American conservatism, b. 1955, d. 2020?

So perhaps we need to acknowledge that it has come to this: Real, existing conservatism as it exists in America in 2020 is an accomplice to, an apologist for, and an enabler of Trump’s nativist, populist, unconservative, and illiberal authoritarianism.

This authoritarianism is as far from Burke as from Hayek. As far from a concern for liberty as for virtue. As far from American greatness as from American decency. And “conservatism” now rides along with this authoritarianism in a nicely cushioned sidecar.

Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, there were always elements in American conservatism which carried these traits. Many of us believed that they had been, over the decades, suppressed or expunged. But that turns out not to have been the case. Instead, they were merely dormant, ready to emerge and be exploited by an able demagogue in tune with the times.

And perhaps every political movement has a natural lifespan: Modern American conservatism was born in 1955, peaked in full flower in the 1980s, and then aged, mostly gracefully, for three decades. Until it could easily, if suddenly, be pushed aside in its dotage—forced, or induced, to surrender to its younger and stronger, if disreputable, distant relative.

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