What Caused the Conservative Crack Up?


Steve Hayward has written an indispensable guide to what he calls the “conservative Black Swan event” precipitated by the candidacy of Donald Trump. Few could have done it so well.  Hayward does it right because he plays it straight. This is not an election year polemic, but an honest and educated look at the deep divisions on the Right. One of the good guys, Steve describes himself and his role thus:

I have good friends who are enthusiastic pro-Trumpers and good friends who are adamant Never Trumpers, and I’m doing my best to stick with my friends. I’ve always been a fusionist conservative, finding merit and insight in every corner of the right-wing galaxy and often acting the diplomat in trying to reconcile the competing kingdoms in our ideological game of thrones. 

Yet, his is not a plaintive cry of “Why can’t we all just get along.” It’s an explanation of the crisis in American politics – a century or more in the making – that brought the nation to the point that the Democrats nominated the corrupt and corrupting Hillary Clinton and Republican voters’ best option to oppose her coronation was political novice Donald Trump. It is not an electoral issue to be fixed at the mid-terms, it is a political and cultural sickness that demands a determined response from the people themselves.

Hayward offers, if not yet a cure, at least a a diagnosis:

What is that crisis? It’s not the litany of items that usually come to mind—the $20 trillion national debt, economic stagnation, runaway regulation, political correctness and identity politics run amok, unchecked immigration that threatens to work a demographic-political revolution, and confused or unserious policy toward radical Islamic terrorism. These are mere symptoms of a much deeper but poorly understood problem. It can be stated directly in one sentence: Elections no longer change the character of our government…

The political character of the administrative state is more important than the economic inefficiency or arbitrariness of bureaucracy that is the usual target of conservative ire, because it represents a new answer to the classic political question: Who should rule? The premise of the Constitution is that the people should rule. The premise of the administrative state, explicitly expressed by Woodrow Wilson and other Progressive-era theorists, is that experts should rule, in a new administrative form largely sealed off from political influence, i.e., sealed off from the people.

In a particularly damning critique of conservative geekery and its tendency to miss the forest for the trees, Hayward offers this:

In opposition to the slow-motion Progressive assault on self-rule by the people, the conservative establishment has been offering mostly what can be called “checklist conserv-atism,” i.e., policy ideas with indirect or negligible political effect. What do Progressives stand for? Justice, equality, and the “right side of history”! What do conserv-atives stand for? More tax cuts, school choice, enterprise zones, a balanced-budget amendment, medical savings accounts, a statutory cost-benefit standard for regulation, and other policy wonkery. All worthy ideas, to be sure, but none of them reach very far to halt the steady unraveling of constitutional government.

And then Hayward quotes this bit from John Marini, who has probably done more than any other scholar to explain the threat to self-government posed by the Left and the administrative state.

Post-modern intellectuals have pronounced their historical judgment on America’s past, finding it to be morally indefensible. Every great human achievement of the past—whether in philosophy, religion, literature, or the humanities—came to be understood as a kind of exploitation of the powerless. Rather than allowing the past to be viewed in terms of its aspirations and accomplishments, it has been judged by its failures. The living part of the past is understood in terms slavery, racism, and identity politics. Political correctness arose as the practical and necessary means of enforcing this historical judgment. No public defense of past greatness could be allowed to live in the present. Public morality and public policy would come to be understood in terms of the formerly oppressed.

As with anything Hayward writes, take the time to read the whole thing: Crisis of the Conservative House Divided.

Get the news corporate media won't tell you.

Get caught up on today's must read stores!

By submitting your information, you agree to receive exclusive AG+ content, including special promotions, and agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms. By providing your phone number and checking the box to opt in, you are consenting to receive recurring SMS/MMS messages, including automated texts, to that number from my short code. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end. SMS opt-in will not be sold, rented, or shared.

About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk