I must first stipulate that Washington Post columnist and ubiquitous MSNBC contributor Jennifer Rubin has been a superb voice of NeverTrumpism. When taking on the imbecilities and outrages of Trump, her analytical skills are best described as surgical. Her relentless assaults on the president's absurdities have made her a prominent target of her former ideological mates, for she dissects those absurdities as few others can.
And yet, she seems unable to analyze beyond Trump, which is to say, she can't see what came before — what led to him. The title of her latest column, "What happens when a party becomes unmoored from the truth and the American creed," is a fine example of two verbs gone bad in the service of selective blindness. The title should read, "What happened when a party became unmoored from the truth and the American creed."
For what happened, notwithstanding the universe's infinite number of possibilities, was the virtually inevitable creation of Trump and Trumpism. And it lies in the meaning of — the developmental soullessness of — "conservatism." Observes Rubin with historical blinders:
"The party and Trump apologists who brandish the conservative moniker, we fear, have lost their way. They’ve ceased to think deeply about the substance of policy and its effects, but worse, they have inverted their once-claimed priorities. What is most important — democratic norms and objective truth — is now for too many an afterthought, and Trump’s evisceration of the same, mere differences in style…. [I]f conservatives think Trump’s accomplishments are conservative, then conservatism has morphed into something foreign to those who spent decades advocating a governing philosophy rooted in opportunity for all, civility, federalism, the rule of law, free markets and limited but vigorous government."
Astonishingly, Rubin demarcates the morphing of conservatism "into something foreign" from the conservatism that long predated Trump, which was no more traditional than Trump's. Pre-Trump conservatives maliciously distorted "opportunity for all" into the Marxist-liberal bogeyman of "equality for all" in terms of material gain; that's all the original phrase was good for — a cheap shot. Civility? Four words. The Newt Gingrich Revolution. Federalism was just peachy to pre-Trump conservatives, except in that growing list of instances in which federal power was more attractive than (liberal) state power. The rule of law took its hits under W. Bush, what with its warrantless surveillance and Yooism. Free markets were also peachy, except when, say, U.S. steel needed protection (and Republicans, its votes) — all of which tossed the phrase "limited but vigorous government" into the ashbin of random interpretation.
Put in other words of even broader meaning, modern conservatism is essentially the outgrowth of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — that invitation to white backlash, the year in which white racists flocked, in spirit and en masse, to the South in a seismic realignment of American politics. Thus the government shutdown of today; Trump and his partisan congressional allies are merely reflecting the GOP's half-century animus toward people of color. Innocent teenagers included.
Until traditional conservatives such as Jennifer Rubin accept these uncomfortable historical facts, they'll never completely comprehend or be able to properly analyze the rise of Trump and Trumpism. And that's a damn shame. Because Ms. Rubin, for one, is intellectually capable of so much more.