Opinion | Mary Katharine Ham on How Online Conservatism Changed

Two, I think we’re in an arms race of people telling each other what to do. One of the things that I find difficult about arguing for a more libertarian position on many issues and a more, “Leave us the hell alone” position is that I think more populist right-leaning people argue, not incorrectly, that the left will ratchet up on school policy, on curriculum, and if you don’t fill the gap with your own values, you will be overtaken.

I think Trump was a desire to fight that tendency. Like, “We’re not laying down for this.”

Coaston: There has been the rise of what we could now call conservative influencers. These are not people who are pundits or writers necessarily, but they’re influencers. You talked a little bit about the click incentive. What do you think those influencers are attempting to influence young people to do?

Ham: Well, I think that’s the issue with a lot of politics right now. Even with politicians, themselves: Are you actually attempting to influence people to vote for you, to believe in a policy, to do whatever it is — or are you an influencer in this new influencer economy? Which I can’t hate on people for wanting to do it. It can be a very sweet gig. I would say that parts of my career are, certainly, influencer-y. It’s fun to connect with an audience, and it’s fun to see comments, and get feedback, and all those things, so I don’t hate on this new economy we’re creating, per se, but I do think there’s a real question of what it incentivizes, and what you’re attempting to influence.

Again, one of the things about the conservatism that I came up in, and how it was connected to the Republican Party versus now is when Trump was elected, that ideological people needed to realize — and this is something that I have always been bad at — is recognizing that regular people are not that ideological. A lot of voters don’t think that way.

But in the end, what does that translate into? I’m not sure if there’s no policy structure, if there’s no ask. I guess it could be as simple as get out the vote stuff. Rock the Vote was, arguably, an influencer campaign before we had influencers. But I think it’s very unclear what anyone is trying to accomplish. The metric ends up being, in the case of skin-care girlies, “Am I selling? Am I moving product?” And for right-leaning folks, like, “I don’t know. What are we moving? Are we gathering donations?”

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