For starters, I love the editorial staff at the Roanoke Times. They remind me of what liberals used to be when the open public square was a thing to be treasured and prized. Their op-ed section is perhaps one of the better curated and more widely read in Virginia, and on a good number of things — the fundamentals we seem to be losing as a country — we agree.
One of the more difficult questions to tackle in this era of incivility and illiberalism is how to deal with the political religions of the present day. The Roanoke Times raises 12 questions. What follows are 12 answers.
One quick example? Folks do not have to go looking too hard to discover that your humble writer has reservations about the candidacy and presidency of Donald J. Trump. Trump is neither a nationalist nor a conservative; he is a salesman able to tap into a certain populist angst about the America that was vs. the “coalition of the ascendant” of the Obama era.
Thus the resentment that one sees in the Trump phenomena isn’t something that can be easily distilled into racism, bigotry, or hatred — the three basic arguments of the left during the Trump administration as they stand outside of the high church of the federal government.
Trump is a reaction against the identity politics of the left, not a catalyst. What shocks and surprises the left in the majority view isn’t that the president is “racist” but rather that he is willing to take a simulacrum of the worst elements of the Obama era and weaponize it against the Democrats writ large — same as the Democrats did by building a simulacrum of the worst elements of the Bush era.
Unless this dynamic is recognized? The political center in this country is going to continue talking past one another, and only the extremes will benefit.
Here too is the catch: one cannot expect an Antifa without a similarly themed militant response from kooks of the right. One cannot expect “drag queen story hour” without renewed calls for “integralism” to replace American pluralism. One cannot expect calls for BDS against Israel, anti-Semitic tropes about “the Benjamins” and a constant barrage of “privilege” to go without some sort of response that if things are so bad in America, why come here?
1. If Trump telling four non-white members of Congress to go back where they came from isn’t racist, then what is? Can you give us an example of what would constitute racism?
Having a sitting governor in either blackface or a hood? Constitutes racism. BDS against Israel constitutes racism. The Obama-era policy of separating families at the border and detaining them in warehouses that the Trump administration merely inherited constitutes racism. Failing public schools constitutes racism. The era and legacy of Massive Resistance constitutes racism. The ghettos of northern cities led by Democrats during the 20th century constitutes racism. Creating a social welfare state that treats minorities as a number and a certain amount of subsidy on a form to make poverty “go away” constitutes racism. In fact, the entire Byrd Machine that we have inherited in Virginia by way of the Democratic Party constitutes racism — and it was the Democratic Party that put a statue of Byrd in the middle of Capitol Square to spike the football.
You know what doesn’t get rid of racism? Tearing down statues, attacking Thomas Jefferson, reducing opportunities for working class Virginians, or simply put — calling everything racist that seems slightly out-of-place in the Great Awokening. In short, it is difficult to take the political charge of racism seriously from a party actively struggling with blackface.
…and let’s not bring up the tired and worn out trope of “whataboutism” here. Whataboutism is precedent, and if double standards are the only standards we care to have? Physician, heal thyself.
The more serious question is this: What did Democrats learn about Trump after that tweet that they did not realize (or believe) before hand? Trump was already branded a racist. Can you be more racist than racist? So why does this bright shiny object qualify and Jeffery Epstein shuttling Bill Clinton to ‘pedophile island’ not qualify?
2. If this wasn’t worthy of condemnation, what kind of presidential speech or conduct would be worthy of condemnation? Or should Congress not condemn a president, ever, for something he (or, perhaps in the future, she) has said, no matter how offensive it might be?
The substitution for bad speech isn’t good speech, but free speech. One truly has to wonder at a mindset that requires the imprimatur of government in order to praise or condemn activity in the public square. Is that really the gold star every adult needs in order to function in polite society, or can we just go back to ignoring bad behavior and allowing folks to discern for themselves what is distasteful and what is mere ignorance?
3. Do you worry that, by failing to condemn this kind of speech, you have effectively condoned the sentiments behind it?
Certainly no one raises this question vis a vis Ralph Northam or Mark Herring. Certainly no one raises this question vis a vis Justin Fairfax. Certainly no one raises this question as “The Squad” continues to pepper away with the most vituperative and irrational charges against an America so evil that folks are fleeing here in the millions — legally and illegally — to make better lives for themselves and their families.
4. Do you believe that these four members of Congress should “go back” to their nations of their ancestors? If so, are there any other members of Congress — or any other U.S. citizens — who should do so? If so, on what grounds?
