Saturday, February 4, 2017

Varieties of Conservative Experience

Matthew Continetti has a revealing piece on the many challenges facing the Trump administration.  One of them is an entrenched bureaucratic class intent on using the tools of the bureaucracy to sabotage and undermine the democratically elected head of the executive branch.  Continetti has some worthwhile thoughts about the political dynamics of this collision.

However, there's one point from his piece that warrants some elaboration (emphasis added):
At issue is the philosophy of nation-state populism that drove his insurgent campaign. It is so at variance with the ideologies of conservatism and liberalism predominant in the capital that Washington is experiencing something like an allergic reaction. Nation-state populism diverges from Beltway conservatism on trade, immigration, entitlements, and infrastructure, and from liberalism on sovereignty, nationalism, identity politics, and political correctness.
 Continetti doesn't explicitly say this, but I think it's worth mentioning that "Beltway conservatism" is not, of course, the only kind of conservatism.  If "Beltway conservatism" means a kind of neo-Kempism, then there certainly would be conflicts between "nation-state populism" and "Beltway conservatism."  The Kempist vision supports expansive trade deals, an increase in immigration flows (and a skepticism about rigorous immigration enforcement), entitlement "reform" (that usually means reducing and/or privatizing federal entitlements), and nurtures a wariness about large infrastructure plans.  Clearly, many of Trump's positions and those of "nation-state populism" more broadly would conflict with a Kempian vision.

However, there are plenty of conservative governing records that the vision of a "nation-state populism" would be in some accord with.  Ronald Reagan didn't privatize entitlements--he increased taxes to pay for them.  While Reagan talked about "free trade," he also imposed import quotas on Japanese automobiles.  And Reagan has been the Republican president most clearly associated with movement conservatism.  Looking back to other Republicans who also implemented conservative policies (even if they weren't ideologues) makes this lineage even richer.  Eisenhower, a man of conservative moderation, built a federal highway system and launched a massive deportation effort.  Many movement conservatives revere Calvin Coolidge, but Coolidge celebrated tariffs and defended a limited, pro-assimiliationist immigration policy.

All these things suggest that there are elements within the broader conservative tradition that could very much be in accord with the aims of "nation-state populism."  However, in order to realize that political harmony, some in the Beltway will have to surrender the belief that a certain narrow brand of conservatism has a monopoly on conservatism or good governance.

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