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Michael Harris @MichaelH_PhD
, 38 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
Well, although @joshtpm was not asking me, I'll give my 25c worth anyway, because I was planning to write on this at some point, and I may as well scratch out some draft notes as a first attempt.

In short, this is not unique to the US, and it's a result of a lack of ideas. 1/n
Ideas? There's a long history of thought drawn upon by conservatives from the Enlightenment era, including Mill, Burke and Adam Smith. This fuelled a line of conservative politics and policy that led to the likes of self styled “progressive conservative”, Dwight Eisenhower. 2/n
So politicians like Richard Nixon & Margaret Thatcher could e.g. express concern on environmental issues (with Nixon establishing the EPA).

The statement “We are all Keynesians now” is also attributed to (a reluctant) Nixon, recognising the necessity of fiscal intervention. 3/n
It’s as if feeling connected to a grounding set of ideas and principles allowed conservative politicians to be pragmatic rather than purist in at least some policy areas. (Even when those politicians were hard-liners in other respects.) 4/n
Temporary hiatus while my slow computer decides whether it will crash, while I take dog to vet.

Back in a bit.

But three things (at least) were going on that combined to (eventually) push “reasonable pragmatic conservatism” aside, particularly in the US.
1. The ‘60s, the civil rights movement, & the development of the “southern strategy”
2. The fall of the USSR & “triumph of capitalism”
And then, finally, the ideas part:

3. In the background, the role of "ideas generator” in conservative/libertarian thought being adopted by organisations like the Mont Pelerin Society (leading then to primacy of Chicago School).


1) the southern strategy was a new and cynical way to lock in Republican votes by focusing on white voters in an era where civil rights were being extended to black citizens. Weaponising racial animus.

2) The collapse of the USSR suggested that free markets were demonstrably better resource allocation mechanisms than bureaucratic planning organisations (the freer the markets the better), opening up an empirical line of attack: "Markets superior!" 8/n
3) Meanwhile the intellectual work of the Mont Pelerin Society (and the Chicago School) brought a harder libertarian edge to conservative thinking, particularly as a reaction to the interventionist Keynesian consensus.

