When decency fails

Before conservatives can conserve anything else, we must first re-learn to conserve decency. Plus: bad faith on masks and vax?

I never really bought into the “Flight 93 election” business. Some of Michael Anton’s points in that essay, which marked an inflection point in conservative political action, are inarguably true. Our culture, led by an intentional and planned assault on conservatism, has moved leftward in an inexorable shift away from values rooted in Biblical truth, objective observation, and personal liberty to smashing guardrails, retribution for or deleting the past, and forced group unity.

Anton concluded that action is the only recipe, and there are no guarantees.

Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

Of course, we all now know that both Hillary and Trump were Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. It was guaranteed that Trump would bring chaos, embarrassment, and disruption. What many conservatives deluded themselves about was the degree of bad and the harm that would follow.

Many still struggle with it. Those who believe that January 6th was some kind of public reaction to a giant conspiracy to destroy Donald Trump and “steal” the election he somehow was entitled to win, are no better than their liberal counterparts in Brooklyn who were so sure Hillary was to be coronated because it was “her time.”

Both were wrong, because Hillary and Trump are both unlikeable and self-destroying caricatures of what the other side hates and fears most. Trump literally spent every day of his term reinforcing his negatives with petty lies, insults, and constant testing of his base to ensure they are still “with him.”

The fact that this all ended with actual violence committed against Capitol police officers, with the goal of disrupting and overturning Congress as it discharged its Constitutional duty to certify the 2020 election seems, in hindsight, almost inevitable from the day Trump claimed he had the biggest inaugural audience in history—making an ill-prepared and red-faced Sean Spicer into a stuttering clown.

This morning, I got a kick out of reading David French’s recount of “where I get off the bus.”

That’s where I get off the bus. Any intellectual movement can and should tolerate a broad range of ideological arguments, and a political party has to have a bigger tent still, but basic commitments to truth, decency, competence, and the rule of law itself must remain. A “conservative” movement isn’t remotely conservative if it doesn’t conserve these foundational, civilizational values. 

A conservative movement centered around what French called a “dispositional” stance of fighting the left with its own weapons, while the actual policies held in that fight seem to mirror the left’s own bent toward central planning, big government, huge spending, and intellectual conformity, is one that has lost sight of what it purports to conserve.

Michael Anton argued that those who say they are conservatives are not serious because they won’t fight for the values they wish to conserve. David French argued (and still does) that fighting in the way Anton (and Sohrab Ahmari, among others) wish to fight leads to a party committed to Trumpism, fighting the left at all costs, while losing the very essence of what’s being fought for.

The thing that Anton found so objectionable, and was indeed blind to it because he possesses it, is decency. We like to assume people are like ourselves, with the exception of people we demonize, who we like to assume all the worst things about. Our bubbles get pierced when we are forced to accept that not all who take up the banner of conservatism are decent people, and not all rabid CRT-believing leftists are bad-faith neo-Jacobins, waiting to bathe us in our own blood.

For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ideologically, he’s about as far away from me as anyone could possibly be. but he grew up in an environment where his dad didn’t believe in monogamy, a Black Panther who published Afrocentric screeds from his own basement. In actuality, Coates is a decent fellow. The Trump he saw (sees), is much closer to the real Trump (if anyone can see the “real Trump”) than the painting auctioned off for $25,000 at CPAC.

It’s not a pretty picture, that many Republicans have pledged their entire party platform to “whatever Trump says,” when Trump’s most fervent supporters are conspiracy junkies, actual white supremacists, and anti-government reactionaries with guns (playtriots) waiting for a good fight to fight.

This is not decency.

As French asks, “are you still with us?” It depends on what “us” is believing and where “us” is going. French got off that bus, seeing where it was heading, years ago. I was off the bus, and then got in my car and followed it for four years, until January 6th.

However, the problem we now have isn’t ideological. It’s far deeper, because as a nation, we can be divided into two basic camps. There are people who are decent, and believe others should be judged by their decency. And there are people who believe nobody is decent, and will believe the worst about everyone.

