(Quick admin note: This will be the last post of the week until Monday, as I have a convention to attend this weekend. Try not to burn down the joint while I'm gone!)
The internecine warfare within the GOP - which has spread to virtually every social media space in which conservatives gather - has, for me, been a matter of grave concern. Friends are fighting friends. Family members are quarreling with family members. In fact, the debate over Donald Trump and his suitability for the presidency - or lack thereof - has become so strident and so intolerant that even the smallest things can set off a mutual blocking spree. And personally? It bothers me.
It bothers me because it's happening between people whose views are at least 70% in concordance. We should be allies, not mortal enemies. Thus, when my brother, a fervent backer of #NeverTrump, got into an argument with another conservative on Facebook in re: Trump and his detractors, I decided to play devil's advocate. What follows is an excerpt from the resulting discussion. My initial comments are in normal text, and Matt's comments are in blue. In purple, meanwhile, I add some post-conversation reflections and/or questions for further study.
If you would like to join the conversation, please do so in the comments. I only ask that everyone be polite and respectful. The future of our nation may very well be at stake.
I agree wholeheartedly that Trump is not fit for our country's highest office. But if we engage in a little bit of self-examination, I think we'll find that our own views are also, in some way, driven by fear. I think we fear that if Trump is permitted to fly the Republican banner, that will kill any chances of conservative principles ever being thoughtfully reconsidered. Moreover, we fear that the coarseness of the Trump campaign is reflecting a decadence in our own society that, if it's further encouraged, will never be reversed.
Maybe it would be better if we openly acknowledged this fear instead of putting on the facade that we are wholly rational, which makes the Trump backers feel like we're lording our intellectual superiority over them instead of listening to what they have to say. [And now that I've mentioned it, we should also thoughtfully consider where Trump's backers might be coming from and not simply dismiss them as simpletons.]
Thought the first: Human beings are instinctively tribal; in other words, we are hardwired to seek the intimacy and familiarity of cohesive groups based on kinship and/or cultural similarities. Now the results of this instinct can be both negative and positive. It's the reason why bigotry exists, yes -- but it also explains the sort of patriotism that drives soldiers to sacrifice their comfort, their safety, and sometimes their very lives for the benefit of their countrymen.
Unfortunately, our current political class (and yes, this class includes many establishment Republicans) fails to recognize the more pro-social aspects of our tendency to gather in groups; it is so steeped in the assumptions and concerns of the transnational elite that it has – either accidentally or deliberately – completely decimated the voluntary associations that used to be the key source of social capital in many communities, putting in their place a centralized, bureaucratized society that has engendered anomie among its citizens -- and a concomitant loss of place. To put it simply, a lot of people don’t recognize what their communities have become. And no, this is not about xenophobia; it’s about our culture and our seeming inability to preserve it or transmit it to others.
I know you read NRO, so I assume you follow Victor Davis Hanson. His columns on the recent transformation of the Central Valley in California are especially instructive on this score. When you have to constantly defend your farm from thieves looking for copper to sell, you are going to wonder why the hell our leaders are allowing so many people in who seemingly have no respect for our mores or our laws – and you are going to appreciate it immensely when someone like Trump comes along and actually acknowledges your experience.
There are two ways we can come to grips with the reality I've just described: 1) We can dismiss it as paranoia emanating from ignorant rubes, as our elites and some #NeverTrump folks have done, or 2) We can recognize that, as Jonathan Haidt once put it, we can't help the bees by destroying their hives. For the sake of the health of our society, we have to choose the second option -- which, for many, means backing Trump. I don't agree -- but I think we could have some interesting conversations if we simply asked Trump backers, without belligerence, what they think Trump will do to fix the afore-described massive blind spot.
Thought the second: The classically liberal values that once formed the bedrock of our society are under constant – and vicious – assault by a faction that yearns to control what we do, say and think. This faction has successfully harassed perceived malefactors out of their jobs; argues for the abandonment of our rights to free speech, free association, and self-defense; and feels absolutely no shame in doing either. What will become of us if we let these social justice warriors get their way?
It can be argued defensibly that, of all the battles we must fight, removing the social justice left from power and restoring our civil rights in our academic and creative spaces is perhaps one of the most important battles of all. Why? Because it can be objectively demonstrated that enforced political correctness has put our people in danger. Both here and across the pond, people have been injured or killed because someone hesitated to report a neighbor who was acting suspicious out of fear of being called a racist.
It can also be argued defensibly that the only way we can take back our God given freedoms is, as Glenn Reynolds often puts it, to “punch back twice as hard.” Cross the line. Violate the progressive left’s taboos. Be dangerous. You might call this the Milo Yiannopoulos Stratagem. Whatever you may think of how Milo conducts himself on Twitter and in his public appearances, there is one thing he gets fabulously (heh) right: He exposes the social justice warriors as the tin-pot fascists they really are. And Trump? Many people think Trump does this too. Many people believe that Trump is usefully nudging the Overton Window further right – that he is the catalyst that will start a necessary preference cascade – and they are willing to back him on these grounds. Could this be just as principled a position as ours? Yes, I think so. Free speech does matter.
