“Conservative Media’s” Populist Purge Continues

I used to write regularly, and quite successfully, for a popular conservative website, entering my self-imposed exile here in Limbo only after my old friends decided that Donald Trump was George Washington, “MAGA” was the Declaration of Independence, “The Wall” was the Constitution, and progressive populist idolatry was conservatism, i.e., when they actively joined the so-called conservative media’s purge of all Trump criticism.

This purge of actual conservative views continues, as RedState, one of the very few prominent sites left which had continued to allow the publication of opinions not gushingly supportive of all things Trump (even when those things happen to stand in contradiction to one another from one day to the next), has carried out a “mass firing” of all of its regular writers known for expressing non-Trump-cultist views.

Some of this is economics, they claim, since Salem Media, which owns RedState, alleges that they could not afford the full stable of writers anymore. However, since it appears that every firing decision was made on the non-Trumpist side of the ledger, and every writer retained was one who plays the establishment game — i.e., “Support the R at all costs” — the apolitical rationale being offered doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Here is the interpretation of one of the victims:

Hence RedState loses Patterico, one of the most incisive analysts of Washington politics out there (and author of a regular column on Bach), along with informative writers like Caleb Howe, and is left with Anything-for-Mr.-Trump editorial valets like Streiff, who now actively contradicts all of his own past criticisms of Trump, and is regularly the first apologist to jump on board with absolutely everything Trump says or does on a daily basis in a desperate attempt to stay “relevant,” i.e., to suck up to the establishment.

As for the economic viability argument, I guess one’s acceptance of such reasoning depends on whether principles, ideas, and the future of the United States of America matter at all to those calling themselves “the conservative media.” When a media outlet claiming to be a hub for principled political commentary defends what amounts to a radical shift in editorial position on the grounds that “It’s about economics,” what they are telling you is that their editorial position was always just pure cynical profiteering — i.e., taking advantage of the suckers out there who thought the outlet actually represented their beliefs — but that they are perfectly happy rejecting their former “principles” in the name of increased profit.

Such cynical profiteering — if we take Salem and RedState at their word — is essential to the so-called alternative “conservative media.” To some degree it always has been. Does anyone believe Rush Limbaugh ever really cared about the faux conservative position he was spouting all those years, before he, like most of his ilk, decided that tossing conservatism to the wind for the profit potential of the Trump Train’s populism was a great idea? “He never really believed it” is indeed the easiest, and in his case the likeliest, explanation for his evolution. (Limbaugh built his reputation by jumping on the George H.W. Bush Gulf War bandwagon, and later riffing on Clinton themes, but he was never really a principles man, as is obvious from his inability to articulate a coherent set of beliefs, beyond pragmatic political strategy.)

But what about the websites that have always claimed to be representing and promoting constitutional conservative ideas? Were they just about targeting a hitherto unexploited market all along, one which they could just as happily cut off at the knees if the profits dipped?

For what it’s worth, Erick Erickson, one of the founders of RedState, says the real RedState is now dead, as it has aggressively rebranded itself as nothing but yet another mouthpiece for the Trump-GOP status quo.

The truth is that in the world of genuine intellectual and political principle, the profit motive is never the final determining factor, even among principled defenders of the profit motive as such. That is to say, being a constitutional conservative is not a position one takes for profit; it’s a position one takes for liberty. The Federalist Papers would presumably not have been written in defense of socialism, even if there had been more money in that position for the authors.

Even within the realm of today’s popular conservative media, Trump cultists love to mock Glenn Beck’s decline in popularity since he took his strong anti-Trump position during the primaries — as though his refusal to sell his soul and his country for a bigger audience was a reason to despise him, whereas the obvious tail-between-the-legs compromises of Mark Levin, or the embarrassing may-I-shine-your-shoes-sir? water carrying of Sean Hannity, were somehow more admirable than taking a personal loss for the sake of one’s beliefs. Likewise, The New York Times, CNN, and other mainstream progressive media outlets have been struggling for years. Conservatives laugh at their financial woes and marvel at the Times’ inability to understand why their readership is down, or CNN’s folly in insulting potential conservative viewers — all the while missing the point: the progressive media would love to make more money, but they care more about promoting progressivism than about boosting their bottom line.

So in this case, when the owners of RedState deny a political motivation in their purging of anti-establishment writers, the rational observer is left to make a judgment: Either the so-called conservative media does not belong to the world of intellectual and political principle in the first place, and is merely angling for more clicks, principle be damned, in which case turning to them for political analysis is delusional; or else it does belong to that world, in which case its cowardly “economic factors” rationalizations are just a smokescreen to blur the ugly truth of their pathetic decision to circle the wagons for the political establishment, which in this case means Donald Trump.

Whatever the case, it is obvious that either financial concerns or establishmentarian interests — or perhaps a combination of the two — have been aggressively eating away at all the popular outlets for conservative, constitutionalist, or broadly small-r republican views, and that while this erosion has been happening for years, partly due to the pervasive influence of the Washington establishment’s “alternative” moles (e.g., Matt Drudge), it has reached runaway-train levels since the GOP’s elder statesmen made the choice to use their good friend, donor, and puppet Donald Trump as their vehicle for crushing the grassroots conservative movement.

For what it’s worth, I operate this website at zero profit — no advertising, no salary, no donors, no corporate backers. No one creating vested interests other than my own, which might skew or curtail my investigations into anything I wish to investigate according to my own idiosyncratic methods of investigation. I do it this way because the ideas I express, and the goals that motivate me to express those ideas, matter enough to me that they make the time and effort, and the little expenses I incur along the way, worthwhile. If you told me, as today’s popular “conservative” websites are in fact telling their contributors with increasing uniformity, that I might continue to have access to their much wider readership, and maybe even get paid for it, if only I agreed not to pursue avenues of thought that might lead me into conflict with this or that establishment line, i.e., if I avoided expressing any views that the powers that be prefer not to hear, my decision would not be difficult.

In this, as in many areas of my life, I turn to Socrates:

Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but can’t you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good for a man is to converse every day about virtue, and all the other things you hear me examining myself and others about, and that the unexamined life is not worth living — I know you will never believe that. And yet what I say is true, although it is difficult for me to persuade you of it.

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