Against conservative pessimism

On the one hand, for all their talk of institutionalism, the most committed Never Trumpers are often remarkably happy to engage in their own fair share of institutional arson when it suits them. Abandoning our political institutions is not the same as abandoning America itself, but it is still an admission of defeat — a fatalism whose logical conclusion is the decimation of the political institutions that have defined American politics for centuries. The Bulwark, for example, has resolved to destroy the Republican Party root and branch: “Burn it all down,” declared editor-at-large Charlie Sykes in July 2020. “The GOP Needs to Hit Rock Bottom,” agreed the title of a piece by Mona Charen, published around the same time. And it’s no longer just about Trump, either: Even affable moderates such as Glenn Youngkin are beyond the pale for The Bulwark.

Anti-Trumpist conservatives like Goldberg are not as sour on red America as The Bulwark is. But they have embraced the same pessimistic posture toward many legacy conservative institutions, from the Republican Party to Fox News. Despite his regular exhortations of the need for stronger political parties, Goldberg recently proposed a third-party alternative to the GOP: Presenting “a simple, Reaganite conservative platform combined with a serious plank to defend the soundness of elections,” such a party could run “non-Trumpy candidate[s]” to “play the role of spoiler by garnering enough conservative votes in the general election to throw the election to the Democrat,” therefore causing “the GOP some pain for its descent into asininity.” (This idea was argued against by various writers at National Review, including Michael Brendan Dougherty, whom Goldberg invited onto his podcast for a friendly discussion.)

On the other end of the conservative spectrum are those who have decided that America no longer deserves their loyalty at all. Some voices in this faction even openly express a preference for our enemies. “I’m at peace with a Chinese-led 21st century,” Sohrab Ahmari mused in a since-deleted tweet back in May. “Late-liberal America is too dumb and decadent to last as a superpower. Chinese civilization, especially if it recovers more of its Confucian roots, will possess a great deal of natural virtue.” Right-wing Catholic writer Jonathan Culbreath chimed in: “It’s clear that a lot of conservatives are misled by a hyper-Americanist propaganda about contemporary China, which, for all its problems, actually has something like a real conservative and traditionalist commitment to its past.”