From Out of Left Field Comes the Cancellation of Cancel Culture, and a call for Republicans to Rediscover Original Republicanism
by Ralph Benko
A powerful counterforce to “cancel culture” is rising. Too few of cancel culture’s most vociferous critics, conservatives, have noticed. Why not?
The counterforce is coming right out of left field.
We of the radical (“from the root”, not “hooligan”) right, while correctly anathematizing progressives, have more in common with the labor-and-ethnic rank-and-file left than we do with the bosses of what William F. Buckley once called “the well-fed right.” Let’s join ranks with members of the rank-and-file America-loving left, many of whom are more conservative than most professional conservatives can understand.
If this be treason make the most of it.
That said, it’s not treason.
Consider the largely forgotten original Mission Statement of the National Review. There, in founding the foundational conservative magazine, Buckley tartly observed:
“Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by the Liberals [what the progressives then were called], they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity. ”
The “well-fed Right” consistently mistreats radical conservatives, then and now. And the leaders of the well-fed Right inevitably, although incorrectly, view the left as a unified bloc. Big mistake. Let us of the radical right not blithely follow those whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated.
Radical conservatives, those in the spirit of William F. Buckley, rather than heavy-with-emoluments conservatives, have common interests and values with much of the labor-and-ethnic left. We would do well, and do well by our cause, to do well by our best prospective allies.
Exemplary of the kind of radical conservative Buckley extolled was the “America is Good” meme propagated by one shy thought leader of the right in the last election. My colleague, and sometime business associate, William R. Collier put the simple but powerful message that America is Good (and variations of that message by columnists like me) in front of the eyeballs of tens of millions of voters, unassumingly yet effectively at scale via social media at the peak of the recent election cycle. It flew largely under the political elite’s radar screen. Yet may have mattered a great deal.
Did the chivalrous “America is Good” effort play a significant role in thwarting the left’s plans to dominate many state legislatures (in preparation for gerrymandering the House to the left)? Did it thwart the anticipated grand expansion of Speaker Pelosi’s House majority, as a predicate to force the House to tack much harder left? Did this crusade keep progressives from winning a decisive majority in the US Senate to allow the crypto-socialist Senators to stack the legal deck in innumerable and insidious ways, as shamelessly advertised by Sens. Baldwin, Carper, Warner and Warren?
We’re still waiting for a meta-analysis on that campaign to be published in a future issue of the Journal of Irreproducible Results. We’ll probably never know. And yet…
Key proponents of the goodness of America were disappointed that Donald Trump narrowly bucked the winning center-right tide. Irrespective of this, the American people—the actual voters—dealt a body blow to the “Cancel America” crew. The rank-and-file believers in America-the-good rose up politically to cancel the cancellers. It was an across-the-spectrum, left and right, civic movement of America-lovers. Not a partisan thing.
Fellow members of the radical right? Look askance at “the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity.” Rather, let’s take a closer look at our natural allies, hidden in plain sight.
No, not the Proud Boys and other hooligans stoked by demagogues. These do not rightly belong to the right any more than the Antifa anarchists belong to the left. These are provocateurs and to be abjured.
The natural allies of the radical right are those of the left who, just like us, hold America good. If radical conservatives will stand united with the labor-and-ethnic left, united we stand. If not, divided we fall.
I’ve repeatedly observed that the left is not monolithic and that the labor left and ethnic left have more in common with us conservatives than they do with progressives. I’ve advocated this proposition over many years, here, as well as (partial list) at such center-right venues as Forbes.com, The Economic Standard, at Townhall, Western Journal, and The American Spectator, and my weekly column at Newsmax. Trump’s electoral inroads with workers and people of color evidences its veracity.
And yet the conservative movement, and the GOP, remain slow to grasp the implications. Not for nothing is the GOP called, as a widespread in-joke among conservatives, the Stupid Party.
The labor-and-ethnic left is conservative in most of what matters most to most conservatives: law-abiding, hard-working, traditional values, religiously observant, patriotic. Most of the labor-and-ethnic left holds America to be good. Not perfect, but good. The rank-and-file left doesn’t fancy the wokester jokesters and their cancel culture any more than we do.
They care about jobs, economic security and earned upward mobility. So should we.
It’s challenging for innocent readers, working-and-middle-class political outsiders, to detect the chasm between the labor-and-ethnic left and the progressives, between the proletariat and the commentariat. That chasm is real. It’s important.
