In light of our failure to halt liberalism on the cultural front, conservatives have settled into a sort of despair. We look around and feel locked out of the institutions which cultivate and curate the ideas of society. The legacy news media, Hollywood and the universities have largely come under the dominance of those on the left. Feeling underrepresented conservatives set about on a task of building an alternative media structure. We didn't need the elitists at the NYT telling us what to think. Limbaugh ruled the airwaves, Fox News was the most watched news network in America, and recently Breitbart had become a cultural phenomenon by itself. We had a separate ecosystem of our own. With the death of the Fairness Doctrine it was no longer required for broadcasters to present both sides of the argument. Free from the constraints of objective reporting the new conservative media could present our own facts. And the fact was: liberals wanted to destroy all that was good about America.
As time wore on conservative media became increasingly insular and self-referential. We needed not look outside the conservative media to see what the other guy was saying. We knew what he was going to say and we knew it was going to be wrong. The truth was what Hannity told us because his source was Mark Levin who had discovered the truth from Beck. And that truth was that climate change was a hoax by the UN to take away our way of life.
With a media of our own we could also mobilize in the ongoing culture wars. AM radio had the pulse of the heartland. And it was angry. Defeat after defeat to liberals in the culture wars was demoralizing. As it became clear we had lost the country, we became ever more apoplectic. The urban coalition consisting of white liberals and the minorities were destroying Real America. This wasn't a battle of ideas. This was now a battle of survival. If we didn't take back our country there would be nothing left of it.
A Pledge of Allegiance:
As we mobilized our troops to do battle in the culture war, we also looked to make gains on another front. A long time dream of business interests was shrink government to the point where it could "drown it in a bathtub". The problem wasn't bad government. The problem was government, period. And a way to ensure that the government beast was starved, was by making sure it received no additional revenue. Enter Grover Norquist and his 'Taxpayer Protection Pledge'. Norquist's pledge stated that Republicans were under no circumstances to vote for tax increases. The punishment for disobedience was to face a primary challenge.
Whereas previous Republican administrations such as Eisenhower had stressed fiscal prudence through balanced spending and revenue intake in the context of the needs of society, starting with Reagan fiscal prudence was about cutting as much government as possible and reducing tax rates. This was fine in a time when top marginal tax rates where 70% as they were during Reagan's presidency. We experienced a great boost in prosperity under Reagan. But Republicans over-learned the lessons of the Reagan years. The idea that tax cuts were the cure to all economic ills became sacrosanct.
Conservatives had given up on a key virtue espoused by the Edmund Burke who is the father of modern conservatism; that virtue is prudence. There was no need to look at evidence when considering fiscal policy because the answer was already provided: more tax cuts. Economy is humming along? Cut taxes. We're experiencing a recession? Cut taxes even more. Advocating for raising taxes or more spending was to incur the wrath of the donor class and to receive a bad report by the Heritage Foundation for the fiscal year. This wasn't fiscal conservatism. Ropke was a fiscal conservative. Taft was a fiscal conservative. Beginning with Reagan, conservatives increasing became indistinguishable from libertarians. We also thought that all sectors of the economy approximated perfect competition thus were ripe for lax anti-trust laws. Slowly economic power concentrated in the hands of a few companies in the various sectors of the economy. The medium size and small businesses that are the heroes of traditional conservatism were bought up or forced out of business by the leviathans in the private sector along with being strangling regulations put forth by Democrat administrations. We had become apologists plutocracy rather than conservatives. Meanwhile those people in places like Michigan and Wisconsin saw their livelihoods increasingly destroyed by a mixture of technology, big business, and market forces.
Birth of a Conspiracy:
The election of Obama was the fulfillment of a dream for many Americans. For many others his skin color didn't matter so much as what his politics were. But for a small few, the fact that a black man had won the highest office in the land was disconcerting. Something had to be amiss. Conservatives had long tolerated the most vile conspiracy theorists and unrepentant racists in our mist. We wanted their votes but we'd rather they had kept their uncouth views to themselves. They were the embarrassingly racist uncle who we hid when polite company came over. When Obama took the Democratic nomination and then won the presidency, a certain sector of the conservative base became energized.
