Last week, bestselling author turned Trump-endorsed political star J.D. Vance trounced his six Republican opponents in the statewide, Ohio primaries for the United States Senate. Predictably, the media reported his victory as a proof that former President Donald Trump still holds a dangerous grip on the GOP.
The morning after Vance’s win, President Joe Biden blasted “this MAGA crowd” (in a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan) as “really the most extreme political organization that’s existed in American history.”
By disparaging Trump’s supporters as “extremists,” Biden repeated Hillary Clinton’s clumsy mistake in 2016 when the rattled candidate sneered, “You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call ‘the basket of deplorables.’” Trump’s proud “deplorables” paid Clinton back at the box. Now, with only months to go before the November midterm elections, Biden and his media allies are bumbling into the same trap.
Furthermore, President Biden, his spin doctors and speech writers seem to be oblivious to a new movement on the political right.
One enterprising journalist, however, is breaking ranks. In a blockbuster investigation for Vanity Fair, James Pogue dives deep ‘Inside the New Right’. A contributing editor at the progressive and deeply anti-Trump Harper's Magazine and author of Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West, Pogue examines key figures behind “the rising right” who, he says, are “crafting a different strain of conservative politics.”
His audience may be coastal but, like his political subjects, Pogue hails from the red state hinterlands. Like Vance, Pogue is from Cincinnati, Ohio. His shared geographic roots lend Pogue particular insight into the MAGA movement Vance has been deputized to help lead. Pogue offers a critical, yet sympathetic, vantage point rare in the glossy magazine trade.
Die Weltwoche reaches Pogue in his rural home in Northern California to discuss the rise of the “New Right” in American politics. Pogue tells WW that he predicts the continually evolving movement is “potentially earthshaking for American politics” and that it will reshape America in ways never seen before.
Weltwoche: You describe J.D. Vance as someone who will be “hugely influential in our politics in the coming years.” Why? What makes you think so?
James Pogue: J.D. Vance represents something which almost can't be overstated. For many, many years in the United States, people have laughed off the idea that there would ever be a union between economic populism and cultural conservatism. Trump kind of played that game. But the true kind, what is often called the “America First Agenda,” there was never any money behind it. There was never any kind of push or belief that they were going to take over the Republican Party and get through stuff like peeling back the American empire, like really re-industrializing the United States.
What J.D. Vance represents is an insurgency within the Republican Party that is explicitly designed to take it over and put “America First” ideas at the fore. This kind of populism — this kind of true, urbanized vision of cultural politics and media politics in the sense of taking over institutions — is what J.D. Vance talks a lot about.
Going to war with the university, going to war with the media — these are all things that Trump looked at, but Trump, himself, never particularly seemed to be that invested in. The people who were close around him were not that invested in it.
With J.D. Vance, it is the first time we have a potential, national-level candidate whose entire political formation comes out of that world. That is very new, and I think it's potentially earthshaking for American politics.
Weltwoche: J.D. Vance gained prominence with his bestselling book, “Hillbilly Elegy”, a memoire of his upbringing in the rough society of the Appalachians. He writes: "To these folks, poverty is the family tradition, and Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, and white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family." On the other hand, J.D. Vance is also a product of America’s intellectual elite. He earned a law degree from Yale Law School, and he has been working as a venture capitalist. The question is: Where does Vance really stand in this conservative field, and what does he stand for?
Pogue: This is a very important question. There's a kind of comforting theory that people in mainstream America say about J.D. Vance which is, “This kid’s transformation is fake.” That is wrong.
If you want to understand J.D. Vance, you have to understand that he's basically gone through three transformations. He's gone from poor kid who made it to Yale Law School, one of the institutions that elevate people into the American aristocracy. He's benefited from the American meritocratic system. He became very wealthy, very successful. Then he looked around at the milieu that he came into, and he began to hate it. And that hate is genuine. He talks about Yale Law School like a person who was betrayed by an institution that he trusted.
He really believes — and this is where we start to get into the tenets of the New Right — he believes in the interpretation of the American economy that suggests that Yale and the kind of managerial elite class that he is now a part of have structural economic interest in, basically, conducting globalization and allowing large scale migration, in allowing this kind of bureaucratic state to develop at the expense of American industrialization, at the expense of American farm economy.
