One thing that came to mind watching Sarah Palin’s speech endorsing Donald Trump: how very American it was. It’s hard to see your country and its customs objectively if you’re born and raised here; you just take them for granted. To immigrants like myself, America’s national culture is as distinctive, as unique, as fascinating as Japan‘s. Mrs. Palin fits right in there.
So there I was, aged about fourteen, sitting in a provincial English drawing-room belonging to the family of my schoolfriend, when his father, who had eccentric tastes in music, put a disk on the gramophone. It was a record he’d just gotten by mail order from some American supplier.
I listened in amazement. Weird? It was the weirdest thing I’d ever heard—extraterrestrial weird.
Talking of weird, how about this:
The United States is arguably the most secure great power in history. With weak and pliant neighbors to its north and south, vast oceans to its east and west and a superior nuclear deterrent, it is remarkably insulated from external threats.
I took that from an essay by John Glaser in The National Interest magazine. [The Ugly Truth About Avoiding War With China, December 28, 2015] Glaser is making an argument, which I find compelling, for the U.S.A. to draw down its troops and commitments in the Pacific theater.
After all that, you can imagine that I squirm a little when candidates on the campaign trail talk about “making America great again.”
The Donald Trump campaign is particularly big on “making America great again.” But does the Donald mean the same thing by that phrase that I mean? Yo, Mr. Trump: We have 50,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen stationed in Japan; 38,000 in Germany; 28,000 in South Korea; 12,000 in Italy for crying out loud. You OK with those numbers, Mr. Trump? Hello? I wish someone would ask him.
But someone even keener on making America great again is: Sarah Palin. Mrs. Palin’s endorsement speech took just short of twenty minutes and the phrase “make America great again” occurred seven times. That’s an average of once every two minutes fifty seconds.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to be a wet blanket. I like Trump and I like Palin. I’m just seeking some clarity on this making-America-great idea, which is obviously a major theme in the Trump campaign. Who’s he going to make America great for? Great for Americans? Hey, no problem with that. Great for South Koreans, Taiwanese, Italians, Saudis? Not so much.
I’d just like to know.
The New York Times had some sport with Mrs. Palin’s endorsement speech. Some NYT hack named Michael Barbaro published a column titled The Most Mystifying Lines of Sarah Palin’s Endorsement Speech. He quoted this sentence, for example.
Clip: And you quit footin’ the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we’re paying for some of their squirmishes that have been going on for centuries..
Look at that, snickered Mr. Barbaro. Mrs. Palin coined a new word, “Squirmish.” Quote from him: “a cross between squirm (which means to wriggle the body from side to side) and skirmish (which means a brief fight or encounter between small groups). Twitter embraced the new term instantly.”
And, I must say, I rather like “squirmish.” If your unit and my unit engage in a small firefight, that’s a skirmish. If we wriggle and writhe while so engaged, pretending we’re doing something else, that would be a squirmish. Kind of like what the GOP Establishment is doing with the Trump campaign.
All right, Mrs. Palin’s tongue tends to trip over itself. You try talking for twenty minutes unscripted without saying something daft. I didn’t see anything much wrong with her speech. It made up in vigor and enthusiasm what it sometimes lacked in coherence.
And at several points in her speech, Mrs. Palin got to the heart of the matter—the matter, I mean, of why Trump is doing so well, and so many of us are cheering him on. Concerning the charges that Trump and his followers are not realconservatives, for instance:
Clip: What the heck would the establishment know about conservatism? Tell me, is this conservative? GOP majorities handing over a blank check to fund Obamacare and Planned Parenthood and illegal immigration that competes for your jobs, and turning safety nets into hammocks, and all these new Democrat voters that are going to be coming on over the border as we keep the borders open, and bequeathing our children millions in new debt, and refusing to fight back for our solvency, and our sovereignty, even though that’s why we elected them and sent them as a majority to DC.
That’s spot on. Voters elect a GOP Congress; nothing much changes; voters get mad. It’s really not hard to understand—unless you’re as stupid as the GOP Establishment. Which is way more stupid than the New York Times is trying to paint Mrs. Palin.
And watching the video of that endorsement, Mrs. Palin working the crowd while Trump stands at the side with a poop-eating grin on his face, I have to admit to feeling the Golden Bough factor at work, too. Fertility goddess meets alpha male; beauty pageant winner meets beauty pageant proprietor; cut it any way you like, there’s some primal stuff going on here.
Now that, thanks to Mrs. Palin, we’ve got the word, let’s use it.
OK, squirmish of the week: National Review against Donald Trump. The venerable conservative magazine has published a special issue urging conservatives to not support Trump, on the grounds that he’s not a conservative.
The point they have is that Trump has (almost) no track record as a movement conservative. Trump shows no acquaintance with the ideas that have shaped the post-WW2 conservative movement. I’m just flipping through George Nash’s book The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. Eric Voegelin,Whittaker Chambers, Ludwig von Mises, Russell Kirk, Willmoore Kendall, … Do any of these names mean anything to Trump? I doubt it.
The point they’re missing is that, first—all right, I’m going to make two points out of it—first, there is such a thing as gut conservatism, as distinct from head conservatism. A great many Americans—tens of millions—are conservatives without ever having heard of Willmoore Kendall.
And second, even among the lesser number of us who do know the difference between Straussians and Fusionists, the conviction has settled in that intellectual “conservatism” is a political dead end, with no consequences in the present age.
That wasn’t true in the previous age, the age of the Cold War. Conservative ideas were important and had consequences: most notably, the election of Ronald Reagan. That was terrifically impressive to those of us who grew up during the Cold War, and it made the conservative intellectual enterprise seem worthwhile.
It seems worthwhile no longer. It has no consequences, none that seem good to a conservative temperament, to a conservative gut. The Tea Party election of 2010 has had no good consequences. Nothing happened for us, nothing changed. The George W. Bush Presidency had none, less than none. The 1994 Gingrich Revolution had none. Even the Reagan Presidency had rather few in the domestic sphere, arguably none. I refer you to Chapter 3 of David Frum’s 1994 book Dead Right, chapter title: “The Failure of the Reagan Gambit.”
Gut conservatives are left clutching at straws. They—we—are ready to rally to anyone who shows, in how unsatisfactory-soever a way, some glimmer of understanding about what concerns us.
We don’t want millions of unassimilable foreigners pouring into our country. We don’t want our young people sent off to fight half-hearted wars our leaders have no real desire to win. We don’t much care if Russia or China throw their weight around in their own spheres of influence. We don’t want to see our nation’s leaders apologize to anyone, for anything.
We have no confidence in the Republican Party as a vehicle for our concerns.
Who then are we to vote for? In 2012 a great many of us didn’t bother to vote at all. That’s how Barack Obama got his second term. We didn’t think Romney would have made much difference.
We think Donald Trump will make a difference. That’s the difference.
Been lied to too many times. If the nominee isn’t Trump or Cruz I’ll vote for the Democrat. Trump might screw us over but the establishment candidate will for sure. I’ve come to realize that the establishment Republicans are a greater enemy to me than any communist democrat. I’ll cut off my arm before I ever vote for you c***-*****rs again.
If you still don’t get it, I can’t help. I’ve done my best here.
Oh, just one short note here to my ex-colleagues at National Review:
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjectsfor all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He’s had two books published by VDARE.com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and From the Dissident Right II: Essays 2013. His writings are archived atJohnDerbyshire.com.