The New Right is looking a hell of a lot like the Old Left – in the worst possible ways.
If you’ve been paying attention to politics over the past decade, you will have observed that there has been a major political realignment taking place over that span. From the Romney-Obama election in 2012, to the 2016 and 2020 presidential contests, to the 2022 midterms, we have seen a sea change in the dynamics of parties and the coalitions they cobble together in search of electoral victory. The most seismic shifts – and the biggest debate as to what they mean – have occurred within the Republican party and the right side of the political spectrum more broadly. In the years since one Donald J. Trump made his way down a gaudy escalator in Manhattan to declare his candidacy for president, the right has been roiled by arguments as to whom they should appeal and what policies they should therefore adopt. The populist surge that was unleashed by the 2016 election has made the contest over ideas and voters into a referendum on conservatism per se and what that term even means.
Since the 2020 election ended in failure for Trump and many of his acolytes – but without a resounding Democratic victory – the debate has only intensified. The 2022 midterm elections, from primary season through Election Day, were largely decided on this point alone, despite strong headwinds against the Democrats in power. Before the election was decided on November 8, the apocalyptic rhetoric began to heat up on the right; now it is at a fever pitch. These factors have combined over the past two years of Joe Biden’s presidency to create a Frankenstein’s monster that is oddly obsessed with, yet envious of, socialism and communism.
Communism and socialism have always been enemies of the conservative movement, going back to 19th century Europe and continuing through the Cold War. Statesmen like Salisbury, Thiers, Bismarck, and Cavour dreaded the rise of socialism in the mid- to late-1800s and combined strong repressive tactics with reasonable, incremental reforms to undermine the popularity of these revolutionary ideologies. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the socialist wave of the early post-WWI era, some factions on the European right decided to coopt the populist policies of their socialist foes and ape the violent tactics of the Bolshevik communists, leading to fascist ideology. Mussolini, often described as the father of fascism, was an influential and powerful Italian communist before he became alienated from that movement and began his own. Nazi policies and street warfare were consciously modeled on socialist ideas – just for a very limited number of people, the true Aryan Volk. At this time, the Soviet Union’s failure to export the revolution and its own internal struggles led to Stalin’s push for ‘socialism in one country’, repudiating the internationalist focus of early Bolshevism. In that respect, it was not all that different from Hitler’s National Socialism. The ideological and tactical similarities led to both wary amity and strong antagonism – something which explained both the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 and Operation Barbarossa in 1941.
In the post-war era, conservatism once again faced down the communist threat, but also repudiated fascism as a political doctrine after defeating it on the battlefield. American and British conservatives like Churchill, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Thatcher, were at the forefront of anti-Soviet policy and politics throughout the Cold War. The strength of this movement in the Anglosphere was a huge part of defeating the Soviet Union on the battlefield of ideas; that victory could not have happened, however, without the internal movement policing that accompanied it. In the US, that took the form of exiling the conspiratorial Birchers from the conservative fold. These paranoid anti-communists also supported politically-toxic ideas like state nullification, opposition to civil rights, and radical social conservatism. While they were largely drummed out of the movement by a group led by National Review publisher William F. Buckley, the anti-communism which they espoused remained – albeit in a more salient, less conspiratorial, more rational form. That form of popular anti-communism was reflected by President Ronald Reagan, who, with leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, helped to win the Cold War battle of ideas.
Fast forward to 2022, when the salience of communism and socialism has returned with a vengeance. As the progressive left moves toward an outright embrace of socialism and our chief geopolitical rival is ruled by a particularly-totalitarian version of communist ideology, basic anti-communist sentiment is a good thing. However, with the aforementioned ideological divide on the political right driving intense internal competition, the baseline wariness has transformed into a veritable obsession. And, as it was in the post-WWI era, the obsession isn’t only hatred – it verges on admiration.
Let’s start with some recent statements by the former president himself, who is the nominal leader of this faction of the political right. Unsurprisingly, he is still gripped by the absurd idea that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and has moved into stating outright that we should undo the Constitution to rectify the situation. In a December 3 post on his Truth Social (what a name, am I right?) account, Trump said that “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” A few days later, he doubled down, saying (all-caps are his own): “SIMPLY PUT, IF AN ELECTION IS IRREFUTABLY FRAUDULENT, IT SHOULD GO TO THE RIGHTFUL WINNER OR, AT A MINIMUM, BE REDONE. WHERE OPEN AND BLATANT FRAUD IS INVOLVED, THERE SHOULD BE NO TIME LIMIT FOR CHANGE!” These statements are utter lunacy and obviously completely detached from reality and the operation of our constitutional system. The 2020 election was not fraudulent, and the Constitution gives no such remedy. The idea of throwing out “all rules, regulations, and articles” is profoundly unconservative and echoes a great deal of Leninist rhetoric from the Bolshevik Revolution and early USSR. For instance, Lenin did put his ideas and party up for election once, in November 1917, and only won about a quarter of the vote to the Constituent Assembly; after repeatedly lambasting the unfairness of the vote, Lenin ordered the dissolution of the assembly by force. Besides his lack of present power, what would Trump do differently?
