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Wartime conservative, Winston Churchill

CULTURE

Wartime Conservatives Against Appeasement.

A response to Cathy Young and Shadi Hamid.

When deciding who to vote for in November, what should we base our decision on? What considerations should we let sway us, and what considerations should we ignore? You might think the answer should have something to do with our values, beliefs, and convictions—and you’d be right. But some on the left are actually trying to make the case that voters should put all that aside. Instead, we should base critical political decisions (like who should be the President) on how likely they are to elicit violent reactions from the left. 

We should make our decisions in accordance with our convictions and be prepared to fight back against those who’ll oppose them. We should position ourselves as wartime conservatives.

Last Friday, Cathy Young, a contributing editor at Reason magazine and Arc Digital, took issue with President Trump’s order to end diversity training based on Critical Race Theory in federal agencies. “There is plenty wrong with the ideology and practice of most forms of racial sensitivity training,” she acknowledges, but, according to Young, “recruiting Trump to fight this war is the worst possible move.” She believes that doing so risks triggering the reaction of progressive politicians and activists against President Trump’s move. The President’s opponents will “rally in defense of diversity training,” she writes, so “the anti-Trump backlash may actually strengthen such programs.”

Then, on Sunday, Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued in the Atlantic that even “law and order Republicans” should prefer a Biden victory. Like Young, Hamid’s concern was how Democrats would react. For Democrats, losing the November election will “undermine faith in democracy, resulting in more of the social unrest and street battles that cities including Portland, Oregon, and Seattle have seen in recent months. For this reason, strictly law-and-order Republicans who have responded in dismay to scenes of rioting and looting have an interest in Biden winning.”

What both authors are recommending here is appeasement: “making political or material concessions to an aggressive power in order to avoid conflict.” They are advising their readers against confronting an aggressive left, recommending instead that we should back down to forestall further aggression. We should reject their recommendations.

Young and Hamid have something right: at this critical moment in American history, we face a warlike foe. But we shouldn’t capitulate. We should make our decisions in accordance with our convictions and be prepared to fight back against those who’ll oppose them. We should position ourselves as wartime conservatives. After all, soldiers and nations have made the ultimate sacrifice, facing conflict and likely death to stand for truth and justice. Even if we risk mass violence, civil war, or succession by siding with the same, we’d be cowards for doing otherwise.

College campus protest.

College campus protest.

CATHY YOUNG’S HALF-HEARTED ANTI-WOKISM

Cathy Young brands herself as “anti-woke.” She cosigned the Harper’s letter against “anti-racist” or “social justice” ideology and defended “the letter’s point about an alarmingly illiberal climate in mainstream liberal culture” against the inevitable backlash to it. Young is “anti-woke,” but she is also anti-Trump. She thinks he’s racist, and lists in her reasons for thinking so in the article. I won’t litigate that claim here, but mention it to note that Young’s opposition to President Trump’s supposed racism ultimately outweighs her anti-wokeness.  Her advocacies are inadequate for those of us calling ourselves “wartime conservatives.”

People oppose wokism because its claims are untrue and its actions unjust. Woke discourse casts people into groups ordered hierarchically by the level of oppression they’re deemed to have suffered, running roughshod over considerations of individual justice.

Wartime conservatives also have a huge problem with wokeness—and it’s not just that it jeopardizes the free exchange of ideas. We’ve recognized that sound argumentation alone is insufficient against the left, which has proven itself over and over again to be impervious to reason. Instead, political power must be used to change the behavior of those in the thrall of woke ideology. Young, however, underestimates the maliciousness of the left, rendering her anti-wokeness half-hearted, and explaining her enthusiasm for appeasement.  

This has been a consistent line from Young, who first recommended appeasement in an article published on the eve of the 2016 election: “Why Electing Donald Trump Could Make Political Correctness Worse.” Trump won’t “crush” political correctness, she argued, but will only “make it worse.” How? The woke left, Young reasons, will become so enraged by a Trump victory that it’ll entirely snuff out the “resistance to PC” movement. Young urges her readers not to poke the bear—it’s evidently better to placate it by giving it power and electing Hillary Clinton.

“Under a Clinton administration, policies that encourage political correctness would almost certainly continue. But the political, cultural, and legal resistance to PC already has a strong momentum on its side. That momentum will grow if the Trump phenomenon makes more liberals realize (as it should) that PC allowed to run amok will breed a dangerous backlash. The results of a Trump victory … would almost certainly make things worse.”

Last Friday, amid the nationwide debate over Critical Race Theory, Young revived this logic. She first reminds us why wartime conservatives rallied behind President Trump in the first place: “Let’s not forget that in 2016, quite a few people argued that for all of Trump’s less attractive qualities, he should be supported as someone who could ‘crush’ political correctness.” 

