At the end of Garet Garrett’s Rise of Empire, the grizzled old prophet of the dystopia we’re living in held out hope to his conservative comrades and their intellectual descendants. Although pessimistic by nature (at least so it seems to me), the Old Right journalist, novelist, and peerless polemicist ended his philippic against empire this way:
No doubt the people know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough to fight for it and to pay the price. The only point is that no leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose.
This question of leadership has been the central weakness of the conservative movement since Garrett’s day. Bob Taft, the leader of the old Republican “isolationists,” was always the most moderate member of his faction, which may have something to do with his thrice-failed presidential campaigns. After that, the field of Old Right politicians was considerably thinned, and shortly nonexistent, as the Buckleyite “New Right” took the reins and the Goldwater era dawned.
It wasn’t until the long nightmare known as the Cold War ended, and the idols of neoconservative orthodoxy were debunked as false gods, that the spirit of the Old Right awakened and the dear old slogan “America First!” was once again heard in the land. Trump’s victory is clear evidence that the American people want their Old Republic back enough to fight for it. Trump is nothing if not that leader Garrett yearned for so long ago, yet he is a lone giant, a Gulliver who at times seems overwhelmed by an army of Lilliputians, isolated even in his own White House. That’s a burden no human can possibly bear. Is there any relief in sight for Donald Trump?
Perhaps there is, in the shape of the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, whose courageous defense of the President’s Helsinki Summit—underscored by his own trip to Moscow to meet with peace-minded Russian legislators as well as Mikhail Gorbachev—shows that he has learned from his mistakes.
I was not a fan of the senator’s presidential campaign, and I wasn’t shy about making my opinion known: In an election season where authenticity was the ticket, and boldness the winning hand, Paul the Younger exhibited neither. Quite the opposite, his caution and kowtowing to the conventional wisdom on every topic under the sun—but especially foreign policy—got him nowhere fast in the primaries, and he went from being “the most interesting man in Washington” to the earliest burnout of them all.
And then he turned it completely around.
Unlike most of his libertarian brethren, Senator Paul has learned the lesson of the Trump era: The people are ready for radicalism. Get out of NATO? Why not! Meet with Kim Jong-un? Let’s go for it! Negotiate with Putin, who has been demonized in one of the most intense propaganda campaigns since the run-up to the Iraq invasion? Just say “Yes!”
Paul arose in the Senate to berate the President’s critics, comparing Trump to Ronald Reagan, who made a deal with Gorbachev—as some of the same people who supported Reagan, or their descendants, complained of a “sellout.” These critics, Rand averred, are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, an affliction serious enough to render them indifferent to the looming threat of a military conflict between two nuclear-armed adversaries.
The leadership question has always harried the right-wing populist movement, with its politicians—e.g., Ross Perot—never quite up to snuff, and it’s intellectual leaders too far ahead of their time, as in the case of Pat Buchanan. Indeed, this dichotomy between the politician and the pedagogue has been woven into the narrative of the right in American politics. Ron Paul, who managed to be both, has also contributed to the cause by fathering a son who bears the mark of that fabled unicorn of a creature: the principled politician. And one, furthermore, who has the gumption to fight, and the brains to know the difference between showboating and standing up for principle.
Senator Paul has reportedly become quite close to the President, and some say he has all but talked Trump out of provoking a war with Iran. There are rumors he is in the running to become Trump’s new vice president—because Pence, they say, is about to get the “You’re fired!” treatment. Last I heard, the senator was seen getting aboard Air Force One . . .
The son of Ron Paul raised a lot of expectations, and I, for one, feared that these might never be met: Indeed, I once compared him to a faded carbon copy of his father, which was an accurate description at the time, albeit a bit harsh.
These days, however, my fears have been more than assuaged. Paul Senior was always a better pedagogue than a politician, and that’s a compliment, I suppose. Surely, he would take it as such. Yet the junior senator from Kentucky is proving himself at least his father’s equal and, in the politicians’ department, has clearly surpassed him. The senator is working on the inside to advance ideas once regarded as outside the realm of the respectable, e.g., minding our own business internationally and abandoning the self-imposed obligation to police the planet.
This is not a repudiation of the elder Paul’s outsiderism: It’s the continuation of a radical ideological—and familial—tradition, a maturation that melds the new populism with the libertarian insight into the dangers posed by the globalism of the Davos crowd.
Paul’s stance is in marked contrast to the rest of the quasilibertarian Beltway crowd, and especially to those on the Koch payroll: open borders, gay rights, and criminal-justice “reform” are the only issues that the Kochtopus cares about. They’ve even begun backsliding on foreign policy, giving credence to the Russiagate hoax, carping at Trump’s every move despite his peace overtures on virtually every front, and even jumping on the New Cold War bandwagon. It’s a pathetic sight to see, a testament to the power of abject conformism and brazen ideological intimidation that has lately retarded the public discourse. Such are the effects of Trump Derangement Syndrome on the urban liberal blue-state mindset, which these fake “libertarians” all share no matter their ostensible ideological proclivities. Culturally, these people are indistinguishable from their “progressive” counterparts; both right and left wings of the Whole Foods crowd are equally contemptuous of the Walmart crowd—i.e., the Trump base.
Ever since the Great Split of 1983, when the Koch brothers walked out of the grassroots movement and set up shop in Washington, D.C., the gulf between the populist Paulians and the denizens of KochWorld has been all too apparent. The Trump years have deepened the divide, and underscored the victory of the former over the latter. The Paulians, led by advocates of a right-wing populist strategy (such as the late Murray Rothbard), were right about the direction the country was headed; the Koch faction was wrong.
The irony is that the Kochtopus types were always vaunted as insiders, whose connections and whisperings in the ear of the king gave them the kind of clout that would lead to real results, as opposed to the radical outsiderism of the Paulian movement. Yet now it is Paul the Younger who is whispering in the king’s ear.
Vice President Paul: It has a nice ring to it. And then we’ll see which libertarians were right about Trump, and which ones couldn’t have been more wrong.