The Joy of Pissing People Off: A Reflection
Being a true moderate- which is to say, the most progressive person in a room full of conservatives, and the most conservative person in a room full of progressives, on the bases of principle and temperament both- necessarily means being both the most popular and most reviled person in public.
I’m a case in point. Let’s review.
I recently published two scathing indictments of Jacob Ellenhorn for his immature right-wing antics, and received accolades of support from both my fellow moderates and the USC campus-activist intelligentsia (with the exception of the real kooks among them, the most radical ones.) Clearly plenty of liberals were ok with a professed conservative attacking one of his fellow “conservatives.”
In recent years, however, I’ve pointed my slings and arrows in the opposite direction. I implicitly attacked progressive campus activists- and to this day I still believe it was the Women’s Student Assembly’s covert action- for illiberally suppressing pro-life activists’ free speech by having the administration remove their banners from Trousdale Parkway. In a piece published in the Daily Trojan, I also suggested that the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation didn’t understand industrial development. For these, I received support from both my fellow moderates and lots of conservatives, for taking on the liberals and progressives.
What is more, I attacked these disparate radicals with similar language.
Here’s me attacking Ellenhorn for not being a true conservative, with the progressive disposition that implies-
“True conservatism is about preserving what is worth preserving, through incremental reforms and cautious experimentation. It’s about cultivating nobility of spirit and demanding not conformity but character from every individual. It’s about looking squarely in the eye the evil nascent in human nature, accepting it, and having faith that through institutions, traditions, and moderation, individuals and societies can curb the bad and promote the good. It’s a disposition and a temperament– never an ideology.”
And here’s me attacking the SCALE protestors for not being true progressives, with the conservative temperament that implies-
“Injustice is a natural part of human life, a part that so completely bathes all reality that it is impossible to fight it without partaking in it and revealing one’s own hypocrisy. Great change tends to be caused either by great injustice, or terribly slow evolution. The activist will never find satisfaction, for he or she desires a quick and just solution to a problem too complex to have one. Though they might be noble, their worldview does not fit the reality of this world.
This is not to suggest that we ought to simply accept the world’s imperfection and stay silent in the face of evil. To do so would go against our very nature, as the moral law is written on our hearts. It is to say, however, that the wise and just must acknowledge that there will never be anything like true justice, yet strive forever towards the best possible ends, with the most practical possible means. Justice is worth nothing less.”
And here’s me attacking the probably-self-described-liberals who covertly took down the right-to-life banners, condemning them for being illiberal-
“It is fundamentally an epic showdown between those who would respect the rights of others to voice their opinions, and those who would silence them in the name of justice. The principle of pluralism, of tolerance for others’ heresies, is at stake. Anyone with the guts to call themselves a “liberal” in the best sense of the term, ought to rally behind USC Students For Life’s right to express themselves, regardless of whether they agree with their cause or not.”
Now it’s true that most of my writings and postings nowadays attack right-wingers more often than left-wingers, but that doesn’t mean I’m more anti-right than anti-left. Here’s a couple case studies of proof that I am an equal-opportunity disdainer:
I think right-wingers are wrong for believing the Second Amendment’s purpose for existence is giving “the people” a nuclear option in case the government “takes away their rights.”
I think left-wingers are wrong for believing that climate change is actually a pressing security threat and that the best way to combat it is kneecapping the very oil industry that provides cheap, reliable energy for the poor and middle class.
I think right-wingers are wrong to believe that tax cuts, financial deregulation, flat taxation, and an end to investment subsidies they consider “crony capitalism” will lead to anything other than a financially-dominated plutocracy with shrinking opportunity for most and, more importantly, national weakness in critical productivity sectors.
I think left-wingers are wrong to believe that everything is “socially constructed” in the most oppressive way imaginable and that the task of justice lies in destroying our cultural inheritance and worshipping at the altars of feminism, critical race theory, gender theory, and cultural relativism.
I think right-wingers are wrong for peddling Islamophobic imagery and demonizing our brothers and sisters in the Muslim world, while turning a blind eye to the very real white nationalism, white supremacy, and Christian radicalism that have polluted our own civilization on our very doorstep.
I think left-wingers are wrong for continuing to insist that “women only earn x cents on the dollar to what men earn” (when study after study debunks it) and supporting clunky measures like increased minimum wages that empirically never do what they’re promised to do.
So there’s six heresies right there, three for the right and three for the left. Pissed off yet, that I’m not a feminist, or that I think white supremacy remains a danger to our Republic?
