Ross Douthat, Please Just Admit You’re a Liberal.
Go to your kitchen, Ross, brew a nice cuppa, and get comfortable, because this rant won’t be.
Conservatism has no new ideas, Ross. That’s why they call it conservatism. When it has new ideas, it gets labeled progressivism, or in our country liberalism. Progressivism is where new ideas go for vetting. Smell that coffee? Good.
You’re only worried by progressivism because vetting new ideas on a societal scale is inherently incoherent. But without that process, we die of a thousand conservative budget cuts.
Progressivism had a new idea about health care. It became the Affordable Care Act. Conservatism had a new idea about that: Burn it down, oh, and replace it with, um…
Progressivism had a new idea about immigration reform. It became DACA. Conservatism had a new idea about that: Burn it down, oh, we can’t, well, um…walls are nice.
Progressivism had a new idea about peace in the Middle East. It became the Camp David Accords. Conservatism had a new idea here, too: Arm dictators, oh, and then kill them when they betray us.
Progressivism has had many new ideas about reducing gun deaths in the US. In the context of the conservative NRA, they have so far become nothing. But conservatism is happy to offer its brand spanking new (and highly effective) thoughts and prayers.
Progressivism had a new idea about how to deal with a global pandemic. It became a Federal response plan. Conservatism had a raft of new ideas on this: Ignore plan, ingest poison, open churches. Feel better?
Progressivism had a new idea about how to deal with police brutality. The call to defund the police and leverage that money for preventative measures predates today’s protests. Conservatism had a new idea about this too: Gas peaceful protestors and shoot more innocent black people.
What does this pattern tell us about conservatism?
Bereft of new ones, conservatism has one overriding idea that supplants all others. Everything depends on this idea, and it occludes any substantive policy planks that conservatism may adopt (or recycle unchanged from four years ago). It is simply this: Win at any cost. If we have to install an incompetent narcissist with fascist aspirations in the White House irrespective of the popular vote, so be it. We won. Any questions?
Then you quote a random guy on Twitter (that wellspring of erudition) who posits some highfalutin successor ideology. This is nothing more than saying, “Dudes, look! Culture evolves. Did you even know that? Whoa.”
You’re so afraid of the inchoate nature of progressivism. But, Ross, that’s what it’s for: to cohere new ideas in a rapidly changing world that is more than ever beyond any one person’s comprehension. It is cowardice to run from incoherence just because large systems require time, tension, and disruption for new ideas to take shape.
Your language extols the noble moral aims of the left (props, bro), and recently you’ve offered very few similar paeans for you peers on the right. Then you lob one small word: but. Why do you stick your but out? When we examine your but more closely (an eager prospect indeed), your but is but a dash of vinegar you splash in our strawberry shortcake to make us think you’re making a point.
Evinced by the lack of categorical difference between “reform” and “re-education” — as each requires the other — it’s clear that you don’t really know what’s so bad about the left. It just seems kind of icky to you (even as you reference another opinion by a writer who seems to find Christianity equally vaguely icky).
Are “spiritual renewal and consciousness raising” a bad thing? You never say one way or the other. In a country increasingly disillusioned with organized religions, finding meaning, connection, and understanding in new arenas is natural for progressives. And it’s natural that those attempting to remain conservative will see this shift through the now clouded lens of religion. Whether you are more contemptuous of progressivism or of organized religion is hard to ascertain.
When it comes down to it, Ross, you’re just afraid of messiness.
Get over it. Change is messy, and new ideas get vetted on the intellectual and cultural trading floor that is the global village. Progressives openly encourage each other to “get comfortable with discomfort.” There is no successor ideology, because that concept inherently misunderstands the myriad intersecting layers of ideological change in a societal (and now global) arena.
Generations from now, the achievements of today’s progressives will be the institutions conservatives will try so hard to maintain. These have been with us for so long, we often forget some of their names: abolition, women’s suffrage, Social Security, Medicare, OSHA, the SEC. These were progressive ideas, and now they’re conservative stakes in the ground.
That’s how it works, Ross. And not just in the USA, but through all human culture. Some folks lag behind and try to hold on to what used to work, best as they can figure. Some of us are pushing the envelope, trying to figure out what might work for our children. In a rapidly changing world, Ross, who do you think is the more valuable faction?
Then there are the fence-sitters like you. Aware of the inefficacy of how it used to be, but afraid of the unknown. Unsettled by the ambiguity of cultural evolution and its inherent interpersonal tensions. Unsure how to move forward and irritated at the waves that keep cresting around you. Surfers don’t make the waves, Ross; they ride them. Stop complaining about getting splashed in the face, and get up on the board.
What you’re seeing emerge is a new moral code. But this time not one brought down from the mountain on tablets, or imposed by blue-blooded protection racketeers, or scrawled out by white men created equal. This time an adaptive moral code is emerging from the vast network of those empowered by global connectivity to share experiences and aspirations on an unprecedented scale. For white men accustomed to being more equal than others, this is frightening indeed.
Frightening not least of all because it happens above and beyond anyone’s conscious intention. Change is life, and life is change. Authoritarians (read: conservatives) unsurprisingly decry as “authoritarian” this superintentional process, because people deride in others what they secretly hate in themselves. Remember that Christian bit about the speck and the log? Reread that.
Ross, conservatism is in the business of offering old ideas.
That’s how we got to “Make America great again.” But (spoiler alert) America was never great. It was just full of itself, and now it’s clear we can’t even be that anymore. Conservatism might do well to offer one new idea: humility. That would be new indeed to conservatism.
It’s fair to ask: Why do I spend so much time excoriating you, instead of going after someone truly execrable, such as our Sniveler-in-Chief? Because, Ross, you’re almost there. Just one quick pull, and your head could pop right up out of the sand. Coffee smells better without sand up your nose.
There’s no great conservative leadership coming with new ideas to tell us unickily how it’ll be from now on. We are the leaders you have been waiting for. We’re progressives. And like it or not, Ross, you’re one of us.