Friday, August 22, 2014

The Politically Fractured Heart: Between Resentment And Regret

There are several Web commentators I admire and celebrate as worthy colleagues, but recently the one most prominent in my esteem is the pseudonymous Ace of Spades:

...I do think there's too much anger and hostility being let loose out there. Not so much here, but generally; it's more a Twitter thing, but still, the air is just thick with it....

Everyone's angry, and everyone's afraid, and, honestly, they should be. A friend of mine feels it in his bones that another 9/11 is coming, and, while I don't have that intuition, I can't tell him he's just making things up or being silly.

That's certainly out there in the possibility-space.

These are frightening times, and our political leadership's reaction to this is to double down on failure and futility and fairways.

But people don't make good decisions in a state of anger, and they usually don't say useful or correct things in that state, either.

And I see a lot of people following the Left down the road illuminated for them by Jonathan Chait in 2006 or so, when he wrote his (in)famous article, "Yes, I Hate George W. Bush." And then went on to justify his hair-on-fire emotionalism, bitterness, venom, and sheer mental unwellness.

I think people have to be very, very careful when they rationalize to themselves what they know in their hearts (or souls) to be bad behavior with easy, glib, self-flattering excuses like "Well, I'm angry, and justly angry, so every angry outburst is justified!"

I would love to stand this man a bacon-wrapped filet mignon and an evening of tipple. He has spoken my own thoughts, more succinctly than I could have managed to do it. (Let's be candid, Gentle Reader; succinctness isn't one of my notable virtues.)

Ace, clearly, is tired of the tide of vitriol that appears to have displaced rational discourse. He has every reason to be. I share his weariness. What about you?

The stimulus for Ace's plaint can be found in this piece by RedState's Erick Erickson:

As much as the internet can bring people together of like mind, it also can help shrill minorities of people think their views are more mainstream than they are. That then emboldens them further.

In the past several months there have been three incidents that have solidified for me that my faith and my politics are starting to collide. While I am a firm believer in the idea of a conservative populism, I see a dangerous trend within the mix of unfortunate shrillness and hostility. That trend is playing out in the comments here at RedState and on social media....

I’m a conservative before I’m a Republican. I was once even an elected Republican. But before I’m a father or husband, I am a Christian. My politics have to be balanced by my faith. That faith requires me to put faith, hope, mercy, and grace ahead of much, including a lot of short term political gain. And sometimes that requires me to rely on Christ for justice, not the government.

Erickson is a reasonably smart fellow. Yet there's a major mistake in the above, one I would have expected him to perceive on his own: there is an irreconcilable contradiction between conservatism and populism. Indeed, populism cannot be harmonized with any set of ideas, political or otherwise, that incorporates firm principles never to be morally breached. Populism is merely an exhortation to follow the majority to wherever it chooses to go: mob mentality and nothing else.

Nevertheless, he has an important point to make. Populist -- perhaps I should say "lowbrow" -- conservatism often incorporates a tendency to dehumanize persons caught by the policies and incentives conservatives deplore. The recent example of Glenn Beck's generous mission to the southern border, to bring a few comforts to the illegal immigrant children massed there, is a stark one: many, many voices have risen in condemnation of Beck's kindly action.

What on Earth does any such venom-drooler think to gain from such a tirade? Politically or otherwise? More fundamental yet: How could any man of good will want to deny a few comforts to children innocent of any wrongdoing other than being on the wrong side of the border -- perhaps through no inclination of their own?

Let's be maximally explicit about all of it: Politics and politically produced incentives are important. But when your politics causes you to condemn a private citizen for an act of generosity at his own expense, it's time to examine your own conscience. There just might be a bouquet of poison ivy embedded in it.

In his blockbuster audio series The Essence of Political Persuasion, Michael Emerling tells a sad story whose "villain" is himself. In his younger days, when acting as a front man for the Libertarian Party, he was once asked by an interested party what the liberty movement could do to help older Americans. He responded reflexively, with an angry tirade that condemned the Social Security as a system of legalized theft. The other fellow was turned off completely -- indeed, he became angrily hostile. That was not the reaction he wanted, to be sure...but it taught him a lesson he never forgot.

America, despite the representations of that scoundrel in the White House, is a Christian nation. Christians believe passionately that we should be kind to the misfortunate, at least toward those whose misfortunes are not of their own making. That's certainly the case with quite a number of the illegal-alien minors crossing into America from the south. Discriminating among them is difficult, especially at a remove. If a Christian should be moved to generosity by his perception of their state, he is not practicing politics; he is answering to the dictates of his conscience. Anyone who dares to castigate him for doing so has demonstrated himself to be a far less worthy specimen.

Hatred, be it clearly if perhaps unnecessarily said, is the antithesis of Christian virtue. Hatred aimed at children is especially vile, even if they're here in response to political incentives we deplore and passionately want to see corrected. Hatred poured upon those of a different, more compassionate attitude, acting entirely from private resources...well, let's just say the hateful one has quite a lot of repenting to do.

I'm with Ace and Erickson on this. It's time we detoxified the discourse. Perhaps a program of public hangings...but perhaps not. At any rate, it deserves our best efforts, lest we become all too much like those we oppose.


Weetabix said...

I struggle with the seeming Christian/conservative dichotomy. I think it boils down to this: Christ told the young man to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Him.

He absolutely did NOT tell the apostles to go rob the young man and give a small portion of the proceeds to the poor in exchange for votes and then spend the rest on themselves.

I seem to recall studies that show when the government got involved in services traditionally provided by churches, that churches' contributions to that dwindled significantly. Get the government back out, and I'll be the churches will step up. In part, because the need is there, and in part because the parishioners will have more of their own money left to spend on charitable endeavors.

RichJ said...

"Let's be candid, Gentle Reader; succinctness isn't one of my notable virtues."

Cut yourself some slack. Your posts are simply more nuanced than those found elsewhere on the net.

Reg T said...

Fran, concerning the children coming across our southern border, I have a Modest Proposal . . . :-)