Over the next several
weeks months I will be writing about the recent ascendance of ideology in the United States and why it worries me. Specifically, I worry that the voting public’s generations-long desire to live in a peaceful, vibrant, financially feasible and pluralistic community is being slowly replaced with a willingness to abandon those same things in the name of ideological victory. Left unchecked, the best case scenario I see for the direction we are headed is a return to the very worst impulses and events of the 1960s; the worst case harkens back even further, to early 20th century Europe.
Some of the things I’ll be discussing will be things that ten years ago (Hell, five years ago) I’d have bet money on never seeing in my lifetime, each one ideologically driven: relatively mainstream “debates” on the moral virtues of slavery, calls for the torture of civilian crime suspects as well as enemy combatants, established political activists’ inability to draw the line between banning Ulysses and disallowing the trafficking of sexual pictures of minors without those minor’s knowledge or consent, and polls showing 40% of a major U.S. political party believing it will need to take up arms against the government and those on the other side of the political aisle within the next few years.
There are many reasons for this cultural shift, of course, not the least of which are the Internet and the challenges of selling advertising for a 24-hour news cycle. Indeed, one of the arguments I will be making is that many of those creating this trend toward social and political instability do so not out of ideological conviction but instead for that oldest of motives: person gain.
Before I start, I thought I’d take a moment to make some statements that I take as prima facie, but which I recognize many readers (and perhaps most) will not. Therefore it seems wise to get such arguments and clarifications out of the way upfront, so that later on we may avoid getting lost in the weeds.
Here are the statements I plan to take as “given”:
First Statement: There is no conservative political party in the United States today.
Please note that I’m using the classic definition of conservatism that describes a coalition working to retain traditional institutions and the status quo; I am not using conservatism as a synonym for “whatever the GOP is talking about this week.” By this definition, the closest thing we have to a conservative party is the Democratic Party. I know I’m going to get a lot of pushback on this, so allow me to stake my case:
To be fair, today’s GOP certainly stands up for some status quo traditions. (Opposing same sex marriage is the most obvious example.) By and large, however, they oppose status quo traditions and institutions to a startling degree. Over the past four years, we have seen “conservatives” push for an abandonment of our entire monetary system, eliminating our public school system, dismantling the current system of collective bargaining, jettisoning the legal barrier between church and state, making the U.S. a “Christian nation,” disposing of social safety nets that have been with us for generations, declaring preemptive wars, blocking the building of houses of worship by fiat, allowing the government to review our personal emails without cause, jailing justices who decide political cases “incorrectly,” and allowing states to declare parts of federal law and the Constitution null and void at their own whim.
Any of these stances may (or may not) be a good idea; any of them may (or may not) create a better country if enacted. But not a single one is conservative according to the actual definition of that word. Indeed when taken collectively as a whole, movement conservatism’s agenda is the most radical this country has seen in generations.
Second Statement: Saying “the other side does it too” or “that’s a false equivalence” are primarily used as ways to avoid accountability.
I’m going to be going after most ideologies in the coming weeks, and I know these two statements will be used over and over as a way to keep blind spots blind.
Blue State Guy: That Bush was a war criminal.
Red State Guy: Obama does most of the same stuff Bush does!
Blue State Guy: Bush was way worse, so that’s a false equivalence!
In this example, RSG’s point about Obama and BSG’s statement that Bush and Obama are not the exact same people are each 100% correct. However, neither statement is being given in a way that is meant to advance the (really, really important) topic of what we should or shouldn’t allow in war; they’re being used to shut down that conversation in an effort to avoid unpleasant truths about their own team.
Third Statement: Despite what we like to tell ourselves, Americans of all ideologies are more similar to one another than they are dissimilar.
No explanation needed here, I would think. But if you pushed for one, I would fall back on my own personal axiom that states, “If you believe the difference between God-given freedom and evil, despotic tyranny lies somewhere between a 35% and a 37% marginal tax rate, you’ve lost all perspective.”
I look forward to hashing this out with you all over the coming weeks.