“Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean.
I mean plumb, mad-dog mean.” – Josey Wales
Let’s first dispense with what you’re here for. I will not vote for any of the partisan candidates in November. In rejecting Hillary Clinton, I will not settle for Donald Trump; in rejecting Donald Trump, I will not settle for Hillary Clinton. In rejecting both, I will not fall for distractions like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, and I certainly won’t write in Bernie Sanders.
Let me re-emphasize the point: I, once a lifelong Republican (and partisan one at that to a fault), will not vote for Donald Trump for President in November, 2016. I defy his candidacy and enablers, and I have little compunction about the arrogance required to do it.
My reasons should be obvious: I do not join, participate in, or lend my name towards childish charades. I do not pretend to tolerate crude, puerile, mass public sycophancy. I didn’t abide the Left’s cudgels of political correctness; I won’t pardon the same noxiousness from the Right.
But this is not your usual #NeverTrump cry. Hashtags and memes do not speak for me. This is not a plea to affect your vote. It’s too late; we’ve already lost. The General Election is at long last a vain and idle formality. Nor is this a hack piece against the candidates themselves. Neither is qualified; they are each a repellent breed of socially criminal – so rotten and self-inflating that the heavies of Scorsese’s gangster trilogy would salivate with emulative envy.
This column is the paper trail – proof of where I stood in this dark period.
I write with a thumos stemming from a grieving heart. If I’m supposed to emerge stronger from the experience of expressing patriotic distress, I certainly don’t feel it yet. In writing this, I have relived past events I hoped to forget and probed the depths of today’s despair. These are pains I would not weather if I didn’t believe that my axe to grind also carries a vital perspective that only a conservative can articulate. I hope I’ve done that, and I hope more that this helps you, however feeble my ability.
For starters: an anecdote recounting one of such memories.
Back in 2007 at Denison University – my alma mater – I was acquainted with a kid who we will call Bernard. Great kid, by all accounts – hailed from a typical Midwestern suburb, studied science, quoted philosophy, and sung a mean bass in Denison’s famous all-male choir.
That choir hosted a Halloween party, for which Bernard made flyers. The spooky design he came up with displayed a rope in a noose knot dangling from a tree branch, and said: “Come Hang with Us!” Whoops…!
Upon discovery, the Black Student Union raised alarm; by Friday, Nov. 2nd the word had gotten everywhere. In the following week, the dean and faculty organized a mandatory day-long student forum on Wednesday, the 7th. Many spoke their piece but the forum was ordered. In the big picture, the administration hoped to toe the line between giving students a voice to address this flyer and vent their feelings while also ensuring that the incident itself wouldn’t attract the immediate attention of the press. By all accounts they succeeded…
…that is, until the next day.
On the other end of campus, someone (likely a troll society member) slid a note under the door of a minority RA. The note displayed a swastika and said, “Stop Causing Trouble.”
The next two days saw a joint student/faculty protest against hate speech that brought NBC helicopters and Columbus Dispatch reporters. It became a full-blown movement. The classrooms were noticeably scant but our doors were knocked on in a kind of “get out the protest” drive. It was as though the kids had at last found their righteous calling. Of course, next week it was over.
I realize this is 2016, but please understand that nine years ago campus eruptions over things like this didn’t happen. Back then it took something like an alleged gang rape by the Duke Lacrosse team to get organizations and outraged students to mobilize. The closest thing to this was the Jena Six incident a year prior, but that involved juvenile criminal assault with an escalated history of racial provocation that had gone on for months. This was new. And Denison was the last place you’d ever expect this to happen. It was a tranquil and unassuming liberal arts college in central Ohio with the typical leftist faculty but nominally centrist student body from all over the country.
It has never been the same since then.
Ironically, most of Bernard’s peers were quite understanding. Everyone knew he had no animus, so those who were bothered focused more on the “circumstances.” That didn’t help. Being white and subliminally informed by mystical racial undercurrents makes you ignorant or insensitive, barely a step above being a bigot.
Obviously the flyer was a mistake; it’s not unreasonable to expect educated men to know better. But when it comes to what this did to Bernard, the punishment easily outweighed the crime. A recluse for the entire two-week period, he left his room just to go to class. He dined when the halls weren’t crowded and spoke to no one. It got worse when news of the swastika note hit. That should unhook him, right? Nope; the hook became his home. How would you feel if the only reason not to feel bad about a frenzy on campus inadvertently caused by you is that some jerk later made it a thousand times worse?
Speaking of that jerk, I’ve often thought about what went through his head in doing that. I imagine he wanted to send a message about what really ought to spark outrage to the point of faculty intervention. I hope he grew up. If he hasn’t, I’ll bet he’s voting Trump.
Denison’s 2007 controversy was an early microcosm of current trends. Overreactions beget bigger overreactions, and now with the world accessible to our fingertips we cling to our ego harder than ever.
