The National Review Would Like You to Stop Upsetting the Left

The strategy of polite surrender isn’t working.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.

In 1867, Karl Marx published Das Kapital. And it was Trump’s fault.

Or as Jim Geraghty at the National Review argues that the "the most lasting legacy of the Trump presidency will be a culturally dominant progressive left." Geraghty blames President Trump for undermining a strategy of polite surrender that is exactly the reason why the Left dominates our culture (as it has for 70 years), our politics, and now even corporations. 

The culturally dominant progressive left that the National Review was built to fight against, before it decided to instead fight against Trump, was around long before Trump was born. 

The Left began consolidating its control over the Democrats with the convention riots in Chicago in ‘68: decimating anti-Communist liberals, and paving the way for Carter, Clinton, and Obama. And it had dominated the entertainment industry, the media, and academia long before that.

If a “culturally dominant progressive left” is President Trump’s legacy, then why was William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of the National Review, standing “athwart history, yelling ‘Stop’”? 

And since standing athwart and yelling at history was the National Review’s mission statement, why did it ever come into being back when Donald J. Trump was all of 9 years old?

In 1955, Buckley wrote in that same mission statement that “conservatives in this country... are non-licensed nonconformists; and this is dangerous business in a Liberal world.”

Buckley’s non-licensed nonconformists have since become licensed nonconformists who hold on to their licenses in a liberal world by not being too rude, too confrontational, or too effective. 

They value being allowed to play while accepting that they won’t be allowed to win. 

President Trump emerged as one of Buckley’s unlicensed nonconformists. He rode down history’s escalator yelling, “Stop”. And the licensed nonconformists stood athwart the Republican Party yelling, “Stop”, not at the Left, but at him. Now they’re blaming President Trump for the crisis of a rising Left that they have done very little to actually stop. 

The National Review’s shoddy second-hand thesis, borrowed from a New York Times column, is that the “anti-Trump backlash” energized and mobilized the Left. It’s certainly true that the Left used President Trump as a villain to great effect. Just as it used Bush and Reagan to great effect, and depicted McCain and Romney, when they ran against Obama, as the new Klan.

Every single Republican president or nominee is going to be compared to Hitler. 

“Goldwater’s acceptance speech had the stench of fascism. All we needed to hear was Heil Hitler," Governor Pat Brown claimed. Chicago's Mayor Daley had accused Nixon of “Hitler type” tactics. Historian William Shirer had compared Reagan to Hitler for intervening in Grenada. “The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected," Kurt Vonnegut had quipped.

The National Review’s case against Trump is that he didn’t take it lying down and fought back. And that by doing so he provoked leftists to greater extremes of hatred, fury, and power grabs.

And its alternative strategy is what?

Don’t make the Left angry. If you get it too upset, too worked up, and too furious, it’ll be an even bigger threat. It’s best to play the nice conservative mice treading warily around the big red cat.

That’s not an indictment of President Trump, but of the National Review.

The magazine’s original mandate has gone from standing athwart history, yelling, “Stop”, to standing carefully alongside it and politely whispering, “Can’t You Slow Down a Little?”

Don’t make the Left too angry isn’t a battle strategy: it’s a collaborator’s plan to manage defeat.

“The progressive Left is a much stronger cultural force in 2021 than it was on Election Day 2016, and it is hard to believe that Trump’s presidency had nothing to do with that,” Geraghty argues at Buckley’s old magazine. 

But the Left was also a much stronger cultural force in 2008 than it was in 2000. Was that Bush’s fault? The Left, as any conservative with a sense of history longer than last week’s New York Times’ talking points (which is the source of Geraghty’s argument) knows, has been gaining strength decade after decade. That’s why his magazine came into existence. 

What it lacks is the sense of urgency that caused Buckley to write that, “the profound crisis of our era is... the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order.”

Is the National Review even aware of its mission statement anymore?

The sense of crisis that brought it into being faded long ago into a jaded complacency as comfortable writers made a very good living writing about their dogs, going on cruises, and decrying the ravages of the Left without feeling the horror of what was happening to America.

They had become chronicles of the decline, intimately familiar with the facts, but emotionally detached from them, who had turned an activist publication that railed at the establishment into an establishment publication that railed at the activists. Instead of standing athwart history, the National Review spent all of its time shushing anyone rude enough to actually yell at leftists.

“We begin publishing, then, with a considerable stock of experience with the irresponsible Right, and a despair of the intransigence of the Liberals, who run this country; and all this in a world dominated by the jubilant single-mindedness of the practicing Communist, with his inside track to History. All this would not appear to augur well for National Review. Yet we start with a considerable — and considered — optimism,” Buckley wrote 66 years ago.

That optimism of the happy warrior confronting a leftist ruling class has long since disappeared. In its place is the measured pessimism of an establishment that no longer hopes to win, but to slow down the rate of defeat long enough to wind down its careers and retire to a lake house.

Successful revolutionaries become establishment men unwilling to rock the boat. The National Review didn’t defeat the Left, but it does stand athwart of the conservative establishment. And its soft message from the establishment is that a slow retreat is better than a bloody last stand.

That wasn’t why the National Review was created, but it is why it has become irrelevant.

Conservatives have lost patience with publications and personalities that won’t fight. They’re tired of all the arguments why fighting is a bad idea and why we’re doomed to be defeated.

They rallied to President Trump because he rejected the pessimism and defeatism that had taken over the establishment. MAGA’s message was that we will fight and we will win. 

That infuriates the Left which believes with religious fervor that it has “an inside track to history” and responds to any spirited challenge to its power with violent rage. But does the National Review imagine that the Left can be defeated or even beaten back without triggering that rage?  

Every time Republicans win a presidential election, the Left builds an entire political culture around its rage, starts riots in the streets, threatens assassinations, and plots coups.

Now imagine its reaction to a more lasting defeat. 

A magazine so afraid of the leftist reaction to being trolled on Twitter is unready, unwilling, and unfit to beat the Left.

The National Review would like you to stop upsetting the Left. But maybe it should instead reread its mission statement and ask when was the last time it stood athwart history instead of standing in the way of conservatives who want to win, and stop upsetting the war on the Left.

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