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.
On the folly of yoking a political movement to a lost cause.
Political parties and movements have often been captured by strong personalities and wild overpromises. One is reminded in this regard of the rise and dominance of the Jacobins of the French Revolution, led by the irrepressible Maximilien Robespierre and driven by promises of utopia and crusades against an ever-changing roster of ideological foes. To borrow a phrase from the counterrevolutionary thinker Jacques Mallet du Pan, the Revolution often ‘devoured its own children’ on its continuing quest to root out wrongthink and redress perceived injustices. The Jacobin Terror destroyed the progressive dreams of its supporters in a blood-fueled spasm of violence, turning the French Revolution in a decidedly more moderate direction that ended with the eventual restoration of the very monarchy it overthrew. Processes like these have recurred again and again throughout history, usually ending in a total rout for groups like the Jacobins; it is quite a bit rarer for the defeated party to hang around afterwards, still siphoning loyalty and attention from its backers.
We are seeing a version of this phenomenon playing itself out in real time in American right-wing politics. As the consequential 2022 midterm elections approach and chatter begins around the 2024 Presidential election (I’m sorry, but yes, it’s alreadyhere.), Republicans and conservatives are faced with a stark choice: return to the MAGA fold and embrace Donald Trump, or move forward with new blood and ideological competition. The answer they choose will determine whether the party capitalizes on an historic opportunity to dominate American politics and advance conservative ideas or fails and is forced deeper into the political and ideological wilderness during a crucial period for the nation. As noted, this is not a new occurrence in political history, although it is uncommon. Focusing on past grievances and trying to turn back the political clock generally isn’t a winning strategy, especially when it is paired with overpromises and personality cults. Still, these lost causes have drawn support time and time again. One of the prime historic examples of the power of such a combination to ruin political fortunes and movements comes from 17th and 18th century Britain: the failure of the Jacobites.
It’s been almost two weeks since the destructive events of January 6 in our nation’s capital. As things have settled down some and the fog of war has partially lifted, I figured that it is time to share some of my thoughts on the events of that day and the fortnight following it. This post will touch on several different aspects of the riot, the coverage, and the aftermath, including overreactions and exaggerations. I don’t plan on trying to weave these thoughts together in a coherent and smooth narrative, as my opinions on these events don’t easily fit that paradigm; instead, I’ll go through a series of discrete views that hopefully will give you the full breadth of my feelings on this complicated subject.
Before I get into the meat of this blog post, I have to start with a few quick thoughts/disclaimers. First, what happened at the Capitol on January 6th was one of the most unpatriotic, abhorrent, depressing domestic political events that I’ve witnessed in my 31 years on this planet. It was an absolute disgrace and all of those rioters who assaulted the seat of our federal government should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I will be writing more in depth about this failed insurrection later this week, as I want to wait for as much information as possible before committing my (many) thoughts to paper (or whatever the Internet equivalent is).
The main purpose of this post is to discuss one of the reactions to the events of the 6th, namely the concurrent banning of President Donald Trump from all social media platforms, as well as the deplatforming of Parler, a Twitter competitor favored by some Trump supporters and right-wing activists. Many have written about this already, but here’s my two cents as someone who is genuinely struggling with how to address this in a way that is consistent with my personal political and ideological framework. I support the right of private companies like Amazon, Twitter, Google, Apple, and Facebook to freely associate with whomever they please. As a free marketeer and a laissez-faire capitalist, I do not wish to see government regulation in most aspects of private commerce; I believe that the free association rights of individuals and businesses are sacrosanct, whether it involves a small-time religious baker in Colorado or a massive Silicon Valley conglomerate. Still, that doesn’t mean that I’m not disturbed by the seemingly coordinated deplatforming based on political speech that we’re seeing now. I’m most concerned by the appearance of coordination among supposedly neutral platforms who compete with one another, whether that coordination was actual cartel-like behavior or if it reflects a high level of ideological groupthink. Both of those options are very disturbing to me when it comes to my support for an absolutist position regarding free speech. Given the dissonance between my two preferred classical liberal positions on free association and speech in this instance, I am not sure what the right approach is. All I can say for certain is that it is a nuanced issue that merits deep consideration and a society-wide debate over our cultural values. Most of these positions and issues have been raised elsewhere, so I do not intend to dive too deeply into that heavily populated pool. However, there is one specific aspect of this issue that I have not seen addressed yet, so I wanted to write a bit more about it: the unforeseen impact of these corporate actions on the soft power of the American government.