At the end of Friday’s post on Bill O’Reilly, I suggested that his particular shtick largely did not appeal to younger conservatives or to those focused more on fiscal conservatism, foreign policy, or even religious conservatism.
Later in the day, because great minds think alike, NR’s Ian Tuttle wrote a piece arguing that age was even more of an O’Reilly factor (ouch!), marking a divide between younger righties like Ben Shapiro, Katie Pavlich, and Ben Domenech from Fox News staples like O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
Tuttle also touched on the idea of the pugnacious Trump/Fox News style trickling down to some younger so-called righties. NR’s David French focused on this latter point, identifying Tomi Lauren and Milo Yiannopoulos as examples — while also noticing both have recently fallen as quickly as they rose.
Jonah Goldberg followed with a G-File, in general agreement with Tuttle and French, with two twists. Goldberg attributes much of the current dynamic to “Alinsky envy,” noting that it’s ultimately difficult to argue that “[o]ur ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless.” He also worries that the young and ostensibly right-wing Alinskys have more appeal to young conservatives than Tuttle does.
I’ve previously written about the tension between Alinsky tactics and having any ideology beyond amassing power for oneself, so I’ll focus more on the generational argument and the twining of these two threads.
Having already written that Trump-friendly voters are more comfortable with New Deal/Great Society America than “true conservatives,” I agree with Tuttle’s general claim that such voters will tend to be older than the generations that grew up when Reagan Republicanism had become the status quo.
I don’t think that the political overlay is the only one at work, however. If Trump/O’Reilly fans are older, cultural conservatives, that conservatism is very small-c, not only in the sense of not wanting the existing New Deal/Great Society programs disrupted, but also in the sense of having a nostalgia for cultural norms and mores of that period.
If you’re reading a niche blog like this, I am going to presume you read many pieces in 2016 about Trump and Clinton representing different strains of this nostalgia: the Brat Pack vs. Woodstock, etc.
Younger conservatives are often a different animal. As Ben Domenech told The Fifth Estate recently, his vision for The Federalist is one that may be critical of the progressives’ culture war, while remaining engaged with the culture itself. He’s not interested in simply becoming a cultural scold.
I think similar attitudes in younger conservatives help explain the genius of FNC’s recently-departed RedEye and the rocketing popularity of the Weekly Substandard podcast. They generally lack the nostalgia of the disaffected cultural conservatives (nostalgia for Ultraman or Star Blazers is a different matter, even if Millennials like Sonny Bunch may not get it).
But Goldberg isn’t wrong in noting the appeal of cultural conservatism to at least a segment of younger conservatives. I can think of a few things that help account for it.
First, there is one of my hobby-horses: the dumbing down of American education, especially regarding Western Civilization. Cultural conservatism (e.g., the War on Christmas) is the easiest to understand absent a good education involving history, economics, philosophy, etc.
Cultural conservatism may also be the sort most likely to be transmitted from parents to their children. When I was studying political science, your parents’ politics were the most solid predictor of your own politics over time. And I would bet that’s not changed much; parenting matters.
Lastly, if we’re discussing generational politics, I’ll dip lightly into the generational theories of Strauss & Howe, even if I don’t put the same weight on them that Trump adviser Stephen Bannon apparently does. In the Strauss/Howe typologies, Millennials, like Boomers, are generations that are ascendant during periods of upheaval (though arguably different types of upheaval). Millennials are also generally the children of Boomers, so it’s not shocking that they would have a certain similarity of character.
The New New Left, then, may be seen as largely the spawn of the Old New Left. Young people who are not drawn to the New New Left are probably the children of those non-Lefties who were coming of age when Nixon’s “silent majority” was beating the Old New Left (however temporarily).
Some non-Left Millennials may be attracted to the next iteration of Nixon/Wallace styles of politics — thus the attraction to pugnacity and perhaps even “dirty tricks.” The fighting spirit during a period of cultural or secular tumult transcends the politics in which it manifests.
PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar (the posts come straight to your inbox; no muss no fuss). And following WHRPT on Twitter. Thanks for reading and sharing!