Monday, February 6, 2017

To All Offended Conservatives

Doubtless there are more, but I have seen three of these now, columns by anti-Trump conservatives who have watched the Women's March and other anti-Trump protests and agree that it is right to be out protesting Trump, but just wish that the marchers would be more conservative.  They want the marchers to reach out to them and to be their kind of people and are seriously annoyed that opponents of Trump tend to be liberal.  They want a nice, conservative aesthetic and are convinced that it would draw more followers, because the number of followers these marches are getting now just aren't enough.  

On January 24 David Brooks complained that they focused on “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change,” issues that only matter to "upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities," when they should obviously be focusing on Trump-voter issues like immigration, job offshoring, and overseas commitments.  Or, better yet, on the threat to "globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order."  They should get better organized and act through institutional channels.  And they should offer "red, white and blue alternative patriotism, a modern, forward-looking patriotism based on pluralism, dynamism, growth, racial and gender equality and global engagement."  He is rather unclear on what this would look like, but presumably it would mean continuing to acknowledge that capitalists can do no wrong, fighting lots of wars overseas, flying the flag a lot, and adopting all the traditional conservative symbols.  In short, a lot like the program of the Republican elite.

On February 4, Ross Douthat wrote that just as Trump's (and Palin's etc.) claim to be the Real America omits about half the population, so too does anti-Trump protesters' insistence that "that's not who we are" omits that half of America that supports Trump.  He wants anti-Trump protesters to stop insisting on the narrative immigrants, Emma Lazarus, and civil rights and recognize that half the country still relates to the old narrative:
They still see themselves more as settlers than as immigrants, identifying with the Pilgrims and the Founders, with Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett and Laura Ingalls Wilder. They still embrace the Iliadic mythos that grew up around the Civil War, prefer the melting pot to multiculturalism, assume a Judeo-Christian civil religion rather the “spiritual but not religious” version.
To defeat Trumpism, rather than just Trump, he says, they will have to find a way to give a more complete narrative that the other half can relate to.  Of course, he gives no suggestion whatever what such a narrative would look like.*

And now David Frum has come out with a piece of his own, very similar to Brooks' piece.  Like Brooks, he says that marching is not enough, you have to get organized.  Though he acknowledges the "orderly commitment and resolution" of the Women's March, he just can't resist equating parts that merely offend his sensibilities (the absence of conservative women like military women, police women, and pro-lifers from the lineup) with actual "black-masked crowbar thugs" of the type that rioted at the inauguration and at Berkeley -- and were totally absent among the millions who march on January 21, or at the anti-Muslim ban demonstrations since.**  Frum wants the marchers to carry the flag, to begin events with the Pledge of Allegiance and end with the Star Spangled Banner.  He recommends that members limit themselves to a single theme, one that can be fit onto a bumper sticker (actually he would allow members an entire tweet) and above all, one that "the vast American mainstream" (which tends to coincide with anti-Trump conservatives) would relate to.  In other words, nothing that could be considered partisan an nothing that your "Rush Limbaugh listening brother-in-law" would not agree with.

I think what all these guys are saying is, "Hey, what about me?  I hate Trump too, but I just don't fit into your event."  To which I can only say, there is certainly a conservative case to be made against Trump.  Many conservative intellectuals have articulated it very well.  They didn't make a whole lot of converts.  If you want a march of conservatives against Trump that dresses in red, white and blue, flies that flag, sings the Star Spangled Banner and focuses on issues that anti-Trump conservatives care about, by all means feel free.  Just don't be surprised if not many people show up.  I'm guessing that no amount of flag waving will attract that Limbaugh-listening brother-in-law.  Sorry.  In the meantime, maybe you will just have to deal with the anti-Trump movement you have and not the anti-Trump movement you wish you had.

The anti-Trump movement is organizing.  It is flooding Congressional offices with calls and showing up at events.  People are taking up the humdrum everyday tasks of getting organized.  They are expressly taking the Tea Party as a model.  But you know what about the Tea Party?  It was polarizing.  It didn't welcome liberals.  It initially claimed to be non-partisan, but that pose wasn't convincing for very long.  And it was mad as hell.  The overall mood of the anti-Trump movement has been exuberant and joyous.  It uses a lot of humor.  It is also rather vulgar at times, but then again, if vulgarity bothers you, then you should hate Trump.  This light-hearted tone appears to offend conservatives because it lacks seriousness. But they overlook its huge advantage -- it isn't threatening.

