write in Living room under the title “I was a right-wing expert”, Rich Logis confess: “I was all-in on the lies of Donald Trump, well after January 6th.” And: “I had it all wrong about all of this.”
Welcome to the party, buddy.
I’m not here to mock Living room or his contributors, but I assume you’ve never heard of Rich Logis, who seems to have been a “right-wing pundit” more in aspiration than in reality. You know the type: a few Federalist bylines, one on FoxNews.com, and, at last count, 64 Twitter followers. The media-activism nexus, left and right, is full of reasonably bright and reasonably articulate people trying to build a career telling people what they want to hear, and Logis seems to be one of those on the right who have moved on. to Grift 2.0: “Mea most maxima culpa, baby, now here’s a link to donate to my new organization.” In the case of Logis, this is a new entity called Listen, Lead, Unite, which consists of a web page with a mission statement, a biography of the founder and, most importantly, a link for donations.
These guys don’t bother me that much. They are the Max Fishers of the political world, who are always creating new clubs to give themselves something to do. (“Max Fischer-ism” plus a really strong work ethic equals “Tracy Flick-ism,” and if you can’t get enough of Tracy Flick in ElectionTom Perrotta revisited the character in a new novel, Tracy Flick can’t win.) I don’t want to run out of charity, but my first response to this shtick – “I’m a good person now, please give me some money!” – is free advice: if you couldn’t see what a scam Trump and Trumpism was all along, and if you were still on board after Trump et al. tried to stage a Rebellionthen maybe sit out a few rounds rather than promote yourself to a notional leadership position.
Twenty years ago, Living room might have been above publishing this kind of piece. But, having spent many years as the editor of a small town newspaper, I understand Living roomThe situation: There are pages to fill and a readership to nurture, with limited resources. For reasons probably as much financial as reputational, Living room doesn’t attract a lot of top talent these days. So it publishes lots of hacks, mediocrities, and fringe types for the same reason your local newspaper did, if your local newspaper survived that long: those contributors are cheap…freeoften enough.
But, like I said, I’m not here to sneer Living room or its contributors. I’m here to make fun of Lindsey Graham.
No, I will resist the sneers. But the problem with figures such as Senator Graham is that they are, fundamentally, just grander and more important versions of Rich Logis. What Senator Graham should do is the only thing Senator Graham cannot do: admit the truth, that is, the fact that he will say or do just about anything if he thinks that it will add five minutes of longevity or a degree of importance to his political career. These would-be leaders don’t go with the flow – they go with the flow, relentlessly chasing the energy of the day, hour or minute, sprinting like Usain Bolt to emerge ahead of the parade that looks most promising. Before she was on the path to canonization, Blessed Liz Cheney was a reliable Trumpist who said and did – and tolerated – many questionable things out of respect for the then-President and his supporters, whom she viewed without no doubt as a kind of personal realpolitik. .
There is a more serious point here: the model of the politics of flux with movement is embedded in representative democracy. Or rather, representative democracy is invariably shaped by the tension between the representative-proxy conception – “I’m just here to represent the will of the people!” – and the representative-leader, a role in which a representative will, from time to time, be forced to ignore or overrule popular sentiment in the service of prudence and justice. It’s Edmund Burke 101: “Your representative owes you not only his industry but his judgment; and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices him to your opinion.
Our popular culture and political discourse is, at the moment, very much shaped by social media and its dogpile populism, ruled by the panicked and furious herd of independent thinkers. This tipped the balance from representative as leader to representative as agent. There is almost nothing that our budding politicians and pundits won’t sacrifice to popular opinion, however transient, ignorant or misguided that opinion may be.
The best case for populist politics is that someone has to stand up to the arrogant and authoritarian ruling class that imposes fads and errors on our common life in the mistaken belief that these are virtues that must be imposed on people for their own good, and if it even takes a personality like Donald Trump to do that job, then so be it. This is a destructive and misguided view for many reasons, the most important of which is that authoritarian mobs need to hold their own at least as much as authoritarian elites, and if you’re willing to sacrifice anything and everything on the altar of popularity on the superstition that the People are always—or even usually– okay, then you’ll have nothing left to defend yourself with when the mob turns against you. And it will be.
The old Republican virtues used to serve as a safeguard against this sort of thing, but these virtues are very difficult to cultivate and maintain. For example, it was once the case that many people thought it prudent to place much of the burden of leadership on wealthy men on the theory that wealth confers independence on its holders. No less a figure than FA Hayek argued that a liberal society needs a class of independent wealthy men on whom it is difficult to impose orthodoxy by means of economic coercion. But as we’ve seen, even Jeff Bezos, someday the richest man in the world, is easy enough to bully into submission when fashionable people demand that a controversial book be banned from Amazon. And you don’t see a lot of intellectual or political independence attached to names like Zuckerberg, Walton, or Fink. Nor do you see remarkable self-respect from institutions as wealthy as Princeton or Yale.
And if the richest men and women and organizations in the world can’t afford to stand up for something, then what can we really practically expect grinders jostling for a Living room byline or, if they were to dare to dream of living so big, a rambling concert of cable news?
The proverb holds that virtue is its own reward. And it is, but it’s not the kind of reward you can use to pay the mortgage.
Kevin D. Williamson is the National Correspondent for the dispatch.