Considering what has happened to conservatism, and conservatives, politically, ideologically, culturally, even morally, in the past eleven months because of the rise of Donald Trump, it may come as a surprise to you that I wrote the bulk of this article five years ago in September, 2011 when another outsider was making a run for the presidency. His name is Herman Cain.
But this has been a subject that has colored my thinking about modern conservatism, and how it defines itself, since at least the arrival of Barack Obama. After all, I’ve been on speaking terms with conservatism since Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964 (because my father admired him).
So I’m old enough to notice things.
Only this week I was drawn into a Twitter exchange with a couple of snarling pit vipers about Hillary’s well-documented shortcomings as an honest person. I assumed the two ladies were young, under 40, maybe even 30, but noticed that in every exchange they included the twitter handle of Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online. So I was unsure if they were EverHillary’s or NeverTrumpsters. (You NeverTrumpsters should take note that without context you do sound remarkably similar.) I wanted to ferret out which side they were on, as well as fire a broadside at Goldberg, who is one of my favorite Trump-bashing targets because of his meritless elitism and irreverent deviance from what I always considered true conservatism to be. To establish that, I mentioned to the Valkyries that I met Jonah’s mom in the early 90’s, who I was introduced to by a former member of the Reagan Administration, and who, along with Bill Buckley’s brother, James, was a founder of the Conservative Party of New York.
They hung up, or whatever they call it on Twitter.
A recurring problem exists on the Right of allowing pride and vanity to over-shadow the fight against the Left reminding me that pride always heralds a coming fall (Prov 16:18), a fall Ameruica can little afford.
We need to distinguish conservatism culturally from the Left, and our youngsters seem not equipped to do it.
American culture must trump politics.
* * * * * *
Used to be, by the time you were 30 you were grown-up and by the time you were 40, you were entering middle age, considered then a man’s prime. Those were to be our best years, where maturity and experience combined to mold a man equipped to achieve at his highest level, his station in life built on the respect he had earned from his peers.
When I was growing up, that was the place I wanted to get to. Like Rush Limbaugh, I couldn’t wait to be grown-up. In my time (I’m five years older than Rush) almost all our heroes and role models were grown-ups. From Washington to Jefferson to Neil Armstrong to John Wayne, everyone looked up to them. We picked our film stars from men we wanted to be like in some way.
We didn’t so much want to be like them as to be respected as they were respected.
I couldn’t wait to outgrow the assumption that I carried the same sort of self-absorption that had tagged my generation. I assumed everyone looked at me like I didn’t know a thing (which I didn’t) and knowing I’d never done a thing worth mentioning (which I hadn’t).
To be a grown-up you had to have a resume in life and experience, not just semester hours, so I went about making one. At 30 I was a captain in the Army. By 40 I was in senior management in a Fortune 500 manufacturing company, followed by 25 years in the old Soviet World. And while I write these days I only watched and listened in those days. I was boots-on-the-ground for over 50 of my years.
These are still required habits necessary to moving about in the world of the grown-up.
The Baby Boom Infarction
But I was a Baby-Boomer, and among us arose a cult of youth which has consumed each succeeding generation since. It may yet be the death of us all.
Now, there are dozens of ingredients that go into becoming “grown-up,” but I will dwell on only one or two here, as they have a bearing on the future of conservatism (and America). In short, the youth culture that arose out of my generation contained some sociological ingredients that prevented them from ever growing-up in the cultural sense, regardless of biological age, and these ingredients severed the best from the brightest.
Most of us from the ’60s enjoyed this youth cult through the prism of pop music and sports. We were all a part of that. But as we grew older, taking on family, careers, responsibility, and adapting our lives for new endeavors, especially in front of children’s eyes and ears who would carry our name, we quietly wrapped the vanities and appetites of our youth and stowed them away in a bureau drawer, to be pulled out only ever so once in awhile, as we would an old high school yearbook.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (I Corinth 13:11)
I still slip back into the nostalgia of my youth from time to time, at one time keeping hours of 50’s-60’s rock music on an old Akai reel-to-reel. But those journeys became less and less frequent as I grew older, so that now there’s less than an hour of those good-old-days I bother to listen to, and most of those have a special memory, a face or a place locked away in a memory. Today, Mozart brings more beautiful images to my mind and flailing around in the back seat of my Dad’s Rambler with Becky Hall isn’t one of them.
Many of us have all sorts of things kept safely stowed away in that drawer we’d just as soon not tell our kids about. These include the hurtful ones, for it is that drawer that also holds our private regrets.
This too defines us. The Japanese have a saying that every man consists of four men, and that fourth man is the one that is known only to himself. For many grown-ups of my generation that fourth person is buried in that drawer.
I’ve done some bad things in my life; swiped things, broken things, even a felony. But for regret none of those compare to the prideful outbursts, the intemperate thought which shouldn’t have been spoken, the one(s) we still wish we could take back, only those words are also stowed away in someone else’s drawer as well. I remember them all.
