What happened to American conservatism? Engaging The Right by Matthew Continetti – Baptist News Global
It is always useful to engage the other side. Especially when you find the other side completely disconcerting.
The other side I try to engage is American political conservatism. My guide today is Matthew Continetti, a brilliant Conservative politics buff with all the “right” credentials – a Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, columnist for Comment magazine and founding publisher of Free Washington Beacon. He started his career at Weekly norm.
Continetti’s new book, The right, is hailed by authoritative conservative voices. I have just worked my way through this voluminous but fascinating work. I think that helps us understand what’s going on in our politics right now.
Continetti tells a full story, which he subtitles as “The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism”.
He begins his chronicle of conservatism with the 1920s and the administrations of Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. He describes this early iteration of American conservatism as pro-business, pro-limited government, pro-Constitution, pro-patriotism, pro-religious piety, and isolationist foreign policy. He was also anti-immigration and supported high tariffs rather than globalized trade.
“Roosevelt’s New Deal was seen by conservatives as a fundamental change in the nature of government, making it much larger and more centralized than it ever should have been.”
Herbert Hoover, a highly regarded and experienced leader when elected president in 1928, was seen by the public as having failed to cope with the Great Depression and was ousted from office by Franklin Roosevelt. Democrats have dominated government for decades. Roosevelt’s New Deal was seen by conservatives as a fundamental change in the nature of government, making it much larger and more centralized than it ever should have been, leaning in the direction of socialism and undermining the principles of the free market.
It thus became an abiding goal of conservatives to roll back or privatize as much of the New Deal as possible, to shrink the government welfare apparatus, and to reduce government regulation of business and government intervention in the economy. These efforts repeatedly failed, but in their rhetoric and often in their policy proposals, the conservatives demonstrated that they never fully embraced the New Deal and the new expansions of federal government power in the following years.
Conservative isolationism in foreign policy remained a strong force until it was completely discredited by Pearl Harbor and went underground during World War II. It remained submerged during the Cold War, when conservatives largely embraced an anti-communist, hawkish interventionist foreign policy that also became Democratic policy. Anti-communism, says Continetti, held together disparate parts of the conservative movement for as long as the Soviet Union lasted. Subsequently, particularly after the disastrous invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, the old current of isolationism re-emerged, although it was never the only conservative approach.
“Anti-Communism, says Continetti, held together disparate parts of the conservative movement for as long as the Soviet Union lasted.”
Continetti sheds a lot of ink considering Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-WI) anti-Communist mole-hunting crusade in the 1950s. the innocent. For Continetti, it clearly foreshadows later major trends, apotheosic but not limited to Donald Trump and his movement: apocalypticism, conspiracy theories, serial lies, constant attacks on major government institutions and American leaders, and the ability to mobilize misinformed populist energies. . The John Birch Society, also treated by Continetti, is another example of similar pathologies. Both McCarthyism and the John Birch Society resemble current QAnon conspiracy thinking as well as the irrational, conspiratorial, doomsday apocalypticism of the hard right.
For Continetti, the end of the 1960s marked a collapse of American progressivism/liberalism, symbolized by the chaos of 1968: riots and power grabs on campuses, anti-Vietnamese fervor and liberal softness on communism and disarmament. nuclear power, drug culture, the sexual revolution. , street violence, race riots, political assassinations and the collapse of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. The split in the Democratic coalition paved the way for a Republican return to power, which happened with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.
Continetti also shows, through the rise and fall of Alabama Governor George Wallace, who ran a grassroots third-party campaign in 1968, that there was quite a constituency for racist populism — and not just that. in the south. Continetti could have said a little more candidly that the Republican successes that grew from that time always involved finding ways to appeal to that constituency and reliably secure it for the GOP.
Ronald Reagan is treated by Continetti as the most effective conservative leader of the entire century he is studying. Reagan succeeded in bridging the various divides within conservatism through his pro-business, small government, and anti-Communist platform, as well as his skill in bringing the emerging Christian right to his side through his traditionalist rhetoric of religious values. and morals, offered in a generally sunny and upbeat manner.
