The National Review political magazine has just published a special issue in which editor Rich Lowry rounded up 35 “pundits” to blast Donald Trump for not being an authentic “conservative.” As Albert Einstein dryly remarked after the publication of a book entitled 100 Authors against Einstein, “If I was wrong, one would have been enough.”
There is a great deal of unconscious hypocrisy and laughable self-blindness in the attacks. Trump is repeatedly assaulted for allegedly being a bully and abusive demagogue by people who have spent the last 40 years being that themselves, gleefully abusing and beating up on every real and imagined liberal wimp in sight. The contempt for any liberal view, or any conservative view that differs one millimeter from the approved wisdom of Lowry and his acolytes has been the most predictable lodestone in American public discourse for more than a generation.
Communism may die, the Catholic Church may revise millennia-long held doctrines and Arctic glaciers may melt, but the mad faith in the prophetic inerrancy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo in the sacred name of conservative Free Trade will always be upheld in the august pages of National Review. Yet the strange, inconvenient truth is that, for the first full century of the Republican Party, from President Abraham Lincoln through the two terms of the great Dwight D. Eisenhower, free trade was anathema to all Republicans.
Theodore Roosevelt — an icon to modern conservatives as sacred as the Divine Ronald Reagan himself — repeatedly poured scorn and contempt on Free Trade and upheld record level tariffs imposed by his predecessor (and another old Republican icon) William McKinley. Far from ruining the American economy, those McKinley-TR tariffs protected it and allowed it to grow at record levels and generated unprecedented prosperity for decades.
Trump treated the NR assault on his orthodoxy with the kind of casual, dismissive contempt he usually reserves for the hapless Jeb (Jeb!) Bush. There is not the slightest indication that that this wild and unfocused flailing by the supposed cream of the Republican intellectual elite will harm his prospects in New Hampshire and later primaries in the slightest.
However, the National Review “35” are likely to achieve a kind of immortality, though hardly the sort they aspire to. They are like post-medieval religious fanatics and obscurantists arguing relentless that the world is flat, or that the Sun goes around it, or that the world and the universe are only 6,000 years old.
The Thirty Five too fail to recognize that their version of conservative and Republican orthodoxy is itself less than half a century old, and was only frozen into party dogma under Reagan – and his less sainted predecessor Richard Nixon. They are too ignorant and intellectually vapid to bother looking at the facts of history.
For in reality, full Free Trade has never existed in the world. The nations trying to practice it have always been taken advantage of, and ruined by, more canny and intelligent political elites in other countries that protected their domestic industries and agriculture from unfair and threatening foreign competition, just as China rightly does now.
Trump, as he makes clear, is not remotely anti-Chinese or anti-Mexican. He just wants America to be ruled by policymakers as intelligent and morally responsible for the wellbeing and protection of their own peoples and prosperity as the governments in Beijing and Mexico City already are.
Back in 2012, I published a book entitled That Should Still Be Us: Saddled with that meaningless title by a witless publisher who soon after deservedly went out of business, it sank without trace.
But in that book I documented the economic rise and fall of Florence, Venice, France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Japan, South Korea and China over the past half millennium and showed how in every case tariff protectionist policies were crucial to their rise and how the witless leap into idealistic Free Trade impoverished their peoples thereafter.
My arguments and documentation were never refuted or even criticized. Not once. They were simply ignored.
The Great Thinkers of National Review do not seriously address any aspect of Donald Trump’s analysis of the economic woes of the American people and the domestic economy. Being economically illiterate to a man, they cannot. They have for decades simply been predictable and safe hired parrots, guaranteed to safely squawk the same tired old lines.
But now the old Republican blue collar and red state grassroots base is finally waking up to its long, relentless impoverishment from the Free Trade policies the GOP’s old elite have imposed on them for so long.
Like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the great 1989 Batman movie, they are giving a name to their pain, and that name is Free Trade.
The National Review 35 are not isolating Donald Trump by their witless attacks on him: They are isolating themselves.
Photo: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore & Wikimedia.
Martin Sieff is a former senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. Mr. Sieff is the author of “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (Wiley 2012) and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East” (Regnery, 2008). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.