Today we internalize our musings to the point where we can’t separate what we appreciate about a person’s character from what we feel about his ideas. By my disagreement, I’m no longer a reasonable person with a thought that just happens to differ; I’m your oppressor enemy whose existence is a bane of your own. So you’ll gather your kindred spirits, come after me, and cast all sorts of foul and vulgar labels upon me, confident that you’ll win the war for retweets and likes. Then you’ll hit the “block” button, sure that you’ve “smacked down” or “destroyed” some subhuman gadfly into irrelevance on the internet. Do you feel like a winner yet?
Before giving the wrong impression, understand that what draws my ire is not that I myself occasionally get hit with an unpleasant spotlight. No, what’s wrenching is the greater impact upon society when this anti-social behavior becomes the new norm adopted by everyone. Treating each other horribly has become a ritual: show off how great you look convincing everyone that you’re one of the good guys and genuflect for that extra nod of approval. That ritual keeps the air pumping like a drug into the ego, and has been enthusiastically embraced by a pampered generation of instantly-gratified consumerist drones.
That which was once empowering about seeking out others like you, with whom to share the experience of life, is now tainted and bastardized by our paranoid, possessive zeal. We create our own echo chambers, like marshalling our own armies after finding the swords and trebuchets left on a battlefield of a romantic victory we learned about. The bored children of former rebels without causes haven’t stopped hearing how special they are, and are eternally searching for meaningful causes to rebel for. Primed lackeys for tyrants.
As a result, no one today is stranger to the kind of college circuses Denison became embroiled in. Commonplace everywhere, anguished snowflakes and mentally unstable eggshells eager to recreate the glory of their elder relatives’ activist days, imbue themselves with the authority to assert their moral tyranny over everyone else. In their gated bottle-universes they act out the Progressive dogma, committed to championing inclusivity for any “don’t-judge-me!” write-in identity that can be invented so long as it brings the buzzwords of groupthink. What follows is mass demonization (today’s kids would treat Bernard as though he filmed himself poaching an Iberian lynx) and eventually censorship initiatives. Those efforts become lightning rods for the press and Internet, inspiring one-upping. A lucrative bubble, colleges make curriculum out of it, passing off such circular sophomoric gobbledygook as “critical theory” or advanced sociology.
Progressivism, at its core, has always been a top-down corrupt partnership between “elites” and social victims, where the former anoint themselves into leadership and the latter compliantly revel in their status of victimhood. Strong-arm your way to wealth and power with the help of the right mobs, thugs, and bullies – such is the Progressive American Dream, a cynical continuum of conflict that can never end because that’s when said “elites” cease to be relevant.
This grotesque generational rabble – fresh from the sheltered communes with worthless degrees and full of self-flattery through its regular interactions – is Progressivism at a new peak. The Left has its army. It has laid waste to harmless innocence of national kinship; it has mutated the sentiment into a visceral guilt to bludgeon and haunt a hapless political generation into obedience. And the America I grew up believing in lies in shambles for it.
600 words of searing, unadulterated venom against Progressivism later, you’re probably wondering how I could possibly oppose Trump now. After all, if I’m correct, what these children need is a brutal dose of Asian parenting by their betters, right? But conservatives clearly are no better, especially now having co-opted the same tactics. Trump’s rise may be allegorized by the second spark that blew open the powderkeg at Denison – a herd of unheard and unattended egomaniacs brandishing a new American swastika and screaming, “STOP CAUSING TROUBLE!”
The impulses behind it are understandable. The Union is marred by terrorist attacks, war fatigue, neglected veterans, two consecutive corrupt administrations, rampant outsourcing, a market crash resulting in lost jobs that may never return, incompetent crisis management, willful blindness to the border, and sheer placation to lawbreakers by the politically correct within law enforcement. Those city snobs and millennial yuppies lost in their smart phones turned up their noses to the hordes of farmers and blue-collar coal miners, oil drillers, and car manufacturers left behind by the Age of Information. Neither the press nor influential elites had reason to fret over the sad faces of obese white guys in flyover America either. Conservatives in “regular” America at this point might as well be the mental patients in Metallica’s “Sanitarium” – prodded, psychoanalyzed, policed, and bombarded (in a self-fulfilling prophecy) with assurance that they are the villains of history and malignant obstacles of justice against whom no measures are too extreme.
Not that conservative leaders have done much over the past years to earn a more charitable analogy. Even in its best years, the Republican Party overreached and neglected important duties of oversight far too often when R’s were in charge, and did itself no favors in these years of malaise when it came to its year-by-year strategy of obstruction without campaigning and coalescing around alternatives. Along with baffling displays of ignorance in the spotlight the Right’s tactless election-season maneuvers always landed conservatives in trouble.
