Minor skirmishes on college campuses and within political subcultures are more often than not a bellwether for forthcoming national rifts. For this reason the ongoing immolation of the conservative media personality Charlie Kirk at the hands of small bands of right-wing dissidents is a foreshadowing to the wider schism soon to emerge in a post-Trump GOP.
To summarise, at a variety of campus events Kirk, alongside a host of generic conservative personalities, have been systematically humiliated by a barrage of coordinated questioning by young conservatives further to the right of the Turning Point founder.
Querying Kirk’s dedication to free market economics, dogmatic support of Israel as well as an apathetic attitude towards immigration and demographics, the questioners eventually forced the termination of Q&As at subsequent events. The trolling reached a head at a heated event featuring Donald Trump Jr where questions were specifically forbidden much to the ire of the audience. It was claimed that the scheduled two-hour talk couldn’t have a Q&A session due to “time constraints”. In short Kirk was beaten and knew it enough to prevent further humiliation.
The twenty-six year old Kirk, for those justifiably not aware, is the frontman for the conservative campus activist group “Turning Point USA”. Famed for an all-round cringeworthy aesthetic and demeanour, both on the left and further onto the right it has become a text-book example of how not to grow a right-wing subculture on campus.
Their branding comes across as frankly dweeby, if not entirely confected. Aiming to garner some of the energy generated by Trump and the anti-SJW fad, it nevertheless falls flat on its face as a winning aesthetic.
To put it kindly Kirk and his brand of faux conservatism was repeatedly and thoroughly deconstructed for all the world to see. The footage of which I’d recommend all to watch marks a watershed moment for conservative politics and the fading away, ideally permanently, of the neoconservative gatekeeper class in America. While hammering the supposed intolerant left for closing down debate, Kirk and company operated double time to shut down questioning from the dissident right.
To contextualise, Kirk’s trolling is the latest iteration in a fifty year long turf war pitting the two ideological wings of the American conservative movement against each other; the paleoconservatives and the neoconservatives. To briefly untangle the groupings, paleoconservatives hold that America is an organic society rooted in her traditions and people. They are largely isolationists and protectionists, opposed to the more universalist neoconservatives who favour military intervention and projecting American liberalism upon the world.
Since the end of the Cold War paleocons have been on the back foot as Washington pursued a mixture of free trade and intervention abroad. Rather infamously many paleoconservative intellectuals were purged from the conservative masthead publication ‘The National Review’ for claims of racism, anti-Semitism and a failure to support the then ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following on from decades of globalisation, mismanaged trade deals and botched interventions abroad, the paleocons are back with a vengeance, hoping to shape the GOP for a generation to come.
Among the new paleoconservative champions Tucker Carlson is perhaps the most dynamic among them. Fusing anti-capitalist rhetoric with right-wing populism Carlson is not your usual Fox News shock jock.
Populism is now the mood music for Western politics, the GOP included, and the neoconservative faction within the GOP are keen to buttress themselves against it.
Kirk and his organisation are largely a by-product of this buttressing. Keen to avoid a complete palace coup against them, they are happy to humour and fund faux conservative organisations like Turning Point in the hope of co-opting and killing the rise in American nationalism.
Kirk’s ongoing ordeal is emblematic to the extent to which the old guard neoconservatives of the GOP have exhausted themselves. The astroturfed movement which they lead is largely cynical, if not comical, and funded by the same corporate oligarchs that subverted the country in the first place.
The spectacle of Kirk facing repeated firing squads of questioners from the nationalist right points to one thing, that American conservatism is largely walking prey for whoever has the energy and imagination to undercut it.
Mainstream American conservatism, like centrism the world over, is bleeding to death from its internal contradictions. A rising generation is increasingly indifferent to clarion calls to defend Israel or some non-existent free market.
The American left is embracing its own radicalism in the form of the Sanders campaign, with the formerly ascendant centrists being cast aside. The question over the next decade as American democracy finds a new equilibrium with populism, will the future belong to the nationalist right or democratic hard left, newly hegemonic in their respective parties.
Trump as a president may have fallen inevitably flat but he has ignited a fuse on an inevitable ascent in a nationalist right amidst a demographically ailing Republican party.
Demographics are destiny and the natural home for the GOP should it wish to contend nationally will be as a nationalist worker-orientated party catering for a new minority-majority America. The days of soft-spoken corporate-friendly ¡Jeb! Bush type operators is finished, and into the mix lies the potential of a nationalist realignment.
The period leading up to and just before the 2016 electoral wins for populism has been an era of the destruction of gatekeepers. Those aligning to the centre right or left hoping to keep lids on their radical factions have and will continue to fail.
In Ireland we have many budding Kirks, clogging up any creative energy with a failed and generic brand of American conservatism. Largely inhabiting the corpse of the Catholic pro-life movement, it doggedly follows the same neoconservative line into oblivion. Kirk’s humiliation marks an inflection point where these shysters across the world will hopefully be shown up for their lack of imagination and absolute duplicity.
Progressives were right in laughing at Kirk and Turning Point, in the same way they are right to fear the nationalist insurgency that will fill the void once his brand of conservatism is discredited. Years ahead political historians will see the importance of this otherwise banal clash, the era of gatekeepers on the conservative right as well as on the progressive left is ending; and from these radical factions the future of Western politics will be forged.