The Faux Conservative Cope Exposed

New York Magazine on Thursday published a brief essay on America’s political divide. It doesn’t say much interesting or new, but it does quote from another essay, written by Joshua Tait for a different publication, which singles out me and several other people associated with the Claremont Institute and American Greatness

Tait clearly doesn’t like us, or what Claremont and American Greatness stand for. But aside from a few barbs about “jingoism” and “racialist alarmism” he never explains why we are wrong to see America today as two nations occupying the same country, or to think that half of the American people no longer have any real attachment to our founding principles. 

Leaving aside its tone, the Tait essay is reasonably accurate in capturing the attitudes expressed by various people in the Claremont-AG orbit, including Tom Klingenstein, Michael Anton, Angelo Codevilla, and others. 

The dismal patriots of the Trumpist right believe that progressive elites have corrupted the founding principles of the United States and so have concluded that the American republic no longer secures their rights. Thus has the root of their patriotism rotted. They—or some of them, at least—reject the very Americanness of a majority of Americans. 

Right. So is that incorrect? Tait doesn’t say we are wrong exactly, and never quite gets around to refuting our “dismal” views about the state of the country. He just doesn’t like what we publish. He is therefore reduced to complaining that our “grandiose professions of love for country ring hollow,” and that we “think that America is not just on the brink of collapse, but that it has already toppled.” Perhaps some of us do. But wouldn’t that be an argument worth considering and answering? Evidently not. 

Tait insists that “authentic patriotism demands a sense of fellow feeling or kinship with other citizens, especially if those other citizens represent a majority of the population.” Yet why does our patriotism require this, when “those other citizens” have made clear, over and over, that they have no fellow feeling for us on the Right, and in fact despise us?  

The New York Magazine article and the Tait essay both ran just a few days after the nation celebrated the Independence Day holiday. But did we? I mean, did we, the American people, come together as one nation to commemorate our shared heritage, and honor the principles of our founding? Hardly. 

All the patriotic displays leading up to July 4 were too much for many on the Left, and the Twitter-verse became more rancid than usual over that weekend, with vitriolic displays of contempt for traditional America. 

Representative Cori Bush, a left-wing member of Congress from Missouri, tweeted: “When they say that the 4th of July is about American freedom, remember this: the freedom they’re referring to is for white people. This land is stolen land and Black people still aren’t free.” A tweet by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was not less hateful for being almost incoherent: “[T]he Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal. Equal to what? What men? Only white men? Isn’t it something that they wrote this in 1776 when African Americans were enslaved? They weren’t thinking about us then, but we’re thinking about us now!”

On July 2, the Washington Post published its instructions to the woke for how to think about Independence Day: The “doctrine of white Christian supremacy continues to threaten the promise of equality and American democracy. These competing ideals are colliding like tectonic plates, pushing the contradictions into bold relief.” A writer at the New York Times announced on July 4 that the American flag itself is a symbol of discord: “What was once a unifying symbol… is now alienating to some, its stripes now fault lines between people who kneel while ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ plays and those for whom not pledging allegiance is an affront.” 

Yet Tait and the faux conservative publication where his essay appears only see divisiveness on one side. Fixating on the Trumpist Right is a cope for those who want to conserve whatever version of America is trendy now. Tait writes: 

In his public addresses, President Biden has made a conscious effort to speak to all Americans. Donald Trump, by contrast, typically reverts to the language of us-versus-them—his people, the ones who want to make America great again, against their various enemies.

This is a perfect example of the gaslighting obsessively practiced by the Left and its enablers.  Just last month, Biden’s National Security Council released a major document outrageously demonizing anyone who doesn’t fall into lockstep with the “antiracist” agenda and declaring that domestic “white supremacists” are the greatest national security threat to the United States. 

Biden is speaking to all Americans, sure. But what he is saying is that a large percentage of us are presumptive terrorists—targets of not just law enforcement, but of the military. 

Does Tait notice of any of this? What does he make of it? He has a Ph.D. in American history and professes to be an expert on conservatism, but he doesn’t seem to have done much serious thinking about what it means to be an American conservative under these circumstances, in 2021. He seems mostly interested in accommodating himself to our new ruling class and distancing himself from anyone to his right. But conspicuously lacking actual arguments, his article is just a condescending posture. 

Tait digs around in his historian’s bag of tricks for boilerplate about what’s wrong with the conservative mindset. But he largely recycles platitudes and ancient slurs (long ago refuted) from Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Hofstadter. And as applied to the Claremont school, some of what he says is almost hilariously inaccurate. 

Fundamentally at odds with modernity, the Trumpist intellectuals are at odds with the real America, but remain committed to the rhetoric of patriotism. They are strangers in their own country, all the while professing to love it.

No, the students of Harry Jaffa are not fundamentally at odds with modernity! One of Jaffa’s defining fights (with other Straussians and other conservatives) turned precisely on his defense of the American founding as both modern and good. 

It’s too bad Tait declined to engage our serious argument—namely that there is very little in America today worth conserving. Regardless of what he believes, the fact that we believe that necessarily means that Claremont “conservatives” are going to think and talk differently. Our “patriotism” is going to have a different cast if we believe the regime is engaged in a wholesale rejection of our patrimony. Our position is that we can’t love what America is becoming, and Tait’s melodramatic reaction is “Oh my God, they don’t love what America is becoming!” This leaves him only with some rather supercilious whining: “To love the ideals of the republic, as defined by the Trumpist right, but to despise half or more of the body politic seems less like patriotism than revanchism.” 

Well, Dr. Tait, sorry if we seem “revanchist” to you. Is that all you’ve got? The academic credentials, the hand wringing, and the gaudy terminology on display in the essay hardly seem worth the effort.


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About Glenn Ellmers

Glenn Ellmers' new book, The Narrow Passage: Plato, Foucault, and the Possibility of Political Philosophy, will be published by Encounter this summer. He is the author of The Soul of Politics: Harry V. Jaffa and the Fight for America and the Salvatori Research Fellow of the American Founding at the Claremont Institute. He is also a fellow of the Center for American Greatnsss.

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