Discover more from The Transom
NYT Interview: The Future of Conservatism
A conversation on Trump, Barstool conservatism, and all the single ladies
Hey folks! I knew that the interview I wanted to share with you all today was going to drop in the morning, but this is a travel day and the transcript didn’t post in time before I had to hit the road. When I got in the car, Ron DeSantis still had his same campaign manager and Barstool Sports was still owned by PENN. Things always seem to happen on days when you’re driving. But in any case — here’s an interview I did recently with The New York Times’ Jane Coaston, guest hosting for Ezra Klein on his podcast.
It was a lengthy conversation and I hope you enjoy listening to it, or reading it if you’d prefer.
JANE COASTON: There are so many different strains within the conservative movement. Can you briefly describe what Barstool conservatism is?
BEN DOMENECH: So it’s a term that was used because of its association with Dave Portnoy and Barstool Sports, the very successful online personality-driven publication, has a ton of podcasts, including ones that I listen to, that are off the wall and funny and entertaining. But it came to be something that was associated with the rise of Donald Trump. Because a lot of them were saying very positive things about him. They were entertained by him. But then when Covid really hit, it took off in a much bigger way. And so Barstool conservatism became kind of this stand-in term for a kind of libertine-ish conservatism that really was about being left alone.
JANE COASTON: But also, I would argue, kind of an ethos of, sex is good, me having sex is awesome, anyone telling me what to do in any way is bad and they should stop doing that. But it’s something that we’ve talked a little bit about of these different strains working together. And they found common cause, I think, during Covid. Covid became a moment in which, for many people on the right, this was the ultimate nanny state telling people what to do. People were changing their Twitter user bios to “do not comply.” And then later, they were like, actually, we would like you to comply with this other stuff.
But even describing the Barstool conservatives as conservative is a weird thing to do. And you saw that a little bit after Dobbs. You know, Dave Portnoy himself was like, emergency press conference, this is terrible, how dare we tell women what to do with their bodies? And you saw a bunch of people on the right being like, wait, what? No, it made sense. But what do you think of these divides, these strains? What does this relationship mean?
BEN DOMENECH: So the dynamic that you’re identifying is real. There is an anti-nanny statism that can overlap from both a coherent conservatism and then just a meandering populism, which is essentially what I think the Barstool element of it is. We want to be able to gamble. Porn is good; it’s not bad.
We want people to have fun, drink High Noon, gamble more. We want them to be entertained by the people who we have on our programs, who are both big winners and big losers, buy cheap T-shirts, and just keep the ethos rolling. And where that interacts with politics, it really is kind of a celebrification. Obviously, Portnoy got to do a long interview with Donald Trump.
And, historically, you can see the appeal to that. It’s one of these things that is basically for people who don’t consume politics on a regular basis. It’s when something goes viral that interacts with the political world where they interject. Sam Tallent, a very talented comedian from Colorado, described the pandemic as being a point where some people were getting very, very authoritarian about masks and distancing and narcing on people and then everybody else viewed their act of patriotism as saying if I can’t go to Buffalo Wild Wings, then I’m going to blow up a post office, which I think is very much an accurate description of the two poles.
What I think of as being a good attribute of Barstool conservatism is, essentially, that it overlaps with the Gadsden flag just leave us alone coalition, whether that be going after menthol cigarettes or vaping or any of these things that are kind of nanny state government stuff that they rebel against. I think that that’s good. And it’s also something that historically is very American.
Barstool conservatives are the types of people who would have dressed up as Native Americans and thrown in Boston Harbor. Like, Portnoy is that guy. He’s a Sam Adams type of crazy man who is kind of on the extreme of that. And then there’s the John Adams conservatism, which is I need to go in and defend the British soldiers in order to show that we have equal justice here in America. And we’re not just some backwards colony that’s going to not be able to govern ourselves. Those two forces overlap on some things. But they are at direct odds on others.
I hope you’ll read the whole thing and share it if you like. Unfortunately it doesn’t include anything like the bodice-ripping podcast-appearance fantasy of white supremacist loon Richard Hanania on his nonexistent appearance on the program:
I have a dream where Ezra Klein picks up my book because everyone else is reading it. As he starts to turn the pages, a feeling of discomfort kicks in, as he realizes that, unlike most conservative books he’s read, he can’t go through this one confident in his sense of intellectual superiority relative to the author. He asks his main group chat what to do. The prevailing opinion seems to be that while Hanania has many interesting things to say, some of the tweets go too far. Another participant writes that he respectfully disagrees, and points to my piece on the media being honest and good. Hanania appreciates what we do as journalists. Shouldn’t we prove him correct, show that we are not afraid to address arguments that make us uncomfortable? Klein doesn’t know what to do, and tries to move on with his life. But the question gnaws at him. Finally, as he sees Hanania popping up on one media outlet after the other, and not just Vivek but now Trump is promising executive orders based on his ideas, he finally comes to the conclusion that the “platforming” discussion is moot. This book is going to be talked about and influence policy no matter what, and there is nothing else to do but have me on the show and see if we can find common ground.
Klein gets my phone number from one of our mutual friends, likely a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He calls me up.
“Richard, I can’t stop thinking about your book. I’ve really struggled with this decision, but I wanted to know whether you would like to be on the show?”
“Of course, Ezra, I’m honored that you asked. You know, one thing I’ve always admired about The New York Times and your show in particular is your willingness to examine your assumptions and engage even with those you disagree with.”
I springboard from the Ezra Klein show to new heights of fame and influence, which culminates in an American regime that repeals the Civil Rights Act and implements nationwide mandatory vaccinations. Klein is unhappy with the setback in the battle for racial and gender equality, but realizes that the net lives saved when the next pandemic comes will make it all worth it.
Yikes. Richard, if you keep going like that, I hear you’ll go blind. Mentally at least. Oh, wait — you’re already there. More on that tomorrow.