Writings and observations

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Sure does make a difference when the people you’re talking about are on your “team,” and when they’re not. Partly for this reason I’ve never much been a team-joiner (on more than an ad-hoc basis) and especially in politics, because the membership so often seems to impose a kind of willful blindness.

The national conservative intellectual crowd has for many a year made excuses and alliances, and general common cause, with rural low-income whites because (you always had to suspect) it got something out of it: Shared Republican votes. In this year, however, there’s been a splinter, a massive shift of those rural white votes away from the Republican mainstream and over toward Donald Trump.

And the conservative intellectual crew, most noticeably at te National Review, has been responding.

The NR’s Kevin Williamson has cut loose in a big way, in the most recent edition, at the complaints of the people in rust belt, Appalachian, small town and rural areas which have been abandoned by factories and others sources of economic growth, and have begun to discover that the GOP establishment hasn’t really had much in the way of solutions to offer them. Williamson wrote:

“It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves. If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.”

And he goes on: “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. . . . 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.”

So much for the National Review‘s erstwhile allies: Communities that deserve to die and – since any kind of socialized held would be anathema to a movement conservative – people who ought to just go ahead and do likewise, because they deserve no better. They’re just mangy dogs who whelp children with no moral concern or conscience. Are they even human? Up for debate.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth in what he’s saying. There is. But it’s not the whole truth. And to argue (as he does) that political, corporate and other external forces haven’t done a massive share of damage to these places and people is simply ignorant. All those factories weren’t shuttered because the workers decided not to punch in.

Williamson was maybe the most blunt of a group of conservative writers starting down this path, but he is not alone. The turn to Trump has tuurned them off – no great surprise there, since they never really had much in common other than the line on the ballot.

Writer Matthew Yglesias, reflecting on this, pointed out that “these are essays making the case that suffering white working-class communities don’t deserve help of any kind. That’s a correct application of the strict principles of free market ideology, but it’s also a signpost of how American political discourse has changed since the end of the Cold War. If you said in 1966, or even 1986, “Well, strict application of free market principles implies the death of a huge number of traditional American communities and massive suffering among their working-class residents,” then elites — including conservative elites — would say to themselves, “Well, then, these people are going to stage a communist revolution.” . . . It was taken for granted that the governing class had an obligation — a practical one, if not a moral one — to actually make the system work for average people. Over the past 20 years, that idea has been increasingly abandoned on the American right. Donald Trump’s popularity and these pieces in National Review are the consequences of that shift.”

If that were all, the significance probably would be too small to bother with, at least beyond this year. But something has been unleashed here. People long thought to be tied down politically and philosophically are changing ground. And we may be only on the front end of that.

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