The new politics at National Review

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

There are some fundamentally new politics being expressed by the National Review. In some ways, these beliefs sound like the unpopular conservative beliefs of the era before 1958, which is basically the era before the National Review (which got going in 1955 and which helped launch the modern conservative movement). There is an aspect to this writing that expresses the contempt that wealthy Protestants expressed for the working class back in the 1800s. Really, this is a kind of politics that we have not seen much of during the last 100 years.

Kevin Williamson wrote:

It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.

Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

And then David French added:

These are strong words, but they are fundamentally true and important to say. My childhood was different from Kevin’s, but I grew up in Kentucky, live in a rural county in Tennessee, and have seen the challenges of the white working-class first-hand. Simply put, Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin. Obama isn’t walking them into the lawyer’s office to force them to file a bogus disability claim.

For generations, conservatives have rightly railed against deterministic progressive notions that put human choices at the mercy of race, class, history, or economics. Those factors can create additional challenges, but they do not relieve any human being of the moral obligation to do their best.

Yet millions of Americans aren’t doing their best. Indeed, they’re barely trying. As I’ve related before, my church in Kentucky made a determined attempt to reach kids and families that were falling between the cracks, and it was consistently astounding how little effort most parents and their teen children made to improve their lives. If they couldn’t find a job in a few days — or perhaps even as little as a few hours — they’d stop looking. If they got angry at teachers or coaches, they’d drop out of school. If they fought with their wife, they had sex with a neighbor. And always — always — there was a sense of entitlement.

In some sense, I’m happy about some aspects of the political news this year. At least we are seeing something truly new. This is the beginning of a new cycle. I won’t say it is a good cycle, but at least it is new. I have to admit, having spent my life having the same conversations, over and over and over again, I was feeling crushed by the sheer redundancy of the old cycle. I would say that the old cycle lasted from 1958 to 2008 and it was driven by the de-industrialization of the USA, which was driven by the trade agreements that the USA started to push after World War II. The trade accords were motivated, in part, by a desire to knit together the world outside of Communist control. I won’t say that this was bad or good. It could have been good. At some point it was allowed to be bad. It is well known that the open trade borders tends to give a benefit to those with international connections, which tend to be groups with capital, and therefore such trade allows benefits to accrue to those who already have benefits. These trade agreements were initiated at a time when the USA had a political coalition that was willing to raise taxes on the rich, to offset the unfair advantages that open borders would cause. That coalition began to break down after the recession of 1958. It is often said that the New Deal coalition ended because the Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but that is not quite correct. From 1932 to 1958 the white working class was willing (however grudgingly) to support civil rights, at least in part because they supported the labor unions, and the labor unions supported civil rights, for everyone, including for racial minorities. The white working class supported modernization for as long as they themselves saw benefits from modernization. But things changed after 1958. The ratio of the average wage to the average rent reached its happiest peak in 1958, and of course, 1958 was the peak year of the Baby Boom in the USA. It was also the peak year of male involvement in paid wage labor, with almost 95% of adult men working. Everything fell apart after that. The first group that was effected was men under the age of 25, and African American men. The loss of the textile industry was especially devastating to African Americans. For white males, the problems seemed temporary — one could no longer get a good job at the age of 18, but if one waited till one was 25, then one could get a good job. But the problems continued to build up. After 1973, the median male wage began to decline. Older and older men were effected. Whites were increasingly effected. Politically, the whole stretch from 1958 to 2008 had a similar dynamic of de-industrialization. There was a consensus, for awhile, that the answer to de-industrialization was suppose to be civil rights and higher levels of education attainment, but there was never enough of either to offset the economic forces at work. Racial resentments were stirred to avoid addressing the economic problems.

All of that seems to have ended in 2008. No one, at this point, believes that more trade deals will solve the economic problems in the USA. And we now have politicians who are willing to take an open stand against civil rights. These are no longer fringe movements. Both the right and left are changing dramatically.

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