Rod Matthew Walther writes that the conservative movement, as we have known it, is dead. What is the post-Trump Right going to look like?
What Trump recognized was that there are millions of Americans who do not oppose or even care about abortion or same-sex marriage, much less stem-cell research or any of the other causes that had animated traditional social conservatives. Instead he correctly intuited that the new culture war would be fought over very different (and more nebulous) issues: vague concerns about political correctness and “SJWs,” opposition to the popularization of so-called critical race theory, sentimentality about the American flag and the military, the rights of male undergraduates to engage in fornication while intoxicated without fear of the Title IX mafia. Whatever their opinions might have been 20 years ago, in 2021 these are people who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, accept pornography, homosexuality, drug use, legalized gambling, and whatever GamerGate was about. On economic questions their views are a curious and at times incoherent mixture of standard libertarian talking points and pseudo-populism, embracing lower taxes on the one hand and stimulus checks and stricter regulation of social media platforms on the other.
I have come to think of the people who answer to the above description as “Barstool conservatives,” in reference to the popular sports website, especially its founder and CEO, Dave Portnoy.
Walther explains what he thinks “Barstool conservatism” means. There is no future for social and religious conservatives in it, but Walther (who is a conservative Catholic) suspects that “a majority of them will gladly make their peace with the new order of things.” Why?
This is in part because while Barstool conservatives might regard, say, homeschooling families of 10 as freaks, they do not regard them with loathing, much less consider their very existence a threat to the American way of life as they understand it. Social conservatives themselves have largely accepted that, with the possible exception of abortion, the great battles have been lost for good. Obergefell will never be overturned even with nine votes on the Supreme Court. Instead the best that can be hoped for is a kind of recusancy, a limited accommodation for a few hundred thousand families who cling to traditions that in the decades to come will appear as bizarre as those of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
I wish I didn’t think Matthew Walther was probably right here, but I think he’s probably right here. This is a post-Christian nation, in the sense that despite the presence of tens of millions of churchgoers, ours is not a country that looks to the Bible to tell itself who it is and what it should do. Last year, writing in Tablet, Matthew Schmitz said that the zealots of Wokeism are bringing together unlikely allies to
Wokeism imagines a utopian world, one ruled without force, unbound by borders, freed from biology. We must “defund the police,” “abolish ICE,” and affirm that “trans women are women.” Heresy on the cardinal issues of race, the nation, and sex is not tolerated. James Bennet, opinion editor of The New York Times, was forced to resign after running afoul of the new orthodoxy. He joins a growing list of people that includes prominent media and cultural figures alongside ordinary citizens who have lost their jobs or otherwise been punished for alleged ideological infractions. “Wokeism” is not merely an idle belief system—increasingly it is the official philosophy of the American ruling class, employed to justify the exercise of coercive power. Governmental authorities and corporations now coordinate in enforcing the dictates of the new secular progressive faith, often at the cost of protecting the constitutional liberties of traditional religions.
Schmitz foresees a possible alliance between “trads” (religious conservatives) and unwoke seculars:
Despite their differences, an alliance could form between “trads” and the true “nones” who reject religion but may well see it as less of a threat than the growth of woke government power. Trads have all-encompassing beliefs that offend liberal and secular sensibilities. But they affirm the reality of biological differences between the sexes. They believe that your deeds and beliefs are more important than your race. Even when they reject the political formulations of liberalism, most still believe in the virtue of liberality and tolerance. Because they believe in the fallenness of man, they uphold the possibility of forgiveness. Like the “nones,” most “trads” are not utopians. Unlike the woke, they can tolerate those with fundamentally different beliefs. Trads and nones will never agree, but they can ally.
Signs of a none-trad alliance can already be seen in the growing connections between the relatively secular “Intellectual Dark Web” and conservative religious intellectuals. Last year, Bishop Robert Barron—one of the most intellectually sophisticated and technologically savvy leaders of the Catholic Church—appeared on the podcast of Jordan Peterson, whose work he has praised. Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying—atheists who supported Bernie Sanders—recently became visiting fellows at Princeton University’s James Madison Program, an organization run by the conservative Catholic thinker Robert P. George.
