I just came across an old op-ed piece that I wrote for the Hillsdale Collegian (Michigan’s oldest college newspaper — woot!) when I was a wee, fire-breathing freshman. Boy, is it embarrassing! So I’m sharing it with you here so I can achieve maximum embarrassment. Also because I think it’s funny.
As you’ll likely be able to tell when you read this thing, I was a bit of a firebrand when I was a college freshman. Also, a jackass. I thought I already knew most of what there was to know, and that I would just be checking things off in college and getting my genius affirmed. This was not the case, obviously. I was also a vehement anti-neocon, having just voraciously consumed Patrick J. Buchanan’s The Death of the West and Where The Right Went Wrong. But being anti-neocon doth not a conservative make — not that I knew this. Anyway, I was very jaded by and disillusioned with the Republican party (this hasn’t changed much, though I think that it’s been tempered a bit). This translated into quite a bit of Bush-bashing — something I especially enjoyed doing on a campus that was ostensibly run by neocons and full of slavish Republican party devotees. (I also didn’t know enough to make an intelligent critique of neoconservatism per se, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me!) This picture of the school was far from accurate, mind you, but it served my jackass purposes quite well by functioning as a sort of straw man for me to impugn.
Also, these imaginary neocon numbskulls were dumber than me, categorically, nor had anyone else, neocon or non, ever thought of the points that I would so saliently make in my occasional op-ed pieces. Everything that I wrote was a sublime pearl of wisdom. Because, you know, I was a college freshman! The world (at that time, Hillsdale College) just needed to sit back and be educated by me…
I know you shouldn’t shake your head and smirk at your past self. It’s just hard for me not to do just that at the moment. In all honesty, though, it’s been interesting to once again pick up Patrick Buchanan’s work (this time, the cheerily-titled Suicide of a Superpower, written ten years after the publication of The Death of the West) and have it still resonate with me. Indeed, it was Buchanan who first introduced me to the broader contours of genuine cultural conservatism, to the the intellectual habitus of the traditionalist extending beyond a mere rightist political stance. From Buchanan I learned of T.S. Eliot’s Christian Humanism (specifically the cultural criticism found in his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture) and encountered the sage (albeit sometimes floridly prosy) wisdom of Russell Kirk. I would like to say that my experience as a student at Hillsdale College, which came in between my readings of Buchanan, led me to a greater understanding and appreciation of the tradition from which Eliot and Kirk hailed. Whatever the case may be, I appreciate the continuity that Buchanan has provided in my intellectual formation. I still find his work genuinely compelling. Read Suicide of a Superpower and see if you don’t.
Anyway, without further ado, I present to you…me, writing as a freshman. I do not necessarily agree with any or all of what I wrote at that time. If you really feel the need to check, feel free to take it up in the comments. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see how much past and present me agree.
Bush Naked beneath Conservative Shroud
by Trent Demarest, Collegian freelancer
21 September 2006
Somewhere, in a children’s vignette, an empire is missing its nude ruler. He now lives in the White House…metaphorically speaking. Does anyone else notice this? Sometimes I feel like the little kid in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes who blurts out, “He’s naked!” I am tired of the masquerade. Yes, President Bush is pretending; he’s about as conservative as that emperor is clothed. The latest of a legion of examples illustrating this fact is the address he gave to the nation on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities.
Judging from the themes of Bush’s speech—and they are recurrent, not new—it seems that our nation had might as well get used to wars, because we’re going to be fighting a whole lot more of them. We are forging a policy of permanent war for permanent peace all under the auspices of making this nation more secure and protecting it from terrorism. In other words, we’re in the clash of civilizations, and we will not have won until the bad guys are all dead, or voting. The problem with this is that there are a lot of bad guys and wars are costly. History teaches that wars are the death of Republics, but when was the last time the government conceded a point to history? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana in Reason in Common Sense. We love that sound-bite, but only in the abstract it seems.
On the night of September 11, 2006, America was recommissioned as Lord Protector of the Universe, the figurehead player in the Global Democratic Revolution, or, as it is commonly known by its familiar nom de guerre, the Global War on Terrorism, or, my favorite, Islamo-whack-a-mole-o. America’s citizens, it is now clear, will be footing the bill for “the calling of our generation” in both blood and treasure for the foreseeable future. We’re already bankrolling the U.N., so why not fund another counterproductive boondoggle? We are told that it is necessary—vital, even, that this be our policy of fighting terrorism. Question this great meme and you might as well kiss your conservative credentials goodbye. So be it: it is hemorrhaging our Republic, and we will pay more than just the monetary price.
We have also been told, ad infinitum, that we were attacked because the terrorists hate America, pure and simple, as if it is a single-faceted issue and we cannot learn otherwise from history. This is an incredibly reductionist basis for a foreign policy. The terrorists hate America—this is true. They hate our freedom. But to say that they attacked us because of our Constitution and Bill of Rights is to miss the forest for the trees, ignore the giant elephant in the room and rain various other clichés down upon one’s head. That is patently absurd.
Quoth Bush in last week’s address: “[The terrorists] are thrown into panic at the sight of an old man pulling the election lever, girls enrolling in schools, or families worshiping God in their own traditions.” I really don’t think that’s the case. “Oh my Allah! Voting?! Ahhh! School?! Nooooo!” Sorry, but no.
I think maybe what really bothers them would be better epitomized by “Ahhh! Standing armies of infidels desecrating the Holy Land!” Just a thought. Or maybe it’s our licentious, relativistic, lascivious pop-culture, now available everywhere. I think they fear this kind of freedom more than our right to vote. Primetime news coverage of election night doesn’t bother them half as much as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and “M-TV Undressed.”
The thing with us conservative war critics is that we’re still conservatives, therefore our objections to killing people have to do with money, not people. Everyone knows that conservatives hate people—that’s why we want them to pay for their own health care. No, our objections to this war have nothing to do with such things. “War is hell,” said General Patton. Fighting a war? Give them hell. Guarantee your future security by eliminating the enemy’s desire and/or capability to mess with you again—ever. I would have preferred that Bush used actual “shock and awe” immediately after 9/11 and carpet-bombed the Middle East. Ignore for a moment what this would portend for the oil issue. Since they’re already in the stone-age, I’m not sure what undesirable epoch in history this would have bombed them back to, but it would have been good deterrence. Mess with the best, die like the rest. Mess with the best and we’ll turn Mecca into a parking lot within the hour. Somehow that seems a little more imposing than the administration’s current policy of “Mess with the best, and we’ll spread democracy.”
President Bush’s policy puts the world first, not America, no matter what he might say to the contrary, and that is the defining characteristic of globalism. How is that conservative? “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”—John Q. Adams. If we do not heed the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and continue to pursue our current policy, this Republic will not last.