Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in a fiery recent speech, said “The struggle is not over when transgender troops, ready to put their lives on the line for this country, have their careers threatened with ruin one tweet at a time by a commander in chief who himself pretended to be disabled to get out of serving when it was his turn.”
In the comments aimed at the LGBT community, he railed against U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a prime target if there was one.
“That’s the thing that I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand,” he thundered, “That if you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
A tad perplexing given that Pence has never given any indication of having a problem with Mayor Pete.
In fact, in June 2015, then Indiana Governor Mike Pence was asked about Buttigieg’s sexual orientation. He responded: “I hold Mayor Buttigieg in the highest personal regard. We have a great working relationship, and I see him as a dedicated public servant and a patriot.”
Likewise, in March of the same year, the then Governor tweeted that if he finds any restaurant discriminating against anyone on the basis of sexuality, he would personally be opposed to it.
It defies logic that the party of Harvey Weinstein would complain about Mike Pence bringing about The Handmaid’s Tale; a man who believes in 1950s style chivalry. But it is for that 1950s chivalry itself, Pence and his family has been repeatedly targeted by activistsas well as the media.
These paradoxical attacks on Pence are the culmination of the forces we have observed in the past few years. In order to understand that, one needs to understand the liberal crusaders.
Modern liberalism, for lack of a better word, is a religion.
It may sound counterintuitive for an idea superficially claiming to be emancipatory being as rigid as a religion, however especially post-2016, liberalism turned into a religion scorned, beaten back, and is now taking a crusading turn.
Look to Stephen Pinker, one of the grinning saints of modern providential liberalism.
He considers everything that happened since 1590 to be good. He doesn’t consider the Judeo-Christian values and cultural forces, the reactionary movements, Bernini, Bach, Beethoven, to be of any influence on the enlightenment, and never answers why the Renaissance happened only in Europe, not elsewhere. Pinker also cherry-picks data to suit his findings on declining violence. The reaction to my review was hysterical. Saints must not be critiqued.
While the theory of liberalism as a philosophy arose as an emancipatory idea against faith, family, and flag conservatism in Europe, it slowly morphed into a quasi-religious force of its own, and mostly due to its own inherent contradictions.
Like Marxism, another philosophical theory determined to “free” people from the bonds of bourgeoisie family and morality and religion, ultimately turned religious, liberalism has followed the same path.
Every global Abrahamic religion had a peaceful rise, until it faced organized or mass opposition. Christianity rose peacefully till it came into conflict with the pagan religions in Greece and Rome, and then again, during the Crusades against Islam.
Islam had a whole period of invasion when it destroyed the pagan religions in Persia and the Levant, as well as coming into conflict with Christianity.
Liberalism, which was a theory of individual rights, now faces its own crusading moment.
During the 1960s liberalism came into conflict with the idea of faith, family, and flag conservatism across the West. The idea was to destroy the bonds of conservative morality, in favor of radical emancipatory individualism. But it took a crusading turn during the post 1990s Soviet collapse. Liberalism contained within itself a providential sense of history as an arc, that is destined to have a glorious end, much like all major Abrahamic religions awaiting God’s kingdom. Liberalism also has the concept of “original sin”, in this case, known as “privilege”, from which you can never be truly free, regardless of your financial or social position. And finally, liberalism has a crusading zeal, a universalist aspect at odds with its own inherent individualism. And that is where all the problems lie.
Superficially, individual rights should be all good. But individualism is contradictory, and some people’s right to religion clashes with some other people’s right to sexuality. Both might co-exist without coming into conflict, but liberalism’s crusade sees it wishing to eradicate any rival religion and spread its liberal values, norms, rules and mores.
Yesterday my friend, Sohrab Ahmari, wrote an attack on National Review’sDavid French explaining why French and people like him are dangerous.
Ahmari’s view is that he wants “to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”
He seeks “government intervention” to tackle unspecified societal problems, though he does allow that “Government intervention will not be the answer to every social ill.”
He castigates French for not agreeing to support Donald Trump by saying that “he has kept his hands clean, his soul untainted.” He does not seem to mean this as a compliment. Because he follows it by insisting that “But conservative Christians can’t afford these luxuries.”
And finally there is this:
Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.
I do not doubt that Sohrab sincerely believes all of this.
But instead of pushing back against this or that point, I would offer the following:
If it is true that our cultural conflicts are so deep that we are enemies with our fellow Americans—that there is real enmity—then the die is already cast.
If Sohrab is correct that conservatives and progressives are engaged in war and that only the election of this president, or that senator, or the confirmation of this other Supreme Court justice will postpone the end times, then the end times are already upon us.
Because one side can’t keep their finger in the dyke for forever. Eventually it must crack and we must all be washed out to sea.
I don’t think I harbor many illusions about the world. If you’ll forgive me saying so, I might be the least sentimental person you know.
And it seems to me that American society is, in important ways, much healthier and more unified than it has been at many points during our history. Things are better than they were in 1860. Or 1870. Better than during the Great Depression. Better than during the 1970s.
Do you remember the 1970s? Major cities burning every summer? Murder rates soaring across the country? Student radicals setting off bombs and taking over university buildings with guns?
Pick a random Tuesday from 1977 and there’s a fair chance it would be the biggest news day of the year for us in 2019.
(My favorite case in point: In 1977, 12 Muslim terrorists seized control of three buildings in Washington. At the B’Nai Brith headquarters, they herded about 100 hostages onto the roof and held them at gunpoint for two days. This was all happening literally four blocks from the White House. And this was such business-as-usual for the ’70s that today nobody even remembers it happened.)
Not everything is better. By some measures—say, the disintegration of the family—we are much worse off today.
But my point is that this is how it always is. Nothing is ever solved. Nothing is ever finished. American society lurches from one set of problems to another. Some things improve, others degenerate.
And our big societal conflicts tend not to be resolved, but rather to be subsumed into the next set of conflicts, and paved over as we move forward.
I say none of this to be optimistic—I am not, by nature, an optimist. But simply to say that the conflicts of today look a lot like the conflicts of yesterday. And the day before that.
If you thought that civility and decency were cardinal virtues in the last era, then they are probably still cardinal virtues today.
This seems to be the conundrum currently of Trump, although since I remember the history that’s taken place during my lifetime I remember George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan being seen as equally, depending on the moment, stupid, dense and dangerous to life itself on earth.