The commentariat, the progressives, are the loudest, yet perhaps the smallest, faction of the Democratic Party. The media paints progressives as the leaders of the left, blinding innocent civilians to the human terrain. Meanwhile, the right tends to be blind to our natural allies and tone deaf to their legitimate concerns, concerns which are very much in accord with the philosophy of most conservatives.
The evidence that the left is not monolithic, philosophically or politically, is vivid. Many, prominent, “well-fed-Left”, presidential aspirants in the recent Democratic primaries, including some billionaires and political celebrities glorified by a progressive media, went down to stunning defeat in the Democratic presidential primaries.
These formidable figures lost by catering to the Democrats’ progressive faction (as overrepresented in the elite media). Sayonara, Beto!
Articulate progressives, with their passions about anthropogenic climate change, obsession with intersectionality, and criticism of America as irredeemably racist, sexist and misogynistic, dominate the elite bastions of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the white-collar professions, academia (the left’s version of the Republican country clubs), and, most perniciously, the elite media.
The progs hog the spotlight.
And yet, notwithstanding the myriad puff pieces devoted to the progressive doyennes, and some monstrously lavish spending, the outspent, unassuming, down-to-earth labor-left-leaning Joe Biden handily routed all the elite left’s political darlings. Biden spoke to the aspirations of workers to earn middle class economic security and creature comforts.
For all the sound and fury signifying nothing generated by the media, paid and earned, the actual voters nominated, then elected, Joe Biden. Not his progressive rivals.
The progressives have an Achilles heel. Their claim to legitimacy is based on the false narrative that progressives are the legitimate representatives of working people. This is obviously untrue. That is, it is self-evidently untrue to everyone except the progressive faction (including the media elite) itself.
Yes, progressives duly pay lip service to the interests of workers. Yet in practice progressives prioritize obscure issues in preference to the ones real workers care about. Progressives talk the proletariat talk. Then walk the commentariat walk.
Furthermore, progressives rarely advance flesh-and-blood blue-collars into positions of elite leadership. They typically assign their sinecures to members of their own in-crowd.
There’s a word for this: cronyism. That does not go unnoticed. Except, of course, by the elite progressives.
Now, (per their own Daily Kos) with the progressives’ “unmitigated catastrophe” at the ballot box last November, a Rebel Alliance of the rank-and-file labor-and-ethnic left is striking back. How did I discover this hidden-in-plain-sight fact?
I, a hardened guerrilla leader of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, am also a proud dues-paying, card-carrying member of the AFL-CIO. Comes now our ever-feisty friendly rival, the Teamsters. Teamsters’ Local 623 director of operations Dustin Guastella (writing for himself, not the union) at Jacobin Magazine, recently nails it in Everybody Hates the Democrats.
“Consider Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, which even the ultraliberal magazine the Atlantic chided for its “Excessive Wokeness.” Warren combined a popular economic agenda with an often-awkward attempt at courting Teen Vogue-reading radicals. This approach was admired among activists, media commentators, and some professional-class voters, but almost no one else — especially not the oppressed groups she aimed to attract. Warren came in fourth among black voters in her home state.
“Even the political style of the Left seems designed to turn away potential new recruits. Far from signaling a commitment to vital social causes, being “woke” has become synonymous with an embrace of niche cultural attitudes found only in highly educated urban districts and among Twitter users — 80 percent of whom are affluent millennials.
“After all, professional-class progressives only make up about 13 percent of the electorate, and they almost never vote for anyone other than Democrats. Alternatively, as Peter Hall and Georgina Evans show, about 22 percent of voters’ dislike cosmopolitan and increasingly out-of-touch liberal cultural appeals but believe in a progressive economic agenda — and these voters are largely working class. Winning the loyalty of the majority of working people in this country will require breaking out of the existing liberal fortresses and appealing to workers across our massive continental democracy. But pairing a popular economic program with alienating rhetoric, chic activist demands, and identity-based group appeals only weakens the possibility of doing so.”
So, says Guastella, one of the most discerning thought leaders of the labor left today.
Then … here comes the ethnic left. Typically, I employ “ethnic left” to allude to People of Color. And yet the French have an undeniable, sometimes infuriating, sometimes beguiling, ethnicity.
At the height of the #MeToo movement there came an open letter signed by a hundred courageous French women (the most celebrated of whom, Catherine Deneuve). Per The Irish Times:
“’Rape is a crime,’ the text signed by Deneuve begins. ‘But heavy-handed or clumsy come-ons are not an offence. Nor is gallantry a macho attack.’
“The letter goes on to denounce the ‘puritanism’ which seeks to ‘eternally confine women to the status of victims, of poor little things under the yoke of phallocratic demons, like in the good old days of witchcraft.’
