Get a Star Trek fan talking—and believe me, we love to talk—and inevitably you will hear about the television and movie franchise’s optimistic portrayal of the future. The twenty-third century depicted in the series is a liberal utopia. There is no racism, no poverty, no war, no pollution, and no money. Instead there is world government.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio is not exactly Mr. Personality. He’s not a culture warrior or a populist firebrand. He’s a soft-spoken wonky Baby Boomer interested in budgets, finance, and taxes. He won’t be seen with Donald Trump but welcomed former boss George W. Bush to a private fundraiser last month. Also, he enjoys a significant lead over challenger Ted Strickland.
I spent some time this summer with high school and college students, teaching courses in the foundations of liberalism and in the intellectual history of postwar American conservatism. It was great fun. The classes were lively, welcoming, and intellectually curious, and taking a break from the 2016 election was nothing less than a joy. I used to think that when I got drummed out of Washington I’d drive a taxi. Not anymore.
The Republicans arriving in Cleveland this weekend will be part of something extraordinary. They will witness not only the nomination of Donald Trump for president, but the reconfiguration of the GOP and American conservative movement. They will legitimize their party’s dramatic shift toward nationalism and populism. They will redefine what it means to be Republican, and who is conservative.