Over Memorial Day weekend, Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, appeared at a QAnon-affiliated conference in Dallas. During a Q&A session, an audience member asked, “I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here.”

What happened in Myanmar was an old-fashioned military coup.

Mr. Flynn replied, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.”

The crowd cheered both the question and the answer.

I bring this up not to dwell on the fact that this is disgraceful and dangerous stuff. Mr. Flynn, a retired general, has been saying loony things for quite a while.

No, I bring this up to ask a different question: Why aren’t more conservatives and elected Republicans more horrified by this and stuff like it?

The timing of Mr. Flynn’s remarks was darkly fortuitous, and not just because he offered his comments on the eve of Memorial Day, when we honor the men and women who gave their lives defending our Constitution. Mr. Flynn’s comments also coincided with a spirited debate about the nature of conservatism, and whether the right’s descent into such conspiracy-mongering paranoia and nationalism is a betrayal of conservatism or the inevitable result of conservative ideas. Some even argue that this is what conservatism was always about.

It’s certainly true that the Trump era has revealed a lot about how serious -- or, rather, unserious -- some prominent Republicans and conservatives really were about their reverence for the Constitution. But instead of going down various intellectual and historical rabbit holes, I’ll just say that trying to lay this at the feet of conservative ideas is a distraction.

The core problem afflicting the right -- and to a great degree, the country -- is that the elite surrender to populism.

Definitions of populism vary, but for our purposes it’s best understood as the politics of the mob. The defining emotion of populism and mobs alike is passion, fueled by the invincible twin convictions that “we” are right and that “we” have been wronged by “them.” It’s a bit like Charles de Gaulle’s line about the difference between patriotism and nationalism. “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

Populism is often immune to reason and contemptuous of debate. “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, and I am for free silver,” William Jennings Bryan proclaimed. “I will look up the arguments later.”

Both parties have, at various times, hitched their wagons to populism. Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long and George Wallace rode the populist tiger, while Franklin D. Roosevelt and, to a lesser extent, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama harnessed the beast for their purposes.

Conservatives deserve special criticism for fomenting populism because conservatism is supposed to be temperamentally skeptical of excessive political passion. But that decision has less to do with conservative ideas than with the corruption of prioritizing political power over principle -- an error that is inherent to politics and human nature, as the founders understood well. Certainly, on paper, intellectual progressivism provides as much permission for indulging populism as conservatism does.

The surrender to populism was greased by what Marxists call “material conditions.” Institutions of all stripes -- the media, organized religion, education, etc. -- have lost much of their ability to temper passions. This is in part because of the deeply entrenched cultural conviction that passion and feelings trump facts and arguments.

Thanks to a generation of polarizing culture-war politics, mass self-sorting of voters into rival camps, and misguided reforms that gave populists outsize power to dominate primaries, Congress no longer serves its proper function as the place where political disagreements are worked out. It’s now a giant stage for political theatrics and popular-front policing.

The media has become balkanized. When most Americans got their news from a handful of outlets, extremism was filtered out of the national conversation. Such gatekeeping is gone, because the walls that made the gatekeepers powerful have been demolished, and many of the erstwhile gatekeepers would rather lead the mob than tell its members to lay down their pitchforks.

The new business model, fueled by social media, is to grab a relative handful of “sticky” customers seeking to have their passions ratified, not rebutted. The former hierarchies of credibility have been flattened. Anyone with a web browser can find the “facts” the mob needs.

In short, the right changed with the times. Its problem now is that it rode the tiger so long, it doesn’t know how to get off -- and it’s not even sure it wants to.

2021, Tribune Content Agency

(38) comments

LVW

Ahh, you gotta love Vanity Fair: "The thing about Donald Trump's four years in office is that despite the fact that we knew in real time about most of the awful, corrupt, legitimately evil sh*t he pulled, months after his departure from the White House we're still learning about previously unknown but equally terrible stuff he did. Like, for instance, siccing the Justice Department on his enemies in Congress."

Neal Frankel

Michael Flynn, "During a Q&A session, an audience member asked, “I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here.”

"What happened in Myanmar was an old-fashioned military coup."

"Mr. Flynn replied, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.”

Treason is "the crime of betraying one's country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government."

Why isn't Flynn's statement treasonous?

DeftCurmudgeon

Because the military thwarting a stolen election wouldn't be a "coup", it would be preventing the criminal treasonous act of the Democrat party stealing the presidency.

LVW

Oh please.

DeftCurmudgeon

Yet another lie pushed on you by the corrupt media... debunked.

"A new study shows that the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine touted by former President Donald Trump increased the survival rate of severely ill coronavirus patients.

The observational study, published by medRxiv, found that antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, along with zinc, could increase the coronavirus survival rate by as much as nearly 200% if distributed at higher doses to ventilated patients with a severe version of the illness."

LVW

DC: LOL, even if that is true, Trump had no idea whether or not it was true when he said it ... he was just passing more verbal gas, trying to downplay the virus that eventually cost him the presidency.

DeftCurmudgeon

Sure he did, a lot of docs were using it and saying it was that it was effective but the lying media was dissing it because it couldn't have Trump being right about anything.

The Democrat media had an election to win... sorta.

