Five facts calling Republicans to a sober take on last week's elections.
Why Republicans are nowhere near the point where we can start calling this a red wave.
Virginia and New Jersey are bellwethers for the 2022 mid-terms… if we can avoid walking right into traps set for us and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Here are five points calling for sober reflection in light of recently concluded elections. Trust me… I am saving the best one for last.
Sobriety Point #1: There are stories of the “soft racism of invisible barriers” that need to be told.
In the immediate aftermath of the Virginia election MSNBC’s Joy Reid labeled the Republican party “dangerous to our national security” because of its embrace of “soft white nationalism,” and of it: “…if people are tolerant of [soft white nationalism] in your party, they’re tolerant of the soft racism.”
I have argued elsewhere for a reframing of the national conversation on race around the “soft racism of invisible barriers” instead of “White privilege.” As the Left is wont to do, Reid is actually stumbling right into a realization which ultimately undermines the fear-and-anger motif driving ratings for left-leaning outlets like MSNBC.
If you’re White, all you have to do to understand this “soft racism of invisible barriers” is pretend you have a cut on your forehead. Find a Band-Aid of a suitable hue for the skin of a Black person, put that dark Band-Aid on your White forehead, and then try to talk to someone. You’ll immediately understand what it means for the other person to be talking not to you but to the Band-Aid. If you try this experiment, just make sure to note how difficult finding that darker-colored Band-Aid turns out to be.
The vast majority of the White Republican electorate are open to hearing stories like this. In the context of the stories of people they know from their community or workplace, they are more than likely to be open to calling this “the soft racism of invisible barriers.” What they are not open to is being charged an ideological price of admission to the national conversation on race. This is what happens when legitimate experiences of Black America which White America will never have are labeled “White Privilege.” This insidious label does two things:
First, it undermines our democracy by implicitly delegitimizing any opinion which does not meet with the approval of a self-appointed clerisy John McWhorter has aptly named “the Elect.” They are essentially grievance merchants selling “luxury beliefs” as if they were just another fashion accessory. Politics once was how we sought redress for grievances by reconciling conflicting philosophies, values, and priorities. The woke have turned it into the means by which those grievances are cemented in place to be incessantly monetized.
Second, it weaves into the social fabric the tendency to keep the Other at a distance while we nurture our suspicions. Nowhere was this result more tragically evident than in the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Both could have approached the Other to inquire into what the Other thought they were seeing. If the national conversation on race had taught them to do that, Martin would still be alive and we would have never heard about either. But it doesn’t. Because if it did, the resulting reconciliation would rob the grievance merchants of their ability to profit from these grievances.
The stories of the soft racism of invisible barriers need to be told and heard. By labeling them as such, the conversation no longer turns on a “You Message” (Check your privilege.) but on an “I Message” (I'd like to tell some stories of my experiences of the soft racism of invisible barriers.) Conflict resolution experts know this pattern well: “I messages” lead to productive, healthy conversations. Too bad this is exactly what the grievance merchants want to prevent.
Sobriety Point #2: Young voters do not form their beliefs about politics like older votes.
The advent of Digital Media is the fulcrum of a shift in how beliefs are formed. This is as true of politics as it is of religion (see #3 below). We used to get our politics from the dinner table. From the sense of belonging at the dinner table we developed a sense of what we believed. Politics in the Pre-Digital Age was one of believing, then belonging (to a political party.)
I get the Rust Belt Obama-Trump voter because my dad explained - at the dinner table - that a kid from a family that did not have the means to send him(/her) to college were left with two choices. Either you apprenticed at the union shop or you signed up for ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp), went to college, and then served in the military.
Organized labor was the foundation of the middle class in those days. That foundation was laid by faithfulness to two core principles. The first was the union standard of excellence. The business community knew if they needed a job done right the first time, they hired union labor. This was the essential social contract - being a member of a union required you to meet that standard of excellence. In return you were paid a wage which allowed you to save up and make a down payment on a house. A child from a family who had always had to rent could climb the ladder of economic opportunity by saving from that union wage and becoming a homeowner. This “equal opportunity” to advance economically was the second principle - the other half of the social contract. If a union worker failed to uphold the union standard for quality, reliable work, “the Man” was the least of his problems. The union would basically tell him to get his act together or get out.
