I count among my good friends from college several liberals and leftists. Mostly, we have never talked about my transition from the Left to the Right. This surprises me because I am the one person among them who actually works in politics. I had assumed that, as friends, they would at least be curious to know why I had dramatically changed my mind about core certainties guiding my career and my morality. I would be curious if they did the same. I would certainly ask them about it.
I don’t think I am being judgmental and I am not trying to be unkind when I say that I am an expert in electoral and movement politics while they are not. It’s a career, just as their careers are in medicine or the law or finance. The fact that I have studied politics and also work in politics means that I know interesting minutiae and the broad scope of some political topics, especially those involving 20th century political organizing. I don’t just work as a political organizer: I wrote a Ph.D. discussing modern political movements; I’ve interviewed scores of people involved in movements ranging from the far Right to the far Left, and I know the scholarship on American movements from the late 19th century to the present.
So it is doubly strange to me that becoming a conservative has simply slammed shut so many intellectual doors with people I have known for a quarter century or more. Yes, it’s politics, and everyone including the experts and practitioners brings a lot of emotional baggage to the subject of political belief. But I’ve always thought I was pretty good at old school historical detachment when asked to practice it, and I strive to be even-handed when discussing the ideological and practical flaws of all contemporary political movements but especially the ones to which I belong.
But such evenhandedness has, to put it lightly, not been a two-way street. The best outcome, friend-wise, of my political transformation, has been uneasy silence, and the worst outcome has included being called racist and other hideous names. In recent years, I’ve been astonished, repeatedly, when I was invited to a Facebook page and found rants about all-powerful Republican Nazis who want to commit genocide and destroy the planet and also deserve to die because they’re toothless, ignorant, Walmart-shopping hillbillies.
My friends are educated people, and they announce their passion about prejudice so frequently as to seem involuntary, but the prejudice emanating from their own views is utterly unremarkable to them. Despite their education, or probably because of it, they know very little about two crucial things: the real history of political movements, and anyone who thinks differently than they do.
I was a centrist Democrat when I was a Democrat, not a leftist, anti-bourgeois, street agitator-type. I understood the strategies and uses of street protest and media spectacle and sometimes used them in my paying jobs, but I preferred service-provision. So a lot of what I did as a liberal I still do today, and I sometimes wonder what my old friends would think if they knew how little I have changed just because I changed political parties.
Based on the few conversations I’ve had, my liberal friends seem to believe that in becoming a social conservative and registered Republican I must have completely abandoned my commitment to disabled people, poor people, children, and other living things. Yet, with the sole exception of abortion politics, I still do the same work for the same vulnerable people with whom I have always worked, from helping people who need government services to working in child protection and crime victim advocacy (not campus rape politics, thank you very much).
And I don’t need to retreat to an ideological bat cave away from my Republican peers to do these things. A little secret I discovered way back when I was a liberal is that many if not most of the people who do the heavy lifting in actually helping the poor (rather than protesting over stuff) are conservatives. This is no mystery to the tiny cohort of honest social scientists who study human behavior: conservative ethics naturally support communal public service in the form of church attendance, stable marriage and child rearing, a work ethic leading to contributions to the public purse, and steady involvement in community service organizations.
Yet, just yesterday, an otherwise kind liberal friend scoffed in disbelief when I told him that the local GED program we had been discussing is run by people I know through my Tea Party network. He couldn’t believe that Tea Party people would volunteer their time helping young people who had gotten off-course, and he couldn’t let my comment slide by without sneering at it. He was literally angry that dedicated, decent, community volunteers thought differently than he did about politics.
That anger is frightening. And after years of widespread demonizing of conservatives in the entertainment world and academia, the appetite of leftists and liberals for hating conservatives isn’t abating but metastasizing. With the blessing of elected officials and celebrities and the heads of government agencies, officially sanctioned hatred of conservatives is spreading to workplaces and school playgrounds and professional sports teams and everywhere on social media. Greater and greater swaths of the economic landscape are being subjected to the sorts of ideological purges that once existed only in academia.
We aren’t having conversations about politics anymore: we haven’t had conversations about politics for a long time now. Liberals and leftists have drawn a circle around any person or thought or presumed thought that isn’t liberal or leftist and labeled that person or thought “Nazi” or “racist” or “homophobic” or “hate.”
This isn’t ordinary politics. It is the hysteria that precedes arguments for re-education camps.
I think a lot of relatively apolitical people and left-of-center people are themselves frightened by what is being done to conservatives. But I see nothing of this fear in my own interactions with liberal people I know. These are people who sat next to me in classrooms reading George Orwell and other oracles of dystopia: how did they not learn the lessons of totalitarian state power, while I did? What makes them think it is acceptable to remain silent?
If anyone is to blame for the current climate of mindless demonization of conservatives, it is educators: K – 12 educators, college professors, and especially the people who create the curricula. At the heart of the demonization of conservatives – and by extension America itself, and white people, and especially white men, and the bourgeoisie – is an educational agenda that whirled extreme Marxist rhetoric into pabulum spoon-fed to schoolchildren and college students for going on 50 years now.
How else to explain how people living in $500,000 houses are so eager to burn down all the houses of the past? How do they fume at the idea that people believe in God while simultaneously believing in an elite hipster psychotic killer like Che Guevara, whom they imagine was a “man of the people”?
I’ve come to see most of my liberal friends as people who have a 50 percent education.
They aren’t evil. They have simply been deprived of a fulsome, credible, non-ideological education. They think they know what happened in the 20th Century. They think they know American history and American politics. But they only have half of a story, and having only half of a story while believing they have the entire story leaves them vulnerable to the worst intellectual propagandists and fraudsters.
And so much of this sort of thinking is just the laziness of fashion. Che Guevara is best known as a tee-shirt. Mao is a cool book of aphorisms. Separated from 78 million dead Chinese, he fits in one’s pocket. Stalin was defended for decades by the American intelligentsia and by America’s most prestigious journalists. I can’t count the times people with advanced degrees have hectored me with stories about how Cuba under the benevolent rule of Fidel Castro was better than America because they (supposedly) have better dentistry, education, healthcare, and so on and so on. It is as if they have no way of learning anything, despite being surrounded by evidence challenging their views.
In the 20-odd years since I left the Left, I’ve gotten used to the consequences of being a conservative.
But nothing compares to the last six months.
I fear for this country and I fear for my fellow conservatives.
But I also fear for my liberal friends because the ideology to which they subscribe looks more and more like totalitarianism every day, and they are very poorly equipped to confront this. They have no intellectual curiosity about their own views and, most damningly, seem to believe they don’t need it.