Friday, July 29, 2016

Open terrain

Otto von Bismarck escorting the arrested Emperor Napoléon III after the Battle of Sedan, French corpses littering the side of the road. Painting by Wilhelm Camphausen, 1877, via Wikimedia Commons.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Democrats Win the Summer", July 28 2016:
Now the Democrats looks like nice middle-class folks who care about their families and their country and feel empathy for others. Thanks a lot, Donald!
Naive people like me commonly think of politics as if it ought to be a confrontation of ideas on what the polity needs to do, but of course it's really a confrontation of people, organized into teams, a kind of war or a game of field control, and ideas are the field, the territory the teams contest, the largely static semiotic map across which we crawl out of our ideological trenches, trying to plant our flags in enemy ground.

Which means that what the fight is mainly over is the territory of ideas on which we all basically agree, the motherhood and apple pie; our job is to own those ideas, and deny them to the enemy. If I can convince the voter that I'm really strong on motherhood, with an unquestionable commitment, that will suggest that the other guy really isn't—that he's suspect, unreliable on motherhood, dangerous and dishonest.

It's always been a conservative game, ever since democracy began invading French and English life in the 1790s and Burke and Maistre developed their theories on how the ruling class should cope with it, with a system of fear: "These revolutionaries, these radicals, will destroy your traditional way of life! A vote for the kindly, churchy gentry is a vote for everything you love!" Whereas on the progressive side, committed to pluralism and the basic goodness of everybody, it's hard to fight that way, because we can't bring ourselves to say that conservatives don't really give a fuck about motherhood, even if there's some truth to it. That wouldn't be decent.

But over the years, in the US, as the conservative-progressive split has become more and more like an ethnic boundary, conservatives have come more and more to believe that the motherhood territory literally belongs to them, that their opponents actually hate apple pie with a murderous hatred and will destroy it root and branch if heedless voters give them the chance.

Such is the tenor of today's Brooks, a long complaint from this essentially military standpoint, of the summer skirmishing and how Donald Trump has "left the ground open" for Democrats to capture in the fall campaign:
He left the ground open for Joe Biden to remind us that decent people don’t enjoy firing other human beings... 
He left the ground open for the Democrats to seize middle-class values with one quick passage in a Tim Kaine video — about a guy who goes to the same church where he was married, who taught carpentry as a Christian missionary in Honduras, who has lived in the same house for the last 24 years...
He left the ground open for Barack Obama to remind us that our founders wanted active engaged citizens, not a government run by a solipsistic and self-appointed savior who wants everything his way...
He left the ground open for Michelle Obama to embrace the underlying chorus of hope that runs through the American story...
He's like a French monarchist in 1871 blaming the fake conservatism of Napoléon III for losing the Rhineland. Decency, staying married, being active and engaged, feeling hope, these things are the conservative birthright, right? Why is Trump allowing those beastly, rabble-inciting Democrats to seize them?

Then again here, for the fun of it, is David Brooks in August 2012, reacting to the convention that nominated decent and hopeful, übermarried ex-missionary Willard Mitt Romney:
... there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism. There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions.
Donald Trump didn't build that. He just makes it harder to hide.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

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