Well, you should be, for one reason or another, if you consider yourself a strong liberal or conservative. You see, in my opinion, ideologies are ideologies, and the stronger they are, the more like other ideologies they are. I don’t see much functional difference between the extremists among the USC College Republicans and the extremists inhabiting certain USC USG Program Board assemblies. The difference lies in what particular principles they worship extremely; the similarity lies in their failure to temper their principled zeal with a moderated core.
The moderate core is the important thing, though, rather than the principles espoused. A basic respect for human dignity and a basic philosophical pluralism and skepticism- as opposed to reactionary right-wing millenarianism or radical left-wing utopianism, both of which dualistically divide everything into good and evil- are crucial to an intellectual temperament that tolerates difference and helps us to arrive, through discernment and discussion, at higher truths. The great Isaiah Berlin told us as much in his Message to the 21st Century.
I have a good deal of respect for center-right and center-left thinkers with moderate temperaments (for example, my good friend the libertarian economist Eric Dubbery, and my former colleague the liberal journalist Nathaniel Haas) but even with them I disagree on principles and applications. It is a healthy disagreement, disagreement normally constructive for all sides, but it is disagreement nonetheless- Dubbery is assuredly a man of the right, Haas a man of the left. Those of my ilk can and should get along with them, but we are not them.
We of the varnished center, temperamentally moderate and philosophically conservative and dispositionally progressive, I think, are the most confused of the bunch. We have no real home nowadays; we are lost. There’s a freedom in that, but also a loneliness. As our great representative Edmund Burke (whom recent analysis determines to be as progressive as he is conservative, in the true senses of both words) said of times of chaos in free governments, “Moderation will be stigmatized as the virtue of cowards, and compromise the prudence of traitors…” We of the center know that to be true.
And so we’ll go along pissing people off, alternatively getting cheered for it and condemned for it. That’s when you know you’re a true moderate.
Ready For Hillary!!! …And?
Unless something stupid happens and the EmailGate investigators decide they love justice more than they love America, Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. And I’ll be voting for her.
Now mark my words, I’m no Democrat. I’m an unabashed Republican. I’m not particularly happy with or proud of my impending decision. But politics is the art of the possible, and given the options Rockefeller Republicans like me will be given in November, Hillary Clinton is the most likely to win and the least bad choice.
Cruz and Trump aren’t going to win the general election, and I won’t be voting for them anyway. Sanders isn’t going to get his new party’s nomination, and Kasich isn’t going to get his old party’s nomination. That leaves us with one realistic option (sorry, Sandersistas, Cruzies, and Trumpenproletariat.)
So let’s review Hillary’s strengths.
First, we get to say we lived to see the first of hopefully many female Presidents of the United States. Yay! Great!
It’s historic. But frankly, I’m more relieved that we get a responsible governing figure in an age of demagogues, than I am that we get a female president.
Second, and I think this is Hillary’s biggest strength- she’s a member of the bipartisan Establishment. That means we get largely a continuation of the neoliberal and internationalist policy consensus that’s defined Washington since the days of Reagan. (And yes- Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Bill, Bush Jr., Obama, and Hillary are all basically cut from the same political cloth, with historically minor substantive differences. That’s the Establishment for you.)
But being the epitome of the Establishment is also Hillary’s biggest weakness.
Don’t get me wrong- as a conservative, it’s important to me that we have regime continuity and stability. We don’t want the radical changes and breaks with the past Bernie, Cruz, and Trump promise. But then again, as Edmund Burke said, “a state without some means of [reform] is without the means of its preservation.”
Do the words “Hillary” and “reform” fit together in any sentence?
In a piece I wrote for Action For America recently, I highlighted some of the big problems facing our country, where policy reform is most important.
There’s the fiscal cliff. Our spending and debt are out of control.
There’s the plutocracy. Our government is bought by interest groups, impeding any real reform.
There’s the bureaucracy. Our government is overly centralized and dysfunctional, incapable of responding to the fast-paced changes of a globalized world.
There’s the strategic productivity deficit. If we bump elbows with a rival power in the coming decades, it’s unclear that we’ll be able to mobilize and coordinate our economic and social resources to get through a crisis of 1861 or 1941 levels.
And finally, there’s the national identity crisis. Beyond hollow paeans to freedom, it’s unclear that anyone in public life can now give a principled and pragmatic answer to the question “what is America FOR?” Without an overriding purpose, our leadership is without direction.
And given that she is firmly of the political establishment, thoroughly steeped in its decades-old orthodoxies and policy agendas and sound bytes, I have no faith that Hillary Clinton will be able to make any meaningful reforms to resolve any of these crises.
