In 1981 Ronald Reagan submitted for head of the National Institute for the Humanities Dr. Mel Bradford, a neoconfederate, George Wallace supporting paleoconservative in the southern agrarian tradition. He compared Lincoln to Goebbels and openly disparaged the study of non-white and non-Christian history. His nomination, to the somewhat obscure post, triggered a firestorm within the conservative movement. Many prominent thinkers associated with fusion conservatism or neoconservatism were outraged and openly called on the selection of an alternative candidate who did not hold neoconfederate views and a propensity for antisemitism.
These included George Will, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Michael Joyce, and William Simon. The conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation boldly proclaimed his nostalgia for the confederacy as ‘un-conservative and un-American’ and demanded the selection of a different nominee. Backing down due to this pressure, Reagan eventually selected William Bennett instead. A schmuck to be sure, but a schmuck within the norms of American political life. White Nationalism was not embraced by mainstream conservatism back then.
Today is different. If the Iraq War didn’t already teach us this already, the rapid normalization of Trump and his racist cronies should show us that the media will always roll over and be pushovers when it comes to confronting power. Always. Every single damn time. And too many of these #NeverTrump conservatives have found ways to make nice with their Vichy Conservative comrades, since after all, the victor now controls the spoils.
I agree with Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders that class based rather than strictly identity based politics is the way for progressives to move forward in the wake of this stunning upset. I also agree with them that we should never waver or hesitate to call a spade a space, or a crypto Nazi a crypto Nazi. Steve Bannon is beyond the pale of acceptability in any era. The fact that this was clear to conservatives and the mainstream press in 1981 and abandoned in our own time is proof that we cannot rely on the press or Trump’s intraparty adversaries to do the hard work for us. We have to be vigilant ourselves.