Unfortunately, in politics, the latter has dominated the former to the point that decency is a rare trait, and recognizing decency in others who don’t agree ideologically is a rarer one.

As a nation, we have so many problems to solve, and instead of solving them, we spend our time reading facts and attributing bad-faith motives to them by people we oppose politically, and ignoring bad-faith motives by people we agree with.

Before conservatives can conserve anything else, we must first re-learn to conserve decency, and by that I mean finding decency in people who don’t share our worldview.

It also means dealing with those who are lost in the conspiracy cave with compassion, not jackbooted power. If there is one bad-faith movement I abhor, it’s the one that paints every Trump voter as in lockstep with the Birther movement, and anti-vaccine movement, and the January 6th insurrectionists. There are shades and nuances in the population in all political corners, and people don’t fit neatly into pretty Venn diagrams and poll results.

When decency fails, we lose the one rope that’s tethered back to a conservatism worth conserving. Though that rope is frayed, and sought to be cut by decent people like Anton and Ahmari, who in the name of the “greater good” believe they possess a better anchor, it’s the rope itself which we need to hang on to. Without decency, we lose our best hope for a free and honest society.


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Bad-faith on masks and vax?

We’ve been writing about COVID-19 and vaccinations for days. I know, it gets old, and I’m sick of writing about it. But I felt compelled to deal with one more thing.

The media is still huffing “coronavirus outbreak” stories. I suspect it’s because that sells papers when it’s above the fold like the Atlanta Journal Constitution did today.

The Boston Globe led their daily email (and sent another email promoting it) with a story headlined “Cape Cod is weathering a surge in COVID cases at the height of tourism season — including many among vaccinated people.

Despite having one of the most vaccinated populations in the state, Cape Cod now has the highest rate of new COVID cases in Massachusetts. Health officials are battling an outbreak in Provincetown that has infected at least 132 people since July 1 — most of them vaccinated — as well as a cluster in a Yarmouth nursing home, where as many as 33 residents and staff are infected, many of them already vaccinated, too.

Buried about a billion paragraphs down, the Globe admits “So-called breakthrough infections among vaccinated people are rare.”

The state health department reports 4,814 such cases as of July 17, accounting for just 0.1 percent of all those vaccinated in Massachusetts. Instances of hospitalization or deaths among such cases are even more rare.

In other words, the vaccines work, but yes, some small number of people are going to get sick. The message here isn’t even disguised or nuanced: They want everyone to mask up, pretty much forever.

I believe that the problem we’re seeing with so many red-staters reticent to receive the vaccine is not about the vaccine per-se. It’s about masks and government control. The language of the left is always couched in words like “mandate” and “checks.” The message of state control and submission to a Medical Administrative State that is paid to live and breathe the air of zero-risk is a terrible fear for people whose highest value is independence and personal liberty.

Add to that the “ah ha!” posts on social media and right-wing blogs when crap like this hits the newspapers and networks, and the blind editors at the AJC and the Globe end up making people’s minds for them: no vaccine. It is a terrible understatement to call this counterproductive. They are in fact making the case of the conspiracy mongers.

I’ll say it again: the vaccines work. If you are vaccinated, you might feel sick for a day, but the chance of you dying from it is a thousand times lower than the risk of you being run over by a cattle truck this morning.

But the chance of you getting vaccinated, and your kids having to wear masks at school, or outdoor camp, or you having to prove your vaccination status to do certain things, or you going back to mask-wearing everywhere inside again, is getting higher every day when stories like this are published.

Here’s how to own the left: Get vaccinated.

Counterintuitively, the answer is getting more people vaccinated. The more vaccinated people we have, the less “breakthrough” cases we’ll see, and the less fear the media can peddle above the fold.

It’s bad faith politics and the desire to sell papers that propels stories like the ones above to the headlines. But if people continue to hold out on vaccines, those stories will become reality, and we’ll be back to lockdowns and mask mandates. Nobody wants that, except the Faucis of the world, who are paid to want it.

I promise, that’s the last I have to say about vaccines this week.

Back to your lives, folks. Carry on!


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