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Is the New Right a grift? Accused of being fascists, post-Trump Republicans are more like influencers

Are you as based as this young man? (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


January 12, 2022   5 mins

The American Right is turning against democracy, or so we are constantly told. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, the “coup attempt” of January 6 — the list goes on. Kamala Harris warns of the greatest national security threat facing the nation. Worst of all, though, this comes not from the disinformed hordes of the heartland but their would-be leaders: young conservative elites, radicalised against the “regime”, who stand ready to serve as the vanguard of an “illiberal populist revolt”.

That, at least, is the impression given by discussion about the New Right, kicked up by two recent pieces in left-of-centre magazines. The first, a dispatch from last November’s National Conservatism conference by David Brooks, paints a dark portrait of a radicalised and paranoid young conservative movement dominated by the “psychology of threat and menace”. The second, by Sam Adler-Bell in The New Republic, is a mostly sympathetic, if somewhat bemused, profile of some of the Gen Z conservative intellectuals who see themselves as “counterrevolutionists”.

How seriously should we be taking this “threat”? Given that the New Right consists of  people who read anti-democratic writers such as Bronze Age Pervert and Curtis Yarvin, who disparage “liberalism” and sound themes about family, patriotism, and the state that carry a whiff of Vichy, does it mean that fascism is the wave of the future?

There is reason to be skeptical here. It is true, as Adler-Bell notes, that the energy among young, elite right-wingers is with what is broadly referred to as the New Right. In part, this is because the “New Right” is as much a subcultural aesthetic as it is a political movement — with a lingo and transgressive sensibility that it has borrowed largely from social media. Good things are “based” and bad things are “cringe”, media pseudo-events are “fake and gay”, and virgin/Chad and wojack memes are everywhere. It is no coincidence that this is a subculture made up largely of young men, operating within the confines of a progressive elite culture in which the crude humour typical of male bonding is heavily taboo.

But while calling things “based” or “gay” might be a political act, it is not a political program. Two years ago, I wrote a piece for Tablet on the New Right. At the time, it was possible to describe the New Right as a real political faction centred around a handful of Senator’s offices, drawing hope from Trump’s flirtations with economic heterodoxy. These were, generally speaking, young party elites and intellectuals who wanted to drag the GOP away from the neoliberalism (or “Reaganism” or “libertarianism”) that dominated prior to 2016. Some were culture warriors and some were not. What they did agree on was that the small-government politics of Paul Ryan and the Wall Street Journal editorial page had outlived their usefulness.

Today, the dividing lines between this version of the New Right and the rest of the party are not so clear. Rhetorically at least, populism is the coin of the realm. Even relatively “normie” Republicans have been radicalised by the experience of the Trump administration and the first year of Biden; as Jacob Siegel observed, you now regularly hear Republicans expressing sentiments about the FBI worthy of Noam Chomsky. Everyone on the Right is a culture warrior, including buttoned-up private-equity barons like Glenn Youngkin, and everyone is a China hawk. It is not uncommon to hear Republican politicians inveighing against “woke capital”, threatening to break up Big Tech, and speaking ominously about “the Regime”. Even the national campaign against “critical race theory” might be seen as a fulfilment of Sohrab Ahmari’s 2019 call to “fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy”.

At the same time, populist energy on the Right has been diverted away from trade and economics and toward #StoptheSteal and opposition to restrictive Covid measures. Inflation and rising crime, meanwhile, have allowed Republicans to prosper, including among Hispanics, by shifting back to their traditional themes of law-and-order and fiscal responsibility. Even the GOP’s rhetoric on woke educational propaganda and school shutdowns is merely the latest twist in a long-running war on teachers’ unions. The tone may have shifted, but the ultimate aims have not.