And you guys eagerly gobbled down every lie it fed you... LOL

Plus it was cheap, no money to be made off it when there were "vaccines" in the works that would generate billions in profits.

LVW

DC: Now you have circled around and bitten your tail. Trump was the one who was all-on the the vaccines (or as you say, "vaccines"); in fact, it's just about the only thing he did correctly during the pandemic.

posumcop

Need to add Ivermectin to the mix as well.

DeftCurmudgeon

I see you've failed to address the rest of my comment.

And I'm disappointed you didn't go straight for attacking the source... LOL

DeftCurmudgeon

"US facing 'massive shortage' of conspiracy theories as all of them have come true."

DeftCurmudgeon

"When Fulton County, Ga., poll manager Suzi Voyles sorted through a large stack of mail-in ballots last November, she noticed an alarmingly odd pattern of uniformity in the markings for Joseph R. Biden. One after another, the absentee votes contained perfectly filled-in ovals for Biden — except that each of the darkened bubbles featured an identical white void inside them in the shape of a tiny crescent, indicating they’d been marked with toner ink instead of a pen or pencil.

Adding to suspicions, she noticed that all of the ballots were printed on different stock paper than the others she handled as part of a statewide hand recount of the razor-thin Nov. 3 presidential election. And none was folded or creased, as she typically observed in mail-in ballots that had been removed from envelopes.

In short, the Biden votes looked like they’d been duplicated by a copying machine."

Donald

Mr. Goldberg is upset because he, like a number of his fellow travelers across the political spectrum, is becoming aware that contrary to his expectation, the American movement referred to as “America First” is not going away with Mr. Trump’s removal from office.

I suspect the reason this comes as a shock to these folks is because of hubris on their part combined with their living within a political and social echo-chamber. The mistake they continue to make is to believe that the Trump candidacy made the America First movement rather than recognizing the already existing America First movement made the Trump candidacy. I think they have difficulty comprehending this because of the contempt they hold for the American People and their narrative of America being at best nothing more than a proposition nation, and at worst an evil that must be replaced.

bishopsboy

Awesome post, Donald. You nailed it.

LVW

Donald: Your last sentence is absurd.

prodigalson

No, LVW, it isn’t absurd. It’s spot on.

bishopsboy

LVW, explain why it's absurd.

LVW

Bb: It is absurd because it inaccurately demonizes people who believe the best path to national prosperity is not protectionism (by claiming they have contempt for the nation). That is ridiculous. Aside from that, nobody believes that the America First protectionism movement started with Trump, except maybe Trump.

bishopsboy

LVW: Oh, I thought it demonized the elitists who fail to understand America's greatness comes from the grassroots blue-collar working class people who work hard everyday to make our country the greatest nation that has ever existed throughout all of human history. I must be using a different filter and may need to stop listening to old Lee Greenwood and Alabama songs...

LVW

Bb: This country's greatness has always come from competition, and protectionism is the opposite of competition. When did you become a Socialist?

bishopsboy

LVW: Socialist?!? I’ve always stood up for the working class guy but that doesn’t make me a socialist, a Trumper, but definitely not a socialist.

LVW

Bb: But not a Capitalist if you want to control markets.

bishopsboy

LVW: There needs to be some regulation even under a capitalist system or the strong will always destroy the weaker competitors over time consolidating all wealth and control in the hands of a few robber barons.

LVW

Bb: Tell that to Adam Smith. You seem to have conflicting views in your head. I agree with what you are saying, but you really don't, which is weird.

bishopsboy

LVW: That’s untrue. Unbridled capitalism won’t work, there must be some government regulation of business and industry to maintain a level playing field and to keep some fairness of opportunity in the system - note I said opportunity, not outcome. In fact, I would even support a limit on wealth accumulation. No one needs to have more than a billion dollars in assets.

Donald

“America First protectionism movement”

Huh?

prodigalson

I agree with my good friend and Royal Zambian Brother, Bishopsboy. Excellent post Donald.

Programmer

Turns out that more and more things that were considered conspiracy theories are actually correct after all.

DeftCurmudgeon

Yep, the Fauxi emails were quite eye opening.

As will be the results of the AZ audit.

freeride

Mr. Goldberg is the only one who's been saying looney things for quite sometime....Being Jewish you would think he would totally disavow the party of antisemitism (Democrats) but he doesn't. Goes to show what blind leading the blind really means!

LVW

Just another insightful piece by Goldberg that incurs the wrath of the DN-R peanut gallery.

DeftCurmudgeon

No "wrath" we just understand his agenda.

posumcop

Guess you are part of the circus as well.

DeftCurmudgeon

LOL...

Jonah is desperate to get back on that DC cocktail party "A" list.

prodigalson

Mr. Goldberg, you are an arrogant, condescending globalist. RINOs like you can't control the foot soldiers of the party anymore, and you don't know how to handle it. Your apple cart has been upset, and you and your ilk are absolutely desperate for things to get back to the way they used to be. That's not going to happen Mr. Goldberg. Donald Trump let the genie out of that bottle, never to return. You thought your side could steal an election, and that all of your sins would eventually be forgotten. It's not going to happen this time.

freeride

Well said Prodigalson!

prodigalson

Thank you freeride.

Donald

Indeed.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.