Friday, October 26, 2018

Post-America gets uglier by the hour, and there's only one way back from the brink

There is, of course, the rash of crudely made pipe bomb-type devices sent to various Leftist icons over the past few days. And there are the sadly unsurprising reactions from both the Left and the Trumpist right. The former wasted no time taking the "climate-of-hate-engendered-by-Trump's-inflammatory-rhetoric" stance, and the latter hastily hopped on the "this-has-all-the-markings-of-a-decoy-operation-cooked-up-by-the-Left" bandwagon.

There is NBC's hot-potato treatment of Megyn Kelly over her remark that when she was a kid, blackface Halloween get-ups were acceptable if the trick-or-treater was clearly portraying a character. A boneheaded thing for Kelly to say, without a doubt. But, again, the pattern-of-racial-insensitivity narrative was instantly put out there, and those asserting Kelly's fundamental decency were on the defensive.

There's the caravan of Central Americans (and, according to the Department of Homeland Security, a few jihadists and gang elements) moving northward through Mexico by the day, making as much of a spectacle of their project as possible, as well as sending some signals, such as waving the Honduran flag as they walk, about how far down the list of their priorities any kind of assimilation they'd undertake should they cross the US border is.

Particularly bothersome to me as a self-identified conservative is the poison that Kurt Schlichter regularly injects into internal conversation on the Right. Yesterday, his Townhall column (not linking to it) was entirely devoted to portraying Ben Sasse as a sissy and an ineffectual dweeb.

Sasse's latest book Them: Why We Hate Each Other - And How to Heal asserts that our political polarization and societal brittleness largely stems from an epidemic of loneliness, and that our loneliness in turn stems from the vanishing of our basic civic bonds: church, Rotary Club, local sports leagues, forms of entertainment that used to unify us culturally.

Schlichter says he hasn't read it and doesn't plan to. He says he's not interested in any healing, only crushing the Left. His own latest book is called Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite To take Back Our Democracy.

He has of late displayed a Trump-like penchant for self-aggrandizement, patting himself on the back for posting a self-characterized "brutal" YouTube video attacking Sasse.

He's also given the same treatment to National Review writer David French, another principled and thoughtful conservative, accusing him of "wetting his panties" and lobbing other salvos of snark.

French wrote a very good and important piece about this, entitled "Defending Trump Isn't A Sign of Masculinity," in which he came to the defense of several friends his who have likewise come in for attack from Schlichter:

My friends and colleagues who’ve held true to conservative principles both before and after Trump — men like Jonah Goldberg, Ben Shapiro, Charlie Cooke, and many others — have shown real moral courage. In some cases, threats against them are so great that they’ve had to show physical courage as well. Just ask Ben to tell you some of his stories living in the crosshairs of the Antifa Left and the alt-right. They’ve applauded Trump when he’s done good things, critiqued him when he’s done wrong, and kept their eyes on larger cultural trends. That’s not weakness.

I would suggest that Schlichter seriously engage Sasse's thesis, because even if these "militant normals" do ascend to the point of completely prevailing in the struggle to shape America, they will lack the guidance of an institutional foundation.

Schlichter is not the first Trumpist (and he always emphasizes that he's of the I-was-for-Cruz-but-now-that-we-have-Trump-I'm-mightily-impressed camp) to bandy about the term "elite," but it figures heavily into his rhetoric. This is disturbing. It establishes a slippery slope down which an inquiry into the philosophical basis for the worldview called conservatism (Burke, Locke, Bastiat, Weaver, Buckley, Kirk) can get dismissed as a waste of time, given the urgency of the task of "owning the libs."

It also connotes a lumping-together of elements that are actually quite disparate. Ben Sasse, for instance, has such conservative bona fides as an AQ rating from the NRA. He opposed the Affordable Care Act. In addition to his stints as a consultant and a college president, his career credentials include serving as executive director of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He combines intellectual heft, ideological consistency and considerable heart. He is no John Kasich or David Brooks.

The overall point here is that it is damn hard in 2018 to stand for recognizable conservatism. There is no end to the forces from a variety of directions that stand ready to try to eviscerate those who take the trouble to do so.

I might also note that French and Sasse are also Christians. It is core to what they are about.

That's the key to keeping a level head for anyone who seeks to participate in our national conversation  civil war from a position of consistent conservatism. Prayer is essential. It equips one with a real humility, not the convenient kind that does indeed seek to accommodate what indeed is the main enemy (the Left). (I find it rich that Kasich is seeking to invoke God in his discussing of the migrant caravan, given that after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision he said about Christian wedding service providers that they needed to get with the program since homosexual "marriage" was a done deal.)

With the Left in charge of the humanities departments at post-American universities, it's hard enough for our civilizational heritage to guide us in the present struggle. The tough-guy Right (a David French term) worsens that dilemma by seeking to brand all who don't sniff the throne of the Very Stable Genius with the blanket term "elite."

There are a few real conservatives in the fray, and contrary to both the rabid progressives and the Schlichter types, we are not irrelevant. As the ugliness metastasizes, we'll be shown to be indispensable.

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