America: Love It Or Leave It was a bumper sticker two years ago. Today? It might as well be a swastika… that’s how stupid and banal our political discourse has become.
Some questions simply are not asked in good faith. This is simply one of them, and the unwillingness to understand why Trump gained currency in 2016 by the political left is the racism (yes, that word) and bigotry (yes, that word again) that is harbored by the progressive left that they refuse to see — racial in the sense that they cannot see past color; bigotry in the sense that they have conceded tolerance and patience for intolerance and coercion.
5. Do you worry about where this kind of incendiary speech from a president of the United States might lead? The number of hate groups in the United States is up 30% over the past four years; the FBI reports a 17% increase in hate crimes. Two years ago, we saw white supremacists marching through Charlottesville, many of them chanting support for Trump. The shooter in the New Zealand massacre cited Trump as an inspiration. Do you worry that this kind of rhetoric further emboldens violent extremists? If not, can you explain why this kind of rhetoric wouldn’t embolden such fringe groups?
There are more bronies in the United States than there are Nazis. Representative Steve Scalice (R-LA) was nearly assassinated by a Bernie Sanders supporter. Antifa in 2017 kicked off over 600+ riots in major cities across America. Could you imagine the uproar if armed Tea Partiers did likewise? Behaved likewise?
6. If Trump’s “go back” charge is acceptable rhetoric, what kind of rhetoric would be acceptable from a future Democratic president? For instance, would it now be acceptable for a future Democratic president to single out, say, white conservative Christian legislators who might be critical of his or her administration and tell them to “go back” where they came from? If not, what’s the difference between the two?
Barack Obama asked his political supporters to “call ’em out” whenever there was activity that ran counter to the Democratic narrative. In 2003, anti-war supporters called for President Bush to be assassinated. Leftist groups funded by George Soros have and continue to pay people to agitate against police officers and first responders.
How should middle America respond? And for how long? Once again, Trump is not the catalyst for this sort of activity, merely the response.
7. Presidents once were regarded as role models. Do you believe Trump is a role model? What would you advise a school principal to do if a white student, following Trump’s example, told non-white students with whom he disagreed to “go back” where they came from? If the student were to get reprimanded for such behavior, why shouldn’t the president of the United States? Where’s the line of demarcation? If the student can’t say that but the president can, who else can?
…and let’s play this game indeed. Earlier this year, the political left in this country absolutely savaged a 17-year old kid’s reputation for the crime of “smirking” in the face of a paid agitator who was beating a drum within inches of his face. What was the reaction of the left?
So why should the political right be held to a different standard? Why should Donald Trump be held to any different standard than the one used to measure Bill Clinton?
8. The United States has been undergoing demographic changes from its very beginning — they’re just more noticeable now. Since 2013, most children born in the United States have been non-white. By next year, demographers tell us that a majority of children under 18 will be non-white. The Census Bureau tells us that in 2045 whites will become a minority in the United States. There will be no ethnic majority then. The Census Bureau foresees that in 2045 the United States will be 49.7% white, 24.6% Hispanic, 13.1% black, 7.9% Asian and 3.85% multi-racial. Do you believe that Trump’s tweet helps the United States adjust to this new demographic reality or exacerbates racial tensions? If the former, can you explain how? If the latter, why you didn’t condemn it?
This argument only works if you come from a place where racism is the de facto reality, a natural understanding from the Democratic inheritors of a Byrd Machine mentality. Republicans — or so we thought — were striving for a post-racial society where such questions would be rendered moot because they did not matter.
Apparently we are now returning to some sort of open call for a post-apartheid regime where racial distinctions matter… the Democratic concern apparently being that “separate but equal” emphasize the equality rather than the separation, whereas Republicans sought to eliminate the separation in order to achieve the liberty to pursue happiness, not regiment an equal outcome.
In short, Republicans actually do believe in pluralism in a way that Democrats cannot, if for no other reason than racism is a card that Democrats — from slavery to Jim Crow to segregation to abortion — require in order to play the old game of divide et impera (so long as the state is handing out the equality, that is).
9. Do you worry that Trump’s rhetoric paints the Republican Party as a party that doesn’t accept non-white Americans as fully American? If not, can you explain why non-white voters (not to mention many white voters) shouldn’t be offended? Given the demographic changes the nation is undergoing, how do you expect your party to succeed in the future?
One worries that the media helps shape this narrative, but it isn’t true. Corey Stewart should no more define the Republican Party anymore than Northam, Fairfax or Herring define the Democratic Party.
