The right’s 'rich philosophical' tradition has 'devolved' into 'brutalism' and 'voter suppression': conservative

The right’s 'rich philosophical' tradition has 'devolved' into 'brutalism' and 'voter suppression': conservative

Over the years, conservative-leaning New York Times columnist David Brooks, now 60, has had plenty of disagreements with Democrats, liberals and progressives. But Brooks has been a blistering critic of former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement, which he believes has been terrible for conservatism and terrible for the Republican Party. In an essay/think piece published by The Atlantic on December 8, Brooks argues that conservatism — which he once considered a “rich philosophical” tradition — has “devolved into” hatemongering, conspiracy theorists and “voter suppression.”

Brooks opens his article by explaining how, as a young “politics and crime reporter” in Chicago, he went from considering himself a “socialist” to embracing conservatism. Seeing Chicago housing projects like Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, Brooks writes, helped convince him that liberalism’s “best of intentions” had “become nightmares.” Brooks also describes his internship at the late William F. Buckley’s National Review as an experience that greatly influenced him politically.

“In conservatism, I found not a mere alternative policy agenda, but a deeper and more resonant account of human nature — a more comprehensive understanding of wisdom, an inspiring description of the highest ethical life and the nurturing community,” Brooks explains. “What passes for ‘conservatism’ now, however, is nearly the opposite of the Burkean conservatism I encountered then. Today, what passes for the worldview of ‘the right’ is a set of resentful animosities, a partisan attachment to Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson, a sort of mental brutalism. The rich philosophical perspective that dazzled me then has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression.”

Brooks stresses that he still identifies with the conservatism of the past.

“Conservatism certainly has an acute awareness of sin: selfishness, greed, lust,” Brooks writes. “But conservatives also believe that in the right circumstances, people are motivated by the positive moral emotions — especially sympathy and benevolence, but also, admiration, patriotism, charity, and loyalty. These moral sentiments move you to be outraged by cruelty, to care for your neighbor, to feel proper affection for your imperfect country. They motivate you to do the right thing…. True conservatism’s great virtue is that it teaches us to be humble about what we think we know.”

Brooks describes America’s post-World War II conservative movement as a “collection of intellectuals, activists, politicians, journalists, and others aligned with the Republican Party,” lamenting that “Trumpism” is much more “pessimistic.”

“I wish I could say that what Trump represents has nothing to do with conservatism, rightly understood,” Brooks argues. “But as we saw with Enoch Powell, a pessimistic shadow conservatism has always lurked in the darkness, haunting the more optimistic, confident one. The message this shadow conservatism conveys is the one that Trump successfully embraced in 2016: Evil outsiders are coming to get us…. Trumpism looks at the tender sentiments of sympathy as weakness. Might makes right."

Brooks goes on to say that he is “skeptical that the GOP is going to be home to the kind of conservatism I admire anytime soon.”

“Trumpian Republicanism plunders, degrades and erodes institutions for the sake of personal aggrandizement,” Brooks laments. “The Trumpian cause is held together by hatred of The Other. Because Trumpians live in a state of perpetual war, they need to continually invent existential foes — critical race theory, nongendered bathrooms, out-of-control immigration. They need to treat half the country, metropolitan America, as a moral cancer, and view the cultural and demographic changes of the past 50 years as an alien invasion.”

Brooks continues, “Yet pluralism is one of America’s oldest traditions; to conserve America, you have to love pluralism. As long as the warrior ethos dominates the GOP, brutality will be admired over benevolence, propaganda over discourse, confrontation over conservatism, dehumanization over dignity.”

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