And there are the random and senseless cruelties, known as the put-down these days, which seems to dominate pop culture among Gen X-and Gen Y. Rarer in my day, still, if ass-holery had an 12-step program, I’d need to go back and apologize, knowing more than one person out there hates my guts for a thing I said over fifty years ago. That can be a heavy cross to bear at times.
But only if you have a conscience.
We live in a time when many of the Right, and almost all of the Left, look upon these mean gotcha’s as little moments of victory. I once watched the lower lip of a young law student from RedState curl in sinister triumph as she recounted to me how she’d put down one of the most dedicated (and nice) conservatives I’ve even known. I knew then I was in the presence of the same evil I’d seen in 1970 when radicals took over our campus. Sadly, she is the norm today, and you can find her kind almost anywhere on the right-wing blogosphere, alongside the Left.
My mother once told me she expected me to try on for size every sin she’d ever taught me to avoid, and all she could do was pray me through the “valley of the shadow of death.” Once I emerged from the other side, she said, I’d emerge wiser and return to the true path.
She was right.
But many didn’t in my generation. They didn’t even try. In fact, they considered it an imposition, like having to make their own beds in the morning.
Looking back I’m convinced it is better to have a conscience and regrets than to have neither, for it’s through them that we can recognize the absence of shame or remorse in others.
…and the Brightest
The darker side of my generation, which I got to see close up for a brief period, is most often defined by its anti-establishment leftist politics and easy sex and drugs.
But after 40 years, on closer inspection I’ve concluded it was something more rudimentary; dysfunctional children who refused to grow up. Me, me, me. Recognizing it now among the youth of the Right I can no longer say that political philosophy has anything to do with it, although an absence of moral grounding probably does.
One major distinction between us was, whatever they wanted, they wanted it now.
Don’t ask me why, but I suppose it had something to do with our parents, the WWII generation and their desire for their children to enjoy a youth of which they had been deprived. A surprising number came from broken homes (a term no one even uses anymore) and from un-earned affluence (from a kid’s standpoint) such as having no chores, part-time jobs, etc., i.e., a life of being waited on)
It was through this sieve the Baby Boomer generation was largely poured, Vietnam being the final separator at the end of the cattle chute, where all of America’s child-rearing practices came home to roost.
This was the crossroads for America’s “best and brightest,” where the best went one way, and far too many of the brightest went the other.
I have mockingly referred to this brood who took the wrong fork in the road as the self-proclaimed “better half of my half of my generation” (people who avoided the draft by going to college) and for years Bill Clinton was the poster boy for the search for unending self-gratification and how much better off he and the world would be had a kid like Mick Hensley just broken his nose for lying when he was 11. (It wouldn’t have hurt if someone had slapped the taste out of young Hillary Rodham’s mouth in Chicago at the same time.)
Intemperance was this brood’s canon. They would have none of the practice of paying one’s dues, or going through that long process of learning a thing inside and out in order to become good at it, then earning the respect of peers for having done so. They refused to even accept the tools of growing up, instead just declaring themselves so.
All the grown-up markers have largely gone. Physical toil (sweat) from real yard work, school athletics (sweat), military service, especially boot camp (sweat), the notion of teamwork, that buddy on your left depending on you, and you him, the bloody nose after school, for defending your mother’s honor, or your own, or just for talking to the football team captain’s sweetheart in the hallway, to have had the blessing of having right and wrong reinforced in Sunday School or to have American heroes taught with enthusiasm and simplicity in 6th grade, so that every kid came away with at least that one simple lesson. Try to insert Jonah, Captain Kneepants and his staff at RedState in any of these scenarios.
Still, this was the road to 40 I was raised to take.
The tragedy of course is that, on the single basis of “I want it now,” some of the finest minds and most creative talents in America excluded themselves from almost all fields of science and genuine rigorous scholarship, or leading men in any endeavor, or learning the skills to build a business that produced any thing of use, i.e., advancing the culture. Instead…
…they preferred the easier road, with talk and (later) writing being the most rigorous form of work they wanted to employ; politics, law, and today, blogging, where one needn’t even get out of his bathrobe to go to work.
Cultural Big Bang
While the majority of us took the other fork and grew up, that wayward army blazed their own trail of vanity, appetites and self-worship, forever hanging onto the trappings of youth.
But culturally this “better half of my half of their generation”, already media rock stars, carved entire fields of new markets which consumes us still, all based on their appetites, vanities and whims. Madison Avenue was quickest to catch this wave, in the 1960’s, moving from selling kids pre-sweetened cereal to hawking condoms, six-hour erections (if it lasts longer, consult a physician) and other sexual stimulants, among other toys. Hollywood was close behind, with, by the 90’s, television stars randomly hopping from bed to bed, from the White House to Friends.
A pop culture of youth and superficiality was born that has, well, gotten out of hand.
And being grown up somehow got left in the wake.
I went partly down that leftward road myself for a couple of years, as an environmental liberal. But somewhere I turned around for all I’d ever wanted to do was to grow up to be like my dad, who was probably 45 at the time. He was an engineer. It was his one finger through my belt loop that keep me from jumping over the cliff.
