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Nikki Haley and Yellowstone Conservatism

Credit Image: © Christy Prosser/ZUMA Press Wire

Nikki Haley’s campaign for president can be best understood by comparing it to the current television drama Yellowstone. The show is wildly successful and will spawn several spinoffs, and has an impressive cast. The New York Times calls it a “conservative fantasy.” It features rough-and-tumble white people with cowboy hats and guns triumphing over city-slickers. That’s enough for the Times to consider whether or not it’s a “red-state drama.”

Conservatives are now so used to the media’s attacks that they may be desperate for any representation in pop culture at all, even when it is purely superficial as in Yellowstone. The show’s producer in fact mocked the media’s naïveté, saying: “The show’s talking about the displacement of Native Americans and the way Native American women were treated and about corporate greed and the gentrification of the West, and land-grabbing. That’s a red-state show?”

The sad answer is “yes,” because many Americans, even conservatives, see no alternative. After all, they still tuned in to the Super Bowl and the Black National Anthem. Why wouldn’t white conservatives sit patiently and listen to this?

The Yellowstone phenomenon prompted a recent meme featuring Kevin Costner’s character reciting left-wing platitudes in the manner of a stereotypical tough guy:

It’s not just a meme, either. During her unsuccessful re-election campaign, Never Trumper activist and former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (whose Twitter profile tells us, “the world needs more cowboys”) touted Kevin Costner’s real-life endorsement, when he said that “real men put country over party.” In other contexts, chest-beating about “real men” would undoubtedly prompt accusations of sexism, transphobia, or toxic masculinity.

Rep. Cheney wasn’t re-elected, but unfortunately the tactic has still proven effective elsewhere.

Progressives push a far-Left racial and cultural agenda, and conservatives performatively oppose it while accepting only a somewhat less extreme version. In the short term, a conservative figure might benefit from voicing resistance to progressivism. But in the long term, America’s white majority and the nation that depends on it continues to decline regardless. This bait-and-switch summarizes America’s conservative movement today.

Nikki Haley is the latest figure in this tragedy. She’s running for president and framing her campaign as a response to the “weak and woke” left:

Her debut campaign ad nevertheless accepts the Left’s framing of the political debate in terms of “racism.” Joe Biden began his successful 2020 campaign by talking about it, and Nikki Haley is doing the same thing. Her ad begins by discussing the ways she was “different” in the racially divided South as a child of immigrants, claiming that America sometimes failed to live up to its “founding principles”:

“Even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America,” she said, comparing America’s situation favorably to China’s and Iran’s. This is a weak comparison considering there are many other liberal democracies. “At least we aren’t Iran” isn’t a very compelling reason to love America.

The ad also brags about her economic record. But if the midterm elections showed us anything, it’s that people aren’t going to vote Republican simply because Democrats are presiding over a bad economy. What’s more, people may be relatively “blessed” to live in America, but Third Worlders can move anywhere in the West to make money and/or get on welfare. That doesn’t mean these newcomers will care about their adopted country. Few are loyal to a marketplace.

Mrs. Haley’s ad goes on to tout her response to the Dylann Roof mass shooting. While the event was indeed a tragedy, any governor would have held photo opportunities with the victims and expressed sympathy. This was hardly ground-breaking. The way in which she distinguished herself was by taking down the Confederate battle flag at South Carolina’s Capitol, which had flown there since 1961. This was the critical event that first made the flag politically undesirable. More than any other political figure, Nikki Haley has been responsible for unleashing the wave of “woke” iconoclasm, which predictably spread beyond the legacy of the Confederacy to the Founding Fathers. Her action was especially ironic given that when she was seeking Southern votes in 2010, she said that states have the right to secede from the Union.

Mrs. Haley actually compared then-candidate Donald Trump to Dylann Roof in 2016. “I know what that rhetoric [Donald Trump’s campaign speeches] can do,” she said. “I saw it happen.” This is the same sort of argument leftists make when they call for making “hate speech” illegal. White advocates are probably more likely to be shut down by a President Haley than President Biden, because many Republicans would no doubt go along with it. It also never works the other way. Republicans never demand that black nationalist symbols be taken down in response to blacks attacking police or their surging crime rates.

It’s therefore hard to take Mrs. Haley’s moral outrage seriously. Her scruples didn’t prevent her from accepting President Trump’s nomination to become US ambassador to the United Nations. In April 2021, Mrs. Haley said she wouldn’t run for president if Donald Trump ran for re-election and would support him. She’s already broken her word, and now she’s calling for a “new generation” of American leadership.

