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Back on August 13, nationally-syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan released a fascinating essay titled, “GOP Elites Call for Purge of Trump.” In his column he described the frenzied efforts of the national “conservative” establishment, including the pompous George Will, Michael Gerson, Peggy Noonan, Charles Krauthammer, and various GOP-brain trusters on Fox and in Washington, DC-based think tanks, to stop Donald Trump, perhaps even expel him from the Republican “club.” Establishment candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have meekly followed along.
Pat, of course, is one of the few nationally-syndicated columnists who sees our national situation without the blinders and rose-colored glasses that most GOP leaders wear. It is fascinating to read the condescending and disdainful language and imagery, quoted by Pat, that so-called inside-the-beltway “conservatives” employ when discussing the grass roots (that’s you and me). Will, in particular, has a long history of attempting to purge the ranks of conservatism of all those with whom he disagrees, beginning with his vicious character attack during the early years of the Reagan administration on the late Professor Mel Bradford, the brilliant Southern scholar who dared to question the role of Abraham Lincoln in American history. Bradford was up for appointment as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Will’s Stalinist attack is credited with halting Bradford’s appointment.
Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. The inside-the-Beltway and New York GOP elites look at the rest of America like the amoral, pornographic New York novelist Philip Roth does: it is literally “fly-over” country between the East coast and Los Angeles, a land inhabited by rednecks, Bible-thumpers, and hayseeds, to be avoided except when begging for money or soliciting our votes. Usually come election time, the GOP Establishment pretends to be our lovey-dovey defender and attempts to scare the bejesus out of us, “triangulating” and warning us that we’d better drop everything and vote for the Republican candidate for prez, lest a terrifying Marxist get elected. Of course, at best we end up holding our collective noses and voting for such brilliant “conservatives” as, let’s see, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Bush Junior, John “Bomb’em-all-to-Hell” McCain, and Mitt “the Twit” Romney. And, all the while, things continue to get worse.
Is it any wonder we are sliding rapidly into what the 17th century English divine John Bunyan called “the slough of Despond”: the veritable slime pit of despair—open borders to huge influxes of uneducated future welfare recipients, crime lords, rapists and criminals, cheap labor to undercut our own working poor; same sex marriage and an unbridled feminist and egalitarian dogma that is more rigid than anything the Church ever proposed (Where is the “conservative” response? Where is the Constitutional Amendment to defend marriage? Silence!); big business trade deals that ship our jobs to China and Mexico, all pushed by the Chamber of Commerce in unholy incest with the national and congressional GOP; the frenzied and fanatical GOP effort to impose liberal democracy and the “fruits” of feminist dogma in every backwater country in the world, with American boys as the cannon fodder; and the enabling over the past half century of a defecated and putrid consumerist culture which has, in large part, turned its back on 2,000 years of Western Christian tradition (hey, let’s take our ten year old daughter to a Miley Cyrus concert! Good moral entertainment!).
Donald Trump is a brash, even roguish, figure, and in demeanor he does not come off as what some may think as “presidential.” But, then, neither did George Wallace; and Wallace, in his two presidential campaigns, exercised considerable influence on American political culture. In 1968 Wallace ran as an independent. His appeal that year was largely centered in the Southern states. Arguably, it was fueled by a response to actions by the Federal government which had basically overturned settled law, enthroning the template of across-the-board equality through legislation limiting the constitutional role of states over voting rights and property rights.
But in 1972 Wallace had expanded his appeal and downplayed his past support for legal segregation. Running in the primaries as a Democrat, in effect, he formed a populist coalition of Southerners and a largely white Northern and Mid-western working class. Those folks believed that the Federal government had turned its back on most citizens. Government had grown too powerful and authoritarian. Those Americans understood–even back then–that the American political system had become a duopoly, with elites in both the GOP and the Democratic Party sharing the spoils of office. The average citizen was left behind, his vote subject to glib promises and manipulated by glossy television ads on which candidates and parties spent millions of dollars raised from major donors who expected their largesse to be compensated for when their candidate reached office.