Many pundits of the so-called New Right echo this rhetoric and believe that the so-called “stolen election” has already led to the destruction of our national polity. This Trumpist ideology is an odd blend of admiration for communist tactics, conspiratorial anti-establishment animus, anti-constitutional defenses of the Constitution, and radically unpopular social policies. Jesse Kelly, a failed congressional candidate and radio host, is one of the prime exponents of this noxious mix. In one tweet, which garnered nearly 43,000 likes and over 11,000 retweets, Kelly claimed that “the efforts to keep Donald Trump from being elected, remove him once he was elected, and prevent him from being elected again have done more to damage this country than anything in American history.” Besides the idiotic hyperbole (we did fight a literal Civil War in this country, you know), this speaks to an idol-worship that has no place in the conservative movement. He has also said that “Your country as it’s currently constituted is already finished because there’s not even an opposition party to the one trying to end it.” Other similarly situated Internet pundits have joined this chorus, and pushed the same message of the end of the country itself.
This apocalyptic rhetoric is the opposite of conservative, as it already assumes the end of the very system which conservatives attempt to conserve. How can one conserve anything if the country is “already finished”? In reality, this assumption that America no longer has anything worth saving mirrors the Marxist-Leninist ideology that wanted to sweep away the old regime entirely and replace it with some new structure. But the similarities don’t end there; the New Right goes full-on into admiration for communist tactics and seeks to use those same approaches to get what they want. Again, this has some long-term historic forebears in Europe, about a century ago.
Like the 1920s and 30s right-wingers who esteemed communist movements while fighting tooth and nail against them, these keyboard warriors want the New Right to adopt the tactics of the Old Left. The far-right (and I use that term advisedly) pundit and pillow-salesman Jack Posobiec thinks that “The left plays to win, the right just plays,” while Jesse Kelly similarly decries the weakness of the right as compared to the “communists”. These are rhetorical thrusts which speak to a basic envy of communist tactics and disrespect for the Constitution and rule of law. Kelly avoided this tiptoeing in another tweet, where he states that there is “No killer instinct on our side. None. I swear I wish I was a communist sometimes. They play to win. They intend to win.” I don’t know about you, but I have never wished that “I was a communist sometimes.” I don’t think Bill Buckley, Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, or Ronald Reagan would seriously espouse such a blatantly unconservative sentiment.
The positive feelings towards communism and socialism on the right don’t end with envy for their tactics; in fact, a small group of so-called “post-liberals” has established a political magazine espousing socialism as a policy plan for the New Right in the 21st century. Compact Magazine was founded in early 2022 by a group of radical political thinkers who have merged the worst aspects of right and left into an unholy brew of highbrow idiocy. This group takes the obsession with socialism to its logical conclusion – outright advocacy for a “strong social-democratic state that defends community – local and national, familial and religious – against a libertine left and a libertarian right.” The slippery slope from populism, to anti-constitutionalism, to admiration for communist tactics and spirit, to full embrace of actual socialism as right-wing policy is windy and complex, but it sure is slick. Given the speed at which the Trumpist right has descended into these depths of anti-conservatism, that slope might as well have been greased with motor oil.
Communism and socialism are dangerous, wrong, un-American ideologies. All good conservatives should oppose those toxic ideas in the mold of the Cold Warriors who helped defeat the Soviet empire. What they should not do, however, is let that rightful enmity turn into total obsession. Because with obsession often comes admiration and envy; that is a lesson the European center-right painfully learned in the post-WWI decades. The so-called New Right has gone neck-deep into that dangerous obsession over the past few years. At this point, their ideas and policies are antithetical to a constitutional conservatism that grounds itself in the ideas of mid- to late-20th century American thinkers and leaders like Bill Buckley, Milton Friedman, and Ronald Reagan. Just like their John Birch Society forebears, these clownish figures should be drummed out of the conservative movement and ostracized for their betrayal of traditional American right-wing ideas. Promoting the semi-socialism of the Compact Crew, the lust for communist tactics of Jesse Kelly et al, and the anti-constitutionalism of former President Trump would lead to terrible outcomes for the fabric of our country. Righteous fights against bad left-wing ideology do not require wholesale adoption of that very ideology. But with respect to these left-wing movements, the New Right is seemingly defined by an old adage: “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”