Vance developed, and it's viewed as developing broadly on the American right, an idea that, essentially, the institutions that elevated him and the people who now surround him are implacably opposed to the interests of the broad American populace. He believes that very strongly. It's not a pose. It's not an act. It's not a populist trick. In his inner heart, he thinks that there is an economic war in the United States, and he's trying to push back. He has a group of people around him who believe that, too, and they're working in very concerted ways to try to change it.
Weltwoche: There has been another interesting political metamorphosis happening with J.D. Vance. When Donald Trump first ran for president in 2016, he spoke out against him. "I'm a never-Trump guy, and I never liked him.” And, “My God, what an idiot!” referring to Trump. But, lately, he started to embrace him. And with Trump's endorsement, Vance won the Republican primaries in Ohio. What was that “road to Damascus” experience that made Vance team up with Trump?
Pogue: You're not wrong to describe it as a “road to Damascus” experience. My understanding is that it was very sudden.
Weltwoche: Was it a genuine or an opportunistic move?
Pogue: There's no question. I don't think J.D. Vance views Trump as a great savior of American people. I don't think J.D. Vance views Trump as anything other than a useful battering ram to attack the American establishment. He also views Trump as someone who broke the neoliberal story to some degree. And I'm 100% convinced that J.D. Vance thinks that was a great thing that Trump did. I don't know if J.D. Vance thinks of Trump as exactly ideologically aligned with him, but I do know that if J.D. Vance went back in time, he would've voted for Trump.
Weltwoche: Let's focus on the wider phenomenon, the “New Right.” You wrote this remarkable article based on your experience at the National Conservative Conference in Orlando, last autumn. Please explain to our readers, in a nutshell, what is this “New Right”?
Pogue: The “New Right” is two things at once. At its most general, it's an attempt to kind of reshape the Republican party in the direction of something like how Marine Le Pen does it in France, a European populist party. But it has a much greater base. It is a wild and very weird sphere of intellectual thought, that is expanding on the internet, of critiques of liberalism, basically all form of liberalism — from agrarian “back to the land-ers,” to techno-Fascists, to figures, like J.D. Vance, who all want to restore a powerful nationalist vision in America.
The New Right is a ferment. It's a bubbling up movement that is very new and that is very hard to define because they're still figuring out what's going to come, essentially, when liberalism falls.
Weltwoche: In the sub-title of the article, you write about the New Right, “They're not MAGA. They're not QAnon.” What is the difference between the Trump movement and this New Right?
Pogue: The Trump movement is fundamentally oriented around the man, and it's a cultural milieu. If you go to a Trump rally, it's like a party. The core demographic ranges from 45-year-olds to 80-year-old, kind of white, couples. They come together. They go in caravans. The Trump movement is a real movement, but it's almost apolitical at this point. It's almost like a cultural sphere.
The New Right is essentially independent of Trump. The average Trumpian would not be able to articulate a critique of liberalism as a mode of organizing society. They have upset the foundations of liberalism almost by accident in certain ways.
The New Right is a much more highly educated, a much more politically focused, and a much more, in my opinion, world historically interesting phenomenon because the New Right is really targeted at the foundations of the society that we live in, now, and wondering whether or not they should stand. That never crossed the mind of the average Trumpian. The Trumpers have opened the space for this New Right to come in and provide a framework and provide an attack on the Republican party that we're seeing today.
Weltwoche: The fact that Trump’s endorsement secured Vance's victory suggests that Trump is still “the Don” whose ring needs to be kissed to win a primary or an election. Do you think that the New Right will eventually be absorbed into the Trump movement, or will it stand up against it? Will there be a culture war between the two conservative movements?
Pogue: I think it's more likely that Trumpism is absorbed by the New Right. And, indeed, I think you could almost say it has already happened. Very few people would agree with me at this point, but think about it this way: Maybe Trump is “the Don.” Maybe Trump's endorsement secured J.D. Vance's Senate primary win. But at the same time, who secured the endorsement? Peter Thiel and J.D. Vance were able to persuade Trump to go with a guy who used to criticize Trump. Who is pulling the strings there?
Weltwoche: Peter Thiel, the billionaire entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and political activist, has long been a big donor to Republican candidates. In recent years, Thiel has grown increasingly into “something like a nefarious godfather or a genial rich uncle” of the political right, as you point out. He has given more than $10 million to super PACs supporting the candidacies of J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona.