On this account, I recall Herman Cain, a millionaire, successful business executive, speaking of his father; a barber, chauffeur, and janitor. There’s no doubt about who guided him.
That’s what I’m talking about here, for it details a path, a road taken by a grown man.
But there’s a whole generation of conservatives out there right now who wouldn’t even understand what Herman Cain is talking about, or what I am now. It’s about a handshake; between a father and son, a mother and daughter, a family and it’s children, and one generation and the next…
“…for the ashes of our fathers and the children of our sons…” (Mike Batt)
…that should go on forever.
It’s not about a high-five, emoticons, or a slap on the ass.
* * * * * *
The Children of the Sun (Sonnenkinder)
Fast forward, for we are seeing the same phenomenon arise in conservatism that arose with the Left in the 1960s, and from almost the same causes. And yes, they took the big “L” out of liberalism, not to mention “love” and big “G” out of “Good” and “grown-up”.. Our problem today is that this is no longer an aberration, as it was in the 60’s, but rather a culture custom-designed for youth and instant gratification. And an absence of critical thinking.
Grown-ups are the odd men out here, except as paymasters. Do you have any idea how much of our economy is based on selling to and for users who have never earned a nickel in their lives?
We all agree, there are not many grown-ups involved in the Left at any biological age. However politically clever and manipulating, a la the de Medici’s or Richelieu, emotionally they are children, eaten up with their own set of vanities and appetites, based on pride and arrogance. They seethe at being ignored, at not having their way, and especially not having it now. They distrust anyone who “came up” the hard way. They despise being disputed or discounted and refuse to be reprimanded. They refuse to be wrong.
And worst of all, they define themselves by who and what they look down upon. Sadly, modern conservatism is largely based on defining oneself likewise, as not being like that “other guy”, of being part of an exclusive club, blind to the positive duties of “service” conservatism has always conferred on its practitioners.
Most of all, and this is the kicker, they have no ethic, no religion, no political faith, God, Marx, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, The Founders (bet you thought I was only talking about the Left here, huh?) they will not sacrifice and subordinate if in conflict with their personal appetites and whims.
They will all throw any sacred cow under the bus to protect the inerrancy of their opinions…and they do so, rudely, in venues, which, unlike my bureau drawer, hundreds, even thousands can read forever.
How shall we Know them?
As just described, by the words of their mouths (and keyboards) and the joy they seem to get in inflicting barbed pain, ye shall know them.
Today this cult of youth owns the internet, or so it has been deemed.
In 2006 Harry Reid and other Democrats traveled to Las Vegas to raise to knighthood the left wing blogosphere, and DailyKos, as a major brigade of the Left. Their Revolutionary Guard.
Even the Democrats may yet regret this, greybeard children of the sun themselves…but this is mostly Conservatism’s cross to bear right now.
We now have thousands of bloggers on the Right haughtily claiming, just like Kos, to be the repositories of knowledge and wisdom in all things political…and if you don’t believe them they’ll scratch your eyes out.
Since Reid’s 2006 genuflect in Vegas, grown-up office seekers are now expected to seek them out, plead for their endorsement, and ask their advice. Who’s telling us this? Under-30 and barely -40 media consultants, such as who are driving the current #NeverTrump campaign.
In fact, a Trump victory will go a long way to lessening this brood’s power for it will cut off at the knees much of their earning power. And their star power will also suffer. They may still get invited to one of WAPO’s “Members-Only” pool parties, but they will not find George Will in attendance, and they may find the pool itself untended for several days because of staff reductions. And they will not be able to hear the giant sucking sound of the Washington and GOP Establishment’s prestige and power swirling down the drain of history.
These young conservatives, not all of them, are no longer asking voters to vote “for” but rather “against”, and if you are a media wonk, you will think it is quite powerful. Even our local talk radio station, conservative, but alas, affiliated with FoxNews so I assume that every one on staff is aware that their livelihoods rely on Donald Trump being defeated, never really clearly articulate that the alternative, that Democrat selection (so far) is a certified, albeit unindicted, felon.
I don’t care what any oddsmakers say to the contrary. History is writing a new template for politics in America right now. We’re in an epochal sea change, just like the 1860’s, and these youngsters simply haven’t been on this earth long enough to develop the sense of history or the skills and maturity to know what all this means. While their numbers are useful, their analysis falls short.
We haven’t knighted them for this task, and conservatism is dead meat if we ever do.
These are smart people. But most are not wise, and should be dismissed out of hand if they unmask themselves as possessing that penchant for subordinating conservatism to their own vices.
Long term, we need to distinguish conservatism culturally from the Left. To do so we need to reign in the prattle of pissants who refuse to grow up, and expel them, en masse, if need, from the main dining room, until they can learn the rudiments of being grown-up.
In my title I ask a question, Can grown-ups save conservatism? Asked another way, can the Me-ist youth culture kill conservatism? Both answers are yes.
For being grown up, after having suggested this to the still-children at RedState in 2011, may I suggest this now to the Milo Yiannopoulis and Ben Shapiro’s, who have passed Erick Erickson by…see if you measure up. Kipling’s poem, “If”: