Book Reviews, Charles, Great Fragmentation, Political Discussion & Analysis
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The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed (F. H. Buckley)

Along with left-wing books decrying the supposed Trump-driven decline of democracy, I have been reading right-wing books about the supposed Trump-driven realignment of politics.  They have mostly been tedious, and this one, Frank Buckley’s The Republican Workers Party, has not improved my mood.  It is poorly written, unoriginal, blinkered, simplistic, and annoying.  Worst of all, reading the book is like watching a spastic jumping frog.  It lurches from half-covered topic to half-covered topic, never settling on anything.  Don’t waste your time.

Buckley, a Canadian-born law professor at the Scalia School of Law (George Mason), has lumped together many short chapters, each probably tossed off in an evening, into a “book.”  The alleged theme is that a new political party is aborning, the “Republican Workers Party,” though any concrete details or plan must have missed the final cut.  If there is a core idea that can be teased out of the book, buried under the chaff, it’s that the United States lacks economic mobility, and focusing on improving the lot of workers can lead to an alliance of the socially conservative and the economically liberal.

Thus, this book is in the sub-genre about “workers,” by which is usually meant “working class.”  Certainly, it’s generally agreed that the working class has suffered in the past few decades, failing to participating in rising wages and subject to numerous debilities, extreme in some cases, such as opiate addition and suicide.  And Buckley is entirely right that workers need help; that income and wealth inequality within the United States, as well as mobility, is bad and has gotten worse.  He is also right that modern politics should be viewed as a quadrant, where a plurality are relatively socially conservative (a term he does not really define, for reasons to be revealed) while being relatively economically liberal, in that they favor a generous safety net, and that this is part of the key to Trump’s success.  From there, though, it’s downhill.

First, after a stream of consciousness about his own minor role speech writing for Trump and his even more minor connections to the Trump White House, Buckley starts talking about decline.  He informs us America hasn’t declined at all—rather, other countries have become relatively richer, so we have less money by comparison. That (irrationally) makes us feel bad, which we perceive as decline.  Yes, that’s really what he says.  This introduces the main problem with all of Buckley’s analysis—everything is viewed exclusively through an economic lens.  Any other concerns of anybody are either irrelevant or pernicious.  This is why he never defines, in any way whatsoever, “socially conservative,” because he doesn’t think it has any relevance, other than to have lip service paid to it.  Buckley is the mirror image of Joan Williams in White Working Class.  She thinks social conservatives should be hoodwinked with promises to address their economic problems, so they will support progressive social causes with their votes.  Buckley thinks they should be hoodwinked with promises to address conservative social matters, so they will keep voting for social democracy.  In both cases, though, their social conservatism is an embarrassment to be satisfied in no way whatsoever.

Yes, Buckley admits, the culture may have some problems, vaguely referred to, but there’s no solution, and therefore no need to discuss it, much less to consider if government might have a role in culture, something that is explicitly rejected in the first pages.  Don’t you know, “conservatives [read:  like me] have accepted gay marriage and abandoned the racial prejudices that disfigured the Old Right”?  This equation of acceptance of the homosexual agenda and racial equality is all you really need to know about Buckley, and he beats it repeatedly in the book.  Certainly, not a single social conservative issue is ever to be addressed by the Republican Workers Party, even though the bedrock premise is that the party will consist of social conservatives.  Abortion?  Never heard of it.  Guns?  What are those?  Religious belief is only mentioned as a spur to economic liberalism.  “Supreme Court” and “judges” have no entry in the index.  Even talking about such matters is not allowed; “moral rearmament” is very, very bad, because what that really means is “heartless conservatism that blames the victims.”  Luckily, Frank Buckley is here to set limits to what the workers are allowed to talk about.  They can elect people like Trump, but they better not ask for anything but decent jobs, or they’ll be told off as racist cavemen.

So, while this is supposed to be a book about the rise of a new political party, it’s not.  Yes, every so often Buckley nods to how Trump sometimes embodies this new approach, although he complains about Trump’s inadequacies just as much.  But to the extent any program can be discerned, though no details are offered, it appears that what the Republican Workers Party will offer is the welfare state without the welfare bums.  Which is a sound enough program, I suppose, but seems a trifle . . . incomplete.

Along similar lines, that is, the lines of Buckley preening his own supposed moral and intellectual superiority at the expense of talking substantively about political realignment, we are berated continuously that all aristocracies are abominations.  Not just our current ruling class—all aristocracies, for reasons unspecified.  Buckley seems unaware that every society ever has had an aristocracy.  No, in his imaginings imposed egalitarianism is a conservative value.  He at least has the self-awareness to call his exaltation of economics and his embrace of forced egalitarianism “right-wing Marxism,” which is an, um, interesting turn of phrase.  Thus, the main attractions of the new Republican Workers Party apparently will be that everyone will have a good job (how, exactly, we are not told) and nobody will be more important than anyone else.  Buckley misses that the working class doesn’t mind an aristocracy; it minds a bad aristocracy that fails to fulfil its obligations.  It’s perfectly happy to have an aristocracy that sees its social role as helping all of society flourish—especially if good jobs are on offer.

Buckley’s ideological rejection of social conservatism repeatedly backs him into asserting overt falsehoods and fantasies.  So, he actually claims that the entertainment media isn’t Left.  That is a “bugbear of the Right.”  In reality, he claims, “since the studios are in the business of making money, they are consumer-driven and don’t shape the culture so much as they are shaped by it.”  The facile stupidity of this is stunning.  One has only to read or watch any popular media for the past twenty years to know the exact opposite is the case.  For example, I am now watching the third season of the generally excellent Amazon science fiction series The Man in the High Castle.  Two of the three romances portrayed are homosexual, both presented prominently in every episode through a gauzy lens of warm, glowing happiness.  The third is heterosexual; after a few episodes the woman cuts the man’s throat with a straight razor when he threatens her (he’s a literal Nazi) and he bleeds out slowly in a pool of red while she watches.  No doubt her next act will be to take up with a woman.  Anyone who sees this as anything but propaganda, given that, at most, 3% of the population is homosexual, is a moron, and I can assure you that Amazon doesn’t care if they lose some money as a result of people being turned off, any more than the movie studios did when producing anti-Iraq War flops one after another.  Ideology is the chief driver of all those in charge of entertainment media, as merely reading about the Academy Awards will clearly show, but since Buckley agrees with this set of socially liberal ideologies, he can’t see it (or chooses not to).

Of equal stupidity, Buckley lectures the reader that we shouldn’t complain about the ever-more-aggressive censorship of conservatives by the Lords of Tech, because “competition is only a click away, and nothing stops conservatives from starting their own social media platforms.”  Buckley, an airy-fairy academic and pundit who probably has never had to earn an honest living, is apparently unaware of the network effect, the money and power behind and devoted to this censorship, and the lengths to which the Left would go to destroy any possible alternative that managed to beat the odds (see, e.g., Gab), working hand-in-glove with all of corporate America and the Deep State.  I could multiply the idiocies into which Buckley’s ideological blinders force him, but that’ll do.

My low opinion of Buckley’s book isn’t helped by that Buckley steals (inadvertently, I’m sure) many of my own cherished ways to address today’s problems relating to today’s overweening administrative state (one of the few areas of politics he actually discusses, though only in service of his attacks on aristocracy), while expressing them poorly.  He endorses, without any real discussion, policies including rustication of bureaucrats, restoration of the spoils system, mass rollback of laws and regulation, a ban on working in the private sector in any related area by former government workers, and forced retirement of private foundations.  You’d think that would make me like this book, but it just irritates me, especially since his inadequate presentations make my ideas seem less attractive.  And the author’s poor writing is not helped by attempts to provide a gloss of sophistication by mentioning everyone from Blaise Pascal to the Emperor Justinian to Oswald Spengler, never to offer substance, of course, just to splash the names onto the page.

What Buckley never gets around to is actually focusing on workers; he’s too busy complaining about (portions of) the Left in an incoherent fashion and hectoring social conservatives.  Thus, he never gets around to creating a program that would attract workers to his new Republican Workers Party.  That would mean, presumably, creating good jobs:  well-paid, secure, and dignified.  That might involve, for example, massive infrastructure spending (something Trump promised but failed to deliver); funding vocational training combined with sharply reducing loans and funding for social capital-destroying “learning” like Gender Studies; forced repatriation from overseas of jobs and money by big corporations; enhancing the power of unions while preventing any political activity by them (and absolutely banning all unions of government workers); and so forth.  But talk about those things is not what we get.  We get jittery incoherence.  Buckley should be ashamed of writing this book and frittering away my time.

2 Comments

  1. Its too bad that the book turned out to be incoherent (or just bad). I heard Buckley on First Things Podcast and my first impression was favorable. He seemed pugnacious, but in a slightly playful way, and he was willing to give a pretty full-throated defense of Trumpism – which isn’t my thing, but it is hard to find anyone in the walled-off elite who are willing take such a stance in public.

    • Charles says

      I was surprised too, since First Things did a favorable squib review. I almost wrote a paragraph in the review about this–movement conservatives don’t like to criticize others in their movement, for two reasons, as far as I can tell. First, it’s a small movement, and infighting seems like wasting resources. Second, it’s a small movement, and all these people, more or less, socialize with each other, or know each other. Both reasons are understandable. But being an outsider, I am not bound by the latter; and as to the former, as someone who is prominent in the movement told me a few weeks ago, “everything’s on the table.” If that’s true, it’s time to make sure that the dishes prepared are going to be tasty.

      Yes, he supports Trump. But Trump seems to attract a lot of second-rate, self-promoting grifters. Maybe there’s more to the man, but if so, it’s not evident from this book.

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