

According to Kuhn, intellectual progress is not steady and gradual. It’s marked by sudden paradigm shifts. There’s a period of normal science when everybody embraces a paradigm that seems to be working. Then there’s a period of model drift: As years go by, anomalies accumulate and the model begins to seem creaky and flawed.

Then there’s a model crisis, when the whole thing collapses. Attempts to patch up the model fail. Everybody is in anguish, but nobody knows what to do.

That’s where the Republican Party is right now.

...[Trump] will almost certainly go down to a devastating defeat, either in the general election or — God help us — as the worst president in American history.

...At that point the G.O.P. will enter what Kuhn called the revolution phase. During these moments you get a proliferation of competing approaches, a willingness to try anything. People ask different questions, speak a different language, congregate around a new paradigm that is incommensurate with the last.
That’s where the G.O.P. is heading. - The Post-Trump Era, by David Brooks for the New York Times

What conservatism could be

I've been arguing for years for a conservatism built on and around the community; what better way to promote traditional values than to reinforce and normalise them as part of community life? We are social creatures, that's where all the traditional gender roles and the expectations that go with them actually come from. To break up the community, then, is to dismantle the framework on which tradition hangs. That is why telling people if they want to live, get out of Garbutt is the wrong approach; we're not set up to be a nomadic society. No, I'm not advocating for a dole solution to the unemployment problem but some kind of investment in a sustainable employment scheme that can pay for itself down the line might give the Mikes of this world their self-respect back.

Conservatism needs to change, and if it's to be for the better, we need to root out the destructive elements that make its ideologies so damn harmful to our society. Rule of thumb; if it doesn't benefit society at the local and regional level, ditch it. Can we all agree on that, please?

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