The 1960’s and 1970’s saw the slow deterioration of these commitments as communist ideologues targeted organized labor for takeover. The union standard of excellence was eventually cast aside in favor of political muscle. The commitment to equal opportunity was cast aside in favor of equal outcomes. Families like my parents watched with dismay as their Democratic Party - historically the party of blue-collar working families - left them. Ronald Reagan - himself disgusted by these developments - captured my parents’ imagination and they became a quintessential example of the “Reagan Democrats.”
These lessons from the dinner table reveal which among Trump’s voters matter most. The math of the 2016 Electoral College tells the story: The Rust Belt unionized Obama-Trump voter concluded that the Democratic Party was split between a communist wing in Bernie Sanders and a corporatist wing in Hillary Clinton. The Clinton wing was especially odious as they were the ones who hollowed out the manufacturing base of the U.S. economy with policies falsely called “free trade.” The people who made these policies were never the ones who suffered the consequences which followed. Peggy Noonan called this the rise of the Unprotected Class. Nassim Taleb calls the protected class “Intellectuals, Yet Idiots” with no “skin in the game” - meaning they never suffered the consequences of the bad ideas they pushed into public policy.
The fundamental lesson from the Trump years (which may not yet be over) is this: Those who have never faced the consequences of being wrong cannot be trusted to get public policy right. When one asks a farmer why she believes her decisions are right, you will not hear her appeal to some peer-reviewed paper. She will refer to lessons from past bad decisions which risked crop failure or some other bad outcome. She makes her decisions in immediate proximity to possible negative consequences. Compare this to asking questions of those in media, the faculty lounge, think tanks, or government. They will likely appeal to a peer-reviewed paper by a credentialed “expert” of one sort or another. Their decision-making, and the formation of the ideas which inform it, is entirely divorced from subsequent consequences.
Those of us who got our politics at a dinner table where smart phones didn’t compete for our attention, and who voted for Trump, are simply pointing out that there are those who make things for a living and those who talk and write for a living. Those who make things (or grow them, husband livestock, etc.) pay a price when they are wrong. Those who talk and write for a living do not. Our vote simply said we no longer consent to being governed by the latter.
Today our challenge lies in understanding how the Digital Age voter has to wade through so much more noise to find the true signal. We have to allow for the fact they will not develop beliefs about politics like we did; the Digital Age is a day of belonging, then believing. Once they see in the Republican Party a place where the “signal” emerges in the belonging we once found at the dinner table, they will better be able to distinguish it from the “noise” coming from their smart phones or cable TV.
This leads us straight to...
Sobriety Point #3: An increasingly large segment of the Republican Party wants nothing to do with the intersection of religion and government.
Following from Point #2 above, the Pre-Digital Age Republican came of age during the heyday of the Moral Majority. The battle of this time was against attempts by Cultural Marxists to delegitimize faith communities by way of the courts. The particular fight that gave rise to the formation of the Moral Majority was a policy at Jerry Fallwell Sr.'s Liberty University banning inter-racial dating. The Left attempted to strip Liberty of its tax-exempt status because they disapproved of the beliefs behind the policy. As the husband of a Chinese wife, of course I find such beliefs and policies ridiculous. But as one well-educated on how Christian thought has evolved along with the discoveries of science, it is also clear to me that this reflected a sincerely held religious belief of earlier times when our understanding of the human person was not as well-formed as it is today.
That no one argues about this anymore is very much the point. So much of what we argued about back then has been overcome both by scientific discoveries (e.g., DNA) and the rise of a judicial philosophy called “textualism.” The current makeup of the federal courts testifies to the success of patient debate and persuasion. Our Digital Age Republican youth must realize that they would not have religious liberties in any meaningful sense without the work of the Pre-Digital Age Republicans fighting off Statist Cultural Marxists in the public square.
