National Review is so consumed by Trump-hate that it has now hired a Tocqueville-aping French philosopher to come up with entirely new ways to explain why Trump spells the end of everything sacred to America.
But Alexis de Tocqueville immersed himself deeply in ordinary Americans’ lives and emerged with observations cobbled from the quotidian texture of the nation that still ring true today.
In contrast, National Review’s resident Tocqueville-wannabe, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, seems trapped in the beltway think tank’s theme park Dystopia America Potemkin Village Teacup ride. How else to explain how he could get so much so very wrong?
In an essay titled “The Peculiar Conservatism of the Lonely American,” Gobry posits that people who voted for Trump are afflicted by “loneliness,” by which he specifically means alienation from the sorts of mediating institutions that used to dominate American culture, institutions he describes as ranging from “bowling leagues to churches to labor unions to PTAs to churches to the Boy Scouts.”
Has he ever met a Trump supporter?
The citizen activists who turned out for Trump are precisely the same people who turned out for Tea Parties, and these are precisely the same people who still sustain the Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Women’s Clubs, VFW halls, local (distinctly not national) chambers of commerce, Boy Scout Troops, churches, sports clubs, intact nuclear families, and pretty much every other mediating institution cited by Tocqueville and Robert Chambers (the author of Bowling Alone, from whom Gobry cribs heavily).
Like many philosophers and Frenchmen, Gobry is pretty much a one-trick pony, and his trick is to talk about how social isolation opens a space for authoritarianism to take root.
But to apply this theory to Trump voters isn’t just inaccurate: it’s ludicrous. The personal habits of Tea Party members and Trump voters are precisely the opposite of social alienation, and their political ideology promotes nothing so much as resistance to gross attacks by government elite on the mediating institutions they value in their private lives.
Tea Party activists and Trump voters aren’t alienated from their communities, churches, families, and social groups: they are alienated from a federal government and a cultural elite that is hell-bent on dismantling and suppressing those extra-governmental, cultural, local commitments and responsibilities, the quotidian weave of American life.
This is what happens when a one-trick pony is very bad at his one trick:
It’s often been remarked that “Trumpism” represents something different from conservatism as traditionally understood. That something might be called “conservatism in a lonely society.” Conservatism offers up Burke’s little platoons as the engines of social progress, but in a society turned lonely, that offer becomes meaningless because it stops being relevant to people’s everyday experiences. The last credible-seeming way to maintain social order, then, becomes what Donald Trump has promised: lawless authoritarianism. Good luck!
This sort of thing doesn’t even make me mad anymore.
It’s just a symptom of the social alienation of a certain type of conservative pundit, one who begins by thinking that attending Latin Mass and bouncing ideas off Ross Douthat is a good enough pedigree for observing American mores in Peoria and ends by thinking that embracing the floppy and underhandedly leftist sociology of Robert Putnam is a good enough simulacrum for achieving Tocqueville-like insight into the citizen movements of the Right.
And good luck with that, National Review.