Twenty years later, George W. Bush has had less success. Continetti seems intrigued by Bush’s initial platform of compassionate (Christian) conservatism, but his presidency was unexpectedly dominated by 9/11 and its aftermath. Bush’s unprovoked attack on Iraq, followed by a bloody quagmire, has divided conservatives (as well as other Americans), his social policy agenda has gone nowhere, and he has crossed the line. limped in with little popularity. It helps us understand why the Bush dynasty proved utterly powerless to prevent the rise of a very different kind of conservatism after George W. left for his art studio in Texas.
“It reflects Continetti’s relatively low-key treatment of white conservative racism throughout his book, which he treats largely as a fringe rather than central issue for the modern right.”
Barack Obama’s presidency is portrayed by Continetti as essentially the inefficient meanderings of a classic liberal academic, one of the elite types increasingly despised by populist conservatives. Continetti notes and rejects the birther myth and conspiracy that has continued regarding Obama and disregards the idea that the rise of Donald Trump was deeply tied to the white shock over the US election of a black president. This reflects Continetti’s relatively low-key treatment of white conservative racism throughout his book, which he treats largely as a fringe rather than central issue for the modern right.
Continetti shows that much of the conservative punditocracy – people like David Brooks, William Kristol, George Will, etc. the many Republican politicians who ran against him or opposed him. Trump had the most powerful forces of talk radio and Fox News populists with him, as well as tens of millions of grassroots voters. He also showed great skill in holding everyone’s attention.
Looking back on Trump’s four years in the White House, Continetti cites several things he considers significant political victories from a conservative perspective: “restricting immigration, cracking down on China, putting maximum pressure on Iran, uphold originalist judges, promote job creation, and resist socialism and identity politics. Continetti attributes Trump’s election defeat primarily to his handling of COVID.
Unfortunately, especially with Trump’s refusal to concede the election, then Jan. 6, says Continetti, the worst impulses of the populist wing of the American right, such as “demagoguery, scapegoating and conspiracy theories” were unleashed even more completely than they had been before. In the end, a policy of “nihilism” that lacked any real constructive agenda other than Trump himself was all that remained.
Continetti says that previously there had been safeguards to “contain” or “cabin” fringe elements on the conservative side, such as McCarthyism or the Birchers. But with the old stabilizing institutions and the figures of conservatism dead, conquered or in disarray, Trump and his movement have finally come to represent all those worst instincts, utterly unrestrained.
“With the old stabilizing institutions and the figures of conservatism dead, conquered or in disarray, Trump and his movement have finally come to represent all those worst instincts, utterly unrestrained.”
For Continetti, all of this is disastrous for the conservative tradition he reveres, and it’s clearly a dead end for the Republican Party – they can never win majorities down this rabbit hole. But, says Continetti, “not only the right could not get out of the hole; he did not want.
As I write on August 12, 2022, the Justice Department appears to be closing in on Trump for taking, detaining, and possibly sharing top secret US government documents related to nuclear weapons; if true, with the other investigations closing in on him, it may spell the end of Trump. But the Trumpists have won most of the primary races this summer and look set to lose some very winnable races for Senate seats, governor’s offices, and more. And there are many other ways Trump’s disastrous legacy will live on.
Continetti does much more than what I could summarize here. All the major and many minor institutions, leaders, books and events of the conservative world of the last century are described in his book. I urge anyone who wants to understand where we are as a country to read it.
America is an ideologically diverse country. He needs a functioning conservative political party that cares about democracy. People like Matthew Continetti will be needed to help clean up the mess on the right and build something better.
David P. Gushee is a prominent Christian ethicist. is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, Chair of Christian Social Ethics at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Senior Fellow at the International Center for Baptist Theological Studies. He is a past president of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. His latest book is Introduction to Christian Ethics. He is also the author of Kingdom Ethics, After evangelismand Changing Your Mind: The Historic Call for LGBTQ Christian Inclusion. He and his wife, Jeanie, live in Atlanta. Learn more: davidpgushee.com Where Facebook.
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