When Hollywood Makes Conservative Movies

The other day a buddy messaged me a link to a Quillette article titled, The Conservative Manifesto Buried in ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ asking what my take was on the thesis. I didn’t even know he was reading Quillette.  Didn’t he know that’s part of the “Intellectual Dark Web” and therefore crime-think in polite society?  That this was a gateway drug to the Alt-Right?  The New York Times concern trolled the Intellectual Dark Web last year in its Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.

Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”

Today, people like them who dare venture into this “There Be Dragons” territory on the intellectual map have met with outrage and derision — even, or perhaps especially, from people who pride themselves on openness.

In other words, today’s dangerous ““there Be Dragons” territory” was yesterday’s conventional wisdom.  Of course for that very reason, the IDW isn’t any sort of intellectual movement; it’s simply a catch-all term for public intellectuals who found themselves on the wrong end of the SJW guillotine simply by not changing their entire worldview every time there is a new outrage trending on Twitter.  The fact that they make such a tiny fraction of opinion makers is troubling though.  An honest intelligentsia would almost always find itself on the wrong end of Twitter madness.  I guess we don’t have one of those.

But on to Endgame and the answer to the question, is there a conservative manifesto buried in Avengers: Endgame?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Also No.  I loved Avengers: Endgame, as I wrote about here, but the author’s contention, that the MCU version of time travel is more conservative than what he calls the “standard model,” seems like nonsense. The standard model is that when you time travel, you are going back to your actual past and can influence things in your past to change your present.  This was amply demonstrated in Back to the Future among other films. Marty McFly’s changes in the past actually give him a better present.  In the MCU however, Dr. Banner/Hulk calls this nonsense.  You can’t change the past.  What’s done is done.  All you can do is go back and, by actually being in the past, create a new and distinct timeline, where your past changes will have no effect on your own past or history, only on the new timeline you’ve created.

As a theory of time travel, this actually makes more logical sense and is more up to date with Quantum Mechanics as nonscientists such as myself know it (to time travel, they go through the ‘Quantum Realm’) than the old version.  But there is nothing particularly political about it. The fact that you can’t change the past in the MCU time travel version doesn’t mean you are trapped by consequences, since in one sense, that sort of time travel frees you from consequence.  You can go back to the past, do anything you want, like kill your grandfather, and it won’t affect you, your history, or anything about your “present” since the consequences are borne by the alternate universe created by the time traveling.  As a consequence, Tony Stark gets a heart to heart talk with his father in 1970, Thor gets a heart to heart talk with his mother in pre-Ragnarok Asgard, and Captain America gets into a brawl with his own 2012 self.

So instead of conservative manifesto, I see clickbait.  You can do better Quillette.  However I do acknowledge that the villain Thanos is a Paul Ehrlich-like enviro-nut. Frankly, Endgame was such a dense movie that they barely could fit a single “you go gurrls” scene in the film.

That’s not to say that liberal Hollywood doesn’t make unintentionally conservative films.  They have to, because like it or not, they live in a world that mostly runs along conservative (small c) rules.  Juno of course is a great example.  Although screenwriter Diablo Cody seems horrified that the film as viewed seems to have a pro-life message, and has stated she regrets she wrote it in such a way, the truth is that’s what makes it a heartwarming film.  There is no version of that movie in which Juno decides to go to the clinic to get rid of a clump of cells and everyone shares the same heartwarming ending. The movie just would not have become the hit it did or even have gotten made.  If they could, Hollywood would make movies all day about women who exert their choice to abort their babies, but that doesn’t make a movie concept that sells.

During the 1970’s, when street crime was much more of a thing, and was a cause of real fear and anxiety among the general public, the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films were highly popular, because they represented a real fear of street crime among the public.  Hollywood was just as liberal then as now, but they recognized the money making appeal of the average guy getting revenge on criminals, or a cop bending the rules to provide street justice when it wasn’t available through the system.

