Conservatism Is Dead

It is no longer anything but a naked pursuit of power.

1. The Red Menace

Remember when socialism was the biggest threat to America? To the extent that the Trump 2020 campaign had a theme, that was it: Stop socialism!

The animating idea was roughly: Joe Biden is a secret socialist. Or so weak that he will be controlled by socialists. And if he wins the presidency, Biden will usher in an age of “socialism” that will destroy the economic prosperity that has been delivered by the free market.

This argument was used throughout the entirety of the campaign. (If you want a laugh, go look at the photos of Marco Rubio appearing with Don Jr. at a “Fighters Against Socialism” event.)

Over the weekend, a group of private companies—Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google—decided that they no longer wanted to give away their free services to people and organizations who used them to advocate for the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Shortly after that, a group of private companies—Amazon Web Services, Stripe, PayPal, Braintree—decided that they no longer wanted to do business with people and organizations which advocate for the overthrow of the U.S. government.

And the reaction of the conservative movement has been . . . to demand that the government force these private companies to act differently. Because the new conservative position is that private companies which do not act in such a manner as conservatives prefer should be regarded as “public utilities.”

This is hypocrisy, obviously. But not just hypocrisy. This is the authentic expression of a worldview: Conservatism is no longer about anything but power.

2. True Conservatism Has Never Been Tried!

When Donald Trump first annexed the Republican party there was a lot of talk in conservative circles about True Conservatism. There were people from the Reagan/fusionism years who insisted that their precepts represented the True Conservatism and that the Trumpists were an aberration. 

The Trumpists, on the other hand, argued that their brand of ethno-nationalism was the True Conservatism that had finally displaced a failed, dead consensus.

Many of the arguments between these camps were less about right and wrong, truth and falsity, and more about turf: Who was the True Conservative and who was the heretic?

This argument was always boring. Who cares who the True Conservative is, in the academic sense?

The interesting argument was instead: Which view now carries the banner of “conservatism” in the world as it is?

And the last few weeks have provided a definitive answer. The majority of people who identify as “conservative” support the overthrow of the U.S. government.

This is the most clarifying moment imaginable because it puts all of the other “conservative” positions of the last four years into perspective. It provides one coherent, overarching theme which explains all else: the lust for power.

Everything from the encouragement of street violence, to the ramming through of Amy Coney Barrett, to the desire to nationalize Silicon Valley companies makes sense once you understand that power—and power alone—is now the organizing principle of conservatism.

I have many conservative friends who will object and say that True Conservatism is grounded in ideas about human flourishing: gratitude, conservation, caution, prudence. And surely, those ideas exist in the world and have a great deal of wisdom. But they are no longer “conservative” ideas. They are something else.

In this sense, it is useful to think about pre-2016 “conservatism” as a dead language. We can argue about how the language died, whether it was gradual, bottom-to-top, or radical. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is, as a functional matter, dead.

What good is it to claim that Old English is the “True English” if only a handful of academics speak it?

Because that’s where we are now. The animating ideas of what used to be called conservatism still exist, here and there. Mostly at think tanks and and on op-ed pages where people don’t want to face reality. But “conservatism” as it exists in the real world has no use for those ideas. Conservatism today means only one thing: the raw pursuit of power, for its own ends. And in this, it is diametrically opposed to all of the ideas that used to be called conservative.

Anyone who does not recognize that—anyone who refuses to confront the world as it is and insists that Old English is the True English—is participating in a dangerous delusion.

Embrace reality. Fight the delusions.

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3. Baseball Cards

Usually I give you longform stuff to read here, but today I want to give you a micro-read from a buddy of mine who runs an Instagram account which posts nothing but pictures of baseball rookie cards with little stories about them. Here’s something he posted last week:

Washington is very much on my mind. It got me thinking about a special moment from childhood, which I appreciated at the time for much different reasons than I do now.  Far richer and deeper reasons, I think. 

When I was 12, the principal of my middle school was one of the most likeable guys you could ever meet. He was approachable, smart, funny, but tough when he needed to be. One day he saw a few of us kids looking at baseball cards and started talking about how when he was a kid, he was a big Senators fan and idolized a player named Mickey Vernon.

Vernon was a left-handed first baseman who had a few decent seasons before going off to war, came back, and became a very good player, one who remarkably had some of his best seasons after he turned 35. Anyhow, my principal told us about meeting Mickey once or twice at Griffith Stadium, and how he always wanted one of his baseball cards. He asked if we ever came across one, to get it for him and he'd pay us back. 

Not long after, I was at my LCS [local card shop] looking through a box of old cards, and came across a very well-loved 1951 Bowman Mickey Vernon. I purchased it for my principal and was thrilled to have found it for him. I brought it to school Monday, and he was overjoyed. He paid me back (it was $11 - a princely sum!) and I was happy with my good deed. He sent me a handwritten letter via mail thanking me again for the card and how much it meant to him. How it made him feel like a kid again, looking up to his hero Mickey Vernon. I felt great!

But as a kid, I didn't know what it felt like to "feel like a kid again." And now I do. I've written about this before, but I now know what it means to reconnect with things that meant so much to us as children. In the mess that is the present day, these totems of innocence are great medicine. And I now realize what little dose of true happiness I helped provide my principal that day.

So keep collecting, keep feeling the joy of staying in touch with the past, staying grounded in the present, and always looking forward to a hopefully brighter future.

Here is Mickey Vernon on his 1949 Bowman rookie card.

Hang in there, everyone. Remember: We’re all in this together.