Yes, Sometimes Politics Is Personal

If you are a conservative who grew up with supportive conservative parents, went to a conservative college such as Hillsdale, and after graduation entered a workplace in which politics never comes up or, better still, found work with a conservative politician, periodical, or think tank, the chances are good that Donald Trump’s pugilistic style bothers you. You like his judicial appointments and religious liberty and old-fashioned patriotism, but the tweets, the nicknames, the tiffs with aging Hollywood stars . . . you think they will damage conservatism in the long run.

But if you’ve had an experience like the one I describe below, you might see President Trump’s fighting ways in a different light.

A former student of mine recently interviewed for a tenure-track post at a small but well-endowed liberal arts college in the West. She earned her doctorate at a name university and has many years’ experience teaching at another one. She is also a liberal and an environmentalist. The field was freshman composition; she was superbly qualified.

But when she found out who would be on the interview committee, she was astonished. One of them was a leader of the black student organization on campus, the other head of the “Latinx” student association. Both of them are undergraduates.

Apparently, there was an n-word incident at the school awhile before, and students of color had cast it as indicative of a widespread problem. The administration responded by, among other things, giving these students a say in faculty hiring. In effect, two 19-year-olds with a powerful political motive would sit in judgment of 30- and 40-year-olds who had spent six years in graduate school, published peer-reviewed scholarship, and had 10 or 20 semesters of teaching experience.

It’s the kind of encounter that stings. It won’t make my student vote for President Trump in November, but when she was told later that the committee found her “social justice pedagogy” wanting, it left her shaken. When did freshman comp turn into a political program?

Were she a conservative, she would have realized that no matter how talented, conscientious, and collegial she is, she would never get the job. A conservative would understand that the inclusion of these minority group representatives is not an act of openness and principle. It’s a tactic that targets anyone not on the far Left.

The name of the game is politicization. The label is neutral, but it only works in one direction.

Spaces that were once more or less apolitical are revised into leftist combat zones. The two students in the committee room have no academic competence. They will vote solely on grounds of identity politics. Forget the candidate’s knowledge of the foundations of literacy. Disregard her skill in breaking a student’s habit of writing always in the passive voice. Instead, ask whether this candidate shows any signs of acknowledging the persistence of racism. Is she prepared to support students of color in their crusade to end injustice?

Politicization means that certain types of people—those with the wrong politics—won’t be hired, promoted, or rewarded. Conservatives will suffer.

In this way, yet one more institutional space in which fates are decided falls prey to the long march of the progressives.

We see one zone after another toppling. Actors in a Broadway hit halt the performance in order to berate the vice president after they spot him in the audience. Professional athletes insult the flag and all the fans who revere it before the contest begins. Famous conservatives must be wary in restaurants. Conservative Christians who work in the professions must keep their biblical beliefs hidden. After Obergefell, President Obama turned the White House into an illuminated partisan billboard of rainbow colors. I went to a performance of Wagner at the Kennedy Center awhile back and there it was again, the “pride” lighting encircling the building.

Offices, eateries, academia, sports, entertainment . . . progressives are politicizing them all. They rationalize their conquest by claiming that those zones were always political and that they have only created a more just politics. But conservatives know better.

The leaders of this putative reform movement have none of the forgiving sobriety of Martin Luther King, Jr. They are vindictive and hysterical. To judge the American college campus as a rabid habitat of racist oppression is delusional. Diversity is not their goal. They have too much ressentiment they need to work off. Conservatives must pay for their (imagined) misdeeds. If someone walks into a cafe in a red-state town wearing a “Feel-the-Bern” t-shirt, the worst thing that will happen is a little harmless raillery. A Trump t-shirt in a blue state town evokes a whole lot worse.

Conservatives who send their kids to conservative schools and work in apolitical or right-leaning businesses and institutions don’t have to worry so much about those threats. They know that American society has veered leftward, but they’ve survived and prospered.

The election of Bernie Sanders would make the executive branch into a weapon for leftist advocacy groups as it was under President Obama, but it won’t harm the nicely set-up conservative. George W. Bush showed that a conservative can endure a thousand low blows and cheap shots from liberal media and Hollywood and academia and still behave like a gentleman. So should President Trump.

But, then, President Bush’s forbearance did not stop the steady march of leftist politicization at all. The cultural elite proceeded to revile social and religious conservatives over and over. Since 1990, the rate of conservatives in academia has shrunk to negligibility. In the process of politicization, it is not only the protocols and goals of the institution that are changed. Personnel changes, too. Politicization means that certain types of people—those with the wrong politics—won’t be hired, promoted, or rewarded. Conservatives will suffer.

This brings us back to President Trump’s combative schoolyard style. To call him a bully is to forget the high-stakes bullying that has accompanied every politicization that has happened from primary school classrooms to the human resources divisions in corporate America. To say he is not presidential is to ignore the accusations of racism, etc., that social and religious and national conservatives have endured in spite of their respectful deportment. 

Politicization is a very dirty game. Individuals who have been on the receiving end of it, who have found themselves ever nervous at work, or are appalled at what their kids learned in school that day, or 10 minutes into a hiring interview realized that a political question was coming that would cancel their chances . . . they may continue to admire the gentlemanly demeanor of George W. Bush. But they have also learned that civility in politics has done them no good, not against a left brigade that despises them whether they are well-mannered or not.

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