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The Curse Of Passionate Intensity

The Squad: from left to right, Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Presley (MSNBC screenshot)

We have the worst people setting the tone and the content of American public life:


Translation: if you dissent, you don’t belong here. And given that only one of the four Congresswomen targeted by Trump was born outside of the US, I don’t see any way to read this other than a racist remark. Look, I think these four — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — are wrong about many things, and maybe even bad people. I don’t care if POTUS denounces this so-called “Squad” for their political views.

But the way he does it matters. He crossed a line. I invite defenders of Trump to imagine a future progressive president who denounces a Nigerian-born black pastor, or a US-born Arab Christian or Muslim, for their opposition to transgender rights, telling them that this is America, and if they don’t like it, they can go back to their bigot countries.

Meanwhile, here’s a member of the Squad yesterday, speaking to a progressive group:


Translation: if you are a racial, religious, or sexual minority, and you dissent from progressive orthodoxies, you are a traitor to your race, religion, or sexual tribe, and we don’t want you.

It’s easy for liberals to see why Trump is extremely problematic for saying things like he does (and we conservatives ought to try harder to see and hear Trump from the point of view of others). But liberals ought to imagine what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t fit into the Squad’s woke progressive categories of acceptability, and to imagine what it would be like for those people under that kind of progressive government.

One of the people I follow on Twitter is the American Muslim Ismail Royer. He is a pro-life social conservative, and often calls out US Muslim leaders for taking public stands (e.g., pro-abortion, pro-LGBT) that contradict Islamic law. He is exactly the kind of Muslim that progressives like Ilhan Omar and others would marginalize, because progressive orthodoxy means more to them than religious orthodoxy, or even tolerance of the religiously orthodox. I certainly wouldn’t say that Ismail Royer supports Trump, but I can at least conceive that for him, as an American Muslim of morally and socially conservative conviction, it is not clear whether it would be worse for America if it was ruled by the Trumpist right or the Woke left.

This is how I see things as a socially and religiously conservative Christian, anyway. I’ll say flat-out that I think Trump is a scarcely competent president who is a moral cretin and is damaging American life. But the idea that on policy, Trump is worse than where most Democratic politicians stand today? I don’t buy it. It seems axiomatic for many liberals and progressives that Trump’s awfulness negates any bad qualities from progressive would-be rivals (if they — the liberals — see these qualities as bad in the first place, which many do not).

For example, I remind you that nearly all of the Democratic presidential contenders are operationally open borders. Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum said the other day that he can’t tell any difference between what Elizabeth Warren proposes on immigration, and an open borders position. Every one of the Dems is strongly pro-abortion, and strongly pro-LGBT, in ways that pose significant threats to the liberties of religious dissenters, and ought to concern everyone regarding transgender ideology and its spread in schools and in the medical profession (more on which in a separate post today). There’s more. None of that negates the bad things about Trump, heaven knows, but it’s just bonkers for liberals to act as if we’re dealing with a devilish president versus angelic opponents.

I know some religious and social conservatives who fear progressivism in power, but believe for various reasons that Trump is worse, and who will either vote Democratic in 2020, or withhold their vote.

I know some religious and social conservatives who fear progressivism in power, and who believe that as bad as Trump is, if he’s the only thing standing in the way of progressives, then they need to bite the bullet and vote for him.

I think both strategies are rational — that is, I think a reasonable case can be made for both. I am more likely to take the latter than the former, but until we get to election day next year, I won’t be sure which one it will be. I have been in a situation like this before: voting for the corrupt Democratic Edwin W. Edwards for governor in 1991, to prevent former Klansman David Duke from becoming governor. To me, that wasn’t a close call, but it still made me sick to have to vote for Edwards, who symbolized most of what was wrong with the political culture of our state. But Duke was worse. No conservative who voted EWE in ’91 was under any illusion as to why it was important to vote for the crook that year.

Anyway, what is do damned depressing about our time is that all the political energy is with the worst people. David Brooks touches on this issue in his column about the civil war among progressive and liberal factions in the Democratic Party. Excerpt:

Critics on the left argue that liberalism is a set of seemingly neutral procedures that the privileged adopt to mask their underlying grip on power. Left-wing critics detest liberalism’s incrementalism and argue that only a complete revolution will uproot injustice.

They do not share liberalism’s belief in the primacy of free speech. They argue that free speech sometimes has to be restricted because incorrect words can trap our thinking. Bad words, like insensitive gender pronouns, preserve oppression.

