Prior to the late 1950s, mainstream conservatism in the United States (outside of the south) championed free enterprise domestically, was sceptical of the growth in government and was fiscally conservative. So far – so familiar to anyone whose stereotype of modern American conservatism was formed in the Reagan years. But then things started to look very different. Prior to the 1960s, American conservatism also involved a scepticism towards an expanding military apparatus, an opposition to all foreign war and a hatred of entangling geopolitical alliances. These latter most policies were the clarion call of the most influential man in the US Republican Party in the mid-20th century – Senator Robert Taft.
Taft was opposed to the creation of NATO, had previously opposed US entry into the Second World War and spent the last years of his life opposing the war in Korea. Then something changed in the United States that would forever change the nature of the conservative movement.
In 1954, the US Supreme Court made a ruling in the case Brown v. Board of Education which determined that the racial segregation policies of the southern states were unconstitutional. This sent shock waves through the American south, a region that while traditionally economically centre-left, was socially right wing to the point of rivalling Apartheid South Africa in terms of an extreme attitude towards institutionalised racism.
These southern Democrats known at the time as the Dixiecrats tried with all their might to oppose racial integration, but they ultimately failed. The 1964 Civil Rights Act which guaranteed active measures to promote racial equality was in hindsight, the political death knell of segregationist.
It was at this time that a new conservative movement (better described as far-right) developed as best characterised by a political pressure group and publisher of far-right literature called the John Birch Society. Gone were the days of Robert Taft whose idea of “fighting communism” was keeping taxation low for the American businessman. The Birchers (as they were called) believed that “fighting communism” was one part geopolitical military struggle and one part McCarthyism on the domestic sphere.
The “better dead than red” Birchers believed that anyone afraid to push the planet to a new world war that would pit the US and its allies against the Communist nations of the world was themselves a Communist. The Birchers also opposed racial integration – but crucially not necessarily because “whites and negros cannot mix” as the Dixiecrats of the era frequently stated, but because racial integration was a “communist conspiracy” and of course according to the Birchers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Soviet agent.
The Birchers were extreme even for many other post-Taft (aka anti-Taft) conservatives but the rise of Senator Barry Goldwater, a staunchly militant anti-communist, was widely seen as the Birchers having one of their own in the high levels of the US legislature. Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential campaign shocked many in the moderate Republican establishment who while eschewing both Taft’s strongly anti-war and anti-tax message, still did not make “jokes” about nuking The Kremlin, while Goldwater did and what’s more is that many believed he was serious.
Goldwater was a serious opponent of communism in all its real and perceived forms. Crucially, Goldwater believed in fighting communism with wars that did not rule out the use of nuclear weapons. His opposition to the Civil Rights Act on constitutional grounds also gained him many admirers in the south who in previous generations would never be caught voting for a Republican – the party of Abraham Lincoln.
The Goldwater coalition was therefore a genuine mish-mash of non-southern anti-communist hawks who believed in small government except where the military was concerned and southern segregationists who felt that making legal rather than “moral” arguments against racial integration was their last remaining hope of keeping the southern states free from civil rights. What’s more is that many of these southerners directed their hatred normally aimed at African Americans to communists. To put it bluntly, if one couldn’t lynch an African American in Selma Alabama, just drop napalm on a communist in Saigon.
Goldwater ultimately lost the 1964 election badly to Lyndon B. Johnson who himself was a war monger to be sure, but one who carefully campaigned on a ticket of peace while portraying Goldwater as a man who would unleash nuclear war. Outside of the southern states and his home state of Arizona in the west, Goldwater lost everywhere.
But while Goldwater lost the election, his staunchly anti-communist message resounded among many people who would later becoming influential politicians themselves including Ronald Reagan and Hillary Clinton, both of whom campaigned for Goldwater.
By the end of the 1960s, a new cold-war within the Republican Party was brewing between the acolytes of Goldwater and Richard Nixon, a moderate Republican who skilfully adopted some of the Goldwater rhetoric to co-opt votes, but who never really meant any of it. Crucially, the Goldwater Republicans and the Birchers never trusted Nixon even when he would occasionally pander to them in a calculated effort to win over both moderate Republicans and the new right wing coalition of anti-communists and old fashioned racists who readily adopted anti-communist fanaticism.
Nixon’s foreign policy was a big disappointment to the new conservative movement who saw his detente with the USSR and his opening of the door to US relations with China as tantamount to treason. While centrists, liberals and the left hated Nixon for his domestic scandals, namely Watergate, the new conservatives hated him because he saw geopolitics in terms of unemotional strategy rather than as an anti-communist crusade.