“’This summary justice has already claimed victims: men punished professionally, forced to resign, when they had done nothing more than touch a knee, try to steal a kiss, spoken of ‘intimate’ things during a professional dinner or sent a sexually connoted message to a woman who was not attracted to them.’”
Fast forward three years. The semi-woke (and perpetually conflicted) New York Times suddenly reveals how the community of French intellectuals — a formidable cultural force—have gone on the attack against cancel culture, with real impact:
French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society. “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,’’ warned Mr. Macron’s education minister.
Emboldened by these comments, prominent intellectuals have banded together against what they regard as contamination by the out-of-control woke leftism of American campuses and its attendant cancel culture.
Conrad Black, at American Greatness, says of this fresh torch of enlightenment raised beside America’s golden door against out-of-control woke leftism:
“France has shaken the world many times in its history and is frequently insouciant about the consequences of its political actions. Some of its security measures and intellectual attitudes may be too authoritarian for the advanced English-speaking countries, but the bold self-confidence of its rulers and always influential and prestigious cultural and media leaders are a model that should be useful in conducting the West out of its present profound torpor of self-doubt and self-dislike.”
The progressives are alienating their purported base, their source of pretension to legitimacy. There are ample people on the left as well as the right who love their country. In America, there are Democrats as well as Republicans who hold America to be good.
There is a natural transpartisan alliance to be forged against the axis of the nihilistic cancel culture. Now is the time for real, i.e. radical, conservatives to rise to the occasion.
Here beckons an opportunity for solidarity, for unity in putting an end to pernicious wage stagnation, the root inequity strangling the American dream for too many American workers. Wokeism is but a symptom, although an especially obnoxious one. Wage stagnation is at the root of the presenting civic toxicity that now manifests as cancel culture.
Radical? “From the root.” It is high time to root out the economic stagnation at the root of the civic, cultural, and political woe that now besets America and the world. The workers of the world are the natural leaders of the challenge to out-of-control woke leftism. Let’s welcome the leadership of the labor-and-ethnic left in the cause of cancelling cancel culture.
For us to meaningfully participate, however, we radical conservatives must get over our tone-deafness. Conservatives, to be truly conservative, must extirpate our odd hostility toward labor. Hostility toward the proletariat is not an authentic conservative stance. It perpetuates a “country club”, well-fed-Right snobbery that is profoundly anti-conservative.
And it is politically suicidal.
Two of the greatest conservative figures of the modern era, Rep. Jack Kemp and President Ronald Reagan, were union presidents. Kemp led the AFL (American Football League, not American Federation of Labor) Players association. Reagan masterfully led the Screen Actors Guild. Both fought for workers’ rights.
And one of the most iconic of union presidents, John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers, founding president of the CIO, was a Republican. He was something of a supply-sider, cooperating with mine owners at adopting labor-saving technologies so long as the miners themselves meaningfully shared the ensuing profits.
If the right will follow the example of Kemp, Reagan and Lewis, repenting of its hostility to organized labor and championing the interests of workers, unionized or not, a powerful new coalition can be forged. A coalition between the labor-and-ethnic left and the radical (not hooligan) right could decisively put an end to “out of control woke leftism.”
That coalition can powerfully cancel “cancel culture”. It can also become a force to be reckoned with in restoring the founding republican ethos of the common good and neutralizing the excesses of neoliberalism.
What role could Republicans play? The New Republic editor and owner Win McCormack, in an important recent essay Meritocracy on Trial, calls for a revival of “the republican tradition in Western political thought, which stresses the common good, (counterpoised) to liberalism’s emphasis on individual autonomy.”
America and much of the West are in a state of civic near-paralysis and social toxicity. Nihilistic cancel culture is one pernicious symptom. The labor-and-ethnic left are now leading the way back toward civic and cultural health. They are doing so by reviving calls for the common good.
To meaningfully participate in and advance the great work Republicans now have a profound opportunity to follow the lead of the labor-and-ethnic left, rediscovering and reclaiming radical republicanism. Let us members of the radical right seize the opportunity to guide the Republicans back to real republicanism and help bend the arc of history toward justice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ralph Benko, a Reagan White House junior official, Kemp-era supply-sider, founder of the Prosperity Caucus and the Prosperity Coalition, and editor-in-chief of the Supply Side Blog, is the co-founder and chairman of The Capitalist League and co-author of The Capitalist Manifesto. Ralph is an advisor and regular contributor to The Transpartisan Review.
(Image is an oil study of Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” from 1830. Additional editing by Andy Fluke.)