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I had been getting behind for some time on the weekly and biweekly "journals of opinion" I had long subscribed to, in some cases since college days. Issues kept piling up and I needed to set aside a couple days to get caught up.

That will now be easier because my favorite such magazine, Bill Kristol's The Weekly Standard, was just murdered.

The word "murdered" was used to describe the circumstances of its demise by co-founder John Podhoretz. It is the correct word because The Standard wasn't losing any more money than usual (such publications seldom make any) and there were apparently offers from would-be purchasers who wanted to keep the influential magazine and the conservative/libertarian philosophy it represented going. The problem was that the company that owned it killed it in order to harvest its subscriber list and eliminate competition for a pro-Trump magazine in the works.

The saddest part of The Standard's demise wasn't, however, its demise per se, as unexpected and dismal as that was, but the unseemly delight expressed by certain conservatives who perceived it as a sanctuary for ideological traitors, otherwise known as conservatives less than rapturous about Donald Trump.

I will therefore no longer get to read the liveliest and most insightful political publication around because it was judged insufficiently sycophantic in an age when some believe sycophancy regarding all things Trump is necessary.

As such, Chris Buskirk, editor of American Greatness (an online site which seems to have little function other than to give a daily smooch to Trump's derriere), illogically proclaimed that the demise of The Standard amounted to nothing less than a rebirth of American conservatism, now shorn of its insidious "neo-conservative" wing (like usual, undefined), which he claimed had "undermined and discredited the work of conservatives from Lincoln to Reagan."

How "neo-conservatism," a movement which supposedly didn't exist until the late 1960s, could undermine Lincoln, a man who died a century earlier, or Reagan, in whose administration many "neo-cons" loyally served, was conveniently left unexplained.

Trump himself even chimed in, by tweeting that "the pathetic and dishonest Weekly Standard, run by failed prognosticator Bill Kristol (who, like many others, never had a clue), is flat broke and out of business. Too bad. May it rest in peace!"

The purge of the Republican Party and of the broader conservative movement by a man who isn't a Republican or even a conservative thus continues, threatening to create something which will in the end no longer resemble either the Republican Party or conservatism.

There is so much wrong with this picture--of an unprincipled buffoon remaking American conservatism while those who have worked on behalf of conservative principles for decades perish because of their opposition to him, to the hurrahs of Trump supporters--that it is difficult to know where to begin.

For a start, there is the utter incongruity of conservatism, a venerable political philosophy derived from classical liberal tenets like individual liberty, the rule of law, and self-government, being reduced to little more than a contemporary "cult of personality;" a veritable grab-bag of desperate justifications for Trump's unjustifiable.

Much like the Marxist theoretical framework was eventually hijacked by unscrupulous demagogues of dubious Marxian fidelity like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, Trump, a man with even less interest in conservative ideology than Lenin, Stalin, and Mao had in Marxism, is in the process of hijacking a movement which he has absolutely no understanding of or interest in, while being cheered on by those who allegedly do.

At the least, a "cult of personality"--the most distinctive element of which is the swift punishment of any criticism of the great leader carried out by ever-faithful court jesters--ill behooves a political movement based on lofty principles and the consideration of serious ideas.

But there are also the long-term electoral implications to consider--that the reduction of the GOP to little more than Trump's personal political vehicle and of conservatism more broadly to a conflated version of Trumpism will end in disaster for both conservatism and the party once entrusted to uphold it.

It has, of course, been an ongoing goal of the left, in its efforts to discredit its ideological opponent, to blur as much as possible the distinction between Trump and conservatism, to make people think Trump whenever they hear the word conservative and recoil accordingly.

That that effort is now being given a boost by pro-Trump conservatives seeking to suppress any criticism of Trump from other conservatives takes us beyond irony.

It is, along these lines, almost inconceivable that conservatism as a movement will survive if its content is reduced to nothing more than the nonsense that Trump tweets on a daily basis, but this appears to be the goal, intentional or not, of those who cheered The Weekly Standard's end.

There will, of course, be an end to Trump at some point as well, more than likely in January 2021, if not before.

So if conservatism now requires reflexive defense of whatever Trump does, however indefensible, and the punishment of those who refuse to play along, what will be left of conservatism?

"Rebirth" indeed.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 01/07/2019

Print Headline: The conservative crisis

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