The usual suspects are saying all the usual things about the election in Alabama on Tuesday, and I wouldn’t interfere with anyone’s fun in that regard. More power to them.
I really only want to say here that the true dynamic of the Republican party conflict can be best expressed in a brief exchange that goes like this:
Old-consensus leadership to the Deplorables: Don’t fight.
Deplorables to the old-consensus leadership: We have to fight.
And by fight, both sides mean fight. They’re speaking in the political sense (not the “hot lead” sense), but it’s fight they mean.
The Deplorables see what America is currently in as a winnable fight for our country’s future. It’s a defined concept in their minds.
The old-consensus leadership doesn’t. It has a different concept in its mind. An accurate way of rendering the old-consensus leadership’s view would be as follows: what’s important is a set of conventions for political discourse, which if broken will cut us adrift from the status quo we have known all our lives. That status quo, with its unbreachable things, is associated in the old-consensus mind with righteousness. (And the reasons for that stand up to examination, in many cases.)
If we can make minor course changes within that framework, that’s great. If we can’t, we need to wait until we can.
We don’t know for sure, after all, that continuing to wait, no matter how government takes over our lives, will transform what we thought we were, beyond all recognition. If it does, there is no plan for dealing with that. If something lies beyond the end of this road we’re currently on, it’s an abyss we can’t see into.
It’s noteworthy, in passing, that this is the mindset about the status quo that Saul Alinsky set out to exploit.
For the Deplorables, meanwhile, the perception of reality is that the country around them is already being transformed beyond all recognition. The emergency is here.
But there is a foreseeable strategy. A conceivable future. There’s a way to fight, and the time to fight is now.
This isn’t about race; that political football, as a major social issue, is literally from 50 years ago. The political generation of 1968 that took office with Obama fanned its flames anew, as it did all the other, superannuated flames of 1968. But in terms of racial harmony, America had significantly evolved for the better in the years since.
It’s about the expectations we’re supposed to have from our government and common institutions. In the schools, for example, do we suffer silently as a radical political agenda is force-fed to America’s children – while true education is shortchanged – and when we occasionally regain the political power to do something about that, look for ways to accommodate it, but maybe just a little less?
The old consensus says yes. The Deplorables say no.
This is a fight about what our government is supposed to be, and the relationship it’s supposed to have to us. It’s not a fight about our beliefs on social issues, taking place within an agreement about the proper scope of government. It’s a fight about the scope and purpose of government.
That’s why nothing will settle the fight except settling the issue of what government is supposed to be to us.
Our Constitution was intended to settle that issue, by limiting government in specific ways. Those limitations were intended to preclude government becoming to us what it is not supposed to be, in the American political vision: a usurper of our rights before God, or a false god itself.
The Constitution was also supposed to specify what the federal government should do; namely, set and protect our borders, treat with other nations, and on some limited occasions, arbitrate between the states.
Almost all of the issue politics we engage in today accreted to the federal level just in the last century, not through either legitimate constitutional processes or through lawmaking with constitutionalism in mind, but through arbitrary judicial decisions on political matters, and through anti-constitutional lawmaking.
We need to understand this, because it is supremely important to recognize that those who want to preserve today’s big-government status quo do not have constitutionalism on their side. They can’t make that claim, whether they are on the left or the right.
The radical left has been pretty open – if not in retail politics, certainly in less-popularized political forums – about its differences with the U.S. Constitution. The old-consensus right tends to gloss over how far we have strayed from the strictures of the Constitution.
But neither side can claim today to have that august document backing their play, in the proximate sense of issue politics.
Not all the Deplorables agree on this point (some might not even really understand it, just as most on the left would not understand it – or have been indoctrinated to believe converse propositions).
And there are plenty of old-consensus conservatives who do understand it and agree on it.
But it’s among the Deplorables that you will find the Americans who both agree on it, and believe it is actionable today.
That’s why they see a future to fight for – as opposed to only a past to hang onto – and a way to fight.
That’s why Steve Bannon went into Alabama as a fight against the old consensus. That’s why Ted Cruz has been prepared to breach the sometimes-misdirected collegiality of the Senate, in his attempts to call out and bust the full-retreat patterns of the old consensus.
It’s why the Deplorables voted for Donald Trump. Think the Deplorables don’t understand the things I have just said here? Listen to what they say.
When the Deplorables say the U.S. federal government should be enforcing our borders and our immigration laws, with national security the foremost priority, because that’s what the national government is supposed to do, they are making a point of pure constitutional perfection that many self-anointed superior minds would run themselves down too many rat holes to make.
When the Deplorables say the federal judiciary was never empowered to rule on the constitutionality of states’ abortion or marriage laws, they are stating the principles of the Constitution as they were actually written, and actually amended by Congress and the people through the constitutional process.
We could go through a litany of these topics. The Deplorables may not articulate these matters as pundits would. But they have a coherent, consistent position on them. And their position describes what they want to expect from government.
The bottom line is that they don’t agree that the trend of government – the trend to be overweening and uncontrollable by the people – cannot be stopped in its tracks, but can only be slowed down and accommodated.
And they see a way to wage a political fight to stop it. They have a vision of the future, and a strategy to get there. To them, being told to give up and accept limitations that ensure the continuation of the status quo – when they can see something else to do, something that could produce a better outcome – is very wrong. A key reason it’s wrong is that the trend of government is already kicking their lives around, leaving them bruised and constrained and with fewer and fewer freedoms.
I don’t know if we are in a fight that can’t be settled through political conventions. Twice in our history, Americans have found themselves in such a fight: first, against the king and a distant Parliament; some 85 years later, over slavery. Each fight was ultimately about our expectations of government.
And in each case, the winning side was the one that decided and proclaimed what it intended to expect – as opposed to triangulating defensively around an untenable status quo. That’s food for thought.
The Deplorables and Steve Bannon (to the extent they are linked, which is by no means 100%) aren’t going to quit. I have no idea if Bannon is a nice guy; I don’t know the man. Certainly he can be, shall we say, trenchant, sometimes to the point of impoliteness.
But it’s much wiser to listen to what he says, if you want to understand him, than to listen to other people characterize him. The same goes for the other systematizers of the Deplorables’ political approach. It’s even true of Trump, although there is, with him, the problem of the especially discordant verbal eruptions and delivery methods. Those are virtually impossible for a lot of people to get past.
If you imagine the Deplorables just died on the “Roy Moore” hill, I think you’re in for a surprise. Don’t tell them not to fight. They have to fight.