February 25, 2018


An Enemies List Is Not a Philosophy (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, February 25, 2018, National Review)

Conservatives used to boast that the Right has ideas, while the Left has only an enemies list. There was a time when that was true, but it isn't true anymore. [...]

Republicans have never been entirely immune to that sort of thing, of course: "Pink right down to her underwear," welfare queens, etc. Republican appeals to our baser instincts have historically been couched in expressions of nationalism. T. Boone Pickens, visiting the offices of National Review, flew into a rage when I suggested that his plan to mandate the use of natural gas in trucking was in fact a plan to put a whole lot of money into the pockets of T. Boone Pickens, thundering: "You must be in favor of foreign oil!" Donald Trump's early focus on the issue of illegal immigration was clever in that it offers the combination of a real issue -- illegal immigration is a genuine problem, as is the persistence of poorly assimilated immigrant ghettos around the country -- while also appealing to the strain of xenophobia that has always been associated with populist politics in the United States, currently most energetic on the right side of the political spectrum. (But it is by no means exclusively a right-wing phenomenon: Senator Bernie Sanders, the grumpy Muppet socialist from Vermont, talked a great deal like Trump on immigration during the Democratic primary, denouncing the "open borders" view as a billionaires' plot to undermine the American working man.) But from the 1980s until approximately the day before yesterday, the Republican party was an instrument of the conservative movement. It was the inverse of the Democratic party, in which various intellectual tendencies and political constituencies serve the party and are dominated by it. The Republican party was more strongly an ideological organization, the Democratic party more strongly a collection of interest groups. (Of course both parties are both things, but the GOP has long been the more ideologically rigorous of the two.) The Republican party had invective, of course, but it also had ideas, and, especially in the 1980s, a lively and enriching transatlantic relationship with conservatives in the United Kingdom. Intellectuals such as Milton Friedman and Jeane Kirkpatrick were enormously influential figures, especially for young conservatives, and the most prominent spokesman for conservative views was William F. Buckley Jr.

Rick Brookhiser is right to insist that the emergence of Fox News as the Right's loudest voice was a "gigantic mistake, frenzied and stupefying." It has left the Right angrier and less intelligent -- and it has made the Right more like the Left in its instinctive reliance on the enemies-list model of politics. You've seen how this works by now, I'm sure. The Parkland students get some predictably good press for this gun-control rally, and Fox News jackasses like David Clarke see the shadowy hand of George Soros. The special counsel hands down another passel of criminal indictments against Trump's campaign executives, and the real story is all about . . . Hillary Clinton. The enemies list is long: "elites," Washington insiders, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bill Kristol, the Deep State, Barack Obama, out there, somewhere, scheming . . .

Conservative critics of Trump receive a constant complaint: "You don't know who your friends are or, even worse, who the enemy is." Warming to the "moral equivalent of war" -- in this case, the Cold War -- they insist that we must smile and nod and happily swallow whatever unsalted s**t sandwich is being served up today because to do anything else is to give aid and comfort to the "cultural Marxists," one of the most ridiculous bits of voguish new terminology on the right. For them, it's always the end of the country, the republic hanging by a thread. It's a fundamentally unserious view of the world that serves mainly to provide its adherents with a form of emotional catharsis that is not at its root about politics at all. They get a frisson of virility when they hear the president -- the president of the United States of America -- describe his political rivals as "treasonous." The idea that opposition to the Big Boss is opposition to the nation itself -- that to criticize the Big Boss is treason -- is a very ancient superstition, and a very stupid one.

But these are stupid times, especially for Republicans, who in their pursuit of fleeting political advantage must pretend to be something other than what they are and pretend that Trump is something other than what he is. The easiest way to get through that is to do what the Left has been doing since the 1950s -- convince yourself that the alternative is Hitler. (And, hey, if you read Dinesh D'Souza, you know that George Soros was a Nazi, right? And Soros is behind . . . everything.) And that works, if you don't think too hard about it, which doesn't seem to be an obviously pressing problem for Sean Hannity and his ilk. But as Republicans work their way down their enemies list, they ought to stop, if only for a moment, to ask what it is they are working their way towards. This year at the annual CPAC conference, the president and the vice president shared billing with Marion Maréchal-Le Pen of the French fascist political dynasty. Funny that some of her admirers on the American right such as the gentlemen at Breitbart are fond of denouncing their critics as "Vichy" conservatives. If you're looking for the road to Vichy, ask the Le Pens -- they know the way, if that's the way you want to go.

It is wrong though to say that the Right and Left aren't idea-based as well; it's just that they can't honestly state those ideas because they are so repellant to Americans.

Posted by at February 25, 2018 9:55 AM