The actions of the Democratic Party, corporate America, Silicon Valley, and academia, not just in the past several days but in the past several years, should convince all Republicans of a social or religious conservative bent that they’re no longer in a standard political contest.
The battle has changed.
In the old days, when Democrats won, they proceeded to push their politics everywhere they could. We won, you lost, they could say, and that gave them power to push this regulation and that legislation. Republicans could push back where possible and plan for the next election. They didn’t have to spend much time justifying their own existence.
That, right there, is the new challenge. Perhaps, it started with the Bush–Gore contest in Florida, where the first “not-my-president” outcries were heard (as far as I know). The Tea Party of 2010, too, struck liberals as a crazy interruption of normal politics, not a political movement so much as a populist rabble.
Then, of course, Donald Trump, which brought the illegitimacy charge to completion.
Trump never impressed liberals as a political figure, and his supporters weren’t seen as a political bloc. No, they were an aberration, an irrational upsurge, an eruption of atavism into the sane operations of American democracy.
You don’t compromise with such cretins, you don’t debate them. You get rid of them. Democrats today aren’t satisfied with winning. They don’t gaze across the aisle and see an outnumbered but legitimate opposition. Instead, they spy a group of deplorables who shouldn’t even be in the room. Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) aren’t to be defeated, but eliminated, removed.
This is the dynamic faced by conservative Republicans. If they stay true to conservative principles, they can expect the vitriol to flow. It won’t be discursive; it’ll be ad hominem. Notice how the debates in Washington for more than four years have downplayed policy differences that might be negotiated through the old ways and means.
It’s different now; they turn on shame, the shame of the right.
Democrats want to blame Trump for the “polarization,” but that’s a dodge. The readiness of the left to smear a conservative if he acts too boldly long predates the Bad Orange Man. Ever since the Culture Wars of 30 years ago, we’ve been shifting from political competition to moral arraignment, and the process is now complete. The trial is over; it’s time for sentencing.
Democrats have pronounced Republicans guilty, and punishments must begin.
Few Republican politicians are equipped for this kind of war. Most can’t stand up to the indignation of the left. They still shudder at allegations of racism. They show no signs of understanding the rhetorical game that’s being played, not just on them, but on the many millions who voted for Trump. The purpose of that game is to defeat conservatives, forever. It’s to discredit them, to depoliticize them, to make them appear unworthy of the barest consideration in the political realm.
A spirit of expulsion, vengeance, and purification is on the loose. The media love this moral drama, and they thrill to its chthonic roots, although they don’t understand them. The Democrats sense an advantage in running with it. Trump’s supporters feel the threat acutely, and they want fresh leaders to fight back. They want to hear Republican voices turn the condemnations of the Democrats right back at them, to be just as accusatory and dismissive of leftism as the left is of rightism.
When Joe Biden talks about systemic racism in American life, conservative voters relish the chance to witness a Republican blurt, “Nonsense! The ‘systems’ you mean—schools, media, entertainment, technology—are run by liberals, not conservatives, you silly one. Gimme a break—this is all phony!” The indignation of the Democrats should be met with disdain, laughter, or an indignation stronger and unwavering.
Establishment Republicans don’t have the stomach for this moral combat. They don’t know how, or perhaps they accept the moral terms, or simply find the whole thing overwhelming. The media amplify the moral denunciations, too, and Republicans still care what reporters and commentators say about them. The press love to play judge and jury, the millennials who’ve joined them having no sense of the old ethos of journalistic independence. They fully support the disappearance of conservatives from the public arena.
It’s hard for a politician to live with this nonstop censure and ridicule. Republicans expect it from Democratic opponents, but not from so many parts of the media world. They get worn down and worn out.
The pluralism of the past is over. A public square in which everyone accepts the permanent existence of political opponents no longer obtains. Democrats want a one-party state, and all too many Republicans will bend, granting liberals the field on social, cultural, and educational matters while battling over a few regulations, tax rates, and trade. In practical terms, that means surrender on 90 percent of the issues. But Democrats will never credit them for those concessions. They want to win the other 10 percent as well, so no acknowledgement is given, only more voluminous charges of obstruction, dirty-dealing, shame.
The future will clarify two kinds of Republican: the one who gets along with liberals, and the one who doesn’t; the one who defends himself with, “No, I am not a deplorable person,” and the one who says, “Your indignation, my Democrat friend, is as bogus as a three-dollar bill—save it.”
Mark Bauerlein is an emeritus professor of English at Emory University. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, the TLS, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.