Pogue: You could argue that Thiel is pulling the strings just as much as you could argue that Trump is pulling the strings. As we've seen in Ohio, Trump is very, very popular amongst the White working class. In other places, Trump's endorsement has not meant as much. I don't think that viewing Trump as purely decisive is necessarily the way to see it. I also think that if you look at the substance of J.D. Vance's run, he has not changed his views. He has not changed his views and politics or analysis of American society to better suit Trumpism. What he has done, he brought his views in politics. For example, I talk in the piece about how he doesn't care about Ukraine.
Weltwoche: Vance said, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine… I do care about the fact that in my community, right now, the leading cause of death among 18- to 45-year-olds is Mexican fentanyl.”
Pogue: Everyone else who was Trumpist in that [Ohio Republican primary] race distanced himself from those comments. Nobody would ever say anything like that. Vance was putting forward the New Right critique and winning in Trump country. You could argue, actually, that the New Right’s worldview and this slightly more intellectual vision of what we call here “America First” politics did, in the end, win out.
I've talked to people who worked in the Trump administration who are very, very much on the New Right side of things. The old school establishment Republicans that surrounded Trump in 2016 are pretty much gone. The people who are going to come in, like Michael Anton [a Machiavelli scholar and former spokesman for Trump’s National Security Council] or Amanda Milius [the daughter of the conservative director John Milius, who cowrote Apocalypse Now and directed Red Dawn] are very much in the center of the New Right worldview and politics.
If Trump wins in 2024, those people are going to be in the administration. They say, “This time, we're going to do better.” Blake Masters [the venture capitalist candidate in the 2022 United States Senate race in Arizona] has talked about this. “We're going to get our people in this time. We're not going to mess around. We messed around last time, this time it's our go.” When you hear them talking about it, they sound very confident that if Trump gets in 2024, he's going to be their guy, not the other way around.
Weltwoche: A fascinating part in your article, I found, is how you describe the New Right’s predominant way of looking at American society being at a turning point in its history. J.D. Vance described to you “two possibilities that many on the New Right imagine—that the U.S. system will either fall apart naturally or that a great leader will assume semi-dictatorial powers.” This sounds as if America is at a crossroad between decay and dictatorship.
Pogue: This is the crux of the whole thing. Basically, the United States are not functioning, at this time, in any meaningful sense. A majority of Americans wants to pass universal healthcare. A majority wants to do things on climate change, et cetera. But there is no serious political observer who really believes we are going to act in any concerted fashion for any national project at any time soon. That is a point where one might wonder whether this country can survive.
The New Right is, at this moment, the only large-scale intellectual and political movement that seems to have many answers for that. Their answers are pretty dark, though. You get a lot of people in this sphere of things, you can almost count me as one of them, who are buying guns, who are putting money into crypto, who are planning for the collapse. This used to be a fringe of the society in America. But, now, these are people who are at the dead center of the American economy and politics, and they're doing stuff like that. I think a lot of Europeans don't realize how many Americans are thinking that way right now.
There's this other analysis of power by Curtis Yarvin that is basically to say that the United States have actually had many different governments and that power has reasserted itself within the American executive at various times through our history, through things that we have managed to not quite call revolutions, but that have been revolutions.
Weltwoche: Curtis Yarvin is an 48-year-old ex-programmer and a blogger, also known by the pen name “Mencius Moldbug.” He comes across as a sort of modern Rasputin figure. He is widely unknown in Europe and in the U.S. You write that Yarvin “has done more than anyone to articulate the world historical critique and popularize the key terms of the New Right.”
Pogue: Yarvin starts with Hamilton. He goes on to Lincoln who reorganized the executive branch. His biggest president of reference would be Franklin D. Roosevelt. He came in at a similar moment when the old order, as Arthur Schlesinger had called it, was falling away. Yarvin views us as living through the crisis of essentially the new order and the Rooseveltian state having decayed so much and expanded into such bloated administration and devolving into a point where power resides in universities, our media, who fan these culture wars which in turn divide our politics, which in turn makes it impossible to govern. Yarvin is calling for someone to come in and, by hook or by crook, get that power back.
When you hear Yarvin on podcasts, he talks about some pretty extreme stuff. He talks about printing money, to basically retire people, whether or not they want to be retired, and just paying them off to keep out of politics for the rest of their lives. He talks about US Marshals at the Fed.
Yarvin's basic critique of the devolved power and his basic analysis of what we need to do to fix it is, I think, much more widely shared on the American right than anyone has realized, basically, until my piece [in Vanity Fair]. I think J.D. Vance is largely shaped by that analysis.
