Postmodern Conservative

Trump, Sanders, Cruz, and New York Values

I’ll have a lot more to say about the current state of the Republican campaign tomorrow. But some random observations about what can be read on the Internet this morning.

The great success of both Trump and Sanders is in setting the terms of the campaign. The activist left of the Democratic party — including many members of Congress — are buying more and more into Sanders’s class-based agenda. And even Hillary Clinton herself is trying to brand herself as just to the right of Sanders on issues such as the regulation of Wall Street and the minimum wage. Her efforts to distinguish herself have to do with Bernie’s waffling on gun control and his being an old man insensitive to even his own sexism.

All the campaign momentum is being generated by Bernie’s energetic indignation when it comes to oligarchic corruption and indifference. The race for the Democratic nomination is on, and Hillary’s path to victory includes the effort to steal more of Bernie’s thunder.

The Wall Street Journal and conservative think-tankers are complaining that the acclaimed film The Big Short is basically Sanders propaganda. It’s true that it ignores the huge role government policy had in encouraging the subprime loans that caused the housing bubble and all that, and Fannie and Freddie are also conspicuous by their absence. The film also ends with the thought that our elitists blame immigrants and poor people for the results of the evildoing of big bankers. Not very subtle. But the film is not completely wrong, as General Jackson said, to “damn the money men.” And right now the stock market is tanking again — again the fault of the stupidity and greed of the Wall Street–government complex, someone might say.

That leads us to the astute observation of Walter Russell Mead that Cruz is becoming more Jacksonian — or more like Trump. The Republican voters are now a solid Jacksonian majority. The enemy is wimpy, political correct, globalist, oligarchic, big-banking Hamiltonians. The enemy is, as Cruz imprudently said out loud, “New York values.” (It was fun to see Cruz grovel through clarification. What he really meant was that the good New Yorkers have been betrayed by liberal politicians, although that’s nothing like what he said.)

Now there are big differences between Sanders and Cruz and/or Trump, but, you know, Bernie is a Jacksonian (more than not) too. President Jackson damned both the big bankers and the consolidationists/centralizers, and he thought that most Hamiltonians were both. Bernie, it’s true, is about populist consolidated government to break up the monopolistic banks, but his is a recognizable Jacksonian heresy.

So it turns out that the simple formula — which, I admit, I embraced — that America is simply drifting in a libertarian direction when it comes to economics, social issues, and globalist sophistication in general needs a lot of revision. Certainly the case against Hillary and Jeb — or a new birth of Clinton/Bush — seems anti-establishment in some populist/nationalist mode in both parties.

Getting back to New York values: Establishment Republicans were a bit taken aback by Cruz’s description of those values being embedded in Manhattanites immersed in the media and money. That could seem anti-Semitic, after all, and it certainly is pandering to a rural prejudice. But, to be fair, there’s nothing really anti-Semitic about being grossed out by Lena Dunham. And it certainly is fair to say that Trump is more at home in New York than Iowa. (About Cruz, though: He is a a product of the Ivy League, and his wife was at home at Goldman Sachs.)

But when lots of Americans think New York values, they really do follow Trump and think about the heroic (and underpaid and under-appreciated) police and firefighters. And it’s not just the memory of 9/11. Think about all the TV shows that celebrate their Jacksonian, countercultural class, beginning with Blue Blood, starring the exceedingly manly perfect gentleman (on screen) Tom Selleck. That class, on TV, at least, has discarded much of the tribal prejudice that, for example, the New York Irish once had and includes a lot of irony about the Protestant and Catholic prudery that produces the criminalization of sin. It retains, however, a lot of plainspoken contempt for the political correctness of the elite establishmentarians who sacrifice truth and duty to public relations, and there’s still the love for the greatness of the USA. For some of the blue bloods, Trump is their guy (I don’t think for a moment he deserves to be).

Rumor has it that one stage of Cruz’s war against Trump will be to out his Mafia connections. Well, the Mafia embodies another form of New York values celebrated on screen. And that connection won’t hurt Trump either. Those wise guys, we see in the movies, really know how to make deals that can’t be refused. That might explain why Mexico is going to build that wall.

I’m going to skip Staten Island values, which don’t deserve to be skipped from a intercultural perspective. The same with African-American values in all the boroughs, because, sadly, they don’t play a big part in Republican caucuses and primaries.

Another form of New York values, of course, are those found on Wall Street. Hamiltonians, not without reason, see real virtue there, and the world depends for its prosperity, in some measure, on the commercial hub of our country. For the Jacksonian Sanders, Wall Street values is an oxymoron; it’s all corruption and fraud. Trump wants to tax those hedge-fund guys for their unproductive irresponsibility. One limit to Cruz’s Jacksonianism might be his refusal to include Wall Street in the New York values he disses; his tax scheme — with its big cut for the top earners or job creators and its focus on growth alone — is actually quite Hamiltonian. A Jacksonian opportunity Rubio mucked up (partly because he’s not a Jacksonian at heart) in the last debate is to brand Cruz’s tax plan as extremely oligarchic.

There’s another big part of New York values. All the wonderful tales of success of entrepreneurial and highly responsible immigrants from all over. New York City — as seen in the film Brooklyn – is most of all a home for the homeless. It’s worth remembering that Jacksonianism was once clearly distinguished from Know-Nothingism, but that distinction is not as it clear as it should be among Republicans now. More soon along those lines.

In any case, we postmodern conservatives embrace (but go no further than that) Jacksonian populism when it’s deployed against the privileged irresponsibility of our cognitive elite, which we say is no longer located primarily in Manhattan. But there’s a lot of good, too, about the prosperity and even the cosmopolitanism (properly limited by political and civic considerations) of the Hamiltonians. We’re glad that the oligarchic libertarians no longer dominate the Republican party, but we wish a better kind of conservative did instead. The heights of American conservatism owe a lot to our immigrants, whose churches and schools and synagogues and so forth and so on can be seen all over New York City.

Peter Augustine Lawler — Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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