The (New) Civil War

Yesterday, I wrote about the Trump presidency and its effect on America’s standing as a world leader as a triumph of “ignorance.”

Now, there might have been some ambiguity about what I was saying when it came to this label. Some might have been unclear as to whether I was trying to say that anyone who supports Donald Trump was “ignorant.”

I don’t want there to be any such ambiguity, so let me clear this up:

If you fully support Donald Trump as president, then you are being ignorant.

Now, you may not be guilty of the racist or intolerant ignorance we’ve seen on display since his election and you may not be guilty of the sort of gross ignorance of global political and economic realities that drive his Bannonesque isolationist/nativist policies, but if you support this president then you are guilty of at least some measure of willful ignorance.

In writing yesterday, I quoted the National Review’s editors. I believe it’s important for any honest intellectual to make an effort to listen to and engage other viewpoints. In today’s increasingly balkanized and bubbleized online discourse, it’s more important than ever to step outside the echo chamber of what-we-already-believe and try to understand where others are coming from.

For a progressive today, that’s really, really, really hard. There simply aren’t many venues where conservative ideas are being discussed without rampant hyperbole and naked bias like one sees at Fox News or, God forbid, in the right-wing blogosphere where fraudulent stories run amok (let’s not forget that 75% of the fake news during the election cycle was right leaning).

The National Review, though, is an outlet with reasoned articulation of conservative thinking as it applies to the issues of the day. You know how you can tell? They routinely grapple with the problems of the Trump presidency, such as Charles Krauthammer’s recent editorial criticizing Trump for weakening NATO’s deterrent effect in Europe–or, even better, David Harsanyi’s assertion that “no political tribe…deserves your complete loyalty” where he notes several sound constitutional arguments against Obama’s approach to the Paris agreement.

Now, I think he gets a lot of other things wrong in that article and I would love to sit down and discuss it with him, but there’s the thing: we could sit down and talk about it. There’s room for discussion. The divide is not unbridgeable.

Harsanyi supports some of Trump’s actions, but does not argue for blind obedience to Trump’s agenda simply because he is an ostensibly Republican president.

Conservative Dennis Prager in his column for The National Review, though, does.

Writing recently, he chastised the “never Trump” conservatives that he knows for failing to get behind their “general.”

It was a column so unctuous to the general milieu of reasonable discourse on their site that in addition to Harsanyi’s “hey wait a minute” article, there is another rebuttal from Jonah Goldberg.

Prager’s argument is that America is in a “civil war” and that the republic itself is threatened by the left’s assault on campus free speech and its shift toward “European-style socialism.”

There are so many things I would like to say to this man, but I doubt we could sit down and have a reasonable discussion…

I, too, believe that the foundation of our republic is threatened, but not in the way Prager imagines. Mr. Prager, if this is a civil war with the heart of American democracy caught in the balance, are you sure you’re on the right side? Your “general,” after all, has attacked the courts and tried to rule via fiat from the oval office despite your party controlling Congress. If President Obama tried to circumvent and exploit loopholes in the balance of powers, your president is simply balking at them.

But there is something even more deeply disingenuous about Prager’s lament about the danger of it being “close to over for America as America” if Clinton had won.

Prager, and anyone who laments in fever pitch the imminent defeat of conservatism, is not taking an honest view of history–even recent history.

Prager feared a descent into socialism and warned that a Clinton victory would have made complete the “fundamental transformation” that Obama began.

What “fundamental transformation” would that be? Would it be the one where global capitalism was stabilized following a collapse that wrecked the world economy? It doesn’t look too “fundamental” from here.

Let’s face it, Prager, not even “socialist” Bernie Sanders was suggesting a shift toward real socialism. In fact, even Germany–which my conservative father always held up as a boogeyman of nanny-state socialism–is a perfectly fertile garden for capitalist enterprise.

Your histrionics, sir, ring hollow because we still live in the world Reagan built. Business is still booming. CEOs are still super, super rich. And inequality is still running rampant.

You need not declare a Civil War to protect your world view.

You can calm the heck down. Maybe we all need to.

Not about Trump, though, come on. The guy’s a nightmare.

But someday Trump will be gone. I’m hoping really, really soon. If we can’t impeach him or if his erratic behavior doesn’t lead to the invocation of the 25th amendment, then I really think he just can’t take four years of this. He’s already deteriorating physically and mentally and I’m not the first person to think that he’s desperate for some face-saving excuse to resign.

Someday we will face a post-Trump America. And what should that be? Should it be a battleground, Mr. Prager? Should Democrats and Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives, dig in and fight on tooth and nail onto oblivion?

Let’s remember that, strictly speaking, we are all liberals. We all pledge allegiance to the principles of enlightenment liberalism: reason, discourse, progress.

There are a lot of shortcomings with our two-party system, but it evolved basically to serve two necessary impulses in our political landscape.

There should be a party pushing out, calling for progress and proposing bold experimentation to address whatever issues plague us, a party striving for solutions to make our union “more perfect.”

But there must also be a party with a steady voice, warning of the dangers of change for change’s sake, a prudent party that safeguards what is working in our system.

Our government should be an engine grinding out compromises between these two voices–not a battleground.

I continue to maintain that it is ignorant to support Trump, but let’s be honest: we are all guilty of occasional willful ignorance on behalf of our political tribes. It is also ignorant, for example, to ignore the fact that President Obama never really had the authority to join the Paris Agreement without Congress.

We are all guilty of such ignorance, but we should strive against it within ourselves, with our compatriots, and with our opponents.

Because “we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

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