Now for my last thought: Over the past eight years, our elites have displayed nothing but naked contempt for ordinary Americans and their values – aided and abetted, of course, by our current president, who clearly despises both our religiosity and our attachment to the Constitution and the principles it represents. And no – I don’t know that we can survive yet another president who perpetuates this oikophobia. Something will explode. If you keep kicking the dog, eventually the dog is going to turn around and bite – and the results will not be pretty.
The descriptions I’ve read of various rallies reveal that Trump approaches our “flyover” citizens in a much more respectful, affirming way. He constantly tells his (mostly rural and working class) supporters that he loves them and the America they represent. And yeah – I tend to think it’s all a show and that Trump is a clever manipulator. But we don’t actually know that for sure. We can’t read Trump’s mind, and we don’t know his true endgame. Thus, it is just as defensible to hope that he’s being genuine. And it’s defensible to back him because you want to encourage our political leaders to drop their snooty-ass attitudes and start treating their American neighbors like full-fledged human beings instead of incomprehensible Others.
If Donald Trump actually were moving the Overton window rightward on the subject of SJW bully tactics and illiberal thought-policing, I would have a great deal of sympathy for that argument. The problem is, that is not what is happening. Donald Trump is emboldening the SJW crowd significantly. Just today, crazed radical leftists stabbed a group of quasi-white-supremacists to death in California as they peacefully marched. From where I'm sitting, Trump validates the illiberal left. He embodies every lie they ever told about conservatives to their progressive allies in the media, education and entertainment establishments. He gives them "proof" that conservatives are actually fascists, racists, xenophobes. Whether or not you believe Trump is any of those things - whether or not his followers are any of those things - the narrative is: 1) Trump is a fascist; 2) conservatives picked him as their standard bearer; 3) ergo, conservatives are fascists. And guess what? Most people I know who are not politically motivated and do not, therefore, have emotional stakes believe that that narrative is true. Meanwhile, on college campuses, the push toward the gulag for dissenters is accelerating, not slowing down, as a result of Trump's antics.
I suppose the question we must ask here is this: Did we see a significant change in long-term trends vis-à-vis social justice crybullying once Trump became a competitive candidate in the GOP primary? I honestly don't know that we have. I was writing essays about the problem as early as 2010.
And, the bottom line, philosophically for me at least, is that the right answer is not to respond to a punch by punching back harder and validating the puncher. The right answer is to mock and ridicule the puncher and do so armed with courage and the truth (that is, if they don't respond to Christ's method of turning the other cheek.). If you punch back harder, you empower their movement. If you ridicule and ignore them, their movement loses a bogeyman to punch at.
Where is the line between punching back and mere ridicule? A Trump backer would no doubt point out that, for the left, there is no such line. He might also note that people are primarily emotional beings and respond best when a political message is emotionally satisfying. What, then, do #NeverTrumpers have to offer that will respond to the electorate's legitimate anger in a way that persuades the elephant?
No - we do not have any cause to hope that Trump is being genuine - not if we're living in the land of facts and common sense. Trump has given us plenty of examples, even during this campaign, that show that he has contempt for the common man in reality. Trump University is the poster example, but he's had plenty of ugly quotes in which he mocks and belittles Ted Cruz's supporters - many of whom were from the same population as his own supporters (religion, working class, white, rural). Or Ben Carson's. He called the army a pack of thieves, for example.
It takes very, very little effort to put the lie to the false hope that Trump really does love poor middle Americans.
Perhaps. All the same, we still have to offer people someone who doesn't stink of "coastal elite" because that is the prevailing mood. Can we field a candidate who fits that bill?
Now on your FIRST point, you have some traction as to identifying the problem. It is absolutely true that the elites of both parties haven't demonstrated any real care for the way in which most Americans want to live, nor any understanding of why Americans react with suspicion and anger when waves of illegal (and even legal) immigrants totally change the demographics of their towns and, as they sometimes do, show little respect for the customs and lifestyle of the existing residents.
That is an undeniable problem. Even my liberal friends sometimes seem to be aware that this is an issue.
But that is not a problem that can be solved in politics. You can crack down on illegal immigration, but you can't stop the march of history, which will always lead to changing demographics, societal preferences, and communities. The way we dealt with change in the past was to have community standards - high expectations for newcomers to meet and social costs when they failed to assimilate well. The same solution applies today. And the only reason, IMHO, that we haven't continued to demand that people entering our towns learn to live as the locals do is the same scourge of PC thuggery you mention in point two. That thuggery is the true issue, and we have to combat that in the culture. It might feel nice to you when Trump recognizes the problem and no one else does, but he offers no solutions and no hope of fixing the problem. In fact, as I argued above, he makes the problem much, much worse.
I generally agree with Matt's assessment here, but when it comes to the Art of the Possible, it has one tragic flaw: It offers no concrete strategy for implementation. Yes, we have to change the culture -- but how? How do we challenge PC thuggery when most media and entertainment are entirely in the thugs' corner? How do we make ourselves heard and thus bring about the change that's needed? We may be able to correctly identify the problem, but until we can offer a step-by-step plan of attack - a Rules for Conservatives that can effectively counteract Alinsky's Rules for Radicals - our message will be read as entirely too depressing and fatalistic.
So -- instead of endlessly complaining about Trump, let's start actively thinking of workable alternatives that respond to realities on the ground with vision and hope.