On the other hand, though these crises will continue to slide along down, none of them get too much worse under Clintonian guidance. Under Sanders, Cruz, or Trump, one or more of these crises gets a whole lot worse. Clinton is by far the lesser evil.
I wish the imminent President Clinton well, but I’m not expecting much. Hopefully in 2020 or 2024, after four-to-eight years of an aggressively-middling Clinton presidency, we’ll have a true reformist statesman or stateswoman, progressively-minded but conservatively tempered, not unlike George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Roosevelt, capable of recasting the American promise and re-forging our institutions to best preserve American liberty into the mid-21st Century. We shall see what the future brings.
Senator Jacob Ellenhorn is What’s Wrong with “Conservatism”
A complaint was filed against USG Senator Jacob Ellenhorn by Diana Jimenez, the Executive Director of USG Program Board. Director Jimenez has called for Senator Ellenhorn’s resignation due to his behavior, and Senator Ellenhorn has threatened to call for hers if she does not rescind. He defends himself by claiming that he is being persecuted for his beliefs.
No one should be surprised. Senator Ellenhorn ran to be a member of USG on an anti-USG platform, vigorously opposed to basically everything our student government does. His USG career has been marked with obstructionism, complaints of anti-“conservative” discrimination by “career student politicians,” and a condescending disdain for his own position in student government.
He’s having the time of his life right now, having pushed and shoved and pissed off the student government liberals until one of them finally decided to fight back. He’s taking the opportunity to demonstrate how it was all a conspiracy on their part, when in reality it was all a conspiracy on his part.
Senator Ellenhorn has exhibited this behavior before. He’s also the President of the USC College Republicans, and in that role he has actively endeavored to make statements and bring in vile speakers designed to cause public outcry and draw the written fire of liberal student journalists. And every time one of these manufactured crises has exploded and the attacks have come in, Senator/President Ellenhorn has called in his official propaganda team to skyrocket him to minor national prominence- trashy right-wing “news” sites like The College Fix and Campus Reform.
And do you want to know the funny thing? His ideology is not even “conservative” in the true sense of the word- true conservatism is not about free markets, traditional values, or strong defense. True conservatism isn’t even an ideology.
True conservatism is about preserving what is worth preserving, through incremental reforms and cautious experimentation. It’s about cultivating nobility of spirit and demanding not conformity but character from every individual. It’s about looking squarely in the eye the evil nascent in human nature, accepting it, and having faith that through institutions, traditions, and moderation, individuals and societies can curb the bad and promote the good. It’s a disposition and a temperament– never an ideology.
What Senator Ellenhorn peddles and worships is nothing but an ideology, unmoored from conservative restraint. His idolatrous and callous behavior is the antithesis of true conservatism.
I’m reminded of a great passage in which an influence of mine, Peter Viereck, ripped William Buckley, the founder of modern “conservatism,” in the New York Times in a way that could now be done to Senator Ellenhorn:
“Great conservatives- immortals like Burke, Alexander Hamilton, Disraeli, Churchill, Pope, and Swift- earned the right to be conservative by their long, dark nights…You do not earn a heart-felt and conviction-carrying conservatism by the shortcut of a popular campus clubman without the inspiring agony of lonely, unrespectable soul-searching.”
Senator Ellenhorn’s hostile rabble-rousing only hurts his own reputation, discredits the supposed “conservatism” he represents, and misrepresents the true conservative temperament represented by statesmen like Hamilton and Churchill. It is completely useless in the quest to curb very real liberal activist excesses in USG, being fundamentally obstructionary rather than reformist. And it paints other conservatives like myself in a thoroughly negative light.
Well, Senator Ellenhorn does not represent me, does not represent true conservatism, and does not represent anybody but himself. True conservatism is something much, much more beautiful than Senator Jacob Ellenhorn’s Jacobinism.
This is a Facebook post I wanted to preserve.
People give Trump supporters a really bad time, all the time, and for good reason- by all measures they appear to be somewhat racist, very anti-modern, xenophobic, and a dozen other mean adjectives that modern high society can’t fathom anyone would still exemplify in 2016. (I share this negative view of Trump supporters, by the way- I’m a conservative Yankee and I am by no means apologizing for these guys.)
But guess what? Jacksonian America makes up a good 30-40% of the U.S. population, and isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s not even dying off fast enough for rising Latino and Asian populations to counterbalance it electorally. For the next few decades and probably longer, o East Coast high society, you’ll have to deal with Jacksonians as a major force in American politics, and guess what? THEY’RE AMERICANS TOO.
