Politics & Policy

The Rise of the Doomsday Conservatives

Trump campaigns in Dallas in September. (Tom Pennington/Getty)

The American Right is divided between those who think our country has serious problems and those who think it is teetering on the edge of collapse. Donald Trump’s rise has been fueled by the latter group, which sees itself as Cassandra, accurately surveying and desperately trying to revive a “crippled America,” as Trump titled his book.

The edge-of-extinction crowd hasn’t just failed to persuade the rest of the Right; they’ve failed to persuade the mass of voters. Americans tell pollsters the country is headed in the wrong direction, but they’re not apocalyptic about it. To everyone else, the Doomsayers come across as paranoid, race-obsessed hysterics.

Conservative columnist Diana West, arguing that it’s time for “American Patriots” to rally around Trump, offers a concise summary of the apocalyptic vision that has taken hold among quite a few self-identified conservatives:

If, say, a President Cruz were to ensure that Planned Parenthood was defunded, Obamacare ended, government trimmed, and amnesty once again staved off for another election cycle — we would all rejoice. However, the Constitution, the Republic, would be no more secure. On the contrary, they would still teeter on the edge of extinction, lost in a demographic, political, and cultural transformation that our fathers, founding and otherwise, would find inconceivable — and particularly if they ever found out that the crisis took hold when We the People lost our nerve even to talk about immigration and Islam.

There’s a lot to unpack here. West’s first point on the path to extinction is a “demographic transformation.” The United States is 77 percent white, 13 percent African American, about 17 percent Latino, and 5 percent Asian. Those numbers will change in a generation; staid demographers and rhetorical firebrands alike refer to it as the “browning of America.” West and others assert that a majority-minority United States will be a lesser country — less free, less prosperous, less safe. At heart, they believe that what gives America its unique strengths is a population that is predominantly European in heritage.

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But if you think a strong national defense, strong family values, free-market economics, and respect for the rule of law only benefit white America, and can only be preserved by them, you’re out of your mind. Try telling the 233,000 African-American members of the military that they’re incapable of keeping Americans safe. Tell the 42 percent of Asian-Americans who profess faith in Christ that their lives don’t preserve and promote Judeo-Christian values. Tell the 55,000 Hispanic police officers that they’re culturally incapable of upholding the rule of law. Tell the immigrants starting 520 new businesses per month that they can’t strengthen American capitalism. According to apocalyptic conservatism, Clarence Thomas, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Thomas Sowell are part of the problem, not the solution.

#share#The Doomsday Conservatives contend we’re living in a genuine dark age of oppression of speech, at a time when Alex Jones is on 160 stations, Glenn Beck has his own television network, and Mark Levin’s books repeatedly top the New York Times bestseller lists. West concludes that the crisis she sees took hold when the American People “lost our nerve to even talk about immigration or Islam.” Look around you. Do you see a country that is afraid to discuss immigration or Islam?

It’s a bit like when Leftists insist “it’s time for a real national dialogue on race” or “it’s time for a serious national conversation on guns,” when in reality these dialogues have been ongoing for decades, in the halls of Congress and on cable-news shows and at dinner tables across the country. Trump-aligned anti-immigration zealots insist the conversation is nonexistent or suppressed so as to avoid the truth: They aren’t winning the argument.

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The country is evenly split on whether to allow Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States. But only 27 percent of registered voters support banning Muslims from entering the country; 66 percent oppose the idea. A slim majority supports the status quo on “birthright citizenship” — giving American citizenship to anyone born on American soil, regardless of their parents’ legal status. Support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants consistently sits between 50 and 60 percent.

Those who feel that stopping illegal immigration should be the nation’s top priority rarely have any idea of how few of their countrymen agree with them. Gallup recently asked voters what they see as the most important problem facing the country today. Just 5 percent said “immigration/illegal aliens.” 16 percent said “terrorism” and 9 percent said the “economy in general.”

Yet to West, the problem that’s so low on most people’s lists is even worse than anyone is willing to admit:

We don’t even have a border. We have “border surges,” and “unaccompanied alien minors.” We have “sanctuary cities,” and a continuous government raid on our own pocketbooks to pay for what amounts to our own invasion. That’s not even counting the attendant pathologies, burdens, and immeasurable cultural dislocation that comes about when “no one speaks English anymore.” 

It is no doubt frustrating that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement service capable of removing 409,000 illegal immigrants just a few years ago only removed 235,419 in the last fiscal year. But U.S. immigration enforcement has not ceased, as West and her ilk might suggest.

In 2005, 9,891 border-patrol agents worked on the Southwest border with Mexico; by 2014, there were 18,127 agents. Under Operation Secure Texas, the state government will devote $800 million in new resources to securing the border, which is already patrolled by Texas National Guard troops. We have a border, and a lot is being done to secure it. But the Doomsday Conservatives can’t take “yes” for an answer. They’re too emotionally and psychologically invested in the idea of perpetual crisis to acknowledge that real progress has been made on immigration.

#related#Despite its gloom, their narrative preserves their self-image: A nation of sheep tunes out the severity of its problems, obliviously careening toward the precipice while an impassioned, brave band of outsiders recognizes the menace arriving from abroad. While even seemingly conservative lawmakers such as Ted Cruz are mesmerized by, as West puts it, a “rosier vision of Islam and immigration screening,” the faithful unite around a billionaire who’s willing to speak the truths that political correctness has so thoroughly silenced. Anyone who doesn’t see it the way they do is a loser, a low-energy clown, or something more sinister.

The best part of this narrative is that if Trump fails to win the nomination or the presidency, the outsiders have a ready-made explanation: the party and/or the country chose to be ostriches, heads buried in the sand as the country fell apart. It just couldn’t be that Trump and his supporters tainted legitimate concerns about border security and assimilation of immigrants with a whiff of lunatic white-nationalism.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review. 

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