by Brad Nelson 5/9/16
The disarray in the Republican Party has been coming for a long time. Not only has the party distanced itself from its own ideology (preferring to follow the trends of the culture rather than setting its own trends), the very ideology of Republicanism has been lost and forgotten except for surface-level rhetoric.
I don’t blame Donald Trump for any of this. He is, in fact, simply mining an electorate and a party that is confused, somewhat corrupted, and languishing in the coming obscurity of irrelevance. There can be no Republican Party or conservatism when Big Government is the driving force. Without the concepts of personal responsibility and limited government solidly in the culture, you can’t have an society with an anti-collectivist immune system.
We’ve incremented ourselves to this place. It didn’t happen all at once. But we are here now, sometimes called “the tipping point.” We have tipped. Republicanism and conservatism are all but losing concepts in the culture today. This is certainly one reason that shallow lip-service is done to the rhetoric of conservatism even while the GOP, and it’s voters, continue to get comfortable with Big Government. It’s Kabuki theatre, of sorts, where we pretend at it. It’s happy smiles and whistling through the graveyard.
But StubbornThings exists to rise above politics in the sense, at the very least, to explain the politics rather than being mired inside them. And we exist not only in Lambaugh’s Realville but in Realville RFD. Arguing “R’s” and “D’s” or even Donald and Hildebeast can miss the larger points…if you care to live at a level higher than blind cultural indoctrination. I do.
Here, I believe, are the larger points:
1) Relativism is bashing the heck out of the idea that there are objective standards — or that it is even worth applying the mind in a serious way. If it was once true that “I think, therefore I am,” it has been replaced by “I emote, therefore I am.”
One of the most attractive things about Trump was his faux political incorrectness. It is faux because being obnoxious or insulting is not the same thing as going against prevailing beliefs. But the universe of the individual is now defined by his or her constant need to flow with the beliefs of the herd. One might as well say, “It’s the pop culture, stupid.” And so it has made many of us.
Along with the veneer of the shallowness of popular culture, nearly everything now is politicized. And this brand of “politics” generally brooks no dissent. This is not “classical liberalism” in any way, shape, or form. And we have become somewhat used to going with the flow, of constantly worrying about saying the wrong thing, if only because we have been stewing in this gathering authoritarianism for some time. “Facts are stubborn things” only to those for whom facts matter. What matters now is going along to get along. Where once some aspect of this was considered civilized behavior and good manners, now it is reflexive cultural cowardice in the face of ever-present intimidation.
No wonder so many people were drawn to what they perceived as a politically incorrect strong leader such as Trump. They understand on some level that they are powerless to do anything about it themselves (or would not). So we need a “strong man” who will champion our cause. We see the prison we are in, don’t like it, but don’t know how to get our.
But we see in the bullying tactics of Trump, he’s no answer to relativism, of an alternative to a culture anchored in little more than a coarse and stupid mass public opinion. He’s just a different brand. He is devoid of ideas that can stand on their own and instead is nothing but a demagogue surfing the groundwork already laid by the Left…and somehow getting away with using one of the Left’s best techniques — changing word meanings in order to persuade and deceive. (Trump is a “conservative.”)
The conversation about Trump itself reflects this relativism. It very quickly gelled into “bad and worse” instead of where it needed to be if Republicanism and conservatism are to mean anything: wright and wrong, outside or inside. Kudos to the few conservative writers out there (Levin, Andy McCarthy, even Kevin Williamson) who at least know enough to draw a line in the sand, a line not relative but absolute in terms of conservative-Republican as opposed to not-conservative/Republican
2) Nice fascism. Again, this has been incrementing itself for some time. Dennis Prager calls the phenomenon “Nice but not good.” This is a culture that is infinitely obsessed with certain subjects (the rights of homosexuals and the gender confused, the rights of Muslims including the terrorists, the rights of criminals, the rights of minorities to be victims and act out in any way they want, etc.) Prager refers to the Left as hating the small evils (cigarette smoking) while the right hates the big evils (abortion, Islamic terrorism, Iran, North Korea).
This “niceness” has infected the right as well. That seems like a strange thing to say given that the GOP voters just nominated a distinctly un-nice Trump as their candidate for president. But despite his braggadocio, Trump is “nice” to all the same usual suspects: the gender confused, “women’s issues” including abortion, and especially to Progressive politicians and causes given his donation history.
This tyranny of “nice” isn’t bad in the sense of being polite, fair, or sensitive to the needs of other people. The bad part of “nice” is its ability to keep people on the level of narcissism whereby they could give a flying fig if their “niceness” is wreaking havoc on a collective level. All that matters is to seem “nice” in the particulate. This is, in essence, the repudiation of the necessity of playing the adult. We must instead always be loved.
3) Words mean things. No they don’t not anymore. It is extremely difficult outside of StubbornThings to have an intelligent and meaningful conversation regarding anything but perhaps technical issues or that day’s baseball standings. The rule of emotions over objective standards, the changing of word definitions, and the demand to assert the supposed truth of one’s personal moral universe (which is all people have these days) destroys the possibility of discussing much beyond cliches of thought. Without objective reference points, people can only ever talk past each other. And it doesn’t help that the culture (including the education establishment) tends to create an uniformed and vulgar folk. The only way a dumbed-down population has of looking smart is to just repeat what they don’t know louder. We will find it very difficult to solve our problems if we don’t have the words to define it. And words, and meaning itself, has taken such a battering of late.
We are in a state right now. And I don’t have an answer other than trying to wall oneself off from it. And I’m afraid Trump’s shallow promise to build a wall is not of much help in that regard. But I always start by doing the best truth-telling I can and then see what we have left. So what’s left?
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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