Archive for May 5th, 2016

There is a remarkable story floating around online that I haven’t seen posted in many places: how the Southern Baptist Convention has lined up against payday lenders. Christians have come around to the idea that this kind of behavior among financial specialists creates victims. When you see Evangelicals going after financial institutions, you’re watching a 50-year-old pact dissolving. Christians have found something in laissez-faire economics they can’t abide by, and they think the government has a role in stopping it.

I think this is huge news. At the very least, it bears closer scrutiny for those wanting to understand the current state of the Republican Party. Donald Trump’s rise shouldn’t be surprising given the huge schisms within intellectual conservatism, which is less a cohesive movement now than a group of unrelated tribes. Libertarianism, whose underlying argument is that less government and law equals more freedom (and that total freedom could somehow be self-correcting), can no longer be reconciled with Christian charity and evangelism, which sees in this idea selfishness and moral abdication. Political Christians have always seen a role of government acting as an agent for change (think blue laws). This is something they have in common with liberals, though they wouldn’t like the comparison. Meanwhile, neither Ayn Rand nor Jesus likely have much to do with neoconservatism, the idea that America’s military power can be used for the global good and stability. Nor with ethnic nationalism.

And you could separate libertarianism still from free market conservatism, which understands rampant capital formation to be the best model for engendering truly free living and thus is really fond of global free trade agreements and such.

Like all powerful movements, conservatism managed to find unity in these disparate ideas when they were embodied by a powerful historical figure: Ronald Reagan. Without the unifying and sunny idiom in which he put them (and an Evil Soviet Empire that seemed to symbolize everything he was not), there is not a lot left holding these ideas together and certainly not enough for a person who stakes his identity on his Republicanism.

Thus it’s not terribly surprising when the many virtues of these ideas succumb to the dark side of human nature, their high-mindedness superseded by the darker, baser aspects of the human character, who in his grasping for expression easily becomes easily wounded, narcissistic and chauvinistic. It’s not hard to fathom, then, how spiritualism becomes intolerance. Counterintuitiveness becomes anti-intellectualism. Loyalty to ideals becomes more important than curiosity (which might destroy them). Pride in culture and respect for tradition becomes open hostility to people who are different. Whenever a group of people are in such disarray, it makes sense they would turn to a strong man–a man of utter conviction in himself and willingness to take what he wants with bullying. These qualities are impressive enough by themselves in a leaderless vacuum to a battered conservative soul.

I am not a conservative, but I grew up with conservatives in their wolf den, and I’ve never found boastful conviction to be something they value. So I find their turn to Trump to be disheartening. It’s not that I think they actually like him–they simply want his mojo, his strong expressiveness and the idiom of confidence that used to be theirs. How else do you explain them turning to a man who has spent not one second of his life pursuing their goals, fighting for their beliefs?

Being skeptical that Obamacare did any good is one thing. But when all you have holding together your identity is your hatred for Barack Obama (and his heir presumptive, Hillary Clinton), then you really have no philosophy at all (and in many respects, you are likely defined by your low self-esteem, if some of your Facebook memes are any indication). Political ideals are something you speak for peer approval. (Or, let’s face it, your dad’s.)

Though I’m not a Republican, I’m a gestalt theorist, and I think America needs both its parties to be strong for its particular way of functioning. Both the Democrat and the Republican greatly need to speak each other’s heresies to stiffen their sinews and make their arguments more rigorous. I do not think the world would be a better place if far leftists were left alone to speak kant to one other (that certainly hasn’t been good for the arguing skills of Bernie Sanders’ fans, who are the most true-believing of anybody’s supporters and thus incredibly fragile when challenged on their candidate’s very real weaknesses).

So I am not heartened by the demise of the Republican Party. If it rises again, I would like it to do what it does best: offer sober assessments of the the very real problems perceived by liberals. I would like it to ask us: do we completely understand the nature of these problems and could our solutions make things worse? Instead, the GOP has become the party that insists government must be destroyed to be saved. It wound up destroying itself.

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