Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Return of Street Corner Conservatism

Donald Trump

Richard Nixon was plotting his 1968 presidential campaign when he
received a letter from a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania.
The correspondent, a young man named William F. Gavin, wasn’t certain
Nixon would run. But he sure wanted him to. “You can win,” Gavin wrote.
“Nothing can happen to you, politically speaking, that is worse than
what has happened to you.”

Gavin cited Ortega y Gasset to explain why Nixon was uniquely suited
to lead during the violence and uncertainty of the late 1960s. “You
are,” he went on, “the only political figure with the vision to see
things the way they are and not as Leftist and Rightist kooks would have

The forceful and eloquent style of Gavin’s prose impressed top Nixon
aide Patrick J. Buchanan. Gavin soon joined the nascent campaign,
beginning a career writing speeches for the thirty-seventh president,
for Senator Jim Buckley of New York, for Ronald Reagan, and for
congressman Bob Michel, as well as composing novels, nonfiction books,
and journalism. Gavin understood well the political realignment that
brought city- and suburban-dwelling white working class ethnics—Irish,
Italians, Greeks, Pols, and Slavs—rather tentatively into the Republican
camp. “The Nixon aide who understood the Catholic opportunity best,”
Buchanan wrote later, “was Bill Gavin, who had grown up Catholic and
conservative, his views and values shaped by family, faith, and

I have been thinking about Gavin lately because his life and thought
so perfectly capture the conservatism of Donald Trump. When you read
Gavin, you begin to understand that the idea of Trump as a conservative
is not oxymoronic. Trump is a conservative—of a particular type
that is rare in intellectual circles. His conservatism is ignored or
dismissed or opposed because, while it often reaches the same
conclusions as more prevalent versions of conservatism, its impulses,
emphases, and forms are different from those of traditionalism,
anti-Communism, classical liberalism, Leo Strauss conservatism in its
East and West Coast varieties, the neoconservatism of Irving Kristol as
well as the neoconservatism of William Kristol, religious conservatism,
paleo-conservatism, compassionate conservatism, constitutional
conservatism, and all the other shaggy inhabitants of the conservative

Donald Trump, Dee Duncan

The Return of Street Corner Conservatism

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