Hugh Hewitt And The GOP's Captive Minds

I find much to admire about Hugh Hewitt, who has managed to resist many of the temptations to blather and bombast to which so many of his talk radio colleagues have succumbed. 

But Hewitt has also carved out a niche as a reliable rationalizer of Trumpism. His talents in that direction were on display last weekend as he manfully tried to make the case that, despite appearances, there was no civil war in the GOP (and shouldn't be one, since everything is going so swimmingly.) In Hewitt's rosy world, there was "only a series of skirmishes on the fringes of the party and among its chattering Manhattan-Beltway class estranged from President Trump." 

The Never Trump movement has become a long-running version of “Saturday Night Live’s” “More Cowbell” skit. It seems every column, editorial, television appearance, panel participation and probably every trip to Safeway must include a Never Trumper’s own version of Cato the Elder’s “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” — “Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed.” Admiring lookers-on then respond via tweet or Facebook post: “Well done! But it could use more cowbell.” And so more cowbell we get.

Hewitt  betrays a small note of defensiveness, even as he claims the mantle of substance and seriousness in contrast to the nabobs nattering on about things like Russia, the rule of law, attacks on democratic norms and what not.

This More Cowbell Caucus takes a dim view of those of us willing to applaud Trump when he does something right, either directly or through his Cabinet and allies on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the real political battles at home and genuine conflicts abroad proceed, an afterthought to those for whom denouncing Trump is now every bit the daily obligation as matins is for a monk.

Having read that, naturally, I headed back to my cell to contemplate my sins before the Orange God King. But, forgive me, Father, I could not help thinking of Hewitt and what Bret Stephens said earlier this year. I included those heretical thoughts in How the Right Lost Its Mind:

Stephens publicly lamented the capitulation to Trumpism of conservative thought leaders, presumably including some of his own colleagues. “The most painful aspect of this,,” he said in the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, “has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.” ...

The campaign, Stephens told his audience, saw the rise of a pundit class he called “TrumpXplainers,” who would offer to translate the candidate’s incoherent word salads into something that sounded cogent. “For instance, Trump would give a speech or offer an answer in a debate that amounted to little more than a word jumble,” Stephens said. “But rather than quote Trump, or point out that what he had said was grammatically and logically nonsensical, the TrumpXplainers would tell us what he had allegedly meant to say. They became our political semioticians, ascribing pattern and meaning to the rune-stones of Trump’s mind.” ...

In perhaps the most striking section of his address, Stephens compared the Trumpian apologists to the postwar Polish communists described by Czeslaw Milosz in his book, The Captive Mind. Milosz’s colleagues were not coerced into becoming Stalinists, they made the transition willingly. 

They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. 

“I fear,” Stephens said, “we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right.” Indeed, as he watched the process of conversion, Stephens concluded that the “mental pathways by which the new Trumpian conservatives have made their peace with their new political master aren’t so different from Milosz’s former colleagues.” He described the process of rationalization:

There’s the same desperate desire for political influence; the same belief that Trump represents a historical force to which they ought to belong; the same willingness to bend or discard principles they once considered sacred; the same fear of seeming out-of-touch with the mood of the public; the same tendency to look the other way at comments or actions that they cannot possibly justify; the same belief that you do more good by joining than by opposing; the same Manichean belief that, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, the United States would have all-but ended as a country. 

He did not name names. But I wonder if Hewitt recognized anything familiar in that description, or whether he would simply regard it as "more cowbell."