The Sunday Night Journal is now a bit different from its earlier version, the one that appeared for most of the years from 2004 through 2012. Many of those earlier ones (not all by any means) were worked on for much of the week before they appeared. Not necessarily written, but much thought about, and perhaps written in a partial and/or rough draft. By Sunday I generally knew pretty much exactly what I was going to say, and put a good bit of effort into the attempt to say it well.
That's no longer the case, as regular readers (all two dozen of you) may remember: when I decided to revive the journal this year I meant for it to be a more casual thing, in great part an outlet for my unstompable urge to comment on this or that thing that has nothing directly to do with the book project that's getting whatever attention I can manage for writing during the week. I actually do sit down Sunday afternoon or evening with no more than a mental list of one or two or three or four things I want to mention. And so much of what comes out is more or less off the top of my head. I may just be thinking out loud.
Such was the case last week, when I wrote what amounted to a prolonged grumble about various parties who have been trying to bully everyone who is remotely associated with the political right into denouncing Nazis and Klansmen. I really had only intended to write a paragraph or so, but I kept banging on. I am naturally, and no doubt too cynically, a little suspicious of public expressions of deep emotion about events that the expresser is not personally involved in, and much more so about the species of it for which the useful phrase"virtue signaling" has been coined. I think there's been a whole lot of virtue signaling going on. And the demand had pushed my contrariness button.
Anyway: that's all by way of saying that there's a provisional quality about what I write here now, and I may have second thoughts, which I may or may not voice later on. Last week someone privately brought up a more substantial reason--more substantial than virtue signaling--for making the denunciation loud and clear. Among other things, this person pointed out that Trump's presidency has from the beginning had the potential to destroy the conservative movement, and that this has been the reason why so many principled and thoughtful conservatives appropriated the label NeverTrump for themselves (yes, that's supposed to have a Twitter "hashtag" but I refuse to cooperate, as Twitter seems to be an important vehicle for fulfilling the worst possibilities of the Internet).
I more or less agreed with their basic position although I never claimed the label (like I said, I'm contrary). But the reason was more straightforward: I couldn't see Trump as a competent president. I really didn't give a whole lot of thought to the farther-reaching implications and possibilities.
From the period in the late '70s and early '80s when I began the process of admitting that I was in fact some sort of conservative, I've tended to keep the movement at arm's length. That was mainly because I always had significant disagreements with it and am anyway not much of a movement-joiner. Worse, the vehicle for the expression of more-or-less-conservative ideas in practical politics was and is the Republican Party, and a pretty poor vehicle it is. I've more than once said that I don't care at all about the fortunes of the Republican Party, and I haven't really changed my mind. But more than one person on both sides of the Democrat-Republican divide have speculated that Trump's ascendancy could destroy the Republican party.
A lot of Trump's supporters would say that would be a good thing. But that would depend entirely on what replaced it. Being a pessimist, I am always ready to point out the folly of thinking that things can't get worse. What might replace the Republican Party? Trumpism? Well, what is that? I honestly don't know. I've mocked those who call him a fascist, because fascism is an ideology, and if there is anything that Trump is not, it's an ideologue. If he can be compared to any dictatorial type, it's to what we used to call tin-pot dictators: the ones who have tended to rise to the top in some countries where the balance between authoritarianism and anarchy is difficult to find. These men are typically motivated mainly by wealth and power, not the desire to impose an abstract system, which is the essence of both fascism and communism.
At any rate I have never seen any evidence that Trump is a conservative in any meaningful sense of the word. I've often made a distinction between "conservative" and "right-wing," and I think it applies to him. He may (or may not, depending on his mood) be right-wing, but he's not conservative. That doesn't mean that he won't do things that conservatives applaud, and if he gets to nominate one more conservative Supreme Court justice his presidency could turn out to be more good than bad for conservatism. But because he is more or less on the right, his association with nasty forces could produce such animosity that it would cripple anything resembling conservatism as a political force. (I started to say "taint", but that's not strong enough; liberals have believed that conservatives are racist fascist etc for fifty years and nothing is going to change that.)
A lot of conservative Christians, mainly evangelicals but a fair number of Catholics as well, see Trump as a sort of warrior who will stop and maybe turn back the revolution of militant secular progressivism that seems determined to force Christians into a choice between capitulating to anti-Christian doctrine (error has no rights!) or being expelled from legitimate society. But any victories for Christians in this situation could well turn out to be Pyrrhic.
