With Buskirk as editor and publisher and Leibsohn as contributing editor, both authors work for the website American Greatness, successor to briefly-famous but mysteriously disappeared Journal of American Greatness, the identified during the campaign as the online home base for intellectual Trumpism [How Donald Trump inspired a new reactionary ideology, by Damon Linker, The Week, September 16, 2016]. (Of course, we think a stronger case could be made for VDARE.com as the publication that paved the way for President Trump, but never mind.)
One of the publication’s contributing editors was current presidential staffer Michael Anton (“Decius”) author of the widely influential essay “The Fight 93 Election,” originally published at the Claremont Review of Books, as well as republished at American Greatness. As the key figures still involved with American Greatness, Buskirk and Leibsohn thus appear uniquely positioned to define the meaning of Trump, and “The Flight 93 Election” is reprinted as an appendix in this book, presumably with Anton’s blessing.
The authors note it was the “experts” who were most surprised by 2016 election—the talking heads on CNN and Fox News who receive massive salaries to explain why someone like Donald Trump could never happen. But just about any rightist media figure seeking some populist credibility is going to make the same argument e.g. Sean Hannity has reinvented himself from a onetime Amnesty shill into one of Trump’s most stalwart backers.)
However, to their great credit, Buskirk and Leibsohn identify immigration as the key issue which distinguished Donald Trump from other Republicans and made him a real threat to the Establishment. More than that, though they don’t use this phrase, the authors identify The National Question as the key to understanding both the support of and furious opposition to the Trump movement. They note that, while elites no longer attach any importance to American citizenship, ordinary Americans are still proud of their national identity.
Buskirk and Leibsohn draw on Claremont Institute fellow Angelo Codevilla’s concept of a “ruling class” and a “country class” (itself a watered down version of Sam Francis’s work) to explain how Trump ignited an irrepressible conflict. They write:
When Donald Trump adopted immigration as his signature issue in August 2015 it marked a profound split. It was the moment his campaign truly caught fire, and it saw him break away from the pack and never look back. It also marked the moment when Donald Trump became public enemy number one for the media and political elite. Nothing so marked the divide between the country class and the ruling class.Needless to say, this is also a weaker echo of VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow’s celebrated April 2015 prophecy that “it would only take one speech” for the immigration issue to break into the open.
Buskirk and Leibsohn are also scathing in their critiques of Conservatism Inc. (a term they do explicitly use). They make a point often neglected in the aftermath of the 2016 election: Donald Trump’s supposedly confrontational approach on immigration, Islam and race was in effect simply an attempt to take Conservatism Inc.’s rhetoric at its word:
From the American Enterprise Institute (where Robert Bork worked) to the Heritage Foundation to the Manhattan Institute and beyond: authors and scholars were churning out article after article, essay after essay, conference after conference, book after book, on all of the supposedly untouchable or third-rail cultural issues.But no candidates, until Trump, would actually take on these issues.
Indeed, Candidate Trump was actually to the Left of the mainstream conservative position on Affirmative action (though President Trump might actually be doing something on this).
But when Trump started talking about actually doing something when it came to the issues of national identity, assimilation and political correctness, the overwhelmingly Never Trump “conservative movement” tried to destroy him.
Noting the hostile reaction to conservative movement stalwart William Bennett’s call to support Trump, the authors write:
If Bennett’s detractors and the Never Trumpers put all of conservatism’s work over the years together, they could have seen what they had missed about their own works: a determination to reverse a culture of political correctness aimed at diminishing American and Western intellectual traditions and sovereignty. A determination to win the war against Radical Islam. A determination to fight back against multiculturalism and political correctness. What was it, after all, Donald Trump spoke mostly about and campaigned on – even if indecorously? And what was it that had fed and animated Conservatism Inc. for so many years? The same issues.Of course, there’s an obvious counter to all of this. What if Conservatism Inc. was always a scam? What if this rhetoric was never meant to be acted upon?
After all, ask Jason Richwine, John Derbyshire, Paul Gottfried, Peter Brimelow, and so many others about the willingness of Conservatism Inc. to defy Political Correctness. [Conservative Ritual Sacrifice, by Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, January 11, 2012]
For that matter, ask the brave Katie McHugh about supposedly “based,” pro-Trump media outlets like Breitbart to stand up to PC. [The Cucks Will Rue The McHugh, by Gregory Hood, Alt Right, June 8, 2017]
The test will be how hard Conservatism Inc. pushes back against the four main goals Buskirk and Leibsohn identify as core to “the intellectual reformation of the American Right”:
But the Beltway Right is likely to resist each one. After all:
A high view of citizenship that includes devotion to protect the value and prerogatives of citizenship is fundamental to the protection and perpetuation of liberty and self-government. This should be uncontroversial, but even with Republican and conservative circles the idea and importance of citizenship – which is exclusionary by nature – is fallen on hard times.True enough. But the fact that “citizenship” can no longer be taken for granted raises disturbing implications. If anything, the authors understate how the desperate the situation is. Witness the fury emanating from Leftists and their Main Stream Media allies after Stephen Miller announced American immigration policy would seek to protect Americans first [Goodbye diversity, hello merit: Trump endorses RAISE Act immigration reform, RT, August 2017]
American Greatness is the most comprehensive treatment of ideas underpinning the civic nationalist wing of the Trump movement. It’s indispensable for anyone who wants to understand not just how Trump became president, but how mainstream conservatives can save their movement and the country.
Yet ultimately, American Greatness may not go far enough. For example, it does not touch true Third Rail issues like race realism—which is no doubt why publisher Buskirk was “part of a group of conservative journalists who recently met with the president” [They’re Building a Trump-Centric Movement. But Don’t Call It Trumpism, by Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times, Aug.5 2017].
More generally, the book presupposes the leaders of the American Conservative Movement want to implement the policies they say they care about, that the Republican Party is interested in winning elections, and that there still is an American national identity which binds the population of the United States together.
Unfortunately, it’s no longer clear any of this is the case.
James Kirkpatrick [Email him] is a Beltway veteran and a refugee from Conservatism Inc.