Until he stepped down in December 2016 after 23 years, Charles Sykes was one of Wisconsin’s top-rated and most influential conservative talk show hosts. He is currently an MSNBC contributor and was co-host of the national public radio show, “Indivisible,” which is originated from WNYC. He is an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration and of what he calls the conservative “alternative reality” media.
Sykes’s latest book is How the Right Lost Its Mind, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press in October 2017. He is the author of eight previous books, including A Nation of Victims, Dumbing Down Our Kids, Profscam, The Hollow Men, The End of Privacy, 50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School, A Nation of Moochers, and Fail U. The False Promise of Higher Education. He was co-editor of the National Review College Guide.
Sykes has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Salon, USA Today, National Review, Commentary, The Weekly Standard and other national publications. He has appeared on Meet the Press, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, PBS’s Newshour, The Today Show, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, PBS, the BBC, and has been profiled on NPR. He has also spoken extensively on university campuses.
Until recently, Sykes was a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, where he edited the group’s magazine, “Wisconsin Interest” for 27 years. He lives in Mequon, Wisconsin with his wife and three dogs. He has three children, and two grandchildren.
What is a Contrarian Conservative?
Despite the clamorous demands that conservatives now fall into line with the new regime, precisely the opposite is needed. Rather than conformity, conservativism needs dissidents who are willing to push back – in other words, contrarian conservatives, who recognize that conservatism now finds itself reduced to a remnant in the wilderness.
But the wilderness is a good place for any movement to rethink its first principles, rediscover its forgotten values, and ask: Who are we, really?
Contrarian conservatives will answer: we’re conservatives who believe in things like liberty, free markets, limited government, personal responsibility, constitutionalism, growth and opportunity, the defense of American ideas and institutions at home and abroad, modesty, prudence, aspiration, and inclusion. We are conservatives in the great tradition that stretches back to Burke, Tocqueville, Buckley and Reagan.
But that means that we are not part of what the conservative movement or the GOP has become.
What does it mean to be a contrarian? It does not mean mindless opposition. When the Trump Administration or congressional Republicans are right, we should support them; when possible, we’ll nudge them to do the right thing. But we will have no problem adopting a spirit of contradiction when they go wrong or lose their way. Contrarians have no obligation to defend the indefensible or reverse their positions based on The Leader’s whims or tweets. They can step out of the Alternative Reality silos and look at things as they actually are, rather than relying on what Trump aide Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts.”
These independent conservatives can affirm that Trump won the election fairly and freely, but also recognize the gravity and implications of Russia’s interference in the campaign. They can support tougher border controls and still be appalled by the cruelty and incompetence of his immigration bans. Independent conservatives can applaud Trump’s support for Israel and still be thoroughly appalled by his slavish adulation of Vladimir Putin and terrified by his attitude toward our NATO allies.
Most important of all, we will take the long view, recognizing that electoral victories do not change eternal verities or the essential correctness of traditionally conservative insights into man and society.
Opposition in the face of power is not a sign of weakness, but rather an indication of the ongoing intellectual vigor of the conservative idea. We should draw inspiration from Frederick Douglass, who observed, “One and God make a majority.”
Undoubtedly, this will be lonely work and we may lose a lot of former friends; but it should also be familiar to conservatives who have a long history of being out of step with the spirit of the age. William F. Buckley Jr. sharpened the definitions of the new conservativism by contrasting it with the “modern” Republicanism of the Eisenhower years and conservative spokesmen were full-throated and active in their opposition to Nixonism. It is not a coincidence that there is no such thing today as a “Nixon conservative.”
(Excerpt from the upcoming "How the Right Lost Its Mind")