Parties out of power always tend to downplay their internal divisions in favour of opposing their rivals’ agenda, and we can expect the substantive political disputes exposed by Trump to re-emerge in the primary in 2024. And culture war is popular, for good reason. The Democrats’ turn toward a fundamentalist version of identity politics is, in the short run at least, a major political blunder — an example of intra-elite dynamics among the party’s leadership forcing the adoption of positions and slogans that are actively antagonistic to most Americans. As long as the Democrats are the party of permanent Covid restrictions, rising murder rates, and woke excesses in schools, they will struggle outside of their deep-blue strongholds. And conservatives are not wrong to worry about the capture of seemingly every major national institution by ideologues hostile to their existence, given the ability of media and the school system to shape the values and perceptions of the public.

But there is a risk that the New Right might win the rhetorical and aesthetic victory only for zombie Reaganism to come crawling in through the back door — for everything to change just so that it can stay the same. As Richard Hanania observed, the anti-woke culture war may poll well for the Right, but it is essentially unwinnable, since “wokeness” is written into federal anti-discrimination law. Universities and corporations are militantly race-conscious in part because they are catering to progressive students and employees, but mostly because they are shielding themselves from legal liability under Title IX and Title VII. Absent some coherent plan to change these incentives, conservative anti-wokeness, no matter how rhetorically incendiary, is little more than a strategy for turning out the base. It may help to win elections, but once in office, a Republican president will have to actually govern. And if party grandees can convince the electorate that Biden really is “the second incarnation of Jimmy Carter”, they may be able to argue that the solution is the second incarnation of the Gipper.

It is worth remembering that the main promise of the Trump-era New Right was that it had a real idea of what was wrong and how to fix it. Building on the work of the Bush-era reformicons, the intellectuals of the New Right attempted to take stock of the fact that the GOP was becoming, sociologically, a party of the less-educated, many of whom were ill-served by the neoliberal trade and economic policies favoured by the party’s wealthy donor class and intelligentsia. Given the yawning gap between the Republican establishment and its voters, and the full descent of the Democrats into professional-managerial class “socialism” (i.e., sinecures for the well-educated but downwardly mobile), the GOP was ripe for a takeover by a new generation of elites with a new set of priorities.

In the most sophisticated version of this diagnosis,  those priorities were to use the American state to re-orient the economy away from parasitic rent-seeking and labor arbitrage back toward high-productivity manufacturing, with the dual benefits of providing broad-based economic growth while preparing the United States for a looming era of great-power competition with China. Although even the most watered-down versions were regularly denounced as “socialism” in the old-guard conservative press, they received an impressive vindication in Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, possibly America’s most successful large-scale government project since the end of the Cold War (ironically, the post-2020 politics of vaccines have prevented the GOP from bragging much about it). And Trump’s other deviations from economic orthodoxy, in particular his trade war with China and restrictions on low-skill immigration, may help explain why, in 2019, the bottom 90% saw its share of earnings increase for the first time in a decade.

The pandemic and its attendant disruptions have scrambled American politics, subordinating longer term questions of political strategy to urgent questions about what to do here and now. But, on the American Right at least, the longer term questions are yet to be settled. At the moment, the great danger facing the New Right is not that it will be the vanguard of an American Reich, even if you can find some pimply teenagers on Twitter who lust for such a possibility. Rather, it is that it will meet the fate of so many other American political movements and devolve into a grift: a way for a handful of Washington-based journalists and think tank functionaries to make careers, solicit donations, and brand GOP politics for a slightly younger and edgier audience — while changing nothing fundamental about the party and its program.


Park MacDougald is Deputy Literary Editor for Tablet

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Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

I feel that it is more that there is a groundswell of people in multiple countries that are broadly patriotic and supportive of their country, who feel put upon by rules and regulations, and who feel they are being used as cogs in a system run by big business and big state. It’s underpinned by sense of powerlessness and is bawdy, social and with a tendency to dark humour.
It’s not particularly authoritarian, justice and fair treatment are important. And it’s not new – eg Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, or Soviet humour. But the Internet means that it has its own momentum making it very difficult for conventional media to constrain or direct the energy.
In many ways this groundswell is constantly looking for a home – someone to represent their point of view. Trump was there. Boris, though that’s waning. Farage. Beppe Grillo. It even backed Macron before morphing into Gilet Jaunes.
A key change is loss in faith in experts. In this it mimics the Lutherian revolution in Christianity, when ordinary people could read the words, and stopped relying on the expert clergy to dictate and interpret. (that led to the Wars of Religion, which I hope we can avoid). When everyone has access to data, experts have to show their workings, and expect to be critiqued for it, not just by their peers. Authority can no longer be claimed just because you are ‘an expert’.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

