Updated: Dec 18, 2019
“My mentor William F. Buckley vowed to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” Today’s Republicans don’t even seem to see the train that is running them over.”
— David Brooks
Simply because "Today's Republicans" are not as diverse and contentious as Democrats, doesn't mean they are a monolith. Aging rural "whites" and fundamentalist "Christians" are distinct groups no matter how much they overlap. Hair-on-fire working stiffs and dead-eyed plutocrats share nothing save a sick propensity to latch onto conspiracy theories. But such groups and their historical counterparts have a long and dismal track record in the US and other developed nations engaged in shallow experimentation with liberal democracy.
David Brooks glosses over the revanchist and racist brutality lurking just below the bovine stupidity of the populist base of our current reactionary coalition to try to assure us it is doomed by demographics. No doubt Mr. Brooks is as sincere as he is earnest, but no matter how appealing his claim and how winning his sentiments, there are good reasons to challenge his optimism.
Yes, most young people of all backgrounds are rightly revolted by the false nationalism, racist cruelty, and misogynist "morality" that now galvanizes the G.O.P. But such types of understandable dissatisfaction are not inevitable spurs toward positive reforms. History proves such impulses are easily co-opted. They are also likely to fester into swamp species of profound alienation which, in turn, can generate extremely frightening and unpredictable conditions. Such forms of anomie are, even now, a potent driver of what passes for "today's 'conservatism'".
Nothing is more seductively "conservative" than the idea that invisible forces such as "markets" or "demographics" will solve all our problems if left to themselves. The arch of history is indeed long and determined by many forces our minds lazily lump together as "markets" or "demographics". But many, if not most, of what are labeled as "markets" and "demographics" are susceptible to nudges. These "nudges" come in many forms and from many sources including the wealthy, the powerful, the lucky, the damned, and the popular. When these nudges are implemented in a relatively open and above board way, they are called "politics".
Politics, no matter how democratic and/or technocratic, do not always lead to good results or well-advised interventions into economies and cultures, but politics has always been practiced by the few and reacted to by the many. Right now, the US is being convulsed by the myriad reactions of the many to decades of indefensible politics by the few who may have believed our institutions could survive levels of wealth inequality which had previously lead to Great Depressions, totalitarian forms of government, and World Wars.
Brooks makes the claim that people don’t get more conservative as they age. But the process of socialization and adaptation continues and the pressures to conform do tend to mount with seniority. While childhood trauma is the most impactful and long-lasting, every year of existence offers more opportunities to be traumatized. Much of the trimp reaction was ignited by the trauma of people losing jobs, businesses, homes, and savings in the Great Recession. The conditions that lead to the last major recession have not been reformed away - and other forms crisis are looming - or are in the process of being manufactured.
The corporately financed right wing has the resources, the time, and the implacable predilection to generate more crises and skillfully use them to tap into more trauma induced atavism. The fact that reactionary groups are more and more obviously an entrenched minority will only inflame their determination to scuttle democracy and hope.
Call it fascism, populist authoritarianism, or corporate pragmatism, the forces arrayed against prospects for democracy cannot be underestimated.