As the days remaining on my New York Times subscription dwindle down to just a few, I cherish each remaining David Brooks and Ross Douthat column. This one from today should generate some serious thought, though tribalism may not allow it.
Back to that in a minute.
The people pushing for gun restrictions have basically done the exact opposite of what I thought was wise. Instead of depolarizing the issue they have massively polarized it. The students from Parkland are being assisted by all the usual hyper-polarizing left-wing groups: Planned Parenthood, Move On and the Women’s March. The rhetoric has been extreme. Marco Rubio has been likened to a mass murderer while the N.R.A. has been called a terrorist organization.
The early results would seem to completely vindicate my position … The losing streak continues.
Yet I have to admit that something bigger is going on. It could be that progressives understood something I didn’t. It could be that you can win more important victories through an aggressive cultural crusade than you can through legislation. Progressives could be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society. That would produce social changes far vaster than limiting assault rifles.
Two things have fundamentally changed the landscape. First, over the past two years conservatives have self-marginalized. In supporting Donald Trump they have tied themselves to a man whose racial prejudices, sexual behavior and personal morality put him beyond the pale of decent society.
While becoming the movement of Dinesh D’Souza, Sean Hannity and Franklin Graham, they have essentially expelled the leaders and thinkers who have purchase in mainstream culture. Conservatism is now less a political or philosophic movement and more a separatist subculture that participates in its own ostracism.
Second, progressives are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior. All sorts of formerly legitimate opinions have now been deemed beyond the pale on elite campuses. Speakers have been disinvited and careers destroyed. The boundaries are being redrawn across society.
As Andrew Sullivan noted recently, “workplace codes today read like campus speech codes of a few years ago.” There are a number of formerly popular ideas that can now end your career: the belief that men and women have inherent psychological differences, the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, opposition to affirmative action.
What’s happening today is that certain ideas about gun rights, and maybe gun ownership itself, are being cast in the realm of the morally illegitimate and socially unacceptable …
Conservatives have zero cultural power, but they have immense political power. Even today, voters trust Republicans on the gun issue more than Democrats. If you exile 40 percent of the country from respectable society they will mount a political backlash that will make Donald Trump look like Adlai Stevenson.
Be sure not to gloss over that last paragraph. What Brooks describes — cultural power and political power even more sharply out of sync and at war with each other — would have been hard to imagine not long ago, but we’re already, in the age of Trump, getting a taste of what it would be like.
I’m not in “the movement of Dinesh D’Souza, Sean Hannity and Franklin Graham,” but don’t bet I won’t choose that as the (probably) lesser evil if push comes to shove.
Down at the southern tip of Manhattan where Wall Street lies, Peggy Noonan, without engaging David Brooks, has a considerably sunnier view I’d be remiss to omit:
This country is tired of tragedy, of the weeping president and the high-toned speech. Mr. Trump doesn’t do that because he can’t, and doesn’t know how to mourn. Just as well: We’re all tired of moist and empty vows. Do something …
Mr. Trump, God bless him, doesn’t know enough about the facts to be fatalistic about them. But he got the big picture right—at least the larger context of voters frozen along battle lines.
His presentations were stream-of-consciousness—undisciplined, scatty. And as always the question is whether he meant any of it. His opinions rest on impulses. He likes to say words. You never know which you can believe, which makes deal-making hard.
But of all recent presidents he is the one who can give cover to congressional conservatives, work with Democrats, and get something done.
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