Weltwoche: You write that, “under many layers of irony,” the people in the New Right call Yarvin “Our Prophet” or “Lord Yarvin.” What is the role of the “hero figure” within the New Right?
Pogue: What was the impact of the early Marx? (Laughs) Perhaps it's indicative that the person who I turn to, who I think of as an analogy, is Marx. I think it's impossible to overstate how influential Yarvin is within the ecosystem of the New Right. It is a sphere of politics and thought where people are communicating and are sharing ideas. Many of them are at very high levels of American politics and society. They also have a lot of money and political power behind them. So, I think it would be really hard to overstate how potentially influential Yarvin could be.
With that said, I don't want to overstate how influential he is at this exact moment, but he is personal friends with two men who may be in the United States Senate [J.D. Vance and Blake Masters]. It is very possible that we could have two U.S. senators whose political world views were to some very large degree formed by Yarvin.
Weltwoche: Even left-leaning Americans seem to be attracted by Yarvin’s ideas. One of them, the 37-year-old founder of a progressive magazine and blogger activist Lydia Laurenson, made a radical right turn and is now Yarvin’s fiancé. How substantial is Yarvin’s impact beyond the conservative ecosystem.
Pogue: He is a person who's a child of a diplomat. He went to Brown University and then to Berkeley. He is not ever going to be a conservative. He doesn't have that makeup. He was brought into what he would describe as the “American aristocracy.”
Yarvin is a member of the American aristocracy who considers himself a dissident within it. Yarvin's view is essentially that every society is going to have an aristocracy, whether that aristocracy has a name or not. His view is that you want power and influence to be lodged in an aristocracy that is acting in the interest of the nation rather than its own self-interest and that can act in concerted ways rather than this devolved chaotic, insane way that America seems to be acting now.
It's a very jarring thing for an American to hear because we think that we're a democracy and always have been. Yarvin is a big fan of the Stuart monarchy in England, which is very funny because the Stuart monarchy was basically a dynasty of disasters.
Weltwoche: In your piece, you call Yarvin “sort of a monarchist” dreaming of “a king.” Where does monarchist thought come from? It seems completely at odds with U.S. history.
Pogue: Well, that's interesting. I was reading, recently, a critique of Yarvin from a member of what was called “The Party of the Right” at Yale, back in the '60s. There were monarchists at elite levels in the United States not that long ago. Curtis would probably bristle at hearing this, but a lot of the analyses that he is bringing to American society are actually not as new as they seem. They just hadn't been formulated.
Curtis is trying to carve out a space where monarchism can be cool to the kids but still isn't fascism, and he would draw a big distinction (between monarchism and fascism). I'm not sure what his exact definition of fascism is, but China fits it, and that is not what he wants.
Curtis is not calling for a Mussolini. The person that he thinks of as a “king” is Roosevelt. Curtis has a famous party trick that he plays with people who talk to him. He reads Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural speech without saying who it is, and he asks people to guess who the speaker is. Almost everyone guesses Hitler because Roosevelt's address does sound dictatorial. It sounds like threat, and it sounds like an attack on the power of Congress.
Weltwoche: This idea of a semi-dictatorial leader or “king” is reflected in the words that J.D. Vance told you. "I tend to think that we should seize the institutions of the left and turn them against the left. We need a De-Ba'athification program, a de-woke-ification program.” He thinks that Trump is going to run again in 2024. And he concludes: “I think that what Trump should do, if I was giving him one piece of advice: Fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people.” You remark that “this is a description, essentially, of a coup.” Is this the action plan of the New Right? Who would be the leader of such a revolutionary endeavor?
Pogue: I asked my fellow people who do not come from the political traditions of the right, “How are we going to get our state functioning again and to arrest the culture war and chaos that America is living under? Because if we don’t, these guys do have a plan. They have a plan to relocate power.”
My sense, personally, is that most people in this world would actually prefer that Trump does not run [for president 2024]. When you look at Ron DeSantis, what is he doing? He is attacking the institutions of the left. He is looking at the way that cultural liberalism works within corporate America. He's going after Disney. He is doing things that are really cheering on, and seem to be flicking at, the analyses of this New Right.
On the podcast and in private, you can hear them discuss whether or not Ron DeSantis would be a good dictator. These conversations are happening. They're not happening on the Senate floor, yet. They could be coming. If we don't want that to get to the point of the Senate floor, if we don't want marshals at the Federal Reserve, if we don't want a coup, we really have got to figure out how to get the state moving again.
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