Longtime Conservative Says Trump's Election Caused Him To Rethink White Privilege

Jan 3, 2018
Originally published on January 4, 2018 9:24 am

NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, about his column for Foreign Policy, in which he credits learning about his white male privilege to the election of Donald Trump.

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Our next guest is considering U.S. politics and American life through a new lens. The other day, Max Boot wrote this.

MAX BOOT: (Reading) In college - this was in the late-1980s and early 1990s at the University of California, Berkeley - I used to be one of those smart aleck young conservatives who would scoff at the notion of white male privilege and claim that anyone propagating such concepts was guilty of political correctness.

SIEGEL: Boot says 2017 changed him. In a piece published in Foreign Policy, he says it was the year he learned about his white privilege and that it was the Trump era that opened his eyes. Max Boot, welcome to the program. Thanks for reading that, too.

BOOT: Thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: You begin your article explaining your background. You were a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union. You saw America as a land of opportunity, not a bastion of racism or sexism. That was your view, you say, for a quarter century. Is there a moment you can pinpoint when you started thinking a little differently?

BOOT: Well, quite frankly, Donald Trump's victory in November of 2016 really shook a lot of my assumptions about America because I just never imagined that somebody like Donald Trump could be elected president of this great country. And that to me was unthinkable, and it made me realize that there were some deep undercurrents that I was not familiar with or was perhaps choosing to ignore.

And I think it was the confluence of Donald Trump's election with some other trends, including all of the sexual harassment and assault scandals that have surfaced recently and also of course all the videotapes of police brutality against African-Americans. All that together I think has really shaken this very Pollyannaish view I think I had of the United States.

SIEGEL: An editor for the conservative news site The Daily Caller wrote in response to your piece that Donald Trump is not a blip, that Trumpism - I'm quoting now - "has already left a permanent mark on conservatism" and that there's no place left for conservatives like you, so you're moving closer to the left - accurate assessment?

BOOT: Well, I certainly think that there is very little space for a Never Trump conservative like me in today's conservative movement because the conservative movement has been utterly disfigured. Conservatives and Republicans, to embrace Trump, have had to reject so much of what they used to believe in, like free trade or being in favor of immigration, which was, you know, something that Ronald Reagan was certainly in favor of.

Basically Trump has transformed the movement from being this principled, small government, American leadership school into being this white nationalist populism. And most of the conservative movement, most of the Republican Party has gone along with that. And so at this point, I have to say I'm homeless. I'm not a Republican anymore...

SIEGEL: Yeah, yeah.

BOOT: ...For the first time in my adult life. I'm not a Democrat, but I'm just homeless.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) You know, over the past year, I've felt that the most interesting political writing has been the anguished, most tortured writing by a number - any number of conservative intellectual commentators trying to reconcile political developments of the past year with their views of the country, its history, the Republican Party, conservatism, whatever. And I imagine there should be support groups that you can go to (laughter) with other columnists to talk to. But do you find yourself having conversations like these often with other conservatives?

BOOT: Absolutely, but it's a fairly small group of people. I mean, these are - I essentially know them all. I mean, they can all fit into my living room. I mean, one of the many shocking things to me is how the vast, vast majority of so-called conservatives and Republicans have gone along with Trumpism.

SIEGEL: What do you hear from the I've-learned-to-live-with-Trump conservatives?

BOOT: Well, there's all sorts of rationales. You know, it began with judges. You know, he appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and the year ended with this huge tax bill, which for conventional Republicans, the only thing that matters are these policy victories. And I think that is just a very one-sided calculation, especially when the rest of it includes the fact that he fired the director of the FBI in an attempt to obstruct an investigation of his ties to Russia - just as it's unacceptable for him to be praising white supremacists or to be pardoning a racist sheriff or to be endorsing an accused child molester for the Senate. I mean, all of this is so far beyond the pale. Trump supporters own it all. They can't just separate themselves. They have to take the whole thing.

SIEGEL: You were saying you're not a Republican anymore. You're not a Democrat. You're homeless. Is the Republican Party worth a fight? Is its soul worth a fight? Is it - is that fight winnable, do you think?

BOOT: I mean, I'm pretty pessimistic about the future of the Republican Party at this point. I think it would be very hard to get it back to what it was. I mean, ideally I think we would see an entirely different center-right party arise in this country. But I recognize that's extremely difficult because of this duopoly that the two major parties enjoy on our political system.

SIEGEL: Well, Max Boot, thank you very much for talking with us about it today.

BOOT: Thank you for having me on.

SIEGEL: Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His forthcoming book is "The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale And The American Tragedy in Vietnam." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.