Nixon’s fall eventually led to the rise of Ronald Reagan, a former actor who repackaged the gruff Goldwater message with Hollywood flare. By Reagan’s time, any talk of segregation was both passe and politically unfashionable, but as Muhammad Ali warned in the 1960s, the American fascination with “killing reds” abroad was merely an extrapolation of a desire to lynch blacks at home. In other words, as the violent racist culture of the south became increasingly marginalised by new Civil Rights legislation, the violence that some Americans once turned on their fellow black man was now directed towards foreign communists – many of whom were indeed non-white.
And thus one arrives at the current hysteria among liberal US mainstream media regarding Donald Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un. Donald Trump can be criticised for many things, but sadly, the US liberal mainstream media tends to criticises Trump for all the things he is not. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was accused by the Birchers of being a Soviet agent, Trump is accused of being a Russian puppet which is simply an absurdity. I would not be surprised when in 50 years time, the history books record the ‘Russian witch hunt’ against Trump as the McCarthyism of the 21st century. But in fitting with the Russian line, now Trump is being portrayed as a stooge of North Korea.
Even while in Singapore, liberal journalists asked Trump why he did not criticise North Korean “death camps”. First of all, a diplomatic forum aimed at limiting nuclear weapons is no place to discuss such matters and in any case, there has never been any compelling evidence to suggest that North Korea has “death camps” beyond a penal system that while stricter than Sweden is no more severe than many others in Asia.
In fact, many mainstream publications have resented admitting that horror stories told by North Koreans who defect to the South or to the US are actually fabrications that can earn their authors large sums of money. But beyond just being gullible and believing stories from Korean economic migrants disguising themselves as genuine refugees with partly and in many cases entirely fictional stories about the DPRK, the pundits at CNN and MSNBC are actually repeating John Birch style propaganda that sought to portray communism as not only supremely evil but as more evil than fascism – an ideology whose state adherents actually did commit well documented atrocities. Suddenly, one can see that exaggerating the alleged brutality of communist countries is not merely a sign of ignorance but an attempt to whitewash fascism.
Things got even more Birch-like when Trump was lambasted by the liberal US media for saluting a DPRK General who first saluted him. While strictly not to protocol, a rational view of the incident showed that Trump was doing his utmost to show respect to the other side in the negotiations. Frankly, the criticisms of Trump’s salute are as childish as when the 21st century alt-right media criticised Barack Obama for appear to bow before the Saudi King.
But beyond the childishness of the criticisms lies something far more devious. The alt-right critics of Obama hated him not because of his policies but because they suspected he was a “black Muslim” (that’s a two for one in the world of 21st century US racism). Likewise, Trump’s modern day liberal opponents are implying that Trump is some sort of Manchurian candidate brainwashed by North Korea. In fact, many are outright saying that Trump was a victim of Kim Jong-un’s “charm offensive” and that he was somehow overwhelmed with a new found love for the DPRK.
The reality is that Obama was a war criminal but not because he was black and not because he has Muslim family members. He was a war criminal because he was all too American – in the whitest, ‘rightest’ sense of the word.
Likewise, Trump is something of a very poor man’s Nixon, which is still better than being Hillary Clinton – a highly studied Goldwater acolyte whose sinister “we came, we say, he died” comments about the state sponsored assassination of Libya’s revolutionary leader was vastly more vulgar than any of Goldwaters anti-Russian jokes.
But if the alt-right of modern America is obsessed with Islam, the old Birchers remain obsessed with communism. What causes cognitive dissonance for many is that the liberals of 2018 think, speak and to a degree act much like the Birchers of the 1950s and 1960s. Just as the Birchers convinced once and future southern racists to direct their anger at communism, so too are modern liberals in the US doing the same. These are the people who think war with North Korea is preferable to peace while the same can be said for their views on China and Venezuela. Likewise, this group who follows Goldwater girl Hillary Clinton like a kind of saint, also say about Russia what the many of the Birchers said about the USSR in the 1960s. The fact that Russia hasn’t been ruled by the Communist party since 1991 seems inconsequential – the perception is more important than the reality for such people.
Donald Trump has done many things wrong, but at the Singapore summit he did just about everything right. The problem with Trump is that he sees the DPRK as ‘just another country’ with whom difficult but potentially good deals are possible. But for the zealous in liberal media, Trump has now “capitulated to communism” like Nixon before him.
The problem with liberal media is that it isn’t really centre-left at all. In 2018, American liberal media is far right.