Living With Politics as War

Whoever was surprised by the hate-fest against the National Rifle Association and conservative Americans in general that followed the Parkland, Florida school shooting must not have been paying attention. Over the past half-century, a ruling class formed by our uniformly leftist educational system and occupying the commanding heights of corporate life, governmental bureaucracies, the media, etc. accuses its targets of everything from murder and terrorism to culpable psycho-social disorders (racism, sexism, and so forth).

Leaders, marchers, and rioters speak from identical scripts. They do not try to persuade. They strengthen their own side’s vehemence. They restrict opponents from speaking on their own behalf, and use state and corporate power to push them to society’s margins. While demanding deference to themselves, they mention right-leaning Americans and their causes only to insult and de-legitimize them.

Republican politicians and Fox News grant the respect denied them. They respond with facts and reason. But the Left’s reasoning is war’s reasoning: helping one’s own by hurting the enemy.

Political-war-by-accusation-of-crime is common in the world. As a rule—Charles de Gaulle was not the first to note it—“peoples are moved only by elemental sentiments, violent images, brutal invocations.”

But in America, political war used to be rare. The Federalist Papers begin thus: “it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.”

Was America ever ruled by reason? For the most part, and relative to the rest of the world, yes it was. How did this come to be? In 1816, Thomas Jefferson answered: “our functionaries have done well, because… if any were [inclined to do otherwise], they feared to show it.” In short, America was exceptional because the American people were exceptional. 

Today, Americans seem to be regressing to humanity’s sad norm. “Elemental sentiments, violent images, brutal invocations” have become the currency of American public life. Hence, reasoned arguments about the common good have as much chance of getting attention, never mind of giving pause to persons who hate you, as do pearls cast before swine. In politics as in economics, bad currency drives out good.

Is it possible to sustain anything like what the U.S. Constitution’s authors had in mind when appeals to truth, goodness, and beauty are a foreign tongue?

The 2016 election campaign gives insights, positive and negative. The majority of Americans’ sentiment that the ruling class has been warring against their way of life in word and deed overshadowed all issues. Donald Trump led from the beginning because his words showed the same disdain toward the bipartisan high and mighty that they, in turn, show to the rest of Americans. His (relatively mild) “brutal invocations and violent images” called forth the most elemental of sentiments: Your detractors are bad, you are good. Consequently, people who felt demeaned and pushed around by their pretend-betters came to feel that although Trump shared the ruling class’s culture more than their own, at least a Trump presidency would not threaten them; and that perhaps Trump might be their champion. Trump’s presidency lived up to minimal expectations. His administration is not leading the media’s, the judges’, the bureaucrats’, the corporate executives’ continuing war on ordinary Americans.  

But that war is unabated because the power of the people who degraded our lives in their own image is undiminished. For them, the rest of America is and will remain irredeemable. They well nigh removed Christianity and Judaism from the public square. Their schools have dumbed down a generation. They reduced raising children within marriage to a vanishing majority in the country at large and to a rarity among blacks. They have filled our streets with criminals. Their corporations try dictating what people may say and even think. They have stigmatized the verbal currency of two centuries, and bid to outlaw it as hate speech. And they continue to tighten their vise. In the process, however, these rulers are convincing the rest of Americans that they are irredeemable as well.  

When one side rejects persuasion in favor of war, what are the other’s options? To convince our opponents to accept us as equals? The culture, the institutions, bureaucracies, corporations, they have made their own will never again admit us as equals. To reform them? Fat chance! To punish them? To push them to the margins before they push us? What is the good of that?  

Decency for ourselves is our objective. Hence, the words and deeds by which we deal with those who make war on us must aim at affirming ourselves, despite them. 

Hence, the practical question: what is to be our war? Restoring the United States is not within our power. Separation as much as possible from rulers who have become aliens is the only way in which adherents of what had been the American republic can retain our identity and culture. We must look to ourselves.

Internal strife must destroy a house divided against itself. But incompatible descendants of the same family can make a go of it on the same property if, after the shouting, they keep mostly to their own wings of it, agreeing to live and let live. Our war’s proximate purpose must be to achieve this: to stop the ruling class’s attacks, forcefully to suggest that peace can happen only on the basis of mutual acceptance of others’ otherness.  

Unfortunately getting them to leave us alone requires using against them “images and invocations” at least as “violent and brutal” as have used against us. Our purpose cannot be to convince them they are ignoramuses, murderers of babies, cowardly parasitical drones, or self-worshipers who wallow in pornographic fantasies. We ought to show them, rather, that they cannot win this war, because we are not about to deplore ourselves as they deplore us.

In short, the Left’s effort to marginalize conservatives is double-edgeded sword: Inevitably, both sides marginalize each other. This truth is the key to understanding the next stage of America’s political war.

Safeguarding, restoring or re-growing, the precepts, habits, and institutions with which and in which we have lived freely requires acting on our own behalf, almost as if the other side did not exist. This means turning our backs on and raising middle fingers to the ruling class, to its Administrative State, to its corporations, institutions, and culture.