Red Dawn was a rare exception to the rule that cold war fears were to be exploited solely by the left.  “Because…we live here” is probably the most right-wing thing said in American cinema.  Try using that as an argument for immigration restriction in your college Social Issues class and see where that gets you.

Hollywood will continue to make movies that are outwardly lefty and lose money, and movies that really do have a conservative bias (like The Dark Knight Rises) which totally slips by the Hollywood censors, but I don’t think Endgame falls in either category.  For that, you’ll have to wait for Marvel Studio’s Phase 5, The Intersectional Avengers.

 

The Alt Right and the Jews

Created by Donald's Apotheosis

Created by Donald’s Apotheosis

Hillary Clinton’s denunciation of the Alt Right brought up many questions among her supporters, such as “What is the alt right?”  In fact, it’s not a numerically significant part of the US population nor is it a faction of the Republican Party, like the Tea Party, or Neo-Cons are (or maybe were).  So it’s curious that Clinton would try to frame her real purpose this way, since the real purpose of the speech was to denounce Trump and his supporters as racist.  In fact, the Democratic candidate calling the Republican candidate and his supporters racists is probably the most normal thing that’s happened in this campaign so far.  I’m sure a lot of pundits breathed a sigh of relief that at least this was a normal and predictable thing in political campaigns.

But the idea of using the term alt right into a major speech and make it the major focus seems odd since virtually no one outside of political junkies would even know what that term means. My guess is just like her opponent; Hillary has a bit of the conspiracy theorist in her.  Remember the vast right wing conspiracy?  So trying to pin a small but very internet active group as the real brains behind the Trump campaign may appeal to her sense of sinister unseen forces plotting against the Clinton machine.

I could write multiple posts on the Alt Right but for the uninitiated, Breitbart published a pretty good summary a few months ago here and due to recent interest, there have been several others that have popped up, including this one. The gist, and why it defies easy summary, is because it’s not one group but multiple groups with differing interests, goals, and agendas.  Basically it’s all kinds of right leaning groups that are outside mainstream conservatism and because of that, with no party to call home or realistic political agenda, they’re not really politically active, although they are certainly internet active.  So Hillary, in her tinfoil hat wearing way, is totally wrong that they are pulling the strings on puppet Trump.  And she’s wrong that they nothing but relabeled KKK or Nazi’s.

But not totally wrong.

There are racists and anti-Semites within the Alt Right and that could also generate multiple posts, but for now I want to concentrate on the anti-Semitic elements.  A few days ago a Jewish alt right blog was started (yes, there are Jews in the Alt Right) that in its commenting FAQ had very specific instructions in dealing with anti Semitic comments.  Frankly, I’d never seen or heard of such a thing before, but hey, it is the internet, so it’s probably a good idea that if you are Jewish writing for an audience in which a certain percentage are likely to not like Jews, maybe some guidelines are in order.  In the Instructions for Comment Registration, it defined antisemitism as:

“… defined by this blog as anyone obsessed with the idea Jews are an unassimilated minority which has significantly different ethnic, religious, or cultural objectives and political motives from those of other elite whites.”

Somehow I don’t think I would meet the definition of “elite white.”

“The position of this blog is that Jews are a highly assimilated white ethnic group that does not significantly differ in its positions or motivations from other elite whites, and that the nature of the points where there are differences are largely cosmetic.”

I think that’s probably a pretty good working definition of anti-Semitism as any I’ve come across.  And I would agree that in the United States, Jews are a highly assimilated white ethnic group; too assimilated for some Jewish leaders when you consider the non Orthodox Jewish intermarriage rate is an astounding 71%.

And for that and many other reasons, I find anti-Semitism one of the most difficult bigotries to understand.

