Over the weekend, Salon published a list of “The 25 conservatives actually worth following on Twitter,” which turned out to be fairly revealing.
The prompt for the article was an acknowledgment that leftists had completely failed to anticipate the election of Donald Trump as president. “Their steady diet of MSNBC and left-wing op-eds only reinforced biases and preconceived beliefs,” Taylor Link wrote. “The country’s actual, collective tilt wholly evaded them.
“One recommended solution: Search out opposing points of view.” So Link sets out to accomplish that task by compiling a list of Twitter personalities. The twist: they all hate Trump. And that’s how they mean to understand the mind of the Trump voter.
Maybe we should call this metaliberalism — a self-negating, performative broadmindedness that is always and ever closed to any actual contrary opinion.
Or can we call them the neo-Dothraki? One does not inquire after the truth. It is known.
The list is a mix of former Bush administration officials, whodats in man buns, and well-known #NeverTrump neocons, along with a few folks like @Popehat who are legitimately Twitter-famous. And it’s actually not bad. I mean, I enjoy everyone from paleocons to minarchists to squishes, so maybe I’m not the best judge to go by, but the only person on that list I would follow just to unfollow is John Weaver, strategist for the utterly phony John Kasich.
Do you really need an explanation for Trump? Here’s one: He Wasn’t Her. Here’s another: folks stick with their party.
We could go on, but might I suggest there’s a much better reason, dear Salon readers, for expanding your horizons as far to the right as you can stand? It’s this: reading extremists makes you more open-minded. Don’t laugh, it’s science. A recent journal article found “that the introduction of extreme alternatives into the public discourse makes mainstream policies on the same side of the spectrum look more centrist in the public eye.”
It’s not that centrists seem sane by comparison to the “nuttier” extremes. Rather, I would suggest, being exposed to the most forceful and coherent expression of an idea may not win many converts — we’re all stubborn — but the more valid points rattle around in your brain for a while, and sometimes force you to concede the legitimacy of the idea once it’s expressed in a milder form.
So here are some conservatives who are definitely worth following, all of whom have the power to make you very uncomfortable.
Kevin Williamson (National Review) — Nobody writes better more often than Williamson. Nobody combines his ferocity and erudition, at least not since Christopher Hitchens went off to meet God. Nobody else would have called Trump “angry Liberace,” a diss savage enough to make Eminem question his own powers. When leftists challenge him, they usually resort to shadow-boxing with straw men, or simply condemning him with the weightiest adjectives they can manage. Read him at your own risk.
Heather Mac Donald (City Journal) — If you’re looking for analytical precision wedded to rhetorical perfection, you won’t find better than Mac Donald. The nicest thing I can say about her is that I feel my opinions on police violence against African-Americans, though deeply felt, are at best provisional, as I haven’t yet read her book, The War on Cops. Mac Donald will force you to admit truths you don’t want to admit, and we all know how rare that is.
Mark Steyn (SteynOnline) — Steyn used to be everywhere, ripping into everyone. Now he’s hard to find in print, having antagonized a few too many allies. If I remember to check his site, I usually give up quickly, turned away by the janky coding and all the plugs for his appearances on Fox News and guest host gigs for Rush Limbaugh. He’s Fitzgerald wasting his genius on unproduced movie scripts. Still, there are the books. If you’ve got any doubts about your universal liberal pieties, pick one up for a blast of Burkean realism.
Matthew Walther (The Week) — I’m not sure there’s anyone whose writing I’m enjoying more these days than Walther’s, and I don’t even agree with it half the time. Anachronistic yet unaffected, dogmatic yet heterodox, doctrinaire yet freethinking, Walther isn’t actually as contradictory as he seems. He’s a devout Catholic unafraid to denounce the wickedness of this generation. The TAS alum places himself “somewhere on the right,” although he’s a partisan of Catholic social teaching, and as dubious of markets as the Tories of old. He’s a young man of letters who will casually misspell “Heideggerian” while using it correctly, reversing the usual order of things (the pretentious try hard not to give themselves away). He is singularly unimpressed by the idols of the left, and worth reading for that alone. But you also get sentences like this: “The English philosopher Roger Scruton, author of the forthcoming Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Intellectual Tradition (not to be confused with How to Be a Conservative or Arguments for Conservatism or the first, second, or third edition of The Meaning of Conservatism), is a man with some experience in the conceptual agony racket.” Perfection.
Damon Root (Reason) — Nick Gillespie is the biggest star at Reason, and deservedly so, but I recommend the unflashy and deeply researched work of Root, who covers legal affairs for the libertarian magazine. If you want to understand how judges on either side have been complicit in the destruction of the Bill of Rights, start with Root. He will challenge what you think you know about the Supreme Court. At a time when the American Right appears ready to split into two camps — Lockean universalists on one side, Burkean empiricists on the other — in both retail politics and judicial philosophy, Root’s work is an essential map covering where we’ve been and where might go yet. The map describes terrain that terra incognita to most of us. If your only interest in the law is cheering whenever a court enforces the latest progressive fashion, skip him. But if you actually want to understand something worth knowing, follow Root.
Victor Davis Hanson (National Review) — Hanson doesn’t argue narrow points with statistics. He draws sweeping conclusions by essaying the world-historical situation. So at first, some tend to find him too general to be convincing. But look back. Here he is in Fall 2015, delving into the dire plight of the white working class, long before anyone thought of its political significance. He knew the truth of impoverished farm towns because he’d been surrounded by it for decades. I actually prefer Hanson’s works of history to his commentary, but if you’re really looking to understand Trump’s America, Salon readers, you could start with Hanson.
Jeffrey A. Tucker (Foundation for Economic Education) — Unlike most of the names on this list, the well-read Tucker won’t try to blow you away with bombast. Rather, the libertarian has a gentle way of reminding you how many assumptions you’re making in favor of coercion. When all the mainstream analysts are panicking over Trump’s recent revisions to Obamacare, Tucker simply points out how unworkable coercion usually is, linking data to classical arguments. If your politics have a lot to do with minimizing human suffering, Tucker will be a mirror for you, reminding you of the sometimes painful effects of your noble intentions.
I could go on to lengths quite unreadable, oh Salon reader, offering synopses of the merits of another dozen conservatives. Instead, let me just plug a few more names of right-leaning writers I find most compelling (leaving out the Hall of Famers that you already surely know). This is, after all, the purpose of the article — a sort of Follow Friday for the already famous. Read: Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat (New York Times), Jonah Goldberg (National Review), Steven Greenhut and George Neumayr (The American Spectator), Caitlin Flanagan (The Atlantic), Ben Shapiro (Daily Wire), Megan McArdle (Bloomberg), Robert Tracinski (The Federalist).
Anyway, please throw in your own favorite writers in the comments, and why you like them. And if any lefties want to cobble together a list of their own champions, I’d be more than curious to read it.