Conservatives are malcontents who feel alienated from an American politics and culture controlled by the left, Zack Beauchamp declares in a recent Vox article entitled “The anti-American right.” Such dissatisfaction has most recently manifested itself during the Olympics, Beauchamp declares, as these conservatives have even dared to root against Olympic contenders technically representing the U.S. but spewing hatred for American national symbols.
It’s hard to determine which description applies best to this rant. Does this hit job exemplify Yogi Berra’s “déjà vu all over again”; or does it better illustrate Marx’s insight that “history repeats itself as farce”? Whichever description works best, I know I’ve encountered in this potpourri of leftist grievances something I’ve seen before, yet in a somewhat different form.
The Vox article lays the blame for the alleged anti-Americanism on display over the Olympics at the feet of thinkers at the Claremont Institute, specifically Michael Anton, Glenn Elmers, and Angelo Codevilla. The article gives compelling reasons why those associated with the Claremont Institute would feel a “sense of alienation,” including the fact that it has lost badly in “culture war fronts like same-sex marriage,” and it sees a growing leftist “dominance in mainstream American culture — Hollywood, media, academia, and even a growing share of corporate America.”
“There is no end to what the Left can do because there is so little that conservatives do to fight back,” the Vox article quotes Codevilla as saying, a point that has struck me just as strongly. Add to these concerns a view that the American regime has perhaps been irrevocably disfigured, and that there were disturbing irregularities in the last presidential race, and you obtain a fuller picture of Claremont’s alienation. Yet if all or most of the Claremont Institute’s concerns have a factual basis or are at least defensible, why are those who state them to be treated as psych ward candidates?
And why does the reluctance of conservatives to root for athletes who combine their sports competition with far leftist or antiwhite activism indicate “conservative anti-Americanism”? Would the Vox staff be cheering on athletes who waved Confederate Battle Flags or who carried signs saying, “Trump 2024”? Would the Vox staff appreciate an athlete who holds up a Bible when he receives a gold medal as much as they appreciate “black basketball players kneeling to protest police brutality” or “queer female soccer stars” taking advantage of the Olympics as an opportunity for “demanding equal pay”? Just checking.
Beauchamp’s Vox screed recalls a National Review feature article written by David Frum in March 2003 which raked myself and many of my paleoconservative friends over the coals for failing to rally behind George W. Bush and his choice to go to war against Iraq. The offending group was accused of representing “Unpatriotic Conservatives.” Vox makes this link to the past rather obvious by quoting old right-basher Joshua Tait, who writes in the quintessentially neoconservative online magazine Bulwark that “these patriots appear to actively hate America and their fellow citizens.” But there is nothing in Tait’s rhetorical arsenal that can match Frum’s inspired fury from 2003:
There is, however, a fringe attached to the conservative world that cannot overcome its despair and alienation. The resentments are too intense, the bitterness too unappeasable. Only the boldest of them as yet explicitly acknowledge their wish to see the United States defeated in the War on Terror. But they are thinking about defeat, and wishing for it, and they will take pleasure in it if it should happen.
Please note we are speaking here not about factual accuracy but oratorical skill. Vox offers only a pale imitation of Frum’s thematic and rhetorical model dating back almost 20 years.
In the past, the charges that Vox is unloading on the right would have been hurled at paleoconservatives. It is they, not Claremont, who would have been accused of fascist tendencies, racism, and anti-Semitism. Paleoconservatives would also have been scolded for their lack of support for a left liberal administration, a posture that the left would have assured us is “anti-American.”
Yet since the left and its friends in the media managed to marginalize paleoconservatives, they are now required to dump their stereotypical charges on the Claremont Institute, which is undoubtedly the most right-wing element still on good terms with the conservative establishment.
In its denunciatory zeal, Vox even identifies Claremont with the neoreactionary monarchist Curtis Yarvin, who participated in a broadcast with Michael Anton. What exactly are we meant to infer from the willingness of the participants to exchange views and even to broach the subject of regime collapse? Should we believe that the Claremont Institute, which is devoted to America as a democratic republic and which idolizes Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, has now pinned its hopes on a monarchical counterrevolution?
Although I have reservations about both positions represented, I’m not sure that one can justifiably treat Anton and Yarvin as two peas in a pod. I can however understand why neither participant in their discussion would care for the present administration. And it is equally clear why Vox would vent its anger at both.
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Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.