Moreover- they’ve been the central core of every successful electoral coalition since the days of Abraham Lincoln, when Jacksonian support in the upper South tilted the balance against the slaveholder oligarchs. Jacksonians rallied to McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt because they SPOKE to them and fought for their interests; Franklin Roosevelt secured them in the New Deal’s transfer payments system, and they stayed in the Democratic coalition through Truman, Kennedy, and LBJ; they turned to Nixon and Reagan when Republicans promised to keep the old entitlements and counter the activist excesses of the student counterculture that had taken over the Democratic Party.
Nowadays, they’re in neither party. The cultural liberalism of the Democrats disgusts them, and the economic elitism of the Republicans holds no sway over their hearts and bellies. So they’re a people- a demographically and culturally POWERFUL people- lost in the electoral wilderness with no institutionalized representation in Washington. Of course they turn to someone as coarse and vulgar as Donald Trump, and of course they exert untold influence over the election.
So here’s the thing. You want to build a new electoral coalition (and both parties need to- the Obama Coalition of minorities-women-unions is too small, and the Republican coalition of Evangelicals and financiers is unstable) you NEED to appeal to Jacksonian America and get them on your side. You need to. Demographically they’re the core of America, like it or not (and I don’t particularly like it.)
What does that mean for messaging?
1) Don’t be socially liberal. You don’t have to be socially conservative, because Jacksonians aren’t single-issue voters; but neither will you succeed as a campus activist. Jacksonians like people who are culturally conservative and nominally Christian, who don’t talk down to them and tell them their beliefs are backwards and wrong. Otherwise they don’t require pandering (which has backfired on the socially conservative GOP establishment.)
2) Do be economically populist. These guys hate Wall Street supply-side economics almost as much as they hate socialism. They have no problem with “big government” if it’s big government in their interests- ie, Social Security and Medicare, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency or Department of Education. They like pro-industry, pro-export, immigration-restriction policies. They don’t like bailouts, tax cuts for the rich, and anti-poverty programs.
3) Do be politically nationalist. These guys believe they’re “the real America” and they do have something of a point- they send their sons to war in higher numbers than any other cultural or demographic subgroup in the United States. They have no tolerance for internationalists chiding them about human rights or free trade or neocons agitating for democracy-building; nor do they like isolationists who tell them America is weak or America is an evil empire.
This isn’t to say every future political entrepreneur ought to bill himself or herself as a Neo-Trump (that would be terrifying.) But there are tectonic forces at work underneath the American political system, and the biggest story of 2016 is this- Jacksonian America has woken up and revolted against its masters, and is looking for a new patron.
I say, let’s give them one- let’s build a new political coalition that includes rather than excludes Jacksonian America, speaking to them on cultural terms and appealing to them in economic policy. This need not be a xenophobic and racist coalition, particularly once passions die down after 2016, but it will have to be at the very least a socially-moderate coalition that doesn’t put social issues at the forefront. Heck, you might even be able to get Latinos and inner-city blacks in the fold if you craft the right sort of pro-industry economic policy(and those populations tend to be culturally conservative, as well.) There have been stranger coalitions- for example, Lincoln’s marriage of slaveholding Marylanders and New England abolitionists, or FDR’s pairing of Klansmen from Kentucky and Socialists from the Vermont.
But what’s actually going to happen for the time being?
More of the same, really- conservatives will double down on supply side economics, and liberals will double down on social activism. They’ll both say they’re thinking with Jacksonian America’s interests at heart, but they’ll keep butting their heads against walls, and Donald Trump’s delegate counts and polls will spiral upward until he’s President of the United States. (I’m predicting that because I don’t want it to happen- and when intellectuals like me make predictions, they’re usually wrong. Fingers crossed.)
So National Review and Vox, keep hitting Trump supporters from Right and Left, keep doing your work. You’ll just piss them off more, and convince them there’s a bipartisan cabal against their interests in Washington and New York.
People who want to craft the next Republic of the United States, on the other hand- here’s your opportunity. 40% of the vote favoring an activist government? Stop wasting your time and figure out how to court that. It’s scary and it’s not going to happen now, but- sometimes you’ve gotta ride the tiger and stop fighting it, because the tiger’s going to win. You can guide it, you can smooth around its edges, you can make it a less prickly and more inclusive tiger- but you can’t oppose it.
Trump is a prophet. God I hope he doesn’t become the next President of the United States. But if we don’t produce new leaders who can figure out how to please his voters and lead them towards a New Deal for America, away from the siren calls of xenophobia and revolution, then perhaps we deserve to have a demagogue like him as President.
I can see heads exploding and de-friendings coming. Just know that this is by no means an endorsement of Donald Trump for President of the United States.