President Trump spoke out Tuesday against the media assault on the Covington Catholic High School students, leaping into a Culture War melee after many establishment conservatives either backed away from the fight or actively supported the false narrative pushed by left-wing media.
Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be. They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good – maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2019
Trump will be criticized for wading into the issue and “making it worse,” but this is one of the reasons he won the 2016 election. He gets involved in culture battles when bloodless GOP protocol is to step back and let the Left have another easy win, or even help them to win their favor.
Passive conservatism was so thoroughly terrorized away from social issues over the past generation that it became reluctant to engage even when leftists are clearly the aggressors and their attacks are utterly dishonest.
The debate on the passive Right was never about pushing back or fighting, especially not by top-tier Republican officials looking to preserve their “electability.” The only serious topic of discussion was how much ground to yield, how many of the Left’s premises to agree with.
The idea was that yielding all cultural battles to the Left would allow Republicans to focus on “fiscal conservatism” and win over moderate voters who only care about pocketbook issues. Curiously, the Left never saw it that way, not for an instant.
As we would learn, ceding cultural battles to the Left without a fight, or actively helping them to score a little Strange New Respect and maybe some roundtable seats, made the “pocketbook issues” largely irrelevant. The Left frames everything in moral terms now.
“Moderates” are not a homogenous voting bloc, and not many of them were soothed by Republicans putting on their green eyeshades and waving stacks of financial reports while refusing to engage fiercely in cultural battles. Instead, middle Americans felt bereft of representation.
What passive conservatism ceded to the Left was righteousness. Every left-wing issue is presented as a righteous crusade which no one can legitimately resist. The motives of dissenters are ruthlessly challenged and they are damned as apostates by the Church of the State.
The Left gained an almost unchallenged ability to designate cultural villains and target them for destruction, an ability they were boldly exercising against the Covington kids until citizen-journalists brought them up short with amateur video.
Meanwhile, the Right was completely stripped of righteousness. It cannot present anything as a moral crusade, not even when it speaks up for unborn children or victims of violent crime — not even when it champions those the Left allegedly cares about, like the “working class.”
The passive Right lost the ability to project righteousness even when defending core American principles, and indeed the pillars of Western civilization, like the presumption of innocence. The Left openly demands we sacrifice those things for their crusades.
Now it’s free speech and even basic political rights on the chopping block. Wearing a MAGA hat and marching for life? You deserve whatever happens to you, including life-destroying fake allegations and even violent assault. Shut up, stand down, and submit or your life is forfeit.
The Left defines what your symbols mean, evaluates the true content of your heart, and parses every word you speak. What an insidious assault on free speech — your every word and even facial expressions mangled by hostile translators, your ability to impart meaning stolen.
And passive conservatism does nothing to help because they’re terrified of engaging in cultural battles they believe themselves fated to lose, because refusing to engage for decades gave the Left absolute cultural dominance.
They don’t want to accuse the media of being thoroughly corrupt, because they want to become “respectable” parts of it. They don’t want to upset the delicate surrender negotiations they’ve been conducting with the Left. They dislike the “deplorables” almost as much as the Left does.
The academic heavyweights of passive conservatism are beginning to think religion is effectively dead as a cultural force, the people who cling to it scare away those much-sought-after “moderates,” and causes like pro-life are a futile waste of their energy.
Above all, they are animated by the dream of a “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” moderate majority quietly turning to them and delivering electoral victory. They tell themselves such a silent majority lurks in every demographic, awaiting the right activation signals.
Passive conservatives are easily frightened away from any issue they think might disturb the dreams of this socially liberal, fiscally conservative sleeping colossus. Shrewd left-wingers know this and play to that passive conservative fear to manipulate them.
The fatal problem with this strategy is that the Left plays by no such passive rules. It actively reshapes the electorate with government power and cultural influence. It’s not worried about freaking out the moderates — it subdues and conquers them by redefining what is “normal.”
The Left attacks relentlessly because it pays no price for failed assaults… because it has no active conservative enemy to make it pay. There’s nobody else on the field. Passive conservatives merely quibble about how many yards the Left should get on every play.
Trump appealed to that quiet group of moderates precisely because he saw them under attack and offered to take some hits by standing up for them. Criticize his approach all you want, but which of his GOP opponents even saw the problem? Who else saw moderation itself under attack?
So yes, Trump inevitably wades in for the Covington kids, as most prominent Democrats would do for their treasured constituencies… but as few other Republican leaders of recent vintage would do for theirs. Sure, Trump fumbles some balls, but he’s in the game.