Yet we - the very same Pre-Digital Age Republicans who successfully fought off Cultural Marxism in the courts - need to realize we will not succeed in the challenge of persuading our youth until we stop fighting yesterday’s battles. Nowhere is this more important than the battle over gay marriage and gender expression. The Digital Age Republican has largely moved on from the older philosophical version of these “Culture Wars.” Among our churched youth, the concern is less for how to argue with their gay neighbor (euphemistically called “Apologetics” in Sunday School) and more about discovering how to be a good neighbor to them. If our response to this is to argue that it should be “both-and” we have completely missed the point. For the Digital Age church-going “No Party Preference” (NPP) voter it simply isn’t; they prefer to be a good neighbor over making a good argument. The sooner we get over it, the more likely we are to persuade the NPP young person to come join us in the GOP. (We might consider now calling it the “Great Opportunity Party.” H/t to my friend Morgan Murtaugh - it was a great campaign slogan.)
Sobriety Point #4: When you answer a story with a statistic, you have lost before you are even done speaking (or before the ink is even dry on the page).
This, then, builds on Point #3. I write here about my friendship with a trans-gender woman who is such a remarkably calm, patient, kind, and gentle person - in addition to being a conservative Republican championship shooter and Second Amendment nut. Her story has transformed my Christian faith. Whether the topic is police misconduct or gender dysphoria, we see a pattern in our circles where a story like that of George Floyd is met with a statistic about Black-on-Black crime or the relatively few bad cops on our streets. This is like how my father once described (yes, at the dinner table) the unemployment rate. If you have a job, it might as well be 0%. If you're out of work and looking, it might as well be 100%.
What percentage of cops are bad cops? Who cares? For George Floyd’s loved ones, that number might as well be 100%. If we respond to the story of someone who suffers from gender dysphoria with dry, meaningless statistics learned in Sunday School, we should not be surprised when a population who might otherwise work and vote together with us stays at home because we are too preoccupied with making a good argument to even bother trying to be a good neighbor.
Sobriety Point #5: We have not adequately explained the phenomenon that is Donald Trump.
In the Hebrew Bible one can read the story of the prophet Hosea. Israel had largely abandoned observance of the covenant between them and God. They had left to run after false gods like a prostitute running after her next John. So God tells the prophet to marry a whore(!). It sets up something from which you cannot turn away; a spectacle you cannot not see. Now imagine someone in Israel asking God: “Why do you think the whore will change anything?”
This is exactly what the Trump Voter hears when trying to explain his or her vote to their friends. I can practically hear the Media Left and the Never Trump Right laughing and asking whether Trump is the whore without realizing - as is typical of their lack of self-awareness - that they have walked right into a trap which will force that self-awareness upon them.
Yes, Donald Trump is Hosea’s Whore! What the Media Left and Never Trump Right clearly don’t grasp is this is not a statement about Donald Trump. Indeed, to understand the Trump Voter one must first understand the conversation cannot, and will not, be about Donald Trump. Hosea’s Whore was the mirror in which Israel was forced to look at themselves! To say that Donald Trump is Hosea’s Whore is to say the Trump Voter stuck a mirror in front of the Ruling Class and their media stenographers to force them to look at themselves for four glorious years! Every last thing they find so horrible about Trump is only a fraction of the vile, corrupt filth we see in them.
The real question is what the Republican Party will look like after Trump. What it cannot look like is the “deficits don't matter” corporatist war-mongering neoconservative filth like Liz Cheney in the House or Mitt Romney in the Senate. What it must look like is the true, historic conservatism of fiscal rectitude and foreign policy realism of someone like Dwight Eisenhower. Whether this is embodied in Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott - or governors like Kristi Noem or Ron DeSantis - is an open question.
Tomorrow’s Republican Party must be able to reach the No Party Preference youth who know the Bernie Sanders free-everything promise is a pipe dream. Those of us who came of age before the advent of digital media just need to sober up and learn these essential lessons: It is not enough to be right; we must also be persuasive. And the route to persuasion is opposite the experience of those of us who came of age before the Internet; it is a path from belonging to believing.