Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Donald Trump’s presidency is a scourge on immigrants and a menace to the poor, but pockets of hope exist alongside the gloom. The administration birthed a robust opposition and a resurgence in progressive activism. However, I have a hunch: Although many liberals will harden their convictions during Trump’s presidency, a great deal will move to the right. Because progressives, seeking only to empathize with their ideological opposites, have been entranced by superficially reasonable conservatives with silver tongues.
I have this hunch about Trump’s presidency because I too hear the right’s seductive call. It’s a nagging voice, insisting, “Come on … grow a goatee and put on a bow tie … you’re a conservative now.” This voice is usually quiet or absent. But warding it off requires constant vigilance — if I’m not careful, I may find myself trolling SJWs while clutching an Ayn Rand novel.
I have no beef with conservatives who come to their ideology with clarity. But the force that occasionally pulls me rightward isn’t sound. I’ll describe this conservative attraction in the hope that it’ll serve as a resource for readers who observe warning signs in loved ones. It’s never too late to help.
After the election, liberals were told we live in a political bubble. We were shocked on Nov. 8 because we don’t understand the Trumpista’s pain. Only if we reach out “in a spirit of empathy and contrition,” as a column in the New York Times suggested, can America heal.
A primary cause of liberal callousness, the narrative went, is the ideological uniformity of our news feeds. Wired published a piece in the weeks after Trump’s victory entitled, “Your Filter Bubble is Destroying Democracy.” Maybe, though, if liberals read news with which we disagree, we will make peace with the inscrutable Trump fan.
So many folks, myself included, were shamed into an empathy project. For many months, I avoided my friends’ liberal posts and adopted a strict regimen of conservative writing. I created a reverse echo chamber. But the conservatives residents of my echo chamber were those most palatable to me: the Never Trumpers, the thoughtful conservatives and the intellectual conservatives.
These writers — such luminaries as Ross Douthat, David Frum and Andrew Sullivan — are designed for liberals curious about the right. For one, they work for liberal outlets: Douthat for the New York Times, Frum for The Atlantic and Sullivan for New York Magazine. They live in cosmopolitan cities like New York and Washington, D.C., and watch the prestige TV shows liberals enjoy (Douthat has a particular affinity for Girls).
In their writing, these folks make insignificant concessions to their progressive audience, lulling readers into a false sense of security. They’re skilled prose stylists and undeniably sharp.
But here’s the catch: The good conservatives aren’t. Frum criticized Trump’s travel ban for being poorly constructed — not because it’s a moral crime against the planet’s most vulnerable. In a hysterical column, Sullivan taunted black Americans for not being as successful as Jews or Asians. Douthat has a pathological fondness for monarchy.
The liberal-friendly conservatives might walk, talk and write like any progressive. But beneath this facade are the priorities and prejudices that inspired the travel ban and Trumpcare.
Yet these writers are admired, simply because they aren’t Trump. They are educated and eloquent; Trump is odious and ignorant. If you’ve heard Trump call Mexican immigrants “rapists,” Frum’s case against refugees seems lucid and wise. Sullivan’s racist screed appears enlightened if you’ve just read the president’s morning tweets.
Trump lowers the bar for every other right-winger, no matter how grotesque. This soft bigotry of low expectations has infected the highest levels of the Democratic Party. Referring to a man who started two calamitous wars and led the American economy into ruin, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi mused: “Did we ever think we would see the day when we would say, ‘Please bring back George W. Bush’?”
I think the liberal-friendly conservatives will push many folks to the right. We may see a mass conversion. But when these new conservative converts arrive, they will enter a movement devoid of compassion and intellectual honesty. Although they may be as articulate as Douthat, Sullivan and Frum, our new conservatives will be indelibly stained by the sins of Ryan, Bannon and Trump.
Max Foley-Keene is a sophomore government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.