By Tom Ehrich
In order to understand the brave new world we are entering with an all-GOP government led by an unstable, narcissistic personality whose lies, bragging and flawed character actually endeared him to millions of voters, I subscribed to The National Review.
This longtime voice of conservatism was launched in the Cold War era by William Buckley Jr. and seems rooted in the Ayn Rand school of conservative intellectual ideology, not in the bigoted rage of the Tea Party. It grew out of a literate tradition but now finds itself in a semi-literate era of uninformed voters, whose grasp of history, factuality, and objective reality is diminishing every day.
Many voters, it seems, wanted a vapid leader who told them whatever he was feeling at the moment. They weren’t fooled by Donald Trump. They chose him. They did so precisely because he held no allegiance to the truth or to any rational agenda for governing a complex nation in a dangerous world. His subsequent theatrics, late-night tweet-storms, and ignorance of policy considerations is precisely what they wanted.
As a Greek chorus to this spectacle unfolding in Trump Land, The National Review isn’t at all what I expected. I remember listening to William Buckley pursue his arch and often condescending explanations of why his conservative views were correct. He had arguments, points to make, ideas to spell out. I thought his ideas wrong-headed, but I never thought him a fool or a phony. I suspect he would never be caught at the Trump eat-crow table at Jean Georges, where Mitt Romney recently shed his remaining self-respect.
The latest iteration of the Review seems much more in keeping with the Republicanism of the era: long on conspiracy theories, long on whining, long on victim-speak, not much interested in ideas. (Disclaimer: I have only read a dozen of their daily newsfeeds. It might just be a bad sample.)
Yesterday’s issue, for example, pursues the Christian-as-victim theme, rewrites the Bush disaster in Iraq, laments a misguided (“ridiculous”) educational reform in the UK, offers a silly article about political correctness in opera, and segues into the familiar attack on Barack Obama as a big, bad bully.
Today’s issue considers recount efforts under way in three states. Rather than offer cogent arguments on why a recount is unhelpful, or how to handle their results, or how to structure future elections to avoid such questions of legitimacy, the National Review mocks Democrats for being willing to spend money of such a thing.
It’s as if the 2016 campaign is still going on, as if ratcheting up the whining would do what Trump’s late-night tweets seek to do, namely, alter reality.
I am disappointed. I doubt they care one bit about my opinion. Nor should they. But I had hoped to hear ideas, some cogent arguments for a way forward under Republican leadership. Some serious people have attached themselves to this new administration. They must have some ideas on how to make the nation and world better. They can’t all be narcissists desperate for applause.
So I will keep looking. The conservative movement must have some venues where serious people pursue serious ideas. If not, we are more lost than I had imagined.