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When my liberal friends and colleagues begin to explain to me why they imagine President Trump is appallingly vulgar and incompetent and venal, there is always a point in which their faces go blank. It happens when I say to them, “What about the Little Sisters of the Poor?” That stops them short. They don’t know the reference.
I could also mention Brendan Eich, Barronelle Stutzman, Amy Wax, or Bruce Gilley and get the same response. Liberals who are otherwise informed and well-educated are unfamiliar with those names. They followed the Robert Mueller investigation closely, they tally Trump’s misdeeds weekly, and they are anxious about 2020. But the episodes involving the individuals I cite don’t register with them.
They did with social and religious conservatives, though—deeply so. The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order that, among other things, runs facilities for the elderly. They objected to the contraception mandate in Obamacare—it’s contrary to Catholic doctrine—and ended up having to fight the Obama Administration all the way to the Supreme Court.
Brendan Eich was the renowned head of Mozilla who was hounded out of his post after it was discovered he donated $1,000 to Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The measure passed handily, putting Eich in the majority of California voters, and there was no evidence that Eich had ever discriminated against anyone in the workplace, but that didn’t save him.
Barronelle Stutzman is the florist who on religious grounds declined to do a same-sex wedding. That brought a complaint that led the State of Washington and the ACLU to file suit against her. The original complainant, it should be added, was a longtime client and acquaintance of Stutzman. She had sold him flowers for years, but she couldn’t agree to participate in the ceremony.
Amy Wax is a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who co-wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer arguing that young people, especially the impoverished, would do well to follow old-fashioned bourgeois culture instead of the coarse, consumerist youth culture of today, including “rap culture.” Her dean proceeded to remove her from part of her teaching, while 33 colleagues signed a public letter denouncing her.
Bruce Gilley is the professor who drew the ire of thousands when he wrote an essay in a scholarly journal questioning “academic orthodoxy” that Western colonialism was a terrible thing. It was a provocative piece, but his aim of shaking the consensus backfired. More than 10,000 people signed a petition demanding the journal retract the article. The journal editor received “credible” threats of personal violence.
As these and many other incidents of anti-conservative targeting (Mark Regnerus, Jack Phillips . . .) were recounted on conservative radio and media, social and religious conservatives couldn’t help but see themselves as potential targets as well.
It’s been going on for years. The culture war waged against them starting in the mid-20th century has developed into a guerrilla war that uses lawsuits, Title IX complaints, boycotts, petitions, intimidation of companies that advertise on conservative shows, banning of conservatives from social media, and organized outrage at those who uphold American patriotism, Western Civilization, Catholic teaching, and any other belief that crosses progressive lines.
The impact has been heavy on the right, but these episodes haven’t reached the ears of white-collar liberals. Or, if they did, they didn’t stick. When I describe such cases to people on the Left, it’s as if I am talking about a scrap that took place in a bar across town. In their eyes, they amount, at most, to the occasional excess by a few zealots. Not a big deal.
Which leaves white-collar liberals exasperated and incredulous, helpless to understand why anyone with any intelligence and goodness could have voted for Donald Trump. The never-ending culture war has done exactly what it was supposed to do: discredit and demean social and religious conservative norms and beliefs. The new guerrilla war is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: expel a few conservatives from the workplace, the media, and the public square, and intimidate the rest—and to do it beneath the radar of white-collar liberals.
It is pointless for conservatives to try to explain to those across the aisle how dispirited and defeated they feel. Liberals aren’t interested. They don’t credit any notions of endangerment, either. They save those sympathies for historically-disadvantaged groups. Besides, liberals regard the sexual revolution and Roe v. Wade, same-sex marriage and open borders, intersectional awareness, and #MeToo as a triumph. If a few decent people lose their jobs or their business, if a hapless fellow becomes the object of a Twitter mob, if a baker has to hire lawyers to fend off a fanatical state civil rights commission, well, the omelet begins with a few cracked eggs. They don’t feel your pain!
Donald Trump did, and still does. In 2016, he promised he would make it stop. He brought the Little Sisters of the Poor up on stage and promised them that their “long ordeal will soon be over.” He pulled “gender identity” out of Title IX, which meant it could no longer be the basis of Title IX complaints. He threatened colleges with loss of federal funding if they violate First Amendment principles.
These actions were designed to halt leftist guerrilla warfare. This is a big reason why Donald Trump won. Would Jeb Bush have taken similar actions? Did John Kasich ever indicate in 2016 that he even recognized ongoing guerrilla tactics against individuals on the right?
Awhile ago, I spoke at a distinguished university in the northeast, where I aligned Donald Trump with an American tradition of Emersonian nonconformity, the solitary individual against a longstanding Establishment.
The audience didn’t buy it; questions were sharp-edged. But to one point there was no rejoinder: “Why did I support Mr. Trump?” I asked. “Because if Hillary had won, my church would have had to hire many, many lawyers, march into court every week, and close some institutions.” What followed was, precisely, that blank look.
“Huh?” the crowd seemed to say.
Yes, that’s exactly what would have happened. And if liberals don’t stop being so doggone obtuse about the experience of conservatives, it’s going to be four more years.
Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images