Ross Douthat explains that conservative intellectuals are in crisis. After years managing the “right wing populists” who make up most of the conservative world and using their support against the liberal “managerial class” — the people who run schools, Hollywood, the bureaucracy, the courts — “the populists have seemingly decided that they can get along just fine without any elite direction whatsoever.” Intellectuals fatal mistakes were a)never converting the managerial class to conservatism, which would have made thinkers like himself independent of the unwashed mashes; b)not realizing how hate-filled the base was, not to mention non-intellectual pundits such as Rush Limbaugh. Now in the wake of the Iraq War’s failure, the base has rejected the thinkers, oh, noes!
The solution? Either educate the base to be less “populist” (Douthat carefully avoids works like racist, bigoted, sexist, etc.) or to somehow “sweep the managerial class away” because it’s “inherently left wing.” Or to somehow create a conservative elite that can take them over in a “prudential, reflective, virtuous manner respectful of both freedom and tradition.”
Meanwhile Megan McArdle pushes her latest iteration of “Trump is liberals’ fault.” This time it’s because the mainstream media don’t hire enough conservatives. That leaves the right stuck in its own media world, rejected by the mainstream and angry: “Conservative media, in other words, became an ideological ghetto. And ghettos often develop pathologies.”
Neither argument is convincing. Douthat, I think, is more in denial than anything else. He seems shocked to discover that his deep thoughts about abstinence (good) and morality are less interesting to the Republican base than the desire to lash out at immigrants, women, minorities and pretty much everyone who isn’t them. Maybe he’s genuinely shocked, though as Repubs have been dog-whistling racism for 40-plus years, that would make him pretty dense.
And Douthat’s solution is a variation of his demands for conservatives to be more reactionary — wouldn’t it be great if smart people like himself could run things without having to worry what the base thinks or wants (McArdle similarly argued that it would be perfectly reasonable for the GOP to drop Trump regardless of his winning the primaries)? His argument that the “managerial class” is inherently left-wing” is a nice touch because “inherently” implies they’re somehow irrationally biased against right-wing wisdom such as his own.
McArdle’s solution to the intellectual’s dilemma is affirmative action: the liberal media are biased against sound right-wing ideas, but if they gave more conservative jobs then those ideas would find a home, and there’d be less need for that conservative ghetto. Of course this ignores the existence of Fox News, Douthat’s column at the NYT (along with the equally loathsome David Brooks), Pat Buchanan (who thinks everything was better when blacks knew their place) being a mainstream pundit for years and McArdle herself having a long-time column at Bloomberg. Ghettos are marked by poverty; McArdle and Brooks are multimillionaires
Nor does McArdle offer any specifics to prove her case — just what are these conservative ideas the liberal media refuses to take seriously? That Muslims should be subject to extra scrutiny? Bullshit claims that gay marriage is evil (“the progress of sexual individualism” in Douthat’s words) or that consent is unimportant? Her own theory that inequality of opportunity is a good thing? Or her belief poor people are poor because they’re failures? Sean Hannity’s conveniently changing views on Louis Farrakhan? The right-wing support for Trump’s claims the vote is rigged? Joe Scarborough’s explanation that only latte-sipping elitists are concerned by Trump refusing to accept a Clinton win? Or McArdle’s belief that even when she’s wrong she shouldn’t be criticized for it?
What neither will consider is that possibly the reason their ideas aren’t taken serious is because they’re bad ideas.