This election cycle, outside of the media circus attending it, is spotlighting some serious discussion on the value of political debate, and the strategies that conservatives should pursue in a post-Trump age.
I mention “post-Trump” not in reference to “after Trump,” which will inevitably happen either in 2021 or 2025, but in deference to the fact that Trump’s ascendance onto the political scene represents a disruption, an inflection point in how American political life is conducted.
Donald Trump’s election has been well litigated (and re-litigated), so I won’t deal with that body of work, but I will attempt to look at the source of the post-Trump conservative’s best strategy. (I find the best primer on the topic of Trump’s election to be Salena Zito’s excellent book “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics.” This work was literally made during the gestation of this new birth of the American polity.)
What we’ve found is that as Baby Boomer and Gen X social liberals have interpreted their social victories as an endorsement of their larger epistemology of progressivism, they have pushed ideals outside of most Americans’ core values into the Overton Window. They have done this through an unchecked alliance between liberal institutions of higher education, which offered a steady supply of labor to the liberal media, liberal entertainment, and liberal political sectors.
This alliance has created an enormous echo chamber, where identity politics, so-called “intersectional” causes, and revisionist history has combined into a philosophical garden, walled in by censorship of competing ideas, fear of excommunication (or “cancel culture”) and a ruthless pursuit of purity. If there was a competition for resurgence of Puritanism in America, the denizens of academia, many corporate C-suites, and the newsrooms at major American media, would be in first place for the prize.
It’s no wonder that against this incompressible mass of progressive inertial energy, ever-expanding its influence over less-well-represented but more populous groups, whose silence was mistaken for approbation, the Black Swan rose to the top of the list, as a giant megaphone to counter that relatively small but vociferous power structure, and to yell “stop!”
The cry “MAGA” was a plea for real justice, versus the Potemkin, staged, bused-in and violent spasms the political left cum media cum campus offered. While the left spent thirty years trying to recapture the spirit of the actual March on Washington, they mostly succeeded in making clowns of themselves and propping up grifters, Jew-haters, and conspiracists.
Of course, the left has no monopoly on all of the above characters. There is no shortage of grift as wolves devoured the sheep in the genuine Tea Party movement, while Republican consultants set up lucrative self-enriching deals with the RNC. The coprophagous rabble who crawl in the sweat glands of Trump’s intergluteal cleft, 4chan, and Twitter would be totally comfortable discussing the Final Solution over hors d’oeuvres with the other guests at Ilhan Omar’s wine-and-dine.
And in typical Venn-diagram fashion, the anti-vaxxers, chemtrailers, UFO believers, moon-landing-hoaxers, flat-Earthers, and other tinfoil-hats share those beliefs while holding diametrically opposite political views. From Pizzagate to Russiagate to birthers to Max Boot, conspiracists everywhere project an outsized pain onto our social landscape, kind of like a kidney stone. We never thought something so small could cause such anguish.
But that’s all politics
Politics has never saved anyone. Soviet politics did not stop the Berlin Wall from coming down. It did not stop the Soviet Union from breaking apart. China’s politics has not stopped the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, though the People’s Liberation Army (including Unit 61398–the cyber warfare group) may have different results.
Going back to post World War II Germany, politics did not save anyone. Chancellor Konrad Adenaur said the struggle of our age
is essentially a conflict between Christianity and materialism. That is what the struggle is about, and this conflict also exists within the democracies. The modern technical world in which we live, with its movies, radio, and television, favors development toward a mass society, and this “man of the masses” will always incline toward materialism. To counterbalance this we need, in all countries, Christian parties which not only permeate political, social, and economic life with a Christian spirit, but over and above that aim at creating the essential conditions for a Christian existence of the individual.
This is the essence of our current political situation. Our culture and society has trended toward materialism, and the polity has disengaged from political discourse, leaving these topics to “politicians.” We’ve ignored the transformation of our institutions into places of political indoctrination, and we’ve ignored the disintegration of morals in the business world.
(There have always been moral failures in business, since the profit motive does reward this, but many former robber barons have become today’s greatest names in benefaction and philanthropy, hence Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller Center.)
The United States was conceived as a nation to have a government suspicious of government power. It was–at the time–unique among nations in that our government was not the result of an internal overthrow of a ruling class, or a sitting monarch on our own land, but the liberation of our colonies from the tyranny of a government in England that refused to listen or address our pressing needs.
