Joe Biden is now officially the 46th President of the United States. Already, the press and official Washington is pretending the last 4 years didn’t happen, except that they intend to extract a pound of flesh for being subjected to it. Instead of asking themselves why it was that 75 million people voted for Donald Trump, they’ve already come to the misguided conclusion that those people don’t matter. Besides, they are probably a bunch of racists and wannabe autocrats anyway, so they suck.
For evidence of this, I point to this opinion piece published yesterday in National Review, authored by Kevin D. Williamson. I’m a long-time subscriber to NR and for the past few years, a member of the NRPlus community. Kevin’s take is not a lone cry in the wilderness. Many of my NRPlus fellows have expressed similar sentiments throughout Trump’s term. The disdain and outright contempt for anyone who dared vote for the “Orange Ape” shown in Kevin’s piece is part and parcel with the disdain and contempt that many of his ilk showed these people before Trump ever took his golden escalator ride.
I’ve often argued that what motivated Trump’s voters wasn’t the man himself. Make no mistake, there are those who would have followed him over a cliff, as we witnessed on January 6. But the vast majority of the 75 million that voted for him on November 3 do not fit into that neat checkbox. Their concerns have more to do with Barack Obama’s “bitter clingers” comments and Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” diatribe than Mr. Trump. We knew The Donald is an imperfect vessel – but he was the only one willing to address those concerns in 2016; he remained one of only a handful of willing to address them in 2020.
So now we have Joe Biden calling for national unity, but immediately marginalizing the bitter clinging, deplorable “chumps” in his Inaugural Address. To highlight the ad hominem attacks against people they don’t understand and wish would just go away, we got KDW calling us “the studio audience from Hee-Haw” and continually referring to us as “Cletus” (FWIW: Cletus is the backwoods living, inbred village idiot from The Simpsons). These were not meant as complimentary terms (I suspect Kevin didn’t, but I enjoyed watching Hee-Haw when I was growing up). In so doing, he forgot that you don’t have to live in Washington to be a coastal elite. However, you can live in Texas and still be a jackass.
Make no mistake, I still enjoy the bulk of KDW’s writing. His arguments in favor of American-style federal republicanism are among the most eloquent written in the past 20 years. But he’s also made it clear that his brand of conservatism (again, a view shared by quite a few others) is better off ignoring the complaints, gripes, and daily life of a wide swath of ordinary Americans. He would rather lose elections and see the last vestiges of classical liberal thought purged from these shores than ever admit that maybe, just maybe, there is something legitimate about the populist uprising within the GOP. Admitting certain policy preferences that somehow became conservative orthodoxy didn’t work out as intended is more painful than seeing them permanently jettisoned by admittedly unconservative democrats, I guess.
But KDW, just in case you stumble across this humble blog, remember this. Conservatism was never about standing athwart history, yelling “STOP.” It was never about tax cuts or being the world’s superpower or any of those other things that seem to have come to define DC conservatism. Conservativism has always been about unleashing the power of the individual so that all of society can improve. Denying that agency to millions of us in order to preserve corrupt and decaying power structures isn’t conservative, nor is it classically liberal. Those original classical liberals put up with denial of agency for only so long before they rose up and smashed the power structures to which they were subjected.
We shouldn’t have to wish for the same.