Making a go of it as a conservative pundit these days is a tricky thing -- due in no small part to our national right-leaning movement's fracture over Donald Trump and the change he represents.
More than a change of policy, though this can hardly be understated, has come a change in attitude. For many years, the left has been home to in-your-face politicking and the siren call of populist uprising. Of course, some of this drifted in a rightward direction from time to time, but it mainly remained ensconced on leftish ground.
How the times have changed.
Nowadays, both the right and the left make politics deeply personal. Diversity of opinion has become the stuff of insult and long-running feuds. This, mind you, applies to differences on the same side of the aisle. What many folks feel about those on the other end of the spectrum cannot be put into words suitable here.
Caught up in the intra-movement crossfire is Ben Shapiro. He has been one of American conservatism’s most recognizable voices for several years. As a bestselling author, syndicated columnist, and editor-at-large for Breitbart News, Shapiro consistently articulated his ideas.
He is not the sort to back down even -- or perhaps especially -- when opposing voices bring more than a bit of controversy in his direction. Shapiro's traditional conservative values draw ire from social justice warrior lefties and alt-rightists alike.
Since stepping down from Breitbart last year, he became editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com and hosts his own radio show. Shapiro spoke with me about several timely topics. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, protectionism has surged in both major parties. Now, in the age of Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory. Would you say that right-libertarian politics have any serious potential under Trump?
Ben Shapiro: I think they have potential as some of the economic nostrums promoted by Trumpism fail. But yes, they're in trouble with the president-elect pushing hard against free markets internationally and engaging in case-by-case corporatism at home.
Cotto: More than anything else, why are protectionist economics transforming the American conservative movement?
Shapiro: Trump has rightly gauged that there is a key group of constituents in purple states who have seen the downside of free trade as producers, even though they're benefitting in smaller ways as consumers. Protectionism has generated concentrated upside for that specific group of people, even though it costs everyone else.
Cotto: How did principles such as immigration restriction and cultural cohesion manage to evade scrutiny from 'respectable' politicos on both sides and secure starring roles in the future of American conservatism?
Shapiro: Cultural elites don't feel the impact of illegal immigration on wages and taxes and crime -- they're upper income, and so they're always protected. And multiculturalism is fine and dandy when you share an upper crust culture that agrees on certain political principles, because that's not actual multiculturalism. But for some people, who may live side-by-side with people who just immigrated with no education and a culture antithetical to Western freedoms and social responsibilities, the impact is far more immediate.
Cotto: A band of disparate rightists banded together in support of Donald Trump's candidacy. These individuals, opposed to contemporary American conservative orthodoxy, came to be known as the 'alt-right'. Since Donald Trump's election, 'alt-rightism' has splintered prolifically. Beyond anything else, why is this?
Shapiro: Because there's the philosophical alt-right, and then there are people who call themselves alt-right because they don't know what it is. The philosophical alt-right is actually racist -- they believe that culture and ethnicity are inextricably intertwined. But they position themselves as mere challengers of political correctness, which leads others to think that "alt-right" just means "not establishment." After the election, it's become clear that many people who think they're alt-right aren't actually interested in parroting Richard Spencer.
Cotto: Richard Spencer's now-infamous speech -- in which he hailed Trump and some audience members responded with a Nazi-like salute -- is said to have been the driving force behind the alt-right's disintegration. While this is undeniably true to some extent, could it be said that the alt-right was destined to fracture as it was a loosely-bound coalition to begin with?
Shapiro: Absolutely. As I said, there was never any real program beyond "rebel against PC," and many who considered themselves alt-right were just Tea Party types sucked into association with some pretty scummy folks.