Conservatives Should Look Beyond November
We must resist the temptation to treat conservatism as a continuous losing battle. One way or another, this election will mark a new beginning.
I sometimes think that conservatives, especially in murky times like these, can be divided into two categories: those struggling to “hold back the night,” and those determined to “fight on till the dawn.”
The first group is driven by an essentially pessimistic, almost apocalyptic view of politics and the world. It assumes not only that our civilized values are under attack, but that they are in an almost inevitable death cycle. This has a certain appeal for those who want to join a small, select group, a sort of political version of Mensa. It lets them feel good about themselves while feeling awful about the world. If it’s Twilight of the Gods time, then the only remaining role for such conservatives, as my late friend Bill Buckley often proclaimed, is to “stand athwart history, yelling stop.”
But this “hold back the night” approach, despite its gloomy snob appeal, leads nowhere. The allure of membership in an elite (though probably doomed) rear guard—an unhappy rather than happy band of heroes tilting their way to the last windmill—is narrow and quixotic. Still, one should never underestimate the siren call of a lost cause. It confers on its followers, at least in their own eyes, a sense of moral superiority that is just one step away from smug self-righteousness.
Today, we see a much more virulent strain of this self-righteousness on the far Left, the view that it is the sole possessor—and sole dispenser—of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Everyone else is either evil, misguided, or just so much chopped liver. Unless you own the only guns in town, and are willing to use them on anyone who disagrees with you, you can only get so far with this “true believer” approach, whether practiced from the Right or the Left.
That least flashy but wisest of Victorian novelists, Anthony Trollope, wrote of a character in one of his lesser novels that, “The juices of life had been squeezed out of him; his thoughts were all of his cares and never of his hopes.” So it is with “hold back the night” conservatives.
By contrast, the “fight on till dawn” conservatives—and I would count myself among them—take a longer, less cataclysmic view. The history of human progress has never been drawn in a straight line. The war between good and evil, darkness and truth, will be with us as long as the world turns. It is a constant struggle, more furious at some times than others, but it always has been and always will be with us. And, once again, Anthony Trollope got it right when he wrote in Barchester Towers that, “Till we can become divine we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for a change we sink to something lower.”
We all have a duty to fight for our beliefs. But we owe it to our cause to choose our battles wisely rather than with an eye for instant martyrdom and personal glory. There will always be casualties. But we should make our casualties count. History rightly remembers the sacrifice of a handful of brave Texans who drew a line in the sand at the Alamo, and died defending that line. But we remember them not because they died, but because their sacrifice bought crucial time for Sam Houston to rally a demoralized band of patriots and lead them on to victory at the Battle of San Jacinto with the words “Remember the Alamo” on their lips. Without the victory of San Jacinto, the stand at the Alamo would have been pointless, like shouting “stop” into a void.
Whatever happens just a few weeks from now on November 3, it will be one more turn in a long, winding road. If the worst-case scenario occurs and the left-driven Democrats really do capture the White House and majorities in both the Senate and the House, they will immediately launch a legislative and regulatory kamikaze attack on the Constitution which will cause much alarm, inflict some short term damage, and probably generate a massive conservative backlash in the 2022 midterm elections.
In the meantime, the Republican Party and the conservative movement will have freed itself of a lot of dead wood and begun the sort of revival that occurred after Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964 and Jerry Ford’s loss in 1976, and again after the Clinton and Obama years.
If we get four more years of the Great Orange Hope, the challenges and opportunities will be different, but equally great: surviving many a presidential slip twixt the tweet and the lip, building a responsible, lasting economic recovery, and putting principles before personalities.
Either way, November will be more of a beginning than an end.
Aram Bakshian Jr. is a former aide to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. His writings on politics, history, gastronomy, and the arts have been widely published in the United States and abroad.