Conservatism: Trump and Beyond

That’s the title of Frank Buckley’s wonderful essay in the newest issue of Modern Age. It’s a meditation on why the conservative establishment, the liberal establishment, and the libertarian establishment all missed the rise of Donald Trump:

The four pillars of the Trump movement, themes that resonated with his supporters and that were largely ignored by conservative intellectuals, were mobility, jobs, religion, and nationalism. What they gave us was a very different party, one that is socially conservative and economically liberal or middle of the road, the polar opposite of the libertarian’s social liberalism and economic conservatism.

While the Kevin Williamsons of the world cast aside tens of millions of their own citizens, Trump instead focused on jobs for the reason Buckley lays out:

The NeverTrumper had assumed that the white working class had lost its jobs because it smoked Oxy, because of moral poverty. But there’s another explanation. Maybe they smoked Oxy because they had lost their jobs. Maybe it was really about jobs after all and not a sudden loss of virtue. The highest death rates from mental disorders and substance abuse are in the counties with higher unemployment rates and fewer prime-age males in the labor force. A 2.6 percent increase in the state unemployment rate is associated with a 29 percent increase in suicides and an 84 percent increase in accidental poisonings.

And how, unlike the American Founders, modern “conservatives” conserved the rhetoric of rights while divorcing rights from their grounding in the duties we owe to our families, communities, and God:

Second, some conservatives became prisoners of rights talk, of abstract theories of natural rights and the idea that political and moral issues come down to rights owed to oneself. One part of their moral sense expanded and like a tumor crowded out that part which asks what is owed to others and what a sense of empathy would ask of one.

That’s not to deny the appeal of natural rights, which very properly play a role in our moral discourse. A society is to be judged in part on whether it respects democratic rights and the right to practice one’s religion. But with a sense of empathy, we’d also care about how other people fare, about the consequences of adhering to a set of rights.

I could quote more, but I would end up block quoting the entire piece. It’s that good. Please read it.

About Tom Doniphon

Tom Doniphon is not, as you may imagine, an iconic character from John Ford's greatest western. He is, rather, a writer in the Midwest. The moniker, suffice to say, is a pseudonym.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.