I’m used to being vilified by the far left as a bloodthirsty neocon warmonger for the original sin of having supported the invasion of Iraq along with 72 percent of the American public. It has been a little more surprising to be simultaneously vilified by the far right as a dangerous left-winger.
David Horowitz’s FrontPage magazine accused me of going “full leftist” for acknowledging that racism and sexism remain pervasive problems. Breitbart called me “conservative” with ironic quotation marks because, among other things, I support gun control and immigration. American Greatness wrote that I am a “soulless, craven opportunist” whose “brain is broken,” because I compared President Donald Trump’s indifference to the 2016 Russian election assault to a president ignoring 9/11. Jack Posobiec — an internet troll notorious for pushing the theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor — said I was “sick” and a “Russian propagandist.” In the Orwellian language of the far right, someone who wants to combat Russian aggression is a “Russian propagandist,” whereas someone who echoes Russian propaganda is putting “America first.”
In the past I would have been indignant at such attacks and eager to assert my conservative credentials. I spent years writing for conservative publications such as The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Commentary magazine and working as a foreign policy adviser for three Republican presidential campaigns. Being conservative used to be central to my identity. But now, frankly, I don’t give a damn. I prefer to think of myself as a classical liberal, because “conservative” has become practically synonymous with “Trump lackey.”
Principled conservativism continues to exist, primarily at small journals of opinion, but it is increasingly disconnected from the stuff that thrills the masses. I remember as a high school student in the 1980s attending a lecture at UCLA by William F. Buckley Jr. I was dazzled by his erudition, wit and oratorical skill. Today, young conservatives flock to the boorish and racist performance art of Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. The Conservative Political Action Conference couldn’t find room for critics of Trump, save for the brave and booed Mona Charen, but it did showcase French fascist scion Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.
The career of Dinesh D’Souza is indicative of the downward trajectory of conservatism. He made his name with a well-regarded 1991 book denouncing political correctness and championing liberal education. Then he wrote a widely panned 1995 book claiming that racism was no more, and it was all downhill from there. In 2014 he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws. Now, he has become a conspiratorial crank who has suggested that the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., was staged by liberals, that Barack Obama is a “gay Muslim” and Michelle Obama is a man and that Adolf Hitler, who sent 50,000 homosexuals to prison, “was NOT anti-gay.”
He wrote in his 2002 book “Letters to a Young Conservative”: “One way to be effective as a conservative is to figure out what annoys and disturbs liberals the most, and then keep doing it.” That, in a nutshell, is the credo of today’s high-profile conservatives: Say anything to “trigger” the “libtards” and “snowflakes.” The dumber and more offensive, the better. Whatever it takes to get on (and stay on) Fox News and land the next book contract.
Naturally, just as drug addicts need bigger doses over time, these outrage artists must be ever more transgressive to get the attention they crave. Coulter’s book titles have gone from accusing Bill Clinton of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” to accusing all liberals of “Treason,” of being “Godless” and even “Demonic.” Her latest assault on the public’s intelligence was called “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!”
If this is what mainstream conservatism has become — and it is — count me out.