The New Conservatives are Taking to the Streets
They may not recognize themselves yet, but we must recognize them.
Right now we conservatives are in a discovery phase when it comes to our new coalition. The consequence of this is that we must not be precious about whom we take on board. We will get nowhere by enforcing ideological purity tests before we have heard what the people we are trying to win over want. We will get far if we let those people and their concerns inform our ideology. Simple as that.
The election has left us all a bit stunned, with a lot to parse in terms of realignment. It seems quite clear that the center of gravity and energy for Red America is seated firmly in the working class. The people who are flocking to us are doing so out of their basic common sense, their impatience with ever-proliferating gender-related fantasies, their desire to live hearty, natural, free (but upright) lives.
This is entirely salutary. The further we distance ourselves from the emaciated and deracinated absurdities that dominate the Hill and the coasts, the better. We must resist the temptation to undo Trumpsim and return to some kind of clubbable libertarianism. It will earn us nothing—has earned us nothing—but failure and empty plaudits from people who hate us.
But it remains to be seen how isomorphic this new coalition is with the current GOP—with its current stars, candidates, and bumper stickers. I suspect that what emerges from this period of growth and change will still be called the Republican Party, but that it will be radically altered. (I can see the force in the arguments of my accelerationist colleagues who think the old Party institution is beyond salvaging and must be scrapped. But I remain a Burkean—or perhaps an Aristotelian—in my conviction that if you can avoid scrapping things and starting over, you should.)
Regardless, what simply will not do is refusing to accept or hear out the people who are currently showing their potential for alignment with us because they don’t tick all our favorite boxes, walk in lockstep with us on our pet issue, or even—gasp—have not yet voted in the way we would like them to. We are facing questions that precede individual policy matters and are at present far more urgent to get right: what is man? Is there more than physical matter? Do our basic moral intuitions carry any weight at all?
People who have the right instincts about those and other crucial questions are a bit at sea right now politically. They are working behind the counter at your local coffee shop, or driving your Uber, or lifting next to you at the gym. They might not know they are free to say what they’ve been thinking—that men are men and should be manly, for example, or that unlimited immigration is probably disastrous—until you give them permission by showing, with a hint or a dropped word, that you agree.
Once we engage these people—who come from staggeringly diverse backgrounds and walks of life—we may find that they have different perspectives than us on, say, the ideal tax rate or how best to run a labor union. We may find they have things to teach us and we them. What they don’t know yet is that their most basic values are also ours. What we don’t know yet is how our policies to date just haven’t been serving them.
How to find these mythical new Red Americans? I suggest there is one easy thing you can do, right now, to start with: look for the people who are defying the second wave of COVID lockdowns. There are a lot of them—people who trusted the government and did everything they were told the first time around, but are now saying, “hang on. Something here just doesn’t add up.” These people are protesting, making viral videos, and performing other acts of civil disobedience—in a word, they are becoming radicalized.
They are our people. They may not know it yet. They may not look like we expect them to look. But they are our brothers and sisters. Instinctively, they agree or are coming to agree with us about the fundamentals: man is more than meat, physical science is not all there is, statesmanly discernment and prudence are not the same things as magical thinking or high-flying plans to erase death from the world. Once I have found a man who will agree with me on all that—and once he and I show each other that we have the courage to fight for those truths—everything else is gravy.
The brave people taking to the streets over lockdowns right now are the people with whom we are going to win the next election. Soon enough, we and they will vote together. But first, we must stand together.