In contemporary American politics, the effective rule is: “Stop me if you can” and, as in Rabelais’ Abbey, “do what you will.” Americans should take note that the majority of Californians are doing as they wish with regard to immigration, environmental policy, and lots of other things without fear that the national government will stop them with armies or SWAT teams. California’s state government has its favorite judges and laughs at the others. Hence the majority of Texans, Oklahomans, and others can do and say as they wish about social, environmental, or any other policies with the same bold confidence that they will get away with it—courts, Congress and federal agencies notwithstanding. Greater boldness beats lesser. 

What is anybody going to do to stop a city or state from closing abortion clinics? Today, the ruling class’s political demands for politically correct conformity have no teeth. For better and worse, America in the 21st century is nothing like it had been in the mid-19th, or even the 1950s. Back then, a state or city’s “nullification” of national law or court orders could be nullified by sending the army. Today, nobody is going to point guns at anybody, never mind shoot. Courts have stripped themselves of the capacity to persuade—or even to pretend to speak on behalf of something valid for everybody. In an America eager to give the middle finger, the most willful predominate.

As regards economics, ordinary Americans must wake up to the fact that, since they are the bulk of consumers, they hold cards that trump the powers of the Fortune 500 and Wall Street combined.

Partisan corporate power is indeed a potentially decisive tool of political war. Of late, major corporations have become the ruling class’s major enforcers, politicizing civil society. When elected officials in Indiana and North Carolina enacted laws protecting individuals’ refusal to help celebrate homosexuality and their right to use public toilets restricted to their sex, major corporations frightened politicians into backing off by declaring their intention to remove business from those states.

Similarly, they have sought to silence conservative TV commentators by removing or threatening to remove advertising from their shows or networks. Mere threats have been enough. Facebook and Twitter have begun to ape Chinese practices of restricting the flow of opinions they dislike.

But the power of corporate boycotts is hollow. It is wielded by people on short financial leashes, and inspires even more decisive countermeasures. Corporations cannot afford to be perceived as hostile to substantial parts of the population. Any that paints itself or lets itself be painted into the Left political corner hands competitors a clear shot at its clientele. Declines in revenues imperil corporate officials. Let them boycott!

In fact, corporate boycotts are heaven-sent opportunities for counter-boycotts, the purpose of which should be to foster shopping “on our side.” This can help break big businesses’ support for the ruling class and build companies led by people inclined to run non-oppressive work places. Similarly, as Facebook and Twitter define themselves by their biases, Americans can abandon them and build their own social media. Leftists started splitting society. Let’s make the best of it.

Separating from the educational establishment is essential to securing a culture in which we can thrive socially and politically. It is discrediting itself academically, and by showing enmity to the rest of America.

From K through 12 teachers’ unions, in league with national textbook publishers, have produced a generation less competent in math, science and English than their parents and grandparents, less able to function as workers and citizens. The 3 percent (and growing fast) of homeschooled K-12 students are the tip of a growing revolt. Waiting lines for admissions to charter schools and the 20 percent of families that sacrifice for private schools testify to a widespread hunger to minimize ties to this establishment.

Except in the “hard sciences,” today’s colleges provide mostly four years of self indulgence and a sense of moral entitlement vis a vis fellow citizens. College no longer improves most students intellectually and morally. Increasingly devalued credentials are what colleges give for a substantial part of families’ net worth. And as Americans watch Ivy League graduates making fortunes on Wall Street after four years of nonsensical courses, they realize that our educational system is leading the rest of modern America to redefining merit and reward as Progressive social attitudes and connections.  

Taking primary and secondary education into our own hands means 1) removing requirements that public school teachers must belong to unions, as the State of Wisconsin has done; 2) dividing big school districts, so that school boards are are composed of parents of pupils or neighbors of parents; 3) ending the corrupt arrangement between state boards of education and textbook publishers; 4) giving every parent of every school child a voucher for the average per-pupil cost in his areas, redeemable at any school, anywhere will let parents decide on their own children’s needs.

At the college level, the “name schools” began separating from the rest of America by reserving faculty and student positions for persons of approved opinions and backgrounds. They are leading the rest of the country in the negative selection of elites. Left outside their orbits are some of America’s best talents—homeschoolers who consistently outperform all other categories in standardized tests, young scholars without the right connections. Wise educational entrepreneurs can gather them into colleges whose curricula and requirements produce graduates whose qualities will give the name colleges the reputations they deserve.

The ruling class has conquered commanding heights over every part of American society. Because, as it did so, this class convinced itself unalterably that the rest of us are a lower class of beings, re-conquering those heights could not restore citizenship among us. The prize would be costly and worthless. Best for all is for we Indians to leave the chiefs alone on their hills as we build better villages.

Get the news corporate media won't tell you.

Get caught up on today's must read stores!

By submitting your information, you agree to receive exclusive AG+ content, including special promotions, and agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms. By providing your phone number and checking the box to opt in, you are consenting to receive recurring SMS/MMS messages, including automated texts, to that number from my short code. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end. SMS opt-in will not be sold, rented, or shared.

About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla was a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He was professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of several books including To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).