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There Are No Idealists Here

Advice from the Republican Party’s candidate for president:

Think about that: the Republican Party candidate for president is encouraging the public to check out a sex tape.

What a repulsive figure Donald Trump is — but he’s very much of our time. So too is Hillary Clinton, though. Slate Star Codex endorses Hillary Clinton today, but reluctantly:

Okay, but what about the real reason Trump is so popular?

When I talk to Trump supporters, it’s not usually about doubting climate change, or thinking Trump will take the conservative movement in the right direction, or even immigration. It’s about the feeling that a group of arrogant, intolerant, sanctimonious elites have seized control of a lot of national culture and are using it mostly to spread falsehood and belittle anybody different than them. And Trump is both uniquely separate from these elites and uniquely repugnant to them – which makes him look pretty good to everyone else.

This is definitely true. Please vote Hillary anyway.

His point is that Hillary really does represent arrogant, intolerant, sanctimonious elites who demonize anyone who disagrees with them — but that she is less bad than Trump.

Yesterday, I learned that a friend of mine, a conservative Christian academic, is planning to vote for Trump. That surprised me, so I wrote and asked him why. He told me that he’s not excited about it, but sees it as a matter of self-preservation. The feds have recently used Title IX to rout his small college, he says, using the law as part of a broad assault on free speech, free thought, and assembly. It terrifies him to think about four more years of Social Justice Warriors from the Justice Department and Department of Education deploying the might of the federal government to brutalize colleges like his. That’s what a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean, he’s convinced (and he’s right, if you ask me). He says he would rather take his chances with Trump.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, read Peter Leithart’s short discussion of what it means for SJWs to “burrow in” to the institutions of the federal government. Understand, I’m not saying that you should vote for Trump. I’m saying that it’s not irrational.

Over on his characteristically thoughtful blog, John Michael Greer says that we are living through the end of American liberalism. Note this part:

The current US presidential election shows, perhaps better than anything else, just how far that decadence [of American liberalism] has gone. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is floundering in the face of Trump’s challenge because so few Americans still believe that the liberal shibboleths in her campaign rhetoric mean anything at all. Even among her supporters, enthusiasm is hard to find, and her campaign rallies have had embarrassingly sparse attendance. Increasingly frantic claims that only racists, fascists, and other deplorables support Trump convince no one but true believers, and make the concealment of interests behind shopworn values increasingly transparent.  Clinton may still win the election by one means or another, but the broader currents in American political life have clearly changed course.

It’s possible to be more precise. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, in stark contrast to Clinton, have evoked extraordinarily passionate reactions from the voters, precisely because they’ve offered an alternative to a status quo pervaded by the rhetoric of a moribund liberalism. In the same way, in Britain—where the liberal movement followed a somewhat different trajectory but has ended up in the same place—the success of the Brexit campaign and the wild enthusiasm with which Labour Party voters have backed the supposedly unelectable Jeremy Corbyn show that the same process is well under way there. Having turned into the captive ideology of an affluent elite, liberalism has lost the loyalty of the downtrodden that once, with admittedly mixed motives, it set out to help. That’s a loss it’s unlikely to survive.

Over the decades ahead, in other words, we can expect the emergence of a postliberal politics in the United States, England, and quite possibly some other countries as well. The shape of the political landscape in the short term is fairly easy to guess.  Watch the way the professional politicians in the Republican Party have flocked to Hillary Clinton’s banner, and you can see the genesis of a party of the affluent demanding the prolongation of free trade, American intervention in the Middle East, and the rest of the waning bipartisan consensus that supports its interests. Listen to the roars of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—or better still, talk to the not inconsiderable number of Sanders supporters who will be voting for Trump this November—and you can sense the emergence of a populist party seeking the abandonment of that consensus in defense of its very different interests.

What names those parties will have is by no means certain yet, and a vast number of other details still have to be worked out. One way or another, though, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Read the whole thing. 

I think he’s right, and no matter who is elected in November, that president will represent the end of something big.

In his column today, David Brooks observes that if nothing else, this presidential contest embodies the death of idealism.Trump’s lack of idealism hardly needs elaboration. In Hillary’s case:

When asked why she wants to be president or for any positive vision, she devolves into a list of programs. And it is never enough just to list three programs in an answer; she has to pile in an arid hodgepodge of eight or nine. This is pure interest-group liberalism — buying votes with federal money — not an inspiring image of the common good.


The twin revolutions of the 1960s and the 1980s liberated the individual — first socially and then economically — and weakened the community. More surprising, this boomer-versus-boomer campaign has decimated idealism.

There is no uplift in this race. There is an entire absence, in both campaigns, of any effort to appeal to the higher angels of our nature. There is an assumption, in both campaigns, that we are self-seeking creatures, rather than also loving, serving, hoping, dreaming, cooperating creatures. There is a presumption in both candidates that the lowest motivations are the most real.

Ironically, one of the tasks for those who succeed the baby boomers is to restore idealism. The great challenge of our moment is the crisis of isolation and fragmentation, the need to rebind the fabric of a society that has been torn by selfishness, cynicism, distrust and autonomy.

I see what he’s getting at, but here’s the thing: where is the inspiration for the rebinding and restoration going to come from, especially given that liberalism — the Democrats and the Republicans both — is determined to suppress and even eradicate religion that doesn’t conform to the ideology of liberalism? How are we going to reverse isolation and fragmentation when expanding individual liberty is the professed goal of both political parties? Atomism — sexual and economic — is not a vice to our two liberal parties, but a virtue.

We Americans are moving inexorably towards the secular liberal future that Europe has already accepted. How’s that working out for them? They’re exhausted. Except for the Muslim Europeans, that is. Could it be that we’re living with now is not the abandonment of liberalism, but its end point?

I am idealistic on a localist level, but nationally? No.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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