It’s interesting how conservatism has evolved in America in recent decades. Starting in the early eighties with Reagan and all the way up until around 2008-2012–ending with the Global Financial Crisis and its aftermath, and the forgettable campaigns of Romney and McCain–the Republican party was heavily influenced by the the so-called Chicago School, composed of academics like Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer, the latter who helped shape the GOP policy on taxes, and the former whose free market ethos would serve as an intellectual bulwark against Cold War era collectivism.
Bush in 2000, before 911 changed the course of his presidency, campaigned on privatizing social security and lowering taxes. Vice President Gore campaigned on the strength of then-President Bill Clinton. The election was close and the outcome infamously decided by the Supreme Court, ending the recounts and awarding Florida to Bush and the necessary 25 electoral votes to win. Bush continued where Clinton left off regarding trade, and like Regan who lowered taxes in 1981 shortly after being elected, also lowered taxes just a year into his first term.
2005 was an especially important year. NYTs columnist Thomas Friedman’s influential book ‘The World is Flat,’ which advocated for globalization, was published in 2005, at the middle of Bush’s two-term presidency. Harvard economist and free-trade proponent Greg Mankiw from 2003 to 2005 was an important Bush economic advisor. The Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005 was signed into law by Bush. The best-seller ‘Freakanomics’ was published in 2005 by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt. And finally in November 2005 Bush awarded Alan Greenspan the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which like Obama’s unearned Nobel in 2009, would go down as one of the more poorly timed accolades.
The Great Recession, in 2007-2009, however called into doubt the intellectual foundations of self-regulating and efficient markets, that seemed so self-evident just years earlier. Romney and McCain’s significant defeats and lackluster campaigns, were a sort of repudiation of status quo conservatism, which had otherwise dominated and worked so well. But there was another key development: in 2013 the split between pro and anti-amnesty Republicans, the latter who opposed the bi-partisan ‘Gang of Eight’ bill, which died in committee. Although relegated to a footnote now, opposition to this proposal was strong online, and it showed that there was a large potential audience receptive to Trump’s hawkishness against immigration and free trade.
The Gamergate movement, in 2014-2015, was a contributing factor and coincided with in the decline of ‘new atheism’ and presaged Trump’s online popularity among a young, smart energized fanbase, in which there was a non-trivial overlap between Gamergate supporters and Trump supporters. The same sort of online memetic activism in Gamergate would be used in support of Trump a few years later.
It’s remarkable how the GOP transitioned so abruptly from Romney to Trump in just 4 years. There was no ‘meme culture’ in 2012, no ‘pol’, or r/The_Donald. Had someone in 2012 created ‘r/The_Romney’ or in 2008 ‘r/The_McCain’ probably it would have attracted no more than just a handful of active users, not anywhere close to the almost eight-hundred-thousand users of r/The_Donald at its peak. r/The_Donald was big enough to create news in its own right and was a cultural phenomenon that could not be ignored. It was important enough that Reddit had to designate special resources to moderating it, and Reddit modified its algorithms so posts from r/The_Donald would not appear on the front page as often or at all. But by 2019 it was put in quarantine by Reddit admins (for the usual, expected reasons such as ‘inciting hate’ and ‘breaking the rules’), and then soon after abandoned by its users to create an offshoot site, and then in 2020 finally banned.
Starting in late 2015 or early 2016 and until around mid-2017 or so, saw the rise and then eventual decline of the alt/dissident-right. The ill-fated Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, from August 11-12th 2017, may have marked pinnacle of the alt-right’s influence, and soon after social networks and payment platforms would begin to step up censorship efforts in response to a combination of bad press (such as Facebook being accused of ‘not doing enough to stop hate speech’) and pressure from advertisers. Indeed, the 2018 Unite the Right rally would attract just a tiny fraction of 2017’s attendance.
Since 2020, the dissident/alt-right has been pushed to the fringes of discourse to ‘chan’ sites and tiny streaming sites, thanks to continued mass-coordinated censorship by major tech platforms, especially during the Covid pandemic and after Jan 6th, which saw many users (not just limited to the far or fringe-right) have their social media accounts closed under such vague accusations of ‘spreading misinformation’ or ‘inciting violence’. It’s hard to coordinate political action or communities when your platforms and payment processors keep being closed.
In mid 2021, when Biden’s poll numbers began to tank owing to a combination of high inflation and a weakening economy, a new type of civic nationalism emerged online, which can be described as amalgamation of Trump-era civic nationalism, mixed with the remnants of Gamergate, which has mostly been subsumed by the IDW. It’s an admixture of salt-of-the-earth traditionalism with Christian multi-ethnic inclusivity. It’s strongly pro-2nd Amendment, and unlike the alt-right, in keeping with the ‘civic’ aspect of civic nationalism, does not reject diversity and sees Hispanics, Blacks and other races and ethnicities as being a major part of the future GOP ‘base’, united against the far-left and Biden.
It’s obviously opposed to any wokeness, which gives it appeal to moderates on the IDW-right, who may not care that much about traditionalism but see wokeness and CRT as major threats. It’s also skeptical of the free market fundamentalism of the Reagan and Bush eras, and is not entirely opposed to regulation, but also supports lower taxes. As expected with civic nationalism, it’s opposed to offshoring and outsourcing, in contrast to Bush-era globalism.
This new brand of civic nationalism will be a major force in US politics, because it fixes most of the problems of post-Reagan conservatism. Whereas trump seemed at times too deferential to credentialed experts, the new brand of civic nationalism, instead of putting so much faith in experts–be it foreign policy experts, health experts, or Chicago School economics experts–is much more influenced by sentiment, which makes it more adaptable to changing social trends, and appeals to a large and diverse audience already skeptical of experts.
Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, by purging all the ‘extreme’ people and conspiracy people, left the moderates and civic nationalists in place to fill the void, who are more effective. Hardly anyone takes neo-Nazis and ‘doomers’ seriously as a political force, yet they compete with the mainstream-right and the alt-middle/center for attention and followers. Some on the far-right are nihilistic and seek race war or instability/collapse of society; these are views that repel most or all voters, compared to focusing on crime, gas prices, or inflation.
For some reason I found myself on Snoop Dogg’s Instagram page. It’s mostly a collection TikTok videos chosen by Snoop of people cooking, taking pratfalls, dancing, shooting hoops…just random stuff. It can be described as an eclectic folksiness of sorts, showcasing people of all walks of life doing seemingly ordinary things but funny or absurd. As I was scrolling I was thinking, “This is the future of the GOP.” In contrast to Snoop’s great wealth and fame, it’s very un-pretentious and inclusive, displaying the seemingly ordinariness or mundanity of the wisdom and life of the ‘common man’. Much like how civic nationalism brings people together, so does Snoop.