In a recent issue of National Review, I published a long response to my friend Michael Brendan Dougherty and other critics who have found my reporting on the white underclass — including its economic stagnation and its opiate addiction, along with its resentment-fueled addiction to the imbecility of Donald Trump — insufficiently sympathetic. My longstanding advice to ambitious people trapped in stagnant communities — move, for God’s sake! — strikes Michael and others as offensive to the Burkean current within conservatism. What about the communities? they ask. Doesn’t rootedness have some claim on their loyalty?
One critic denounced my “rootless cosmopolitanism.” I am not sure whether he was aware or unaware of that phrase’s particular history (it was a Communist epithet for Jews during the purges) but, given the recent flavor of criticism on the populist Right, neither would surprise me.
What to do about dysfunctional families in dysfunctional communities? I have a great deal of experience with that question — a great deal more experience than ever I wanted to have in this life. And my answer to what to do about a community or a family that offers you little or nothing and that may be actively working against your real long-term interest is for me the same today as it was 25 years ago, when I first was forced to consider it and answered in the argot of my own downscale tornado-bait community:
If there’s nothing for you in Garbutt but penury, dysfunction, and addiction, then get the hell out.
Michael worries about dying old mill towns in upstate New York and similar places and wonders why the party of free enterprise doesn’t have more to offer people dwelling in them. He imagines a disability fraudster dwelling in Garbutt, N.Y., and asks what we (we conservatives) are going to do for him and his sad little town. (Among the many dishonest responses to my piece were those treating the addled fraud artist in Garbutt as my hostile literary invention rather than Michael’s sympathetic one; no doubt Michael will have a lot to answer for the next time he visits the Greater Garbutt Chamber of Commerce.) My answer is that if there’s nothing for you in Garbutt but penury, dysfunction, and addiction, then get the hell out. If that means that communities in upstate New York or eastern Kentucky or west Texas die, so what? If that’s all they have to offer, then they have it coming.
Breitbart of course lied about what I wrote, which is what pseudojournalism sites such as Breitbart do. Specifically, Breitbart, and others echoing its daft and dishonest nonsense, claimed that I wrote that poor white people should die.
I don’t give the furry crack of a rat’s behind what the people at Breitbart think about anything, if indeed they can be said to think at all. I don’t even much care what they write about me, and would care still less if the world were less credulous. (I’ve had congressional staffers ask me, straight-facedly, about fabrications from Little Green Footballs.) They’re a stain on the name and memory of Andrew Breitbart, who had Trump’s number long ago and saw him for the impostor he is.
They do not deserve to die — they deserve to live, hence the final line of my piece: “If you want to live, get out of Garbutt.”
Joe Scarborough brought his usual millimeter-deep analysis to the question, too, and after mischaracterizing and willfully misreading what I (and Jonah Goldberg) had written on the subject, invited me on his program the next morning to talk about the coming presidential elections. I declined, and will continue to decline, and have invited them to lose my e-mail address, which I do hope they will. “Can you imagine what William F. Buckley would have thought?” he asks. I can’t say for sure (and neither can Joe), but I like to think that Bill would have cared about whether what I wrote was true at least as much as about whether it was popular.
I expected better of Rush.
“You’ve got some conservative bloggers writing about ‘white Trump supporters’ like they deserve to fail,” Rush said in reference to my piece. “They’re losers. The fact they haven’t had a raise in 15 years is their fault; they deserve to die.” This is of course more or less the opposite of what I wrote: People deserve to succeed, to have happy and productive lives, even if that means leaving behind the communities in which they were raised. They do not deserve to die — they deserve to live, hence the final line of my piece: “If you want to live, get out of Garbutt.”
What Rush did here, and has been doing so much lately (I’m a lifelong Rush admirer), is cheap. It is embarrassing. There is nothing cheaper, no easier way to rile up the rubes, than the old “Establishment vs. We the People” shtick. Rush and Trump no doubt have compared notes on the uses of that sort of populism from the comfortable quarters of their neighboring private-jet hangars in Palm Beach.
#share#You know who could really help us to clarify all this?
Cosby’s reputation is today somewhat diminished. But not long ago, he was a hero among conservatives because he was a black man willing to tell other black men what they needed to hear: “You’ve got to stop beating up your women because you can’t find a job, because you didn’t want to get an education and now you’re minimum wage,” Cosby said. “You should have thought more of yourself when you were in high school, when you had an opportunity.”
Black man tells black underclass to get its act together, he’s a hero to white conservatives. White man tells white underclass to get its act together, different story.
Conservatives thought so highly of Cosby for saying these things that when he was accused of rape, the New York Post protested that he was being “crucified for being conservative.” When the allegations first started coming out, Rush claimed that they were getting media play only because Cosby had enraged liberals by insisting that black men “start accepting responsibility.” Jerome Corsi, Trumpkin extraordinaire, fell over himself with praise for Cosby, whose speech had gone “against the grain of politically correct rhetoric that defines white racism as the cause and black inequality as the result.” (Conservatives of this stripe are big on being “politically incorrect” — about blacks.) Sean Hannity joined in.
Black man tells black underclass to get its act together, he’s a hero to white conservatives. White man tells white underclass to get its act together, different story. If you wanted to know whether white identity politics inspired by Donald Trump is going to be as foolish and morally reprehensible as black identity politics inspired by Al Sharpton, there’s your answer.
I’d offer in conclusion that you cannot believe everything you see on cable-news commentary shows, everything you hear on talk radio, or everything you read on the Internet. But if you didn’t know that by now, you surely haven’t read this far into this post. I will say that there is a source you can trust for intelligent conservative commentary and political news, one that has been in the trenches for 60 years, one with which I am proud to be associated. As for those who are marching to Trump’s drum: I, for one, have had more than my fill of men and women without the courage or the discernment to call a fraud a fraud when doing so puts them on the wrong side of the pitchfork mob and threatens a few doggie-vitamin sales.
Conservatives, and the country, deserve better.