Kessel: The Long Con of Trumpism

Zach Kessel, Op-Ed Contributor

“I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.” — Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America.

With former Alabama senator and Trump administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions coming to speak at Northwestern on November 5 on the topic of “The Real Meaning of the ‘Trump Agenda,’” it is important to point out that the President of the United States has no real agenda.

A Democrat for most of his life, Trump has never demonstrated belief in anything but his own financial gain. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, and the greatest trick Trump ever pulled was convincing the Republican Party that he cares at all about conservative values. That is, of course, where the nationalists come in.

There is certainly a healthy form of nationalism; love of country and the celebration of shared history at best create a bond between citizens. At worst, nationalism emboldens racists and promotes the destruction of republican values.

In the absence of any ideological coherence from the White House, a new movement has coalesced around the grifters who consider themselves the philosophical heirs to the Trump movement, the shapers of a new Republican Party. Most notable amongst these self-styled “national conservatives” are Tucker Carlson, Michael Anton and, perhaps the most important name to watch, Yoram Hazony.

In July of this year, Hazony, an Israeli-American, organized the first ever National Conservatism Conference. The conference’s website describes an effort to promote national conservatism as an “intellectually serious alternative to the excesses of purist libertarianism.” Upon reading the published explanation of the National Conservatism conference, one could be forgiven for mistaking national conservatism for an updated version of right-wing politics with respect to its purported empathy for Trump’s main — and only consistent — demographic, working-class white people.

Hazony wants none of these things. This is a man who calls for the destruction of the liberal order, the end of the Whiggish progression of history toward liberty and justice for all. A man who supports despots like Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Hazony calls for “conservative democracy,” in which the state “upholds and honors the biblical God and religious practices common to the nation.” As Niskanen Center senior fellow Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote ahead of July’s conference, Hazony would “bid farewell to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Anton, in the months preceding the 2016 presidential election, wrote an ill-famed essay published by the Claremont Institute entitled “The Flight 93 Election,” comparing electing then-candidate Trump to storming the cockpit on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Anton writes in the essay that “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty” will destroy the United States like the Visigoths in Rome.

Of course, those “Third World foreigners” are fleeing to America in search of protection from despotic governments, violence, and insurmountable economic crises, but that is of no matter to Anton, who naturally went on to serve on the Trump Administration’s national security council.

The most famous — or infamous, depending on who you ask — of the trio is Fox News’s own formerly-bow-tied stand-in for any Division III lacrosse flameout with a Four Loko habit and daddy issues, Tucker Carlson. This, of course, being the man who has said that leading a country means killing people, that immigrants come to this country to steal American wealth and make the United States “poorer and dirtier” and who notoriously called Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys.”

Those comments are unsurprising, but what took the political media by storm in January was a monologue on his show in which he all but came out against the free market. In his view, the free market, i.e. the system which has lifted millions out of abject poverty, is “disgusting.” The transcript, as the National Review pointed out, reads like a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren stump speech, one that calls for economic authoritarianism up to the point of seizing the means of production. It would not have been surprising to hear Carlson — who, by virtue of his position, is a leader in contemporary conservatism — use the phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

What is the endgame here?

For Trump, who, after duping millions into electing him, refuses to divest himself from his personal business, it is money. For the Potemkin intellectual movement surrounding him, it is the transformation of the Republican Party from Reaganite optimism and fusionism’s emphasis on personal liberty to a planned economy and enforced reactionary social traditionalism. In other words, the Republican Party is trending towards fascism.

I am not saying that the Republican Party will suppress dissidents with force or engage in violent ethnic cleansing. What I am saying is that it will look like something out of Mussolini’s fantasies. A myth of national rebirth from decadence, and a myth to which the current dictator-worshipping president has given credence.

I am a conservative because I believe in personal responsibility, the free market, individual liberty and America’s moral responsibility to the world.

Now, it seems, the Republican Party has lost its way. When the former Attorney General speaks at Northwestern, he will attempt to say that Trump has some sort of grand vision for the United States. He does not. What he does have is the power to allow grifters and con men to permeate the right, until movement conservatism crumbles. We have already seen the consequences in the sycophants that defend President Trump’s offenses against republican governance and his betrayal of the Kurds in Syria.

What Sessions will speak of is a false pretense. He will offer a disingenuous cover for the White House’s lack of beliefs. What he won’t acknowledge is that conservatism as he knew it coming up in politics, and conservatism as it was until very recently, is endangered. Without a conservation effort, it will die out and be replaced by the kind of nationalism that scholars of a certain World War know so well.

William F. Buckley once said that “a conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Oh, how this conservative wishes the Republican Party would heed his message.

Zach Kessel is a Communication freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.