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‘The Party Of Lost Causes’

RINO squish Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox (Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

I’m a social and religious conservative. My friend Damon Linker is not. But I join him in being astonished by the GOP’s obstinate cluelessness about how the country has changed. From Linker’s column:

This isn’t the platform of Donald Trump, who is focused on immigration, trade, and terrorism while soft-peddling the social issues. On the contrary, this is a party still endlessly obsessed with cultural conservatism. (In that sense, it’s far more Mike Pence’s party than Donald Trump’s.) But the GOP is not just obsessed with cultural conservatism. This is a party unwilling to think or speak about social and cultural trends of which it disapproves in any terms other than absolute rejectionism, as if nothing in the world and the country had changed in the past two decades.

In 2004, George W. Bush ran for reelection on a platform that included the goal of passing a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. It went nowhere at all. Twelve years later, same-sex marriage has been declared a constitutional right by the Supreme Court, it is legal in all 50 states, and it is supported by a majority of Americans. And how does the GOP respond? By calling in its 2016 platform for an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution.

Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.

And that’s not all. The platform draft approved by delegates last week also favors “conversion therapy” for gays (RNC chair Reince Priebus disputes that the platform explicitly calls for this, though the language seems intended to tacitly support parents who want to subject their kids to this “therapy”). The draft platform holds that “natural marriage” creates an environment in which children are less likely to become addicted to drugs or be otherwise damaged. And it describes pornography as a “public menace” and a “public health crisis.”

The GOP, even in 2016, is a singularly reactionary party.

He goes on to say that he doesn’t mean the stances individuals take, but the fact that a major political party commits itself to fighting for these things in the public arena.

Well, let me be clear about a few things. I fully support natural marriage and the natural family, and believe that government policy should be geared towards supporting it. I’m also against same-sex marriage, and strongly against pornography. By Damon’s reckoning, I’m probably a reactionary, which is fine by me. I’ll own that; doesn’t bother me.

But I agree that it’s just … weird that in 2016, the Republican Party at the official level still pushes for policies like this. It’s like the official party still believes that politics can fix these problems, that politics can reclaim a culture that we conservatives have lost. The grassroots GOP voters don’t even believe this stuff, which is why Donald Trump is going to be nominated this week, and not an actual social conservative.

It’s not that I directly mind that there are GOP folks who believe that Obergefell was wrongly decided (as I do), and want to devote themselves to the hopeless cause of having it overturned. I find it frustrating for indirect reasons, including the way maintaining this illusion distracts from what we social and religious conservatives can and should be doing to respond effectively and meaningfully to this new world.

For example, all the money, the attention, and the effort going into fighting for the Lost Cause of natural marriage in the political arena is money, attention, and effort not going to fighting for shoring up natural marriage within the culture (and within the church).

The political conservative cliche justifying tax cuts as a strategy of shrinking government is: “starve the beast”. You want to starve the Religious Conservatism, Inc., beast in Washington? Redirect your contributions to religiously conservative organizations and ministries doing real work at the cultural level, especially local, to build a thick and resilient traditional culture. I bet there’s a classical Christian school in your city that could do a lot more with your donation than some lobbyist panjandrum inside the Beltway, who thrives on perpetuating among donors the belief that he is a lot more effective than he really is. I don’t want to call it a racket, because I am confident that at least some of the lobbying in DC does some good. But it’s a persistent delusion among a certain kind of Christian conservative that politics is the answer to cultural collapse.

They remind me of the educational reform people who believe that public policy is the key to fixing the schools. They say this, and genuinely believe it, because it’s something that they can control — as opposed to the broken families and family systems at the heart of broken schools. That problem is largely beyond politics, and can’t be solved by winning a vote or writing a check. What’s the saying? When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Look, when it comes to social conservative goals in the political arena, the only thing I really care about is protecting religious liberty. I mean by that the right to be left alone, both individually and within our institutions, with the broadest possible firewall between us and the state. The day when Christianity set the boundaries, tone, and direction of American culture has passed. What we are now defending is against American culture setting the boundaries, tone, and direction of Christianity. That’s not a battle that can be won in the halls of Congress. It can only be won in our churches, our schools, and our communities.

UPDATE: Elijah writes:

But, look, you’ve only got to read a few pieces over at The Corner to see that many Republicans or Republican sympathizers are still pushing the same tired tax cuts, hawkish foreign policy, crony capitalism that has gotten the party elite so disliked. And they can’t seem to understand why people are supporting Trump! It’s such a willful blindness.

Totally fair and necessary comment.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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