In 1972 Wallace won several important Northern states, including Maryland and Michigan. Indeed, I was working with Dr. Russell Kirk in Mecosta, Michigan, when the Michigan primary took place. Interestingly, Kirk, the father of modern American Conservatism, supported Wallace, along with thousands of Michiganers, both Democrats and Republicans. As he explained then, the American political system had degenerated into plutocracy and the warnings of Alexis de Tocqueville about the dangers inherent in democracy had come to pass. Wallace offered a slim chance to reverse those trends.
Of course, the assassination attempt on Wallace in Maryland essentially removed him from the presidential contest, and George McGovern went on to steer the Democratic Party to the extreme left and insure the overwhelming re-election of Richard Nixon and the realization of his “Southern Strategy.” Millions of Southern whites who had been stalwart Democrats now found their way into the Republican Party. North Carolina, for example, elected both Jesse Helms (who had changed parties in 1970) to the US Senate and a Republican governor for the first time since 1898.
Arguably, the Wallace phenomenon had much to do with that transition. Conservative Democrats like Senators Richard Russell, Sam Ervin, and Harry Byrd, and conservative factions in state parties, soon disappeared from the public square as so many artefacts of a bygone age. The advent of Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980 and the apparent defeat of the Republican Eastern “establishment” seemed to cement that transformation.
But the hopes sustained by that “revolution”—which many hoped would be realized in the Republican Party—ran aground when the GOP Establishment and its minions recovered their balance and regained control. There were far too few Jesse Helms-types who took that “revolution” seriously, and by 1989 power was securely back in the hands of the Establishment. (Indeed, there are those who argue that the Establishment never relinquished power, even under Reagan.)
At the same time the triumph of those intellectual descendants of Leon Trotsky—the globalist, egalitarian Neoconservatives— who successfully infiltrated and finally took control of the older Conservative movement, plus the dominance by the Murdoch media, dovetailed nicely with the reaffirmation of Establishment control of the political expression of what became a denatured “conservatism,” a term that has now lost almost all of its real, historical significance.
Grass roots conservatives, securely ensconced within the ranks of the GOP since Reagan’s presidency, have heard the familiar refrain: “You ain’t got no place to go; you gotta vote for our guy who is only 85% bad; but remember the Dem candidate is 99% bad.” And so most of the grass roots follow along and vote for the Bushes, Dole, McCain, and Romney, plus assorted Establishment types for Congress, whose real loyalties are to the Chamber of Commerce, Sheldon Adelson, and Wall Street/big donors.
Donald Trump, for all his personal foibles and certainly his checkered past, reminds me analogously in some ways of Wallace in the role he is currently exercising in Republican and American politics. He has completely upset the apple cart, he has defined the campaign issues, in particular illegal immigration, and, perhaps more importantly, he has caused extreme distress among the GOP elites, who sense their control may be slipping away.
If Trump should have a similar effect as Wallace on our political landscape, he will deserve the thanks of millions of grass roots Americans. It may be too much to hope for, but perhaps we are seeing the rumblings of a potential realignment, or, at best, a revolution within the Republican Party that could well spread if Trump continues to push all the right buttons and win his arguments convincingly—and if he can expand his base.
Back in 2000 Pat Buchanan was the last candidate to attempt to break up the de facto political hegemony of our American duopoly. In that year the Republicans used fear of an Al Gore presidency to “triangulate” and convince the grass roots to vote for Bush. And the failures of the Bush years, plus the continued irrelevance of the national GOP (with John Mc Cain as its standard bearer in 2008), helped give us Obama.
Of course, if Trump does have a “Wallace effect” in 2016, then the very hard work of securing a new template will still be ahead, and that may well be the hardest task of all. The Establishment elites in both parties are very dominating and powerful, assisted by both media on the Left (the major networks, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.) and the pseudo-conservative outlets like Fox, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The Wall Street Journal, supposedly on the right. Both these sets of elites share a common purpose, and that is to maintain Establishment control and an Establishment narrative, whether of the GOP or in the Democratic Party.
Perhaps, alas, it is too late for this benighted nation. Perhaps. But, then, like the desperate Confederate assault on Fort Stedman at Petersburg in late March of 1865, maybe we still have one more serious effort left in us before Evil completely triumphs?