True and points well taken (and quietly left out of the Article). While reading the Article, I had the nagging feeling that “Park” was subtly trying to avoid mention of the strong intellectual backbone of the movement (eg, the boys at the American Mind and Claremont Review, Roger Kimball’s New Criterion etc) and brand it with the outlier provocateurs like “Bronze Age Pervert and Curtis Yarvin”. In the US, the idea is to preserve the Republic as written in the constitution as amended (Charles Kesler’s Crisis of the Two Constitutions, Caldwell’s Age of Entitlement etc) against the ongoing (and virtually complete) March Through the Institutions.

In short , the article was a bit of a superficial attempt to create doubt

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

“When everyone has access to data, experts have to show their workings”

The effort to silence Dr Robert Malone would indicate a fairly significant level of control, still, over what data is actually available.

Your opening paragraph is absolutely spot on. People look round their countries, don’t recognise them, and have no idea what to do about it.

Richard Aylward
Richard Aylward
2 years ago

“As Richard Hanania observed, the anti-woke culture war may poll well for the Right, but it is essentially unwinnable, since “wokeness” is written into federal anti-discrimination law. Universities and corporations are militantly race-conscious in part because they are catering to progressive students and employees, but mostly because they are shielding themselves from legal liability under Title IX and Title VII.”
Huh? I have not read the source and, again, I’m not as clever as y’all but I’m not accepting this premise. Other than recent modulations that were the result of Gorsuch’s confusion on sex/gender, the de facto religion of Wokeness is anything but in keeping with at least the spirit (if not the law) of the Civil Rights Act. (See 2020 Ca vote to keep anti-discrimination Proposition). That the dispute is unwinnable does not take into account federalism in the US and local control of public education. The battle is being waged most significantly at the K-12 level. Just as likely, the battle will be lost by the Woke consuming themselves in a flurry of cancellation. But in my perpetual confusion I may have utterly missed something. That is my disclaimer and I’m sticking to it.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

I feel like I should point out the woke violate Civil Rights Law all the time. Just recently they are deciding vaccines should be given out based on race. This is flagrantly illegal.

Richard Aylward
Richard Aylward
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I don’t know about vaccines but that case is true when it comes to monoclonal antibodies. And I’m curious why we aren’t seeing more lawsuits. I theorize – I don’t know the demographics of the legal profession here in the US – but on the civil law side I’d wager that it leans almost as left as journalism. And liberal, non-woke journalists like Glenn Greenwald are the exception. It’s lawyers on the right that would – and have – taken up these suits. One such was in my county in Wisconsin involving a white farmer from Seymour – home of the world’s largest hamburger, BTW. (That would be a meat patty and not a citizen of Germany
.) But I digress. The farmer appeared on Tucker Carlson. After that I heard little about it.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

To be woke is by definition to be racist.

Dawn McD
Dawn McD
2 years ago

I had the same reaction to that paragraph, where the author started to lose me. The level of wokeness in this country has gone far beyond anything written in anti-discrimination laws. If he can’t see that, I’m skeptical about the rest of his analysis.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

How you moderns make everything so complex.

Right is working values. A worker is for law and order because crime is taking the sweat of his brow. Taxing society to pay for layabouts and stupid and decadent things is taking the product of their hard work and giving it to lazy wasters and entitled wasters to squander and do degenerate things with.

