Modernity has replaced sentiments with sentimentality and ideas with ideologies, all intellectually feeble and morally pernicious.
That stands to reason: if ideas reside in the head and sentiments a foot lower in the heart, ideologies creepy-crawl a foot below the heart.
Of the ideologies found in the American mainstream (and increasingly ours as well) neoconservatism is among the least appealing and most influential. I’ve written a whole book about it (Democracy as a Neocon Trick), where I develop this thesis:
“Neoconservatism is an eerie mishmash of Trotskyist temperament, infantile bellicosity, American chauvinism (not exclusively on the part of Americans), expansionism masked by pseudo-messianic verbiage on exporting democracy to every tribal society on earth, Keynesian economics, Fabian socialism, welfarism and statism run riot – all mixed together with a spoonful of vaguely conservative phrases purloined from the rightful owners to trick the neocons’ way to broader electoral support.”
American exceptionalism is the dominant religion in the US, and neoconservatism is its proselytising confession. None so hostile as divergent exponents of the same creed, and the neocons reserve their most vitriolic harangues for ‘isolationists’, practitioners of the hermetic confession of the same religion.
Since during his campaign Trump established himself as a committed anti-globalist, the volume of spittle sputtered at him by the neocons could have drowned the White House like the ocean engulfing Atlantis. In my lifetime I can’t remember any president since Nixon attracting as much bilious hatred.
I’m no great admirer of Trump, for reasons I’ve mentioned many times before. Moreover, if his links with Russia are proved to be as shady as they seem, I believe he should be not just impeached but tried for treason.
For the time being, the grand jury is still out on that issue. Yet the president already deserves criticism, and not only for his Russian shenanigans.
But rational criticism is different from rolling on the floor, frothing at the mouth and screaming hysterical hatred, which is the neocons’ chosen mode of self-expression when it comes to Trump. They rabidly attack the president even when he’s innocent – even when he’s right.
Some of them aren’t completely devoid of brains, but that organ is overridden by ideology. For example, had they given the matter some thought, they would have applauded Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement, based as it is on another pet ideology and not on any rational thought or scientific evidence. Instead, they screamed deranged invective.
Then, when gangs of pro-Nazi and hard-left extremists clashed in Charlottesville, Trump made a perfectly reasonable statement that both sides were to blame. Not being the sharpest chisel in the toolbox, he then regrettably added that there were “fine people” in both groups, even though there clearly weren’t.
But that wasn’t the point. To an uninitiated observer, the neocons’ reaction to the basically correct statement could suggest that Trump had praised Hitler and called for the reinstatement of slavery. By ricochet, the neocon bullets fired at Trump hit the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee.
The general, who wasn’t a slave owner, is being depicted as some kind of plantation overseer in the Simon Legree mould. The man of whom Churchill once wrote that “Lee was the noblest American who had ever lived and one of the greatest commanders known to the annals of war” is being routinely described in the neocon press as a traitor.
This because Lee felt honour-bound to take the side of his native Virginia, and the traditional localism it represented, against the tyrannical centralism championed by the North. I dare say Gen. Washington, who had sworn allegiance to King George and then led armies against him, was more of a traitor than Gen. Lee. He was just lucky to find himself on the winning side.
All things considered, one would be justified in supposing that the neocons hate Trump so much that, no matter what he does, he’ll remain the eternal bogeyman. However, in supposing so, one would be wrong.
Trump has found an ingenious way of currying the neocons’ favour, if at the cost of alienating his core support. He has announced that the US will be committing more troops to fighting in that notorious ‘Graveyard of Empires’, Afghanistan.
Suddenly shibboleths like ‘nation building’ reappear in the neocon press, eliciting the same response from them as ‘Allahu Akbar!’ does from the Muslims. Overnight Trump has stopped being just any old Trump. He has become ‘Mr Trump’ or ‘the president’. All is forgiven! Mr Trump has realised the folly of his isolationist ways! He has learned his lesson!
Yes, but the neocons haven’t. One lesson is general: it’s not the Americans’ business to build any nations other than their own, and that job is far from finished. The other lesson is specific: their attempt to build democratic nations in the Middle East has since 2003 plunged the West into the kind of misery unseen since 1945.
Apart from the millions of people, thousands of them Westerners, directly killed in the conflicts, that criminal folly impassioned Islam worldwide and removed the nasty but effective leaders who had managed to keep those passions more or less under a lid. As a result, Europe has become a cauldron of terrorism, with the worst still to come – and not only in Europe.
The nations the neocons set out to build have since collapsed, threatening to bury us all under the rubble. Yet now Trump, desperately running out of friends, has revived that folly by sending 4,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.
One doesn’t have to be a military strategist to know that this move is inspired by political, not military, considerations. A country where Americans and their allies have been dying for 16 years, without managing to build a Western-style democracy, will now dig more graves.
Trump has tried to cater to both sides by claiming that his aim is killing terrorists, not building nations. But the neocons know surrender when they smell it. They realise that the beleaguered president has weighed the odds and found he needs the neocons’ support to stay in office.
The Steve Bannon types are screaming ‘flip-flop’, but Trump must have done the sums. He knows that neocon invective has done its job, and the landscape of public opinion has changed. He’s hanging by a thread, and it’s the neocons who’re holding the scissors.
Mollifying them has become a matter of survival, and Trump is clearly learning his political lessons. Alas, he’s learning no other.