Neocons in the Dark

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Raimondo_07-2018

As I write this the news of Tom Wolfe’s death is breaking.  The stylish author of The Right Stuff, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and the progenitor of the “New Journalism,” Wolfe was one of the last of the serious celebrity authors.  He contributed at least a few memorable phrases to the American lexicon, one of them being “radical chic.”  His semijournalistic depiction of the spawn of capitalist oligarchs fawning over leftist revolutionaries captured the spirit of an era.  Taking a leaf from his book, perhaps we can capture the spirit of the Trump era in a similar phrase: populist chic.  Today, it’s everywhere.

Republican politicians are all Trumpier-than-thou these days, if they know what’s good for them.  The GOP wing of the “Resistance,” represented by Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, are retiring from the field, defeated.  The traditional Republican country-club set is trying on overalls, which in most cases don’t fit all that well.  In the world of conservative punditry, and the subuniverse of rightist intellectuals, a phrase the neoconservatives thought they had deleted from the conservative lexicon—America First!—is heard once again.  The sight of former cheerleaders for the Iraq war like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham waking up to the folly of our globalist foreign policy almost compensates for Trump’s betrayals on numerous fronts.

Coulter and Ingraham were among the President’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters: They clearly understand where Trump is taking the GOP and the conservative movement, and indeed both were pushing in that direction to varying degrees before Trump was a blip on the screen.  So these ladies aren’t purveyors of populist chic, since they were populists long before it was chic.  No, the real weekend populists are the former Never Trumpers who are climbing onto the populist bandwagon.  National Review is a textbook example.  In a gushing review of The Great Revolt, a collection of interviews with Trump voters across the country, by Salena Zito and Brad Todd, one Kyle Sammin writes,

Populism is always a surprise to those in power.  It erupts from time to time, not as regularly as clockwork, but as inevitably as a volcano.  Yet even those who live in the shadow of the caldera, those who should be most aware of what looms nearby, are taken unawares.  That’s not poor planning, nor is it ignorance of history.  It is a necessary component of the blast: Populism comes from forgotten people.  If those in power paid them any mind, the pressure would never build up and the explosion would never come.

This is a magazine, you’ll recall, that devoted a special and quite lengthy issue to the theme “Against Trump,” where a symposium of neoconservatives in full righteous dudgeon likened the future President to Mussolini and vowed to resist the incursion of his alien and subversive ideas across the boundary of the permissible.  And surely Trump’s victory was a surprise to these mandarins, as it was to their liberal counterparts.  “The Democratic establishment, built as it is on the shifting sands of intersectionality and the latest trends in activism, will have a hard time adapting to the challenge of Trumpian populism,” we are told—unlike the editors of National Review, who are now publishing screeds hailing the new populist dispensation.  Whereas once the successors to Bill Buckley—the former Pope of the Conservative Movement, who regularly excommunicated heretics—denounced Trump and his supporters as “nativists” and even racists, now we are informed that Trump’s victory was owing to the neglect of the Forgotten Man.  Instead of the equivalent of Mussolini’s march on Rome, Trump’s win, they insist, came in response to “the concentration of wealth and power, the perceived duopoly of the major parties, and the parties’ collective inattention to the concerns of people outside the major coastal cities.”

Now they tell us!

While the distinct odor of mendacity lingers over the sudden rush to get on board the Trump train, this has the traditional arbiters of the permissible on the right—and who else can one mean other than the storied neocons?—scrambling to defend their ideological prerogatives by continuing to police the boundaries of Respectable Opinion.  On the pundit front, the neocons’ first line of defense is to adapt the trappings of populist edginess and use them to dress up the same old neocon party line: Invade the world, invite the world, in an endless cycle of national self-sacrifice in the service of pure hubris.

Their latest invention is something deemed the “Intellectual Dark Web.”  The source of this new public-relations ploy is an article by Bari Weiss, the latest entrant in the neocon sweepstakes as a Serious Voice on account of her newly won perch at the New York Times.  In a widely discussed piece, Weiss profiled one Dave Rubin, whom I must confess I’d never heard of before this current upsurge in his celebrity.  His Dave Rubin Report—basically an interview show—has managed to garner a large audience on YouTube.  Rubin’s views are stridently conventional: He’s a “classical liberal” with a slightly conservative disposition whose 15 minutes of fame have gone to his head.  He actually believes that he and his fellow IDW companions are “the main force for reason” in the culture.  It’s amazing what a New York Times profile can do to you.  In response to urgings from Ms. Weiss, he’s pledged to “police” his subjects more carefully in the future.  (Weiss took him to task for featuring Alex Jones and other “extremists” on his show.)

We’re clearly not talking about someone on the level of, say, William F. Buckley, Jr., let alone some Deep Thinker on the level of a Rothbard or a Mises, and the others are on the same level of determined mediocrity.  There’s Christina Sommers, the official “feminist” on the neoconish right who claims to represent “true” feminism as opposed to the fanatic leftist distortion practiced by actually existing feminists.  Her male costar is none other than Ben Shapiro, whose rather dull rendition of Weekly Standard-ish party line neoconservatism is neither dark nor particularly intellectual.

Other IDW types include Sam Harris, a professional atheist who makes a particular target of Muslims, and Bret Weinstein, a professor who was driven out of his job at Evergreen State College for refusing to participate in “A Day Without White People.”  Also included is Jordan Peterson, a psychologist-philosopher whose Jungian ideology and rather superficial self-help books have become inexplicably exciting for the aimless beta males who make up his fan base.

This is what’s considered “daring” in our pathetic era: a bunch of second-rate neocons armed with second-hand bromides, posing as brave provocateurs.

When cant is out of favor, and a populist revolution has the neocons scared out of their wits, their only defense is to co-opt the Trumpian enthusiasm by creating a controlled opposition—a fake-populist cadre of “dissident” intellectuals who are neither true dissidents nor intellectuals in any but the most careless sense of the term.

Meanwhile, the true intellectual dissidents—many of whom write for this magazine—go unheralded.  But that’s OK, because in the long run they will have far more of an impact on the culture than the fly-by-night nonentities of the “Intellectual Dark Web.”      

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