What had initially started out as a conspiracy amongst the fringes in the Clinton campaign was latched onto by the heart of conservatism. BHO was surely a Kenyan-born Muslim, thus disqualified from being president. This was a comfortable untruth. We used it to assuage the pain of having to deal with the demographic change of the country. This wasn't Eisenhower's America anymore. But IF Obama was indeed foreign born then the nightmare was just that, a bad dream. The person at the forefront pushing the birther conspiracy was none other than our current president, Donald Trump; conservative darlings Sarah Palin and Arpaio were also amongst the most fervent pushers of this line of attack. Everyday Trump would tweet how close he was to gathering definitive evidence that Obama wasn't an American citizen. His dog whistling-scratch that- Trump's bullhorn to racists in the base quickly gained him popularity. The establishment of the party were also content to ride the wave of racial resentment. The GOP ensured that every step of the way they opposed anything Obama proposed. No matter how practical Obama was, he was never given the respect normally accorded to presidents. At every turn Obama was treated as an illegitimate usurper of the presidency.
Gun sales soared when Obama was elected. Who knew if we would have a Second Amendment after Obama left office; if he did leave office instead of turning America into the dictatorship we feared. The atmosphere was one of unmitigated anger. Obama personified everything we conservatives despised. He was an Ivy League educated academic (or was he?). He was by his nature cosmopolitan having lived in Indonesia and in diverse Hawaii. His name was quite peculiar and it had a distinctly Middle Eastern ring to it. And worst of all, he was a black man who thought himself superior. There was no way this was the face of Real America. Something went wrong here. For eight years conservatives clung to the hope that Obama's trickery would be exposed. And when that day came we would be vindicated. But in the meantime our job as patriots was to ensure Obama's despotic regime didn't take away our freedoms by instituting Sharia Law.
The Trump Card:
A convergence of all these factors and others brought us Donald Trump. Against all odds, he was swept into the office of the presidency by a wave of discontent. Discontent with failures of the economic system. Discontent with the cultural direction of the company. Conservatives, first time voters, and even some Democrats put him in office to drastically change things. It didn't matter that he had made racially insensitive comments about a Hispanic judge, was recorded condoning sexual assault, and had bad character in general. It didn't matter that he didn't have an inkling of understanding about policy. It didn't matter that the election had been tainted by a seemingly heavy handed Russian presence in his favor. What mattered was that he was our guy and he won. Our suffering was over.
The first 10 months of Trump's term has been besieged by legislative failures, high staff turnover, major leaks, and general incompetence. No matter how bad Trump handles a crisis or how little he delivers legislatively a major portion of the base will still be by his side. We've beaten the liberals. We're winning again. Never mind our diminished standing in the world. That's fake news. Never mind that Trump is taking an axe to presidential norms and undermining institutions. Only snowflakes care about norms. What matters most is that we feel safe. Trump says what we've been afraid to say for so long.
The Day After:
Conservatives have to know deep inside that we won't be living in the sun forever. It was a mistake for Democrats to think they've locked in a majority and it would be a mistake for conservatives to think the same. However, the demographic changes are locked in. We cannot ride the wave of demagoguery and plutocracy forever. We'll eventually have to leave our bubble of AM radio and make hard sacrifices. We can put off making the necessary changes but either we'll change or we won't survive. A conservatism that doesn't seek to appeal to minorities, urban dwellers and the youth is destined for obscurity. What do we want the future of conservatism to be? Do we want to double down on grievance politics in hopes that we found the winning formula? Go back to the economic policies that Trump repudiated leading to victories in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio? Conservatism is at the zenith of its power at this moment, but what happens the day after Trump leaves office?