And yes, many of its central concerns are traditional liberal concerns.  What did you expect?  They are what Trump opponents care about.  And members are, in fact, splitting into sub-groups focused on different issues, but under the broad anti-Trump umbrella.  And I don't think they are as out-of-touch or liberal or elitist and anti-Trump conservatives think.

Douthat wants anti-Trump protesters to come up with a unifying narrative of this country that embraces the traditional narrative but rejects Trump.  Might I suggest, then, that instead of complaining that Trump's liberal opponents aren't coming up with such a narrative, that he work on it himself?  In the meantime, the Emma Lazarus narrative has gotten the Administration to modify its ban to let in at least green card holders and people with valid visas, to have the entire ban suspended, to convince a lot of Muslims that Americans really don't hate them, and has swung at least some public opinion in their direction.  Come back when your unifying narrative can do as much.

Brooks want protesters to stop focusing on trivia like healthcare and start addressing the threat to "globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order."  These things are so large and so abstract that he doesn't even faintly suggest what he has in mind.

Frum is more pragmatic and thinks protesters should stick to something more immediate and concrete, something that can actually be achieved by a law passed by Congress.  (Sensible).  He wants to address the unique threats that Trump poses to our system -- his unparalleled corrupting and his possible Russian ties.  I worry about those, too.  But I think it is time Frum faced facts and acknowledged that those just aren't on most people's front burner.  There was ample exposure of the corruption during the election, but that didn't stop huge numbers of people from voting for Trump because they thought he was more honest than Clinton.  And I don't doubt that our conservative elites are very concerned about Trump's Russian ties.  I share their concern.  But no one else seems to see those ties as a deal-breaker.  Either they hate Trump just fine regardless, or they shrug off the whole thing.

Actually, I think the protesters are showing a lot more political savvy than their anti-Trump conservative critics.  Financial corruption and Russian ties are just too abstract to matter to you average Trump voter.

But why are his opponents calling for women's marches, dressing in pink, and wearing pussy hats? Because the one thing that actually did hurt Trump with supporters was the tape where he bragged about grabbing women by the "pussy."  Yes, Trump whose signature trait, whose whole core appeal was that he never backed down and never apologized; Trump, who freely owned up to tax evasion, stiffing contractors, and gaming the system every way possible; Trump, who openly called on the Russians to hack his opponent's e-mails; Trump, who joked that his followers would literally let him get away with murder -- that Trump attempted to dissociate himself from his remarks about sexual assault and assured everyone that he had never actually done what he boasted about doing.

And the other issues the protesters are starting to raise are more partisan than Trump's conservative critics would care for, but also more real and concrete and likely to mean something to ordinary voters. The anti-ban protests have driven home that some of those scary Muslims Trump wants us to fear are little old ladies on walkers.  Obamacare repeal protests are opening people's eyes to all the people who stand to lose their health insurance.  If Trump makes a serious immigration crackdown and starts mass deportations, protesters will show people that many deportees are quite sympathetic people.  If Trump's protectionist policies disrupt supply chains and hurt manufacturing jobs, at least in the short run, have no doubt that his opponents will be on hand to make sure that everybody notices.

All of this may be partisan.  It may be liberal.  It may be polarizing.  It may just not be the sort of constitutional issue that anti-Trump conservatives care about.  But it is the sort of thing that will shrink Trump's popularity to the point that people might actually be willing to listen to these other, more abstract issue, and might give these more abstract issues some traction.

*FWIW, my other blog makes at least an attempt. 
**And just so we are clear, I am 100% in agreement about the need to keep out crowbar wielding thugs.  And it probably is fair to say that even if the thugs only show up at a small number of events, they can stigmatize all of them.  For that reason, I am completely completely support prosecutors who want to throw the book at rioters, bringing charges with up to a ten-year sentence.  Some on my side have protested, and I certainly do not condone prosecuting mere bystanders.  But so far as I am concerned, cracking down hard on small riots now is a good way of preventing bigger riots later on and is a good general deterrent, so I favor it.  I do think that Frum's advice on how to keep rioters out of your march, "If you see guys with crowbars in the vicinity of your meeting, detain them yourselves and call the cops," seriously underestimates the difficulty and danger of making a citizen's arrest of crowbar-wielding thugs.

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