The left’s behavior for the past four years, however, allegedly demonstrates that we were wrong (and she was right): 

“The result would certainly not be a defeat of political correctness, but further polarization and entrenchment on both sides: an increasingly militant cultural left versus an increasingly nasty and brutish Trumpian right, rooted not in the principles of individual liberty and morality but of a white, far-right version of identity and grievance politics.”

Have the last four years vindicated Young? True, “the militant cultural left is far stronger and far more mainstream than it was in 2016, thanks in large part to the anti-Trump backlash.” But this doesn’t tell us that voting for President Trump was a bad idea—it confirms our view that doing so was absolutely necessary.

People oppose wokism because its claims are untrue and its actions unjust. Woke discourse casts people into groups ordered hierarchically by the level of oppression they’re deemed to have suffered, running roughshod over considerations of individual justice. It insists on an ideological and naive view of history, and it proceeds by trying to shame those who resist it into acceptance. In 2016, President Trump’s base rejected the Democrats because they were wandering off the woke cliff, as Clinton’s attack on “the racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic” deplorables amply demonstrated. We rejected establishment Republicans because they failed to contend with wokeness entirely, focusing instead on issues of limited government and free markets. At the same time, the left achieved dominance in all domains of cultural formation (K-12 education, universities, Hollywood, the media, etc.). 

We chose president Trump because he fought back against wokeness, explicitly: bucking political correctness entirely (stating plainly, for instance, an immigration policy millions of citizens were yearning for) and refusing to bend to woke ways of manipulation. That this movement has led to “an increasingly militant cultural left” confirms the wartime conservative’s assessment of the left. Young’s tepid anti-wokism is not adequate to the threat that wokism poses. Tyranny doesn’t abate when you remove resistance to it. 

So yes, the left will absolutely “rally in defense of diversity training” when confronted with President Trump’s recent order. But that’s not a reason not to endorse the executive order: it’s why we absolutely must throw our support behind it. An animal roars loudest when it’s wounded.

Riots across America.

Riots across America.

SHADI HAMID’S CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN DEMOCRAT 

Like Cathy Young, Shadi Hamid is on the left, anti-Trump, yet a consistent critic of wokeness. He’s developed a reputation for his commitment to small-”d” democracy, and for standing up to liberals prepared to crush the other side to achieve liberal aims.

In apparent conflict with this reputation, however, Hamid’s case for appeasement in his article is this: the Democrats will react violently to a Trump victory in November. As such, a Biden victory is preferable. 

Wartime conservatives obviously won’t (and don’t) accept this conclusion, but Hamid’s premise, particularly his characterization of the modern Democrat’s mind, is quite accurate. Democrats likely will react in precisely the manner that he predicts they will to President Trump’s re-election. 

“Liberals had enough trouble accepting the results of the 2016 election. In some sense, they never really came to terms with it. The past four years have witnessed the continuous urge to explain away the inexplicable …  It was easier to think that those Americans had been lackeys, manipulated and deceived.”

If Democrats lose again, Hamid continues, they’ll be in an even worse state. “I struggle to imagine how, beyond utter shock, millions of Democrats will process a Trump victory.” Since Biden has led all year in the polls, he writes, “A Trump victory will be even harder for the left to absorb.” 

What Hamid fails to reckon with is that we voted for President Trump in 2016 precisely to teach the establishment class that their entire political culture is failing our country. The Democrats’ behavior since 2016 demonstrates that they’re failed to learn their lesson. While Hamid would abandon the lesson entirely, wartime conservatives think it should be taught again (and again, and again, and again). 

If Democrats won’t listen to what their opponents are saying in the public sphere, they should be made to hear their voice at the ballot box until they do. That’s how properly functioning democracies work. 

Of course, we recognize the danger posed to the country by an outraged left; there’s no confusion there. But for wartime conservatives, the fear of leftist outrage is silenced by our commitment to the belief that Democrats should “process a Trump victory.” If Democrats won’t listen to what their opponents are saying in the public sphere, they should be made to hear their voice at the ballot box until they do. That’s how properly functioning democracies work.  They should be taught their lesson until they recognize that their moral vision needs amending. 

Democrats need to realize that America is more than its racist past, and they need to learn that much of the country won’t be shamed into accepting otherwise. They need to learn that many of this nation’s subcultures—Catholic nuns, for example, or classical music lovers—resist woke doctrine for reasons other than mere bigotry. In fact, many oppose it to defend our founding constitutional culture, which they see as contradicted by woke doctrine

Hamid, however, only considers that the country will be safer by appeasing the left—he fails to ask what kind of country we’d be saving by doing so. A big worry for him is that, for Democrats, a Trump re-election “would provoke mass disillusion with electoral politics as a means of change.” He notes that Republican politicians will be more willing to acknowledge a Biden victory than Democrats will be to acknowledge a Trump victory, an asymmetry that will be mirrored in the media. “There’s a lot of right-of-center journalists and right-of-center commentators who’ll respect a Biden victory in a way that left-of-center journalists will not respect a Trump victory,” he explained in a podcast foreshadowing his editorial. He concludes that the gap between what the country is and what it ought to be will appear greater to Democrats under a Trump presidency than it’ll appear to Republicans under a Biden presidency. This is why Democrat losers will be more despairing of democracy, and “this has implications for mass unrest and political violence across American cities.” 

