The politics of cooties

In practice, of course, the big ideas get trampled into mush by the stampeding herds of independent thinkers. The social-justice Left and the apocalyptic Right of “binary” politics both show that you don’t have to know what streitbare Demokratie is to embrace some mutant version of it. (For populists, it’s always 1933, the other side is always the moral equivalent of Adolf Hitler, and hysterical politics — “resistance!” — is the moral equivalent of war.) But the critics to whom David French is responding have a kind of a point, though it is almost the opposite of the one they think they are trying to make: Trump-style “conservativism” is not especially interested in conserving what conservatives have long tried to conserve — a liberal international political and economic order led by the United States abroad and limited government under the rule of law and a slightly vague consensus Protestantism at home — and, to that extent, old-style conservatism and its institutions must seem to them largely irrelevant. They want nationalism, a measure of authoritarianism (in the form of a caesaropapist presidency), and “wins” over their perceived enemies, whose offensiveness is more cultural than political as such.

In practice, this means, among other things, a politics of cooties. The weirdly personal backlash against the Bulwark deputizing a standard-issue lefty to cover the CPAC freak show (potentially a very fine idea, if well-executed) is pure cooties-as-philosophy-analog: How could you lie down with one of Them? Cooties politics involves a lot of tribal taboo-policing, and that is what the “What has conservatism conserved?” canard is really about, and all that dopey “Real America” rhetoric, too: New York City and Washington-based institutions are Them, and Them have cooties, and people affiliated with such institutions must be infected with Them cooties, even if Them are in actual fact church-going Evangelical veterans who live in Tennessee, as David French of Harvard Law (Cooties U.) knows from personal experience.

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