(Note also that if you don’t want to immerse yourself deep into intellectual ideas and debates so you can self-importantly label yourself a “classical liberal”, you have Ayn Rand novels to tell you that freedom is great and selfishness is virtuous.) 10/n
Thus by the time the 1980s are over, it’s pretty clear that the West has triumphed, that socialism is discredited, and the crude politics of the southern strategy matters more than serious policy thinking. Conservative policy thought focused more and more on ... 11/n
... further economic deregulation and free markets, and self-reliance of individuals in this market-driven world. With these policy directions “solved”, cultural and raw political issues started to take centre stage. 12/n
There were ideas still emanating from conservative think tanks, but they were then co-opted by the pragmatic left. When this happened, culture war politics overtook “philosophical/intellectual” conservatism as the dominant force on the right; those ideas were then abandoned. 13/n
Two examples: first, the health insurance plan that became Romneycare and eventually Obamacare. Explicitly designed as a market-friendly solution to solve a practical (access to health care) problem... 14/n
...with roots in the Heritage Foundation, it became the basis for Obamacare. Instead of claiming the triumph for conservative thinking, Obamacare became an example of creeping socialism, and condemned accordingly. 15/n
Second, carbon emissions trading. Emissions trading is another market-friendly idea from the right that became recognised as a workable and effective solution to particular pollution problems. Once adopted by the left in the context of carbon emissions, it became anathema. 16/n
By this time, the greatest forces underpinning US conservative politics were racial animus (fed by the southern strategy) & evangelical Christianity. Culture war mentality dominated such that science (esp to do with evolution or climate change) was treated as optional at best. 17
There are things specific to the US, like its history of slavery, its civil war, its constitution, its evangelical church’s teachings, & Fox News. But Australia and the UK have their “Murdoch Press” print media & their own problematic histories of immigration & border politics 18
To encapsulate all this, right wing political parties (everywhere, not just in the US) have effectively abandoned fighting for office on the basis of presenting policy positions underpinned by discernible philosophical principles. 19/n
They present themselves, first and foremost, as fighting battles on cultural grounds. We have gone from “the conservative mind” to “the reactionary mind” in the Corey Robin sense. 20/n
Many voters are not “ideological” in any obvious sense. They may be driven by hip-pocket issues, or more nebulous issues, like “character” or even “charisma” of the candidates. But ever-present for conservatives are claims that are really more slogans than ideas: ... 21/n
...about responsibly managing government finances (even if this turns out to cutting taxes in any circumstances), being tougher on border control, and elevating economic growth over supposedly speculative environmental threats. 22/n
Consequently, what conservative governments actually stand for seems nebulous, and they fight on negative grounds more than positive visions (e.g. see Australia’s 2013 federal election, fought on 3-word slogans). 23/n
When elected, they fight culture war issues the hardest (which appeal to the base but often alienate the centre) so voters becomes somewhat cranky and unpredictable, with unprecedented low approval ratings for new governments/administrations ... 24/n
...and pundits wring their hands about how the electorate is now prone to unexplained wild mood swings, rather than recognising that one side of politics has become completely unmoored from sensible, workable ideas. 25/n
So, electorally, you have tribal bases (NOT symmetrically: right-wing tribalism is not about issues, it’s about causes and a symbolic belief system, not tied to actual outcomes), ... 26/n
...and a perplexed centre mass of unaligned but irritable voters who cannot fathom how the system is meant to work for them. And you get volatile (Australia) electoral outcomes and unpredictable ones (Brexit). 27/n
None of this is to exonerate leftist parties as blameless, not least for buying into tribalist rhetoric (and practices; see Australia’s bipartisan “border protection regime”), while pretending that politics is operating in a business as usual fashion. 28/n
To finish: conservative politics has become entirely detached from any semblance of ideas, no matter how much (some of) them refer back to Enlightenment Thinkers. Those are the Never Trumpers (US) and "classical liberals" (Aust), but who cares about them?
Conservative politics is now owned by those who display the appropriate tribal fervour, denounce things like climate change, and govern for the sake of holding power and denying the other side.

No wonder the electorate's confused and irritated. 30/fin
Coming back to this to add overlooked afterthoughts.

The BIG dilemma for conservatives in the setting I’ve described is:
- the electorate will respond (positively and negatively) to the dog-whistle stuff, creating or exacerbating partisan divides, but ... 31/n
- the electorate in large part supports government programs IF it can see some justification and justice (which may or may not involve “it benefits me directly”). This is possibly truer in Australia than the US but pretty sure it holds there too. Everybody wants healthcare. 32/n
So conservatives are fighting ideological/culture war battles that are actually fundamentally unpopular to the wider electorate so they also have to work at rigging the game in their favour, which we’re certainly seeing in the US. 33/n
But lying & twisting facts and denying science are part of rigging the game, just as much as stacking the courts and gerrymandering and disenfranchising voters.

The first 3 of those are being seen outside the US now, and the latter may start to creep in elsewhere too soon. 34/n
So this puts “Its not Trump, it’s the party” into appropriate context. It’s absolutely not Trump, in the sense he’s an anomaly. He’s not. Trump is the end point (for now!) of a process of coming unmoored from ideas and devolving into crude power-seeking for its own sake. 35/n
And that crude power-seeking is justified by a series of crude ideological (and donor-pleasing) steps, like cutting taxes, mostly on higher rates, axing social programs, being tough at borders, and limiting access to abortions as much as possible. 36/n
So anyway, here we are, and we’ll see how this plays out, and how these elements drip across borders and drift over oceans.

To quote the title of a book I vaguely remember, roll on, brave bloody new world.

37/FIN (again)
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