The left is ‘Equity’ over meritocracy and work, entitlements, criminals protected, victims left out, Immorality and degeneracy being taught to the young, patriotism being attacked, family destroyed, and the power being centered in the Wealthy and the poor, managed by the useful Idiots of the Left Intelligentsia, and all funded by the workers in the middle.

Right is morality, Left is immorality. It is all so simple.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Agree in part with your points, but isn’t it our most basic human foible to see virtue in our own worldview and vice in any other?
It may be more accurate to say that both sides seek a better world, but via radically different methods (freedom & individualism as an engine for driving all the things that make life and society good VS ‘managing’ a form of collectivism and trying to drive that large bus to utopia). The intentions of most people are good, I think there are very few who want bad outcomes for their society. But some methods of organising society — some social models — reliably produce either good or bad outcomes when taken out of the realm of academia, and played out in real life.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

“It may be more accurate to say that both sides seek a better world, but via radically different methods”

Good point, when the Thugees of India killed strangers passing by, they felt this was moral, and it gave them additional strength. When the widow was required to commit Suttee and throw herself on her deceased husband’s pyre she was ‘doing the right thing’ and being a good person.

Moral relativism and situational ethics are the problem of every Liberal; – they can see all sides, as long as it is not Western Christianity morality and ethics.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

This reminds me of The Mods versus The Rockers. At weekends they used to travel to seaside resorts and fight. You had to be one or the other, you had to say the same things, dress in the correct way even use the same type of transport.

The Mods and The Rockers were a serious problem. They were seen as extremists, although apolitical, and caused real damage, to each other and to property. Then they got old and a new generation came along.

The difference today is that you can actually see these kids misbehaving. In the past you read about it the next day when it had all blown over. So now it seems more real, more serious. But it is still a generational thing.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The mods and rockers dominate the memory of the sixties, but in reality, they only had two major clashes on successive bank holidays in 1964. The rest is all legend. This is real and ongoing and it ain’t going to stop any time soon.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

They were just kids blowing off steam. This is adults and they’re rather extreme in their views. I wish the USA would collectively take a chill pill.

David Batlle
David Batlle
2 years ago

Politics is the art of defining your enemy. Don’t listen to what the left says about the right, listen to what the right says about the right. And vice versa.

Richard Aylward
Richard Aylward
2 years ago

This guy is some kind of editor for the US? I’ve already commented on one problem I saw with this piece but I’d say the whole thing is mostly a problem. The fight against CRT/DIE has nothing to do with past fights against the teacher’s unions. The fights is betwixt parents and concerned citizens and school boards. My state of Wisconsin was ground zero for battles against the teacher’s unions back in the days of Scott Walker. This is not that. There is much more but that’s all time allows,

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

Skeptical?….wher yew gotte thatt spelllynge frum?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago

Frum sum Yan Quay spool chicken.

William Hickey
William Hickey
2 years ago

MacDougald’s echoing of Caldwell and Hanania is almost spot-on. As long as we have the offspring of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — affirmative action, protected classes, disparate impact and hate crimes — the victimhood culture of the Woke will have the upper hand wherever federal funds are involved. Which is everywhere.

Forget economic policy. Brand the Democrats as the party of the Woke and build enough electoral strength to declare Reconstruction II over and repeal the CRA.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Hickey
Jordan Flower
Jordan Flower
2 years ago

To be fair, the term “fake and gay” emerged from the “dirtbag left”.
Also, democracy is fake and gay. The writings of Hoppe, Rothbard, etc are quickly growing in popularity as people begin to see how democracy always evolves into anocracies, autocracies, technocracies, oligarchies, kleptocracies—all while convincing NPCs that their vote matters.
People aren’t buying it anymore. Covid policy transferred more wealth into the ultra wealthy’s pockets quicker than any other moment in human history. Cat’s out of the bag. We know what they’re doing. And it’s not serving the interests of the people.
Democracy is cringe. Monarchy is based.

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
2 years ago

While hardly an expert, I think this is a very good ‘take’ on the current political moment in the USA.