David Roberts @drvox Seattleite transplanted from Tennessee; now blogging for vox.com/ about energy politics. Climate hawk, deficit dove. Not a doctor. Mar. 11, 2018 4 min read

1. All right, this controversy over conservative columnists in @nytopinion is bugging me. Everyone is dancing around the central point! (The same central point everyone dances around in *numerous* contemporary controversies.) So I'ma lay it out.

2. Here's the main point: the contemporary right-wing in the US has become, in Lionel Trilling's immortal words, a bundle of "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." It's just a tangle of resentments & bigotries, driven by the erosion of white privilege.

3. There's always been that element, but for decades it was overlain by a class of DC conservatives who code switched, spoke the Very Serious language of ideas & policies. This is the conservatism that white moderate libs still imagine: an actual ideology, with arguments.

4. Trump's rise has shown that purported principles of conservative ideology meant virtually NOTHING to the conservative masses. Trump abandoned the Very Serious script & the RW base didn't care, at all. He voiced their anger & resentments. That's all the RW base is any more.

5. Trump has swerved this way and that on immigration, taxes, healthcare, guns ... and the base doesn't care. They follow him this way, they follow him that way. It is the resentment, the aggrieved sense of persecution, that they respond to. That's what US conservatism IS now.

6. So @nytopinion faces a dilemma. It claims to want to expose its readers to the perspectives of the conservative masses. It claims to want to connect liberals to the heartland. But there's a problem.

7. If NYT printed the *actual, real-life* sentiments of today's conservative masses, it would print a bunch of paranoid, Fox-generated fairy tales and belligerent expressions of xenophobia, misogyny, racism, and proud, anti-intellectual ignorance.

8. The people who work at NYT & the vast majority of its readers would find those sentiments ... what's the word? oh, yes ... deplorable. They would recoil. The truth of what's going on on the right today is worse than virtually anyone in the political mainstream acknowledges.

9. The NYT's commitment to "intellectual diversity" doesn't go THAT far -- not far enough to expose its readers to that reality. It is too invested in America's own Noble Savage myth, the idea that conservative Heartland Americans are more authentic & in touch w/ simple virtues.

10. So NYT needs "a voice from the right," but not a voice from the ACTUAL right (which is oriented around white resentment, not any discernible governing philosophy). They need a voice from the Conservatism of the Mind, the noble, principles-base conservatism they imagine.

11. That's what conservative columnists on mainstream opinion pages have been for years now: voices who will present conservatism as a coherent intellectual argument, what liberals desperately want it to be.

12. It is no coincidence that these guys - Gerson, Douthat, Brooks, Stephens - have little voice or influence inside actual conservatism, or that they're all anti-Trump (unlike 95+% of Republicans). They are anomalies, idiosyncrasies, not representative of anything broader.

13. And notice, even those invested in pretending that contemporary conservatism is a governing philosophy have thrown up their hands lately. Claim something for conservatism today & Trump could disavow it in a tweet tomorrow. It's become impossible to even maintain the pretense.

14. And so what do the mainstream "voices of conservatism" have left? Wan, half-ass whataboutism. "Sure Trump & the GOP are terrible but whatabout that time that one person on the left said that one bad thing?"

15. That explains why everyone on the right has suddenly fixated on Farrakhan. It explains why every conservative columnist is writing (again and again) about campus speech intolerance. It's not much, but it's *all they have left*. There's nowhere left to go, intellectually.

16. Stephens et al are just playing their role in a very old parlor game, where Serious Conservatives tell liberals they are bad and wrong (that's what "intellectual diversity" means to elite center-lefties) and liberals proceed to engage in self-loathing hand-wringing about it.

17. It's got very little to do with real intellectual diversity (has Stephens expressed a single surprising opinion?) and it's got NOTHING to do with exposing NYT readers to the real state of thinking on the right. It's a Village game, by and for Villagers.

18. In the name of "exposing readers to diverse viewpoints," NYT is, in practice, obscuring the true nature of today's right. Virtually the entire political elite & most NYT readers are in denial about what the right has become & that denial is increasingly dangerous.

19. Forget the self-regarding onanism of Stephens types. If NYT really wants to expose its readers to the right, it should give Dinesh D'Souza, Dana Loesch, or Ben Shapiro a column. Let readers see, up close & personal, the crude tribalism & resentment that animate the RW base.

20. In conclusion, yes, everyone in mainstream politics, everyone who lives outside the Fox/Breitbart bubble, NEEDS exposure to the actually existing US conservative movement. @NYTopinion isn't helping. </fin>

21. If you enjoyed this tweet thread, FYI, I expanded it into a full article:  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/15/17113176/new-york-times-opinion-page-conservatism 

You can follow @drvox.


Tip: mention @threader_app on a Twitter thread with the keyword “compile” to get a link to it.

Enjoy Threader? Sign up.

Threader is an independent project created by only two developers. The site gets 500,000+ visits a month and our iOS Twitter client was featured as an App of the Day by Apple. Running this space is expensive and time consuming. If you find Threader useful, please consider supporting us to make it a sustainable project.