In truth, this isn’t a question as to how the Republican Party survives the future, but rather whether the Democratic Party can survive on the basis of its ideas rather than the trope of painting its opposition as haters, bigots and racists. At present, they cannot… and the plates can only be kept spinning for so long.
10. Ronald Reagan has been regarded as the father of the modern Republican Party. His final speech as president has been described as a “love letter to immigrants.” In it, Reagan declared that “we lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world.” How you reconcile what Trump said with what Reagan said? Or should we no longer regard Reagan as the guiding spirit for Republicanism?
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”
— Ronald Reagan, “A Time For Choosing” (1964)
Unfortunately, it is the well-grounded fear of many in middle America — conservatives, independents, libertarians and moderates — that Democrats simply don’t believe that America is anything other than a racist, bigoted, white-nationalist fueled center of hatred. That is certainly how progressives have labored to present the American condition to millions of others in order to create an us/them narrative.
…and yes, Americans resent being told that we are something other than what we are: the last best hope for freedom on earth. We actually believe this. Democrats spend a lot of time kowtowing to a base that says we are the opposite of this.
More to the point, the insinuation is resented, not just because it isn’t true but because we know that deep down, they don’t believe that either. It’s a line, used by politicians to cash out a little bit of the public trust for personal and temporary gain — and it is eating away at our national discourse.
11. The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, faced a divided nation and appealed to “the better angels of our nature.” Do you believe Trump’s “go back” attack appeals to “the better angels of our nature”? Or should we no longer look to Lincoln as an inspirational figure?
Does Antifa speak to the angels of our better nature?
Does Rep. Maxine Waters telling crowds that Republicans “are not welcome here” speak to our better nature?
Does harassing Republicans at restaurants speak to our better nature?
Does tearing down statues speak to our better nature?
Does hanging a man like Kavanaugh on hearsay speak to our better nature?
Does destroying a kid’s life for “smirking” speak to our better nature?
Does caging one’s opposition as racists, haters and bigots speak to our better nature?
What turns the stomachs of most observers isn’t the rhetoric, but rather how disingenuous and false the concerns actually sound. How is “go back” any different from defending a position that would push every Jew in Israel into the sea? “Go back” seems like perfectly acceptable rhetoric… but only when Democrats use it to pursue an agenda?
12. And, finally, what would “the better angels of our nature” tell us about how to respond in these times?
Not to fall victim to false dichotomies would be a start.
* * *
The hubris of the Obama administration came with the introduction of identity politics and the “coalition of the ascendant” — that demographics was indeed destiny, that culture followed politics, that courts could run right over legislatures and that consensus worked too slow for change.
If there was one bit of introspection that I could ask of my friends on the political left, it is to recognize (or consider) for just a moment that Trump is Nemesis.
Or not even a recognition, but rather in the spirit of Nozick to allow this thought to set along your own for awhile. That Americans (and Virginians) have a myriad of different experiences, thoughts, values and levels of education that allow them to see the world far differently, and that those differences should be respected — not abridged.
Set your anger down. I saw that.
This isn’t about you; this is about the person you brand as a hater, as a bigot, as a racist. The Nazis did this to their opposition with tremendous effect; the Soviets as well to the middle-class kulaks. That guy in the restaurant with a MAGA hat who is short-tempered, in your face, and driving the truck with the extra exhaust pipe isn’t your enemy: he’s your neighbor.
Until we are willing to give our neighbors the same respect we expect from others? Until our arguments — and our questions — treat others with the respect we demand from others?
Best of luck proving Trump to be wrong. All this does, folks, is sharpen sticks and drive folks in to political religions… and look at how that turns out.
War is politics by other means, advises Clausewitz. Thus we can turn to Thucydides, who observed 2,400 years ago that such warfare assimilates most men’s characters to their conditions. Such is the nature of the current paradigm in the media, and may that change right soon.
Hyperbolic rhetoric does tremendous damage to civil discourse. Trump’s example is but a pale reflection of what has passed for “hope and change” over the last 10 years, and it is incumbent upon the political left in this country to understand and discuss — not coerce and bully — their vision of America.
Otherwise, expect a reaction one might not want to see.
Of course, one practically falls over themselves to say this. The Roanoke Times is a superlative publication, and their editorial staff is perhaps the very best of the liberal tradition in Virginia. We disagree here, but that doesn’t make anyone enemies for life… merely conversant viewpoints in a grand commonwealth.
See? It can be done.