The central question here isn’t whether these claims are true, but whether they’re reasons to vote Democrat this November. Wartime conservatives wouldn’t let the fear of leftist violence override their conscience and convictions. 

We would never let the expected continued stubbornness of “left-of-center journalists” outweigh our moral judgment that they (and their Democratic overlords) should respect a Trump victory and the democratic process. That they can’t is, if anything, indicative of a differential in virtue between the parties. The Democrats’ obstinacy explains why they’re less willing to alter their moral vision, whereas Republicans are more committed to altering theirs in response to the outcome of the democratic process. Hamid’s position rewards vice with power; his title (“The Democrats May Not Be Able to Concede”) says it all. 

Ultimately, wartime conservatives don’t accept Hamid’s conclusion that we should vote Biden because his argument that we should do so abstracts from questions of truth and justice. For wartime conservatives, these are the deciding factors. We shouldn’t vote Democratic because otherwise, they’ll riot. We should vote Republican, and put Democrats that riot in jail. It’s absurd to take Democrats’ despair for democracy into account when deciding who to vote for. 

On his podcast, Hamid says that, while President Trump himself isn’t an existential threat to our democracy, we must abandon him because of what “Trump provokes”: 

“The fears and the disrespect for democratic outcomes that Trump provokes amongst his opponents: that to me is an existential threat. My goal for the time being is to lower the number of Americans who lose faith or who will lose faith in the democratic process. And the longer that Trump is around, the more Trump’s opponent will lose their shit and lose their minds, because Trump is very good at doing that. Trump creates a trap for people, where they can no longer think rationally. Now, is that Trump’s fault? Or should we blame the people who are losing their minds? Well we can debate that, but the outcome is still the same: people losing their minds.” 

A Biden victory, Hamid postulates, will lead to a cold civil war within the Democratic Party instead of a hot one on our streets. The ‘woke anger’ of the radical left will transfer onto Biden centrists instead of Trumpists. Hamid sees this as “a more pro-democracy outcome, for that’s not really questioning the democratic system.”

Hamid’s argument here is absurd: if Democrats lose a fair democratic election, they’ll despair of democracy. The deciding factor in the election should be whether Democratic voters are left “questioning the democratic system.” Essentially, we must vote Biden to coddle the American Democrat. 

Never mind that these Democrats are falsely and unjustly claiming that democracy is now in question. (Hamid flat out denies that these facts matter: “We can debate that, but…”) What’s important to ‘guardians of democracy’ like Hamid is only that Democrats “will lose their shit and lose their minds.” That they’ll do so because “they can no longer think rationally” and will obstinately refuse to recognize the results of a fair election is, for some reason, to be ignored.

Citizens worried about left-wing mania and rampant wokism should have the courage to face down their fear of a left-wing backlash and join his effort to put their movement down.

Naturally, Hamid foresees the logical objection: this amounts to democracy by hostage taking. He “responds” that, “I understand that that’s not generally how we like to think of our electoral preferences, but on a purely descriptive level, if I’m just describing what the likely outcomes are, I think it’s fair to say that violence is more likely if Trump wins than if Biden wins.” 

“[W]e like to think of our electoral preferences” as including considerations of truth and justice, he concedes, but for ‘safety’s’ sake, we evidently have to let these go. 

Absolutely not. We can’t let this stand: we can’t let what’s true on Hamid’s “purely descriptive level” override the ethical considerations this obliterates.

The radical left has outsized institutional power today. Throughout the Trump Presidency, this year especially, they’ve converted their beachheads in our major institutions into dominance of them. Liberals blame this turn of events on Trump’s provocations, but, more than anything, what it demonstrates is the wartime conservative’s view that the radical left had to be squarely confronted. And it’s appeasement-thinking like Young’s and Hamid’s that allowed the radical left to establish such strong beachheads in the first place. 

In several speeches this year, President Trump has again put the radical left squarely in his sights. Citizens worried about left-wing mania and rampant wokism should have the courage to face down their fear of a left-wing backlash and join his effort to put their movement down. We must fight for truth and justice in American politics. Swords up!

Written By

Daniel Addison is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College/CUNY. Follow him on Twitter at @derocrates.

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