Seems to me there are two possible outcomes. One: Trump and Trumpism turn out to be flukes, and after one term (or perhaps an uncompleted term), national politics returns to the old Democrats-vs.-Republicans pattern more or less as if nothing had happened. Two: Trumpism splits the right, broadly construed, into the factions that I've called conservative and right-wing, with conservatism a minority. It's not far-fetched to imagine that progressivism would be both the cultural and political beneficiary of that.
And why should we care? What does it matter whether conservatism is conserved? The whole question of what conservatism can mean in a fundamentally liberal order has also bothered me from the beginning, and of course conservative thinkers have chewed away on it for a long time. The question of what is left to preserve seems more challenging every year. Still: the liberal order had Christian roots and respected Christian belief and institutions, and it produced a pretty decent society, all the obvious evils notwithstanding. What is likely to replace it is the intolerant and totalizing progressive religion that is currently flourishing all over the place.
There was a striking comment on one of Rod Dreher's posts a few days ago. As I write this I don't have the link handy but will try to find it and post it in a comment. The topic was, well, all this stuff. As you know I find Dreher's high level of agitation a bit much and don't read him that often, but have been doing so recently, and he has been saying some useful and interesting (if sometimes overwrought) things about the current controversies. Anyway, this commenter observed that some Christians see Trump as a Constantine figure, one who will (re-)establish Christian faith as the dominant political force in the U.S. (Impossible by that means, I think.) But he suggested that they might have it wrong: perhaps the actual Constantine was Obama, and Trump is Julian the Apostate.
A whole lot of pixels over the past week or two have been generated by arguments over whether the fascists or the anti-fascists are worse. It seems a moot point to me. What strikes me as more important, and more worrisome, is the thought of two very nasty factions battling in our streets. That, more than Trump himself, seems to me to conjure 1920s Germany.
The evil of the "fascists" is obvious. (I put the word in quotes because I have the impression that they haven't fully adopted (or maybe even understood) the ideology, but are acting out some bit of theater.) I hear people saying that it's more important to condemn them than to condemn their violent opponents. I don't know about that. I know that the only two people I've ever heard explicitly state their intention to kill their political enemies were on the left. One was a young man who had been part of the protests in Seattle in 1999. This was at my parents' house at Christmas, probably of the same year. He was an in-law of an in-law who was only there the one time, and I don't remember his name. He sat across from me in a comfortable chair and calmly spoke of the necessity for the revolution to kill all the Christians. I didn't take him all that seriously, but still, it was disturbing.
The other is a guy whose bloodthirsty hopes I've seen on Facebook via his comments on other people's posts. I don't know how seriously to take him, either. But on my personal scorecard of threats, that's anti-fascists 2, fascists 0.
Oh yeah, and there was the guy I knew in the '60s, whose ex-wife I discovered lived down the street from us in the 1980s. I asked about him and she said he had gone far into hard leftism (she herself was still an unreconstructed hippie), and that the last time she'd seen him he'd been talking about the necessity of killing not only the bourgeoisie, but their children, so that there wouldn't be anyone left to seek vengeance.
At any rate I don't see why we should have to declare ourselves less unfavorably disposed toward the one than the other.
Changing the subject (at last!): I noticed a week or two ago that there are new episodes of the British mystery series Hinterland on Netflix. I liked the previous episodes pretty well, though not as much as some similar productions. I like this series better than the others. I'm not altogether sure why. Partly it was the plot (or plots--there are per-episode stories and a continuing one). Also, it seems to me that the cinematography is exceptional. And the sound track, a subdued minimalist combination of piano and electronica, is very good.
Fans of the previous series will be relieved to know that the red parka is still there.
There are also new episodes of Shetland. I don't know how long they'd been there. Here, again, I liked this series even better than the earlier ones.
And there is a new series of Endeavour in progress. Which I also think is better. Maybe I just always think the most recent one is the best. But no, that's not true. I could give instances that went the other way. House of Cards, for one.
[A Monday morning addendum: I had only seen the first episode of Endeavour when I wrote the paragraph above. Later last night I watched the second one. It was fairly terrible. Aside from the fact that it featured a walking cliche of a nasty Christian as a major character, seeing to it that she was humiliated even though she really didn't have that much to do with the main plot, the main plot was a mess that almost became nonsensical. The only thing good about it was a pretty good portrayal of a rock band of the time (ca. 1967), though even there I think it got some things wrong: an English rock band in the late '60s afraid of taking LSD?]