CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot details his life as a conservative Republican and his painful recognition that Donald Trump’s presidency destroyed many of conservatism’s treasured ideals.
In this Washington Post Notable Book of the Year, CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot describes being a conservative Republican pretty much all his life. But Donald Trump’s entry into the political arena, Boot avows, caused many Republicans to betray their values, thus exposing the dark side of conservativism. In this sharp and insightful account, Boot tells how he became a conservative and why, in the end, he could not remain one.
The New York Times Book Review said, “Like many of the best memoirs of ideas, Boot’s story is one of conversion and deconversion – of faith gained and then lost.” Kirkus Reviews wrote, “The author is convinced that the Republican Party will suffer repeated and devastating defeats for its embrace of extremism, conspiracy mongering, ignorance, isolationism and white nationalism.”
Russian-born immigrant Max Boot became a conservative after he received a subscription to the National Review. Founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955, the Review featured the work of intellectuals who believed in free market economics, traditional social views and anticommunist foreign policy. After gaining a Master’s in history at Yale University, Boot worked for The Christian Science Monitor and, in 1994, he joined The Wall Street Journal as an economics editorialist.
Boot sadly watched as the purpose and approach of The Wall Street Journal’s editorials shifted from disagreeing with opponents to trying to damage them; Boot says this reached unprecedented heights during Trump’s presidential campaign.
Boot believed that Trump – the opposite of America’s intellectual, elitist conservatives – couldn’t win the 2016 presidential election: Few Republicans endorsed him, and many spoke against him. Boot tracks how the more popular support Trump won, the more party members fell in line. Boot cites with dismay that Republican leaders went from reviling Trump to endorsing him, making outcasts of moderate Republicans.
Trump was revealing that ignorance was no bar for a presidential candidate.Max Boot
According to Boot, Republicans supported Trump due to a strong economy, and because of his dumping unpopular treaties, moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, cutting taxes on the wealthy, and appointing ultraconservatives to the Supreme Court. Boot also cites Republicans’ continued loathing of Hillary Clinton.
Trump is a unique force in American politics, but, in many ways, he is merely the culmination of the right’s ruin rather than its cause.Max Boot
Boot argues that Trump exposed and exploited conservatism’s inherent racial biases. He holds that Trump’s refusal to condemn neo-Nazis, his fear of immigrants from non-white Latin American and Muslim countries, and his building a wall between Mexico and the United States – among other policies and statements – manifest Republicans’ long-held racist and nativist beliefs.
Boot raises concerns about the Trump administration’s ethical lapses, such as excessive spending; conflicts of interest, as when Trump appointed his daughter and son-in-law to work in the White House; Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns; and numerous criminal charges against members of his administration. Trump, Boot reminds readers, faces charges of sexual misconduct and endorsed candidates accused of similar misdeeds.
It is hard to know who is worse: Trump or his enablers. I am inclined to think it is the latter.Max Boot
Trump’s insistence on his version of the truth, Boot fears, spurs his attacks on those who call out his lies; Trump vilifies journalists as manipulative liars with personal vendettas against him. The author notes with alarm the authoritarian leaders worldwide who embrace Trump’s approach to undermine freedom of speech in their own countries.
Trump’s attacks on judges and the legal system signal that loyalty ranks higher, Boot finds, than the rule of law. For example, Boot lists Trump granting clemency to felons who support him, his firing of FBI director James Comey for investigating Michael Flynn, Trump’s personal attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller and attorney general Jeff Sessions, and his attempts to discredit the FBI through unfounded conspiracy theories.
Isolationism and Protectionism
Foreign policy norms shifted under Trump, Boot maintains. He details how, since World War II, the United States had embraced free trade, collective security, international law and human rights. Trump fomented isolationism and protectionism, Boot claims. He is adamant that imposing tariffs and abandoning trade agreements will cost American workers their jobs. Boot notes that Trump mistrusted America’s closest allies, imposing tariffs on NATO countries and only reluctantly signing NATO’s mutual-defense provision.
Right and Left
Boot warns that increasing extremism on the right causes similar extremism on the left. He finds no party on the US political spectrum for someone who is pro-free trade, fiscally conservative, socially liberal and pro-gun control. Boot posits that the center might gain ground behind a popular centrist independent candidate with charisma and – crucially – funding.
A Grim Picture
Boot paints a grim picture of Trump’s presidency, but he published this book before the final year of Trump’s administration, during which Trump turned up to 11 every behavior Boot reviles. Boot writes with the fervent conviction of the converted who still longs to believe in the Republican Party of his upbringing, which he bravely recognizes as a historical relic. He’s an elegant, knowing wordsmith, writing from a place of righteous anger. Trump Republicans will find little to enjoy here; everyone else will wonder why it took Boot so long to change his allegiances.
Max Boot’s books include The Savage Wars of Peace, War Made New, Invisible Armies and The Road Not Taken. Worthy books addressing conservatism’s rightward movement include How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and It Was All a Lie by Stuart Stevens.