Conservatives said we agree with the general effort but think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.
.. “The question of which comes first, liberty or order, was to divide liberals from conservatives for the next 200 years.”
.. The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.
.. Over the centuries conservatives have resisted anything that threatened this sacred space. First it was the abstract ideology of the French Revolution, the idea that society could be reorganized from the top down. Then it was industrialization. Conservatives like John Ruskin and later T. S. Eliot arose to preserve culture from the soulless pragmatism of the machine age.
.. Then it was the state. In their different ways, communists, fascists, social democrats and liberals tried to use the state to perform many functions previously done by the family, local civic organizations and the other players in the sacred space.
.. They both fizzled because over the last 30 years the parties of the right drifted from conservatism. The Republican Party became the party of market fundamentalism.
Market fundamentalism is an inhumane philosophy that makes economic growth society’s prime value and leaves people atomized and unattached. Republican voters eventually rejected market fundamentalism and went for the tribalism of Donald Trump because at least he gave them a sense of social belonging. At least he understood that there’s a social order under threat.
The problem is he doesn’t base his belonging on the bonds of affection conservatives hold dear. He doesn’t respect and obey those institutions, traditions and values that form morally decent individuals.
.. His tribalism is the evil twin of community. It is based on hatred, us/them thinking, conspiracy-mongering and distrust. It creates belonging, but on vicious grounds.
.. In 2018, the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism.
.. At his essence Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.
.. You can’t do that rethinking if you are imprisoned in a partisan mind-set or if you dismiss half of Americans because they are on the “other team.”
Republicans have long criticized Democrats for dividing the country into competing grievance groups. Some now realize that the Republican analogue has been to divide the country into radically autonomous individuals based on a cartoonish misreading of libertarianism that replaces the free markets and free minds of Friedrich Hayek with the greed and hubris of Gordon Gekko. But that is changing quickly. There is a renewed emphasis on addressing America and Americans as a community characterized by fraternal bonds and mutual responsibility — what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.”
.. If Republicans really want to win, then their pronouns must be we, us and our, and they have to make sure that the people who hear them know that they are included in we, us and our.
Conservatives have always viewed the quest for equality as a zero-sum game.
While John Adams was away at the Second Continental Congress, his wife Abigail was concerned he would forget about her. Not literally, of course, but in the nation’s new code of laws. So she wrote him a letter and advised him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” She warned, “Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands.”
For conservatives like Brooks and Sullivan, the quest for equality is a zero-sum game. Incorporating “those who previously had no standing” into the “parameters of public speech” necessitates a removal of freedom from those who were already being heard. A more inclusive society will inevitably water down the influence of their white, male worldview. I understand their unease with this development—up to a point. It’s hard to hear honest critiques of a world that has disproportionately benefitted people like you. It calls into question the legitimacy of your success. This is what Brooks is trying to articulate when he writes:
Identity politics takes individual merit out of the moral center of our system and asserts that group is, Goldberg says, “an immutable category, a permanent tribe.”
Defenders of an unjust status quo know they can’t just say, “Hey, look, society currently suits me super-well, so let’s not change it.” So they portray the enfranchisement of subordinated groups as attacks on individual relationships, too.
Brooks and Sullivan are merely carrying on this conservative conviction, which made an otherwise brilliant founding father fear the “despotism” of free women more than a political system which excluded the majority of its citizens.
For decades, the essential failure of conservative outreach to African-Americans has been the insistence that the right just want to treat black Americans as individuals — a fine-sounding idea, except that white America has never found a way to treat its former slaves that way, making black identity politics not an indulgence but a matter of survival.
To this failure Trump has added an exclamation point. He has been shrewder than libertarian conservatives in recognizing that individualism is not enough, that the right needs a politics of solidarity. But his appeals to solidarity have often been racially exclusive in exactly the ways an African-American skeptic of conservatism would have predicted... If you’re telling African-Americans that their current political leadership is failing them, don’t package that message with the exaggerations about “urban” voter fraud that too many Republicans have propagated. If you want people to consider joining your coalition, act like you want to compete for their vote, not just discourage them from voting.