When I first started commenting and posting about politics on internet forums, I noticed the preponderance of anti-Semitism came from the left. Jews have come a long way from Holocaust victims to Palestinian oppressors, but that is basically how the left views Jews; through the lens of Israel.  The left, and particularly the American left, loves an underdog and in the post World War II era, that described the Jews to a tee. But the very success of Israel moved Jews from the underdog/victim category to oppressor category (for the left, there is no in-between).  Suddenly, the Palestinians became the victims, and their decades long terrorist war against the Israel supporting nations in general and Israel in particular suddenly became the war of a freedom fighter.  Leftist Jews in the US usually continued to be leftist with the exception of the Israel question.  For non Jews, more and more part and parcel of leftist ideology was the goal of eliminating Israel as a Jewish state, either through integration of the Palestinian territories into Israel proper and letting democracy finish the job, or…some other way.

But leftist anti-Semitism was really the only type of anti-Semitism that I’ve had any knowledge of.  I knew historically, there was an anti-Semitic Right; Jews were kept out of WASP country clubs and so forth, but I was blind to a contemporary one.  A lot of that has to do with my own upbringing.  Raised in the evangelical South, Jews were God’s chosen people. With very few actual Jews in the South but lots of Bibles, the idea of what a Jew is came from the Bible and evangelical interpretations of it.  So if you’re an evangelical Christian, you have a duty to love God’s chosen people.

Polling bears that out.  A poll of how various religious groups rate each other reveals that Jews are rated more positively by white evangelical Christians than any other group (excluding Jews themselves of course).  You won’t be surprised to learn that the feeling isn’t mutual.  The same poll shows that Jews rate white evangelical Christians the lowest of all polled religious groups, slightly below Muslims who are trying to kill them on a daily basis.  For the evangelical Christian, that’s OK since Christian love doesn’t require reciprocation.  But the sweet irony of that does mean that evangelical Christians, who became a potent political force in the Republican Party during the 1980’s under Ronald Reagan, helped finish the job that William F. Buckley started in the early 1960’s, by not only clearing the Republican Party of any trace of anti-Semitism, but go a few steps further and install a pro Israel right or wrong plank as key to Republican foreign policy.

But the alt Right is a different animal from the typical church going Republican. There are alt Right factions that are pretty openly hostile to Jews.  Their anti-Semitism is more an old fashioned version in which Jews are part of some conspiracy to destroy Christianity/Western Civilization/White People/Fill-In-The-Blank.  Those anti Semitic factions view immigration as part of some Jewish plot to destroy the country.

It’s so absurd that it’s hard to understand how anyone could take seriously the idea that Jews, as Jews, have some big goal to open the borders to “get” the non Jews. Many Jews support open borders because they’re liberal, not because they’re Jews. It doesn’t even pass the logic test. Why would Jews want to fill up a country they live in with anti-Semitic middle easterners? Think how difficult Jewish life has gotten in places like France.  Who would plan to import millions of people who want to kill you into their country?  Now Jews are fleeing France because of the view the terrorist threat there has made the entire country unsafe for them.

Great plan Jews.

Numerically, I don’t think Anti-Semitism is any great threat (at least in the United States) to Jews, although it’s interesting to note that according the FBI, the largest group of religious bias crimes are against…you guessed it, the Jews; with 56.8% of religious bias crimes against Jews. Jews punching above their weight again!  But Anti-Semitism is real thing, and where it exists on the Right, it is along the ridges and contours of the Alt Right.

 

 

Making Trumpism Coherent

As far as #NeverTrump institutions on the right go, the most powerful would have to be The Wall Street Journal. Few people outside of right leaning political wonkiness read the National Review or The Weekly Standard. But the venerable WSJ is read by all sorts of business and other establishment types, giving that paper real heft to make their views known.  And they’ve been engaged in full blown warfare against Trump all year.  The hatred and bile towards Trump that drips from the Wall Street Journal editorial page is unprecedented. I’ve read their site online for years and just cannot recall this sort of attack against anyone on the left ever.  Maybe someone can correct me, but like with so many other things this Presidential year, we’re on new ground.

