History and Historiography

Return of the Strong Gods: Understanding the New Right

By Jordan Alexander Hill, Quillette

In mid-November, just two weeks after one of the most contentious elections in American history, Democratic National Committee member David Atkins took to Twitter. “No seriously… how *do* you deprogram 75 million people?” he wondered, sounding more like a member of the Politburo than the DNC. “Where do you start? Fox? Facebook? We have to start thinking in terms of post-WWII Germany or Japan.” He continued: “This is not your standard partisan policy disagreement. This is a conspiracy theory fueled belligerent death cult… the only actual policy debates of note are happening within the dem coalition between left and center left.” As the comments flooded in, Atkins doubled down: “You can’t run on a civil war footing hopped up on conspiracy theories… without people trying to figure out how to reverse the brainwashing.”

What is most striking about Atkins’s comments is not his evident belief that 75 million Americans are conspiracy theorists, nor his suggestion that we re-educate citizens for wrongthink—in the world of Left-Twitter, this is comparatively mild fare—but rather his insistence that the Democratic party is a uniquely heterodox space, a forum for robust policy debates, while the GOP is some kind of monolith. A “cult,” as he called it. And yet, the Republican Party possesses more viewpoint diversity and is more internally factional than its competitor by a wide margin. Of all the exhausted canards one hears from liberals and never-Trumpers alike, the one that most needs retirement is the notion that Trump bent conservatism to his will, or, as Tim Alberta put it in 2017, “The conservative movement is Donald Trump.”

Trump’s election in 2016 was not the reflection of a unified coalition, but a deeply divided one. A great many Americans held their noses to vote for Trump, whom they saw as the lesser evil. Atkins’s caricature of half the country is the sort of monocausal explanation that declines to take seriously the real forces that led to Trump’s rise: the economic dislocation brought about by automation and globalization; the collapse of the manufacturing sector; dueling opioid and suicide epidemics; a three-year consecutive decline in the life-expectancy rate; a crisis of loneliness and despair brought about by family collapse, institutional decay, and declining social capital; a student-debt crisis that has crippled young people’s futures; the corruption of our media and sense-making institutions; and a growing disconnect between our politically correct, chthonic governing elites and the concerns of ordinary Americans, which include such untouchable issues as immigration, the warfare state, and corporate bailouts. As Tucker Carlson puts it in his book Ship of Fools: “Happy countries don’t elect Donald Trump… desperate ones do.”

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