What Conservatives Mean When They Talk About Government OverreachWhat Conservatives Mean When They Talk About Government Overreachby David Roberts of VoxOctober 29, 2017
Before Donald Trump, GOP elite policymakers and intellectuals were in the grips of a comforting illusion: that their party was united around the principles of limited government and free markets. That is how the elite — with help from a compliant media — interpreted the Tea Party uprising that followed Obama’s election. Here were patriots devoted to reducing burdensome regulations and defending economic freedom. Post-Trump, this illusion has become untenable. Trump never paid lip service to conservative economic ideology. He doesn’t even possess the vocabulary, the catechisms that virtually every Republican candidate can recite by heart. He bypassed small-government ideology almost entirely in favor of white resentment. And Republicans, at least a plurality of them, embraced him for it.
"We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism," said conservative intellectual Avik Roy. "In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism."
This is evident from a New York Times story in 2016
on "rolling coal," which is the practice of modifying a truck’s diesel engine so that it spews thick, toxic black smoke. Some states, like New Jersey (and possibly Illinois, though not Colorado), are passing laws against it. Rolling coal seems to perfectly capture the inarticulate protest of angry white men. They feel disdained and overlooked and they will blow thick black smoke in your face until you pay attention. This is not some sturdy heartland tradition with which meddlesome elites want to interfere. Rolling coal is new; it just caught on a few years ago. It does not improve the performance of a truck. It has no practical application or pragmatic purpose of any kind. It is purely aggressive, a raw expression of defiance: I can pollute your air, for no reason, and no one can stop me.
What Conservatives Mean When They Talk About Government Overreach
And now lawmakers are cracking down on it. But to diesel owners like Corey Blue of Roanoke, Ill., the very efforts to ban coal rolling represent the worst of government overreach and environmental activism. Will Guzzardi, a state representative who has proposed a $5,000 fine on anyone who removes or alters emissions equipment, received an email from Corey Blue, which said:
"Your bill will not stop us! Why don’t you go live in Sweden and get the heck out of our country I will continue to roll coal anytime I feel like and fog your stupid eco-cars."
This sentiment symbolizes the core of the ethno-nationalist perspective, which is that the country’s social groups are locked in a zero-sum struggle for resources. Any government intervention that favors one group disfavors the others. Government and other institutions are either with you or against you. What FOX and talk radio have been teaching the right for decades is that native-born, working- and middle-class whites are locked in a zero-sum struggle with rising Others — minorities, immigrants, gays, coastal elitists, hippie environmentalists, etc. — and that the major institutions of the country have been coopted and are working on behalf of the Others. According to Rush Limbaugh:
We live in two worlds. One world is a lie, where everything is run, dominated, and controlled by the left. The other world is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two worlds ever overlap. The Four Corners of Deceit: government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper."
That is the right-wing media’s message, delivered with relentless consistency: Government has become an agent of the Others. That’s what ethno-nationalists mean when they talk about big government — not that government is exceeding some libertarian theorist’s notion of constitutional limits, but that government is on the wrong side, backing the wrong team. From an ethno-nationalist perspective, government overreach is when government tells people like me what to do. The proper role of government is to defend my rights and privileges against people like them.
After all, even the strictest libertarian acknowledges that the government has a policing role, to protect citizens from direct harm. What could be more direct harm than having unfiltered diesel smoke blown in your face? But to Corey Blue of Roanoke, Illinois, the government is not protecting anybody — it’s targeting people like him, punishing him on behalf of the liberals, dope smokers, and heathens who prefer "eco-cars." Blowing toxic black smoke into the air "anytime I feel like" is his way of showing that it’s still his America, that he can still do what he wants and doesn’t have to follow a bunch of namby-pamby rules imposed by liberal bureaucrats. He and other coal rollers may dress this sentiment up in the language of small government, but what they’re expressing is a long, long way from conservative economic philosophy.