They embrace essentialism, which is the antithesis of liberalism. Essentialism is the belief that people are defined by a single identity that never changes. A cisgender white male is always and only a cisgender white male.

In short, many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.

So which side will prevail?

Over the short term, I’d put my money on the anti-liberals.

Read the whole thing to see why. I think he’s right, and that this is why the best chance the Dems have to toss out Trump — boring old Joe Biden — is not going to win the party’s primary. One thing Brooks says in his reasons why anti-liberals are going to prevail in the Democratic Party resonates especially with me:

Second, liberal institutions have deteriorated. A liberal society needs universities where ideas are openly debated, it needs media outlets that strive to be objective, it needs political institutions, like the Senate, that are governed by procedures designed to keep the process fair to both sides. It needs people who put the rules of fair play above short-term partisan passion. Those people scarcely exist.

How much have you read in the leading media about Antifa’s assault on Andy Ngo? How much have you read, seen, and heard about the Antifa loony Willem van Spronsen, shot dead by authorities while throwing incendiary devices at a government (ICE) immigration facility, and trying to blow up a propane tank at the facility? It’s not that the media have ignored these stories entirely, but that they rarely receive coverage proportional to their importance, at least from a conservative perspective.

And there are things like this. Jesse Singal is a self-described progressive who covers science for New York magazine — and he’s appalled by the politicization of trans coverage:


From where I sit, the mainstream journalism coverage of LGBT issues is heavily propagandistic — not even-handed, but almost pure advocacy journalism. In fact, most coverage of so-called “diversity” issues is too, as is a lot of immigration coverage. Point is, when one is conservative, and sees how thoroughly the culture-forming, opinion-making institutions of American life are shifting further to the left, and away from old-fashioned, fair-play liberalism, having Archie Bunker in the White House isn’t as much of a problem as it would otherwise be.

Conservative supporters of Trump say, “At least he fights” — as if idiotic, immoral, fat-mouthing tweets constitute “fighting.” They are “fighting” in the same sense of some redneck moron deciding that he’s struck a blow against evil by giving some authority figure a good cussin’. But look, now the left is going to benefit from the same performative nonsense from the Squad. They’ll say all the things that rile up their core, and appall or frighten many others. I’m not sure that Yeats’s famous lines are exactly true today, and that the best lack all conviction, but it is certainly true that the worst, on both left and right, are full of passionate intensity. And, as in the Spanish Civil War, sooner or later most of us are going to have to choose a side, even if it’s only in the secrecy of the voting booth.

UPDATE: Please read Douthat’s column today. In it, he talks about how Trump is a cruder version of what he ran against. Excerpts:

But in the post-Cold War dispensation [conservatives’] defense [of American exceptionalism] became rote and unconvincing, because even as they chest-thumped about their own patriotism and the perfidy of liberalism, conservative politicians didn’t seem to be actually cultivating or sustaining the things their ideology claimed to be defending.

This tendency culminated in an Obama-era conservatism that decided that anyone unhappy with Republican governance was just an ingrate who didn’t deserve the American experiment: You were a socialist if you doubted the perfection of our health care system, part of the mooching “47 percent” if you didn’t think a capital-gains tax cut would solve the working-class’s social crisis, an appeaser if you doubted the wisdom of a maximally hawkish foreign policy.

Right, and Trump rose because he was willing to talk about things that ordinary Republicans weren’t. Now, because of the ground he opened up, a really interesting philosophical conversation has begun among many on the Right, who are openly questioning the conventional wisdom of the worn-out GOP vision. (I’m talking about this week’s National Conservatism conference in DC, more on which separately.) More Douthat:

But — and you know there’s a but — none of the people having this lively debate are the president of the United States. And in the president himself you can see how nationalism-in-power, instead of correcting exceptionalism as Thiel suggests, can simply become a cruder, more exclusionary version of the “everything is awesome” mentality that inspires its irritation in the first place.

Read it all. 

UPDATE.2:Matthew Walther says this probably won’t hurt Trump:

The only people who are adversely affected by his rhetoric are the rest of us who have to inhabit the noxious political atmosphere that he did not create but in which he has flourished. He will not be the last important American politician to employ these tropes — perhaps not even the last president. This is the cockle of rebellion, insolence, and sedition that we ourselves have plowed for, sowed, and scattered.

Now it’s harvest time.

UPDATE.3: I was unclear about which tweets of Trump’s I believe were racist. Not the one at the very top! (It’s just dumb.) These were the ones that crossed the race line, in my view:



The racism part comes in assuming that all those women are foreigners, because of African or Latino descent, and that therefore they should get out of the country.

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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