Primary Trump voters feel set upon by their kids and newcomer peers in a once-proud nation they no longer recognize. However valid their grievances in reality, in perception the two parties have failed them equally, solidifying their resort to base instincts, victimhood complexes, conspiracy theorizing, and identitarian pride that Progressivism made a century-long career out of weaponizing. The modern Left, of course has no room for old Mr. Whitey Patriarch in its assembly line of hyper-activist cattle, so they flocked to hijack the Right.
By entertaining Donald Trump’s inglorious hustle job in reeling in these embittered, emasculated sentimental sad sacks to the battlefield where all the weapons still lie, the Right has at last embraced its inner vanity. It has acquiesced to the demands of a tantrum at the expense of its most important principles of conservatism.
One of those principles goes like this: All things considered, you don’t matter. Your identity doesn’t matter and the politics of your identity matter even less. Your material cravings don’t matter, at least not in the abstract or grand scheme of human civilization. The greatest nation in history wasn’t founded or expanded just so you could take whatever you want from its inhabitants in exchange for releasing others from the guilt of having brutalized your ancestor at Wounded Knee, or sold him for pennies at Gadsden’s Wharf, or – in today’s pettier context – deported his job to a cheaper country. You and your identitarian pride matter only inasmuch as you may threaten ordered liberty if entirely left to your own devices.
All right, before you get depressed the key phrase here is “all things considered;” such considerations as law, the stability of nations, and the structure of government. They also include institutions regulating such complex commodities markets and the flow of data, transit, and cash, and the omnipresent wheel of fate spun by the invisible hand of society – comprised of everyone in their respective spaces and activities working for themselves but interacting with each other. These are the things that keep the lights on, the plumbing intact, your cell reception good, and a low climate of risk – one that doesn’t put an inherently fragile world on the brink of unraveling the moment someone coughs in the wrong direction. What is your insipid identitarian pride compared to the pillars supporting your comforts?
A lingering vestige of aristocratic sanctimony, conservatism recognizes your comparative insignificance to the greater moral order. Its purpose is not to halt the natural flow of evolution, but to conserve the mechanics behind that flow. Its chief flaw is its ever present fear of the slippery slope, but Newton’s First Law (objects in motion tend to stay in motion) is also a social principle that pertains to the larger generalized principle. It’s a big picture that conservatives hold sacred, one undermined by unfettered, frivolous base pursuits among the commons.
Have I jammed this point deep enough into your scalp yet? Conservatism is above (read: better than) the tribalism that splinters the fabric of civilization. It does not sully itself by pretending to be, or associate with, a particular interest group over another, and it does not dismantle the entire car just to grease massage a squeaky wheel. Agonizing over who “wins” the eternal social squabbles (that by definition have no permanent winner) is for inferior, neurotic ideologies like Progressivism. Conservatives practice a reasoned discipline beyond such noisy fandangos. Donald Trump does not. The Republican Party no longer does.
But I do.
Consider this the takeaway. The “I want what I want right now and will bulldoze all in my way” kiddy narcissism that once epitomized only one party now corrupts both – a result of over-nurtured indulgences and insecurities of the self-esteem. These are bullish, vacuous attitudes emblematic of conceited, feeble citizens who do not deserve the trust of our Founders. Your ego and identity are as empty and trite as everyone else’s, and we are adrift as a nation because of your obedience to it. When nothing remains sacred except that, our treatment of one another boils down every disagreement into a tooth and nail brawl with the essence of dignity and happiness at stake. We have even returned to the violence of the Antebellum era because of it. That’s what happens when everyone styles themselves the heroes of their own coming-of-age journey. Every non-political item from comedy to art to literature to sports to hobbies to our entire appreciation of human legacies sees its purity dulled and befouled after being reduced to weaponized means in the great struggle for this week’s ends.
Lather, rinse, repeat as a nation races towards the ash heap of history and every thinking person feels the same sober dejection Bernard felt. All because that nation’s people failed to understand a simple truth: you were never this important.
I recognize that the stand I adopt now is too late into the season to make a difference, but I’m taking it anyway. The hell-bent barking that is baked into the character of Progressivism and Trump’s brand of populism tainted the well of discourse at Denison, and now it afflicts America’s ballot box. Yet I am not convinced that even a society as fragmented as ours is so dead inside that it can only be rejuvenated by a petulant leftist buffoon spitting out his megalomaniacal jeers before a vengeful rabble. To support Trump is to reward this behavior. I won’t do it.
I admit my pride is in this. This primary cycle became a test of integrity for the nation. You have failed. You deserve the indignation of your losses and no excuses will save you from future judgment. Decades from now when we educate our grandchildren in whatever’s left of this rotting republic, you will answer for what happened here. Your grandson will ask where you were and how you treated others in this time, and many of you will cough, shift them onto the other knee, and sink your heads in shame as you admit the truth of your participation.
Not me, my dear boy. I’ve got this column to prove it.
 See Benjamin N. Cardozo, The Paradoxes of Legal Science 1 (1928).