When Is Extremism Justified?

“It was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost.”

The Devil and Daniel Webster, Stephen Vincent Benet

That passage from Stephen Vincent Benet’s masterpiece offers a critical perspective on the nature of extremism. It is altogether justifiable to have an extreme reaction to an extreme problem, but if one descends to the same level of hatred and evil that inspires their oppressors, their fight loses its virtue.

But can fate be reasonably expected to deliver a positive outcome merely because the good guys were more eloquent? Daniel Webster knew he could not overcome hatred with hatred, but his ability to persuade a jury of the damned to spare a man’s soul, while a powerful moral fable, is nonetheless fiction.

Benet published The Devil and Daniel Webster in 1937, a year in which ideological hatred was exploding into violence and war across the world. But unlike in Germany, where an entire population succumbed to the exhortations of a fascist demagogue, in America, the growing extremist militancy was attenuated by the calm leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The point here is neither to defend FDR’s solutions nor to condemn them. Rather it is noteworthy that while worker grievances were addressed through what many still consider to have been a dangerous drift towards socialism, these policies were enacted in America without demagoguery, scapegoating or an epidemic of murderous violence. In Germany, the Nazis were also attentive to worker grievances. But their solutions came at a horrific cost. Roosevelt, unlike Hitler, projected a kind persona. Instead of inflaming a nation, he healed it.

In our time there has been a relentless campaign by opponents of President Trump to paint him as another Hitler. Obviously Trump has done his part to feed this assault, since he’s all too willing to mock his detractors and rivals openly. Shifty Schiff, Nervous Nancy, Sleepy Joe, Crazy Bernie, Pocahontas, Mini-Mike, Cryin’ Chuck, Low-IQ Maxine, Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Low Energy Jeb, Leakin’ James, and so on. But the media, along with everyone else horrified by the Trump presidency, go too far.

While President Trump isn’t afraid to utter divisive, politically incorrect statements, those represent only a small fraction of what he has to say.

Some of his tweets are inflammatory. These tweets, along with out of context low-lights from spontaneous moments at his rallies, are replayed endlessly by the anti-Trump media. Never shown, unless you make the effort, are the rest of his tweets, the rest of his speeches, and the rest of his proclamations, which invariably are positive, uplifting, optimistic, and even—gasp—inclusive.

Trump’s recent State of the Union address gave Americans a glimpse of that side of him which the media never shows. But it’s Trump’s policies that ought to provide additional evidence that far from being the reincarnation of Hitler, he is a moderate centrist, violating as many libertarian pieties as leftist ones.

Examples of this are plentiful. Investing in the inner cities, pushing for paid parental leave, passing “right-to-try” legislation, and championing infrastructure projects are all ideas taken straight out of the Democrat’s playbook. Other policies advanced by Trump, such as common sense rollbacks of environmental regulations and encouraging conventional energy development, are only controversial because the “consensus” pushed by the liberal elite has itself become extreme. In other areas, such as de-escalating tensions with Russia and North Korea, and avoiding war with Iran, Trump’s actions are condemned as appeasement. Whatever they are, he’s no second coming of the Fuhrer.

Common-sense Americans don’t want to spend $6 per gallon for gasoline, or $1 million for a home on a lot so small you can’t fit a swing set in the backyard.

But no matter what Trump does, the American Left condemns him as an authoritarian, a wannabe dictator. Their hatred of Trump, however, is the hatred that should be of concern. If Hillary Clinton had been elected, it would have meant an acceleration of every leftist project that had already acquired dangerous momentum during eight years of Obama’s presidency. With Trump, the Left encountered the first substantial resistance to its agenda in over a generation, and this is what explains left-wing fury.

They’d better watch out. Trump is a pussycat compared to what comes next if the leftist agenda in America isn’t stopped in its tracks and forced to recalibrate.

Americans of all stripes—let’s forego the obligatory itemization of identities and just go with “stripes”—are deciding they don’t want to live in a nation where foreigners outnumber natives in most cities and several states, and thereby will eventually enable Democratic socialists to acquire a permanent electoral majority. They’re also tired of watching their jobs get exported at the same time as millions of welfare migrants get imported.

Americans of all stripes don’t want their children groomed in the public schools to consider sex to be a subjective individual choice, and they want to decide for themselves how to discuss sexuality with their young children.

Hard-working Americans, whoever they are, don’t want—in the name of “inclusive zoning”—to have homeless people, including drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, perverts, and the insane corralled into backyard “mini-homes,” or into apartment buildings dropped randomly into neighborhoods of single-family homes. They especially don’t want this to happen when their taxes will help pay for the construction and help pay the rents.

Common-sense Americans don’t want to spend $6 per gallon for gasoline, or $1 million for a home on a lot so small you can’t fit a swing set in the backyard. They don’t want to have to take buses and “light rail” every time they need to go grocery shopping or to drop their children off at soccer practice. They don’t want to spend their lives living paycheck to paycheck based on the preposterous theory that if they do these things, somehow the “climate” will no longer deliver cataclysmic storms, fires, and floods.

Fair-minded Americans don’t want to have opportunities denied to themselves or their children because of the color of their skin. They don’t want to be pushed to the end of the line simply because they happen to be white or Asian, and get told this is necessary because of their privilege, or their “proximity” to privilege. No fair-minded American, “privileged” or otherwise, wants to get a job merely because of the color of their skin, or because of their “gender identity.”

Patriotic Americans don’t want to have to submit to “common sense” gun control legislation that solves nothing, but jeopardizes their ability to defend their homes and their freedom. God-fearing Americans—and, presumably, atheists with even a bit of humanity—abhor late-term on-demand abortion. Watch a high-resolution ultrasound video of a 20-week old fetus trying unsuccessfully to dodge the abortionist’s blade. You’ll never be the same.

All of these policies, pushed relentlessly by the American Left, are offensive to the vast majority of Americans. The only reason the outrage isn’t universal is that the mainstream media lies about the extent of these problems and completely ignores the causes. Similarly, the online media monopolies censor—or “throttle down”—content that exposes the leftist agenda.

Donald Trump may not be another FDR, but if he got fair treatment from the media, his popularity would be rising even faster than it already is. He has brought the leftist agenda out of the shadows and into a public conversation.

Donald Trump is also no Daniel Webster. But if you watch his speeches and press conferences, you can see that he is almost always thoroughly enjoying himself. The fact that he has not succumbed to the hatred that consumes his critics is a big part of the reason they hate him more than ever.

America is very lucky that Donald Trump, a moderate centrist with common sense and a sense of humor, came onto the scene when he did. Because the American people are not going to let their nation and their culture be destroyed. Absent Trump, or at the least, absent some progress stopping the leftist agenda, Americans eventually will fight the Left “with their own weapons.” Fighting extremism with extremism is a last resort, but “when in the course of human events” all else fails, pacifist virtue is put aside, and it becomes the tragic final option.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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