In 1964, Bob Dylan released a song which has become iconic. “The Times They Are A-Changing” proclaimed the 23-year-old bard. Thirty-six years later, in a seeming practical joke, Dylan released a song titled “Things Have Changed.” Dylan refuses to be pigeonholed and taken up by a single cause. When the Left heralded him as their messiah, he came out in support of Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. Like the American bard, conservatism seems to be a Protean beast: stubborn yet malleable. Perhaps it pertains to its very nature—as society changes so must conservatism. But can it change so much that it evolves into an entirely different beast?
Someone who has seen the shift in the financial world as well as the political landscape from the front line is Anthony Scaramucci. In 2016, leading up to the U.S. presidential election, ‘The Mooch’—as Scaramucci is known—endorsed Scott Walker, then Jeb Bush, before finally agreeing to help Donald J. Trump in his presidential campaign. It was during this time that Scaramucci realised Trump was entirely correct in his political analysis. Crossing the security perimeter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a campaign event, Scaramucci spoke to the assembled crowds. As he did so something dawned on him: he was speaking to his father. Not literally, but to the same segment of society from which his father had come. The Mooch, now a successful entrepreneur and hedge fund manager, is the son of an Italian immigrant, blue-collar crane-operator who was working around the time Dylan produced his song about changing times. There was one huge difference, however: where his father had been from an “aspirational working-class,” the people in front of him now were an “economically desperational” group.
In other words, things really have changed. Trump noticed this and spoke the language of people who believed themselves to have been betrayed by the ruling classes. Trump bypassed traditional media and spoke directly to those who would care to listen by using social media. A change of circumstances requires a change in approach. But what happens when the new approach becomes the norm? After 11 days in the White House, Scaramucci was sacked from his job as Director of Communications. He has owned his mistakes, but despite being fired he remained loyal to President Trump. This changed, says The Mooch, when Trump used racially incendiary language, such as the language Scaramucci’s parents had become accustomed to hearing directed at them. When Scaramucci called out the President, the President went after his wife on Twitter. It was no longer a question of disagreement in the office—now the President targeted a private citizen.
Trump has been disowned by many people on his own side. The list of dismissals and resignations from his team runs over the 100s and includes people such as General Kelly, General Mattis, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Kellyann Conway, Sean Spicer, The Mooch, and many more. Years ago, a typical conservative supporting Mitt Romney would’ve been called extreme by the Left; today, it seems many on the Left would gladly welcome Romney back to the running. Trump has shifted—or at least been a part of shifting—the political landscape.
Besides a shift in political terminology and redrawn ideological boundaries, the financial world is in the midst of a revolution, concomitant to the analysis people have made of politics: governments, politicians, and traditional institutions have failed us, so we must look elsewhere. Such is the mentality of a large number of people. In such a world, cryptocurrencies offer a decentralised, innovative, and potentially fairer way of dealing with money. Speaking to The Mooch, he believes there is a strong moral case for crypto. Whereas the Federal Reserve can inflate away our money today, crypto remains impervious to such measures and people can keep more of their own money.
We have governments now that are massively deficit-spending. In the United States, they monetise that debt by kicking it down the road and hoping never to pay it or letting someone else worry about it when we are all dead. It weakens living standards and hurts the wages of the middle class.
Decentralised finance (DeFi) promises a world where large institutions can’t monopolise financial transactions. Today, institutions such as foreign exchanges, can take a percentage cut of transactions made. The crypto promise is that the middleman is cut out and people can make payments in a simpler fashion. This also holds people accountable, where blockchain technology can check exactly which transactions have been made, when they were made, and by whom. There is much more to be done, but Scaramucci believes this technology is here to stay. It is exactly the type of thing people have been asking for and corresponds to the increased distrust in governments. Since our conversation, the crypto market has had a dramatic dip, but evolution can take time and be a painful process. Moreover, there are lively forums airing possible responses to these growing pains, such as the first-ever Catholic Crypto Conference held in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in November.
Amidst this ultimately cultural tectonic shift, calls for a ‘disruptive conservatism’ are understandable. Old tactics have seemingly been ineffective in landing conservatives in senior positions in government, and where conservatives have been in power, the effect is the same: people still distrust them. Some might identify disruption with adopting a more aggressive and popular (some might say populist) approach. However, such jargon can take on a life of its own and when confronted with names such as a “basket case of deplorables,” the favour is returned with equally puerile innuendo. But disruptive conservatism can also be ‘decent.’ Being decent in today’s age is disruptive; moreover, being decent doesn’t equate to being a pushover. Scaramucci has sounded the horn to rally the troops under such a banner, knowing full well that his cutthroat New York ways can come across as brash. As he puts it, “You have to have respect and self-respect.” That said, he adds,
When someone is coming after you, drag them into the street. [Some say] ‘you’re having a bar fight with Trump.’ Trump has never had a bar fight. My point is, if you’re coming after me, be prepared because I know how to fight.
In other words, The Mooch implies that being decent and defending oneself is not akin to being an aggressor.
Where exactly this leaves us remains to be seen. There are important questions to be raised for any self-defined conservative. Are conservatism and nationalism compatible, when nationalism is a radical ideology stemming from the same roots as liberalism and socialism? Is populism the same thing as conservatism in the Burkean sense? Will short-term alliances hamper any hope of long-term success? Should conservatives back Trump in a second bid for office? The Mooch has been called a RINO (Republican In Name Only), a flip-flopper, and a grifter. It is worth noting that such epithets come not from the Left, but from those who claim to work towards the same end as him. One might legitimately ask if such behaviour doesn’t prove his point regarding a need for decent conservatism. Even Roger Scruton felt left behind by the movement he so much helped to define.