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ANDERSON: The fall of ideologies (Part One)

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October 04, 2016 - 10:18 AM



Watching the presidential debate the other night, it struck me how far the United States has fallen. Comparing that sorry spectacle of shallow mudslinging to the Lincoln Douglas debates of 1858 - or most of the presidential debates since the genesis of the Republic for that matter - is like comparing a pail of Tennessee moonshine to a crystal flute of aged Chardonnay. Consider this characteristic excerpt from Mr. Douglas' speech of a century ago:

"In the remarks I have made on this platform, and the position of Mr. Lincoln upon it, I mean nothing personally disrespectful or unkind to that gentleman. I have known him for nearly twenty-five years... He was more successful in his occupation than I was in mine, and hence more fortunate in this world's goods. Lincoln is one of those peculiar men who perform with admirable skill everything which they undertake."

Lincoln and Douglas debated the great issues of the day, the meaning and limits of the Constitution, the institution of slavery, property rights, the future of the Union. They would have been shocked and deeply disappointed at the heavy handed insults and painfully rehearsed scoffing on display the other night as Trump and Clinton squabbled over which one of them was the most odious and the least honest in front of a semiliterate mob of tens of millions waiting not for the most cogent points on the great issues of our day, but for the cleverest zinger on the personal failings of the other.

Even as late as the Reagan-Mondale debates American presidents were elected at least in part on the basis of intellect and ideas and not on acting ability alone. I can't help thinking, like Peggy Noonan, that our wide but shallow intake of knowledge in the age of the internet (as opposed to the narrow but deep reading of yesteryear) has brought us to this state of affairs, where identity posturing and the flimflammery of sound byte politics is not only accepted uncritically but actually endorsed as measures of "fairness," intellect and competence. 

Perhaps that's why our mainstream media - that mass of mostly shallow bombasts who pass these days as our collective intellectual guide - have had such trouble understanding that there’s something else afoot here, something of neither the left nor the right, and something touched on by both Trump and Sanders, although from very different vantage points.

Even the best of the mainstream media seem not to understand the current political phenomenon. George Will, for example, a founding member of the never-never-Trump club, is a deep thinker who abides by classical conservatism (a philosophy I share with him), but he consistently misses the forest for the trees when it comes to Trump and the dynamics at work in American society and politics today. His latest attack on Trump is a lambasting for not being a bona fide conservative and hijacking the “party of conservatism” and being something of a Mussolini.

I can think of at least a dozen good reasons why Trump is a suboptimal Republican candidate aside from the fact that he isn’t a “true” conservative, but comparisons to the personality cult of Mussolini are at best fatuous and at worst hysterical (as if Obama didn't ride into town on a proverbial ass holding a figurative palm branch between two literal Corinthian columns, boasting that a new day was upon us; that wars would end and the global order would reset and the seas would dance a jig upon his ascension to the presidency).

Whether one is a "true conservative" or not is irrelevant to the rise of Trump and the takeover of the "party of conservatism." This is not about conservatism and it's not about progressivism.

Not even Trump and Sanders seem to be fully aware of the wave they're riding. To the extent that Trump has identified it, it's been through the lens of an early 20th century debate - between the "America firsters" of the 1930s and the internationalists who ultimately won that debate by external circumstance on December 7, 1941 - which explains his borrowed rhetoric of "America First." Sanders, for his part, looks to the timeworn socialism of yesteryear for solutions to "economic inequality," as if inequality is the crux of the issue. It's not.

The new dynamic can't be boiled down to a facile distinction between "internationalism" versus "nationalism" a la the late 1930s, nor is it about populism or demagoguery or rabble-rousing, and it certainly isn't about fascism. The political dynamic shaking the American republic to its foundations is a backlash against globalism; an ideology shared by both mainstream "progressives" and mainstream conservatives. And the backlash has pulled the rug out from under both ideologies.

— Scott Anderson is an educated redneck from Vernon. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Counterterrorism, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode. Not surprisingly, he is also an unashamed knuckle-dragging conservative, or so he's told all the time.

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