Wokeism could well become America’s established faith. If that outcome is to be prevented, the more skeptical, scientific, rationalist opponents of wokeism will need to join with people who have different reasons for opposing its utopian claims. Liberals who stress the provisional nature of knowledge, resist all-encompassing political claims, and seek space for public error and disagreement, have grounds for agreement with Jews, Christians, and others who believe that men are sinful and fallen. Leftists who are committed to the working class and focused on material progress above cultural symbolism, should be open to the moral and religious views held by many of its members.
Last year, Bari Weiss, who is a center-left Jewish lesbian, found herself oddly standing with, um, me, because despite our very real differences, we both see the same problems coming from the woke zealots. Bari has a great column in today’s New York Post, offering Ten Ways To Fight Back Against Woke Culture. Among them:
5. If you don’t like it, leave it.
A class in college, a job, anything. Get out and do your own thing. I fully understand the impulse to want to change things from within. And by all means: Try as hard as you can. But if the leopard is currently eating the face of the person at the cubicle next to yours, I promise it’s not going to refrain from eating yours if you post the black square on Instagram.
6. Become more self-reliant.
If you can learn to use a power drill, do it. If you’ve always wanted an outdoor solar hot tub, make one. Learn to poach an egg or shoot a gun. Most importantly: Get it in your head that platforms are not neutral. If you don’t believe me, look at Parler and look at Robinhood. To the extent that you can build your life to be self-reliant and not 100 percent reliant on the Web, it’s a good thing. It will make you feel competent and powerful. Which you are.
7. Worship God more than Yale.
In other words, do not lose sight of what is essential. Professional prestige is not essential. Being popular is not essential. Getting your child into an elite preschool is not essential. Doing the right thing is essential. Telling the truth is essential. Protecting your kids is essential.
8. Make like-minded friends.
Then stand up for them. Two good tests: Are they willing to tell the truth even if it hurts their own side? And do they think that humor should never be a casualty, no matter how bleak the circumstances? These people are increasingly rare. When you find them, hold on tight.
Amen to that last one especially. It brings to mind this passage from Live Not By Lies:
As important as it is for Christians to strengthen their ties to one another, they should not neglect to nurture friendships with people of goodwill outside the churches. In the Czech part of Czechoslovakia, Christian dissidents had to maintain close contact with secular dissidents because there were so few believers within resistance circles.
As [Slovak dissident] lawyer Ján Čarnigurský puts it, “There weren’t many people in general who wanted to stand up to communism. You have to take allies where you could. The secret police tried to keep secular liberals and Christians apart, and they wanted to keep Czechs and Slovaks divided. They did not succeed because the leaders of the movement had become friends with leaders in other circles.”
In the Slovak region, František Mikloško reached out to liberals not because he had to but because he genuinely wanted to.
“To this day, communicating with the secular liberal world really enriches my views,” he says. “It is important for me to have my home and to be aware that I know where I stand. I know my values. But I have to stay in contact with the liberal world, because otherwise there is the danger of degeneration.”
Mikloško’s close association with secular liberal writers and artists helped him to understand the world beyond church circles and to think critically about himself and other Christian activists. And, he says, liberal artists were able to perceive and describe the essence of communism better than Christians—a skill that helped them all survive, even thrive, under oppression.
For someone like me, a non-Christian cultural liberal like Bari Weiss who has the guts to stand up against the Woke juggernaut is worth 10,000 Christians who believe the same things I do, but who are too timid to do anything about it. We trad Christians have to realize that the Leave Us Alone Coalition is probably the best thing we can hope for, given how much American culture has changed.
I don’t know to what extent conservative Christians believe in this idea that you used to hear among old-school Evangelicals: that we can “take back America for God.” This, usually stated as part of a political appeal. If there is anybody left in this country who believes that, please, stop. It’s just not possible through political means, and believing that it is blinds you to the realistic possibilities of constructive political allyship with those who don’t share Christian conservative views, but who at least don’t hate conservative Christians and therefore seek to destroy our institutions.
Take a guy like the podcaster Joe Rogan. Not a Christian, or even a social conservative by the conventional measure. He might not be a conservative at all; he endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. But he’s a likable everyman who hates wokeness and seems to be more or less possessed of common sense. Whatever differences on moral matters I have with Joe Rogan, I would not fear him as an enemy planning to use the power of the state to smash my kids’ Christian school, or force my daughter’s sports team to accept a biological male presenting as a female, et cetera. The future for Christians in post-Christian America might well depend on the rise of “conservatives” like Joe Rogan and Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports. Seriously.