We were blessed to have such intelligent men as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and John Adams, steeped in Lockean ideals; men forged in a the uncertainty of revolution, united in desire for a governable nation to emerge out of such a pluralistic people, crafting our governing principles.
My friend Josh Hammer, writing in American Mind, captures the feeling that the American left’s ball of cultural inertia is “illiberal,” and if conservatives employed only the procedural protections of Constitutional promise, it would do nothing to slow their roll.
Recognizing that culture and tradition are necessary prerequisites for the genuine restoration and preservation of our procedural norms should make us comfortable nudging the levers of political power to reclaim cultural influence from the revanchist illiberal Left. From the Jacobin menagerie in the streets to the Woke, Inc. staffers on academic and corporate campuses, the illiberal Left rejects dialogue and preempts from the public square even the most anodyne right-of-center beliefs. Against that backdrop, procedural neutrality as a purported panacea to our culture war is a plea that rings hollow at best.
This is at the heart of the ongoing debate between two friendly forces: Sohrab Ahmari and David French, respectively of the New York Post and National Review. Harvard-trained lawyer French favors an approach based in law, while Ahmari seeks to counter the left’s use of moral panic, that tends to warp and blunt legal defenses.
Both of these approaches appeal to the concept of “justice,” one to the legal rational arguments that lead to a verdict, a word literally made up of “verus dictum“–truth saying. The other to the cultural arguments of virtue–a word from the Latin “virtus,” meaning valor, merit or moral perfection. True justice requires both: truth and virtue.
Barack Obama was fond of quoting Dr. Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He even had it woven in the carpet in the Oval Office. Certainly, Obama believed in justice, but he had his own definitions for truth and virtue. The left is very good at taking concepts from Christianity–morality, transcendence, justice–and smuggling them into progressive reincarnations of their quest for utopia.
Without questioning Obama and the left’s sincerity, they don’t offer much in the way of salvation for America, Americans, or for that matter, the world.
The road to justice does not run left, and it does not run right.
The road to Justice
For the Christian (and not just the Christian), there is a third way, that is neither left or right, for the conservative. We should not depend on people, Black Swans, megaphones, parties, or even the genius of the U.S. Constitution for our justice, because the power of it is beyond those personalities and constructs.
The link here, as Konrad Adenaur touched upon, is “creating the essential conditions for a Christian existence of the individual.” For that, we do not depend on government, yet we seek to influence government and political discourse in a civil, loving manner. True power is not found in politics, because the worst mankind can do to a person is to take a life. If taking of a life was the ultimate power, we should all find ourselves at the end of a gun barrel, where compliance is mandatory and non-negotiable.
But the Bible says true power is found in the Spirit of God. Zechariah 4:6 “So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
The Bible offers a Law, upon which much of our civil and criminal legal structure is based–this body of Law is what current left-wing progressives consider to be hate speech. But that Law is not the deepest covenant, it is only the outworking of a covenant between God and man.
Jeremiah 31:31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
This chapter deals with the coming of Messiah. Christians believe (and history records) that the man Jesus Christ was born, preached in Judea, and died on a Roman cross.
Prior to Christ’s death, he spoke of the New Covenant. Luke 22:20 “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Jesus argued with Pontius Pilate.
John 18:33-38 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.
Not knowing who he was speaking with, or the nature of His power, Pilate does what today’s progressives do: he moves the goalposts of truth. The religious leaders of the day abandoned their belief in the God they took glory in serving only to give deference to Caesar.
John 19:11-16 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
The basis for American conservatism is not found in the Law, but in the power of truth, and the perfection of virtue, in the Spirit of God. Our “inalienable rights” are given by God, not through the Law, but through the Spirit of God. They are vouchsafed by the Messiah, a perfect and perfectly moral man.
We should continue to protect our freedoms using all the legal remedies and arguments available. But those things alone will not slow or stop the illiberal left. Neither will a retreat to populism provide the answer, because as a culture, we have drifted too far from the source of truth and virtue for those things to be meaningful in the public square. We have disrupted them away in favor of megaphones, entertainment, and revenge.
Our hope, and our strength, should be found neither in the road to the right or the road to the left. We should instead look to the ancient creed of Israel in Psalm 20:6-9.
Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
American government, by design, is suspicious of government because government is by men to rule over men. Chariots and horses cannot do more than place different men and women over us. Only God can transform hearts, overcome death, and provide strength when we are at the point of courage.
It is on this road, turning neither to the left or the right, that conservatives should travel in the post-Trump age.