It’s become little more than a banal observation to say that civil discourse has disappeared from American political life.
Conservatives try to converse, and for their efforts they get denunciation and epithets. They try to talk rationally about race and are called racists; about immigration and are called xenophobes; about the singular gifts to humanity of Western Civilization and are called white supremacists.
Decades ago rational discussion was possible—discussion where one side cited facts, human experience, and the inferences to be drawn from both; stated a point of view or explained a social phenomenon; and the other responded substantively, referring to different facts, experiences, or inferences.
In America this no longer happens.
The oddity is that so few people—including many with supposedly superior insight into the American political scene—seem to understand the obvious reason for its disappearance.
Conservatives pursue conversation and propose fact-informed solutions to social problems. On the rare occasions when the Left actually acknowledges them, the “discourse” it offers is an epithet drawn from its catechism.
In short, civil discourse doesn’t happen in America anymore because one side tries to talk while the other reaches for a demonizing label.
A Generational Tectonic Shift
Consider the ideological chasm separating America’s two major political parties:
Conservatives and Republicans are unified by a belief that the nation, with all its imperfections, is fundamentally good, its founding principles a boon to humanity, and its basic governing institutions and socio-economic arrangements in need of only judicious improvement from time to time in order to keep them in line with our principles.
The Left, which is to say today’s Democratic Party, believes that the nation is fundamentally evil, that all its wealth and prosperity were derived from slavery, and that its European-descended citizens remain so profoundly racist that they must be reduced to an irrelevant minority through mass immigration. The Left openly advocates sweeping the old society aside and building an entirely new one, based on an unchallengeable manifesto of racial, ethnic, “gender,” collectivist, and environmental “truths.” And it proposes to impose this radical transformation for the benefit of an entirely new majority population, to be imported across abolished borders.
Today’s Democrats have become the party of revolution. Revolutionaries don’t converse with the opposition. They silence and then destroy it.
Within living memory American politics were not so.
A different Democratic Party is brought to mind by events of only a bit more than 50 years ago.
In 1964, Hubert Humphrey, liberal of Minnesota, and Everett Dirksen, conservative of Illinois, talked civilly to each other and did so, arguably, about the most significant item of federal legislation in the nation’s history, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Humphrey didn’t label Dirksen a racist because of Dirksen’s honest concern about government-imposed restrictions on private choice; and Dirksen didn’t claim Humphrey was promoting tyranny. The result of their discussions was legislation that would forbid and ultimately end all sanctioned racial discrimination in America, in employment, housing, education, and places of public accommodation.
Such discussion on any of today’s great issues, let alone such an outcome, is unthinkable. It would end before it began, in a cannonade of shop worn and substantively empty denunciatory labels hurled by the Left.
Like all revolutionaries before them, today’s Democrats believe their vilification of America is so righteous, their goals so inarguably essential, that any method of gaining power is justified—including transparent lies, demonization and intimidation of opponents, intensification of existing conflicts to the point of violence, and subversion of legitimate electoral outcomes.
Their rhetoric drips with loathing and contempt. Today’s Democrats condemn conservatives, traditionalists, and patriots in words chosen to promote hatred and intensify existing social divisions. Their opponents are not wrong for rationally stated reasons—they are dismissed as racists, white supremacists, white nationalists, xenophobes, homophobes, Islamophobes, climate deniers, “deplorables.”
Civil discourse in America has disappeared because revolutionaries don’t do civil discourse. Revolutionaries pursue power “by any means necessary,” to enact a program to which they are religiously committed.
This is rhetoric reminiscent of Lenin and Stalin’s 1919 and 1932 propaganda campaigns against the “kulaks,” an imaginary social class they invented as scapegoats for economic catastrophes caused by the Marxist communism they imposed. Pick up a history book and study the atrocities to which that demonization led.
Consider an incomplete list of Democrats’ basic assumptions and program today.
The foundational belief that America is permanently evil because at one time it practiced slavery (as did every civilization in human history), and because Europeans created the country in a place previously occupied by less developed people (a habit of all human tribes from the time they could judge real estate and walk).
The explicit condemnation of America’s parent culture, the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman civilization of the West. Before today’s Democrats, all major American political parties viewed Western Civilization as an enormous boon to humanity—its unique creativity, religiously based belief in universal human dignity, and unparalleled scientific and technological fecundity were thought to have conferred benefits across the globe that immensely diminished human suffering and created the modern world. But for today’s Democrats, these gifts from the West are cancelled out by colonialism (something that, in one form or another, every other civilization powerful enough to dominate others practiced).
A fact-averse belief, held with religious fervor, that America’s European descended citizens remain incurably racist toward their former slaves’ descendants and, in keeping with that, also toward all others who are racially different from the nation’s European founders and later immigrants.
Rejection of free-market capitalism and the embrace of various forms of repeatedly and painfully discredited economic leveling schemes, “democratic socialism,” and the denial of massive, unavoidable differences in human talent and virtue.
Rejection of the nation’s foundational freedom, the freedom to express any opinion or state any fact without fear of punishment by government, educational institution, employer, or corporate controller of modern communication methods.
Zealous efforts to replace freedom of expression with Orwellian “speech codes,” punishment of “hate speech” (content to be defined by the Left), exclusion from internet communication, and socio-economic ostracizing of those who express “offensive” thoughts or facts.
Outright demonization of all members of the nation’s founding racial group, Europeans, especially heterosexual males, regardless of their socio-economic class or behavior.
Commitment to a massive vote-buying wealth-transfer, from those who never owned slaves to those who never were slaves, as “reparations” for slavery; and rejection of humanity’s biology and a science-based understanding of himself as a sexually binary, male-female species.
A Radical Direction
No major political party in the nation’s history has ever remotely approached today’s Democrats, in intensity of loathing for America or in the scope of its revolutionary program intended for it.
Today’s Democrats are, in fact, more profoundly radical than their historical predecessors, the Jacobins of 1793, Bolsheviks of 1917, and Mao’s Chinese Communist Party of 1949. They add a piece to their program that even Robespierre, Lenin, and Mao would have shunned.
By demanding that the nation’s borders be opened to all who show up, today’s Democrats advocate replacing most of the present American population with “better,” allegedly morally untarnished Third World peoples, who, they brag, will soon outnumber and replace the descendants of America’s evil European founders and of those Europeans who came later.
Think about that for a moment.
“Vote for us, all you racist descendants of the racist founders and racist later European immigrants . . . so that we can demolish your society, replace you with third world immigrants, and turn you into an irrelevant and despised minority in the country you built.”
Not catchy, rather unattractive to Americans of European descent, but accurate.
But back to the initial point.
Civil discourse in America has disappeared because revolutionaries don’t do civil discourse.
Revolutionaries pursue power “by any means necessary,” to enact a program to which they are religiously committed.
So it’s sometimes amusing, but more often simply pitiable, to read writers like Peggy Noonan, naïvely groveling for a more polite national politics; or the terminally confused snob, George Will, who risibly claims to admire America and yet continues to argue that it should be turned over to revolutionaries who detest and promise to destroy it.
The 2020 elections will not be comparable to anything that’s come before.
It will be a contest between those animated by loathing who pursue revolution, and those animated by affection who seek improvement. It will be a struggle for national survival against those who despise the nation and openly seek to replace both it and the descendants of its European founders and later immigrants.
The struggle will not include civil discourse, and that absence will not be the fault of those seeking to conserve America.