In my teens and twenties, so long ago, I considered myself a conservative and thought that Mr. Buckley and my father were telling me that conservatives are, by nature, non-ideological pragmatists. Ideology is any paradigm of language which is ready to violate ordinary language as the representative of common sense.
Ordinary language is not systematic, not perfectly coherent because it is more interested in being practical. Being practical means being an effective process for achieving our goals. Ordinary language is full of ordinary goals. A lot of them are religious, even specifically Christian, within the context of western culture. For example, most people consider loving and respecting one another, getting married, and having a family, common sense goals and, in the past, used the words “love,” “respect,” “marriage,” and “family” in the same way. The dissolution of common sense goals, rooted in ordinary language as the cultural embodiment of common sense, starts with competing uses for key moral terms in an attempt to overthrow ordinary language. This is not easy to do. Ordinary language is a self-organizing, democratic process. The liberals and their experts have to get into the heads of a lot of susceptible people to carry off this project of overthrowing ordinary language as the incarnation of moral common sense.
And so do the conservatives who have traditionally rejected democracy and the authority of ordinary language as the foremost, self-organizing cultural artifact of democracy. Conservatives are the scions of esoteric wisdom and taste. Lately, many people have begun to realize that conservatives and liberals are not so very different. Both groups believe they are expert witnesses against the common sense and vulgar taste of the people.
One of the very worst manifestations of democratic sense, according to the National Review conservatives, is the ironic support given to Donald Trump by erstwhile conservatives. And one of the reasons why this support is so inferior is because Donald Trump is not ideological enough. Conservatism is no longer what my father and Mr. Buckley taught me so long ago. Apparently conservatism is now a paradigm of thought governed by a few intellectuals and in direct conflict with the common sense of people who otherwise label themselves as “conservative” and “Republican.”
And so all of these Trump supporters, who should otherwise acquiesce to the authority of National Review, must be post-conservative, just as they are post-liberal. And if they are both post-liberal and post-conservative they must be post-modern (rejecting all the rationalism of all of the elites). And this, of course, will make both the liberals and conservatives equally disgusted with them.
But they could not be more disgusted than Trump supporters when these vulgar populists contemplate the condition of American “conservatism.” They are not stupid. They see the irony in conservatives talking about principles but never living up to them, or perhaps even failing to define them in a way which can actually be realized. Obviously, something is wrong, because conservativism has failed miserably, and the people who support Trump are obviously sick and tired of failure. Conservatives talk about very abstract principles like limiting the size of government. But then we find out that size is relative in the sophisticated, tasteful minds of complex, nuanced conservative luminaries. The conservative understanding of size is so sophisticated and so esoteric that all conservatives expect to do is slow the growth of gigantism. What the conservative needs is what Trump has — specific goals. Apparently the “principles” are not enough. Apparently they are too abstract to be practical. What we need are concrete goals to shoot for.
And so Trump, the unprincipled pragmatist, comes along and proposes specific objectives, like really building the wall, really turning off illegal immigration, really deporting criminals, and really ending, at least temporarily, Islamic immigration. The only thing that the conservatives have to say about these goals is that Trump, like them, does not have a plan for realizing them. But the reason why the conservatives have no plan is because they do not share these goals in the first place. At least, Trump has taken public ownership of certain objectives which the liberals and conservatives shrink from.
To adhere to concrete goals is to be post-conservative. Conservative “principles” have not disciplined the government or the culture. They are a failure. They are not salvation. They are not the messiah. They are not Jesus. There is nothing here to be evangelical about. The conservatives, like the liberals, have misconceived of salvation. They think salvation is just them, empowered but perpetually constipated.
We do not care about conservative principles anymore, even if we should, because principles are cultural and political tools, and these tools have somehow been blunted, unplugged, by those who have wielded them. In any event, they do not have the power of Jesus whom they do not directly represent. The conservatives are not very good at using their principles in practical, contextual ways. Conservatives are intellectuals. There is a whole mountain range of them in America today, all transcending the vulgarity which leads to Trump. They think the people should climb the mountain to be with them, to listen to them. From the top of the mountain, everything in the valley is abstract and easily categorized. They think the people need more altitude and less attitude.
But the people will not be talked down to from the mountain unless it is clear that it is really God doing the talking. The people have become post-conservative. They are focused on specific goals and those who adopt them. Conservatives do not like concrete goals. Concrete goals lead to real change. So, they leave it to the liberals, who know how to turn things upside down slowly enough to keep conservatives, who are supposed to remember, from remembering where they started. Conservatives have no objection to being turned upside down as long as it occurs slowly.
The people remember what it was like to stand upright. They want someone to adopt their compass. They want someone who has a track record of getting things done. They want change. They know that relatively effective people, like Trump, roll with the changing situation; they iterate through projects which start with clear goals. They know that no one has a battle plan which is immune to disruption once the battle starts. The most practical question is not whether or not there is a detailed plan. The question is whether or not the man is determined to go into battle. Conservatives seem to be incapable of dealing with the fog and chaos of war. They demand slow change, slow action, even when we have already been bound to the tracks and the train is only a mile away and accelerating. Conservatism, the people have learned, is a harmless persuasion. We want to kill liberalism and we are not shy about it. This is not good taste, but it tastes good.
If Hillary Clinton had a stroke tonight and started saying outrageous things tomorrow, competing with Trump for the conservative’s and MSM’s horror and condescension, would it be rational for Hillary supporters to abandon her? Not if they happen to be convinced, right or wrong, that she is determined, with or without a plan, to achieve exactly the goals that they embrace. What would constitute a more rational position? Reason, for pragmatists, unlike modern conservative ideologues, is practical. It is a paradigm of hypothetical imperatives, not abstract principles. If our goal is to get a wall built it makes sense to vote for the guy who seems determined to build it. We do not care how “vulgar” the builder is in the eyes of Bill Kristol or George Will or Edmund Burke for that matter. Burke thought that only experts knew what real beauty is and therefore what a truly lovely country looks like. The NR guys and gals, who wish they had Roman Numerals behind their names and more tweed in the closet, are, they think, the experts on the most important thing of all — good taste. We just don’t care. The National Review corral of water carrying ponies for the establishment is like Miss Manners trying to give directions to a motorcycle gang which already knows where it is headed and why it is rough and vulgar. It’s a knife fight out there and tasteful gentlemen and ladies just run away or die of embarrassment.
Yes, Trump is a vulgar populist. And Trump supporters are, therefore, post-conservative. Why in the world does the Illuminati at NR think that they can appeal to the conservative sensibilities of the Trump supporters? They have jaded, scalded, and finally destroyed those sensibilities. Conservatives were supposed to conserve the language above all else. They could have done this by controlling education, the courts, and immigration. They did not know how. It would have required too much change and too much knife fighting. They were above this vulgarity, above survival, above the people’s demand for a cage match.
Earth to National Review: We are no longer interested in saving parties, governments, aristocracies, or even old constitutions. We just want our freedom back and we will do what we have to do. We are post-conservative. And you have become Gollum, seduced by the ring of rationalism and elitism, hoping to hide your emaciated form.