Mrs. Haley’s ideas are quite shopworn. They are precisely the same tired Conservatism Inc. tropes about the need for interventionist foreign policy, spending cuts, and opposing socialism. Rather than a “new generation,” her candidacy is yet another attempt to raise Ronald Reagan from the grave. Her rhetoric is disconnected from the reality of modern American life. For example, does Mrs. Haley really believe “socialism” is the reason there’s not a single student proficient in math in 23 Baltimore schools?

The “record of results” page on Mrs. Haley’s campaign website doesn’t say anything about Big Tech censorship or the growth of the domestic surveillance state. She is instead eager to tout her anti-racist credentials, such as when she turned “grief into action” by requiring body cameras for police after a white officer shot a black man. She’ll thus be easily pressured by liberal journalists into making similar concessions after similar crises.

We’ve seen all of this before.

Once again, we have a non-white offering white conservatives moral reassurance, comforting them with the story of being a child of immigrants who is proud to be an American — and unfortunately, many of them are being won over by it:

And once again, a conservative candidate is offering no defense of America’s white majority, even though the GOP’s base is almost entirely white. Instead, the female, non-white candidate is merely exploiting identity politics to her advantage, all while telling her audience she “doesn’t believe” in identity politics.

And once again, we have a conservative pointing to leftists’ sputtering outrage as proof that she can be trusted:

Most importantly, we have yet another conservative candidate accepting the progressive framing of race issues. Mrs. Haley is merely quibbling with them about whether America is still “racist” and about our “founding principles.” It won’t stop them from calling her a racist, but that may in fact help her. Progressive outrage gives weak candidates undeserved credibility among conservatives.

The real problem is that this framing concedes all the crucial ground to the other side. America’s decline will continue until a critical mass of whites stop believing that they need to defend themselves against charges of racism at all. But Mrs. Haley won’t be the one to break whites out of this defeatist, self-loathing mindset, since without it, it’s doubtful she’d have a political career.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Haley is going to try to distinguish herself by talking about “American pride” and using the hashtag #StrongAndProud. She is extremely eager to use American military power, wanting to “get tough” with Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia. This requires more military spending, which makes her talk about limiting federal spending absurd. It’s also a losing issue. In a difficult economy, many Americans would rightly wonder why conservatives are more willing to spend billions of dollars on military adventures abroad than helping suffering Americans at home.

But the main problem with Mrs. Haley’s “American Pride” program is something much more serious. What exactly is America supposed to be proud of? She may disagree with leftists on the specifics, but her removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the state capitol and her first ad show that she nevertheless accepts the premise that America’s past was racist and that its symbols should be taken down. Not surprisingly, patriotism is declining — not only among progressives, but among conservatives who no longer recognize their country.

Declining patriotism could even indirectly be a national security issue. The American military doesn’t want “far-Right” white Americans, especially Southerners who honor the Confederacy, in its ranks. They’ve gotten the message and aren’t joining. The Army missed its 2022 recruitment goals by a full 25 percent, and had to cut the size of its projected force by 10,000 — equivalent to an entire division. Besides which the Pentagon estimates that more than 75 percent of young Americans wouldn’t qualify for military service without a waiver due to obesity, health problems, or drug use, anyway. It’s therefore unclear how Mrs. Haley plans to rally the youth, who are either unqualified or unwanted, to join a crusade against Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.

The unspoken answer is nostalgia. The American flag still means something to most of us, as does the legacy of the Founders and what our country used to be — but these symbols no longer bear any relationship to present-day reality. Many white conservatives still don’t understand this or refuse to accept this bitter reality, and their representatives, such as Mrs. Haley, show no signs that they will do anything to change it. Will the governor who drove Old Dixie down in South Carolina stand up for the historic American nation?

She will nevertheless campaign while waving the flag, talking about “American pride” and alluding vaguely to founding principles that have little to do with what the Founders actually believed, said, and wrote. This may in fact be a successful strategy. Many white conservatives are flattered by non-whites who mouth platitudes about American values and their love for our country. Superficial patriotism and hollow messages are what Yellowstone Conservatism is all about, after all.

Nostalgia is an effective advertising tactic, but whites who are won over by it are being played for fools. Politicians who engage in it don’t deserve our support.