But there is one person on the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board that is not simply interested in bombing Trump rallies then machine gunning any survivors.  This person wants to really understand what’s going on with the people who support Trump, and that person is former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan.  Unlike her WSJ compatriots, Noonan has approached the rise of Trump with humility.  What did we miss?  How did things get this bad?  What we can do to fix it?  All good questions that the Republican establishment should have been asking for the past year instead of plotting various Jeb!/Cruz/Romney/French (David) coup d’etat’s.

Noonan asks again in this piece, A Party Divided, and None Too Soon.

The Beltway intelligentsia of the conservative movement continues to be upset about Mr. Trump’s coming nomination and claim they’d support him but they have to be able to sleep at night. They slept well enough through two unwon wars, the great recession, and the refusal of Republican and Democratic administrations to stop illegal immigration. In a typically evenhanded piece in National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru writes of conservative infighting. Most back Mr. Trump, but others, “especially among conservative writers, activists, and think-tankers,” vow they’ll never vote for him. “This debate splits people who have heretofore been friends with similar views on almost all issues, and who on each side have reasonable arguments to hand. It is therefore being conducted in a spirit of mutual rage, bitterness, and contempt.”

This tracks with my observations as well.  It’s less the political positions that separate the Trump/anti-Trump forces so much as where each person sits on the Red Pill/Blue Pill Conservative divide.  But make no mistake, there are political positions involved as well.  I’ve discussed the economic nationalism agenda that Trump brings before, but there hasn’t been much discussion of it as a movement other than in Alt Right circles.  That’s a territory that a Peggy Noonan would never venture into, but as an important member of the establishment, she knows people.

So she introduces the blog, Journal of American Greatness.  As Noonan gives their own description for themselves from their website:

Where they stand: “We support Trumpism, defined as secure borders, economic nationalism, interests-based foreign policy, and above all judging every government action through a single lens: does this help or harm Americans? For now, the principal vehicle of Trumpism is Trump.”

That is a description describes Trumpism as both conservative, and not conservative in the Bush/Ryan worldview. My suspicion is that these mystery bloggers are known writers and think tankers in the conservative intelligentsia, but obviously they can’t go public because, that’s a career death sentence.  Can you imagine a researcher at the Cato Institute or at The Weekly Standard coming out for Trump?  Maybe that’s why the Wall Street Journal didn’t allow a link to its site in Noonan’s original column in the WSJ.  They are certainly not going to encourage these kind of shenanigans.

But these are serious people, since they are capturing the eyes of Noonan, and some of them are probably names we would recognize.  Even noted anti-Trumper Jonah Goldberg referenced in a column an online discussion he had with one of the bloggers at the Journal of American Greatness.  Could there be a rapprochement between the two different sides of the Republican Civil War?

And then, the Journal of American Greatness shut down and deleted all of their posts.

Why did they do it?  It’s not hard to guess.   They were afraid of being doxxed and having their livelihoods destroyed.

And now, suddenly, they’re back; as JAG Recovered; returned with all of the previously deleted posts.  With the new website, they make clear how seriously they take their anonymity.

No, literally—who are you guys?

None of your damned business.

Why won’t you tell us?

Because the times are so corrupt that simply stating certain truths is enough to make one unemployable for life.

That’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it?

Ask Brendan Eich.

 

So they do have a point. But the long and short of Trumpism is that it’s simply Paleoconservatism, which got the boot from establishment conservatism when Pat Buchanan dissented on the Iraq War.  Turns, out, that’s what the Republican voter wanted all along, or else the Republican voter needed to see how bad things could really get before they would consider Paleoconservatism.

Well apparently we’re at that point.

But is it too late?  Probably so.  When people who want to write about such things are frightened of losing their jobs and livelihood merely for discussing issues like trade and immigration, then you’ve gone pretty far down the well.  There won’t be any big donors or institutions funding this, its people who are afraid of being outed and losing everything, and they will be attacked by forces of both the right and left.  Still, I’m glad that at least some people are trying.  Keep your heads low guys!