In an intermittent series of columns, syndicated columnist Ross Douthat will float radical visions, starting this week with an emergency response to social crises including wage stagnation, male joblessness, opioid abuse and a historically low birthrate.
In the years before Donald Trump, various conservatives tried to come up with new ideas for a movement that seemed exhausted and unready for new challenges. Whether we called ourselves “reform conservatives” or something else, we shared — or so we thought — a realistic assessment of what was possible within Republican politics, within the broader two-party system, within a stagnant but basically stable Western order.
Maybe that self-conscious realism was a trap. The Trump campaign (and the Bernie Sanders campaign across the aisle) suggest that there is a public appetite for ideas that are well outside the ideological boxes of post-Cold War conservatism and liberalism. The evidence emerging — read Nicholas Eberstadt’s big, depressing essay in the latest Commentary for a synthesis — suggests that the slow-burning social crisis in American life is much worse than even those of us who wrote a lot about it thought. And the chaos in the Middle East and widening fissures in European politics suggest the times might require a more substantial rethinking of U.S. foreign policy than most Washingtonians have contemplated.
This week, I read the debut issue of American Affairs, a new right-of-center policy journal for the age of Trump. Its proclaimed purpose is to advance “the discussion of new policies that are outside of the conventional dogmas,” with the strong implication being that recent efforts to propose such new policies have been too timid and constrained, and that the times demand something more adventurous and ideologically unbound.
I accept the critique. But if I may venture one in return, I found the journal’s inaugural issue not quite as daring as I…