Friday, June 07, 2019

When It Comes to Demographic Doom, Conservative Pundits Really ARE Whistling Dixie

Responding to David Brooks' fear of an upcoming GOP apocalypse, Daniella Greenbaum Davis might have written the least self-aware pollyanna account of Republican prospects I've ever read. It's almost -- not quite, but almost -- Liel Leibovitz-level bad.

Brooks' argument is simple: young people hate the Republican Party. And as this generation becomes the dominant force in American politics, it becomes a bigger and bigger problem if they hate the Republican Party. If there is to be a conservative appeal to this generation, it has to be one that can speak in the language of pluralism and diversity -- a project that the contemporary Republican Party is racing away from at top speed.

Davis is not convinced. First of all, we get the standard chestnut that even if Trump alienates the youth, he doesn't count because he isn't really "conservative". Specifically:
Trump is not conservative in the strict sense of the word; he’s a libertarian and a libertine.
Trump is a libertarian? Are you kidding me? Trump represents conservativism at roughly its furthest possible distance from libertarianism. His signature policy is a massive increase of state repression at the border. Most recently, he's wreaking havoc on the economy with a threatened tariff war. He pairs a massive ramp up of the security apparatus with targeted economic bailouts and distortions aimed to assist politically-connected and favored industries (like coal). This is the least libertarian posture imaginable.

Moving on:
We don’t need data to show us that young Americans are over-represented on the left. But it was a wise someone — not Winston Churchill, who usually gets credited, but the French historian and prime minister François Guizot — who coined the Burkean insight that anyone who is not a liberal at 20 years of age had no heart, and anyone who is still a liberal at 40 has no head.
Well, I'm glad we got it straight that it wasn't Churchill who said it! What's amazing about this is that Brooks directly addresses this point: He specifically observes that the popular belief that young are always more liberal is actually a myth (see: Israel). Instead, the first few elections a person votes in tends to calcify their political affiliation for the rest of their life -- so if young people learn early on to vote Democrat, it becomes much harder to dislodge them from Democratic affiliation later on.

So the GOP can't just wait for the kids to grow up and get more conservative. Indeed, the reason the younger generation is more liberal is because it is (a) more diverse and (b) more likely to have personal encounters with people of other backgrounds, races, etc. on a regular basis. But that's not going to change over time -- the youth might be older in fifteen years, but they're not going to become Whiter.

In any event, Davis thinks that the growing progressive bent among the youth will eventually implode on itself because it will be too socialist and, as time goes by, will eventually "consume its young". Of course, this directly contradicts the "young people will mellow out as they age" hypothesis, which would instead suggest that the harder edges of Millennial politics will instead get filed off as time goes by -- a more sustainable progressivism replacing certain youthful idealisms. It also has the convenient property of not necessitating a GOP response, since the failure of the progressive wave is axiomatically assured. So no need to tamp down on nativist or flatly racist elements in the GOP coalition -- which one would think would be a necessity if they're ever going to appeal to a generation that either is or is friendly with immigrants and either is or is friendly with non-White people. Instead, it allows the GOP to continue to respond to growing diversity in America by literally whistling Dixie.

Regardless, Davis foresees a purge where the radicals oust the moderates, who are left looking for someone -- anyone -- to carry the torch of classical liberal values. And enter the GOP!
Those exiles might abhor social conservatism, but they would be wrong to define conservatism purely by a handful of socio-religious issues, some of which exercise only the GOP’s powerful but numerically small Evangelical wing. It’s those other conservative specialties — defending free speech, championing a diversity of opinion and faith, defending free-market capitalism — that are the issues that can win back the voters.
This might have some plausibility except that the contemporary Republican Party has never been less well positioned to attract an "exile" interested in these values. We already noted that Trump -- with eager buy-in from the GOP caucus -- has pursued an economic policy of crony capitalism and a social policy of big government repression. And now we see a growing faction of conservative voices -- like Sohrab Ahmari and  Liel Leibovitz -- just openly declaring war against whatever remains of classical liberal conservatism. The ideology that wants to upend libel laws, ban entire academic disciplines, and wreck energy markets to protect polluters can no longer claim to "specialize" in free speech, diversity of thought, or even free markets.

Davis does allow that, eventually, Republicans will have to offer an agenda beyond opposing progressive "nihilism". But it speaks volumes that her survival plan for the GOP depends less on anything they might do, and instead relies on the unshakable faith that eventually Democrats will destroy themselves. Growing progressivism won't last because it can't last. That sort of outlook, ironically, is exactly the sort of docile quiescence that's allowed modern conservatism to decay into the shell of an ideology that it is today. Not free markets, not free speech, not free movement, and not free people. Just Cleek's Law, in ever-purer forms.

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